I honour Lady Percy and her expression of love. YOU MAY CLICK TO CONFIRM.
Otherwise my novels, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations, responses, apologies. I'm only serious by accident. Education? Forget it. I hold posts to 300 words* since I've found less is better than more. One quasi-certainty in an uncertain world: I almost always re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* New exclusion: short stories.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Martini with twist, straight up

Short story (977 words)

“FIRST you sleep with me. Then you bounce my contract.”

“Both good tactical moves,” said Marcia sitting at her desk. Her blouse had vertical dark blue stripes and looked over-starched. The horn-rims were obvious stage props.

“So the programme and the algorithm are now Bullard’s?” he said.

“We’ve proof you created them here.”

Which explained the interrogation on the bedside. His tee-shirt bore the Dirac electron equation; he plucked at his sleeve. “Is there anyone here who can tweak it?”

“It doesn’t need tweaking.” Shaking her head caused two crescents of black hair to swing forward. “We know it works.”

They’d learn.

Since she’d not invited him to sit down he stood indecisively, overhanging her Apple laptop and a letter opener styled as a kukri. She took off her glasses as if to remind him why he’d talked so willingly. “Look, Chas,” she said. “You’re young and out of your depth. Playing with C-sharp is just talking to computers. It’s no guide to business.”

He walked out into a sunny morning, a modest cheque in the back pocket of his jeans. Decided he’d had enough machine language for a while. Walked down the street to an employment agency specialising in hospitality work - as if they were giving it away! Started work that evening in The Grand’s Harpo bar.

Fernando, the bar manager didn’t see him as competition, “The cocktails. I show you. Until eleven o’clock at night it is easy. Lager in bottles, glasses of wine.”

Andy, whey-faced from five years of programming, came in at six and ordered a Peroni Red. Smiled at Chas knowingly. “She took you to the cleaner’s.”

“Gorgeous and clever. She didn’t need much.” Chas shrugged. “I was easy meat. A freelance programmer.” But perhaps Andy was gathering crumbs Marcia had left behind. Chas stayed schtumm on tweaking. “I should have known. She was out of my league.”

They talked about Bullard as a business, vaguely, since neither knew the financial jargon. Andy left at seven and the bar closed at two in the morning. Beyond midnight the clientele changed; young women who’d come to ogle Fernando practised on Chas. The sexual byplay demanded a light touch but it was fun. No one tipped less than a fiver.

He’d reckoned on a fortnight just to clear his mind but the money was good and the approaches – from twenty-five-year-olds who wore designer clothes and didn’t apparently work to pay for them – were becoming ever more specific. Perhaps, one said, Daddy might find Chas something.

Hardraw arrived during the slack period, seven to nine, and immediately took a bar stool. “Young Chas, good evening to you. A KCB if you please.”

Chas reached for the kummel, surprised Hardraw knew his name. All Chas was sure of was Hardraw had a named parking space close to Bullard’s main entrance and took the special lift to a floor Chas had never visited. He mixed in the gin with tiny amounts of lemon juice and apricot brandy, conscious of being watched.

Hardraw sipped and smacked his lips. “The only really adult cocktail,” he said, then looked around. “Bit of a come-down.”

“Bit of a holiday, really.”

“I’m told this place livens up.”

Chas nodded.

“No problems later, getting programming work?”

“Never has been.”

Hardraw finished his cocktail in one gulp. “Another please. So you hold all the cards.”

Chas said nothing.

“I said you hold - ”

“I heard you. Didn’t think you needed an answer.”

Hardraw laughed. “You do hold all the cards. When Marcia gave you the bullet I take it you knew about  tweaking?”

“I sort of warned her.”

Hardraw asked, “Did you now? How did you know?”

“It’s a search engine. It had never been tested at four on Friday afternoon. Maximum traffic.”

Hardraw laughed again. “Got to hand it to you, young Chas. That’s when it crashed, 16.15 last Friday. Can it be tweaked?”

“Of course.”

“What would it cost?”

“You could pay me a lot and I’d have it done in two weeks max. Pay someone else the same amount and it would take a month or two. Perhaps.”

“How much is a lot?” asked Hardraw.

“Not sure I’m keen.”

Hardraw drained his KCB, stood up. “Thought that might be the case. Be seeing you, young Chas.” Dropped a twenty-pound note and walked away.

Marcia arrived ten minutes later and took Hardraw’s stool. “Did he order that liquorice thing?”

Chas nodded. She said, “Martini with a twist, straight up.”

Mixing the drink he watched her in the bar mirror. Those crescents bracketing her cheeks looked recently styled.

“You’re playing hard to get,” she said. “Officially I’m here to change your mind; unofficially to salute your financial martyrdom.”

“How wide’s your brief?”

She sighed. “I’d love to go all moral. But I’ve already whored my way into your secrets; better I should plead guilty to being a tart. Hardraw being Hardraw expects more whoring from me but he can go screw himself.”

“Sounds as if there’ll more than one martyr.  Hardraw didn’t strike me as the tolerant sort.”

She said, “I’ll be better out than in. But there is one service. Would you like to know what you’re turning down?”

“Is it a lot?”

“Yes.”

“That’s all I need.” He put out some cashews. “I knew you’d turn up. I had this idea. That we’d meet for a fortnight. Just socially. Then I’d decide.”

She thought. “A double whammy. You turn down Bullard then drop me. Sounds like one of mine. It wouldn’t have worked. Being social isn’t my line. You wouldn’t have lasted the fortnight. Bed is what I’m best at.”

“You haven’t tried your martini.”

“I didn’t feel entitled. Gahhhd. Now I’m getting sentimental.” She sounded tired.

“And you’re so damn certain about everything.”

“Am I?”

“Drink the martini. I made it for you.”

10 comments:

The Crow said...

Cool.

I like the pace, the tight dialogue, the action and the get-even.

New characters for another novel, maybe?

Blonde Two said...

Do women like that really exist? She sounds enviably enticing and in control.

You have inspired me to attempt a short story of my own. Not many words yet but a start has been made - in the middle, is this usual?

mike M said...

Love, hanging from ledge by fingertips. Suffocated by ruthlessness, strangled by greed. Alive in the end: "I made it for you". Good one RR.

Roderick Robinson said...

The Crow: The ending you almost saw cheated; it's one thing to be ambiguous, quite another to use ambiguity to cover up author laziness. Also the earlier one was just too heartless; here there's a tiny touch of humanity.

I doubt any of this lot would last the first chapter of a novel.

B2: Hey, that's almost a compliment. Do such women exist? Well one of them does now.

Is this usual? That's a subtle question and demands a long answer. Here's the edited version. Start in the middle and continue to the end. Then ditch the imagined first part. Almost everything that matters in that first part will probably be implied in what follows.

For a year or so I've been in dispute with a mate of mine about whether the nature of a short story can be defined. In the end I sat down and wrote a rather lengthy answer to that proposition. Far too long and too specialised for the blog. But I'll send you a copy if you want. Better still, paddle your own canoe. For what it's worth that's what I did. The short stories seen in Tone Deaf are held to 1000 words and represent exercises based on the theories advanced in that lengthy answer.

MikeM: What you've said made me think. The style of writing can almost be the equivalent of adding another character to the story but without demanding any more words. Terseness can also imply action and character development. This story contains one original discovery (for me) - when the HQ bossyboots thinks Chas hasn't heard him, he repeats what he said. But Chas has heard him. There's mileage there.

mike M said...

" Almost everything that matters in that first part will probably be implied in what follows.".....this is exactly what I thought about this story after my second reading....which quickly followed the first. A number of phrases I don't understand..."C-sharp", "How wide is your brief?" "the interrogation on the bedside".....simply breezing past these w/o too much worry (confidence in your ability to paint the big picture) proved rewarding....it definitely required 2 reads for me, but then I can be quite thick.

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: I'm not entirely satisfied that you're reduced to reading my stuff twice even though I do have one reasonable excuse: I write on the whole for Brits rather than Americans. Alas, I wish you were thick since that would open up more justification on my side.

One of the trickiest areas is dialogue. Fictional dialogue is a unique form of communication: it has next to nothing in common with what any of us speak day-to-day and it is also a long way from straightforward fictional prose. Getting it to sound right often means means taking risks with comprehension. Take "How wide is your brief?" In literal terms it means how far does Hardraw insist you go in attempting to persuade me to accept Bullard's request. In actual terms it shrinks to: Are you offering to sleep with me? I am not sure that this meaning of "brief" is widely accepted in the US which makes things hard for you from the start. But then it may well be just a bit too condensed for Brits too. But I like its conciseness so I've taken the risk. Ah, well.

C-sharp is a colloquial word for a type of programming language; I've already forgotten what the real word is. Here I was relying on context to provoke the reader response "Oh-oh, it's techno; I don't really need a full explanation."

One of the reasons I appreciate your comments is because you are American. Often British novels, movies and TV dramas aren't exported to the US because it's thought that Americans are too lazy to come to terms with British accents or even British culture. Alternatively they are re-written for the US market. Yet this is a one-way argument; no one fiddles with US stuff to overcome British laziness. I believe that Americans are more intelligent than this argument supposes. And you prove it. Not thick, then.

mike M said...

It is mostly a matter of language difference....I don't care to stop and research along the way, and as you say it becomes clear enough in the end. "How wide is your brief" flummoxed me because they had already been abed. We must either believe that this was within her brief at the outset of the story (and obvious to him) or that the earlier shagging was apart from her "mission" (he might like to think). Perhaps love gains a better foothold in this quandary. Provocateur par hasard?!

Blonde Two said...

RR Would love a copy please. Not sure if this is the "done thing" but we have an email address blondetwo@ymail.com

Roderick Robinson said...

B2: That address has been disabled or discontinued.

Blonde Two said...

RR My fault - blondestwo@ymail.com (missing s - always a worry!)