The light from the street lamps shone on the dark puddles on the damp pavement. A fine drizzle continued to fall, dampening Martin's spectacles as he strode along the forbidding streets. It wasn't really the night for a stroll. And this wasn't a part of town where a man would be wandering for the sights or the restful ambience. But Martin was a man on a mission. And this was the best part of town to be.
He wasn't alone. Resting by lamp posts, or in the doorways of shuttered shops, or in the shadow of hedges, could be seen the occasional silhouette of women, dressed provocatively, frequently smoking, and eyeing him with rather less reserve than that which he eyed them. Martin shivered. Did he have to? he wondered. But then, of course, why else would anyone choose to come out to this part of town?
In the nearly fifty years of his life, the usual pleasures of marriage or children had somehow eluded him. He had tried. God! He'd tried! But it just hadn't been his destiny. Women just didn't take to him somehow. And the chances were getting fewer, as his hair thinned, his paunch grew larger and his future shrank ahead of him. And it wasn't just romance that had eluded him. In everything he did, he knew that he had under-achieved. He wasn't one of life's winners. He'd never got the promotions he'd wanted. At least not until so late it was a recognition of his seniority and patience than any native ability. Time and time again, he'd seen younger men leapfrog ahead of him. For them advancement, romance, marriage and respect just came naturally.
But not to him. He had no exciting past to reflect on, no youthful excesses to regret, nothing in his life which he could positively identify as an achievement for which he could be the envy of others. But he was a man. And he had needs the same as any other man. And if they weren't to come to him effortlessly through the exercise of his charm and personality, then they would have to come to him the only other way. And that was by the exchange of dollars and cents.
Prostitutes had become his release. In fact, they almost become his chief hobby. The main source of pleasure in his life. Something he would plan in advance and savour the prospect. Something to reflect on after the event and inevitably about which to feel some degree of shame. But always something ultimately more satisfying and more exciting than downloading images off the Internet, poring through glossy magazines or watching women in improbable ecstasy on DVDs. The feel of real warm flesh against his own skin, his penis tugged and pulled and sucked, and then sometimes the pleasure of penetration (always a little more expensive and that much more to be cherished) as his prick was eased into the condom the girls always thoughtfully supplied and then into the warm liquid embrace of the two fleshy lower lips. He only regretted that he so rarely tasted the lips on the girls' mouths. But that was an intimacy they always denied him.
Martin strode along, his eyes darting nervously about as he evaluated the women on display. Part of him actually felt quite sorry for the girls. It couldn't be much fun for them to be standing around in the evening drizzle, waiting for cars to slow down and pick them up. And they really weren't dressed for the weather. The skirts were so very short, the tops just so very brief, the heels so tottering and precipitous. And the faces. Sometimes so thick with make-up that it was difficult to imagine what the actual features underneath might be like.
And then Martin saw her. And he felt a slight tightening of the throat and a thump in his chest as the excitement of encounter came closer. The girl he'd had so many times before that he was almost a regular. She wasn't the prettiest girl in the world. But none of them were really. She was skinny, with large broad feet, and a twisted mouth on a face with a sharp chin and a long pointed nose. There she was (and of course Martin had no idea what she might be called), in her long pale tights, smoking her cigarette on the street corner, her heels so high that Martin could see right through them to the pavement edge.
And then she wasn't there. A dark brown Mondeo slowed down, and in a trice she was gone. Martin sighed as her tight, if rather fatty, bum disappeared through the car door, and the last she saw of her was a glimpse of her bleached, tied-back hair through the streaks of drizzle on the passenger window. So nearly and yet not nearly enough.
Disappointed, Martin paused in his steps. He almost felt like abandoning his quest altogether. He pushed his hands into the pockets of his overcoat and continued striding on. He couldn't come this far and just turn back. Even though he knew of a nearby bar where he could at least drown his sorrows.
"Are you looking for something?" he suddenly heard a woman's voice break into his reverie. He turned his head to see the dark shadowy figure of a thin woman, dressed in black with long unkempt black hair, just by a telephone pole.
He smiled more from politeness than anything else. "Yes," he heard himself mouth as he looked at her pale emaciated face. She didn't look like she'd eaten for a long time. She had virtually no fat obscuring her high cheek-bones and her perpetually startled gaze. "How much?"
The girl hesitated. "Twenty dollars," she announced at length.
She shrugged her shoulders. "A fuck," she decided noncommittally.
A fuck! That was cheap. What was the catch? He studied her face. It was so ill-looking. She must be a junky, Martin decided. Out for a fix. She must be desperate. But twenty dollars! He couldn't turn down an offer like that.
"Yeah! That sounds fine!" he decided. "Where?"
"My place," she said, emerging from the shadows in black tights which emphasised the bony knees which punctuated her slim legs, and the tiny skirt beneath the flimsy high-collared black blouse. She obviously didn't feel the cold. "Follow me."
Martin obeyed her command, and followed her along some ill-lit lanes toward a large dilapidated apartment block, which she entered. His steps followed her steps as she ascended the stairs in the flickering bulb-light, taking the advantage to examine the girl's strangely old-fashioned black high-heeled shoes and the bony contours of her arse. She finally arrived at a door on whatever floor Martin had lost count, opened it with a key and let him in.
Martin had been in girls' flats before, and he was used to their spartan functionality. But this one was almost too minimal in content. In the single room of the apartment there was nothing except a mattress, bare of even sheets, on the stained bare dark floor-boards illuminated by the inadequate aura of a single low wattage light-bulb. Thick dark curtains hid all evidence of the street outside.