Wednesday 4 March 2015

Halting Footsteps

His stomach ached. He shivered a bit, but didn't particularly notice. As he walked down Ordnant Street, he was far more aware of the sound of his footfalls, which echoed around the empty porches of the Georgian townhouses as he passed them. His breath steamed ahead of him, and he dreamily watched the clouds as they puffed and spiralled on each exhale. He didn't hurry, he'd know what he was waiting for when he heard it. Passing the neon-framed window of a twenty-four hour grocery, he casually checked inside, through the squeaky-clean plate glass window. Only a sleepy-looking clerk, leaning heavily on the counter. Good.

He trudged on, turning left, away from the nearest tube station. A few hundred yards down the side street, he heard the sound he'd been waiting for.

Halting, clipping footsteps. He slowed a little, casually glancing left at the shadow thrown toward him by the lights on the corner behind. A long shadow, but that had more to do with the angle of the light than the height of the owner. And, if he wasn't mistaken, that fuzzy outline meant a fur coat. Topped with the outline of long, wavy hair, and he reckoned those sharp but tentative footsteps indicated an especially high pair of heels, perhaps even with a none-too-sober wearer. This was it.

He slowed a bit more, digging in his pocket and fishing out his phone, pretending to study the screen. The footsteps drew closer, and he allowed himself a small smile. The smile broadened when the footsteps drew nearer, but then the steps stopped, abruptly. Startled, he quickened his pace a little. It wouldn't do to be too obvious at this stage.  The footsteps began again and quickly found their rhythm, so he relaxed. Reaching another corner, he peered each way to make sure the intersection was deserted. He exaggerated the gesture a little, as though checking his course. The footsteps approached.

But then they stopped again. His jaw clenched. He waited at the corner; surely she must pass soon, must have somewhere to be this late on a weeknight. He held his nerve, an opportunity like this might not come again tonight. He exhaled slowly. He needed to get this one, he ached all the way to his fingertips with longing, wanted to wrap his hands around that slender throat so badly. Itching, he wondered how much cash he might find in the bag he was sure he'd heard clinking in time with her uneven paces. But that'd be a bonus - he'd be kidding himself if he didn't admit he got a queasy thrill from each one of these.

To his relief, the footsteps resumed, still about fifty yards back. The small smile returned to his lips. He shifted his weight onto his left leg, and raised his  phone for another counterfeit glance. The footsteps sped up a bit, gaining confidence, but still sounded a touch unsteady. So much the better. He waited for her to pass him so he could claim his advantage.

Closer the heels clipped, and his breath quickened. Closer still, and he tensed, ready for action, he was coiled and ready. Ten yards, five, two...

But the steps stopped again, and his breath caught in his throat. He froze, unsure of what to do. He thought he could feel breath on the back of his neck, but surely that couldn't be possible, those heels couldn't have been that high, could they? This was most irregular, and he found himself floundering, wondering what next. Then a voice purred right in his ear, as soft as moss and yet gravelly. 

"So, who's following who, chick?"

He turned around, just in time to see the glint of moonlight on long enamel as a gust of hot, dank breath enveloped him.

© Ellen Gallagher 2015