(Just continuing this opening, and giving you three alternative endings which would lead on to three quite different stories/novels.)
What to wear to a bar named the Pink Feathers? Did the name hint at the clientele to be encountered? I went biker jacket and black jeans. Good call. The three foot wide guy guarding the door would have bounced me off the sidewalk in anything else; the ‘four feathers’ were painted on the club’s logo atop a dancing girl with curves Monroe defined decades past.
Inside masses mingled. By the time I made the counter I’d rubbed shoulders, literally, with more people than I would in a month of Christmas sales throngs. Ages varied; breaking teens to broken fifties. Encouraging. I hadn’t wanted to seem cradle-snatching if Lilly the shop assistant turned up.
8.20 p.m., I’d got here late, lost myself on a freeway to anywhere out of town. Now I searched with eyes wide. Ten minutes, or Lilly might do a glass slipper thing on me. And I wasn’t a prince, I couldn’t spend Sundays putting shoes on every female this side of the Hudson.
A voice connected over the hubbub of nonsense deafening my ears.
‘Just in time, Lilly. Got lost. Story of my life.’
‘Getting lost or nearly getting lost?’
‘Still trying to work that out.’
‘Sure, that’s why I came. Claim the free offer.’
‘Not because of me then?’
Lilly looked blank. She wasn’t acting it, she seemed surprised I hadn’t said she was the reason. Her hair hung straight now, fresh washed and smelling sweet among the stale breaths and alcohol. She matched me in a leather jacket and dark jeans. Discounted from the store? Little make-up hid her face; she looked even younger than in the blazing lights of her workplace.
‘And you. I’ll take a rye and soda.’
‘Biker jacket and rye? Reliving your teenage years?’
‘Ouch, below the belt, Lilly.’
She smiled lazy.
‘Looks good on you, the jacket, hope the drink does too, paying for a taxi home isn’t part of the offer.’
She squeezed through to the bar, bought the drinks, a gin and something for herself, I think. I rescued the glasses on her return trip as two floppy-haired twenty-something guys fell across her path.
‘It’s quieter by that alcove.’
She nodded left. I held the glasses high to get through, found stools and perched the drinks on a shelf showing football stars with toothy grins and muscles to measure.
‘You’re not wearing the coat?’
‘Too warm in here, but I’ll put it on to go to work tomorrow. Thanks again.’
‘Something you do every day? You a millionaire?’
‘Ah no, so if you’re looking for a sugar daddy, try the best suited guy in here instead.’
‘I don’t want to be kept by any man.’
‘But you accepted my offer?’
‘It didn’t seem like something you usually did.’
‘How could you tell?’
‘I guess if you’d come in and thrown a pile of cash on the desk, or bought up the whole rail of coats.’
‘Maybe I didn’t want to overwhelm you?’
‘I don’t think you’ve ever done that sort of thing before.’
‘Your eyes. They were too alive. A wealthy guy used to throwing money around would have had a tired look there, or a regular ‘just another little person to help’ and make me feel good.’
‘So why’d you think I did it?’
‘Either you hoped it’d lead to something more. Like this. Or your tongue was ahead of your brain. You write?’
‘Ouch, shot me down in one, straight between the eyes!’
‘You’re a writer?’
‘Ha, no, not really. I don’t earn money from it, I tap keyboards, make up tales now and then.’
‘You sure? I’m not gonna appear in some sordid novel? I’m not a kind of experiment?’
‘Hell no, I’d never do that to you.’
‘Why not? You don’t know me? Do you? We’ve never met before?’
‘Never. I’ve been in the store a couple of times, never seen you in there.’
‘You tried this on the other girls there?’
‘So why me?’
‘As you guessed, just went with the moment. None of the others ever said ‘It’s cold today, isn’t it?’’
Lilly drank long from her glass, her eyes fixed on mine. There was noise and movement all around yet it seemed we existed in isolation, unhearing, unaffected by everything else.
‘And I’m enjoying the free drink you offered, so all’s well.’
‘A $99 drink?’
‘I hope that’s not how you see it.’
‘And how does this end?’
‘A polite thank you maybe. A shake of the hands. Or…’
Lilly’s voice dropped low, her guard came high.
‘Or…we live happily ever after.’
I smiled, and couldn’t help breaking into a laugh as Lilly’s eyebrows shot skyward and she snorted liquid.
‘Being silly, I guess. Make a great tale to tell our grandkids though.’
‘Lol, we got grandkids now.’
We both laughed. Her face blushed, her eyes sparked. I noticed for the first time the slight gap between her front teeth. She flicked a loose strand of hair away, waved her glass side to side.
‘No, you’re paying for this one, Robert.’
She took the glass from my hand. Our fingers grazed. The first time we’d touched. She took a step away then turned back.
‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can think how I can dispose of my husband’s dead body. It’s lying on the carpet back in the apartment.’
‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can work out how I divorce my husband…without him putting me in the morgue first.’
‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can write the next chapter of our relationship…I want to know if the book’s worth buying.’