"I stopped typing and listened to the sound of high heels heading my way. They clipped up each rise on the toes, then clacked across the landings, heel first: Morse code for “this could be your lucky day”. But who needed my services on New Year’s Eve? I hoped they wouldn’t stop at any of the two lower floors. There was a long moment’s hesitation on the second; I thought I’d lost them to the chain-smoking old woman who lives below. Then they came on.
I stopped pretending I was busy. The only person I was fooling was me. For the past couple of hours I’d been stabbing the keys and banging the return as if I hated the battered Imperial. I’d twice reached into my drawer and fingered the neck of the bottle like a lover. I’d twice closed the drawer without taking a swig. If I started I’d never see midnight: a prospect that had grown more tempting by the minute.
The stairwell is visible through my open door. Her hat appeared first, then she climbed round out of sight and up to the top landing. The tap-dance continued until she stood in the doorway. Her slim shadow flung itself across the lino towards my desk. She was hesitant, as though she’d never done this sort of thing before. Few had; Finders Keepers had only been going for three months.
She could see me at my desk but not clearly enough to make out the details. Her veil wouldn’t help, but nor would my lamp. I keep the light low because of my face, and because I don’t like being silhouetted: a habit I got into in my previous line of work. But whether I was scared of being laughed at or shot at, it meant that visitors had to get right up close before they could see my expression. Especially on a winter’s night with only the dim glow from the street lights drifting in through the window.
“Hello?” she said, not sure what this creature in the shadows would do.
It said, “Come in,” in as inviting a voice as it could muster. I stood up, hoping she wasn’t lost and looking for directions.
She gathered herself and strode forward like an amateur modelling clothes for the first time. It took her just five strides to arrive in my pool of light. With a practised sweep she pulled the veil up and on to her hat. She might have been a model, but she was no amateur.
I wouldn’t have guessed the eyes. They were grey, as though the blue had leached away. Her lips were a perfect red, retouched on the stairs - that was the pause. With the pale eyes came the blonde hair, that special soft gold-white that no bleaching can ever mimic without turning the hair to straw. It was pulled back so tightly from her face it must have hurt. A small blue hat was skewered to her head at the angle of an airman’s forage cap. I’ve known women take an hour in front of a mirror to get all those effects just so.