Wanted, Companion - part two of three
By lisa h
Clearing his room was quick and easy. Last year, he’d been on the street, with nothing but a change of clothes to his name. He emptied the contents of the wardrobe into his rucksack, pulled the drawers of the bedside cabinet open, and cleared out the few photos he had, most of his mother. He never knew his dad. Apparently he looked like him. After Joel’d been thrown in jail, his mum had told him he acted like Phil as well. Hadn’t heard from her since. Maybe he’d write to her in a few weeks, once everything had settled down at Holly House. The old geezer might not like his style, his offerings. Yes. He’d let things settle for a few weeks; to be sure he was there to stay.
He locked up and went downstairs to visit the manager of the hostel. Mike was out, the office locked up. So Joel left a note on a side table in the small waiting area, his key placed as a makeshift paperweight. He dropped his satchel full of the Big Issue onto the floor, and leaned the bag against one of the table legs. Mike could sort that one out, hand them round for the other residents to sell. Not much for goodbyes, Joel turned and left, the front door locking with a clunk behind him. Now where. He stood on the steps to the hostel, leaning against the black iron railings. Houses ran up and down on both sides, terrace as far as he could see. Down the hill, where Dailey Road eventually ended, the main road would be busy. He might find a lady friend for his dirty old man. Joel nodded, and turned right.
Finding a woman, Joel discovered, was easy. Finding one that would come back with him was impossible. After three rejections, and one slap after he resorted to begging, he ran into Maz.
“Hey, how ya doing?” he called out to her, running to catch up as she came out of a corner shop and turned the opposite way. “Maz!”
She turned at his shout, squinting his way before recognising him. Then her frown turning to a grin.
“Hey, Joel. Whatcha up to these days?” she asked. She tore the cellophane off the pack of Silk Cut in her hands, and popped a fag in her mouth. “Want one?”
“Cheers,” he said, and retrieved a lighter from his pocket. He lit both cigarettes, and as she closed her eyes for the first long drag, he looked her over. Maz was late twenties, with long blonde hair and only a couple of tattoos that he could see. Her skin was clear, and he knew she was a good time girl. He’d had her a few times over the years, always after a skinful of vodka, but he’d remembered afterwards what a great shag she’d been.
“Maz?” he asked.
She took the fag from her mouth. “Yeah?”
“I moved into a new place this morning. Playing butler to this old geezer.”
He tapped the fingers of one hand nervously on his thigh. “Want to come over, have a look? I’ve got the bottom floor of one wing to live in.”
“Oh yeah?” Her eyes lit up, and she turned towards him. When she flicked her hair from her shoulder, and exposed the soft length of her neck, he knew he had her.
“The old man thinks he’s a bit of a womaniser. So watch out,” he added. Fair warning, he thought.
“Sure, Joel. You got any food there?” She sucked on her cigarette, her eyes fixed on his. Maybe he could get some as well. Oil her up for the old boy.
“Food? You know, I ain’t bought any yet. We’ll go to Tesco’s, what cha want to eat?”
“Mmm. I fancy steak.” She rubbed up against him, and hooked her arm around his. “Shall we?”
Maz jumped Joel before he could get the groceries put away. Under her baggy clothes, her body was compact, taught. And she was still a good lay. They cooked an early dinner in long shirts, and nothing else. Joel wondered if he could take her again before handing her over.
Halfway through their steaks, Joel figured out how to get her to his boss. “Maz?”
“Mmm?” she answered, her mouth full of meat. “This is delish,” she managed, and kept chewing.
“The old guy I work for has a rule.”
“Rules? I didn’t think you were one for those.”
“Well, people change.”
“Go on then,” she said, and took a swig of beer.
“He insists on meeting anyone I bring here.”
Maz raised her eyebrows, but kept eating.
“After dinner, I’ll take you over to the main house.”
“You’ll need to dress me first,” she said. Seconds later, her foot slid in between his legs and under the hem of his shirt. “Can you manage that?”
Joel never ate steak faster.
Raised up on one arm, Joel watched Maz as she puffed on a cigarette. “Come on, we’d better get dressed,” he said.
“And I have to meet him?”
“I’m not going to lose all this because I decided to break one stupid rule of the first bloody day.” Joel rolled off the bed, and onto his feet. He pulled on his jeans and threw Maz’s clothes at her.
“Alright, alright.” She grabbed her bra, and put her arm through the straps. “You owe me another dinner for this.”
“You’re on,” he said, and grinned back.
Joel had permission to enter the main hall of the house. He knocked on the door to the lounge and waited. Seconds later, the door creaked open, as if the old man had been waiting on the other side.
“Good evening,” he said. The room behind him was in almost complete darkness. Only the flickering orange glow from the fire provided some light. Mr Saunders stepped out of the shadows. “So pleased to meet you.” He kissed the back of Maz’s hand. “Would you like to come in?”
Maz glanced back as Joel shrugged, but then followed the old man with hesitant steps.
“Thank you,” Mr Sanders said, and closed the door behind Maz.
Joel waited in the hall for a long time. He tried listening at the door, but the wood must have been thick, and he couldn’t even hear a whisper of conversation. Eventually, he returned to his flat, and lay on the bed, thinking of Maz. He didn’t realise he’d fallen asleep, until a constant rapping at his door woke him.
Mr Saunders was in the main hall.
“Thank you. Your choice was appropriate. Did you have trouble coercing a girl to come home with you?”
“Uh, yeah. Hard to find a woman who’ll go off with a stranger.”
“Feel free to bring a lady of the night next time. Your task will be infinitely easier.” He handed Joel an envelope. “Your bonus.”
“Cheers.” Joel searched past the old man. “Did Maz go home already?”
Mr Saunders nodded. “She was required at her place of work.”
“Oh,” said Joel, thinking she might have knock before leaving.
“My appetite was not satiated. Please find me a girl for tonight.” His boss did not wait for an answer, and turned to go.
“Right. No probs, gov.” Joel closed the door, and opened the envelope. Inside were five crisp twenty pound notes. “Excellent.”
Joel looked for Maz as he searched for that evening’s companion. Finding a working girl was easy at night, in the middle of the afternoon, the task was virtually impossible. After walking about for over an hour, he sat down on a low wall behind Central swimming pool, and tried to catch the eye of the ladies who walked by. The first was a young black woman, with an hourglass figure, and flawless skin. Despite the cold weather, she wore hotpants teamed with a puffer jacket.
“Looking for someone?” she asked as she passed.
A thought flashed through Joel’s mind that the old man might be racist – he was of that generation. But this girl was willing, and jumped in a cab with him minutes later. She chatted incessantly on the way back to Holly House. No way would Joel be greasing the wheels on this one. The boss was on his own. He knocked on the lounge door, then crossed the main hall and receded into his own flat, leaving Sammie to make her own introductions.
The next morning, he found an envelope slipped partly under his door. He opened it and counted the cash.
“Easy peasy,” he said. The old man hadn’t knocked today, no requests for new companions. Joel dressed, and went out. He took a taxi back to Dailey Road. For a few minutes, he stared at the hostel, in through the window that looked out from his old room. A couple of bottles rested on the inside of the glass. Looked like they already found someone to take his place. Better not fuck it up with the old geezer. He turned and walked down to the end of the road, and dipped into the Bent Spoon.
“Hey, Joel!” Sue called over from the hatch that opened into the kitchen. The cook put a plate of steaming omelette and chips on the shelf for her. “Missed you yesterday.”
He found his usual table, surprised to find a newspaper under his arm. He must have followed his usual route into the newsagents before coming here. He shook his head, and opened the paper out on the table. The body of a woman had been found out on the train tracks between Tilehurst and Reading. The suspicion was she’d been drunk, and following he tracks. Then a fast train on its way to London had hit her. Joel grimaced.
“What can I do you for, love?” Sue arrived beside him, pulled a battered notebook from her apron, and retrieved the pencil from her ponytail.
“Give me the usual.” He stared down at the headline again. “Any rumours going round as to who she was?”
“Sorry, I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”