Light seeped from the bar entrance, trickling red neon over wet pavement like blood from an open wound. An arterial thumping filled my chest and music pumped into the street.
I swallowed. This wasn’t how I’d envisaged meeting her. Twenty-five years had passed and the memory was still stuck in my thick skull, in vivid full color while real photographs have long faded to sepia. Yes, that damned woman was still in my head. I paused, staring into the blackness of my shadow as I remembered.
I was twelve. Standing stupidly, staring in dumb awe as she’d moved languidly through sunlight like an angel.
That little bastard Cupid, wielding not a bow and arrow but a heavy piece of 2x4 wood studded with rusty nails had whacked me directly over the head. I’d discovered girls.
But I was way too young. She, being thirteen and a whole year older, was a real woman. Obviously I didn’t stand a hope in hell. Sentenced to another five long school years of tragic attempts to prove I even existed to her, all the while attempting to not go blind.
But that was then. I patted the cold steel of the thirty-eight holstered against my chest. This was now the thing closest to my heart.
I looked at my watch, a battered Seiko Dive Master. It was nine pm and it was time. Yet I was suddenly twelve years old again. All that awkwardness had flooded back. Trying to speak, to impress. Gurgling in a hormonal strangled daze to say something, anything, as she wafted by my invisiblity. I was always invisible to her. But it wouldn’t be like that again, not tonight. I took a deep breath, shook my head clear of the ghosts and walked inside.
The atmosphere was a fetid wave, blasting away the night's coldness but not my darkness of spirit. I stood there trying to recognise faces from the past. But the ghosts of my memory had aged beyond recognition. The first school re-union I’d come to and it would probably be the last, especially after I’d done what I’d come here to do.
A figure, a woman, detached itself from the crowd and came over. She was a sophisticated brunette with calm, confident eyes and a drink in her hand. But the drink wasn’t for me.
“Hi! Oh do come in, don’t be shy, you're for the re-union? I’m Sue, Sue Jackson, left in ’78, what year were you in?”
“Well, I left in 76 ...”
“Oh, I was in third year then, you look familiar … Jack, Jack Spalding, right?”
I tried to hide my surprise and embarrassment because I didn’t
recognise her or even her name.
“Yes, Jack Spalding,” I held out my hand and she took it with a firm grip, “you’ve got a good memory, I’m impressed!”
“Don’t be,” she shrugged, giving my hand a strange extra squeeze before releasing. Was that reluctantly? “I’ve been studying the school mug shots and I’d recognise you anywhere, you haven’t changed all that much. Here, take this, everyone has one, they’re name cards, in case anyone forgets.”
Her eyes sparkled with amusement as she pinned my name-tag to my jacket as I searched my memory to find any trace of the young third-year girl standing next to me. Then she sighed.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“You don’t, do you?
Being wrong footed is something I hate and shrugged helplessly. It had beena long time since I’d felt myself blush.
“I’m really sorry, but did we, erm, know each other, back then?”
Sue shook her head, and stared at her drink. An awkward silence was forming and I began to look around for an escape.
“No, not really … but I had an awfully huge crush on you back then.”
“A crush!” Sue repeated, grinning. “You were Head Boy, and I thought you were the best thing since sliced bread. Used to try and provoke you. Anything to get your attention I guess.”
I closed my eyes and the image of a skinny girl pestering the life out of me began to swim up from the depths. My embarrassment deepened as I remembered... I hadn’t been very kind to her at the time. I'd dismissed her, brushing away her attempts to talk. To be friends.
“No, I’m sorry, you’re right, I don’t remember your name, but I do
remember you now - I must have seemed a real bastard back then.”
“Yes you were. I really hated you for a while afterwards as well, but I know it’s not your fault, we were kids after all, and I was, what? All of three years too young for you.” Sue’s sudden and
infectious laugh broke the awkwardness and I found myself beginning to relax. But I still had a job to do.
“Childhood crushes eh?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Here’s to them!” Sue raised her glass. “You’re still not too bad
looking you know. I mean for your age. I can see the hint of a
paunch, but not too bad overall.”
I patted my stomach ruefully. “Well thanks, and I have to say,
without a word of flattery, you do look fantastic.”
“Why thank you …” Sue’s eyes twinkled over the rim of her glass as
she took a sip.
“Married?” I asked.
“Yes,very happily.” But somehow she didn’t sound as though she
“I’m glad.” I said, “Kids?”
“No, and you?”
“No, not now and no kids.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“These things happen, my job just got in the way.”
Before Sue could ask awkward questions, I asked her if she had seen Fiona.
“Ahh, the lovely Fiona, all the boys had a crush on her I think, didn’t they?” she said, giving me a knowing look. “Oh no, not you to? That why you want to find her?”
“Not really. But you’re right, I did have a crush on her, I guess very boy did, but that was a long time ago.”
“FIONA!Someone here wants to see you!”
I closed my eyes for a second, I really didn’t want the whole damned room alerted to what I had to do, but it was too late. And there she was. Walking towards me with that familiar swing to her hips, looking just as damned attractive now as she had back then. My gun felt tight against my chest. Or perhaps the tightness was in my heart? Shit.
“Oh hello, yes, I remember you, Jack Spalding isn’t it?”
Her perfume invaded my lungs and teased out the remnants of forgotten emotions. Hurt and longing swam up and grabbed my throat. I forced them back down into the depths, into the past, where they belonged. No room for sentimentality. Not now.
I nodded, my throat dry. Then she smiled that smile - half mocking, half seductive. She hadn’t changed a bit.
“Jack, you know, I always thought you were going to ask me out, but you never did, such a shame,” she said in honeyed tones, but darker, more seductive than I could remember. She leaned forward to kiss my cheek, her hand upon my chest.
Her hand froze and her eyes locked onto mine. I guess the shape and feel of the gun beneath my jacket was unmistakable. I didn’t return the kiss. She slowly stepped back, looking at me quizzically.
“Jack? Why are you wearing that?” Then she turned in alarm towards Sue, “Sue, he’s got a gun…”
“What?” Sue’s eyes widened.
I didn’t want to do it this way, but now I had no choice. I reached inside my jacket and pulled out my wallet, flicking it open. Fiona’s eyes widened as she saw the badge glinting inside the leather. She turned to escape.
“Don’t! Don’t make me draw my weapon, stay where you are! It’s over Fiona…”
Her beautiful eyes flickered rapidly between the badge in my wallet and my face. Calculating the odds, weighing her chances. Then her body relaxed as the tension burst, flowing out. I took her arms, turned her around and snapped on the cuffs behind her back.
Sue was staring open mouthed. Within an instant, she had composed
“No wonder your wife left you. What has she done? And why do this here? At our re-union?” Anger and shock had replaced the sparkle I saw earlier in her eyes.
“Yeah, I’m not to happy about it either Sue, believe me. But she’s been on the run for years. This re-union, well, she was the queen of our high-school after all and when this invitation came through I just had a hunch she couldn’t miss it, whatever the risk.” I was
gabbling. It was suddenly important to me that Sue understood.
Fiona began twisting to free herself.
“Let me go Jack, you can do it, just say I wasn’t here… Sue, help
I almost let her go right there and then. Almost. But I knew how she used that soft and so-sincere aura of vulnerability to entrap her victims. I wasn’t buying. Maybe the jury would.
“I’ve chased you longer than you’ll ever know Fiona – you don’t know how sorry I am that it’s ended this way.”
“You’re one real bastard, Jack”
“Yeah, I know.”
I started to leave, but Sue stopped me in the entrance.
“Look, I’m sorry I spoiled the evening Sue…” I shrugged hoplessly, meaning every word.
Sue stared at me, hard, for three long heartbeats. Then she reached into her purse and gave me a card, her number.
“Call me. That is, when you’r free. You can buy me a drink. We can catch up on old times…”
Sue turned and left, her scent lingering in my brain as I dragged Fiona out into the dank night and her date with a judge. Time to put her and the past away, I had my own date to think about.
(Thank you for reading)