Sunday, 7 October 2012

33. She usually gets quite a lot of applause

There is a pub on the outskirts of the city called The Man in Black. The landlord, in case you hadn't guessed, is obsessed with Johnny Cash. Normally he keeps this under control quite well and it is just an ordinary - in fact, a rather good - local pub with a lot of pictures of Johnny Cash on the walls.

But once every three months he holds a karaoke night where you can sing anything you want as long as it is by Johnny Cash. He gets stupendously drunk and sings I Got Stripes. This is invariably one of the highlights of the evening.

The Cashtacular, as it is known to those of us who attend regularly, is surprisingly popular. One would have thought it would only appeal to a niche audience, but in fact the pub is usually rammed.

Amanda always sings 25 Minutes To Go, wearing a man's baggy black suit, with a tight black shirt she unbuttons to show three inches of cleavage. She usually gets quite a lot of applause.

"Well, they're building a gallows outside my cell...and I've got 25 minutes to go," she growls into the microphone. She has informed me she always wears a black bra and knickers as well to "really get into the spirit of it". This is more than I wanted to know.

Midway through the song, my skin prickles. Something's wrong. I don't know what it is, but something has gone badly wrong, right now.

I turn and look around the room and see Derek, sitting at the table behind and to the left of me. He is wearing a black shirt and a black suit, like pretty much everyone else in the room. He has a heavy gold watch on his right wrist. Looks expensive.

He is watching me. When he sees me turn, he smiles and raises his glass.

On the stage, Amanda sings.

"Well I'm waiting for the pardon that'll set me free, with nine more minutes to go. But this ain't the movies so forget about me - eight more minutes to go...."

Derek ambles over to my table. He chooses the chair closest to mine. He rests his knee against my thigh. I move my thigh. He moves his knee so he's touching me again.

"Hello Alice," he says. He smiles again, and then he licks his lips. He has a large, wet tongue. "What a coincidence." There is no surprise in his voice.

"Hello," I say. It's funny how, when you are faced with someone who is behaving in a disturbing way, you try as hard as you can to act like everything's normal. Like the person you're talking to is normal. Until you can't pretend any more.

"It's good to see you. I could give you a lift home after the show if you like," he says. His voice is thoughtful, musing. "It's on my way. You live in that block of flats just off Jefferson Street."

It's a statement, not a question.

"No, thank you," I say. "I've got plans tonight."

"With your pretty blonde friend?" He nods towards the stage. "What are you doing?"

I'm not sure how to answer, so I take a sip of my drink and smile.

"Perhaps I could buy you a drink," he says.

"We'll be leaving very shortly."

"That's a shame. Are you sure I can't tempt you?"

Derek's eyes are full of shining amusement. They are focused on me, all his interest is on me, he's like a man watching a wasp drown in a glass of beer. He has scared the crap out of me. And he knows it. And he knows I know who and what he is. And he loves that I'm scared.

Amanda finishes singing and Derek leaves my table without waiting for an answer. He doesn't want to be here when Amanda gets back. Of course not. She could corroborate.

I run back through everything that's happened. I could perhaps say that it was inappropriate for him to take me out to lunch and buy me wine, but the truth is I drank the wine and I didn't say anything at the time - not to him, not to anyone else - so nothing would happen. HR might have a quiet word with him, but nothing would happen.

Apart from that, there's nothing. A handful of looks. Some emails which, even to me, look completely professional. He's never touched me. He's never even made any off-key comments. I have nothing except the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice to back up my dreadful sense of fear.

And now here he is; and why shouldn't he be here? It's a bar full of Johnny Cash fans and I'm sure he will turn out to have a copy of Live from Folsom Prison or American IV at home because he is a tidy man who doesn't like loose ends.

I had hoped that he was smart enough to leave me alone. Smart werewolves don't target people they know, because connections can be traced back. But it turns out he's only half-smart and he's coming after me anyway.

I am now at war. I didn't want it and I didn't ask for it, but it's been brought to me anyway and I will have to defend myself or go under.

The bit of my brain which has been sticking its fingers in its ears and singing while frantically trying to pretend that I'm imagining it, that I'm crazy, that Derek isn't what I think he is, suddenly comes to life and I coldly wake up all the way.

I know what I'm meant to do - what he means for me. What he wants from me. I'm meant to be scared. I'm meant to be as paralysed with fear as a mouse hiding from a cat. He thinks that I'm like every stupid bitch in every Hollywood thriller who curls up in a ball and starts crying instead of figuring out how to take the psychopaths down. I'm meant to be making him feel powerful because, for him, that's the good shit. That's what gets him off. And the reason he's picked me is because he thinks he can do that to me.

He's wrong. I'm not that woman. I just look like her.

I plan. I need to go home and drag out my punch bag from the cupboard. I need to revise my self-defence techniques, my escape routes, and my protection routines. Then I need to sit down and figure out how the fuck I'm going to take the fight to him.

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