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The first fire I went to with Elaine all I could think about was that she had dropped her end of the ladder onto my foot. We raced through the traffic. She was sitting in the back of the cab trying to smile at Dan who refused to meet her gaze and lessen her worry. Her smile died and she drew her lips shut in a straight line. I watched her fiddle with the straps of her jacket out of the corner of my eye as we overtook a coach full of school kids and Matt gave them a loud blast of the siren. They cheered, we smiled, Elaine coughed. My toe had yet to fully heal but I had not told the medical officer. Despite any reservations I had about a crew member, a colleague, a compadre, the eyes in the back of my head and strong arms carrying me from harm’s way, not being able to lift their end of the standard 20 foot ladder, unlike the others, I did not enjoy seeing Elaine’s struggle added to by bitterness. So I would not allow Elaine to be silently persecuted with dismissive looks by a team minus one of their number. Perhaps already aware she had an ally of sorts Elaine looked at me. “Big, old warehouse, dry as bones, gonna be a real crackler.” I said to noone in particular. “We’re set, get it wet, no worries.” came back from Matt. “No worries.” from Dan. They were daring Elaine to say something so it might be made even clearer that she did not belong. It was not malicious, solely a test you could only fail, but in degrees. I watched Elaine with her head down in the rear-view mirror but then she looked up and said, ”Totally no worries.” and I could not help my back stiffening. Perhaps Matt’s knuckles turned alabaster on the wheel and perhaps Dan gave a hidden and venomous look, but I could not see as I had turned to look at Elaine. She met the gaze, let it wash around her head and gave it back. I faced front. “This left Matt.” It was a start but even the thickest glaze can be cracked in the furnace.

A group of men stood by the bench. One of the cars had its lights on. Two of the men were smoking and one of them turned when the click-clack of my heels reached them. The bite of the night air was on my legs and un-pantied groin but I was excited and it just heightened the sensation. All the men turned, none of them smiled but the fags were thrown to the ground. Number one and two looked me all over. Their eyes roved up and down my body and if I had needed any encouragement this would have been it. Number three was nervous and could not look at my face so just stared at my open jacket and the red bra underneath. Number four stood to one side and talked on his phone. He looked at my face briefly and he was very handsome. Normally I would have hinted at a smile but not tonight, not here; it would not mean anything at all. Tonight was only about servicing. I approached number one and two and knelt down in front of them. Small edges in the tarmac dug into my bare knees as the two men smoothly and with the practice of regulars undid their trousers and offered one darker, one lighter, for my appraisal. I grabbed one in each hand and roughly yanked back and forth. I turned my head to look at number three who stared at my right hand while his left hand searched for change in his pocket. He would watch but that would be all tonight. Perhaps next time. One and two stiffened quickly and I spent equal time savouring their salty hardness, each tasting similar but uniquely different, perhaps like snowflakes, no two quite alike. Number four was still on the phone but he was watching too, edging closer. Number two moaned and came and some slipped down between my knuckles and onto my palm. I left number one and tasted it. I looked up and smiled for the first time before returning to number one. Number four was by my shoulder now, still talking about Saturday and how he would drive to wherever he was going. Still talking he unzipped and offered himself. I stood up, brushed small stones from my knees with my dry hand, looked at four briefly and then down at his trousers. “No thanks luv, but you can watch if you like.” I turned to number one who was grinning and told him he could fuck me over the bench.

Then was she alone for the first time in what now seemed like forever. She sat down and nodded her head. The chair was comfortable, sure, although she had sat in more luxurious seats. The surroundings were well-appointed and she especially liked the chandelier although she suspected that picture at the far end of the room would be gone fairly damn quickly. She had never liked the subject of the portrait and the idea of spending the days, weeks, years exchanging glances with him and, perhaps, even growing accustomed to him was untenable. Changes would be made, hell, changes had already been made. She span herself around in the seat with her feet. No problem with the view though, no sir. So, the chair was comfortable and the surroundings well-appointed but, she thought, it’s all about location, location, location. She chuckled to herself and then thought that she should probably stop doing that. The phone on the desk rang and she picked it up. “Hello darling……..Really? What do you think?…….Good. Well, probably about eight…..chicken sounds good. Yep. Good. O, I almost forgot, that program on penguins is on tonight. Do you think you could record it for me? Thanks honey…yep, see you later.” She put the phone down and had one more spin and then there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” she said, checking the desk was in order. It was, she looked up. It was Jackson. “Putin on line two, Mrs President.”


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