*Features adult language and themes.*
The whiskey burned his throat as he swallowed. It was one of his favourite sensations.
I can understand why people get whipped by pretty girls in Soho. If the pain is anywhere near as pleasurable as that burn down my oesophagus.
“Don’t you think you should slow down Kurt?”
“No Alan, I don’t. You’re here to discuss my career, not my diet.” Kurt waved his hand for the waiter to come over, he held up the empty glass and waggled it in the air.
“When your diet starts affecting your career, it is something I have to discuss with you.”
“I love how we’ve started talking in code. It’s like we’re teenage girls. Let me try to figure out your clever cipher.”
“Come on Kurt, there’s no need to be facetious.”
“I had no idea your vocabulary extended so far. Facetious? Have you got one of those word of the day calendars?”
“No. Toilet paper actually. Anyway. I have been hearing a few rumours about you, and I’ve got to say, it’s got me a bit worried.” Alan stopped to look around the bar. Kurt couldn’t help but laugh. The look was so theatrical. The pub they were in was virtually empty. Only them sat in a booth, and a few other all day drinkers that were completely oblivious of their existence. It was a cheap bar, with cheap drinks and cheaper clientele. It dawned on Kurt that Alan had planned the meeting place, it was an unusual choice.
“Alan, if you wanted to have a private chat, why did you want to meet me in public? Are you going to break up with me?” Kurt couldn’t stop himself from smiling again. He was in that nice giggly part of being drunk, the phase you hoped would last longer than it did before you became either very sleepy or overly aggressive.
Alan sighed. “I wanted to have a talk just to see what’s going on with you. If I did it at the office I thought you might feel as though I was prying. If we do it over a drink it’s a bit more informal.”
“Ohhhh, so you are breaking up with me?”
“Please Kurt, can you be serious? Just for a little while.”
Kurt passed his hand across his face and put on a stern expression. “OK, shoot.” He giggled again. Kurt took a deep breath and tried to centre himself. “Come on, don’t look so serious, you look like my wife, all disapproving. What have you heard?”
Alan took another scan around the room, expecting to see paparazzi lurking behind the plastic plants and recording devices hid among the laminated menus. “I’ve been hearing rumours that you’re hitting the bottle a bit hard. Rumours, that at this second, I’m finding easy to believe. I’ve had complaints from the last few signings you’ve done. Plus, I heard that you insulted your radio producer for no reason. They have to take her off that show when you come in.”
“Do you know how petty that sounds to me? The radio thing was valid. She blew it out of proportion. And the signings, well, you know how some of those people get. You have no idea how my self-control is tested.”
“I don’t care. It may seem petty now, but these sort of things look a lot less funny in print. It only takes one person to run their mouth off to the press before you look like a fraud.”
“Haven’t you figured it out yet, Alan?”
“I am a fraud. A massive one.”
“Keep your voice down.”
“Alright, don’t wet yourself. For fuck sake, show some backbone.”
“Level with me Kurt. What’s going on?”
Kurt felt his stomach lurch. This is it. This is the time to let it all come out. He’s the only person I can tell. Sadly, he’s the only thing resembling a friend I have to confide in. Fuck that’s depressing. “You really want to know what’s going on?”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“I have a feeling I need to hear it.”
“You remember when I first came to see you, just after I moved over here?”
“Course I do. The best day of my career.”
Really? The barmaid bought over his drink. Kurt took the glass, thanked her and asked for another. Saves me waving at her like a prick later. Alan shot him a dirty look.
“I hadn’t been living here long, I’d just come back with Martha. She was still at University finishing her degree. What we’d done was impulsive and exciting, you know new love and all that crap. We hadn’t really thought through all of the practicalities. I hadn’t stopped to think how I’d make a living.
“I scouted around all of the talent agents in London, nobody was interested in an American selling the secret to happiness. Nobody wanted to touch me.”
“I wasn’t all that keen either.”
“Exactly. I had to hound you to see me a second and third time. I have no idea why you gave in but you did. Like you said it worked out. For both of us. The first few years we’re tough, but we managed to build an audience. I couldn’t have been happier. I had a good career, I felt like I was helping people and I had a wonderful wife. Couldn’t get better right?” Kurt’s phone beeped, it was the default ringtone, he had no idea how to change it. He got it out of his pocket and read the message.
“Yeah, just a reminder I’ve got to be somewhere soon. It can wait until we’re done.”
“OK. So, what’s changed? Your career is stronger than ever. This magazine column has taken you to a new level. I’ve got people breaking my door down to get a piece of you. We’ve booked out a national tour starting as soon as the column finishes in June, the magazine want to do a similar thing next year. We’re getting book offers left, right and centre and we’re getting interest from the States again. How does a homecoming tour sound?
“You’re still helping people, Kurt. You’re in demand. People are falling over themselves for your advice. Oh, and I almost forgot. I had some golfer on the blower the other day, saw you on that chat show you did the other week, he wants to meet up. He reckons, you can help him out with the… How did he put it? ‘The mental side’ of his game, whatever that means. Anyway, you know how much those golfers earn?”
“Yeah. Well, the work itself isn’t the problem.”
“Oh, I see.” Alan leaned over the table towards Kurt in what he thought was a gesture of discretion. “Trouble at home?”
All of a sudden Kurt didn’t feel like giggling. “Nope. No trouble at all. That’s the problem. There’s nothing at home. We’re two people leading completely separate lives tenuously linked by small bands of metal and a few promises we made to each other a long time ago. Promises I’m pretty sure we’ve both shit all over.”
Alan took another scan of the bar. Beads of sweat had started to appear on his bald head.
I’ve always wondered if I could see my reflection in his head. Kurt tilted his shoulders and gave it a try. Nah. That’s a shame.
“Listen, Kurt. Maybe we should go back to the office, yeah? We can have a proper chat, get to the bottom of all this.” Kurt downed his drink as he saw the barmaid bring over its replacement. He was just about to order another when Alan leaned across and stopped him. “Come on, let’s go.”
“No. I’m happy here. I plan to savour this glass. I’ll take your advice. I’ll slow down. You wanted to know what’s going on. I’m telling you. I’m not going to stop now. So you sit there and listen to every fucking word.” By the end Kurt’s voice had doubled in volume, but it still wasn’t enough to attract the attention of the others in the bar. They were engrossed by the the drinks that they had been nursing for the past few hours and the rolling sports news on the TV screens.
Hmmm, Spurs are 4/1 to win tonight. I fancy that.
Alan held up his hands, spun his head from side to side in another more urgent paparazzi sweep. “Alright, mate. Keep it calm. You carry on. Get it off your chest.”
“My marriage is over, Alan.” Kurt didn’t feel the tear until it fell from his eye. “She’s out of control. I know she’s cheating on me. She’s been sleeping with people for months. I suspected it for ages, just thought I was being paranoid. Then I caught her on New Year’s Eve. Since then she’s barely tried to hide it.
“Work’s just made it all worse. I don’t know when it happened. I think it was gradual, you know. Maybe I’ve always felt like it. It’s like the woman that was married to the drug addict, she didn’t realise he was stoned until he came home sober one night.”
“What are you getting at, Kurt?”
“The work. The shows. The books. The lot of it. It’s all bullshit. I don’t believe any of it. Not a word.” The tears had properly started to flow now, but it didn’t feel like he was crying. He felt light-headed and as though a great weight had left him.
Alan got up out of his seat and grabbed Kurt by the shoulders, lifting him from his seat. “We better make a move. Come on.”
Alan walked him out of the pub and hailed a cab. They climbed into the back. He leaned forward to talk to the driver, his hand resting on the sliding partition with a £50 note between his fingers. “We never got in this cab, you didn’t see us and you didn’t hear a word.” The driver looked around, spotted the money, took it warily as though expecting a trap to spring, and nodded quickly. Alan sat down facing Kurt.
“You have no idea how good it feels to say it out loud. After all this time.”
“Come on, Kurt. That’s the drink talking. You’ve had too much. You’re on to a good thing. You need to be careful. If word got out your career would be over.” Alan clicked his fingers. “Just like that.”
“So, maybe that’s what I’ve got to do. Maybe it’s the only way out?”
“Out of what Kurt? Out of fame, out of being rich? What are you trying to escape from? You’ve got everything.”
“I have to live a lie to have all that, Alan. I’m starting to think the price is too high. I don’t even know who I am. I know I’m not that prick that goes out on stage or writes all that crap. I don’t believe any of it. It’s empty words and cliches that try and justify the lives of underachievers and stupid people. You called it that first time I walked into your office. It’s all crap.”
“But it’s crap that pays.”
“You want me to live like this to line your pockets? Is that it?”
“No Kurt, and I’m hurt that you’d suggest it.” He reached across the cab and held him by the shoulders, looking earnestly into Kurt’s eyes. “I understand that things seem tough right now. I hear what you’re saying, but you’re not thinking straight. The stuff with Martha, It’s just a rough patch, everyone has them.
“Don’t you see? It’s the drink, Kurt. You’ve been losing it since New Year’s. You’ve been hitting it too hard and it’s made you see things. Things that aren’t there.
“I’m here for you, mate. I’m right here. We can fix it. OK. I’m going to get out at the office and start scaling back your workload, then I’m going to send the cab to your place. You need to sleep this off then I’ll come see you tomorrow. Talk about what the next step is, Yeah?”
Kurt had started sobbing. “I don’t want to feel this way anymore.”
“I know. We’ll fix it. I know a good program. It’s discrete. Nobody needs to know. We’ll fix it.”
The cab pulled up outside Alan’s office. He got out and leaned back in through the window, grabbing Kurt’s arm. “Don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll sort everything. You go home and rest up, stay indoors, I’ll see you tomorrow, any problems, you give me a call.”
Kurt pulled himself together and smiled weakly, nodding. “Thanks Alan, you’re a good friend.”
“No worries.” Alan leaned into the passenger window to tell the driver Kurt’s address, then stepped away, waved and watched the cab pull away into the stream of traffic.
Kurt sat in the back of the car feeling confused. Maybe he’s right? Maybe it is the drink that changed things?
He remembered the message he’d got, took his phone out and looked at it again.
Learning forward he tapped on the glass, the driver looked around. “Sorry buddy. Change of plan. I need to go to The Dorchester… And I need to stop off at an ATM.”
* * *
The top hatted doorman welcomed Kurt as he entered the lobby. It was impressive. The white marble floor, accented with a graceful use of contrasting black. The rest of the lobby shone in tones of yellow, ochre and gold.
He rushed past the concierge desk and made his way towards the opulent promenade, motioning to the staff on reception that he was meeting someone.
He had been sure to dress in one of his best suits. Alan hadn’t noticed. He looked like he belonged in the hotel, so nobody stopped him.
She was sitting alone at the bar. Piano music tinkled gently in the background, it gave the place an ethereal air. But that might have been the drink.
Dressed in a scarlet cocktail dress; slung over one shoulder and hugging her slim contours down to her knees. She had pleasing curves at her chest and hips. She was sat on a high stool with her long legs crossed, sipping a martini. She held the glass with two fingers at the thinnest part of the stem. The rim of the glass met her plump lips as she took a gentle sip. She smiled when she spotted him.
Kurt crossed the bar. She stood as he approached. He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. “Sorry I’m late, sweetie. Traffic, you know.”
“No problem. I’ve been entertaining myself.” She picked up her clutch bag and wrapped a translucent scarf over her shoulders. “Shall we?”
He held the loop of his arm out to her. “Certainly.” She slid her hand through the loop and walked beside him, making sure that their shoulders rubbed together.
They made their way to the restaurant, The woman leaned over to him and placed her lips to his ear. “I’ve already checked us into the room.”
* * *
The next morning Kurt sat eating the breakfast that had been delivered to the room. Isabella had left earlier. She never liked to hang around with a client longer than she had to, though she never outwardly showed it. She was a true professional.
It had taken a long time for Kurt to find the right girl. He’d been careful. He’d considered the price bracket carefully. She had to be expensive enough to be discreet, but cheap enough so it still felt dirty.
Kurt had decided to stay for the breakfast, he figured he may as well get everything he was paying for from the hotel. The same principles applied to Isabella.
He turned on the TV to watch the news. Snapped open the top of a miniature from the mini bar and added it to his coffee.
That’s another £15 on the bill. Oh well, Alan reckons I can afford it with all this new work coming my way.
He paused and looked around the empty hotel room. The bed was messed up and his clothes were thrown across the floor, there was no trace of anybody else. His wallet laid open on the dresser. It was empty.
Shit, Spurs lost.
Many thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.