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The Impossibility of Blue
Chapter 1: Lucky Man

The thud of the double-doors only half registered in Danny’s mind as he stared at the report on the screen, wondering whether the addition of another flow-chart would be useful or overkill. He eased his body against the back of the chair, pushing against it to enjoy the playful bounce of resistance and rubbed his fingers through his pale, close-cropped hair. It had been a long day but he wasn’t going to waste any opportunity that came his way.

He’d outgrown his first London job within nine months. Danny knew his success had been down to a combination of good timing in the market and luck, but he’d sensed the senior partners were wary of his ambitions and he felt constrained. This new position at Lucas Business Software, a niche consultancy, was a completely different set up. As soon as he’d arrived he’d been made part of the team pitching for a major contract and he was shadowing one of their most successful client managers. Footsteps thumped between the desks and a surprisingly good baritone sang out across the deserted office offering a new version to a well-known tune: ‘Oh Danny-Boy, the pints, the pints are calling...’

The expression on Danny’s face turned into a broad smile and when he looked up, Rob Machellan, ten years his senior and his unofficial mentor, was grinning at him over the desk divider.

‘Oh Danny-Boy, you know where I want to be… Come on, give yourself a break. Remember: all work and no play makes you ­’

‘A millionaire?’ Danny teased, waving away a yawn with the back of his hand.

‘Work smart, not hard, my son.’ Rob’s smile thinned as he sat down heavily on the edge of the young man’s desk, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. ‘You and I both know that Declan’s such a tight-arse he’ll send that report back covered in revisions before it gets anywhere near the BPM at Draycott. Come on, it’s my treat.’

‘I was about to leave anyway,’ Danny began to explain. ‘I’m meeting Ellie and her friends for a drink at nine.’

Rob winked at him. ‘Can’t have you too worse the wear for that. The night is young and so are you, unlike some of us.’ He feigned keeling over on Danny’s desk, his tongue hanging out like a very dead dog, then sat upright as if his performance were nothing out of the ordinary. ‘I’ll meet you on the corner in five. I’ve got to get some printouts for tomorrow.’

***

Danny hesitated as he stepped outside the grey stone building. Had Rob meant this corner or the one opposite? He peered across the road into the surrounding darkness, tinted orange by the streetlights, but there was no one waiting. He looked round to his right ­ again, no one ­ then to his left. Someone moved out of the shadows and the light from a decorative figurehead on the wall above spilled down onto a figure reading a newspaper. The paper was as crumpled as the man’s expensive Burberry and Danny was reminded of Rob’s reply to someone’s comments that he should sharpen up his appearance. ‘So I’m not a clothes horse, but my clothes are well-made, anyone with good taste knows that, and comfortable’s better. I like being comfortable and most of the people I do business with like feeling comfortable with me.’ Rob carried a little more weight for his height, (6 feet) and age (late thirties) than most account managers in the City would have thought advantageous and his dark hair, though trimmed regularly at a barber’s on Drury Lane, always looked unruly. He was too engrossed to notice the young man’s approach; his lips were pressed close in concentration and the narrow-lenses of his glasses reflected back the light. For a moment, Danny hesitated about interrupting, then Rob raised his head and his expression changed to one of warm recognition.

‘Come on Danny-Boy, I thought the Queen’s Arms would suit us for a quick one.’

***

After a fast ten-minute walk of short cuts through side streets and across courtyards, they settled themselves into the faded red plush of an old-fashioned pub where the landlord treated Rob as if he were royalty in disguise.

‘Cheers.’ Rob raised his glass of whisky and very little soda to Danny’s pint of Guinness. ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down.’

Danny took a sip, shaking his head. ‘No worries, I enjoy it. Seriously, I expected it to be tough. I’ve got my first official review in six weeks and I’d love to be able to present this new account signed, sealed and delivered.’

‘You’ve already got the kudos of helping to close the first stage, that’s pretty good going.’ Rob drank from his glass again and winked at Danny. ‘When we pitched we didn’t think we had a chance against Garlands, and, from what I hear, their chief guy’s pretty pissed-off, so that’s plenty of brownie points. In fact, you should be celebrating.’

The older man leant against the cushion-backed bench, putting his hands behind his head, his expression mellowing as he relaxed. Then, as if remembering something, he pulled out his wallet, hunted through the soft leather and took out a narrow pale blue card which he laid beside Danny’s drink.

‘I was saving this but I think you’ve already earned it.’

Danny slid the card in front of him with his forefinger; the side facing upwards was blank.

Rob watched him, amused. ‘It won’t bite you.’

Danny shook his head, smiling, and turned the card over. There were three lines of text in a calligraphic typeface: M. Bleu, 117 Piccadilly, London.

‘Mr Blue? Mr?’

Rob laughed gently. ‘The initial’s for her first name, but yes, it is the French version of blue, never asked her why, never thought to ... ’

Danny remained silent: what had Rob offered him, the calling card of some expensive prostitute? Rob read his mind, something he was uncannily good at. ‘She’s very good. Unusual, you could say.’

Danny pushed the card back to his friend. ‘Thanks but no thanks. I’m serious about Ellie, we’re engaged. I know she’s the woman for me.’

Rob turned his empty glass round on the table, his voice more sombre than before. ‘You want to feel it, knowing it doesn’t mean a thing.’

‘I do,’ Danny grinned at his companion, ‘I feel it all the time.’

‘You lucky devil.’ Rob raised an intrigued eyebrow. ‘Still, think of this as an early, and rather special, stag-night treat.’

The narrow strip of blue lay between them on the table.

Danny shook his head. ‘Sorry mate, it’s not my scene.’

Rob waved away his objections. ‘You’ll find it a very different experience from the standard paid-for sexual encounter.’ He read the fleeting look of indignation and embarrassment on his companion’s face. ‘My apologies, Danny-Boy, of course, you’re too handsome to have to pay for your supper and, as you say, Ellie’s rather lovely, so you’d be a fool but ...’

‘But what?’ Danny was starting to feel irritated. Their conversation reminded him of something he’d rather have forgotten. Just before he’d left his last job, there’d been that incident with the girl from marketing. A pretty, though unglamorous, girl with naturally blonde hair, cut short in a gamine style which only made her seem younger. He’d been restless, working out his notice, and a spur of the moment lunch-date had spilled over into a crafty afternoon away from the office. By that evening they were back at her studio flat, and they’d ended up grabbing the clothes off one another. When she asked him, ‘Is this a one-off, Danny, or does it mean more?’ he’d hated himself but all he could do was mumble something about not knowing what would happen with this new job. He’d spent the remaining two weeks avoiding her at the office and being particularly attentive to Ellie and this had resulted in their unofficial engagement.

Yet Rob was insistent as if his efforts were directed wholly for Danny’s benefit. ‘It will teach you things. I don’t just mean about being a better lover.’

‘You mean to tell me that going to bed with this woman helped you get where you are today?’ Danny couldn’t resist taking the mickey.

The older man simply winked. ‘Not at all but it was an interesting experience. You’d learn something, if you gave yourself the chance.’

Danny held up his hand to signal that he didn’t want to hear any more.

Rob couldn’t resist offering one further piece of information. ‘Let me give you directions, just in case you’re tempted. It’s always a bit hard to find, the first time.’ He unfolded the thin serviette underneath his whisky glass and dotted several points on it with his chubby fountain pen, smiling at the way the ink bled into the tissue.

‘Okay, you know Green Park tube, don’t you? Right, there’s a road which runs down the side of it and you need to go down there, then turn right to walk parallel with Piccadilly itself, but it’s better if you go this way. You’re walking to the edge of Cork Street, do you know it? Where all the private galleries are.’ He finished the map with a full, curving heart, placing four stars around it, then folded the tissue and handed it to Danny. ‘Take the card to humour me, but if you don’t use it you must give it back. Don’t lose it or pass it on to anyone else or she’ll have my guts for garters ­ literally!’ He laughed uneasily in the young man’s face.

***
Copyright © P.A. Jones 2011

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Copyright © P.A. Jones 2001-2015