Post New Year break-ups were always the worst. Most other times of year it was easy enough to pick up the pieces, throw - or give away - the ex's crap (Emily being the particular ex in question this time around) and then go out and find a replacement. But, this being January and thus cold wherever Marianne chose to spend it, going out was not very appealing. Plus there was the fact that she seemed to go through the same thing every year; girl (or boy) friend in December, single again by mid-January. Next year she would make sure she was single by December twentieth and stay that way until spring. That would show them.
So, it was a night in alone with a crate of beer, a bag of skunk and a damn fine video collection. Who needed relationships anyway? Marianne stretched out on the sofa to wallow in nostalgia and put a little Marc in her heart.
Shortly after midnight there was a buzz from the hallway. Which was odd, since none of the neighbours seemed exactly over-keen to antagonise six foot of biker-lady during the day, much less at a time when most of them were asleep in bed. Marianne knew her neighbours' sleeping habits from the anonymous notes she had got through the door in her first week living in the block, politely asking her not to play her records too loud after ten, or over-rev the Guzzi before six in the morning. The buzz sounded again. Must be important in that case; Marianne dropped her spliff into the 'Souvenir of Brighton' ashtray at her side and stood up.
In the hall she paused to pull closed the door to the guest bedroom, and kick the velvet snake draught-excluder up against it. No need for her visitor to ask about the rather strong light coming from that particular room. She should have burned more incense though - even with the door shut the place still smelled like a dope farm.
Marianne checked through the spy-hole. And what did you know? The gods had sent her a pixie. Well, that was all right then. She opened the door a couple of inches.
"Bit late to come calling isn't it?"
"You're Marianne," the pixie helpfully pointed out, trying very hard not to bounce. An over-stimulated pixie, so the gods had a sense of humour today.
She opened the door a little wider to get a good look at him. She took in the over-sized pinstripe jacket, the faded Hawkwind T-shirt and the tight black jeans then frowned. Pixies were usually shorter - and with better dress sense - so just a regular guy then. Not-Pixie guy looked up at her and smiled.
"It's snowing out there."
Marianne looked at twin reflections of herself in the guy's shades and resisted the urge to neaten her plait a little. Now he mentioned it, he did seem rather damp - the lower half of his jeans even more than his hair and the length of black – no, dark green – silk – or was that chiffon? – keeping his hair scraped back into a ponytail.
"So," she said, wondering if she was more stoned than she had thought, "you got into the block," (how had he managed that without calling ahead, when the security guy went off at eleven?) "and came all the way up to my flat to give me a weather report?"
"Now that would be a little pointless, wouldn't it?" He pushed the door open still further and bounced past her into the flat.
Marianne shrugged to herself and closed the door, then locked it and stuffed the keys in her pocket. Either he would prove to be entertaining or she would throw him back out and get her entertainment seeing if he bounced as well when dropped, as he was doing currently. She had this vague idea that she had seen him somewhere before, although not under any circumstances where she might have given him her address.
"Did you want some dry clothes?" she asked, watching him hang his jacket over her one upright chair and then push it a little closer to the radiator.
"Might be an idea." He dropped his gloves onto the seat of the chair then turned to face her. "And black, two sugars before you ask."
"I only make coffee for people I know by name." Marianne sloped through to her bedroom, and tried to figure out what she had that might fit him. Which meant she was not throwing him straight back out, she thought. Better lend him an old pair of jeans though - and not any one of her favourite belts - just in case he did leave while wearing them.
She returned to the living room and found the irritating little shit looking through one of her photo albums. He put it back on the shelf - in the wrong place, irritatingly enough. At least all the important stuff – the bass and its amp, her pool cue, and assorted weaponry – was safely in her bedroom away from inquisitive fingers.
"Sands." He took the jeans and belt out of Marianne's arms. "I take it the bathroom's through that door?"
Marianne nodded. She finally made the connection as to where she had seen the guy before - on the arm of her very own Dariel - although since when had Dariel started passing on friends' addresses to his boytoys?
Maybe she should call Dariel and let him know she had the guy safely indoors. Or maybe not, since if Dariel's pets wanted to go wandering off, it was hardly her job to return them. Not when she was stoned and it was cold outside, anyway. Doing so in the morning would be a far better idea.
To emphasise her point Marianne retrieved and relit the spliff, then headed for the galley - kitchen, she corrected herself - damn land-based living arrangements. Coffee was a good idea, now she thought about it. And if she was making some for herself she might as well make some for Sands, even if he seemed not to need any more caffeine right now. Speak of the devil...
"So how did you end up here?" she asked, without turning to look at him.
"Left the car two blocks away. I recognised the address and thought you might still be up."
Marianne was sure that made some kind of sense to one of them, but obviously not to her.
"And you were headed from where to where before that?"
"From Dariel's place back to my hotel. I went to see him, he got called away, I got sick of waiting. Are you going to smoke all that?"
"Yeah." Marianne picked up the two mugs of coffee and then walked past him and back to the sofa. Throwing him out was becoming more appealing again, but she would never hear the end of it from Dariel - assuming he wanted his toy back in the morning. And she had too many years of history with the Big Guy to go upsetting him over some minor annoyance, like the one currently rifling through her video collection.
"What d'you think?" Sands asked, a few minutes later. "'Get Carter' or 'The Italian Job'?"
"Which did you want to watch?" Obviously the chief pixie of Glam Rock would have to entertain her some other night instead. Time for another smoke, Marianne decided.
"Well, 'Get Carter' obviously. Although, 'The Italian Job' does have Noel Coward, which suddenly appeals for some reason." He looked from the video case in one hand to that in the other, balancing them on his palms as if weighing them. "No, it has to be 'Get Carter'. Do you have any more chairs in this place?"
"Nope." Marianne concentrated on skinning up.
"Going to make room for me on the couch?"
"So what am I supposed to do? Sit on the floor?"
"You've got it." Marianne licked along the paper and sealed the spliff. "If you promise to sit quietly and watch the film, I might let you have some of this." If nothing else, she thought, getting Sands stoned would work against whatever else he had been taking. Hopefully.
Sands set the video going then settled himself up against the side of the sofa. Marianne lit the spliff and took a long draw then dropped her hand down to offer it to Sands. He shifted around to take a draw on it, rubbing his cheek against the heel of her hand as he did so.
"Good stuff. Dariel said you grew your own." Sands rubbed up against her hand again. "That right?"
"Yeah." Marianne took her hand away, wondering if cat-boy would also purr when scritched behind the ear.
"'S nice." He twisted around. "Are you sure there's no room on there for me?"
"Quite sure." Firstly, Marianne never mixed her three worlds of Work, Totty and The Family. Sure, she would occasionally make drops for Dariel, if he booked them through the office and asked for her specifically. And if she saw someone enough times, then she might invite them along to one of Dariel's clubs. But playing with one of Dariel's boytoys was definitely not on any of her To Do lists. Secondly, she liked her girls petite and her guys built. Thirdly, there was something not quite right about this one and tomorrow, when she sobered up, she would either work it out or ask Dariel just what he was playing at.
Sands ended up on the sofa eventually. By the cunning ploy of offering to make coffee then sitting himself down at one end as Marianne sat up at the other to drink said coffee. Since he had now stopped bouncing, and she was now very stoned, there seemed little point in pushing him back off.
And then a couple of minutes later, when Sands ended up sprawled across Marianne's lap, she just shrugged to herself and set about proving that, yes he did purr.
Pretty kitty might be tomcatting away from his sugar daddy, but – apart from the odd 'kiss me now' look, which Marianne carefully ignored – he was really quite well behaved. He knew all Caine's lines better than she did – in both films – and it was comforting to have a warm body up against her again. Even if the gun down his jeans dug into her legs the second time he tried to get up and make more coffee. That – and the number of cupboards she heard him open while the kettle was boiling – got added to the list of suspicious thoughts she was definitely telling Dariel about in the morning.
There was no need to call Dariel right now – wherever he was and whatever he was doing – he would not thank her for disturbing him so late. For all she knew he had another boytoy in another city. Which would be good going for an old guy – well, maybe not that old, but certainly very busy – but not unheard of. And she had locked the door so kitty would not be back out on the town without her say-so anyhow.
Marianne woke at ten then next morning, feeling surprisingly healthy considering how late she had gone to bed. Vaguely remembering that she had left cat-boy under a pile of blankets on the sofa, she made the effort to pull on T-shirt and boxers before leaving her bedroom.
Sands was lying on the floor, surrounded by most of Marianne's 'Sandman' collection and drinking a thick shake. He twisted around and sat up, at which point she realised he had found Emily's 'Hello Kitty' T-shirt from somewhere. And he was still wearing Marianne's jeans with, she now realised, the most enormous turn-ups. Laughing at your houseguest, no matter how uninvited, was not friendly - but at least it took her mind off complaining about the state of disruption her living room had been reduced to.
"I bought you breakfast," Sands said, pointing at the McDonald's bag on the table.
"Thanks," Marianne said, wondering just how he had got in and out of the flat and then the block, when she knew exactly where both her keys and the spare set were and had been since the night before. He was bouncing again too. Still, at least she had time to eat breakfast before she was supposed to be at the depot. "Do you, uh, have to be anywhere today?" she asked.
"Yeah, I need to go look at my car and see if it's retrievable or if I'm just going to report it stolen. I want the tapes out of the glove compartment either way."
Marianne had a strange sinking feeling.
"What did you do?"
"Well, there was this patch of ice, and this lamp post and..."
"Your car or one of Dariel's? No, don't tell me, just tell me where you're staying and we'll get you back there." Marianne had lost her appetite. She was just going to have a long shower then get kitted up for work. She could leave Sands somewhere and then she was definitely calling Dariel to tell him not to let the boytoy sample any more of the merchandise.
Not that she knew about the merchandise, obviously. She was a mostly-honest citizen who just happened to grow a few... interesting... plants, but who knew nothing at all about black-market import-export businesses. Oh, yeah, she had better check that Dariel knew the boytoy had a thing for breaking and entering. And pass on the rest of her suspicions too.
Then, after work, she was going to the travel agent to book a flight back to London, where she would revert to her other name and settle back into her nice quiet life on the houseboat in Kingston. Yeah, it was cold on the Thames in January but at least that discouraged visitors.