Rose Feather (1)

Well here we go again. If you like this beginning / think it holds promise / captures interest strongly enough - or not. Let me know ... please?


Rose Feather

Chapter one

At the top of the stairs she opened the door, slipped into the crowded, silent hall, made her way as unobtrusively as she could around the backs of the spectators. Billy wasn’t behind the bar, only this bosomy blonde woman she’d never seen before. She tried a smile but the woman, unimpressed, made no attempt at a welcome. “What’s happening?” Rose whispered.
The woman shrugged. “You want a drink, dear? It’s a money match on. The Italian boy, Roberto -”
“Yes, I know,” Rose interrupted, unbuckling her raincoat belt, “ I just wondered who was winning?” She could have added that the older man was her father, his young opponent the friend who’d earlier today given her a lift from London. Why bother?
A man sitting on a stool, his back to the bar grunted, “Who’s winning, lass? Well it ain’t the old Cowboy, that’s for bloody sure. Four nil now, good as.”
The bar-woman tried again, addressing a point just over her shoulder. “You want a drink or not?”
“Thank you,” she said to the man, smiling. Then, more quietly to the woman, unsmiling, “No. I don’t need anything to drink.” She turned and made her way towards the match table, back-tapping the men, seeing annoyance changing into something else as the faces turned. “Sorry,” she whispered, and, “Sorry,” and they were glad to make room for her until she could see the table and the players, watch them at their one-sided game. The man at the bar was right, it couldn’t last much longer. She wanted to go. Her father’s defeat was going to embarrass her and the way of it worsened the hurt. She wanted to ask him, ‘Don’t you think you owe them something better than this, Pops?’
She glanced around. Since last she’d been here a set of framed drawings had been hung in a line along the back wall; Edwardian ladies and gentlemen dressed as if for an after dinner game. The tightly bodiced ladies couldn’t bend properly, held their cues very badly. She shifted her position to see them better, knowing at once that the man standing next to her would probably have misinterpreted the momentary contact.
Dinner jacketed ‘Cowboy’ Henry Feather was sitting just within the cone of light fanning out from above the brilliant green of the table. His legs were crossed, his right hand wrapped protectively around a glass half full of what might have been water but almost certainly was not. He still looked great, though, didn’t he? She wished he could now begin to play the game as he once had, then stopped herself. She remembered, once upon a time, him telling her ‘You gotta leave all that lovely wishing on a star stuff to Shirley Temple, Rosie.’ It had not been said unkindly but she remembered asking him who was that? Who was Shirley Temple?
Roberto potted another black. The white cue-ball went spinning off into the cluster of reds, spreading them out nicely. Why does it have to be you doing this to him, Roberto? she thought. Thanks for the lift but no thanks for this. She asked herself why on earth she'd promised to come to see the match. Whichever one was losing she’d have felt badly if it was this much of a mismatch. She didn’t need to see any more, and besides, pretty soon she was going to have to be rude to the idiot man who would keep closing in, whose body and beer smells were beginning to sicken her.
D’Amato finished off his break with a neatly contrived safety shot, taking no risks, giving no chances even though he had the match all but won. Someone in the audience coughed loudly and somebody else tried a tentative hand-clap. The Italian sauntered over to his chair, making obvious his sense of supremacy. He sat down, leaned back, examining one of his finger nails with undue care. Henry Feather swayed slightly as he got up. He wiped down his cue and advanced to the table. From the gloom and the silence a Midlands-accented voice called out: “Come on. Let’s go, Cowboy!” A murmur of unconvinced support ran around the room. Henry looked up and grinned his grin.
The man next to her grunted, “No bloody chance,” and lifted his pint glass to drink then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. As if in agreement, Henry failed in his attempt to make a touch contact with his targeted red. It hadn’t been that difficult. “What did I bloody tell you?” the man muttered triumphantly, “The old bugger has to be bloody pissed. Like, again.” From the corner of her eye she saw he was addressing her. Time to go, Rose, she told herself. If you stay you’re surely going to have to deal with Mister Nuisance and anyway you don’t want to be there at the bitter end, right? She re-fastened her belt and made her way as quietly as she could, as quietly as she’d arrived, tip-toeing out through the silence.
The dull yellow side-street lights seemed altogether too feeble. She raised her coat collar, turned to face the challenge of the weather, gasping at the sting of cold rain, the feel of its fingers penetrating the short way into the roots of her hair. It didn’t bother her although she’d never understood how that could be. Shouldn’t black people hate the rain? What if her father had someone with him when he came home? She hadn’t thought of that before. Well, she’d have to chance that, nothing to be done about it now. Her clothes and stuff were already installed, unbeknown so far to her father, in the spare bedroom. Anyway she’d nowhere else to go. Pausing in the concrete hallway outside the door to his apartment she located in her handbag the key he’d given her all that time ago. As she let herself back in and switched on the hall light she remembered the shine in her father’s eyes when he’d given it to her, when he’d told her to remember this key would always be hers. She hoped he would remember that, too.

Henry Feather sat still, watching the Italian at work. He remembered how it used to be, how it had felt when he and the game had sometimes seemed in such perfect harmony. Tonight, winning had mattered like hell. So why is it, he asked himself, why is it there seems no way for me to beat this kid?
The referee looked across to him, raising his eyebrows, asking the question. So be it. He took a deep breath, swallowed the last of the vodka, walked around the table to thank the referee then turned his smile on the Italian. But D’Amato’s handshake was just a brush of the fingers and his careless attempt at a return smile could reach no further than the outside edges of that goddam pretty-boy face. Still cultivating the good loser camaraderie he said, "What can I get you from the bar?” but his mouth felt dry, tasted like shit and the words were someone else's. It was too goddam hot in here; he'd have to talk to Billy about that. He loosened his bow tie, unbuttoned the neck of his shirt. Rumble of departing feet on the stairs; the crowd weren’t hanging about, no one looking to him for a post-match song or two tonight. “You do good work, son."
D’Amato said, “Like I say, is O.K. Just my money. Mister Feather, I am Roberto, yes? I am not your son, I think.” The dark eyes stared into his, unblinking. “Don’t need no drink,” he added, as if to dispel any lingering uncertainty. He snapped shut his cue case, offered it to his manager. The little man took it in charge then held out a jacket into which Roberto shrugged the width of his welterweight shoulders. Glancing at Henry’s burned out cigarette the Italian flicked imaginary ash from his lapel, communicating his distaste without the necessity for words or for any facial expression.
Henry took out his pack of cigarettes. Right now could be a very bad time for any form of reaction so say it with total conviction. “Tomorrow, the money” he said. Then, correcting himself, “Shit, tomorrow’s Saturday. It’ll need to be Monday. Where can I reach you with it?” He flicked his thumbnail up under the soft pack, extracted the upthrust cigarette with his lips. The flame of the match shuddered in his fingers.
“What the hell you saying?” D’Amato turned on his manager. “Can you believe this, Bellucci? How come you get me in a money match with a guy has no fucking money?” His voice, still cold, went up in volume and pitch. “For two stinkin’ grand I need …”
The manager interrupted quietly, full of authority in spite of his lack of height and size. “It is enough, Roberto. Mister Feather, he make a small mistake. Is O.K., we know he pays.” He ushered his charge towards the door. To nobody in particular he said, “This is nice place, Roberto. Mister Feather he is proud of it.” There was no mistaking the little man’s threat. He turned and nodded. “Ten thirty Monday morning. Right here. O.K. Mister Feather?” There was no warmth nor any comfort in his voice and the question mark was simply a politeness.
The few people still in may have caught the exchange. Just for once they needed no reminder about the closure of the bar. The manageress had gone as well but Billy was back, thank God. He was already well on with the tidying up. Billy said, “Trouble is the bastard’s right, Henry. God only knows why you needed to take him on. I’m supposed to look after your interests but, hell, what can any manager do if his guy pays sod-all attention to him? I mean, that Eyetie kid’s playing top matches all the time these days.” He wiped carefully around the pump handles. “We can’t mess those bastards around, you know that.” Worry showed in the set of all the deep-etched places of the old man’s face.
“There's no problem, old pal,” Henry said, “About the cash I mean.” He badly needed another drink now. A big one. Billy had done as much as he could do tonight, was beginning to assemble his defences against the weather outside: Long old army coat, tweed cap, knitted woollen gloves. All Henry's snooker playing life it seemed Billy Evans had been wearing these same winter things. He sighed. “Come on, Billy, old son, you know why we needed to take him on.” He ticked off the reasons on his fingers. “One, we needed the money. Second, I play a better game of snooker than D’Amato. Christ, he’s only ranked in the thirties. I should have played the guy off the table tonight. Goddam balls ran dead against me, did everything but get up and goddam laugh. And, yes, the arrogant areshole could really have used a good whupping, right?”
Billy shook his head, said, “Yes, I know. Only trouble is, that boy didn’t know it and don’t give a shit, neither. All he knows is what he sees and what he sees is an old bloke that used to be damn good missing flashy shots between knocking back the booze.” The long scarf went twice around his neck. “Hey, just listen to me? Please? The boy, D’Amato, he deserved to win the money.” He turned away. “I just hope you have it for ‘em. Don’t know why but I bloody well care what the hell happens to you, daft bugger.” He opened the door to go; “But I’ll see you tomorrow, OK?” He cleared his throat, called back: “Don’t be forgetting you’re coaching the kids in the morning.” He went out but immediately looked back in again, called out, “Oh, and I nearly forgot, Rose was in earlier.”
“What?”
“Your Rose. Couple of the boys told me they saw her. Said she didn’t stay long, ‘though. G’night now.”
In a moment the door to the street had banged shut. The tape deck was still running. A tragic harmonica sobbed, softly, around Dylan’s resolve to work no more on Maggie’s farm. He went to change the disc, pressed for one of Willie Nelson’s, turned up the volume. His eyes focused on the etchings and the snooker ladies imprisoned in their gilded frames, perpetually filled with all that sweet erotica. Willie’s voice filled the place; I’ve got a long list of real good reasons … for all the things I’ve done …I’ve got a picture in my mind of what I’ve lost and what I’ve won … Alone in the Brown Ball Billiards and Snooker club that everyone knew was the Cowboy’s place but that now might as well belong to Barclay’s Bank plc he poured himself a really good drink, turned out all but the bar lights, drew back the curtains and looked down on the shining, lifeless, inner-city street. He joined in with Willie on the second verse, keeping his own voice deliberately low so as not to over-sing the great man. “I’ve survived every situation …knowing when to freeze and when to run … and regret is just a memory, written on my brow …and there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
He was remembering how some critic had once written that, ‘The Cowboy doesn’t so much sing as grind away like some broken down concrete mixer.’ He blinked. Dust from the goddam curtains; must have gotten into his eyes.

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