Cloudy goes to the Boulie.
Spending loose change was the easy part. Chips and suppers, a bitter pickle. A bottle of ginger-beer, which reminded me how young they were. Standing outside the chippy in the wind and rain reconfigured the grey matter. Fingers minging of salt and vinegar reminded me how old I was getting, instead. I no longer found it fun. Being pickled could be a pain in the arse.
I stepped onto the main road a few times to flag down any car that resembled a taxi. My voice croaked and got lost in the darker parts of thoroughfares and traffic. Stepping back onto the pavement pronto, when I spotted a Black Maria, I stuffed most of my uneaten chip in a wheelie bin.
Lisa didn’t bother with such niceties. She dropped her black pudding supper at her feet after taking a mouse-sized bite out of the batter. Jane’s teeth worked like a typewriter processing a fish supper. Systematic didn’t even cover the almost soundless mastication. I didn’t want to think of her being anal obsessive, for obvious reasons. She took a swig of ginger beer and wiped her hands ladylike on the rag of grease-proof paper, before kicking it away when it dropped to her feet. She held out the bottle of ginger towards me as an offering.
Her wig was back on her head, and she looked gorgeous as any film-star femme fatale. I unscrewed the bottle, had an up and downer, glad to quench my thirst.
‘Whit age are you, anyway?’
Jane laughed, but her eyed darted sideways before she answered, ‘Twenty-one-ishy’.
‘Nah, really? I saw you with your wig off. And you looked much younger.’
‘You should see him with his clothes off, then you really would laugh fit to burst.’ Lisa was going to say more, but she ran out to the edge of the pavement, waving her arms and bawling at the road, ‘There’s a taxi.’
It was getting later. Getting a taxi at that time was like catching a jellyfish with your hands. It was painful even trying and they always squeezed past. Experience told me, we’d need to phone and book one. But I went through the motions. I opened my mouth, teeth softly bared, ready to recite my usual incantation to the gods of the road, when, sweet Jesus, the Hackney’s brakes squealed and it pulled in with a splash of water beside us.
I held open the door. The girls floated past and inside the stuffy warmth. They plonked themselves down on the back seats and stretched out their long legs as if they had been there forever. The cab stunk of perspiration and fag smoke. I’d barely pulled the wee seat beside the door down before we were moving.
The thickset driver wasn’t great for conversation. ‘Where to?’ his tired eyes stayed on the road.
I didn’t talk much either. The girls chit-chatted and ignored me, until I became useful once again. The cab’s taillight indicated and it slowed at the sharp turn into the Boulie. On the wide bend of the hill, we passed a gaggle of peroxide blondes in short white dresses, teetering on kitten heels and sheltering under golf brollies.
Jane got out the driver-side door of the cab. Lisa stuck her hand on my thigh to balance herself when she got out the pavement side. I’d already checked the meter and had a fiver held out in my hand. I was going to make some quip about the price—the meter turning in time with the cab wheels. But I kept my thoughts to myself when I saw the size of the queue waiting outside to get into the dancing.
A guy in a green velvet jacket hurried over and looked in the window and open door where I crouched. ‘This cab taken?’
The engine was still chunking, leaving a taste of diesel in the air between us. I glanced over his swept-up hair, and perfect middle-parting, at Lisa and Jane before I answered.
‘Aye,’ I shrugged and pulled the door shut in his smug face.
The driver turned to look at me. ‘Where to now, mate?’
I made myself comfortable, sprawled on the back seat. ‘Shakespeare Avenue, mate.’
He revved the engine and indicated, but then Jane appeared, running alongside the cab and beating on the window. The Hackney jolted to a stop.
The driver looked in the wing mirror, but his warning was for me. ‘You better deal wi’ that.’
I wound down the window. Jane had her hand on top of her wig, holding it in place.
‘We’ve no’ got any money.’
I considered telling the driver just to drive on. But I still had a large chunk of my wages. And I liked her. I really did. Her anxious expression, somehow, also reminded me of Annie, all those cruel years ago.
I dug out twenty quid out of my back pocket and handed it to her.
‘That’s great.’ She leaned in the window and puckered her lips.
I leaned forward and our lips made a smacking, theatrical, sound as if we’d been rehearsing kissing noises offstage. She pulled the door open and left it unlocked.
‘Just wait,’ she instructed me.
And the driver turned his thick head, a note of irritation in his voice.
‘Whit you doin’ mate?’
‘Whit difference does it make to you? I’m payin’ you, aren’t I?’
He clutched at the wheel. ‘If that’s the way you feel, just get out the cab.’
I pulled the door shut. ‘Fuck off. I get out the cab, when I’m good and fucking ready.’
‘If that’s the way you want to play it, mate.’
The doors clicked shut. And he picked up the radio receiver to call it in when Jane appeared, beating on the side window again, and tried to pull open the passenger-side door. The driver stared in the mirror and I looked back at him. Jane walked around the back end of the cab and tried the door on the driver’s side—and it clicked open.
She slid in beside me, with a waft of perfume, damp clothing and a sigh. I grimaced as she clutched my sore hand. The driver grunted and let go of the clutch, the engine revved. The world of women was beyond both of us. He switched off as we smooched in the back seat. Her hand ran up and over my groin, and she moaned when she felt how hard I was. She whipped her leg up over my thigh, straddling me.
I worked her off my lap and managed to speak. ‘I thought you were goin’ to the dancing?’
‘I’ve got everything I need here.’ She squeezed my cock through my denims.