* * *
The two women tapped their way into the bar on their high heels, giggling and whispering. He looked up and gave them a smile, welcoming but not encouraging. He was used to seeing them sitting poolside at this time of day, stretched out on sun loungers and sacrificing their skin to the heat of the Mediterranean sun. Not today though. The fine, unseasonal
drizzle discouraged the pool users.
He turned his attention back to his laptop and continued to type. He was briefly aware that after leaving the bar with their drinks the women had taken seats at the table next to where he sat, but he kept his eyes on the screen and tapped in the next sentence, apparently focused on his self-appointed task.
There was a loud cough, clearly designed to attract his attention.
“Your wife not with you today?” One of them, the brunette, asked. She was always the one to start a conversation, he had noticed. His wife had referred to her as ‘the gobby one’.
He wondered whether to answer straight away. It might signal the start of a longer conversation, which he wanted, but he didn’t want to appear too eager. In the end he decided to sieze the opportunity. He looked up. “No. She’s not feeling too well. We think it was something she ate.”
“Here?” The woman sounded alarmed at the possibility that she might get food poisoning from the hotel cuisine.
“No. We’re only on B&B so we went out for dinner last night. I’m fine but Bernice had the prawn cocktail and that may have been the cause. We both had the same main course so it couldn’t have been that.”
“Oh, poor thing. Is she really bad?” The blonde spoke for the first time.
“Upset tummy. She doesn’t feel up to coming down. She doesn’t want to be more than a few feet from the loo.” He grimaced. The two women sympathetically mirrored his expression.
“Where was it you ate?” Gobby asked, determined to keep his attention. He played along.
“Big place on the sea front in the Old Town. It’s called Miguel’s, I think”
“Thanks for the warning. We’ll be sure to give it a wide berth.” The woman stuck the straw from her drink into her mouth and pursed her lips to suck some of the liquid into her mouth.
He returned to his typing and he could hear the murmur of conversation at the next table. It wasn’t loud enough to be intrusive. Come on, he thought, talk to me.
“Are you working during your holidays?” The brunette, Gobby, broke in accusingly. Her accent was north western, straight
“It helps to pass the time on a damp day like this.” He pretended to defend himself.
“What are you working on?”
Hooked. “Writing a book. It’s what I do for a living these days.” It was a useful cover story. He’d used it before.
“Anything I’ve read?”
“I don’t know what you’ve read. Have you heard of Professor Little?”
“No. Can’t say I have.”
“Nor me.” The blonde didn’t want to be left out of the conversation.
“He’s an amateur detective and he’s in all my books. Well, he’s a professor at a university really, but he always seems to get involved in murder investigations.”
“A bit like Father Brown.” The blonde commented
“Yes, a bit.” He acknowledged, pleased to compared to G K Chesterton.
“Who's he?” Brunette asked, a little bit confused.
“You know, him off the telly, in the afternoons.”
“I never see telly in the afternoons. I’m at work, remember. We can’t all afford to sit around all day watching the
“Not all day.” The blonde protested. “Only while the kids are at school and after I’ve finished the housework.”
He pretended to try to get back to his typing, but the two women were obviously bored and looking for some distraction. They had decided it would be him and that was just what he had planned.
“So where do you get your ideas from?” The brunette persisted.
Picking up his beer glass he took a swig before answering.
“Stories are all around us. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open and you have the start of a story. Then you just have to make it interesting enough for people to want to read it.”
“Aren’t people interesting enough as they are?”
“Not really. Not interesting enough for a book anyway. People don’t want to read about people who have lives just like their own. They want to read about people who have adventures. The characters may appear to be like themselves, at the start, but then something happens to make the story more exciting. Then people will read on.”
“So how would you make that work with a couple of girls like us?”
‘Girls’ was stretching it a bit, he thought. They were both in their mid to late thirties, but he thought he may as well go for
it. After all, they’d started the conversation.
He pretended to think about it, appear to be checking out a few key indicators, just as his protagonist Professor Little would have done, then took another pull at his beer .
“OK, well, here you are, two women in your early thirties” he flattered them and the blonde had the decency to blush. “One of you is married and the other not. Perhaps you’re in a long term relationship.” He looked at the brunette and she gave a slight nod of encouragement. “You’ve known each other for years, maybe since school. Each year you take a holiday together without your partners.”
“That’s good. How did you know all that?” The blonde asked, slightly in awe of his deductive powers.
“Wedding and engagement rings and ear wigging on your conversations when you’ve been sat beside the pool.” He lied, “Not really clever, just nosey. It’s an occupational hazard.”
“We’ll have to be more careful about what we say, Maggie.” The brunette said. Maggie, the blonde, giggled.
“So, that’s got the basics. Each year you go on holiday for a bit of fun and freedom without your partners. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, you agree. You have a few drinks, flirt with the blokes a bit but nothing serious. Maybe a kiss and a cuddle with the men, but no more than that. You’re nice girls.”
“Too right we are.” Maggie said with emphasis. “I would never cheat on my Darren.”
“Nor me. With Mike I mean, not Darren” The brunette crossed her arms, her whole body posture changing as she took
If that were really the case then he wouldn't be having this conversation, he thought, but he kept his expression neutral. “Calm down, ladies. It’s only a game. I don’t know either of you and I’m making this up as I go along. Its just a demonstration of how I work.”
The brunette relaxed a little, but stayed alert for the possibility of more slights against her character. He wished he’d never started this, but he was committed now.
“So, there we are, just two women having a fun holiday together. Thousands of women do the same thing every year, so that wouldn’t sell any books. From that I’d have to make it more exciting.”
“How do you do that?” Maggie asked.
He tapped the side of his head with his index finger. “Imagination. I have to think of something to make the story more
interesting. Maybe you become involved in a crime or terrorism. You start off as innocent bystanders and get drawn in by what you witness. Whatever it is it has to be believable for the reader, but it also has to be exciting. In your case I think I’d go for a romance angle.”
“We’re not like that. We told you.” The brunette crossed her arms again, once more on the defensive.
“You’re not, but you aren’t you anymore. Now you’re my characters. I can do anything I like with you in my story. After all,
it isn’t real. It’s all out of my imagination.”
“OK. I’ll buy that.” Maggie said. “You’ve got me hooked. What happens next?”
“Well, it’s more about what happens before. I have to go into your back story to find things to change in some way for you to do what you’re going to do. So you, Maggie, maybe your marriage is getting a bit stale. Things aren’t the way they used to be. Maybe your sex life has dried up, or has become so boring that you wish it had dried up. So the chance of a little
bit of an adventure would be quite appealing. You, on the other hand,” he turned to the brunette, “are just about to get married. This is your last taste of freedom before the big day. You’re tempted to go a bit wild; have one last fling
before you settle down to a life of domestic bliss.”
He saw Maggie look down at her hands, folded neatly in her lap. He thought she might be close to tears. Had he gone too far? Too quickly? No. They had encouraged this conversation and if they didn’t like it they could stop it any time they wanted to.
“So what happens next?” The brunette’s eyes shone with curiosity. She now seemed to be enjoying the story.
“You go to a night club. You drink a bit too much and you meet a couple of guys who try to chat you up. We’ll call them Buff and Knobhead. You both fancy Buff and neither of you want to know Knobhead, but neither of you realises how the other feels about Buff. All four of you get a taxi back here together and end the night sitting beside the swimming pool
drinking and talking. Knobhead is so drunk he falls asleep, so he’s out of the game. Both of you wish that the other would go to bed, leaving you alone with Buff. One of you has to go to the loo, let’s say it’s you Maggie, and when you comes back you find Buff and… sorry, I don’t know your name.” He had narrowly escaped calling her by her name, which he wasn’t supposed to know.
“Ok, Debra, when Maggie comes back she finds you in a clinch with Buff.”
“So what happens next?” Maggie was now caught up in the story as deeply as Debra.
“Maggie grabs her handbag and says she’s off to bed, she’s clearly angry. Buff says no; why not stay together? Maggie says she can see what’s going on and doesn’t want to get in the way. Buff suggests that she wouldn’t be in the way if she joined in.”
The two women exchange startled looks. He’d caught them on the hop. They hadn’t been expecting that. Almost as one they raised their hands to their mouths and giggled nervously.
“So what happens next?” Maggie and Debra both spoke at the same time.
“See, I’ve got you hooked. The lives of two ordinary women have just become interesting enough to want you to read to the end of the book.
“But you have to tell us what happens next.” Maggie demanded, an edge to her voice.
“I don’t have a clue. That would be the end of the first part of the book, what we writers call the first act. The second act would change the lives of the two characters. It would probably create conflict and break up their friendship. Storie are basically about conflict. Act three, the last part of the book, would bring the two of you back together again, but as different people with a different, stronger relationship. And they all lived happily ever after.”
“But I still want know what happens next. Do Buff and Debra and me……”
“It’s only a story, Maggie.” He tried to placate her. “It didn’t really happen and, according to you both, it never would
happen.” He closed the lid of his laptop and stood up, ready to leave. “Tell you what. It’s still raining so you won’t be going back to the pool any time soon. Why not tell each other the rest of the story. You might be surprised at how it turns out.”
He turned and strode off towards the bank of lifts that would take him back to his room. He could feel the eyes of the two women boring into his back. He allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction.
He found his wife as sitting on the balcony, a magazine in her hand and a tall glass on the table in front of her. It looked like gin and tonic.
She set her magazine aside. “I saw them going into the bar. Did it work?”
“Like a dream. I didn’t even have to speak to them, they spoke to me first.”
“So what do we do now?”
“You give Buff and Knobhead a call.” He used the cover names for the two men that they knew by other names. “I’ll send Darren an e-mail to tell him it’s on.”
He set up his laptop on the table in the corner of the bedroom. The easiest day’s pay he’d ever earned, he thought.
Next week I'm thinking of doing a quiz, so brush up your general and literary knowledge for that.