It was cold, bitterly cold and the banks of heavy grey cloud looming across the darkening horizon signalled the approach of the promised snow. Not that I believed the Weathermen were always correct, but on this occasion, I suspected their ominous forecast would be fulfilled. I felt like getting out of my parked car and stretching my legs, but instead, I lit yet another cigarette and continued watching.
During the last few days I had begun to realise that private detectives really earned their pay, every penny. Not that surveillance work was arduous, but the boredom could easily drive a man crazy. Which was not good as some people thought I was mad already, well, Keith, my work colleague, thought I had a screw loose. Maybe I had! I suppose it's a matter of perspective.
On catching sight of myself in the wing mirror I suppose I did appear insane, especially around the eyes, but in fairness, I had not been sleeping well. Neither had I shaved for several days and the dark stubble gave my narrow face a sort of devilish appearance. Not that my appearance was uppermost in my mind. At present, I had other, more important issues to consider. Issues concerning the woman whom I had thought might one day, be my wife.
On checking my watch I saw that Claris had now been cosily tucked up in the Railway Tavern for the best part of two hours and I wondered, innocently, if she was alone. Of course, there would be other people in there, but would they be talking with Claris? Sitting with her? Buying her drinks? Planning to escort her home: perhaps for coffee?
I could feel my anger rising as I stubbed out my barely smoked cigarette in the overflowing ashtray. I had not yet established why she visited the Tavern, but Keith, my well-meaning friend, had reliably informed me that she was a regular there. A regular that had gained a reputation for being, shall we say, lively?
Not that I believed him, not straight off anyhow. I had accused him of being jealous and stirring up trouble because he wanted Claris for himself. Obviously, since he hardly knew her, had in fact only met her once, my accusation was nonsense. I realize this now, but at the time . . . well, at the time I was not prepared to accept that, unbeknown to me, Claris led a separate life. What had really crawled under my skin though, deep under, was the implication that Claris put herself about, as they say. I could not cope with the thought of her cheating on me. Not my Claris whom I had dated regularly for the past two years. After a raging argument I had called Keith a liar when all along, somewhere inside, I knew he was telling the truth.
This was my third stint outside the Railway Tavern, watching the comings and goings of the eager dinnertime drinkers. I had also spent two afternoons parked near the Furnace Arms, which Claris had visited unaccompanied and on none of these occasions had I seen her with another man. Was I losing my grip? Becoming Paranoid? Had I been deluding myself? I had no immediate answers.
* * *
Initially, after the fight with Keith, I had driven from the office like a lunatic, blazing with the intention of confronting Claris. Even as I stepped from my car and rapidly climbed the flight of stone steps leading to her modernised Georgian flat, I was determined to wring the truth from her. As my key turned in the lock and I entered her plush hallway, I intended thrashing it out. Then, I saw her, curled up in her favourite armchair, wearing nothing but a loose fitting dressing gown, awaiting my arrival.
"Anthony!" she had exclaimed, "you're early and I'm not ready."
"I know," I replied, putting my car keys on the side. (We often ate out as neither of us enjoyed cooking.) Her hair looked wet so I assumed she had just showered and beneath her gown she would be completely naked. "I left work early," I added, my imperative questions neatly sidelined.
To say Claris is attractive does not do her justice. With striking looks that always has men in the street passing her longing glances, I would say 'beautiful' would be a more apt description. She was just tall enough to be termed elegant and possessed very shapely curves. Her hair, tinged with hints of mahogany, is of the darkest, richest, brown and falls loosely in flowing waves, capturing the light, tenuously keeping it prisoner.
Her lips always seem to be a delicate shade of pink, as if they have been lightly dusted with the brush of a skilled artist while deepest hazel, flecked with slivers of green, best describes her eye colour. Eyes filled with a keen intelligence that boasts, along with an unassuming air of sophistication, an alluring girlish innocence. All this womanly treasure is enhanced by her finely sculpted nose that rises ever so gently at the tip, seemingly drawing her upper lip along with it, revealing perfect teeth, white and even.
She had risen from the couch in one sinuous movement, her gown parting slightly, allowing the briefest glimpse of her slender thighs. As she strode towards me I wanted to question her, needed to acquire some answers, but instead, I drew her close for a kiss and she willingly responded.
Afterwards, we dined out as planned and on our return we made love again. While lying in the still darkness, smoking, the questions concerning her alleged infidelity tripped across my thoughts. I desperately wanted to broach the subject but as Claris snuggled against me, I rejected such hasty action. Call it lack of conviction, a failure of courage, call it what you like, but at that moment in time I felt I needed more than the uncorroborated hearsay of a work colleague. I felt I had to discover the truth for myself, in my own way.