“He imitated someone called Gary Hoy, we found out afterwards. Have you heard of him?” Natalie is speaking about her boss, Simon King and what I’d understood to be his latest ‘exploit.’ She seems edgy.
“No I haven’t. What happened?” I say, intrigued. Natalie had texted me, asking to meet. So here we are, alone, in the snug at the Black Swan. There’s just Natalie and me in the cosy little bar although I can see over the counter to the lounge bar where there’s a handful of other customers. I notice the swept-back dyed grey-blond hair of Brad, the ageing pop star and pub bore, currently holding forth, and am pleased to be out of range. Behind Natalie is a ‘shop’ that consists of shelves laden with cans of soup, packets of biscuits, jars of coffee and the like. The landlord’s optimistic idea for extra income.
Rod Stewart is playing over the speakers – The First Cut is the Deepest – and I sip my pint of Viper’s Nest, admiring Natalie’s shapely figure, wistfully remembering happier times together. Her blonde hair is in a pony tail and she’s not wearing make up. That’s ominous.
“Well, Simon liked to show off. He had the flashiest car, went on the most luxurious holidays and so forth.”
“Yeah, so I understand.” Natalie and I had once been an ‘item’ and I’d met him, a partner in a major accountancy firm, on a couple of occasions. He was handsome, tanned, witty (so others thought) and I’d taken an instant dislike to him.
“He trained as an architect, before going into accountancy, and thought he knew it all.”
“That figures,” I say.
“So the other day we were in the Chronos building – in dockland. D’you know it?”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“There was a big ‘do’ to celebrate a big order for King’s. It was worth a load of money. Anyway, Simon got into a discussion with Roger, that’s an architect friend of his, about the strength of glass. It got a bit heated. He was saying he thought it should be stronger in skyscrapers and Roger was saying that was rubbish. Then, Roger showed us this trick of running and throwing himself at the window. He just bounced off! It was amazing.” She dabs an eye. “Sorry.”
I admire her wide, green, glistening eyes and try to remember when things started to go wrong between us.
“Anyway, Simon, not wanting to be outdone I suppose, said he’d have a go. We were all watching and cheering. So he ran and threw himself at the window, and, oh God, the window frame just gave way!”
“What! Was he hurt?”
She nods and her eyes are full of tears. “Yes, there was just a big empty space and Simon fell through it.”
“Good God! What floor was it?”
She reaches out to hold my hand. Hers feels cold and clammy. She squeezes mine hard.