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Now Sampling THREE WAYS - THE WAYS IN



      The woman sat alone, her face buried in her phone’s backlight while her hair fell over her efforts to tuck it behind her ears, unaware that she had Cole Brodas hooked.
      She wore a cream blouse that shrouded her chest and jeans belted at the waist. She had a drink in front of her that went ignored, the glass too full for the barbacks to pick up. She’s probably on Faceplant
      “Fucking hell.” James Honour shoved his shoulder. Cole looked at him and the schooner of Heineken held forward. “You’ve been drooling over that since you sat down.”
Cole took his beer and grieved for the core genus as his other workmate, Graham Dawes, joined the table. “That?”
      “That chick, dumbarse.”
      Cole shook his head. “I know what you mean. Be nice.”
      “Ooh, all prim and proper.”
      Graham dressed himself in a posh British accent. “Mister Darcy at your service, ahem.”
      “Ugh, you’re both pains.”
      He took a sip of his Heineken and missed the imported flavour, the beer on tap brewed here in Australia. A second sip, and his eyes went back to the woman, still glued to her phone and just as attractive as before.
      Graham shook his head. “You’re unbelievable.”
      “What’s that, Lassie? You smell some pussy?”
      Cole went to spit beer. “Fuck, Jimmy.” He put his schooner on the table and turned to his workmate. “You right?”
      Jimmy drained half his beer. “Well I ain’t a lefty.”
      “That’s the same half of the species as your mum.”
      “Yeah, and like you’re not thinking of fucking her brains out.”
      “I, well… Shit.”
      “Yeah, you are.” Jimmy looked the woman over. “Sweet girl, probably not a princess, either.” Cole glared. “What’s your fucking problem?”
      “Just ’cause a girl’s hot, doesn’t make her a slut. Even if you paid her to take her clothes off.”
      “Meh, just moral proselytising.”
      Graham turned to Jimmy. “Where’d you learn such a big word?”
      “Ah, piss off, ya faggot.” Jimmy finished his beer and banged the empty glass on the table. “C’mon, luck’s running out downstairs.” He left.
      Cole glared at Jimmy’s back. “I don’t fucking believe him.”
      “Stop worrying about him.” Cole turned to Graham. “C’mon, mate, you know what he’s like even when he’s off the piss.”
      “Yeah, backwards and wondering why he has to pay for a root.”
      “His lost pay, not yours. Anyway, could be worse.”
      “Seriously? Him, worse?”
      “Imagine if he was Tony Abbott.”
      “Oh, fuck me dead.” Cole laughed. “‘The price of a root’s gone through the roof because of the Carbon Tax.’ ‘It’s a great big new tax on everything, blowies included.’”
      Graham chuckled. “Boy, you nailed it.”
      “I try my best.” Cole sipped his beer. The woman tucked her hair for the umpteenth time.
      Graham rolled his eyes. “Again?”
      Cole shook his head, then turned to Graham. “What do you reckon?”
      “What?”
      Cole nodded at the woman. “What do you think?”
      Graham looked at her and shrugged. “She’s not too shabby… But forget about it. She’s on the phone with her friends, waiting for them to turn up.”
      “She’s just passing time.”
      “Don’t bother. She’s too fat.”
      Cole turned to him. “You’re—she’s normal.”
      “That top is hiding her gut.”
      “You pick up sticks.”
      “She’s a size twelve. I don’t go over eight.”
      “Sticks.”
      “You and your curves.” Graham rolled his eyes. “You coming down the pokies?” Cole thought about it and shook his head. Graham scoffed, glanced at the woman, then turned to Cole. “Well, are you gonna sit there and stare at her all night, or cause a disturbance in the Force to get her attention?”
         Cole half-laughed. His nerves told him to go back to his share of prostitutes. He shook his head. “I haven’t got a shot with her.”
         Graham put his schooner down. “Jeez, give yourself some credit.”
      “What am I gonna say? ‘Nice phone, been checking you out, you wanna drink?’” He sighed. “Fuck, it’d be easier to run to High Hrothgar.”
      “God, you love that game. You’ve finished it what, five times now?”
      “If I could shout you downstairs, I would.”
      “You know you won’t get a girl until you pack up your Xbox, right?”
      “How many times’ve I told you I’ve got a PC? What makes you think I have an Xbox?”
      “You whinge about your controller all the time.”
      “You can get controllers for PC, too.”
      “Whatever.” Graham stretched. “Well, you coming?”
      “Just give me… Oh, why not?”
      He looked at the woman again. Pity and dismay fought in monster suits in his heart. He picked up his schooner, took a sip, got to his feet, and surrendered the table.
      “Oh, for fuck’s sake…” Graham pointed at Cole. “I dare you to go pick her up.”
      “I don’t do dares.”
      “Bullshit. I bet you haven’t got the balls to talk to her.”
      “Graham, I’m not going down this road.”
      “Where’s your pair? Strap ‘em on, mate, you’re going in.”
      “It’s not gonna—”
      “Oh, it’s gonna work. Do you want Jimmy taking a shot at that?”
      “Christ, she’s a human being.”
      “Well, do you want that caveman—”
      “God no.”
      “Then get over there, I dare you.” Cole shook his head. “Double dare.”
      “Graham, no.”
      Graham cracked his neck and knuckles. “Right, physical challenge—”
      “Whoa, whoa, wait.” Cole drank his beer to one quarter.
      “Mate, you’re not off to wrestle a croc. Keep the Dutch courage for karaoke.”
      Cole wiped his mouth. “I’m going, alright? Just… Don’t tell Jimmy.”
      “He’s looking for free spins tonight, mate. He’s not gonna care.”
      “But could you keep him downstairs? I don’t want him rocking back up here and trashing everything.”
      “Relax, would ya?” Graham shook his head. “C’mon, you’re up. Go get her.”
      Cole ground his teeth. “Yeah, fine.”
      Graham turned for the back stairs. “Happy trails.”
      Cole the dickhead searched for his first move when an immaculate, collared man approached the woman’s table. Vicious jealousy slammed into his guts, and he sought a curse to invoke before the woman paused and withdrew from the would-be suitor.
      The man sneered and walked away. The woman glared at his back. Cole watched his pointy-shoed, slick-haired enemy retreat. Fuck off back to your sales meeting. He shook his head, sighed, and returned to the woman.
      She paused at a text, then laughed and held her stomach. “Good conversation—” He gasped. The ultimate opening. He finished his Heineken, tabled the schooner, summoned his courage, and crossed the floor.
      His guts ached. His heart thumped. He wiped his palms on his trousers. Disembodied at the point of no return, Cole coasted the rest of the way to her table, halted, felt awkward, and cleared his throat. “Is that an interesting conversation you’re having?”
      Time froze and served him a pit of agony on a bed of Come to Butthead. The woman stopped mid-text. Cole hoped for her to turn. She looked at him, caught his grin and half-closed eyes, and blinked. “Sorry, what?”
      Cole’s gears backtracked and rolled on. “Is that an interesting conversation you’re having?”
      “It might be…” She glanced at her iPhone. “What’s the difference?”
      “Well, if it’s an interesting conversation, I’d ask if I could interrupt you from it.”
      The woman turned away, chewed her lips, and looked back. “And if it’s a boring conversation?”
      “I’d ask if I could save you from it.”
      “Hmm.” The woman looked away again.
      “But if that doesn’t grab you, how about a compliment, or lame pick-up line?”
      She hissed and looked at him sidelong. “Such as?”
      “I like how you tuck your hair behind your ears, but love how it frames your face.
      “Whoa.” The woman grinned. “Have you been watching me?”
      “Yeah, from the table over there.” Cole tipped his head to it. “Sorry, my mate caught me staring.”
      “Really?” He nodded. She squinted. “And what about that lame pick-up line?”
      “Let me see.” Cole searched and Skyrim popped in. “Are you an adventurer like myself? ’Cause I just took an arrow to the knee.”
      The woman gaped, her eyes went blank, and she shook her head. “Yeah nah, I don’t get it.”
      “It’s a pathetic Skyrim joke. In this game I play, there’s a bunch of town guards who got shot in the knee by arrows.”
      “It’s, ah, not much of a joke if you have to explain the punch line.”
      “Well, it plays to one of my interests. You can probably guess I’m a bit of a gamer.” Her eyebrows rose. You’re losing her. “But that’s fair. The peril of real life is that there’s no save point to go back on.”
      She frowned. “No save point?”
      “Yeah.” Go with checking her out. “I can’t reload from the save and get it right with, ‘Are you a bin chicken? ’Cause I’ve bin chicken you out.’”
      The woman smiled, clicked her phone off, and turned her right shoulder towards him. “That’s more like it.”
      Okay, stay on target. Loosen up, but stay on target. “Yeah, better.”
      She bit her lip. “I’m guessing you’re not here to pass the time?”
      “No, um…” Cole held up a hand and dug back into his courage. “Sorry, I don’t pick up women in bars.”
      “So, what brought you over here?”
      “Risky as it sounds, I’ll be honest.” Don’t you tell herNo. I can work it. “My mate dared me to come over.”
      “You got dared—hang on…” She leant close. “Were you dared, or double dared?”
      “Well…”
      “It took a physical challenge to get you over here?” She bit her lip.
      His hand came back up. “I know what you’re thinking, ‘Needed a physical challenge, what the hell?’ Something along those lines?”
      The woman smirked. “Pretty much.”
      Mate, you’ve gone from a royal flush to the fucking cesspit. Cole racked his brain for no result. He turned to his table, sighed—remembered what had stopped his approach. He grinned.
      “Sure, I got tipped out of my chair.” The woman rolled her eyes. “But I challenged myself to ask if I can get your next drink. And I don’t care if you say no, ’cause now I won’t spend the night wondering what might’ve been.”
      The woman absorbed his words and glanced at him. “You’re not giving up, are you?”
      “Nope.”
      The woman bit her lips and turned her body to him. “Can I be honest?”
      “Please.” His guts churned.
      She smiled. “You’ve given me two compliments, a lame pick-up line, a worse pick-up line, and you topped it off with honesty… But you should’ve kept quiet about that.”
      “Not my best move.”
      “You get points for trying.” She laughed and dipped her chin. “But you had me with your eyes. And, I… I wanted to see what you had.” She turned to him, put her left wrist on the table, right hand on her thigh, and pointed her right knee at him. “Sorry for being difficult, but I didn’t want you to stop.”
      Her words hit, and he laughed. “Well, you’re something. Thought I was toast with the Skyrim reference.”
      “Then you used your save point.” The woman grinned, flicked her hair, and leant towards him. He pulled his gut in, put his fists on his hips, and sent his arms wide. Caught twice, she heightened. “What’s your name?”
      Oh shit, you are The Man. He smiled. “Cole Brodas.”
      “Cole… Brodas?” He nodded to her tipped face. “Is that from anywhere in particular?”
      Cole shrugged. “I haven’t looked into it. As far as I know, it just is.” He stepped beside her knee and put his right hand on her table. “And you are?”
      The woman’s shoulders widened. “Oh.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m Jane.”
      He glanced at her. “No surname?”
      “Not at the moment.”
      “No worries.” Cole smiled. “So, can I get you another drink?”
      Jane drew her lips left. “I’m sorry. I don’t like guys bringing me drinks.”
      Cole nodded. “Okay. Why don’t you come to the bar with me, and bring your own drink back?”
      She frowned. “But we could lose the table.”
      He shrugged. “We’ll find somewhere else.”
      “Looks like you’ve, ah, thought of everything.”
      “I know you’re worried about a guy slipping something into your drink. And yeah, we’ll lose the table. But I’d be honoured if you joined me.”
      Jane’s eyebrows rose. “And a charming gentleman to boot.” She bit her lip. “That’d be very nice indeed.”
      Cole sighed. “You know you made me pull out all the stops, right?”
      “I know.”
      “Not just plain Jane.”
      “Not at all.”
      Cole smiled. “I like that.” Jane smiled, leant forward, touched her neck, and picked her collar. He loved the moves—remembered his purpose. “Shall we hit the bar?”
      “Of course.”
      Jane slid from her stool. Cole stood back for her to pass and smelled her perfume—floral, sweet, not overdone. Afraid Cole had checked her out, Jane glanced back. His eyes were level with hers. Respect quelled her anxiety, and they joined the crowd at the bar.
      Cole leant close to her ear. “What are you having?”
      Jane glanced at him. “What are you having?”
      “I’m on Heineken, just not looking to have too many.”
      “Careful drinker?”
      “I’m just staying for a couple of hours. Got a long way to go home.”
      “Oh.” Jane scratched her neck. “So, you’re leaving at what, ten?”
      “Maybe nine-thirty.”
      “That’s pretty early.” Cole shrugged and smiled. “Well I’m, ah, meeting friends later.”
      “Girl’s night out?”
      Jane remembered to nod. “Ah, yeah, just a girl’s night.”
      “Well, there’s plenty of time to talk. What can I warm you up with?”
      “Vodka lemonade, thanks.”
      A man at the bar turned around with drinks in hand. They separated for him to pass through and took his place.
      Jane frowned. “Won’t your friends miss you?”
      “Ugh, they’re down on the pokies. They don’t do it for me.”
      “Okay…. And will there be other trips to the bar?”
      “Most certainly.”
      The bartender appeared, asked Jane what she wanted, and Cole leant in. “A vodka lemonade in a tall glass for my companion.” Her eyebrows rose at his manners and attention. “And a schooner of Heineken for me, thanks.”
      “Slice of lemon for the vodka?”
      Cole turned to Jane. “No thanks.”
      “Coming up.”
      The bartender took a tall glass, poured a shot of Smirnoff, then scooped the ice in. Cole watched the bartender at work and edged towards Jane, to her pleasant surprise. She turned to him with a tipped-head, smiled, and when he lifted his eyebrows, mimicked a kiss in reply.
      Phenylethylamine shovelled dopamine and norepinephrine into his fire. Cold electricity ran down his back. He lowered his right arm and moved a bit closer to Not Plain Jane.
The drinks went on the bar, a straw in Jane’s. “Sixteen dollars, thanks.”
      Cole pulled his wallet from his front-right pocket and handed over a red twenty-dollar note. The bartender put two two-dollar coins on a plate, and he pushed it back. The bartender smiled as they turned away.
      Cole let Jane go first, and joined her to find their table taken by a lass in an open, thin flannelette jacket, and two lads in tight black jeans, the three of them in punk T-shirts. He wondered if they even knew the Sex Pistols or The Ramones and looked for an alternative.
      “Here.” Cole led Jane to a section of bartop beyond the bar entrance and turned to offer his schooner. “Cheers.”
      “Cheers, indeed.” They clinked their glasses and shared the first sip, his eyes on hers. Jane licked her lips. “So, what do you do for work?”
      “Accounts admin. I’m on the processing side, but I do run a mean audit. It’s boring as, but keeps me busy.” She nodded. “What about you?”
      Jane took another sip. “I’m PA to the CFO in multinational corporate fi-nance—well, Australia, New Zealand, but we’re going into Asia Pacific.”
      “Nice.” He sipped his beer. “Good money?
      “It pays my HECS debt and keeps me entertained…” I’m unappreciated and overdue a pay rise. “I do a good job, but my boss…” Jane rolled her eyes and went yuerck.
      “He’s not a sleaze, is he?”
      She shook her head. “Nah, he’s just a spoilt little so and so.”
      “Spoiled like what, John McEnroe, or Mister Darcy’s poodle?”
      “Like what?” Jane laughed. Good job, keep it up. She fought to compose herself, and Cole chuckled as she wiped her eyes. “Now I’m going to picture a yapping poodle when he goes off—oh crap...”
      “Careful, you’ll fall over.”
      Jane got under control, turned to Cole, tucked her hair behind both ears, and ran her right fingers down her neck. Arm across her chest, she found the collar of her blouse again and drew it out.
      Cole turned to her, left enough space for escape, and took a mouthful of beer as he drank her in. “So, where are you from?”
      “Annandale.”
      “Cool. Are you near the Uni, down Parramatta Road way?”
      “No, I’m up near Rozelle.”
      “Born and raised?”
      “We, ah, moved there from Haberfield.”
      “Just the one move?” She nodded. “Yeah, I made a couple myself.” She sipped her drink. He glanced about. “You, ah, take the light rail to work?”
      Jane glared at him. “Who says I work in the city?”
      “Do you?”
      She laughed. “I do. But I ride in once a week if the weather’s okay.”
      “Nice.” Cole tried not to think of Jane on a bike in Lycra, and thought of Jane on a bike in Lycra. “Like, serious?”
      “Just to keep fit. I don’t do the fancy stuff. And where are you from?”
      “I’m down in Liverpool.”
      “That is a long way.” He nodded. “You there to afford the rent?”
      “No, I get by. I had a flatmate for a bit, but it didn’t work out.”
      “Was he too much of a hassle?”
      “She.” Jane tipped her head left. “We got on alright, but it got awkward. I sort of walked in on her twice.”
      “Sort of?”
      “First time was at night, accidentally copped a feel trying to get into the bathroom. Second time, I heard this grinding noise, thought, ‘What the hell’s that,’ and just burst into her room.”
      Jane covered her mouth. “Oh God, no…”
      “Yep.” Cole nodded. “Poor girl screamed and covered up while the, ah, rabbit went full bore on the floor. It took a lot of Jack Daniel’s to cool down, and we didn’t talk for a week.”
      She shook her head. “You ever make a move on her?”
      “I thought about it, but didn’t want to be a prick. And there was no hope after the rabbit. She was just a Mister Walker deal in the end.”
      “Who’s Mister Walker?”
      “‘For the Ghost Who Walks.’ It’s a saying from The Phantom.”
      “Okay…” She got the referenced intent, sipped more of her vodka lemonade, watched Cole enjoy his beer—felt her bladder ding, and put her drink down. “Sorry, I need the girl’s room.”
      “Yeah, cool.”
      “Can I trust you to watch my drink?”
      “Of course.”
      She smiled. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
      “Or a bit of a line up.”
      Jane chuckled. “Or that.” Her eyes twinkled. “See you soon.”
      Cole smiled, and she turned for the bathroom. He watched her go with a tipped head. And when do you plan on asking for her number?

Three Ways - The Ways In
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