This is the 5th instalment of ‘Ignoring Gravity’ about identity detective Rose Haldane. To start reading from the beginning, please click on the category ‘My Novel: Ignoring Gravity’ in the right hand menu.

But the phone rang and he excused himself to answer the call. Rose glanced at her watch. Jim the photographer was due in five minutes.

Black Rose by Harry Thubron [photo: tate.org.uk]

Black Rose by Harry Thubron [photo: tate.org.uk]

“I’m sorry that was a call I had to take. Shall we continue?” Maddox was playing with a black fountain pen and studying her legs.

She tugged her skirt down towards her knees then sat up straight with her knees pressed together, and wished her mother could have seen her polite posture.

Maddox didn’t hurry his appraisal of her legs, and when his eyes rose to meet hers they showed no embarrassment at being caught out. Damn him. To her dismay, Rose felt her cheeks flush with blood. She wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed or angry. It’s just a bodily reaction beyond my conscious control. That was how her father had explained it to her when she was five and blushed every five minutes. ‘The blood vessels in your skin get bigger to let the hot blood reach the surface of your skin so your body temperature is balanced,’ he’d said.

Where is Jim, for God’s sake?

Maddox poured water into two glasses, watching her discomfort with obvious amusement. Rose clamped her teeth together and stuck her tongue in her cheek to prevent it forming the words that her mouth wanted to unleash.

Arrogant, pompous, self-important… I didn’t say that aloud, did I?

“Are we finished here?”

“Almost. We just need to take the photograph.”

“Right.” He was looking at her knees again.

What a creep. When would she stop being attracted to the same type: gift-of-the-gab salesmen who sold themselves as energetically as they flogged advertising space and houses and… face creams. Does he give all his female employees this treatment? Shut up before you say something you’ll regret. She stuck her tongue back in her cheek again. Come on, Jim.

“Did you know that the phrase ‘cheeky’ means tongue-in-cheek?”

What? Can he see inside my mouth now?

“Er, no.” Her face grew hotter.

“The Victorians thought it was rude to show your cheek in this way. They were the first people to tell children off for being cheeky.”

“Really?” How does he know stuff like that? He must be making it up.

She tweaked her shirt which was clinging to her breasts then sensed him watching her. Instantly her nipples hardened. Oh shit! She took a deep breath and folded her arms over her boobs. Take control. Say something quick. Before he does.

“So, how long have you been at the Herald? Do you enjoy it?”

Too late. Now he’s making polite conversation.

“I love it.” Liar, that sounds so insincere. It is insincere.

He raised his left eyebrow. “Really?”

He said ‘really’ as if she’d said she’d always wanted to be an exotic dancer. Feeling the flush building again, her eyes dropped to her hands and she babbled about university, work experience and the farming magazine she’d worked on before breaking into local newspapers in. The school nativities, council meetings, writing obituaries and attending police briefings. Then the job at the Herald and her flat in Wimbledon and…

At last… Jim shuffled into the office laden down with camera gear.

Rose stifled a sigh of relief and ran a hand over her brow. Her face was burning.

Thirty minutes later, Maddox shook her hand. His grasp was firm, his palm cool and dry, his fingernails neatly clipped and filed. “Anything you need to ask, facts you need to check, just e-mail me or give me a call. Amanda will put you straight through.”

You bet she will. “Thanks.” Rose’s eyes were magnetically attracted to the filtrum which connected his nose and upper lip in a line like a dot-to-dot picture. It was deep and dark with a hint of afternoon stubble and she wanted to run her finger along it.

“Here’s my mobile number.”

She took his business card without touching his fingers, and shoved it in her pocket. Did he see me staring?

He was holding open the door for her. “I’ll be glad to help,” he said, “anytime.” His voice dropped low on the last word. Then he turned into his office and the door closed.

Amanda didn’t get up from her desk, but simply pointed towards the lift in the lobby. Rose smiled graciously at her. It was always worth keeping the secretaries on-side, but she’d need a blow torch to thaw this one.

Outside she lingered on the pavement and looked up at the top floor of the glass and steel building, trying to work out which was Maddox’s office. A shadow flitted across one panoramic window. She ducked behind the bus shelter. After waiting for what seemed like ages, she sneaked another look.

The shadow was still there, an arm lifted in a wave.

Oh. My. God.

Rose tucked her chin to her chest and walked away very fast.
© Sandra Danby

…in IGNORING GRAVITY #6: the interview is over and Maddox thinks he’ll never see Rose again.