Melie looked at me in astonishment.
‘No! You wouldn’t!’
‘Why not? I am young, free and single. It’s 1982 and I can do what I want.’
She shook her head despairingly, a gesture she made quite often when we were discussing my latest fad.
‘You could – anything might happen – it’s dangerous!’
‘What’s so dangerous about it? It’s in the Evening Echo. They have to keep details of their advertisers – and anyway – he’s given his home telephone number. Melie, I’ve spoken to him. He’s sounds really nice.’
‘Hmm,’ she said, looking very doubtful. ‘He might sound nice but how do you know that he is? He might be very clever and just putting on the niceness to lure you into a sense of false security.’
‘You are SO suspicious.’
‘There are stories in the papers. About girls who get raped and murdered after answering these personal ads. What did his ad say anyway?’
‘Here, I’ll show you.’ I dug the folded page of newsprint out of my weighty tapestry shoulder bag. Smoothing it out on the table top I pointed out the advert, circled in lurid green highlighter pen.
‘Single male GSOH WLTM single female for socialising/romance?’ Melie looked at me as if the words she was reading were in a foreign language. ‘What does all that mean?’
‘You are so seventies Melie! GSOH means ‘good sense of humour’ – which you have to admit I definitely have. WLTM means ‘would like to meet’. They charge by the word when you put an advert in so people use the initial letters instead. It’s like a code.’
‘Yes, but ‘socialising/romance’?’ She pulled a face.
‘Okay, so I’m most definitely not looking for romance but dinner and drinks, cinema, live music. I’m up for all that provided someone else is paying.’
‘You called him?’
‘I did. He has a good sense of humour – well – he laughed at my jokes anyway.’
‘He must have a good sense of humour. You didn’t tell him the one about the pickled…?’
I grinned. ‘I most certainly did. That’s my barometer joke. Not everyone laughs at it, but he did.’
‘That could well mean that he’s a perv though. What does he do for a living – assuming he has a job?’
‘Don’t be sarky Melie. He fits windows and stuff and drives a company van. I even have the name of the company he works for.’
Melie looked sceptical. ‘He could borrow the van from a mate. It could be a red herring.’
‘He said it was yellow.’
‘What? Oh you idiot! When are you supposed to be meeting him?’
‘Up at The Hop. It’s within walking distance and I can slip out through the beer garden if he turns out to be gross.’
‘Aha! So you have some doubts already then!’
I shrugged, not wanting to give her too much ground. ‘I told you that I was being careful. I even blocked the number before I phoned him. He asked for my contact details but I said that we weren’t on the phone yet and I was phoning from work.’
‘What did you tell him you did for a living?’
Melie was well aware that I wasn’t always truthful about how I earned my crust – especially when meeting a new bloke.
‘I said that I worked in a boutique in town. Don’t look like that Melie. Blokes always get funny when I tell them what I really do.’
‘It isn’t something to be ashamed of you know, social work is a respectable profession.’
‘Yes, but once you admit to being a social worker they either decide that you are a nosey do-gooder and run a mile, or they start telling you about their disturbed childhood. Life is much simpler when you work in a boutique – and anyway – it isn’t a total lie. I did work in a boutique once.’
‘Three weeks during the summer five years ago. That was the place that went bust after you threw black coffee over the manager’s suit wasn’t it?’
‘He deserved it, and it was his fault it went bust not mine – he was stealing money from the company. It doesn’t matter how long ago I worked there anyway, nothing much changes when you are flogging knock-off clothing.’
‘What time are you meeting him?’
‘I’ll be outside in the beer garden then.’
‘You really don’t have to be so protective of me.’
Melie gave me that look.
‘Yes I do.’
I walked into The Hop just before seven-twenty. In our house, being less than ten minutes early was considered to be bad manners. My Single Male had given me a vague description of himself; slim, short dark hair, glasses, jeans, navy tee-shirt and denim jacket. I was wearing my customary uniform of black; jeans, scoop-necked tee-shirt, and a cheap Chinese satin jacket that I had picked up in a flea market. The weather being a little inclement I also wore a pair of black fingerless gloves and an enormous knitted scarf. I thought I looked the business. Dr Who had a lot to answer for.
There was no sign of anyone remotely resembling My Single Male; a couple of guys playing pool, the usual drunken teacher propping up the bar and some old chaps eking out their pints in a corner. Looking through the window to the beer garden, I could see a rather chilly Melie huddled in her Army Surplus greatcoat and woolly hat.
Reluctantly I bought myself a barley wine and found a table near the ladies’ toilet – and the door to the beer garden. Three sips later and a denim-jacketed male walked through the doors. He was slim-ish, dark-haired and his glasses broke up a pock-marked and sallow face. I waved in a slightly regal fashion and he walked over to my table. I had obviously been more truthful about my appearance than he had. The dark hair was greasy, as were his jeans, and his tee-shirt did not look as if it had ever been near a washing machine.
I took off my jacket and bag while he was at the bar, placing them so that he would have to sit opposite me rather than on the bench seat next to me. He sauntered back with an overflowing pint of lager and after shooting some glances at my barricade, he opted for the chair I indicated.
He must have been talking from a script when we had held our telephone conversation because he seemed barely able to string two words together now. I chatted – a little manic perhaps – about nothing very specific.
He grabbed my free hand across the table and tried to take my glove off.
‘Stop it!’ I yelped as I pulled my hand back.
‘Sorry.’ He picked up his pint and slurped it noisily. ‘I just wanted to read your palm. It’s my hobby. You can tell a lot about people from reading their palms.’
‘I bet. What other hobbies do you have?’
The question seemed to throw him a bit. I could almost see the cogs whirring under his lank locks. I knocked back my barley wine quickly while he thought.
‘Films. Yeah – foreign films. I’ve got a mate who works on the boats and brings them in. Do you like – you know – art films?’
I knew exactly what kind of foreign films were brought in by mates on boats, and no, I didn’t like them. My smile was fixed as I placed my empty glass on the table.
‘Want another drink?’ he asked.
‘Yes please. Barley wine. I just need to go to the loo.’
I waited till he was at the bar and ordering before I made a dash for the beer garden, dragging my jacket and bag behind me.
‘Melie! Quick! Creep alert!’
Melie and I ran out of the beer garden and down the road as fast as we could. We didn’t stop until we got to the safety of Melie’s house. I was sure that we’d had enough of a head start but we spent a good half an hour peering round the edge of the curtain in case a yellow minivan drew up outside the door.
We bribed Melie’s brother and his mate to go up to The Hop and see if the Creep was still there. It was worth the price of two pints just to know that he wasn’t hanging around for us. I gave that particular pub a miss for several months anyway. I took Melie’s advice and gave the personal ads a miss too.
A couple of months later a young barmaid was raped and murdered when she finished her shift in a town centre pub. No one ever got caught but a friend of a friend said that she had been in the habit of looking at personal ads in the Evening Echo.
There was a photo fit of the bloke she was seen talking to at the bar before she finished work that night.
Slim-ish, dark greasy hair, glasses, denim jacket, tee-shirt and jeans.