Relative Strangers – Extract 5

I kept smiling for most of the following morning, due in large part to the hangover which Tracy was failing miserably to cover. Smugly, I watched her battle with breakfast, moving her selection of cold cuts and cheese around her plate and wincing when I suggested that she try a nice runny egg with it. It was impossible to resist suggesting that she follow the savouries up with the strawberry waffles, syrup and lashings and lashings of cream. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t find it as amusing as I did.

“What the heck I did I drink last night?” She asked, consoling herself with third cup of black coffee. “Oh, no don’t tell me, I know – a lot!”

“Judging by the empty shot glasses and the six empty pint glasses, I’d be inclined to agree with you”.

She shuddered at the thought and asked how much of a show of herself she’d made. I reassured her that she didn’t embarrass me too much and her behaviour didn’t seem to put off the entertainment either. I beamed a smile at her across the table; she wasn’t sure if I was lying to be kind or to be mischievous and neither was I.

“Oh well”, she sighed, “as long as we all had a good time, that’s the main thing,”

I smiled, saying nothing.

“Right, I’ve had a word with myself and pulled myself together, so what’s on the agenda for today? The day is all yours; I guess I wasn’t much company for you last night”.

I shrugged my shoulders and said I’d actually had quite a good night. Aside from her highly amusing antics and cavorting with Kieran, I’d had some pleasant company from the bar staff and the owner. I was careful not to single out Mickey and start her furtive imagination flowing.

“I’m quite easy going, “I replied. “ But it might be nice to check out some of the museums, maybe have a look at some of the smaller shops and see if we can pick up some souvenirs. It was quite a late one last night, and to be honest, I’m pretty tired myself. It may be a good idea to get an early dinner and then head back here for a quick siesta before tonight”.

Tracy, looked up from her coffee, grinning.

“Tonight?” she asked. If it was possible to make a word sound lascivious, she had just accomplished it.

“Yep,” I tried to sound nonchalant, “I thought we would check out that bar again. Your favourite musician is on again tonight.”

Tracy didn’t reply. She just kept smiling.

The day turned out to be more productive than we had expected, largely helped by periodic caffeine refuelling stops. The morning was quite low key, taking in some of Rubens work at the Cathedral of Our Lady, and then visiting his tomb at the surprisingly more ornate St James Church.  The art and architecture were both breath taking; Tracy was more enamoured with the level of quiet each tourist attraction offered as she continued to nurse a pounding headache. She felt a little better after a large lunch and the afternoon was spent shopping in some of the smaller boutiques and stores in the streets off the Grote Market. I purchased a few small gifts, some for myself, some for my mum, and Tracy got a great deal on an oversized leather handbag. I thought it was a bit gaudy but she liked it, which I guessed was the main thing.

We wrapped up our shopping expedition close to four o’clock so we decided it would be a good option to head back to the hotel for a catnap and head back out after a few hours for food and drinks. I’m not a great one for napping in the day, even when I haven’t had much sleep at night, but I surprised myself by dozing off on my single bed for a whole two hours.  Even more surprising, when I did open my eyes, I discovered that Tracy was already up and showered. She kindly offered to make us both a cup of tea from the complimentary hospitality tray on the side table while I got my bearings, an offer that I took full advantage of.

While I sipped my tea I watched the news on the small TV which hung on a bracket on the otherwise undecorated, white walls.  I could only watch it, rather than listen, as I didn’t understand anything that was being said. However, the pictures suggested that a young family had fallen victim to some brute who had massacred them all in their own home. There appeared to be interviews with the local police and what seemed to be like neighbours. This was interspersed with pictures of the young children in what looked like their official school photographs.

“It’s just sickening” Tracy said, massaging hair mousse into her mane, “some people should just be shot”.

At this point, I would normally have let rip about my unease with the death penalty. I used to think that killing for the pleasure of revenge doesn’t elevate us above the criminal, but minimizes us. As I looked at the pictures of those two young children and their seemingly happy parents it was hard to agree with my own position.

“Is that here?” I asked her.

“Not far, I don’t think. I popped down to the bar earlier, to pick up a bottle of water and it was on the TV down there. The waiter said that it’s about thirty minutes away by car, maybe less. It’s been on the news for the last hour; the bodies were found this morning”.

It was hard to keep watching it so I turned the TV off and tried to direct the conversation onto more pleasant things. The evening was still early but I recognised a hunger pang when I felt one so I suggested that we go out and forage for food. After a brief debate with Tracy on where we should eat I put down my teacup and headed into the shower.

Within twenty minutes I was ready to go, wearing a crisp white shirt, jeans and the only pair of boots I’d thought to bring with me. Unlike Tracy, my holiday clothing was usually based on what would require the least amount of luggage.  She was applying the finishing touches to her make up when I noticed that she’d taken the tags off her new tote bag and she’d been busy filling it with the usual set of night out sundries – purse, camera, hairrush, lipstick and so on. But as it gaped open on the bed I could see that she had also slung in her toothbrush and a pair of clean knickers.

“You planning on going somewhere are you?” I blurted out, simultaneously annoyed by her brazen shirking of friendly responsibility and embarrassed by my own prudishness. This was meant to be a break for me to get over the loss of my man, not an excuse for her to find a new one. I tried to sound like I was teasing her, but I don’t think I did a very good job of hiding the annoyance in my voice. Much I as enjoyed the company I’d found in the bar staff, if I had wanted to go on holiday on my own, I would have done. I had not planned on being her wingman.

“I’m sorry”, she said, her face flushing as she grabbed the bag and slung it on the floor. “You know how I like to try out a new purchase straight away, and well, after last night, if things did go, well you know, well with Kieran, I’d rather have a few extra things with me.”

I raised my eyebrows at her in disbelief.

“I promise,” she pleaded, “I’m really not planning anything. Please believe me, pretty please”.

She was trying to use a cutesy baby voice but she was appalling at accents at the best of times and with her feeling visibly uncomfortable, it was completely laughable.  I struggled to keep a straight face. Spotting the opportunity to diffuse the situation further, she grabbed the bag and lifted it up to her head.

“See”, she said, “It’s not much bigger than my big fat head”.

We both exploded into laughter.

Tracy and I found a table at a place close to the hotel, something that was mid-way between a restaurant and a tavern. As soon as I realised that it been almost seven hours since I had last eaten, my hunger pangs seemed to develop a whole new level of virulence; there was no way I was going to spend time wandering around trying to find somewhere else to eat. Tracy was equally hungry, now that the headache had gone and she felt more like her usual self.  A couple of plates of breaded pork with potatoes and beets placated our hunger and gave us a much-needed boost to energy levels. We stayed in the tavern for about an hour after eating, watching the passersby on the street and enjoying a post dinner coffee.

I learned more about Tracy and the inner workings of her mind in that short hour, than I probably had during the months I’d actually known her. It turned out that Tracy was not entirely honest in the way she presented herself to the world. Despite all her bravado and devil may care attitude, there was, deep down, someone who had been really hurt. It turned out that she had spent six months travelling around Europe a few years ago, eventually meeting a fella and coming back to the UK with him. She was in between brewery contracts and eventually got one with him as the second licensee. I’m not sure what went on exactly but it had not ended well. Tracy had been left with a lot of debt and needed to earn more money than she could in the pubs. She got out as soon as she could, building a new life for herself and buying a small home of her own.

Her vocabulary and the tears welling up in her eyes hinted at an even darker side to the story which she didn’t want to reveal. I let it go; it was obvious though that Tracy had carefully crafted this public persona and talking about what had happened would clearly make her feel uncomfortable. I just nodded in agreement, as if I understood what it meant to be in a difficult relationship. But what did I know? I’d only had one real relationship and I had been unceremoniously dumped at that. Perhaps I should cut her some slack; she needs a bit of fun too.

After coffee we had a small glass of wine in a nearby bar and then headed onto O’Malley’s. As we walked, I didn’t push Tracy for any more information and nor did I comment on the big handbag she was carrying containing her emergency overnight things. I wasn’t going to judge her for wanting to get some positive attention where she could; as long as she was safe and didn’t let anyone take advantage. I was feeling strangely protective of her now.

We arrived about an hour earlier than we had on the previous night and the place was nowhere near as packed. Kieran was already on stage but in the processes of getting everything set up, rather than already performing. As he twiddled with various leads and buttons on his amplifier, he caught sight of Tracy and enthusiastically waved her over.  Her face lit up.

“Do you mind?” she asked.

“Go right ahead, I’ll get the drinks”.

Apparently that also meant I was extending an invitation to carry her bag too as she dumped it on the floor and made a beeline for the stage. I kept my frustration in check, clinging on to the fact that this was her mini holiday too and I should cut her some slack. We still had another whole day and night here – surely he couldn’t keep her attention for that long? Aside from his vocal performance and good looks, I hadn’t seen much that could pass for a conversation yet.

Reconciling myself to being the hand bags and drinks monitor, I made my way to the bar and selected an empty stool to sit on. As I took my seat, Micky appeared from the stairs tucked behind the large display of optics and low level fridges. He was wiping his hands off with a towel and looked like he had been doing something vaguely manual. I’ve never done bar work and I don’t really know what it involves, other than the obvious, but I’m sure it probably involves its fair share of lifting and cleaning. Or maybe he was just coming down for his shift from his lodgings upstairs, maybe after doing a strenuous workout of weights and stomach crunches. Now, there’s a thought.

“Well well, nice to see you here again Sophie”.

“Why thank you very much,” I politely replied. “You look like you’ve just been at the gym or something.”

He wiped a faint veneer of perspiration from his forehead.

“I wish, no time for that here. Maggie had a leak in the sink in her kitchen; I was just up there taking a look at it for her. She’s on her own since her husband passed. I try to do what I can for her”.

I wondered why Maggie hadn’t gone back to Ireland if she had no family here, but on reflection I could see that O’Malley’s would have been a thriving little business venture. I didn’t know much about her but she seemed pretty sharp when it came to running the place.

From our limited conversation I knew the bar was her home as well as her work. I’d been told that the pub hard two storeys above it. The top was a large apartment which she lived in. The middle story was separated into a smaller flat and an office space. From what I could gather Sean and Mickey currently lived there. I hadn’t wanted to pry too much on the first night, especially as it involved talking about potential bed space. That could have got into a territory that I was generally uncomfortable with. Nice, gentle flirting one thing. Discussions on sleeping arrangements could lead to double or even single entendres. Both of which would lead to the embarrassing problem of stammering and blushing.

Mickey asked for my drinks order and I took the executive decision that both Tracy and I would have a Guinness each. While he poured, we exchanged some pleasantries about our respective days, including where we had eaten and what we had bought; this included me highlighting the fact that the enormous handbag in my lap wasn’t mine.

“The sparkly-ness did give it away” He said.

I had to admit, he was right, the patchwork of multi coloured leather wasn’t my thing at all, don’t get me started on the glass gems which adorned it.  My plain black leather bag, slung loosely across my body, looked dramatically different. Nevertheless, I clutched onto her bag without any consideration of my personal appearance. I didn’t want to risk someone knocking it over and her knickers falling out. That could definitely give people the wrong idea, especially about me as I had been dumped with the bloody thing.

I looked over my shoulder to find Tracy, hoping that she may have been ready to have retrieved her bag by then. She wasn’t hard to find as the bar wasn’t that crowded yet and most of its patrons were happily occupying seats. Kieran was adding the final adjustments to his tuning his while Tracy sat on the edge of the stage watching him in a trance like state.  Sean was kind enough to offer to take her drink over to her which was fine with me,  if I was going to get stuck on my again I preferred to do it by the bar so I wouldn’t have to keep battling through the crowds later on. I half suspected that Sean fancied her a bit as well and I thought it would give him an excuse to go up and talk to her. She almost had ten years on him but who was I to judge? His face lit up when she thanked him although she quickly snapped her attention back to Kieran. They were engaged in a conversation that I couldn’t hear from across the room.

While Mickey and Sean went about serving the waiting customers, I contented myself with reflecting on my day and enjoying the feeling of being relaxed. The place reminded me in many ways of some of the pubs at home; a real mix of people, young and old, groups and couples, all just out to catch up with friends, enjoying a leisurely drink or some music. I’m not saying that Bethel, my home town, didn’t have its fair share of rowdy bars and nightclubs, but I always felt more comfortable with the smaller, local ones in Bethesda, the village like suburb I’d grown up in on the outskirts.  It was technically part of Bethel, the “technically” part being something which residents liked to stress.

Mid-way through my first drink, I realised that the bar didn’t seem as crowded as the night before which surprised me a little.  Mickey explained that it was because a bar another Irish bar a few streets away had a band on. The regulars would still turn up, but a few customers would probably have headed over their first, especially those who were there last night. Kieran was a pretty talented guy but his repertoire was limited and I could see why you wouldn’t necessarily want to hear him on successive nights. Mickey called it Paddyoke which I wanted to laugh at, but thought it may not be politically correct, what with not being Irish.

I heard a strum of a guitar, the signal that tonight’s show was about to start. I smiled over at Tracy who was standing adoringly in front of the stage despite there being plenty of seats available, including an empty stool by me.

“So then, “Mickey said leaning over the bar, “will we be having the pleasure of your company for the whole night or is this a passing visit?”

“You’ll have me all night”, I said. Rephrasing I added, “We won’t be going to anywhere else I don’t think. Of course, it’s up to madam and what lover boy wants to do”

I gestured in the direction of the stage and Mickey responded with a knowing look. He said that he’d seen that look on a girl before, well when they were with Kieran anyway, and there would be no way she’d be leaving while he was still knocking about the place. I was inclined to agree, even without the secret knowledge I had about the content of her handbag.

Kieran looked like he knew how to charm a lady and though genuine his actions may have been, I was pretty determined that he wasn’t going to take advantage of Tracy. I was going to keep her as sober as I could to make sure she didn’t make any mistakes. For a moment I considered getting up and standing next to her, but I’m afraid fear of embarrassment took over. She was the only person on the ‘dance floor’ in front of the stage. I’d look like a spare part – one apparently employed to just carry her handbag.

Oh what the hell, I thought, she’s a big girl and she deserves a break. As long as she can still think clearly, it’s up to her what she wants to do. Mickey must have read my mind as he when Tracy waved her hand at the bar to signal she wanted another drink, he poured her a Coke and got that sent over to her.

In between serving customers, Mickey and I resumed our conversations from the previous night. These were mostly centred on me, which made me feel a little uncomfortable but as I’d managed to deflect many of these questions previously, I thought it only fair to share a little more about myself. After all, it was unlikely that I was going to see him again after this short break – what did I have to lose? I thought it may be quite nice to bare my soul for one, hell to even just talk about me for a change. I spent the last couple of years in work listening to an endless line of people telling me about their problems, aspirations and dreams. Perhaps I should give it a go.

Michaels opening gambit was to ask me more about home, probably because he thought it would be a relatively safe topic of conversation. I explained in more detail how I ended up staying in the Midlands after my degree and although I had applied for jobs back home during my final year, nothing much had come of it. I admitted that I could have gone back home then and helped my mum run the businesses, but at the time I hadn’t felt equipped to make such a major decision. If I committed to that, it was a commitment for life really. Besides which, my grandfather had told me to go off and get some life experience before I did that to make sure it was what I wanted, as well be able to add some value. I felt a bit sad when I thought of his words, he’d always say make your own mark in the world first and when you’re ready there’ll be a proper job here for you – one day this will be yours and your mothers. Get some experience of the real world before you take this on, you’ll regret it otherwise.  Mickey smiled when I told him this. Maybe it reminded him of someone too.

“So, do you think you’ll ever move back home for good?” he ventured.

Maybe”, I shrugged my shoulders. “There’s plenty of reasons to go back, and fewer reasons to stay here. My mum is at home, most of my friends too, although I don’t see them that much these days.”

“That’s tough, about your grandparents, mine are all gone too”

“Yeah, it was and I still miss them. They were such a huge part of my live, especially growing up. When I was really little we all used to live together and it was great, I was spoiled rotten. Even when my mum and I were on our own, we still had a house around the corner so I used to see them all the time.”

“I know what you mean. Most of my clan live within a fifteen minute walk of each other. A few of the younger ones have moved a bit further afield over the years; a couple onto the mainland, but the older generation are all still there ruling the roost.”

I laughed, “You make it sound like the mafia!”

“Don’t joke”, he grinned. “I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of one of my aunties – it’s always the women you should watch, especially the short ones”.

He looked at me with a knowing smile.

“Don’t you know it, I may be five foot three but I’m all muscle.”

We both laughed, which lightened the mood. I could see why he was a good barman, apart from the practical skills of serving people quickly; he engaged with people very well.  It didn’t go unnoticed that Mickey hadn’t asked about my father, who was conspicuous by his absence. If he had asked about him, I didn’t know what I would even say. Should I say that he knocked my mum up on a glorified school trip and she never heard from him again? Or should I say that he was a mysterious European gentleman who she fell madly in love but for reasons unknown was never able to be with her? The truth, for all I knew, was somewhere in between the two, or something completely different.

I knew that my mum was eighteen when she had me and that she had got pregnant on a trip abroad following her sixth form studies, but beyond that I knew very little at all. I didn’t even have his name on my birth certificate. My grandfather and grandmother told me they knew nothing of any substance about my father and cared little for finding out. He was from Denmark and that was all they could say. Aside from some tentative enquiries in my early teens, I came down on the side of not asking anyone about anything. They didn’t seem to know much and thinking about it obviously upset all who were concerned. Why put everyone through it? Finding anything out wasn’t going to make any significant difference to my life – I had a great childhood and have a loving family. It was difficult to believe that it could have been improved. If I thought it would have helped my mum to talk about it then I would have pushed the matter but she always dismissed it, apologising but stating that it was too difficult to talk about.

My grandparents hadn’t seemed to blame my mum for getting pregnant or resent me in any way. As they only had one daughter, I think they considered my arrival some sort of gift for them as well. They loved my mother more than I thought it possible for any parent to love a child and when she declared that she was pregnant, they had done all they could to support her. It was a few months after her return from abroad and they believed her when she said it wasn’t anyone local – there was nobody they could march over to and strong-arm into marrying her if they wanted to. It was still a time when being an unmarried mother was uncommon but there was no suggestion of adoption or a termination.

My grandparents told me they would have stood by my mother whatever she wanted to do, so they did.  They brought home cribs and baby supplies from one of their shops and wallpaper from another to create a nursery in their spare bedroom. My grandfather ensured that he brought in enough money to support another mouth and my grandmother held mum’s hand when I was pushed into the world at our local hospital. When I was a little older, they handed over one of the properties to us so mum and I could have our own bit of independence and she could make her own home. She lived in this right up until my grandparents became too old and ill to live by themselves. It was then that she moved back into the family home, where she still lived although it was far too big for her. Talking to Mickey about it made me realise how bizarre it probably was to not know who your father is, weirder still for it not to bother you. I wasn’t sure whether I was just incredibly well adjusted or had deep psychological issues which had yet to rear their head.

Later on, the conversation moved on to Tracy and Kieran, favourite bands and who would win in fight, Columbo or Quincy. Now and again Sean would come over and join in, giving us his take on why one band was better than the other. Even the occasional person waiting at the bar would share their insight. It went on like this for hours while the place slowly became busier and the floor space filled with a few more bodies.

Occasionally I had to shuffle my stool in a bit tighter to the bar in order to allow people to pass or to get served.  I wished I didn’t have to try and find space to accommodate holding Tracy’s bag as well, which was far from small and not exactly my style either. When I looked over my shoulder to see if I could offload it on her, I could see that she had somehow managed to squeeze herself onto the stage, sitting on a tall stool to one side, while Kieran belted out favourites for the audience to sing along and dance to.

Just when I was starting get into my stride with Kieran’s rendition of “Where Do You Go to my Lovely”, singing along with the rest of the crowd, I felt a sharp tug as the oversized bag was plucked from my grip. I turned in the direction of the movement and saw the most striking man stood beside me, tenderly holding the handles in a manner which seemed impossible for the force he exerted.

“May I?”

The words oozed from his lips as he gently pulled the bag from my hands and gestured to a small brass hook attached to the underside of the bar. Before I could object, he had already nimbly tucked the bag on the hook, neatly tucking it under the bar.

“Please forgive me if I appeared rude”, he added, “You seemed very uncomfortable”.

“Uh, thanks. Thanks very much”.

I caught a glimpse of Mickey out the corner of my eye. He was busy serving two very drunk ladies at the end of the bar, both of whom were clearly trying to engage him in conversation, but fair play to him he was fending them off quite well. He stopped to watch the situation unfolding between me and tall, dark and handsome. If it was possible to look like you were speeding up the pulling of a pint, he definitely was achieving it. I was flattered. The stranger followed my gaze and spotted Mickey’s steely look. He turned back to me and caressed my shoulder gently as he walked away. Nothing further was said; he just disappeared silently into the crowd.

“You okay? Is he bothering you?”

The familiar Irish tones shook me from my stupor. Maybe it was because I wasn’t used to conversing with extremely attractive, well groomed, older men but ‘tall, dark and handbag’ as I decided to nickname him, had knocked me for a six a little. He was just so damn suave – or perhaps just incredibly well-mannered and being extremely handsome just gave him the illusion of being debonair. He was very different from Mickey with his dark shaggy hair and baggy jeans hanging half way down his bottom.  Not that he was unattractive by means but it was a bit like comparing your favorite jeans and a couture trouser suit. I pondered on that for a moment – in reality which would you get more wear out of?

“I’m fine”, I tried not to smile too much, “He was just helping me with my bag, well her bag, you know what I mean”.

Somewhat reassured, Mickey nodded and went back to serving his customers. The girls at the end of the bar were flashing him big smiles and one of them was attempting what I thought was meant to be a wink. He gave a nod to Sean who picked up on serving them, and Mickey went about seeing to other, less lascivious orders. Occasionally he would come over and have a chat, picking up intermittently on the same bit of conversation; sometimes he would stop for a moment and listen to the music, singing along when he knew the words and helping to whip the crowd into a frenzy with some rigorous hand clapping and feet stomping. Tracy and Kieran came over for a drink at intermission, when she firmly laid her claim by gripping his hand and laughing at his jokes a little too much. All in all, it was turning into a pretty good night.

I was taken quite by surprise when, three songs into the second set, Sean grabbed me my shoulders and told me that he thought someone had stolen my bag. My first reaction was to look down but when did I could see that it my small black purse was hanging securely across my body. I quickly realised what he meant, and my eyes darted to the hook under the bar where Tracy’s bag should be. All I could was a vacant space. I raised myself up on the stools footrest and tried to catch Tracy’s attention, my eyes darting across the room to locate her; she was where she had been sat before, but I couldn’t make eye contact with her until a few of the audience members moved aside a little.

Waving my arms frantically in the air, I beckoned Tracy to the bar, simultaneously asking Sean if he’d seen anything and if so, what exactly. By the time Tracy weaved her way through the crowds, Mickey had noticed that something was going on and put down his half pulled Guinness to come over too. I’m surprised that the rest of the crowd didn’t come over as well just out of curiosity; must have looked like I was having some sort of seizure with the amount of thrashing my arms were doing.

As Mickey and Tracy tried to decipher what was going on, my overwhelming thought was that her passport was in her bag. How the hell would do we get her home if her passport was in there? Plus her money and her house keys were in there. How will she get in? Bugger, I bet she’s left her credit cards in there as well. The most obvious solution was to try and get the bag back somehow. I’ve always been a believer in taking the most practical solution wherever possible, and at that moment all I could think was “Do something”.

“It was two lads”, Sean said, “I didn’t see them lift it, but one of the girls over there said she thought they saw them take it. Sorry, I didn’t see anything but she said it was just now.”

“Oh crap,” Tracy muttered repeatedly.

“We should call the peelers”, Mickey said, “Sean, go tell Maggie”.

I can’t really explain why I did what I did next. It certainly wasn’t the most sensible action to take, but it just seemed like the one thing that I could actually do which would help the immediate problem before me.

Before I knew it I was running out of the door of O’Malley’s with a steely determination which I never really knew I possessed.  I heard some commotion behind me as I made for the door, a combination of “where’s she going?” and “what does she think she’s doing?” but nothing stopped me. Come hell or high water I was going to try and get that bag back; people could hang about or come with me, it was their shout.

It took a few seconds for me to hear the sounds of other footsteps running behind me. By then, I’d started to pick up the pace, heading down the cobbled road into an even darker side street. I don’t know why I picked the route I did, I think I just assumed that a robber would probably try to make off into a shadier part of town, literally and metaphorically. Tracy and I had already established on our daytime wandering that there wasn’t much this way other than dodgy looking restaurants and a few bars – the sort of place I assumed a thief would hang out.

I think that the fact I caught up with the thieves within a few minutes surprised me more than the fact I legged it after them in the first place. I had no idea I could run so fast.  They were also not what I expected. Okay, I wasn’t expecting striped jumpers and a bag on their shoulder labelled ‘swag’, but I wasn’t expecting two well groomed guys in blazers and fine knit sweaters either . They looked like they should have been extras on Miami Vice.

“Give me the fucking bag”, I shouted.

I don’t know if they were first time opportunists or whether they were just taken back by a five foot nothing Welsh woman chasing after them, but they stopped in their tracks.

“Give me the bloody bag bag”, I repeated.

And blow me, didn’t blazer boy just hand the bag right back. I don’t know if it was the conviction with which I spoke, or the fact that Mickey had just about caught up with us, but the taller of the two just handed it right back.

“Wait there” I ordered. I was surprisingly good at this.” Everything better still be in here”.

The two men stood completely still as I rummaged through the bag. Due to its size it took me a while to go through it but my cursory inspection of its contents suggested that everything was there; everything that was important anyway. As I turned on my heel I saw Mickey behind me, looking like a man who had experienced every sort of emotion all at the same time; worry, anger, relief, joy.

“Jesus, thank God you’re alright. What the hell were you thinking of?” he asked breathlessly, “You’re a feckin idiot”.

“It had her passport and everything in”, slightly bemused by his question. I think my actions had even surprised me a little, but the shock was making me act like I’d behaved in the most reasonable way in the world.

My reply didn’t satisfy Mickey who was by that time doubled over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. I gave him a few moments to gather himself.

“Where do you learn to run like that?” he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders in response. I wasn’t really sure. I’d never been particularly sporty in school. I didn’t mind the cross country running in the summer months but I’d never been very fast. If anything, I was more of an ambler than a runner.

“C’mon” I said “I need a beer. Take this will you? It’s heavier than it looks.”

I handed the bag over to Mickey, who obediently slung it over his shoulder, and we started to make our way up the cobbled street towards the pub.  After a few yards, I started to slow down. The magnitude of what I had done hit me and my head was starting to spin. Deep down I knew I had done something incredibly stupid and I really could have been hurt. I needed some time to gather my thoughts before heading into the bar to be told the same thing by a bunch of other people. It was bad enough Mickey having a go at me, I couldn’t face the embarrassment of everyone else doing it as well.

“Go on ahead, I’ll just be a minute, I just need to catch my breath, get some air. I’ll be back in a bit.”

Mickey didn’t look impressed but reluctantly carried on walking. He was definitely cross with me and I couldn’t really blame him.  As I watched him turn the corner towards the bar, I enjoyed a few solitary moments to process all that had just happened. My delay in following him was a mistake.

Out of nowhere, a lean, muscular arm hooked itself around my neck and dragged me sideways. I was dark and I couldn’t see much but I seemed to be in some sort of an alcove, maybe a doorway I thought, but either way I hadn’t noticed it on my race down the street after Tracy’s handbag. My boots scuffed and kicked at the cobbles as I was dragged up onto a high stone step and further back into what seemed to be an entrance to a building. I couldn’t see the door which I assumed was behind me, but I through the shadows I thought I could see what passed for a window, although it looked blacked out, perhaps by paint. Promotional posters for gigs and concerts were peeling from the pane. I estimated that I’d was probably only a couple of feet back from the street, but in the pitch black you could have easily walked past and not seen me or anyone else who had been hiding there.

I tried to scream but I couldn’t, the arm was curled so tightly around my throat it was making it impossible to breathe. Breathing through your nose isn’t easy when you’re in a blind panic but I tried anyway.

Cold fingers were clamped over my cheek and the side of my mouth. I tried to move my jaw to try and at least get a bite but it was impossible. Why didn’t I go back with Mickey? Please Mickey, come back. Anyone, help me, please, please.

As we struggled in the confines of the doorway I hoped that someone would come to my aid. Bars and nightclubs would be shutting their doors soon and that would mean someone would have to come past surely. All I had to do was stay alive long enough to be found. Surely Mickey would see me soon? But why would he? He would probably assume that I was totally unhinged by now and that I’d wandered off somewhere. My thoughts were racing as I struggled and my head was throbbing.

Then the searing pain started. I couldn’t tell what was happening but I knew it wasn’t good. At first all I could feel was an ice cold stabbing sensation in my neck. Then came the burning, a river of heat surging through my veins. I’d never felt anything like it before. Coherent through was terminated the moment I felt my flesh tear open and the blood pour down my neck. I wasn’t sure what weapon he could be using but I felt his nose resting on the side of my chin, his mouth manoeuvring itself around my neck, moving in a circular gnawing motion. Oh my god, I’m being bitten. Someone is actually biting me. What next? This can’t be happening? This can’t be real. What the fuck? I can’t die like this.

Then everything went black.

Helen Treharne

I’m Helen Treharne, fiction author an creator of The Sophie Morgan Vampire Series. I live in South Wales with my husband, young son and rescue cat.
My books are available at all major digital retailers with soft back copies also available from Amazon, Createspace and other stores.
When I’m not writing fiction, I blog at, sharing my experiences of being a busy parent jugging working, writing, and more. Follow me there for my personal insights.

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