Quinn strode confidently towards the entrance of the British Museum taking in its huge columns and Greek influence. A classical building built to house ancient classical artefacts. That’s the Victorians for you. Why isn’t it Gothic? She climbed the steps, passed through the pillars and the main door. After the full daylight, the inside seemed dark and brooding. That’s Victorian architecture for you. She walked on towards the Great Court. Here the light played on the ground, reproducing the geodesic pattern from the translucent roof. Taking the right stairway, she made for the bookshop. Clarissa said to meet her there. She chose this, didn’t she, to have something to do before I arrive. Ha, ha! She expects me to be late! Oh, why, oh why, can’t I be on time?
She entered and started looking. She spotted a figure concentrating on the open book in their hands. Oh, there you are! Typical for you to have your nose in a book. I’ll surprise you. She glanced at her watch: 10:37. I’m only a few minutes late, so you’re not looking out for me yet. Yes! She detoured so that Clarissa wouldn’t spot her and, as silently as she could, she stole up behind her.
‘You’ll have to come with us.’
Startled, Clarissa dropping the book. Yes!
‘Oh!’ She turned, a wild expression on her face.
Quinn burst out laughing.
‘Why, you…you gave me a shock.’
‘Well, nose in book and all that when you should have been looking out for me; it serves you right.’
‘You shouldn’t sneak up on people.’
‘You should’ve seen your face.’
‘What you did isn’t a joke.’
‘Oh, come on Clarissa, you’ve got to see the funny side.’ It’s a gag, really; a bit of fun. What’s your problem?
‘Well, don’t it ever again. My heart jumped when you bellowed at me.’
‘I didn’t think you were such a scaredy-cat.’
‘I’m not—as you should know. But when you’re concentrating on something and someone shouts in your ear…’
‘I’m sorry.’ Jeezus, I was only having a laugh. Quinn squatted down and picked up the book. She quickly glanced at its cover before handing it over. Um! Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece. Doing a little prep while waiting, are we Clarissa?
‘Apology accepted.’ She tapped the book. ‘Right, the exhibition calls.’
‘Lead the way.’
She held up the tome. ‘I’ll just buy this first.’ She set off towards the counter to pay. Quinn scrambled to follow her through the shop. Still mad at me, eh!
At the cash desk, a young man was busily ringing up purchases. Clarissa joined the short queue. Quinn positioned herself some little ways away, clearly showing she was with Clarissa but not part of those in line. A customer departed with their purchases. The young sales assistant smiled expectantly at Clarissa, who was next. She deposited the book on the counter.
‘Have we met before?’
The man shook his head. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘Do you know what my blouse is made of? Boyfriend material.’ What did you just say?
‘Sorry?’ The lad looked totally confused.
‘Kiss me if I’m wrong, but isn’t your name Aiden?’ Clarissa! Aiden? What are you doing? Stop it!
‘I think you’re confusing me for someone else.’ He quickly scanned the book. ‘That’ll be thirty-five pounds. Cash or plastic?’
‘Plastic.’ Clarissa inserted her card in the reader and tapped in her pin. A moment later, she pulled it out. The young man tore off the receipt from the printer and handed it to her with her book.
‘Have a nice day.’
‘And you too, sweetie-pie.’ She blew him a kiss.
Clarissa made for the exit. Quinn dashed after her.
‘What was all that about?’ You’re showing off. Why?
‘Just having a bit of fun, that’s all.’
‘And Aiden’s name?’ That was so deliberate, wasn’t it? You wanted to get your own back at me. I wish I’d never brought him up.
‘I had to think of someone.’ She gestured towards the bookstore. ‘Doesn’t he look like an Aiden?’
‘No.’ Aiden is manlier than that spindly youth. There’s just no comparison.
‘My, my, who’s being a tad sensitive about a name.’
‘Let’s just forget about him, shall we?’
‘If you say so. Come on, it’s this way.’ She pointed at a large primitive stone statue ahead of them and set off towards it at a brisk pace. Guided by Clarissa, the two of them headed through the galleries to Room 30. At the door to the exhibition, she held out the tickets. An attendant checked them. They went in.
Quinn stopped just inside the door. This is stunning. Ancient Greek statues were interspersed with Rodin’s sculptures. She immediately recognised some of his works; others were unfamiliar to her. She moved off, slowly taking in what she saw. I can see the connections. His work fits in perfectly. Then she spotted “The Kiss”. She shivered. So erotic. The two of them oblivious to everything else but their desire for each other. Unbidden, she thought of Aiden. Why him? Why now?
‘Oh sorry, did you say something?’
Clarissa grinned wickedly as she gestured at the stone couple. ‘Victorian porn.’ It’s not pornographic, erotic, yes. Its sensual, tender even as they share their feelings together. It’s beautiful. She felt ashamed. It’s not like this with Dancy. She nearly screamed aloud. But it should be!
‘You’re winding me up again. It’s a great work of art. Just look at it.’
Clarissa moved around examining the statue. ‘She’s seducing him, you know.’ Eh?
‘What makes you think that?’
‘Look how laid back he is, he’s only got one hand on her and it isn’t as if it’s doing very much.’ Well, so what? Not every man has to be macho.
‘You’re just saying that to annoy me.’ You really haven’t forgiven me for my earlier prank, have you?
‘No, no. Rodin must have had this in mind when he sculpted the statue. It is all about the power women have over men.’ Tell me. Their gonads.
‘Let’s move on.’ She made towards another statue of a couple. She read the title: Orpheus and Euridice. Ah yes, another group of lovers. The star-crossed musician who goes seeking for his love in the underworld. I can see why Rodin might choose this for a subject. She examined the statue carefully.
‘Another woman and reluctant man.’ That’s not why he’s ignoring her!
‘He had to. If he turned around, she wouldn’t be released from death. He couldn’t tell her why he was ignoring her.’ And couldn’t bear not to see her, and couldn’t control himself, so he looked back—and lost her for ever.
‘But he did look and thus condemned her. It says so here in the blurb. They’re caught just before that moment.’
‘The power of love. It’s all about trust, isn’t it? I wonder what pushed Rodin to sculpt it?’
‘Well, you know artists. Randy lot. Think of Picasso and Marie-Thérèse. They consider they’re above normal morals.’ Or just say that to hide their base desires, like everyone else. Clarissa consulted the book. ‘He’d met a young sculptor called Camille Claudel.’
‘He was having an affair?’ Bohemian means philanderer, doesn’t it?
She laughed. ‘Probably.’
They moved on. As they slowly made their way around the exhibition Quinn’s attention was caught by a man wearing a long and rather tatty raincoat. His outfit seemed out of place, especially since the weather forecast, for once, had been good. His eyes caught hers. He’s hiding something. The man made off towards a Rodin sculpture of a woman with building on her head. What are you up to?
On a whim, Quinn followed him. As she approached she could see him fumbling for something in his coat. To her horror, he pulled out a hammer. No!
Without stopping to consider why, she launched herself at him. She grabbed at the hammer.
He tried to pull away.
She wouldn’t let go.
He suddenly let go.
Quinn sprawled on the ground, still clutching the hammer.
The man bolted for the door, only to be intercepted by two members of staff. They grabbed hold of him. ‘Let me go.’ He screamed.
‘You alright?’ Quinn looked up at her friend. She had a concerned expression.
‘Thanks Clarissa, I’m fine.’ She slowly rose to her feet. ‘That man was going to try and smash Rodin’s sculpture.’ Why?
‘You there, with the hammer. Stay where you are.’ One of the museum staff rushed over towards them.
Clarissa glared at the rapidly approaching employee. ‘She just stopped that f—king wanker from breaking a priceless statue, you git.’
* * *
Ahmed gunned the engine and headed off. ‘Bout a quarter of a mile, I reckon. I’ll be there in no time. Show ‘em I’m on the job, like. Been quiet and I’ve missed a few tonight. But you, my beauty, you’re just ‘round the corner.
At first, he made good progress but with about three hundred yards to go, the traffic became snarled up. Then it ground to a halt. The road the other way was ominously empty. Bloody ‘eck, what’s this? It shouldn’t be like this at this hour. Not ‘ere. He glanced at the time. 9:42. Somemin up, ain’t it. He searched ahead for the source of the hold-up. Nowt there. With one hand on the wheel he used the other to tap his mobile and check on his pick-up. Should send yah a message. The traffic moved forward slowly, frustrating his intention. It can’t be long, dearie.
The traffic stopped again. Ahmed leaned out to try and see the source of the hold up. What’s the f—king problem? A man wandered into the road to speak to one of the drivers in a van ahead of him. You bloody know, don’t yah!
The traffic edged forward. Ahmed engaged the gears and followed the car in front at less than a walking pace. Get an effing move on you morons. The line halted. Ahmed slammed his hand on the wheel. Just what I bleedin need.
His phone pinged. He looked at the message. She’s f—king cancelled, the bitch. I need the fare. His gaze turned to the clock. 10:04. F—k this traffic. He pummelled the steering wheel. It was goodna one, too.
The queue of cars started to pick up speed. Within a short period of time he came to the pick-up point. He slowed in the vain hope his hire might still be waiting. He scanned quickly to left and right. Nuffing. She’s gone. That’s it then.
He turned off into a side street, stopped parked on a double yellow line and turned off the engine. Picking up his phone, he began to trawl through the hire requests. None were within easy distance. I’ll just have to go back into the City. That’s where the action is.
He drove off and headed for Cheapside.
It was about forty minutes later that he heard his phone ping and he immediately pulled in. Hah! A hire. To Hampstead. He quickly made an offer. For a moment nothing happened. Then his phone dinged again. Accepted!
He headed for the pick-up point and as he approached slowed down, a car behind him honked. Ahmed slowed even more and opened his window. ‘F—off you.’ The car flashed its lights. Just then he spotted a guy who was looking in his direction. I’m here; don’t fret. The car behind pulled out and overtook him, accelerating rapidly and honking repeatedly.
Ahmed edged the car forward to come up beside his hire.
The man came over and bent down. ‘Ibrahim?’
‘Sure, mate. Hampstead, ain’t it?’
‘Hop in, I’ll have you there in a jiffy.’
The man climbed into the back seat and settled himself.
‘Mind you do up your seatbelt. Rules yah see.’
‘Oh sure, sure.’
Without waiting to see if his passenger had complied, Ahmed signalled and pulled away from the curb. His phone beeped as he drove. He ignored it.
‘So, mate, you live in Hampstead?’
‘As a matter of fact, I do.’
‘Yes, very nice.’
‘Work in the City?’
‘Yes.’ There was a pause. ‘Do you interrogate all your passengers?’
‘Just trying to be nice, like. I’ll be quiet if you want.’
‘I’m good to ride in silence.’ Don’t wanna talk; that’s fine with me. You’re all alike you City types. We’re just the ‘ired hands, ain’t we?
Ahmed drove through the traffic towards his destination. Every so often his phone beeped at him. He glanced quickly at the screen to check the messages but did not touch his phone. Business picking up. Got to get this one home and then find me’s next one.
He turned into a residential street. Parked cars lined both sides.
‘Stop, we’re here.’ Ahmed stopped the car in the road, blocking it.
His passenger got out. ‘Thanks.’
‘You’ll star the service, won’t yah, please.’
‘Sure, sure.’ The man closed the door and headed off. You won’t do nowt, will yah?
He checked his app to see if he could pick up a local hire. Nah. All downtown. It’s as if the world is heading outta London.
There was a crash, the car shuddered, and he was jerked forward in his seat before he whiplashed back again. Whatta the…?
He looked behind him. A rubbish truck had smashed into the back of his car. F—kin’ idiots.
Shaking from the crash, Ahmed got out and went to inspect the damage. F—king ‘ell, the whole of the back’s shietted.
‘Hey mate, what’sa effing of parking in da road?’ What d’ yah think? I’m stopped to drop my passenger, for bleedin’ sake. He looked at the council employee and the rear of the Prius. You were driving that effing truck like a race car, weren’t you?
‘You ran into me.’ He gestured at the back of the car. ‘It’s your bloody fault.’ He went back to the car and picked up his phone and walked back. He snapped a picture of his car and the truck. He then tried to take a picture of the driver.
‘Don’t yah f—kin’ do that mate.’ Don’t yah f—king threaten me!
‘It’s your fault, this is.’ You effing know it is. You were driving too fast. He looked at the mangled rear of the Prius. That’s screwed it. I can’t pick up passengers with the car looking like that.
‘Yeah, we’ll see about that.’ The man turned away. ‘Hey, George, back ‘er up. This’s goin’ ta take a while.’
The truck revved its motor and slowly pulled back. Then stopped, blocking the intersection.
* * *
Ahmed was tired. What a shiete night. He slowly manoeuvred the Prius into a parking spot. He switched off the engine. The red light that had told him a door was open and had been on all the way back from Hampstead went out. At bloody last! It was with a feeling of relief that he got out, closed the door and, using the key, locked it.
He went over to the kiosk and peered in. Eddie wasn’t there. Oh shiete. So, where’s he gone, then? Dont tell me I’ve gotta wait for him all f—king night? He felt like just chucking the keys and walking off. I can’t effing do that. Eddie will go ape-shit. Gotta find ‘im.
He set off to see where the man was. He went into the garage. A single bulb at the end gave enough light to see by. Ain’t here. Then he heard a toilet flush. Ah!
He waited for a moment. Then Eddie emerged and spotted him. He came towards him. ‘Oy, Ahmed, you’re back early.’
‘Been hit by a truck.’
‘No kidding. I’d better see.’ Eddie strode off into the parking lot and towards the Prius. As he got nearer he whistled loudly. ‘A pretty mess that is.’
‘Wont my fault. They drove into the back.’
‘Yeah, I can see they dun in your rear. Your fault or not, this is going to cost a pretty penny to repair.’
‘You can let me ‘ave another car meanwhile, can’t you?’
‘Sure.’ Eddie paused for a moment. ‘You’re gonna have to pay the excess. I’ll need ta check insurance for what it is.’
‘Excess?’ What’s he on about? I just want to go home.
‘Yeah, what you pay before the insurance pays.’
‘But it’s their fault!’
‘Sure, they’ll probably pay, and you’ll get your money back eventually. But let’s see what the insurance says, shall we?’ He marched off towards the kiosk. Ahmed followed behind. You said I was covered. It’s part of the deal, Eddie, that’s what you said.
They went in. Eddie turned on the light and settled behind his desk. He opened one of the drawers and searched inside. He rummaged for a while before pulling out a folder. ‘This’ll be it.’ He dumped it on his desk and opened it, scanning and discarding pages. ‘Ah, this is what we want.’ He held up a collection of papers before depositing them on his desk. ‘Now let me see.’ He ran his rapidly fingers down the page before turning it over and repeating the process. He had covered several pages before he stopped. ‘Here it is. It says, “Until other party liability is confirmed, any payment under this policy will cover the agreed damages up to the excess less the deductible.” So, you’ve got to cover the deductible.’
‘Well, that’s what was agreed when you hired the car.’ I don’t remember agreeing to this.
‘No Shiite.’ I’m being shafted here!
‘Listen, Ahmed, it’s simple. You need to give me the deductible or else…’ Or what? Come on. He paused a second. I know what that “or else” shiete means.
‘How much is it?’
Eddie flipped to the front of the document. ‘Five hundred smackers.’ What? Five hundred quid. Five hundred f—king quid. You’ve gotta be joking. You’re screwing me. ‘Yep, I’ll need it this week. The car will go to the garage in the morning. They’ll fix it. I’ll contact the insurance company. We’ll get this sorted. Now you’d better tell me who pranged yah…’