It was a few minutes before nine and already the sloth of the daytime crowd had gathered, here in this pub because it did a decent fry up – for under a fiver – and all of them eyeing each other and wondering who was going to break first and buy a pint.
Johnny had his laptop bag up on the bench seat next to him. He had a notepad set out on the table. His shirt was clean, his shoes almost shiny. He was the perfect image of some young professional killing time before a client meeting. He had a booth tucked out of the way near the entrance but still in a place where he could keep an eye on the bar. He was holding yesterday's Guardian but not really reading. He was waiting for Clipboard lady to take her sour face from behind the bar.
When she was gone he slipped his almost perfect match white china charity shop mug from his bag and sauntered. He put the mug under the spout of the coffee urn and twisted the handle. Free refills till noon. Lovely jubbly.
Waistcoat drifted across to him, his perma-smile showing, and those round glasses of his perched low on the tip of his nose. Today’s waistcoat was muted, by his standards – turquoise check with monochrome parrots in little top hats marching a quickstep.
Johnny grinned at him. 'No drama this morning then?'
Waistcoat mock shuddered. 'Don't remind me. Two kids and their lunches delivered safely. Then top it all off: dozy Jinny left her flute behind.’
'This place wasn't the same without you - people were near rioting.’
Waistcoat screwed up his eyes and surveyed the room of slumping old men and slack eyed youngsters in tracksuits, all of them with their grasping hands formed in rigid curls around a lifetime of cheap beer cans.
He looked at Johnny. ‘These people?’
‘I said near rioting.’ Johnny raised his full mug. 'Fill you a cup?'
'No thanks. All that coffee. I'd be on the ceiling.'
‘I tell you, I need this, so bad. Four-hour meeting on fiscal standards to come, and that’s just this morning.’ He grinned at Waistcoat again. ‘Catch you later.’
Johnny returned to his seat. The old man sitting opposite was lost in space, and the swing doors were silent. Johnny flipped open the cover of his laptop bag. He reached inside, unscrewed the cap of the thermos, and then, following one last check of the doors and the bar steps, tipped the remainder of his coffee mug into it. He tightened the lid and then sat back to pretend sip his coffee. Another couple of trips and that was him with coffee for the day. He was saving himself one pound fifty every day, and it wasn't much but it was enough to buy him lunch, or it was a week of cornflake breakfast and dinners if he was sparing with the milk. Now wouldn't that be something, get himself a second thermos and fill it from the insulated jugs of milk they kept next to the coffee urn.