Heston Walters drilled his fork into his plate as though he was preparing foundations for a new retail development. The rigid, metal awkwardness of the spikes picked defiantly at the enamel failing. They couldn't chip away at its layers it in any way, shape or form. It appeared invincible.
He looked up, expectantly. The pink flushed cheeks that glowed divinely, jarring bright rouge lip lacquer, nutty brunette curls and intense black eyes instilled in him a fear. It wasn't like the fear that a child has of being caught drawing on the walls. Nor the fear of a criminal awaiting confirmation of his death sentence. This fear that Heston brewed was more of a sudden and momentary grasp of the soul. And that was something different. He could never be frightened, but that wasn’t to say that he couldn’t be afraid.
And, if he could be afraid, it was because of her. She was the one who made him afraid.
“So,” she started again, clearing her throat and bringing a napkin to her mouth to dab it of tomato juice. She didn’t quite get it all. Heston thought to reach out to her, to direct her hand. But that might be too forward. Instead he watched her nimble, ring-less fingers, that he one day hoped to furnish, re-fold the napkin and place it at the side of her dish. “Do you work in the city?”
He began to chew at something meaty and yet non-existent. He pursed his lips shut. He realised that he hadn’t picked at hardly any of his food for a while now and it was probably cold under his consistent prodding with the fork. He squinted slightly as he swallowed dry air and took his own napkin in his hand. He swilled a swig of Cabernet Sauvignon around his teeth allowing the liquid to spike his taste like blood before swallowing and wiping his wet lips with the corner of his napkin. The cloth came back speckled pink and he lay it face down. He angled himself at the table as though adopting a suitable brace position, placing one elbow on the table and the other jutting outwards with his hand on his knee.
“No,” he replied. “No, I’m not from Florida.”
He relaxed. He picked up his fork and meat knife and rested them on top of the half-picked tenderloin of beef. He didn’t fancy it. The creamed spinach felt too flat under his tongue, the roasted potatoes too salty, the blue-cheese sauce overly fermented. It wasn’t unusual for him not to finish a meal these days, even less so at a high end eatery like ‘Milford Steak Enterprise’. The fact that it was named as an elitist enterprise as a pose to an impressive and glorified steakhouse suggested to Heston that he could leave a job half-finished like any well-to-do businessman.
He pushed it away from himself, defiantly with a swift thrust that crinkled the tablecloth underneath. The plate chinked his wine glass which prompted him to serve himself another mouthful. Business lunches were tedious, dates even more so.
He snapped his fingers at a nearby waiter.
“We’ll take the bill, please.”
The waiter curtly nodded. The woman across from Heston smiled meekly then bent her head as she pushed steak, vegetables and potato sections onto her fork with her knife as elegantly as she could muster. After one mouthful, which she struggled to condense and swallow before the waiter reappeared; she pushed the remaining food to the corner of her plate and replaced her fork and knife. The waiter swiped her plate from beneath her nose, simultaneously placed the bill in Heston’s out-stretched hands and left them in the clumsy presence of one another. To her surprise, her date pulled out the exact money in dollar notes and tucked them into the sleeve left by the waiter. She counted a one hundred dollar bill and two twenties. She watched him rummage in his pocket for a couple of spare coins and placed them on top. She was startled, and almost embarrassed, to see coppers appear in the small pile but she didn’t have any change on her to make things better. She didn’t any money on her at all for that matter.
Heston tilted his head to the door as he rose from his seat.
“C’mon,” he ordered gently and she followed him like a lap-dog at his heels.
As the swung through the restaurant doors, Heston stopped. He gave a sigh and stuffed his hands deep into his pockets. Food always had a quieting effect on him. His date shivered besides him in silence. She only had on a slight chiffon dress. It was shoulder-less and ruffled around the waist. It barely covered the tops of her thighs. It was loose and transparent enough that anyone could see straight through to a dark blue or purple belly-button piercing she had. That was, anyone apart from Heston.
Subtly she leaned closer into his shoulder but he detected her. He shifted his feet, letting them lead him rather than giving them a direction.
Gulls were cawing at the seafront. They were squabbling over fresh turns of fish that swirled in the sea. Having a steakhouse right at the front of the ocean had seemed bizarre to Heston when he first arrived in Coby. With the proximity to the water, why didn’t they just eat the food on their doorstep? He had later learned that it was for the protection of the natural and tourist eco-system. Eating meat, somehow, made the inhabitants of Coby feels less as though they were interweaving in the natural system of wildlife, and more like ‘eco-warriors’. They saw cows as a greater threat to the environment in processes like global warming than they did the fish. And, apparently, the fish attracted, amongst other pests, a rare type of Herring that brought tourists flocking from all over the United States and even Europe.
Coby was a crazy place and it didn’t take long for Heston to decide that he wouldn’t be staying long. But that was before he caught himself in some unwelcome business with Sal Adams.
The pair walked apart but in an orderly fashion along the front. Heston took relief from the smell of brine in the air and the dense wind in his hair. Sal hated the wind and began pulling at her hair to flatten it against its conformity to the nineteen eighties hippy movement.
A cab crawled by on the street. The driver was tall, bronzed and clearly a native to the area. As he caught Heston turning to face him the taxi driver beamed a brilliant white smile. He wasn’t a bad looking guy. Heston couldn’t deny it. He reached for the front passenger seat.
“Take this lady home,” Heston said and put his hand at Sal’s back.
“Sure,” the man nodded.
Heston opened the rear door for his date and, against her struggles, he managed to put her inside. She looked wild; dazed even.
“But…when will I see you again?”
Heston shut the door and stepped back onto the curb. The boldness of the taxi was ghastly. Sal pulled down the window.
“When?” she demanded.
Heston paused, caught up on what the right answer might be. He stepped closer towards her and put his hand to the handle. He saw her face lighten with delight. Still, he said nothing. With his free hand, he patted the top of the cab.
“We’re done here.”
He stepped back as the cab pulled away, despite the pleas of his date.
Heston had had sex with a few girls in his lifetime, maybe a few too many. He was on somewhat of a detox. But he couldn’t deny himself the pleasure when a good night came along. He had never thought that he’d seen that chance in Sal but she had, clearly, seen it in him. He was good looking, so what? But she had been persistent about it: date, time, place, a phone call to confirm. Twice. Heston had had no choice but to prove the error of her insistence.
He could justify why he shouldn’t sleep with Sal. He couldn’t, however, defend why he didn’t. In the end, he figure, it came down to this: the girl had nothing to make him frightened, it was simply the fact that she might come back that made him afraid.
He spent the remainder of the day working his way further and further into the city, away from the sea until he came across a hotel in somewhat of a red light district. He took himself upstairs and checked in with Tanya. Better, he thought, to pay someone that he knew would be good in bed than get a bad deal for free.