The reservation

Mick approached the couple with a smile, drying his hands on the towel slung over his shoulder. “And what can I get you this evening?”

It was the man who took charge. He was dressed smartly but looked uncomfortable in it, like it was unfamiliar to him. In the dark of the bar he could’ve been anywhere between 25 and 40. “We’ve a room booked for tonight. Should be under Harrison.”

“Ah! Yes, of course.” Mick reached under the till and pulled out the reservation ledger. It was rare for them to get bookings for accommodation; he’d wondered what they would be like when the email came through. The Horse and Crown only had the two rooms upstairs and they were mostly empty, and when they were occupied it was usually to put up one of the locals who’d had one too many or an argument with the wife.  They’d only really advertised them because Mary thought it was a waste to just have them there unused. Lots of pubs in the county did it, apparently, although Mick couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t book a hotel.

He ran his finger down the page until he found them. “Harrison, there we are. Just the one night was it?”

“That’s right.” The man’s voice was clipped, businesslike – or maybe nervous. His companion was shorter than he was, and hung back as if readying to run out of the door. She kept her eyes on the man, not looking towards Mick, and had her hand on his elbow. She’d dressed up too, a shawl over her bare shoulders, and bright lipstick.

He must have stared a little too long because the man gave a polite but clear cough.

“Will you be paying by card?” Mick asked, but the man had already pulled out his wallet and was counting out notes onto the counter. “Marvellous.”

He gave them the key and showed them to the room. “Just let me know if there’s anything you need.” The man thanked him and closed the door.

Well, thought Mick as he went downstairs. He’d assumed they were husband and wife when he’d got the booking, but he’d known no married couple so tense and awkward with one another. A prostitute perhaps? No, he decided hurriedly, ashamed of himself for having thought it; there was more to it than that. (And besides, he was given to understand from television that they would only book rooms by the hour.) An affair then maybe, a clandestine meeting arranged at a country pub where they wouldn’t be recognised. That would account for their hurry to be rid of him, and the payment in cash, he reasoned.

He wanted to go in the back and tell Mary, ask her what she thought of it all, but he knew better than to do that. She’d tell him it was none of his concern, that he shouldn’t be such a nosey so-and-so. And she was right, but all the same, there was something fascinating about other people’s lives. But then again, he thought, shrugging as he pulled the next pint, maybe it was only interesting so long as he didn’t know.

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