An extract from White Lies, from my forthcoming short story collection.
William Baxter crosses the floor, his sharp steps echoing in the marble foyer. The security guard looks up and touches his cap and Baxter gives him a cursory nod of recognition. Baxter always acknowledges security even though most of them indulge the rumour that he murdered his mother. Baxter knows that when you have a reputation as a man who pulls off impossible deals and bankrupts other business malicious gossip is always rife. He’s learnt to live with rumours, sometimes they even make him laugh, but most of the time Baxter just shrugs them off as inconsequential gossip. As for the rumour he murdered his mother – it’s one he quite enjoys.
Baxter ignores the fanciful stares of two secretaries returning from lunch and hurries towards the exit, securing the buttons on his cashmere coat with one hand and stealing a glimpse at his Rolex on the other. Time is of the essence. He pushes the revolving doors with an impatient thrust, exposing his crisp white shirt cuffs and gold cufflinks. A limousine pulls up outside, light ricocheting off its polished silver fender. Baxter has fifteen minutes to travel the four blocks to Saviour Investments. He’s decided to make them an offer they can’t refuse. It’s a more generous proposition than he’d normally make but, since he made a killing on the stock exchange this morning, he’s feeling almost philanthropic. The driver opens the car door and Baxter quickens his pace once more when a sudden impact throws him off-balance and sends him staggering backwards.
“For fuck’s sake!” curses Baxter, straightening up and preparing to give his assailant a lashing of abuse. But there’s no suited employee to take the brunt of his anger, only a dishevelled young woman lying on the sidewalk.
“Mr Baxter,” says his driver. “Let me deal with it…”
“No, no. It’s fine. I’ll see to it,” says Baxter, waving his driver away.
Baxter inspects the woman, making a quick appraisal of her worn heels, tired skirt and saggy jumper. He’s distracted from the spilled contents of her handbag by her skirt which has ridden up exposing the smooth creamy flesh of her legs splayed wide on the dirty concrete. The desire for academic victory over Saviour seems less urgent as Baxter feels the stirrings of unexpected lust.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you,” says the woman.
Tearing his eyes away from the naked skin and hints of flimsy underwear, Baxter notices the dark glasses askew on a youthful face with a surge of disappointment. He distrusts people, particularly women, who wear sunglasses especially when it’s dull and overcast. He wonders what the woman may be hiding: puffy eyes from a sleepless night, a bout of tears or something else? He remembers his mother’s cutting asides dispensed from behind her designer glasses, a cigarette poised at her lips. Defence or attack? He’s never quite sure.
As Baxter surveys the scene, he spots an unmistakable object on the sidewalk and admonishes himself for not being more observant. His fastidious nature means he normally notices even the smallest details including the unintentional vocal nuances and facial grimaces which, in the boardroom, have put him one step ahead of the pack. But today he has been too preoccupied with thoughts of subjugation as, not only did he not see the woman, but he did not see her white cane.
“Hello…hello?” says the woman, her voice wavering.
Words stick in Baxter’s throat for a moment as the woman briefly tilts her head to one side before turning to scrabble around for the missing cane and the scattered contents of her bag.
“I was in a hurry and didn’t see you either,” says Baxter, kneeling on the floor. At the same time as Baxter regrets the dirt on his pants, he’s aware of an emotion he has not felt for a long time. So long, he is not even sure it still existed.
“I thought you’d left,” says the woman, turning back towards him.
“No…I was winded,” replies Baxter. He picks up her bag, reaches for her hand and guides it so she can drop her collection of possessions back inside the bag. “I’m fine now. Are you?”
“Yes. I was just disorientated for a moment,” says the woman.
Baxter likes the fact she hasn’t demonized him or referenced her blindness. He picks up the remaining articles and deposits them alongside the others, a fleeting glimmer of curiosity passing over his face as he absorbs the information they reveal:
Mary Anne Whitmore.
Baxter picks up the cane, places it in Mary Anne’s hand and holds her by the other.
“Let me help you up. Ready now? One, two, three!”
Baxter pulls Mary Anne to her feet. He doesn’t release her hand but studies her as she steadies herself; she’s taller than he expected and with decent heels she’d meet his gaze at eye level. Her hair is thick and long but in need of a stylist and, whilst she’s not obviously beautiful, she has features that accentuated by the right makeup would make other women jealous and other men licentious.
“Thank you,” says Mary Anne, pulling her hand out of his grasp.
“I should make up for my clumsiness,” says Baxter with deliberation. “Do you like Italian?”
“No need,” replies Mary Anne. “It was an accident.”
“I won’t take no for an answer,” says Baxter. “Please accept my offer by way of an apology. If you prefer, we could make it French or Thai.”
“I have an appointment.”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure it can wait,” says Baxter.
“No…it can’t,” says Mary Anne and turns away, her cane leading the way.
Baxter watches Mary Anne feel her way down the sidewalk. He’s intrigued by her stubbornness and her blindness but his fleeting compassion dissolves as she merges with the crowd. As she disappears completely, he wipes the dust from his clothes and realizes he’s aroused by idea that she can’t see him for who he really is.
Comments welcome. Good, bad, indifferent I want to know, so I get this story bang on!