“Another drink, David?”
In David Griffin’s experience, having sex with a person almost thirty years younger than you was something that they only did in the movies. It didn’t happen in the real world – especially not to somebody as real world as him… Now what was the name of that film? No, not The Graduate, because Dustin Hoffman sure as hell isn’t female… Well… Unless you include Tootsie. Now what was that film called?
“Oh… I’m sorry Pat. I was miles away. Yes… Please. Hmm. I think I’d better stick to beer this time.”
“Fuck beer,” said Patrick Taylor sitting opposite him with a big Cuban cigar wedged between his fingers. “You’ll have another brandy and be grateful for it.”
Age Of Consent. That was it. Age Of Consent. An old James Mason and a young Helen Mirren. Directed by the guy who did Peeping Tom. What was his name? Michael something…“
“Sorry Pat. I’m not feeling myself today. No, you filthy sod, but somebody else was last night. Just a beer please. I’ve got a lecture in an hour. I’ll fall asleep in the middle of it.”
Age Of Consent. He was a painter on a desert island. She spent the movie posing in various states of undress or swimming naked in the sea. Quite a memorable little film as it happens.
“David you’re such a lightweight” said Taylor, raising his glass towards the other man’s. “Mind you, what can you expect from a grandfather?”
Grandfather. Sandra had given birth to a baby boy yesterday morning. Had that really happened? Little Sandra. Had she really grown up so much? Had she really brought a child into the world? Little Sandra had given birth to a bouncing little boy named Michael yesterday morning and he – baby Michael’s proud, delighted grandfather – had spent the night getting drunk and screwing Mary Simms.
David Griffin picked up his glass and clunked it against his friend and colleague’s. “God I feel so old…” he said feebly. “I’m only fifty-two for Christ’s sake… Grandfather sounds so old.”
“Well you are old,” laughed Taylor. “Positively-fucking-ancient.”
The two men were sitting in the back room of the Red Lion; a stone’s throw away from the university. The bar was a popular hang out for students on the campus and Griffin and Taylor were conspicuous by their age. “When I got in this morning they’d made me a card,” sighed Griffin. “It had a drawing of Methuselah on the front… Very droll.”
Mary Simms had drawn that picture. She had presented it to Griffin in full view of everyone with an innocent – authentically shy – smile on her face. The rest of the class stood and applauded as if Griffin had just scored a goal in the FA Cup final. How many of them already knew? How many of them had she told?
It had been a long time since David Griffin had been involved in the courtship ritual but the rules didn’t seem to have changed much since he spent the summer of ’67 trying to get into his future wife’s pants. Then as now it was the eyes that did it first: the longer than natural glances, the widening of the pupils, the way that Mary looked away whenever he returned one of her stares. Mary’s shiny hazel eyes – her impossibly young and indescribably beautiful eyes – had given him a fair approximation of what going on behind them and he had first been flattered, then excited, then sexually charged.
The question of what those eyes could possibly see in a balding, middle-aged father of two with varicose veins and a beer gut of some standing was something that didn’t really occur to the usually rational David Griffin. Instead, David let his dick do the thinking for him. Standing firmly and embarrassingly to attention whenever Mary came within three feet of it, his dick made all the decisions. David had been but an innocent bystander in its quest to fuck up his life.
After the looking had come the touching. It was all such a cliché but David was powerless to prevent it from happening. One cold February morning Mary had appeared in his office on the pretext of needing advice. She was a first-year physics student and he was a fifty-two-year physics professor. It wasn’t supposed to tingle like it did when Mary ‘accidentally’ brushed his bare arm with her own. And he wasn’t supposed to tremble like a frightened rabbit when she edged closer to him and rested her shoulder – just for the briefest moment – against his. And no amount of sleepless nights spent dreaming about what he would do if he perchance awoke in a parallel universe to find Mary’s naked body lying next to him was worth all the pain; the relentless, nagging ache that followed him around every day – not in his heart but in his balls.
Three months ago David’s testicles had suddenly decided to jump ship. They had done so spontaneously and without his permission, and had thoughtfully provided lead weights as replacements. These he carried with him at all times, in constant pain as their weight increased with every day. On more than one occasion David had considered seeking counsel from his doctor but in the end he decided that a visit to a scrap metal merchant would probably prove more helpful. Curiously, the pain was gone now.
07/03/1999. 12.07. SUBJECT EXITS FRITH STREET ACCOMPANIED BY PATRICK GEORGE TAYLOR. UNARMED. SUBJECT PROCEEDS TO ALMOND GROVE.
07/03/1999. 12.18. SUBJECT ENTERS UNIVERSITY BUILDINGS IN ARNOLD GROVE. UNARMED.
07/03/1999. 14.12. SUBJECT EXITS UNIVERSITY BUILDINGS IN ARNOLD GROVE. SUBJECT PROCEEDS UNACCOMPANIED TO MAYOR STREET. UNARMED.
07/03/1999. 14.58. CONTACT.
The itinerary was garbled. Bits of it were right and bits of it were wrong. There was a pattern emerging but it was all too hit and miss to take literally. Griffin hadn’t appeared when he was supposed to but he did in fact walk down Mayor Street most days at around about the same time. Slater wished that he had more information but that wasn’t the way they did things back at the Bunker. Too much information was dangerous. Slater would have liked to have known, for example, where Griffin was actually going when he watched him pass by on the street from the hotel room. Was he on his way home? Did he meet somebody in secret? Even fundamental background information such as this would have changed things considerably. Slater could have improvised. He could have waited for Griffin at an alternative location and got the job done there. It wouldn’t have been pretty or by the book but it would have been over and done with by now.
Slater checked his watch again. It was 2.31. Less than half an hour to go. If he didn’t get it done this time he’d surely have to abort.
“How’s my favourite granddaddy?” Mary Simm’s voice appeared from nowhere and Griffin felt her hot breath against his ear.
“Mary!” said Griffin, turning nervously to face her, one eye fixed guilty on Patrick Taylor. “Hi. Hmm… Good to see you…”
“Isn’t that nice Mr. Griffin going to offer a girl a drink?” Mary was wearing jeans and a white blouse open at the neck. Even though David Griffin had seen this person naked only hours ago, he couldn’t resist stealing a glimpse of her breasts as she bent over him.
He wasn’t the only one looking. “What can I get you?” Patrick Taylor asked Mary, unable to take his eyes off her and not bothering to hide this from anyone.
“Thanks Patrick. Gimme a gin and tonic. No ice.” Mary raised herself to her full height as she said this: tall, blonde, with a flirtatious look on her face that made Taylor blush and the ache begin to return to Griffin’s balls.
Griffin waited for Taylor to go to the bar before broaching the subject: “Look Mary,” he said quietly. “I feel really bad about last night.”
“Oh you do, do you? Well I’m not sure I can cope with all this flattery.”
“No… No… Don’t get me wrong. I don’t feel bad about what happened, I feel bad because I can’t help thinking that I… That I…”
“That you took advantage of me? Is that what you were going to say? Don’t make me laugh, David. You didn’t take advantage of me. I took advantage of you… You’re not bad for an old-timer, either. You’re in pretty good shape.”
Griffin looked around anxiously. Pleased with what he was hearing but not wanting the conversation to be overheard by anyone else in the pub. He had an overwhelming urge to wrap his arms around Mary and pull her towards him but he didn’t.
Apart from a one-night stand with a female delegate at a conference in 1992, Griffin had been completely loyal to Susan in over 40 years of marriage. But even though she had been dead for almost three years, Griffin still felt guilty about last night. Not guilty about the fact that he had drunk too much and had sex with one of his students – bad, nay, catastrophic, though that was – but guilty about what he was feeling at the moment. Looking over at Mary Simms, who had now taken a seat beside him, Griffin found it impossible to stop the word ‘love’ from swimming around in his head. He realised how ludicrous it was to be feeling like this but he simply could not help himself.
“David… What’s the matter?” said Mary, breaking the silence. “You’re looking at me really strangely…”
Before Griffin could answer, Patrick Taylor was back at the table with three glasses balanced in his clenched hands. “What are you two whispering about?” he asked.
“David doesn’t want anyone to know that we slept together last night,” replied Mary.
“Stop your fretting, young Winston… A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
Lester Barnes was sitting at his usual place at reception doing what he did best. He liked Winston Young. He enjoyed the feeling of total authority that he got from looking at the skinny looking black kid who had rolled in from the streets a few weeks ago. Winston was raw all right, but he not without a brain. Right now Barnes was interested in seeing how that brain would cope with a dilemma. Would Winston’s fear of the big man on the fourth floor overcome his fear of losing his job? Barnes couldn’t help smiling at his young protégés discomfort.
“But Lester… I’ve already been up there twice today…”
“Yes and a third time won’t hurt then, will it? It’s what you have to do in this business, Winston, my boy. Don’t be such a scaredy cat.”
“Why don’t you go this time?”
“Why don’t I go? I’ll tell you why I don’t go. Because it’s not my job to go. That’s why. I, Winston, am a shift manager and I, therefore, manage. You’re a general dogsbody and you, therefore, general dogsbody. Sorry, my boy, but that’s the way it is. Now go and get his trays before I put you over my knee.”
“No buts, young Winston. Just console yourself that one day you’ll be the shift manager and you’ll be ordering some punk kid around. No offence.”
Winston slowly moved towards the lift. No offence taken you fat fucking queer, he thought to himself. I don’t plan to be around long enough in this shit hole to make shift manager. Winston wiped the sleep from his eyes and prepared to go and face the giant in Room 42.
Slater was sitting on a chair by the window in a trance, his eyes fixed on the contact point. The reluctant tapping on his door broke his concentration. “What now?” he said, once more checking his watch. Less than ten minutes to go.
“Room service,” Winston called weakly through the door. “Sorry but I need to collect your plates and glasses, Sir.”
“Go away, kid!”
“I’m sorry, Sir. But I’ve been told to collect them. Please… I’ll lose my job if I don’t …”
Slater’s eyes darted around the room. Everything was perfectly in place. The rifle was aimed precisely at contact point; the chair was in exactly the right position to make it easy for Slater to pull the trigger without fear of shaking the rifle. He wasn’t going to risk this job by dismantling everything and moving the rifle out of sight of the boy. Contact was too close.
Winston tapped on the door again, this time louder. “I’ll put them outside the door,” Slater called out. “You can collect them later.”
“I’m really sorry, Sir, but I have to get them now.”
Slater raised his eyes towards the ceiling and clenched his fists. “All right!” he exclaimed. “Give me a minute and I’ll bring them to the door!”
Slater moved towards the spare bed and scooped up the piles of crockery that covered it. He cradled them in his arms like a baby. Glasses and cups spilled out on to the floor. Slater reached the door awkwardly and twisted the self-locking handle, dropping more crockery in the process. The door swung open. Slater felt a searing pain in his chest and was instantly knocked backwards to the floor. The trays and crockery followed Slater’s fall as he tried in vain to reach for the handgun in his side pocket.
Before Slater could reach it, Winston Young quickly moved into the room and closed the door gently behind him. He aimed his gun towards the felled giant on the carpet. There was no sound at all as he pumped three or four shots into Slater’s head. Slater lay twitching on the floor, blood and brains collecting in a puddle by his shattered skull. Winston dropped down to his haunches and quickly checked Slater’s pulse. Then he moved over to the window and lowered himself into Slater’s chair, which was warm. He looked through the rifle’s digi-viewer and waited. At 14.58 precisely David Griffin entered into shot. A young girl accompanied the middle–aged university lecturer as he walked down the street. Griffin’s white hair shone like a beacon in the bright sunshine and drifted directly though the target cross on the digi-viewer. Then he moved out of shot and into the light. Satisfied, Winston began picking up the glasses and plates.