Hi, folks! I’ve got a little something something for you. That’s right, it’s another of the stories from the Leipfold universe. Today, we’re heading back into Leipfold’s earlier days when he finds himself going on a blind date. Enjoy.
Married to the Job
LEIPFOLD WAS SORTING through his wardrobe, looking for his only good quality suit. He hadn’t tried it on for a couple of years and it was a little tight around the stomach, but it’d do for a single night. He thought about the irony. Considering it was a blind date, he was putting a lot of effort into looking good.
The whole thing had been Jack Cholmondeley’s idea, and the woman he was off to meet was a friend of Mary’s. That didn’t bode well, and Leipfold had decided that if his date was anything like Mrs Cholmondeley, he wouldn’t be staying any longer than the starter.
I didn’t even want to come in the first place, Leipfold thought, morosely.
It was true. Leipfold had initially refused to go on it. “I’m married to the job,” he’d said to Jack Cholmondeley. You of all people should know what that’s like.”
“Perhaps,” Cholmondeley replied. “But I’m married to mine and I still found time to marry Mary. What have you got to lose? Every strong man has a woman behind him.”
“Bullshit,” Leipfold replied. “Every strong woman is strong because she doesn’t need a man.”
“Please, James,” Cholmondeley said. “Mary will have my guts for garters if you don’t take us up on it. Do it for me. I’ll owe you one.”
“You’ll owe me one?” Leipfold repeated. He thought about it for a moment. “Ah, go on then,” he said. “What the hell? But I won’t forget it.”
That’s how Leipfold found himself heading along to The Ledbury, the brand new restaurant that had opened up in London’s Grosvenor House Hotel. There was a three week waiting list, but Cholmondeley knew the owner and had managed to book Leipfold in with a nod and a wink.
His date for the night was called Janine, and Leipfold immediately committed it to his almost photographic memory. He liked her straight away and was instantly smitten by her combination of class, good looks and good nature. She was a challenge, a little out of Leipfold’s league, but he liked that. She reminded him of a crossword puzzle, and he couldn’t wait to fill out her little boxes.
Janine impressed Leipfold almost immediately by taking a keen interest in his work and professing her love for puzzles right before she talked her way through the wine menu. Leipfold told her that she didn’t drink and she laughed and replied, “Neither do I.” It turned out that Janine had an extremely low tolerance for alcohol and so she liked her wine from a distance. She knew her way around a bottle because she’d taken up tasting, but she spit the stuff out before it could ever have a real effect.
And better still, Janine seemed to like him. After dinner, she asked for a second date, and Leipfold gave her his number and his business card. But he left it that and didn’t expect anything more from it. Unfortunately for Janine, Leipfold had trust issues – and they manifested themselves in a flat-out unwillingness to entertain a future in which he was no longer alone. He liked her, he just didn’t trust her. Not yet, at least.
So Leipfold decided to do what he did best. He decided to carry out a little investigation.
As much as Leipfold would have liked an excuse to ogle at the woman from afar, he simply didn’t have the time to get the job done. Instead, he gathered together his team of local kids and set them on the woman’s tail with explicit instructions to see that she didn’t come to any harm. It didn’t take them long to start reporting back to him, starting with where she worked – which Leipfold already knew – and followed by her home address and a description of her life.
The update was delivered by Gherkin, a kid with an unusual nickname who’d somehow ended up working is way to the top of the hierarchy on the city’s troubled streets. Leipfold always assumed that, like the Sue that Johnny Cash knew, the name had made him tougher. Truth was that nobody else wanted the title – being at the top made you a target, and Gherkin had already been stabbed with a screwdriver and threatened with a gun. It was all part of life on the streets.
Gherkin said that Janine lived a relatively normal life. He gave Leipfold a breakdown of her activities for the week, and the highlight seemed to be a trip to the local soup kitchen, where she’d volunteered. Leipfold paused him right there and looked up a number in the phone book, then put in a call to the church that ran the kitchen and asked a few questions. It didn’t take him long to confirm the intel.
“There is one problem, though,” Gherkin said. “I saw her with some geezer. Early twenties, maybe. I got an address for you, though. I can show you, if you’d like.”
“Please do,” Leipfold said, “I’ve got a window in my schedule. Besides, I might have another little job for you.”
“Yeah,” Leipfold said. “We’re going to go and knock on his door. Come on, you can ride on the back of the bike.”
“Right,” Leipfold said. “Are we clear?”
“Yeah,” Gherkin said, “I’ll knock on the door and ask the bloke how he knows your woman.”
“That’s the deal,” Leipfold said. “But don’t let on that you know me. I don’t want it coming back to me.”
Leipfold watched apprehensively as the kid meandered his way nonchalantly down the street and then bowled his way up to the house’s front door. It was painted black with a big white number nine on the front of it, and the chap that Gherkin had seen from a distance came to the door almost immediately.
From his distant perch, Leipfold couldn’t tell what was being said – but he could tell from the man’s body language that he wasn’t happy. That much was obvious by the way he slammed his front door in Gherkin’s face. The kid wandered back over to Leipfold’s spot amongst the oak trees that lined the street’s perimeter.
“What happened?” Leipfold asked.
“He told me to piss off,” the kid replied. “But don’t worry about it. I get that a lot. I’ve also got an answer to your question.”
“I have,” Gherkin said. “Before he closed the door on me he told me he was that bird’s ex-boyfriend.”
After that, Leipfold thought he had all that he needed to know, so he called off the kids and gave up on Janine against his better judgement. Exes were complicated, especially when people were still seeing them, and so he figured he needed to let nature take its course. If she called him, she called him.
As nature would have it, she did call him, just over a week after their initial date at The Ledbury. She said she wanted to see him again and suggested a Vietnamese place that she knew, nestled along a little side street about a mile and a half from Leipfold’s office. He rode there on the back of his motorbike.
The second date was a disaster. Leipfold wasn’t exactly on his worst behavior, but he was brashly and unashamedly himself. He was also worried about work, and he wasn’t exactly communicative when she asked him questions about his personal life. Then she dropped the bombshell.
“So I hear you paid some kid to knock on my ex’s door,” she said. “That’s weird. Who the hell does that?”
“I do,” Leipfold said. “Apparently.”
“Why?” she demanded. “If you wanted to know, you could have just asked. Yes, I have an ex-boyfriend. Yes, sometimes I see him. We’re just friends. But that’s not the real issue here.”
“Of course not,” Janine replied. “The real issue is that you went behind my back. What kind of precedent does that set for the rest of our relationship?”
“Trust is important to me, James,” she said. “But how can I trust you if you’re pulling stunts like this. Paying children to spy on me, James. Honestly.”
“I’m sorry,” Leipfold said. “I’m no good at this. I didn’t even want to meet you in the first place.”
“Charmed, I’m sure.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Leipfold said. “I’m just not good with people. Well, I’m good with people. I’m just not so hot on romance.”
“I thought you were doing pretty well,” Janine said. “At least, until you decided to start spying on me. Trust is important to me.”
“It’s important to me, too,” Leipfold admitted, “but I’ve never been any good at trusting people. Especially with my history.”
Leipfold grimaced and tried to turn it into a smile. “I don’t like to talk about that,” he said.
The two of them parted on friendly terms, but they both knew that they’d never see each other again. It didn’t need to be spoken aloud – it floated in the air between them and felt conspicuous by its very absence.
Cholmondeley said it best when he found out about it.
“You ended it?” he exclaimed. “Jesus Christ. You really are married to the job.”