I’m stewing in the velvet lobby so I call Adriana. Businesslike, she marches down the corridor. Out of my earshot, the doorman remains unconvinced, then she looks him in the eye and imperceptibly cocks her head to one side. A squeeze of his arm and I’m in.
From the corner of his eye he watches her sway down the hall. His grin fades only when she turns the corner into the bar.
‘This is nice’, I say as she folds into the deep sofa cushions.
‘Lola’s a member. We were going over the layout for the book. The salmon was superb and it was too cold to move. You don’t mind, do you?’
‘Guess I’ll have to get used to it’. She furrows her brow. ‘It’s great, really.’ I forget, Adriana doesn’t do irony.
She smiles uncertainly but, reassured, kicks off her shoes and pulls up her feet under her. ‘Sit down darling, it’s so cold.’
‘Chequers in Sutton,’ I go on. ‘Trainers.’ She looks unsure again. I push my Sainsbury’s carrier bag under the table and out of sight. ‘In the end, my mates went in ahead, then this girl brought out a pair of their shoes in her bag in return for us taking her friend in. Think she was only 16. I changed back into my trainers once I was inside. Don’t know what the fuss was about in the first place.’
She looks at me intently for a moment, her eyes wide in the gloom of the bar. ‘I never have any problem getting into clubs.’
It takes a while to be served at the bar, although it doesn’t seem very busy. A couple of advertising types are momentarily distracted from their tipsy creativity by the sound of Adriana’s laugh from across the room. When I finally bring the drinks she has company.
I beam with recognition and let out a choked gasp. Eventually, words. ‘I used to watch you every week. Fantastic!’ ‘I haven’t said ‘fantastic’ since I was 14. He smiles confidently, but not at me. ‘From the Shelf. Season ticket holder.’
‘At the Lane. 40 years.’
Finally he turns away and fixes me in the eye. For perhaps 10 seconds he looks, says nothing. Then he turns back to Adriana. ‘You’re so right,’ he says, ‘Morocco in October is perfect. Not too hot. Are you sure you’re not from that part of the world? It’s just your accent….’
I’m still standing, holding the drinks. I shift from one foot to the other. Eventually, I put them down and pretend to need something from my coat. The man smoothes out the sofa cushions and eases across.
‘Just off to the toilet’. ‘OK’, she says, without breaking the flow of the conversation.
When I return, the man has rejoined his friends on the other side of the room. Adriana plumps up the cushions. ‘Come, sit.’ She looks at me and laughs, suddenly hesitant. She says something and laughs again but I’m looking at the lock of hair that’s fallen over her eye.
‘Feel my hand, I’m cold.’ Her fingers edge out in that familiar way and touch mine. ‘You know him?’ she asks.
She purses her lips. ‘Don’t know why you like people that that. Thinks he’s got something, all talk. All he thinks about is himself.
‘You’re a good judge,’ I reply, ‘Overrated. Selfish’. A pause. ‘Cracking right foot, mind’
‘I said I never really liked him.’
‘Neither did I. What is it about me, I always seem to attract these sort of men. Come closer, you’re all warm, warm me up.’