The Girl With The Short Brown Hair
Anthony stood to catch the eye of the hooded figure weaving through empty stools dotted across the pub’s early evening plain.
He fired over an impatient wave, beckoning him towards the corner room still referred to as the snug by many in The Broadway,
“Great job of keeping a low profile there, mate. There’s only five people in and they’re all staring right at us”.
“Have you got aftershave on?” said Jay, de-cloaking his green Berghaus jacket,
“I could smell it outside”.
“Just some Fahrenheit", said Anthony.
“That’s serious, man. You must have it bad”.
Anthony pulled both feet tightly around a blue plastic bag under the table.
“What’s in the bag then?”
“Just a bit of something”, said Anthony, his cheeks flushing to a deep pink.
“Presents? shit – you really have got it bad”.
A figure soon appeared at the front door, announcing like a town crier,
“Taxi for Jay!”
“Why do you always use my name to order a taxi?” said Jay,
“You know I’m not into all this secret squirrel stuff ”.
Anthony grabbed the plastic bag as the pair made their way into the waiting taxi, outside the pub.
“Take us to Miles Platting please mate, opposite the big Wing-Yip place”.
“You not going all the way into town then?”, said the driver.
Anthony squirmed in the passenger seat at the unwanted questioning,
“No thanks – we’ll get out just before”.
The driver sensed something odd about two young lads being dropped off at a place usually deserted after six at night,
“You two must be going The Kasbah then, you know – that massage place above the Kebab shop?”.
Jay attempted to derail the interrogation,
“We’re just going for some food, mate”.
“You mean at ‘Top Nosh’?”, said the driver,
“….hey – you can get one of them upstairs.”
His gag was falling on deaf ears.
“I said….you can get a top nosh upstairs.
That’s what the Kebab shops called,
“Yes – very good,” said Anthony.
“Don’t worry lads,” said the driver,
“you know what they say, what goes on in the Kasbah, stays in the Kasbah. Hey – there’s a girl in there lads, supposed to be a right stunner.”
Nosey bastard, thought Anthony – everyone seemed too interested in other people’s business.
The driver took his radio from its holder and called in to the Skytax switchboard.
“Blue Four – this is Blue four, come in. Over”,
“Come in Blue Four”, the voice replied.
“Yeh – can you tell me the name of that girl who works at the Kasbah on Oldham Road? The one everyone asks for – Over”.
“Give me a minute Blue-four”.
Anthony stretched his head out of the window like a travelling labrador.
“Yeh – Her name’s Sacha – over”.
The taxi driver gave a thumbs up to his passengers as the crackling voice faded out.
Sacha had dark brown eyes like a bottomless well, and a Cleopatra style haircut, just like the singer from Swing Out Sister.
She’d smile with her eyes, a second before her face joined in, and Anthony had been able to think of little else in the three weeks and six days since they’d met.
The taxi pulled away, leaving Anthony and Jay standing motionless, until it disappeared well out of sight.
They followed the trail of steel shuttered shop fronts, until reaching the sign reading ‘Top Nosh’, in red scripted font above the entrance to an empty Kebab shop.
Next to it, an open doorway sprayed a light towards the kerb, revealing a steep stairway covered in sea-green lino.
A card was pinned to the door frame reading,
‘Kasbah – please ring the bell x’.
The building shook as the steel door buzzed to signify it was unlocked and Jay followed Anthony through, where they were greeted by Bernie, the receptionist,
“Hello Anthony. Back again?”
Beads of sweat glinted across her forehead from negotiating the short walk from the desk to the front door and Jay couldn’t help but stare at the Claire Raynor look-alike, on overly familiar terms with his friend.
“I’ve got you something,” said Anthony, pulling a four pack of Tennents Super from his bag.
“Ooh – Thanks, I’m off the ale, but one won’t hurt”.
She led them across the bare floorboards decking the hallway, then squeezed back behind her desk, in the waiting lounge area, lit by orange table lamps and lined with suffocating red wallpaper.
Anthony ushered Jay to a settee, facing a giant wall mounted TV, showing three bare arses writhing together as one, then reached behind a cushion to instantly locate the remote and switch the sound off.
“Are you both booking in?” asked Bernie.
“He’s not”, answered Anthony.
“Ah – Just you then?”
She fired a wink in his direction,
“Don’t worry, princess – she won’t be long.”
The phone on the desk rang.
Bernie answered by dropping long breaths into the mouthpiece as she described girls from the rota, in detail to the caller.
“Sherrie is late twenties, and a very sensual lady…”
Anthony leaned close into Jay and recalled the time that Sacha had took a mascara pencil and drew glasses and a chin-beard combo on Bernie when she’d fallen asleep at her desk surrounded by empty cans, then stuck a king size rizla paper to the edge of her open bottom lip to complete the look.
The buzzer had woken her, and on answering the door – the sight had freaked out the waiting punter so much he’d refused to come in.
“She’s brilliant mate – funny as fuck”.
“Angie is a bubbly lady who gives A levels, O levels to completion, and offers the full GFE…..” said Bernie.
“Gives A levels?” whispered Jay, “A-levels in what?”.
“It’s just a name,” said Anthony, “like a code”.
“What’s GFE mean then?” asked Jay.
“Something about ‘front entry’ maybe?”
“Or ‘Full Erection’?” said Jay,
“Guaranteed Full Erection – I reckon. Just in case you have trouble normally. A bit like Victor Kiam – ‘as close as a blade, or your money back’. That’s Angie - a GFE”.
Bernie slammed the headset down and reached under the desk to prize open one of her cans.
“Another pervert - they want you to hear – that’s what gets them off”.
Her eyes opened wide as she gulped several times, then disappeared through a door before returning, clutching a stack of folded white sheets. She backed into one of the vacant rooms and Anthony seized the moment,
“You need to get Bernie to lock up and not let anyone in”.
“No chance, mate” said Jay,
Anthony quickly shoved a £20 note into his hand.
“Please – just give her that,” he said, “I’m gonna ask her tonight and don’t want anyone disturbing us”.
Jay knew if it got out that Anthony was seeing a girl from a massage parlour, he’d never live it down.
He could hold it over him for years.
Just like Anthony had taken so much pleasure in doing to him many times over.
Just like he did with Paula.
After Anthony christened her ‘Olive’, due to her oversized glasses, he’d be greeted with a ‘How’s Olive?’ or other ‘On The Buses’ references, even from people he hardly knew.
It was like being surrounded by the robots from the Smash advert on TV – hard, vicious laughter fired straight into him.
He hated it.
Jay’d liked her too.
She must’ve known what all his mates called her, and never said a single word.
No way back from this one though – ‘your bird shags old men for a job’?
He hoped Anthony got what he came for.
The door buzzer shrieked, causing vibrations pulsing across the floor.
“Someone’s here”, said Anthony pushing Jay hard in the ribs, “You’ll have to do it now”.
Bernie re-appeared to answer the front door, and Jay quickly sprung up to follow her down the hallway,
A waft of second hand Tennants hit him full in the face, as she turned.
“I need a word – in private”.
Jay said , speaking out loud his first thought,
“I hear you do A levels here?”
Bernie pressed the intercom, all the time keeping her gaze firmly fixed on Jay.
She saw the note in his right hand, then sharply informed the waiting punter,
“We’re closed – come back after nine”.
Jay attempted to execute a bribe for the first time in his life,
“Is there any way we can lock up for a while – I can pay you?”
Bernie placed a finger to her lips, then unlocked room number four with a key chained to her waist.
“Good idea,” said Jay,
“we can talk in private”.
She softly gripped his belt buckle and guided him into the empty room, closing the door behind them.
On hearing the door lock, Anthony made straight for Sacha’s usual room, then knocked gently with his ear to the wood,
“Sacha – It’s me".
A distant voice came from inside and replied,
Pictures from the silent TV diluted the deep red hue of the waiting area, as he sat behind the reception desk, leaning into the swivel chair.
He could never place what that smell was – Dettol and baby lotion maybe. It’d be on his clothes for days after he’d been to see her.
He jerked forward as the phone rang piercing the silence, and waited in the hope it would stop – but it didn’t.
It could be a punter saying they couldn’t get in – or even asking to book in with Sacha.
“Hello Kasbah – can I help you?”
Anthony gripped the phone’s mouthpiece with both hands.
“Sacha? No she’s not very well, mate”, he said,
“We don’t know yet – she gets her blood test results tomorrow”.
He was growing into the role with each passing second.
“Sherrie? She’s late twenties with a curvaceous figure and a wicked sense of humour….”.
He said ‘wicked’ in a way he’d never done before and glanced round to make sure no one heard him.
“I’m not being naughty mate”, he replied,
“Oh you think you’re hard do you? Believe me – you’re not as hard as I am.
“Oh You’re coming are you?
Well I’ll be waiting mate – then we’ll see who’s the fuckin hardest”.
He slammed the phone down like a TV detective.
Dropping out of his A-level course just over a month ago suddenly felt like a logical twist to his non-existent career path.
He patrolled the waiting area, emptying cigarette stubs from the onyx ashtrays at each end of the glass table into the waste bin and re-positioning the magazines fanned out under each lamp.
They were the same ones he’d found under his dad’s bed years ago, and smuggled one into school.
At breaktime, they’d chased Gareth Jones all round the junior’s playground armed with a centre spread from Penthouse, as he’d fled sobbing in terror.
It didn’t seem as funny as it once did.
Anthony flicked through a copy of Razzle, stopping at a scene on a building site where three girls posed shovelling sand into a cement mixer, wearing matching hardhats and safety boots.
He could tell they didn’t want to be there. It was the eyes – a dead give away.
Footsteps came across the bare floorboards, causing him to toss the copy of Razzle, skidding back across the glass table.
“Hello princess”, said Sacha,
She dangled a pair of heels with two fingers poking from a black lace glove as she negotiated the hallway like stepping stones across a stream, to the safety of the lounge carpet.
“I thought I’d come to see you”, he said.
“I’m glad you have”, said Sacha, “are you wearing Farenheit?”
There was a glint in her eyes, like a comet across the night sky.
Those hypnotic black diamonds were once again, beckoning him deep into the unknown.
“If I was gonna ask you out, what would you say?” said Anthony, “properly, I mean”
“I’d probably say the same as last time”, she said, “and the time before.”
There was a red tinge to her hair he’d not seen before, a mahogany shade softening the darkness.
“I might not ask then”, he said.
He reached into the blue plastic carrier bag behind the reception desk and watched her cheekbones rise, igniting her whole face on handing her the cardboard sleeve.
“It’s Doves,” he said, “ten inch, limited edition – ”.
“I can’t believe you remembered”, said Sacha.
She removed the sleeve and probed the untainted black vinyl,
“It's the only one I didn’t have,” she said, "Pounding – Is that supposed to remind me of you?” .
“I never thought of that,” said Anthony,
“There’s a line in it…seize the time, ‘cos it’s now or never”.
She cradled his hand into hers, holding it to her deep red lips,
“One day, Anthony, I might need saving. But not right now, that’s all”.
The sound of a door unlocking came from a room down the hallway, as Jay emerged with his trainers and coat, scooped in his arms.
“We need to leave”, he whispered,“I mean it, Ant”.
He stood to re-thread his belt, as Bernie followed close behind, re-buffing her flattened perm as she squeezed back behind the desk and reached for another can of Tennents from under the seat.
Jay tugged at Anthony’s jacket, ushering him forcefully towards the exit.
Sacha watched them disappear through the steel front door, then sat analysing the kaleidoscope pattern of the record sleeve, mouthing the words,
“Seize the time – cos it’s now or never”.
Jay and Anthony, took deep breaths, as they re-surfaced into the night air, and paced through the light from the kebab shop window like a pantomime duet.
“What the fuck Anthony – do you know what I’ve just been through?”
“Why – what happened?”
Jay thought hard, cradling his groin with both hands before answering,
“It was a close one”, he said, “I don’t think it counts, but she seems to think it does.”
Anthony stood gazing far off into the distance.
“Well,” said Jay, “did she say yes?”
“Not really”, said Anthony.
He began walking back up Oldham Road towards home, holding his arm out in the hope of flagging a passing taxi, with Jay scurrying in chase behind him.
“She probably gets all sorts asking her out mate”, said Jay,
“she’s done you a favour, if you ask me. She’s saved you”.
“What did you think of her?” said Anthony.
“I think she wears a wig”, replied Jay.
“Maybe she does”, said Anthony.
The brake lights from a Nissan Bluebird flickered as it pulled up, and they both dived in the back seat of the waiting taxi.
“You been The Kasbah then lads?” asked the driver through the rear view mirror.
Jay mouthed the words ‘fuckin joke’ on recognising the same driver who’d dropped them off earlier.
“I hear Sacha’s not well, is she lads?” said the driver.
“She looked alright to me”, said Jay.
“I had to phone up there earlier,” he said,
“for a customer – of course. Some bloke answered. A right dirty fucker – I’m sure he was getting off, whilst talking to me”.
“You know what they say mate”, said Jay,
“What goes on in The Kasbah, stays in The Kasbah”.
“That suits me”, said Anthony,
“Me too,” said Jay, “everyone’s too interested in other people’s business – if you ask me”.