Cattle auction car parks aren’t the kind of place where I’d have expected to pick a girl up, but there I was at the ticket machine waiting for a young woman in a brown raincoat to finish, when she turned to me with an exasperated look. “I’m sorry, I just got a new car and I can’t remember its number plate.”
I smiled. “I have that problem too!” I pulled out a business card and turned it over to show my registration.
She laughed. “Ha ha, that’s a good idea. I’m just going to guess for now. It’s not that important, it’s free anyway.” She stabbed the letter pad once more and I noticed she was left handed and wore no wedding band. She took her ticket and smiled at me. “Do you come here often?”
I laughed but the irony seemed to pass her by. “Tuesdays and Fridays usually, when there’s no auction on.”
“I only come when the auction’s on normally, I help lead the animals.” She spread her hands out wide. “Did you know a bull’s erect penis is thirty-eight inches long?”
I felt myself blushing but she said it as casually as if she were remarking on the weather. “Er, no, that’s … that’s very long.”
She smiled and shook my hand. “I’m pleased to meet you. My name’s Sandy.”
I noticed that, although she wasn’t exactly what you’d call pretty, she had a slim figure, lightly powdered cheeks and green eyes. Her hand felt cool but dry. “Likewise. My name’s Howard.”
“Sorry, I’ve got to dash. I’ve got a dentist’s appointment. Maybe I’ll see you again?”
And with that she turned and walked briskly away over the uneven and unsurfaced ground. I watched her slim, shapely legs as she vanished through a gate by a café and tried to imagine her leading a ponderous bull around the ring. I realised that her hair was blonde, but held back and covered by the collar of her raincoat.
A month passed and I made my twice-weekly visits without seeing Sandy again. My office was down a hill, near the town centre. On the way back up at the end of a tiring day, giving financial advice to people who seemed to have no concept of saving or capping their spending, I’d look in the antique shop windows and then, at the top I would pass the auction café, which never seemed to be open. I guessed it was only open when the auctions were on but one day, to my surprise I saw the door ajar and looked in. A woman in a red pinafore bustled around behind a glass counter. “What can I get you, love?”
“Oh, nothing thanks, I just wondered if you knew a girl called Sandy. She works here.”
She knitted her brows. “Sandy, Sandy … yes, there was a young woman, about thirty, slim, blonde hair. Led the animals into the ring. That the one?”
I nodded. “Yes, could you, er, would you give her my card, tell her I asked after her?”
She frowned. “I’m sorry, love, she finished, left a couple of weeks ago.”
“Oh, why did she leave?”
The woman hesitated, then looked away. “I’m … I’m not sure, I … I didn’t really know her that well.”
Six months of going back to my lonely rooms had passed when, driving home one evening, I looked in the mirror and swore as I saw a police car close behind me flashing its headlights. I pulled over with a sinking feeling.
A policeman came over and asked me to get out of the car. “Did you know you were doing fifty-three miles an hour in a thirty-mile limit zone, sir?”
“Actually, I didn’t. I don’t see why there’s a limit along here anyway, it’s a straight road.”
“Exactly, sir, so people treat it like a racetrack and there’s the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight just down the road with visitors crossing the road. You’re in trouble, sir.”
For God’s sake, it’s only a crummy speeding fine, I didn’t kill anyone, I thought.
“It’s OK, Andrew, go back to the car and wait for me.” A young policewoman had appeared and I was gobsmacked to see it was Sandy.
Andrew did as he was told and once he was ensconced back in the car she smiled. “It’s Howard isn’t it?”
“Fancy you remembering.”
“Look, when I met you, you reminded me of Jason, my husband. He was on the job too. Killed in a crash. Following a bunch of drunken idiots. You’re the spitting image of him actually.”
“Oh, I’m sorry about, er, Jason.”
“It’s OK, I’ve come to terms with it. Anyway, look, I was undercover at that auction place. Between you and me there was an animal pornography ring going on there, you know, bestiality.”
“We’re on the brink of having that place shut down. Look, give me a call. I’ve got a strong feeling about you. I don’t know why. Call it women’s intuition.” She laughed and handed me a card.
“This says Polly.”
“Yes, Sandy wasn’t my real name. Look, come round and I’ll put the kettle on!”
“What about the speeding?”
She winked. “Andrew’s sweet. I’ll tell him I gave you a good talking to and you won’t do it again!”
She pursed her lips as if blowing me a kiss, then turned and went back to the police car.
I got back in the car and watched them drive off. I went to start the engine and found my hands were shaking. I could sense my life was about to change. For better or worse, I didn’t know. That was for me to find out.
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