Mike strained as he planked, trying to resist the pull of gravity on his belly as it pulled on his tensed abdomen. He felt the annoying touch of his trainer Jarvis on his spine.
“Lengthen this. Pull your head and feet apart.”
Lengthen this, stretch that, pull this, push that, harder, more. Mike groaned and a river of sweat stung his eyes. All he could see through his foggy sweat attained eyes were the vinyl floor tiles – in some vile bluey green colour – and the gym mirror in his periphery. Machines whirred, weights clanged and a motley assemblage of equipment rolled about in the reflection. The gym music thumped on relentlessly. The reek of sweat covered his nostrils. He seemed to be the only one not enjoying himself.
“… fifty-nine, sixty”, Jarvis’ voice said somewhere above him. Mike dropped his knees to the floor and turned his head sideways to expand his view. The perspiration ran back up his upturned forehead and wet the floor.
Jarvis was at it again, which meant Adrienne was somewhere close by. He was flexing and stretching, leg up on a black vinyl bench, his muscles flickering with shiny vigour. His triceps were shaded bulbs of meat, behind taut biceps. Even his torso was strangely evident beneath his t-shirt. Lucky bastard, thought Mike. Do you get those doing what I’m doing?
A pair of clean white runners beneath grey leggings appeared in Mike’s field of vision. He followed the legs up past their shapely thighs to the tanned and rippling midriff, a silver belly piecing through the navel. Above that a skimpy halter neck sports top maintained a firm but comfortable grip on a pair of sculptured breasts, like small kettle bells in a carry bag. Their owner’s smile beamed from a radiantly healthy face, her hair pinned back in a playful pony tail. She wore ear pods and held a silver drink bottle.
“G’day Adrienne,” said Jarvis. Mike motioned to rise but was blocked by Jarvis’ hand on his back. “Make it sixty seconds, Mikey. Go.” Mike grunted as he lifted himself on to his elbows and toes, and yanked in his abs.
“Jarvis got you working hard?” said Adrienne.
“I feel like bloody Sisyphus,” said Mike through gritted teeth. “I push the same shit uphill every time and nothing changes.”
“Should I be worried?” asked Jarvis, without a hint of irony. “Does it hurt when you pee?”
Mike heard Adrienne laugh and say, “Sis-y-phus. It’s different.”
“But still treatable, yeah?” said Jarvis. A thunderous crash of weights being dropped echoed about the gym, and near to them a rowing machine picked up its mechanical whizz.
Adrienne squatted down next to Mike like a nurse attending the wounded. Or a sadist with her victim, he couldn’t quite tell, but was excited either way. She whispered,
““He’s a good trainer though.” When she rose she said to Jarvis, “Take care of him for me.”
“Anything for you, Ade,” said Jarvis.
Mike dropped to his knees.
“Oi,” said Jarvis.
“You weren’t counting anyway,” said Mike, and pulled himself upright. “You’re smitten, admit it. She’s your kryptonite.”
“Superman’s jungle juice,” said Mike, and wished Adrienne had heard hm.
“Okay then. Squats with kettle bells,” announced Jarvis.
“Yes she does,” said Mike.
Jarvis looked at him quizzically and handed him a pair of ten-kilogram kettle bells. “Belly in, head up, toes parallel, straight down. Give me twelve.”
Through the steel skeletons of exercise machines and the rhythmic motions of those using them, Mike could just make out his reflection in the mirror on the far side of the gym. He looked pathetic in green stained t-shirt, ill-fitting shorts and outdated scuffed runners. His face was red with effort, and he lacked the grace and bestial poise of professionals like Jarvis, who looked like they could bench press three Mikes without a drop of sweat.
On the count of twelve he put down the kettle bells and said, “So what’s next?”
“We wait twenty secs and then do another set,” said Jarvis.
“No, with Adrienne. When do you make your move?”
“Oh jeez,” said Jarvis. “She’s way out of my league.”
“Why? You’re a fit looking fella, and she’s very easy on the eye.”
“Yeah, but she’s smart, you know. I was talking to her once and she’s doing a PhD or something.”
“I dunno. Second set.”
“You don’t give up, do you?” said Mike bending to pick up the kettle bells.
“It’s what you pay me for.”
“Then don’t give up on her.” Mike raised a kettle bell. “Pursue your dreams, Jarvis. Only you can create your future.”
“You taking the mickey?”
“Twelve starts now.”
Mike was up to the sixth repetition when Adrienne suddenly reappeared, sucking on her silver bottle. She smiled at Mike.
“Squats,” she said.
“I’ve got more than the squats,” said Mike.
“You working him hard, Jarvis?”
“Not hard enough,” said Jarvis.
“Well don’t tire out my little ubermensch,”
Jarvis turned to Mike and said, “That’s probably why you aren’t losing any weight, too much uber eats.”
“Twelve,” grunted Mike, and let his kettle bells clear on to the floor. Pressing his hands into his lower back he said, “We never see you train, Jarvis.”
“That’d be a sight,” said Adrienne.
“Right then, Jarvis,” said Mike, sticking his chin out. “Next set, you and me.”
“I don’t train with clients,” said Jarvis. “It’s not professional.”
“I’ll be the umpire,” said Adrienne, and took another swig from her bottle. Mike watched how elegantly her back curved as she leaned back for the drink.
Jarvis grinned at her and strode across to the weights bench to retrieve two hefty twenty-kilogram kettle bells.
“Man size,” he said. “You ready?” Mike sighed as he bent over to pick up his weights.
“This doesn’t make me a half weight, does it?” he asked.
Adrienne chuckled and said, “Ready? Go.”
Mike sank with the pull of the weights. Like a soggy wet sack he thought. His hands ached from holding the weights, his knees cracked and his legs burned. Descending, he caught sight of Jarvis rising already, in textbook execution of the squat. It seemed so effortless. The man was piston, dropping to thighs parallel to ground, rising to upright without a murmur, and then dropping again.
Just as Mike counted eight, Jarvis paused, said “eleven,” and toddled across to a raised platform. He jumped up on to it, keeping the balls perfectly still, turned and announced twelve. Mike stopped. The bastard. Jarvis stepped down and placed the kettle bells noiselessly on the floor. Adrienne laughed. “Gentlemen, what a display,” she said, and extended her arms. “Huddle in, lads.”
As the two men approached she gave Mike and then Jarvis a kiss on the cheek. “For effort and entertainment,” she said. Mike smelt her perfume and wondered if she had lingered longer on Jarvis. Yes, she definitely had, he decided. It’s to be expected. Adrienne reached behind her and extracted a rose gold smartphone from somewhere in her leggings. Where was that hiding, wondered Mike. Adrienne looked down at the phone and then up at the men.
“I’m off then. See you boys next time.” She patted her ear pods and sauntered off towards the change rooms.
Mike looked up at Jarvis, who was staring in Adrienne’s direction, as if the ghost of her presence was still stepping out of the gym.
“Oi, big boy,” said Mike. “I think we’re done here, aren’t we?”
Jarvis turned to face him with a very hazy gaze. Mike wiped a layer of sweat off his brow with a dank towel.
“You’ve got to ask her out, Jarvis.”
“Normally I have no trouble dating girls,” said Jarvis. “But Adrienne, she’s smart you know. She’d want me to say clever stuff all the time. She’d get bored with me.”
“She’s a sapiophile.” said Mike.
“No, I’m pretty sure she’s straight,” said Jarvis, “just smart.”
Mike fluffed his t-shirt which was threatening to stick to his belly.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” he said. “I’ve got the smarts, you’ve got the bod. I’ll prime you on what type of things to say, clever arguments and points of view and stuff like that.”
“Yeah. It’ll make you look good.” Jarvis’ brow furrowed. He swept a large hand through his mass of black hair.
“And what’s in it for you?”
“Just call me a romantic,” said Mike. “I’ll hit you up for a free session if you get to first base.”
“Okay, let’s do it,” said Jarvis and extended his hand to settle the deal. Mike’s little fist was diminutive by comparison and he winced in Jarvis’ crush.
“I’ll be Cyrano to your Christian,” said Mike. “Together we’ll get your Roxanne.”
“My what – the old song by that band, the Police?”
“Just ask her out. There’s the gym social Friday week, at the Sand Bar. Ask her to that.”
“Done. Twelve more?”
“We have more important matters to attend to.”
Mike flung his towel over his shoulder and worked his way through the maze of steel and straining towards the men’s change rooms. People of all shapes and sizes, in all sorts of gear, lengthening this, stretching that, pulling this, pushing that, harder, more.
Cyrano my arse, he thought. Cyrano was too arrogant and self-effacing to follow his own nose. I’ll go one better than that. I’ll be more like an Iago, but without the murder suicide at the end. A romantic sort of Iago, feeding him the lines I need to capture Adrienne’s eye. And I’ll feed him such drivel, such pseudo-political psychobabble that she’ll come running to me for intelligence.
He tried unsuccessfully to suppress his envy of the buff boys in the change room, hairless tanned youths who moisturised and had prominent six packs. They even stopped sweating before they put on their work clothes.
And why shouldn’t I? She’d told Jarvis to take care of me for her. For her. And she called me her superman, her ubermensch. I’m in with a shot.
* * * *
Ground floor at the Sand Bar was, for the most part, occupied by tousle haired surfer dudes and peroxide blondes in tight minis and heels, huddled in close groups around bar tables littered with beer and cocktail glasses, all separately trying to be heard above the music that pounded around the bar. Above them, somewhere in the world, horses raced noiselessly between tables of odds and results, and footballers juggled spot balls about green fields cluttered with logos and adverts. Mike muddled his way through the cacophony until he reached the stairway marked by a laminated A4 sign which announced, “Sky Room – Private Function”. Black stairs rimmed with silver aluminium safety strips led him up to the gym social, where the music was equally emphatic, but the crowd a little less compact. He showed his gym card to the burly bouncer at the top of the stairs and wandered in.
One end of the Sky Room contained a brightly lit bar, backed with racks of multi-coloured bottles reflected in mirrors and neon. Lithe gym types packed the length of the bar, jockeying for the attention of busy bar staff for schooners and cocktails, spritzers and wines. Looking around the tables of sushi and salad boxes, Mike observed that shorts abounded, and lots of short skirts, rippling with tight glutes and meaty quads. Chiselled midriffs were out and proud, beneath skimpy tops and muscle shirts. Hair normally held in check at the gym had been liberated for voluminous display, billowing down into a trove of overt and perfumed cleavage. Mike wondered if he was out of place in his navy slacks, brogues, shirt and jacket.
The crowd spilled out on to a capacious balcony where guests could converse away from the deafening music, and enjoy the cool breeze that flowed in from the coast some short distance away.
Jarvis and Adrienne stood near the doorway to the balcony in close conversation. He was strangely retro in blue denim and a white tee, but it showed off his square chest and huge biceps to spectacular effect. She was absolutely gorgeous in a simple summer dress which played about her figure with an understated vitality. She wore mid-height sandals and carried a cherry red clutch. Mike observed how her hair cascaded about her shoulders in resplendent waves, and her dark eye shadow amplified the liveliness of her gaze above her lightly textured smile.
He watched as Jarvis bent down to Adrienne’s ear. Her nose was close to his shoulder and she reached and touched his forearm with a manicured hand. Then she reeled back laughing and nodding vigorously before reaching up to his ear to reply. This pattern repeated itself numerous times between sips on – in her case – a pink cocktail and – for him – a schooner of beer. Mike could see her leaning in, and Jarvis making space within his bulk to welcome her advance. A spirit of competition stirred within Mike as he figured how to best to intrude upon them. He sauntered over.
Jarvis looked his way and shouted,
“Mikey boy!” He grabbed Mike’s extended hand and crushed it into a twisted pulp, and then pulled him in to a pythonlike hug. “Grrr, Mikey boy! Hey?!” Released and slightly shaken, Mike turned to Adrienne who seemed to radiate a healing beauty upon him.
“Hello, Mike!” she shouted and approached him for a welcoming kiss. His senses were enveloped by the sweetness of her scent and the scarce caress of her cheek was softness itself. She was a cloud he could swim in, an ocean of loveliness. With enormous self-control he placed a gentle hand on one of her hips as they embraced.
“You look stunning!” he shouted after their brief contact.
“I know, doesn’t she!” shouted Jarvis. Adrienne beamed at them both. Her mouth seemed to say thank you but Mike couldn’t hear it. There was a pause as each looked at the other. Then Mike shouted,
“What are you drinking?!”
“The IPA on tap!” bellowed Jarvis in reply. Adrienne leant in to tell Mike she had an Aperol Spritz and her voice wheedled into his ear like an intimate secret. Mike wanted to linger there, but stepped back and shouted, “I’ll get another round, yeah?!”
The two nodded and he left to breach the wall of muscle at the bar. He returned with three drinks, none of which was an IPA. Jarvis and Adriene were ensconced in their stilted dance of mouth to ear discussion, their bodies frequently touching as a stifled conversation passed between them. Jarvis saw Mike, took the beer he offered and repeated his earlier call, “Mikey boy!” This time he grabbed Mike’s arm and pulled him in close so his mouth was next to Mike’s ear. Mike winced as Jarvis’ gruff voice buffeted his hearing. “Mate, I owe you big time. It’s working a treat. I’m in!”
Mike shouted in reply, “I’m sorry, I think they got your order wrong, and gave me a stout instead of the IPA!”
Jarvis held the beer aloft and declared “Gross! I’ll go replace it!”
“Sorry mate!” called Mike.
“No worries, Mikey, I’m in your debt!”
Mike watched Jarvis approach the dense layers of body mass fighting at the bar and thought, the bar queue will buy me a bit of time. He lent in to Adrienne’s ear. Again breathing in her presence, he said, “Why don’t we go out on the veranda where we can talk?” She nodded and they stepped out into the evening air. They moved past a crowd of people chatting and laughing to the far end of the balcony where they happened upon a vacant table.
“Cheers,” said Mike, raising a gin and tonic.
“Cheers.” They clinked glasses and Mike looked down at the strip of shops below them. They were yellow in the streetlights, some still open and bright with late trade, others dark like shut eyes. Above them the night sky was clear and easy. A half moon swung on the horizon’s rim. The breeze was warm, the night familiar.
“Good to be out of the noise,” said Mike. Adrienne faced him directly, her drink to one side and her hands beneath her chin. In this position, her face was ringed by light from a street lamp behind her. A gold aura emanated from her, and strands of hair lifted in the slight breeze like tendrils of saffron. Even though her face was in shadow, Mike could still make out her features, an exquisite amalgam of physical refinement and soulful beauty.
“Jarvis tells me you’re doing a PhD,” said Mike.
“He got that wrong. I’m doing my masters. I probably told him I might consider a PhD one day, but it‘s a big ask.” She ran a languid hand though her hair and smiled.
“What in?” he asked.
“Communications. I’m doing my thesis on the dissemination of information memes. Bites of meaning. How fake news is perpetrated across different media. Why some things stick when they are obviously wrong, and why.”
Mike nodded, and honestly felt keen to know more.
“That sounds fascinating. It’s not too deep for a social night is it though?” he said. Adrienne tossed her head back and laughed, and ran her hand though her hair again.
“Not after the night I’ve had.” She smiled up at Mike as she took a sip through the short black straw in her glass. Mike‘s gaze followed her hand as it placed the glass back on the wooden table top. Even that movement, he thought, was full of poise, and rendered her drink almost sacrosanct, a goblet of rouged and fragrant light and ice. He looked into the shadowed warmth of her eyes.
“What night have you had?”
Adrienne picked up the straw and stirred a kaleidoscope of light into the ice and rhubarb coloured liquid. She flicked her hair and said,
“Jarvis is nice boy. Stunning in fact. I mean, what an extraordinary body. It’s absolutely perfect. But, and I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m sure you’ve noticed even if you’re too polite to say it out loud, but, boy, he is thick. He’s just plain dumb. Thick as two dozen planks.”
Mike pushed himself back in his chair and roared with laughter, and then brushed his hair back over his head. Adrienne mirrored him, running her fingers through her locks. They stared at each other, and let themselves smile,. Mike felt like a child who has just uncovered a forbidden treasure with a friend, and wants to pry it open. They leant forward again, elbows on the table. Their faces were close.
“I thought the night was going well,” she said. “We were chatting well, I mean, as well as you can with the music on. And he was close and that glorious body of his was getting nearer to me. And I’m thinking, oh babe, you know. And then he starts up with all this stuff about the corona virus. How the Democrats in the US are using it to attack Trump and how China invented it to sink the West, just like they did with climate change, and I’m thinking, is this the Jarvis I know?” She paused for a sip of her drink. “I know he’s not the sharpest tool, but this is way beyond him. It didn’t ring true. So I asked him if he had heard of QAnon – you know the rightist think tank that’s all about the Deep State and their threats to take out Trump – and you know what he said?”
Mike hadn’t briefed Jarvis on QAnon, so simply said, “What?”
“Is she that black chick with the song about the Umbrella on the gym TV a few years back!”
They laughed and swayed back in unison again, and then regrouped. Poor old Jarvis thought Mike. This time her hand was on Mike’s forearm, and he struggled to maintain focus.
“QAnon, Rhianna, it’s not even close!” laughed Adrienne. “The poor boy couldn’t tell shit from plum pudding, as my old dad used to say.”
Again Mike leaned back and laughed, and slapped the top of his head with his hand. Adrienne again mimicked him, and flicked her hand through her hair in rivers of golden fibres. She was captivating to him in the background of the street lit evening.
“And so I’m totally flummoxed. On the one hand I’m so turned on by this body. My ovaries are screaming at me take him, take him, take him!” She gripped Mike’s forearm with both hands. “And my brain is going no, no no! Sure, you’d enjoy the ride, but you’d be lying there afterwards staring into the hollowness of his soul.”
She stopped and downed her glass.
“So I’m trying to figure out what to do. Should I ride him at least once, just for the sheer delight in his body and then come back to a more – stable – option, for want of a better word. I mean, I’d love to wrap my legs around him, and see what he can do with those muscles of his. And when you look at it that way, then yes, maybe that’s an option. But then I thought, well, who’s feeding him this stuff? Cos he’s obviously not reading up on it himself. He’s not up on any of the platforms I’m studying. Then you turned up.”
“And bought you a drink,” said Mike. He held her gaze briefly and then said “Would you like another?
She waved her hand to one side. “No, thanks, I’m good.”
She pulled herself upright in her seat and tipped her head down, and with one sweep of her hands pulled her hair forward across her face in a torrent of liquid blond, and then swung it all the way back again in a graceful arc. It flew deftly in the air like a golden pheasant, landing with downy softness on the curve of her back. Her chin was up, her face looking towards the night sky, the long line of her neck and décolletage exposed to his gaze. She held it there long enough for him to savour it.
She dropped her chin and smiled at him. His mind flew back to at the gym when he was planking and she had squatted beside him as either saviour or savage.
“There’s only one person I could think of who might have fed him that stuff,” she said, “and maybe that person did so to make Jarvis look bad, so I’d give up on him and turn to his informant. That’d be kind of sexy. Two men fighting over me using their respective strengths, one brawny, the other cunning and smart, and,” – she laid her hand on his wrist – “to be honest, not completely without looks. I’d like that very much.”
She paused to swirl the ice in her glass, and gurgled the liquid through the straw. Mike relaxed his shoulders and cleared his throat. The crowd on the balcony had thinned a little and the night was slightly darker. He was unsure of how to respond, but Adrienne continued.
“But then I thought, on the one hand I have a victor – well a possible victor, it depends on a number of factors such as what he’s like in the sack –” here her eyes widened lasciviously and she smiled – “and on the other hand he’s a victor who only won, it seems, by making a fool of his opponent. Don’t be mistaken, I like the attention, but do I want my claimant to be a mean man? Do I want to be on the arm of a spiteful man? Do you see my dilemma?”
She stared at him from across the table, eyebrows raised expectantly. Mike studied her eyeshadow, seductively dark and enticingly attractive. Her wide blue eyes were alive with challenge. Was she mocking him, playing with him? She was still holding his arm though, still reaching out to him. How do I play this? he thought. I’m almost home; she’s just thrown up a petty last hurdle as some sort of game. She wants me to show her my smarts directly.
He put his glass to his mouth and the ice slid down, hitting his lips and letting a small flood of cold water pour over his shirt. He cursed and slammed the glass down and made a feeble effort to laugh while cleaning himself up. He looked at her but she had not shifted. She still wanted an answer. He dampened a chuckle and said,
“All is fair in love and war.”
He waited, expecting a hammer to fall from somewhere as she departed in a cloud of scorn. But instead he felt her toe rubbing his leg. She had lifted his trouser leg a little and had found his skin, and was caressing it in an endearing, if slightly clumsy, motion. Her gaze had softened, and he thought, had become slightly doe eyed.
“I don’t think you’re a spiteful man, Mike,” she said, “which leads me to only one conclusion – that you actually wanted to help Jarvis. Sure, you might have thought it would fail, but you were generous enough to give him a shot. I like that. It means you have integrity. And I like integrity, more than I even like male attention. I like men who are generous in spirit, because they are confident. Generous, confident men with integrity are powerful men, Mike, and powerful men really turn me on.”
She took his hands in hers. They were soft and strangely warm. He felt seduced by her flattery, but also as if he was being drawn into a web, although he couldn’t see how. She stroked his hand with a delicate finger.
“You didn’t intend to feed Jarvis nonsense. You wanted to feed him good information. I know, these things can be hard to talk about, but it’s getting better all the time. That’s why my thesis is on the communication of ideas. We’re coming out, Mike, and I’m expanding the ways to make it happen.”
Who’s coming out? thought Mike. From where? He began to feel anxious. She squeezed his hand.
“You and me, Mike, we are the future: pro-life, anti-evolution in schools, climate sensible, spiritual, alive to conspiracies of the left that have hindered real progress. Of course vaccines are bad, they protect the weak. Of course the world’s not burning, we’ve had bushfires before. Of course immigrants are upsetting our economy. And I want you to know, Mike, I’m a traditional girl at heart. I believe men should be at the forefront, and women should make themselves look nice for their men. I know I’m a catch, but I want to be a real catch. So how about it, buster? You’ll find I’ll do anything. I’m very flexible, if you get my drift. Very flexible, and I’ll do anything. What do you think?”
Mike saw the full force and lust of the zealot in her eyes as she pressed close to him, clinging to his forearm. He fumbled with his glass, and looked about them. The crowd had reduced. Stacks of empty glasses adorned the tables, some with lemon rinds and broken paper umbrellas in the bottom. A cloud had obscured the moon and the shops were all now closed. He gently unhitched her hand from his arm and said,
“I need another drink,” and rose from his seat.
“Ooh, a Negroni this time please,” said Adrienne and stroked his hand as he rose. Then she added, “Darling.”
The Sky Room was almost empty. Only a handful of guests remained, the music less intrusive upon their conversations. He saw Jarvis against one wall, his great bulk towering over a diminutive woman sporting a pink pixie cut, t-short and shorts. The bar was vacant. When he grasped it a bar man popped up from the floor where he had been working.
“What can I get you?” he asked.
“Give me a mo while I think,” said Mike.
“Righto,” he replied, “you know where I’ll be,” and was gone again.
Thoughts raged Mike’s brain. What have I just witnessed? he thought. She’s batshit crazy. He mulled over his dilemma. On the one hand she was a stunner, every man’s dream, and was throwing herself at him. On the other hand she was blitheringly – no dangerously – stupid. His ego was screaming, Yes! Yes! And his brain shouted, Run away! Run away! He chuckled out loud at the irony of his situation, and the barman popped into view.
“Sorry, mate,” said Mike, “I just got a bit distracted.” He watched as the barman sank out of sight again.
His thoughts continued. Perhaps I could take advantage of the situation. Take her on and work at change from the inside, as it were. But the pressure. She’d probably dump me the moment I dropped below seven figures. Then again, maybe … and he drummed on the bar as another thought hit him. The barman appeared again.
Mike took pity on the barman’s ups and downs and ordered a double shot of whisky and the Negroni.
The other thought was who was fooling who now. Maybe she’s just setting me up for a fall. Maybe she didn’t mean any of what she said, but was just acting, and wants me to take the bait. Then she could slam me in front of everybody, and walk away with an unholy smirk. Did she want revenge for what I did to Jarvis? Is that what she’s really about? What am I dealing with here?
He took a swig from the scotch as the barman swiped his card. With the heat from the liquor vibrant in his mouth, he realised his situation was hopeless.
If she was for real, and he went home with her, he’d get good booty, but live to rue the consequences, and lose whatever dignity he had. If she was fooling, he’d miss out on everything, including his dignity. Either way was bad. He had pushed things too far. None of this would have happened had he not misled poor Jarvis. He decided it was best to maintain integrity and pull away. He’d get nothing, but then, he ruminated, he deserved nothing. Let it go now. Let the beautiful people enjoy their shallow loves. But how best to extract myself from this with minimum damage?
As he made his way back to the balcony, Jarvis’ voice called out.
“Mikey, you still here?” The big man was beside him. “I thought you’d gone home. Is Ade still here?”
“We’ve been out on the balcony all the time,” said Mike. “I just came in to buy a fresh round. She likes Aperol Spritz and Negronis by the way.”
“I’ll just get a beer and come and join you,” said Jarvis and disappeared.
Mike placed the drink on the table. It sported a rind of orange, ice and another black straw. It was a deeper red than her previous drink.
“Thank you.” Adrienne’s smile was disarming. Mike sat and lifted her hand to his lips, and kissed it lightly. Its beauty threatened to derail him.
“I have an idea,” he said.
“What’s that,” asked Adrienne.
“You know you said you’d love a night with Perfection,” Mike said, just as Jarvis appeared on the balcony looking round for the two of them. “Why don’t you? Take a night. Put conscience aside and when it gets too shallow, come on back.”
Adrienne raised an eyebrow. Did Mike detect suspicion in her response? “Really?” she said.
“Treat it as a gift,” said Mike, “from the victor of the vanquished.”
Jarvis bounded up to them, keen as a puppy. “I thought you’d gone already,” he said, and bent to kiss Adrienne’s cheek. She did not flinch, and her face remained impassive as it stared at Mike. In the pause that followed Jarvis’ eyes darted quizzically between Mike and Adrienne. He manoeuvred himself closer to Adrienne and lent down a little to be close to her. Without removing her gaze from Mike, she quelled Jarvis’ fidgeting by placing the back of her hand on his cheek, and said to Mike,
“God, you’re good.”
“You’ve made an honest man of me,” he said and raised his glass to her as Jarvis declaimed,
“Yep, he’s good man, a good buddy to have.” He chinked his beer against Mike’s scotch. Mike took a swig and plonked his glass noisily on the table.
“Tell you what,” he said, “Why don’t you two crazy kids run along. I’m sure you have a lot to talk about.”
Adrienne rose and leaned in close to his ear. Once more he felt the temptation of her scent.
“I’ll come back for you,” she whispered, and her breath was as rare as the wind.
“I’m sure you will.”
Jarvis looked between them, then grinned as Adrienne picked up her glass and clutch and headed into the Sky Room. He grabbed Mike’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Thanks, Mikey, I owe you a free session.”
Mike watched the big man as he kicked aside a protruding chair on his way to the Sky Room. Then he leant back in his seat and pondered the evening. The mild air and the warm whisky calmed him and he let his eyes wander over the streetlights and rooftops to the distant horizon. The moon had escaped the cloud and shone higher and more radiantly. A car passed below them, and someone laughed. A bottle crashed. In the distance was the murmur of surf.
A person suddenly sat down at his table opposite him. He recognised her as the pixie whom Jarvis had been lecturing inside. She was frantically texting someone, her thumbs almost invisible as they sped about the surface of her phone. When she was finished she flung the phone on to the table and looked blankly at the view.
“That was a text,” said Mike.
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” she said. “I just had to snapchat my friends. I have just had the most godawful time with one of the leery gym guys haranguing me about vaccines being bad, and Trump and the Chinese warming the climate to start a pandemic. Luckily he just stopped and walked away.”
Mike took a sip from his glass and said,
“Yep, there are some crazies out there.”