It was our second date. The first one had gone well. I quite liked her and knew I wanted to see her again. We'd had a good evening, nice meal, good wine and things were looking up. The taxi stopped outside her place, a penthouse apartment on the 10th floor overlooking Chelsea Harbour. She invited me in.
'Coffee...you know,' she said.
I didn't know but coffee sounded good.
The flat was luxurious. A sweeping expanse of white, polished marble floor tiles was broken only by the careful placement of three white leather sofas that enclosed a low, glass topped coffee table. To the far side of the room one wall consisted of floor-to-ceiling glass through which spectacular views of the London skyline could be seen glowing in a yellow white sheen against the dark blue of the night sky. I was impressed.
She casually dropped her jacket onto one of the sofas and turned towards me.
‘Make yourself at home. I’ll fetch some drinks. What will you have?’
Although it crossed my mind that coffee was a drink I was certain she didn’t mean coffee anymore.
‘Have you got – ’
‘I’ve got everything darling. What will it be?’ She smiled, a smile that loaded her answer with more than the reply my questioned needed.
‘A Bombay...Bombay and tonic would be good,’ I said, wondering momentarily if being so specific about the brand of gin I wanted was acceptable. But then she did say she had ‘everything.’
‘I’ll be right back. Make yourself comfortable...oh and don’t worry about Rufus.’
‘Yes...he’s my baby.’
She’d never mentioned children and before I had time to form another sentence she disappeared into the hallway. As I watched her walk away I began to wonder who had done the baby sitting that night. And then I met Rufus.
Rufus was a dog, well, not so much a dog as a combination of wolf, husky and German Shepherd. I couldn’t tell which breed to be honest but he was big, black-maned, tawny coated with sharp pointed ears and lolling tongue. Certainly ‘baby’ seemed a wholly inadequate description as he bound towards me. It would probably only have been appropriate had she followed the word with ‘mammoth.’ At first I thought it was a lion but the words ‘don’t worry about Rufus’ made me assume that he couldn’t be since lions should be worried about, especially if they are in a residential flat.
Luckily, I don't mind dogs and I seem to have a way with them. As a result they seem to like me. Rufus did. He sniffed me, pawed me, rubbed his coat against my legs and paid me a whole lot of attention. I stroked and patted him more out of a need to encourage him to keep all four feet on the floor than in a friendly, getting to know you gesture.
My date returned carrying two drinks, my Bombay and a glass of Rosé Champagne for herself.
‘I see you and Rufus are getting along,’ she said.
Getting along. I wasn’t sure that was quite how I saw it. I suppose it could have been accurate in the way that a circus lion tamer attempts to retain control of the big cats – it only happens because they let him.
‘Err...yes, he seems to like me...and I...err, like him too...he’s huge though. Looks quite...you know...intimidating.’
‘Intimidating?' She laughed. 'Oh no, he’s just lovely. A big pussy cat really. Come and sit down.’
Her description caused me to think once again about my initial lion reaction but I dismissed it.
As I sat down she raised her glass and clinked it against mine.
‘Cheers. I’ve had a lovely evening tonight.’
I was about to respond but the chink of the glasses must have caused Rufus to feel left out. As I leant towards his mistress to return the toast, he gave a yelp and in one bound he was on my lap. The Bombay and tonic didn’t stand a chance. The entire contents tipped right over the front of my shirt and my new chinos as Rufus’s nose hit my right hand.
My date was on her feet in a flash.
‘Go to your bed you naughty boy,’ she shouted in a low throaty command.
For a moment I thought I’d been reprimanded for the spillage and wondered what bed I was supposed to occupy. It was only when I saw Rufus slinking off, tail down, head low that I realised it was he who was the object of her disapproval, not me.
She turned towards me. ‘I’m so sorry. He just gets excited around strangers.’
Rufus excited was something I didn’t want to contemplate.
‘It’s OK. It’s nothing,’ I said.
‘Look at your trousers and shirt. They are soaked.’ Her hand snaked out and started to pat down my chest in some sort of attempt to dry out the damp patch. Her efforts were futile. ‘Why don’t you pop into the bathroom and freshen up. There are towels and things. It’s down the hallway, round to the left second door on the left. Careful with the door though, dodgy handle. Had some problems but it’s being refitted on Tuesday.'
I found the bathroom. As I opened the door I felt a nudge against it and it was pushed fully open. Rufus again, following me in. I tried to persuade him to go back out but he didn’t quite get my communication attempts. He just sat there looking up at me. I tried to drag him by the collar but he was too heavy and would not budge.
‘Ok, mate. You’ll just have to stay here while I get sorted out then.’
I shut the door and locked it, more out of habit than concern for personal privacy. Within a few minutes I had mopped up the worst of the spillage on my trousers and shirt with a towel. To finish it off I grabbed a hairdryer that was sitting in a metal ring holster on the wall and switched it on to full blast. In a startled reaction Rufus began to whimper.
‘It’s ok Rufus. Easy. It’s just a dryer. Look.’ I waved it in front of him but that seemed to agitate him even more. He began to scrabble at the door, his paws scratching at the wood.
‘OK, I got it. I’ll let you out,’ I said, hoping he’d get my intention. He continued to paw the door. ‘Get back boy. I can’t get the bloody door open until you get out of the way. C’mon. Easy. It’s ok.’
I switched off the hairdryer and put it down on the floor, trying at the same time to tug Rufus away from the door with both hands on his collar.
‘You ok in there?’ I heard my date’s voice call out from somewhere in the hall.
‘It’s alright. Just got Rufus in here,’ I replied.
Again I tried to pull Rufus back and at the same time reached for the door handle. I’d just caught hold of it when suddenly he turned and shot away from the door catching me totally by surprise. The sudden violent movement caused me to stumble back and wrench the handle straight out of the door plate. The momentum caused us both to fall in an ungainly heap on the floor. Rufus landed on his back but in one twisting, scrabbling movement he was back on his feet. Unfortunately one of them landed on the hairdryer switch which fired back into life blowing a blast of hot air straight into his bewildered face. His yelp and subsequent whimpering were pitiful.
‘What’s going on?’ My date again. This time nearer the door.
‘Nothing it’s ok. Rufus is just a bit -’
At the sound of his mistress’s voice Rufus began to howl. There was clearly wolf in there somewhere. A soul harrowing howl emanated deep from the wildness within him. The hairs on my neck suddenly stood on end, prickled by some ancient programming and sense of danger.
‘What the fuck are you doing to my dog in there? Come out of there right now.’ My date again.
I looked at the door handle still in my hand. I realised I had also locked the door.
‘I’m not doing anything to him. I can’t get out. The door...it’s stuck.’
Rufus stopped howling and began to whimper again. He sensed my agitation and the confined space seemed to be getting too much for him.
'If you don’t open the door and let my dog out I’m calling the police.' She now sounded more agitated than Rufus.
'The police? There’s no need. I’m sure I can get the door open without their help.’
‘I’m not worried about the fucking door. What are you doing with my dog in there?’
Rufus had begun to howl again and then began to pace in a prowling circle.
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘He’s fine.’
‘Well he doesn’t sound fine to me. My baby never howls like that. I’m calling the police.’
‘Wait...no, it’s fine. He’s just...err...hot.’
‘Yes, hot. He stepped on the hair dryer and it...hot air went in his face.’
‘You’ve burnt him. My poor baby.’
Rufus wasn’t helping matters. He had stopped prowling now and had started scrabbling at the door again, whimpering in an agitated manner as if trying to communicate with his mistress.
It was getting hot. I had to think. I had to get the door open. I needed air and by the looks of things so did Rufus, particularly after his brush with the hairdryer.
I tried inserting the handle of the door back into the hole where it had been. It went in but as I turned it, it failed to take hold and simply flopped down into a hanging position. Something must have broken off in the internal mechanism.
I called out to my date. ‘Are you there? Katie? Are you there? I can’t get out.’
There was no reply. Rufus was panting heavily and then began to pee himself. I crossed the bathroom to the window and opened it. A cool breeze instantly swept through the room along with the sound of London traffic. Rufus’s ears pricked up. It never occurred to me that he might see it as an opportunity but in one huge leap and a scurry of paws he had scrambled up onto the sink and without a backward glance disappeared through the opening.
An escape route. I was about to follow suit when I remembered - penthouse apartment,10th floor......