She hovered by him, sipping her pint, watching him watch her sideways. He was in his sixties, and his black suit was shiny and worn. His dark blue shirt hadn’t been ironed and the paisley brown tie was limply half-knotted, as if by a man always fearing the noose. The paperback at his sleeve had pretensions and a broken spine. It looked as if it had been read by someone looking for evidence. It was raining outside, and he looked as if he had brought the weather in with him, or at least a suicide’s memory of the weather. He had been handsome, or at least pretty, but that was a long time ago now. A profile that would have been called aquiline in a fifties’ public school had been broken at least twice. His hair was dyed so black that it was blue, and Penny could almost see rivulets of ink crawling down from his hairline. A witness statement in the rain. He looked pathetic. Of course he did, he couldn’t have looked anything else, but there was another stench – of secrets and miseries and malice – clinging to him beside that of dead wet dog. He had never revealed why he had done what he had done, he had just slung his head low and waited for the self-righteous to hang a noose around it. They had never even found his razorblades.

She recognised the quality. It was arrogance. He was the pitiful ex-convict who had spent more than twenty years in prison for corrupting children and mutilating a six year-old, but it hadn’t occurred to him to wonder why an attractive young woman was sitting next to him in the banal afterbirth of mildew and nicotine that was this pub.

Unless she didn’t look as attractive and young as she had believed.

Just being in his orbit sucked away self-esteem like snot sucked from a nasal passage.

She shivered.

(c) Ian Bird 2013