Ray put his knife and fork together, pushed the plate away, and leaned back on his chair. A greasy full-English breakfast is supposed to be good for a hangover, and boy did he have a hangover. He ordered another mug of black coffee. Pulling out the contents of his back-pocket, he hunted through the loose notes, a couple of tatty business cards, and other debris he’d acquired over the last couple of days.
Eventually he found what he was looking for, a telephone number. No name, just a number, scribbled on a scrap of newspaper border. Although this was the third time he’d studied it since waking on the park bench, he couldn’t remember where he’d got it, or from whom. Yet he felt the key to the last 36 hours could be here.
Except for himself there were only two other customers in the cafe. Being a Sunday, there wasn’t much of a breakfast rush. Save for the odd weekend worker wanting a bacon sandwich or sausage roll during a tea break, the place was quiet. Ray stared out of the window and tried to think back to the events of the past 48 hours.
He could remember catching a bus into town mid-afternoon, but that was Friday. He could remember catching a train to Waterloo, to meet up with a couple of old army buddies. Not normally one for reunions, he’d agreed to a lads’ night out. His latest relationship had hit the buffers a month previously and he thought it might do him some good.
He could remember catching the underground to Leicester Square where he’d arranged to meet the boys at 07-00 pm. After handshakes and man hugs they’d found a little terraced cafe, ordered lattes all round, and began to catch up. Another hour saw them strolling in the direction of China Town, the plan was to enjoy a couple of beers on the way, have a Chinese, and head toward Soho. He could remember that.
The sound of the cafe door opening bought him back to earth. A young couple came in, looked in his direction, and moved to the other side to sit down. Ray put his fingers to the top of his left eyebrow, winced and stood up. Signalling his intensions to the cafe assistant, he made his way to the gents WC. Looking at himself in the courtesy mirror above the sink he understood the couples concern.
Clothes crumpled from two days wear and being unshaven was bad enough. He examined the cut above his left, now darkening eye, around two inches long, it could have done with a couple of stitches. Although it was scabbing, it must have bled profusely at the time. He checked his clothes again, not a drop of blood on his shirt, trousers, or even the handkerchief in his pocket. He gingerly felt the graze on the left side of his chin; obviously bruised it was tender to the touch. He sighed and swilled his face best he could, but it made little difference to his overall appearance.
Returning to his seat, he took another sip of his now lukewarm coffee. Lifting his jacket from the back of his seat he checked the pockets. Mobile, battery flat, apartment keys, and that was it. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the contents again. Separating the notes he counted out what he had left. By the time he’d paid for his breakfast, forty-five pounds. Train fare and buses were going to cost him thirty-five.
He assumed he hadn’t been mugged, they would have taken everything, including the phone and keys. Wherever he’d been it was expensive, he’d left home with over four-hundred pounds. And how come he had just adequate to get home? Had he been compos mentis enough to ensure he had; or had someone else stuffed the money in his pocket?
Having paid for his meal he left the cafe and walked a couple of hundred yards up the road. The fresh morning air helped little. He saw a park bench set back off the path, and sat down.
He remembered getting to Soho after they’d had their Chinese. The bars were busy, full of tourists eager to spend their money. Strippers and lap-dancers were throwing large vodka’s down their throats, before going to work in the red-light areas. And there were the good time girls; ready to help the unwary enjoy their evening.
Ray could remember all that. By now all three were a little ‘merry.’ and Bill, the eldest, had already stated his intention of heading to the railway station when they left The Pig and Fiddle. Ray and Jack had decided the night was yet young, and they were going to head for the clubs. Ray could remember that.
Ray could remember leaving the pub. He could remember Bill hailing a cab to take him to the station. He could remember the first club they went into. A lap-dancing club, a couple more drinks and they both had a couple of private dances before moving on. By now they were walking with a slight swaying motion.
A couple of hundred yards up the road and they entered another club. Ray could remember that. By now it was the early hours of Saturday morning. This was where the problems started. Ray could remember going in. A clip-joint, as soon a Ray and Jack entered they were grabbed by a couple of hostesses. He could remember buying exorbitantly priced bottles of ‘champagne’ for himself and his hostess. After all, she was giving all the signs she was his for the night.
He sat and thought, it must have been three, four, or five in the morning when they were in the club. He couldn’t remember leaving. He couldn’t remember who he left with, Jack, the hostess, or nobody. And he couldn’t remember how he got from Soho, City of Westminster, NW8, to Charring Cross, Central London, EC4. Now it was 11 am on Sunday, nearly 36 hours of nothingness. 36 hours of a blank mind, cuts and bruises and an almost empty wallet.
Maybe it was a dream. One of those scary, oh so realistic dreams, that you wake up from and still believe everything is happening. A couple of raindrops hit his face as the clouds came in. No, no dream, harsh stark reality is what it was.
He studied the number again. The answer must lay here he thought. He looked along the road, there was a public phone box 100 yards further along. He stood up and walked to the booth. Feeding the coin box with a pound coin he dialled the number. It rang three times before a voice with an Indian accent answered. ‘Forget-me-Not Cabs’ it said.
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