The Western has just re-opened, after yet another refit. The place has changed a lot in the past few years, they just can’t seem to leave it alone. The landlord says they have to keep up with the times but the clientele rarely changes. There seems to be some kind of ‘old fashioned pub’ revival going on at the minute, no doubt that will change in a couple of years.
The place is close to deserted right now, too late for the lunch crowd but too early for the after work bunch. There’s the landlord behind the bar, cleaning glasses, a barmaid fascinated with her smartphone, and a student tucked away in a corner booth, writing furiously while consulting reams of paper scattered across the table top. The landlord glances at his watch and stops polishing the glass in his hand. Strolling up the bar, he pulls a pint of Stones bitter and walks back to his starting point. As he places the pint on the bar, the door opens and in walks George. The barmaid barely lifts her eyes from her phone and ignores the newcomer.
George ambles to the bar, nods at the landlord while exchanging a few coins for the pint, and wanders back toward his usual spot, a table just by the door. No matter what changes they make in here, they always keep this spot. From there he has an almost uninterrupted view of the downstairs bar. The upstairs bar is closed during the week so he doesn’t feel like he’s missing anything. He lifts his pint of Stones, slowly sups the creamy head from his drink and settles back in the old captain’s chair to people-watch
He comes in here every night, from Monday to Thursday, after a hard day at work that he can never seem to remember, two pints of Stones and then back home to the wife. Weekends are just too busy because you can never get a good look at the same people twice. It takes all the fun out of watching them.
It’s quiet yet so he shifts in his chair and pulls out the dog-eared paperback from his back pocket. The lassie in the back corner is so engrossed in the papers she keep shuffling he thinks she may have lost something important. Her glasses keep slipping down her nose and her hair, pulled back in a messy knot, is falling down in little tendrils around an increasingly fretful frown. She’ll be there a while yet, maybe she’ll be more interesting later.
Shuffling into the worn contours of his seat he settles back to read. Moby Dick, a favourite of his and so well-read that the pages are in danger of coming loose from the spine. He’s a slow reader, and rewards himself with a sip from his pint on the turning of each new page.
Four pages into his current chapter and the bar begins to receive more visitors. A single chap comes in the door at the far end of the bar, and a group of three, two men and a woman, enter the door by George.
The group are clearly falling into the pub after work and they have to work nearby, it’s only just past five. Before reaching the bar they all pause for discussion, the two men go to the bar and the woman detours to find a place to sit. She chooses a table on the raised platform that runs along the front of the pub, with full-length windows that face the street. There’s a low railing between her table and George’s but nothing to impede his view. She pulls out a chair, drapes her suit jacket over the back and sits down. She checks her mobile phone, turns it off and places it in her tiny handbag.
George watches as she glances toward the bar and give a small wave to her companions. She’s twitchy, her fingers never stop moving, whether she’s smoothing a wayward lock of blonde hair behind her ear, picking at immaculate nails, or just twisting them around each other.
‘She’s nervy,’ George muses, ‘She’s a pretty one though.’ He takes drink of his beer and lets it slide slowly down his throat as he continues to watch.
She picks up the menu for something to do with her hands. George can’t tell if it’s the drinks menu or the dinner one. She peruses the menu slowly, occasionally biting her bottom lip and a small frown line appears between her fair brows, she glances to the bar and sees her companions coming toward her. The older man, dark haired but greying at the temples, carries a half bottle of Lanson champagne and three flutes, while the younger chap carries three small glasses with a short of some kind, George can’t tell whether its whiskey or brandy, from his vantage point.
The young woman is blushing slightly, although it’s quite clear from her complexion.
‘Ah, a celebration of some sort, bless her. She’s embarrassed.’ George grins and takes another drink.
‘Welcome to the team!’ George is a bit surprised by the toast hears from the two gents.
‘Well, I never!’ He chuckles under his breath, ‘Where was my champagne toast when I joined Furnham & Sons?’ He laughs a little, aloud and sees a puzzled look from the woman, in his direction.
It was a fair while ago since he joined Furnham & Sons and he’d been with them most of his working life. Nervy Blonde, as George has named her, sits and sips delicately at the champagne whilst her companions chat easily about work. She nods and smiles as questions and comments are regularly directed at her, but she never offers anything to the conversation. She sneaks a surreptitious look at her watch.
‘She’s not going to get far with that lot if she doesn’t lighten up a bit.’ George thinks to himself, ‘If the boss wants to socialise she needs to get better at hiding her nerves, but she’s new she may manage it.’
George’s attention is caught by another woman walking in by his door, she’s a looker. Tall and slender with hair teased into a messy style that looks more casual than it is, he should know, his wife is good at that look and it takes ages to achieve. She’s dressed in a well-tailored suit, a flattering jacket and knee-length pencil skirt, which shows off a set of very nice legs, and a little lacy bit under the jacket. Her heels are high, too high for a work outfit and the make-up a little too perfect after a full day at work.
‘Oh, aye? This one’s meeting someone, I wonder who it is?’ George scans the bar’s patrons and lights up on the single gent, who arrived at the same time as the celebrating trio. He’s been perched on a bar stool, his back to George, facing the door by which he entered. He’s nervous; he’s been nursing that half-pint since he walked in. He’s run his finger around the inside of his collar and smoothed the sparse strands of hair back three times since this lady walked in. He’s forgotten there’s another door to this place and he’s going to end up looking a bit of a fool.
George gets up and closes the door with bit of force, just enough to get the daft gent’s attention. As the door slams, ‘Ms Lovelilegs’ jumps in fright, she swirls around to glare at it. Fair enough, shrugs George, but at least the dopey sod at the bar has realised she’s just walked in the other door.
The balding man turns back to the bar, drains the dregs of his half and once again smooths his thinning strands.
As he turns back toward the woman, George gets a good look at his face. The thinning hair doesn’t help his cause but it’s clear from the lines around his eyes and mouth that he’s a good fifteen years her senior. She catches his eye and walks confidently toward him.
‘By ‘eck, that’s a stalk she’s got, he’s got few years on her but she’s got all the confidence,’ George smirks.
As she approaches her date, she extends her hand and seems to introduce herself. He does the same, while seeming to stumble over his words. She leans toward him and places a gentle kiss on his cheek, he blushes beet red to the roots of his remaining hair, a crimson wave sloshing over a vast expanse of bald pate. George sniggers into the remainder of his pint before finishing it off.
‘They’ve only just met, but they know each other already? Lonely hearts column or the computer version, I reckon.’ George chuckles, ‘What happened to meeting like normal folk?’
He gets up and takes his glass back to the bar, it’s only good manners and saves the staff a bit of time. He nods to the landlord, still polishing glasses and letting the barmaid serve everyone else, and who approaches with another pint of Stones. As George stands and jingles his change, waiting for his next drink, he listens. He looks to the landlord and indicates with a nod toward the two being served a bottle of cabernet sauvignon.
‘Yanks?’ He asks.
The landlord looks up and listens for a while, gathers up George’s beer money and shrugs. ‘She is. He’s a southerner.’ He continues polishing beer glasses as George walks back to his seat.
George settles back into his captain’s chair and scans the bar for any newcomers. There’s a couple by the other door but they’ve not made their way inside yet. They seem to be bickering over something.
‘Ah, get on wi’it and shut t’door.’ George grumbles, he’s not interested if they can’t even make an appearance.
He looks up at the celebrating trio and checks on the Nervy Blonde, she’s still cradling her short and taking tiny sips. She flicks her eyes to the older chap, when he’s not looking.
‘He looks a bit like a grey wolf,’ reflects George. ‘I can’t tell if she’s terrified or if she fancies him.’ He sups the head from his second pint and strains to listen to the flow of conversations building in the bar.
Grey Wolf’s a good-looking bloke, even if he is a touch on the older side for her. He’s clearly management, from the cut of his suit and the amount of cash and cards stuffing his wallet but he seems easy enough. He picks up the menu and his colleague does the same, while urging Nervy Blonde to do likewise. She’s almost ignoring the younger chap, her attention always comes back to Grey Wolf.
As her eyes scan the menu, the younger colleague’s eyes flick up to meet the Grey Wolf’s. A slight widening of his eyes and casual flick to bowed blonde head indicates a message not intended for anyone else. Both men peruse the menu, discussing options and preferences, they seem to have similar tastes and they know each other well. They make friendly recommendations and her gaze comes to rest on Grey Wolf’s profile, as he shares a joke with the colleague. When Grey Wolf turns to her suddenly, she quickly averts her eyes and swiftly makes her choice, the lamb.
‘Oh, yes!’ considers George, ‘she’s got a little crush on the boss.’
George tries to get a look at Grey Wolf’s left hand, in an attempt to find out if he’s a married man, ‘Not that it matters to some.’ He grumbles under his breath and take a long swig of his drink.
Yes, Grey Wolf is a married man and a very tasteful wedding band it is. The two chaps gather the menus and the younger chap asks if she would like another drink, she shakes her head but then asks for a glass of water. She excuses herself and walks sedately toward the women’s restroom, at the far end of the bar, with a very subtle wiggle to her slim hips.
As she rounds the corner, Grey Wolf instigates a short furiously whispered conversation. The younger chap grins at him, holds out a ten-pound note and raises an eyebrow in challenge.
‘Too easy,’ Grey Wolf accepts and laughs.
‘Gits! The pair of them!’ George steams with annoyance, but he’s in no shape to get into a physical altercation with the two younger men. He ignores the two chaps as they walk to the bar to order food and drinks.
Instead, he looks for the bickering couple that couldn’t decide whether to come in or not. He finds her at a table alone. Her elbows on the table, her chin propped in her left palm and the fingers of her right hand beating steady scales on the polished wood. She is not a happy lass, at all.
George looks for the other half of the couple and finds him counting change onto the bar, in addition to the five-pound note already there, becoming slightly damp as it soaks up the moisture of spilled beer. The barmaid looks highly unimpressed as he counts out the last pound in twenty pence pieces. The wife rolls her eyes as her other half turns around and almost covers Grey Wolf in the house white. She walks the few steps towards him, takes the wine glass from his hand and stalks back to her seat, her lips compressed in irritation. She doesn’t trust him to get it back to her without spilling it everywhere.
The moment he sits down, she begins verbally attacking him. Their argument is quiet but simmering with anger and frustration. He seems completely cowed by her.
‘She wears the trousers in that house.’ George imagines. ‘That, or he’s in the dog house for something. Perhaps it’s both.’ He takes a drink from his Stones and wipes the foam from his top lip.
He sees Nervy Blonde walking around the corner from the restrooms. She’s looking to attract some attention from Grey Wolf, her hair falls down around her shoulders in soft waves and her make-up is carefully reapplied. Pink gloss on her lips makes them appear fuller, and artfully, applied mascara and shadow make her eyes look luminous.
‘Don’t make it so easy for them, you daft lass.’ George glances resignedly to Grey Wolf and his colleague. He takes a long swig and waits for inevitable.
He’s stunned to see the colour drain from Grey Wolf’s face as he glances back to his colleague with a perplexed look on his face. Grey Wolf turns to Nervy Blonde, who’s not looking quite so nervy now, and smiles. He shakes his head as she offers to help carry drinks back to the table. He’s looking rather a lot greyer in the face. She sashays back to their table while Grey Wolf hands over his cash to the younger man, while whispering desperately and furiously. George can’t quite figure out who won that bet.
It’s very confusing, not what he thought, at all.
She’s definitely not looking quite so nervous now, she positions herself back in her seat, flips her hair casually and shows the soft swell of cleavage that was not visible before. As she ensures she has herself positioned in the best and most flattering way, George’s gaze flicks back and forth between her and two chaps at the bar. He really can’t get a handle on this one, Grey Wolf looks more apprehensive than she did, when they first walked in. Grey’s eyes flick to the table and back as the young chap murmurs something in a low voice.
Nervy Blonde switches her gaze to Grey, confident she appears at her most attractive, and waits for his attention to travel in her direction.
George flicks his gaze back to the two men. “They’re taking their time,” he’s getting annoyed with them because he wants to know what’s going on. “What are they doing, waiting for the food?” If they don’t hurry up and show him the rest of the story he’ll have finished his pint, he takes a small sip to make it last longer.
The younger chap sneaks a surreptitious glance at their tables and nods very slightly to Grey. Grey takes hold of the other man’s left hand and twines their fingers together, pulls him closer and places a kiss at the corner of his mouth.
“Oh ho!” George splutters into his diminishing pint. “That’s how it is, is it?”
George turns his attention back to Nervy Blonde, who is once again supremely nervous. She actively chews off the recently applied lip-gloss and re-buttons her blouse. There’s nothing she can do about her hair without another trip to the restrooms but at least she no longer looks like she’s on the prowl.
The two men are on their way back to their seats, carrying the drinks they’ve just purchased. Grey is looking much happier now and, as they draw closer, George notices the matching wedding band on the younger chap’s left hand.
“Married to each other eh? I’d forgotten about that.”
Nervy Blonde no longer looks like a woman looking for attention, but her embarrassment is clear from the pink shade that stains her cheeks. As they arrange drinks on the table, she attempts to hide her blushes behind her hair, while rummaging in her bag for the mobile phone she switched off earlier. Their demeanour towards her doesn’t change, they maintain their cheerful chat and wait for her to re-join them in conversation.
“At least they weren’t taking advantage of the young lass,” George sips at the remaining bitter in his pint glass and searches for his other subjects.
The stressed student has her head in her hands over the spread of paper. The lonely-hearts couple are looking around for a good table. His manners are good, as he offers her the choice and indicates she should precede him, he carries their drinks, toward the booth next to the Stressed Study Bunny. He seems to be doing better; the perpetual tide of crimson has stopped flowing over his head.
The bickering couple seem to have stopped bickering, but now drink in stiff silence punctuated with irritated, sour and derisory glances. With an occasional, heavy sigh from both of them, unwilling to break the stalemate.
A fair few others have arrived in the bar, but they will have to wait for another day. His pint is nearly finished and he’ll miss his bus home if he doesn’t get a move on. He drains the last creamy dregs from his pint glass and rises to leave. He checks his change for his bus fare home and slides Moby Dick into his back pocket. He carries his glass back to the bar and nods to the landlord who stops mid-polish of a shot glass.
‘You’re not having another one?’ He asks resignedly, knowing the answer. Sadness etches lines deeper into the furrows on his brow.
‘Not tonight, Bob.” George grins and winks, “Off home, to the Perfect Peg.”
He swings his jacket over one shoulder, suspended from two fingers, and weaves his way around the growing throng of people. He’s heading to the other door to get a better look at his characters.
The Stressed Study Bunny has finished, he thinks, either that or she gave up, because that pint is disappearing very quickly. The scatter of paper has gone, only a single pile in the centre of the table with a pen crosswise on top, as she finishes her drink with an appreciative gasp.
Lonely-hearts couple look comfortable. They now cosily inhabit a secluded booth, deep in conversation with plenty of casual touching. There’s a score for the online dating lark, they’re really quite a nice couple once he stops feeling self-conscious.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of an age gap, his Peg is fifteen years his junior. Peg, a fine woman and still as gorgeous now as the day he married her. He increases his speed as he walks toward the door.
The arguing couple have resumed their hostilities and have begun hissing venomous words at each other. Why come to the pub for an argument? He strides past their table as the woman begins a long tirade against her hapless partner and a glass falls from the jostled table. George reaches for the glass but misses it and it shatters on the stone floor. George pauses and apologises but they both ignore him and start blaming each other, their voices raising higher over the low music.
George beats a quick retreat toward the door with a quick glance at the landlord and a nod at the floor where the remains of the glass are scattered. Bob nods in acknowledgement and George flicks a quick glance at his watch before striding out of the opening door, before the newcomer steps in.
A swift glance right, then left and George steps off the curb and into the road. A hiss of strained hydraulics and a squeal of brakes startle him and a blast of wind chills through his whole body. He looks to his right, and then to his left, at the back of the now stationary bus.
He never seems to see that one coming.