‘I’ll walk with you,’ he says.
He catches her look of wariness, the way she prepares to decline. Greg touches her arm. ‘You’re okay, sweetheart. He’s an ex-cop.’
Paul feels himself being reassessed. The woman’s makeup has smudged beneath one eye and he has to fight the urge to wipe it.
‘I can vouch for his good character. He’s genetically wired to do this, kind of like a St Bernard in human form.’
‘Yeah. Thanks, Greg.’
She puts on her jacket. ‘If you’re sure you don’t mind, that would be really kind of you.’
‘I’ll call you tomorrow, Paul. And good luck, Miss Liv. Hope it all gets sorted.’ Greg waits until they are some way down the road, then closes and locks the door.
They walk briskly, their feet echoing in the empty cobbled streets, the sound bouncing off the silent buildings around them. It has begun to rain, and Paul rams his hands deep into his pockets, his neck hunched into his collar. They pass two young men in hoodies and he is conscious of her moving slightly closer to him.
‘Did you cancel your cards?’ he says.
‘Oh. No.’ The fresh air is hitting her hard. She looks despondent, and every now and then she stumbles a little. He would offer his arm but he doesn’t think she would take it. ‘I didn’t think of that.’
‘Can you remember what you have?’
‘One Mastercard, one Barclays.’
‘Hold on. I know someone who can help.’ He dials a number. ‘Sherrie? … Hi. It’s McCafferty … Yeah, fine, thanks. All good. You?’ He waits. ‘Listen – could you do me a favour? Text me the numbers for stolen bank cards? Mastercard and a Barclays. Friend’s just had her bag nicked … Yeah. Thanks, Sherrie. Say hi to the guys for me. And, yeah, see you soon.’
He dials the texted numbers, hands her the phone. ‘Cops,’ he says. ‘Small world.’ And then walks silently as she explains the situation to the operator.
‘Thank you,’ she says, handing the phone back.
‘I’d be surprised if they manage to get any money out on them anyway.’ Liv smiles ruefully.
They are at the restaurant, a Spanish place. The lights are off and the doors locked. He ducks into the doorway and she peers in through the window, as if willing it to show some distant sign of life.
Paul consults his watch. ‘It’s a quarter past twelve. They’re probably done for the night.’
Liv stands and bites her lip. She turns back to him. ‘Perhaps she’s at mine. Please can I borrow your phone again?’ He hands it over, and she holds it up in the sodium light better to see the screen. He watches as she taps a number, then turns away, one hand rifling unconsciously through her hair. She glances behind her and gives him a brief, uncertain smile, then turns back. She types in another number, and a third.
‘Anyone else you can call?’
‘My dad. I just tried him. Nobody’s answering there either. Although it’s entirely possible he’s asleep. He sleeps like the dead.’ She looks completely lost.
‘Look – why don’t I book you a room in a hotel? You can pay me back when you get your cards.’
She stands there, biting her lip. Two hundred pounds. He remembers the way she had said it, despairing. This was not someone who could afford a central London hotel room.
The rain is falling more heavily now, splashing up their legs, water gurgling along the gutters in front of them. He speaks almost before he thinks: ‘You know what? It’s getting late. I live about twenty minutes’ walk away. You want to think about it and decide when we get to mine? We can sort it all out from there if you like.’
She hands him his phone. He watches some brief, internal struggle take place. Then she smiles, a little warily, and steps forward beside him. ‘Thank you. And sorry. I – I really didn’t set out to mess up someone else’s night too.’
Liv grows progressively quieter as they approach his flat, and he guesses that she is sobering up: some sensible part of her is wondering what she has just agreed to. He wonders if there is some girlfriend waiting for her somewhere. She’s pretty, but in the way that women are when they don’t want to draw male attention to themselves: free of makeup, hair scraped back into a ponytail. Is this a g*y thing? Her skin is too good for her to be a regular drinker. She has taut legs and a long stride that speak of regular exercise. But she walks defensively, with her arms crossed over her chest.
They reach his flat, a second-floor maisonette above a café on the outskirts of Theatreland, and he stands well back from her as he opens the door.
Paul switches on the lights and goes straight to the coffee-table. He sweeps up the newspapers and that morning’s mug, seeing the flat through a stranger’s eyes: too small, overstuffed with reference books, photographs and furniture. Luckily, no stray socks or washing. He walks into the kitchen area and puts the kettle on, fetches her a towel to dry her hair, and watches as she walks tentatively around the room, apparently reassured by the packed bookshelves, the photographs on the sideboard: him in uniform, him and Jake grinning, their arms around each other. ‘Is this your son?’
‘He looks like you.’ She picks up a photograph of him, Jake and Leonie, taken when Jake was four. Her other arm is still wrapped around her stomach. He would offer her a T-shirt, but he doesn’t want her to think he’s trying to get her to remove her clothes.
‘Is this his mother?’
‘You’re … not g*y, then?’
Paul is briefly lost for words, then says, ‘No! Oh. No, that’s my brother’s bar.’
He gestures towards the photograph of him in uniform. ‘That’s not, like, me doing a Village People routine. I really was a cop.’
She starts to laugh, the kind of laughter that comes when the only alternative is tears. Then she wipes her eyes and flashes him an embarrassed smile. ‘I’m sorry. It’s a bad day today. And that was before my bag got stolen.’
She’s really pretty, he thinks suddenly. She has an air of vulnerability, like someone’s stripped her of a layer of skin. She turns to face him and he looks away abruptly. ‘Paul, have you got a drink? As in not coffee. I know you probably think I’m a complete soak but I could really, really do with one right now.’
He flicks the kettle off, pours them both a glass of wine and comes into the living area. She is sitting on the edge of the sofa, her elbows thrust between her knees.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com