This is the first chapter (unedited) of my next book project.

 

Holding out for a hero

 

 

Chapter 1

                       

November 2007

 

What are the normal consequences of a chance meeting? I wondered. The possibilities of outcomes are immense and wide ranging; like a sideways remark to a fellow traveler on a train or in a queue, a throwaway conversation with an acquaintance at the office, an out of the blue meeting with a face from the past; does it have to end at that point? Or do they lead on to other outcomes, fresh threads, with opportunities to be taken or chances that are lost… Who knows I say to myself, gathering my coat around me to fend off the lashing rain. Up until yesterday, (his face flashes again in my mind’s eye) I probably couldn’t have cared less. After all, it’s difficult in life sometimes, to know which way one should turn, to follow the drum, as it were, or to kick off, and go it alone. Whichever way, all routes must, I reckon, be unique to each and every one of us. A flirtatious remark (the thought provokes an inward wince) – turning to lust or to love, acknowledging another’s worth - to partnership and cohesion, and a selfless act – evokes compassion and giving; emotions and effects that up until that moment of interaction are as random as autumn leaves, blowing in the wind. Luck, fate, kismet, call it what you will.

 

But last night when I trudged towards one of my regular watering holes, with what seemed like the full weight of the world square on my shoulders, I had no idea as to the consequence of that action. Save that is, for the purchasing of a pint and a quiet read before catching the tube to my solitary digs in Richmond. Had it been chance or was there a guiding hand, some mystical force like a natural emulsifier that had allowed us to rub together at that particular moment: that stranger and me?  ‘The jury’s still out on that one!’ I think to myself. My mind diverted with other anomalies and their possible implications: like the strange disjointed conversation of answers without seemingly any relevance, or of the overwhelming feeling that I knew him of old and that he didn’t belong there, sort of out of place - like a pawn in a game of draughts. As I pondered on these and other queries from the previous nights encounter, other troubles that had been much on my mind of late; slipped a notch, in the queue for my attention.

 

Up ahead and under a leaden sky heavy with rain, the George and Dragon hove in to view. I was looking forward to getting out of the bitter wind, my Burberry providing only a limited defense, against the winter elements. The street lamps were powering up and shedding a weak orange glow, catching the muffled few sneaking off early; London was about to go home. The wide pavements would soon be a crush of movement, as the adjacent offices spilled out and all in sundry would be exiting the capital. Not everyone though. Some like me would hole up in a warm place, a haven that offered a liquid sustenance; a place to relax in with your mates or colleagues and avoid the unseemly stampede, to tube and rail stations. ‘Not cool,’ someone had once told me in my early years working in London, ’to rush home.’ - Bollocks! I’d thought at the time, I’ve not just got married to get pissed up with you. How times change, I reflected sourly; the old troubles trying to edge back up the pecking order of my concerns. But I was at the door now, and as I pushed it to, a nervous excitement grew in the pit of my belly. Might he be here tonight?

 

The bar was filling up already, the wintery weather thrusting them through the doors drenched and dripping. Groups of office girls, men in suits, smart business women and shop workers all vying for a piece of counter space. Even though I was at the bar before some of them they still managed to get served before me; confident plumy voices that immediately attracted staff, with little regard for others around them. I looked on with weary disdain. Eventually, with a pint purchased from the shapely blonde that had been serving the night before, I fought my way through the crowd towards the little back room. The snug was the inner sanctuary, a smallish room that by luck still had some seats free. I perched myself precariously on one of the high stools that stood in a little cluster around a false pillar and, resting my glass on its narrow shelf eyed the booth where I had sat the night before. There was a group of six women now occupying it. They were chatting animatedly; every so often screams of laughter punctuated the air like a pack of hyenas. All seemingly engrossed with the gossip of the day, but every so often their quick eyes stole furtive glances as the males began to gather. I glanced at my watch, it was six fifteen. ‘Give it another twenty minutes or so and they’ll be gone,’ I reassured myself.

 

Staring into the golden depths as my glass released another mouthful; I drifted back to the events of the previous evening. At the same time, my free hand stole into my jacket pocket and drew out a pair of musket balls. It would, I thought, rolling them together inadvertently, be good to go through it all again, try to remember some of the detail; what was it that had made me at first, more than a little guarded of him, bordering on derision and then later on, when that feeling had edged in to my mind – ‘It’s like he’s out of sync, not of this time; that I became intrigued and more than a little excited? The way he spoke, his sharp demeanor, the cold confident stare they all added up to a man of abounding self assurance and certainly not one to suffer fools gladly. And yet, there I was with questions, things to ask that sounded way beyond foolish. One thing was sure; if he turned up again tonight I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. A real live conundrum and, almost smiling at the thought stilled the grinding lead balls to study them; which knowing my luck would turn out to be nothing, unlike these, remembering their distant significance. But hey, what had I to lose? With the way things were at the moment I’d be grateful for the distraction of a bloody good mystery.

“©” Copyright James Donnelly 2014

Scriblings so far: - Un-natural selection (book) - Holding out for a Hero (book project) - Passport to Sanity (short story) - A virtual miracle (short story) -

The Pool of Peace (short story)