As expected, the Scotland training camp was alive with the press anxious to get at least a few words from him. None were forthcoming and Bradley managed to ignore them and concentrate on the job in hand.
Despite being substituted after 65 minutes, Bradley’s involvement in the game ensured they beat Moldova by a 3-0 margin. It wasn’t his best game however, which is why Jimmy Anderson decided to pull him out of the game when they were two up. His mind clearly wasn’t on it which annoyed the Scotland manager, particularly during the post-match interview where he laid into the gutter press for affecting Bradley’s performance more than any events at home. He ended up storming out of the interview early to have a chat with his player.
It seemed to have done the trick, and as Archie said, today’s news is tomorrow’s chip wrapper. The paparazzi were nowhere to be seen when Bradley boarded a plane to Malaga from Glasgow airport two days after the game. He was meeting his old friend and former team mate Jose Sanchez who had finished his loan spell at Hearts and returned to Valencia to see his family. It would be good to catch up with Jose and forget about the week’s events. Sam and his parents had left numerous messages on his phone, all of which remained unanswered. He needed more time before getting back in touch with them.
At home, things were becoming more strained. There were still some reporters hanging around outside their house which was annoying as it meant nobody could leave without getting harassed. Sam had arranged to stay at a friend’s flat in Edinburgh and sneaked out one night to make the journey, making no comment to the journalists parked outside.
There had been further revelations about Martine; most of them were rubbish but the press had named Stuart as one of her lovers. This news had further driven Brian into his spiral of depression. He couldn’t stand being in the same house as Martine and was forced to pack his bags and run the gauntlet of press as he drove to the airport. He had booked a Travelodge in the City of London for a few nights until he could find somewhere permanent to stay. His friends and colleagues hadn’t been very helpful; most of them didn’t want to know him while all this was going on which didn’t help Brian’s mood one bit.
Martine just stayed in the house trying to put together some kind of future. It would be a lonely future as she had caused so much damage that even she knew she had to watch her every move from now on. She would miss her lovers but she missed her sons even more and realised how much she had let them down. Her mood was improved after a few days when the press eventually found another story to focus on and realised they weren’t going to get any more juicy gossip from this one.
When Brian got to his hotel, he slumped onto the bed and cried. Really cried for the first time since his youngest son was born. More than he had cried when his mum had died back in April after a short illness. His dad still liked to go and see Bradley play, but ill health had prevented him from attending too many games. Bradley had promised to visit his grandparents more often but was always too busy with other things which disappointed Brian a lot. They were always there for Bradley when he was growing up; both of his Grandads would go and watch him play in all weathers whenever they could and they used to love speaking to Bradley about his latest game over the phone. He wasn’t sure where it had all gone wrong with their relationship, but it hurt Brian deeply.
Once he had unpacked, he decided to go for a walk to clear his head. It was a Sunday evening and he knew most places in the City would be closed so he headed just up the road to Old Street near where it met Hoxton as he knew of a couple of decent pubs there that would be open to cater for the local residents of the nearby council estates.
His first stop was the Admiral, but when he got there he was appalled to find that it had closed and been replaced by a more upmarket trendy bar. He carried on along Old Street and turned into Pitfield Street where he remembered there was a decent old school pub called the Hop Pole. As he approached, he noticed there were no lights coming from the pub. This one had gone to the wall as well.
It was now starting to drizzle which matched his mood as he pondered his next move. He then recalled a strip pub nearby which might be open called Toppers. It was situated on the corner of Kingsland Road and Hackney Road and had been a stalwart place for the City workers since as long as he could remember. He was relieved to find it open as he pushed the doors open and walked up to the bar.
It had been smartened up a lot since the last time he had visited; no more sticky carpets and battered furniture any more. Instead, it had been given an expensive makeover with private booths at the back where the pool tables used to be. He ordered a beer and settled down to watch the next stripper come on to the stage. Apparently, her name was Candy which was probably only a stage name, and she writhed around on the stage removing articles of clothing along the way until she was completely naked. Her colleague came round the bar with an old fashioned pint pot to collect £1 coins for her friend, as was the tradition which had remained longer than the sticky carpets.
Her friend turned out to be called Becky (probably another stage name) and she asked Brian if he was on his own and would he like a private dance for £15. He politely refused her generous offer as he couldn’t afford any more adverse publicity heading Bradley’s way. Becky persisted for a while then changed her tack.
‘If you’re lonely, I know someone who could keep you company if you like.’ Becky offered.
Brian sighed loudly.
‘You’re very kind Becky, but I think I just need a couple of drinks, watch some dances to take my mind of things, then call it a day. I need to be at work early tomorrow.’
‘I think you need someone to talk to at least. Something’s troubling you, you look so sad.’ Becky replied. ‘Look, I finish after this dance, how about we go for a drink somewhere local? Just a drink and a chat, I’m a good listener and it will help.’
He thought about her offer and decided that no harm would come of it if he just went for a couple of drinks, so he accepted which brought a kindly smile to Becky’s lips.
‘Lovely. Give me five minutes and I’ll meet you outside. The management get twitchy about their girls mixing with customers.’ She laughed.
Brian finished his beer and headed outside, his mood improving by the minute. He did need someone to talk to and Becky did seem like a nice girl with no hidden motives. As long it is was just a drink then he would be fine.
‘So, you know my name, what’s yours?’ Becky asked as they headed along Kingsland Road towards Hackney.
‘Do you want my stage name or my real one?’ Brian laughed.
‘Fair play. My real name is Lucy. Toppers decide what our stage names are. So, what’s your stage name?’
‘Same as my real one; Brian. Sometimes I think I should have a stage name and act incognito.’ Brian replied.
‘What’s your story then? Why are you frequenting strip pubs in Shoreditch on a miserable Sunday night? You don’t look like you’re from round here. Are you here on business?’
‘Sort of. It’s a long story but basically I live, well lived, in Scotland and my job has been transferred to London and I’m commuting down until I find somewhere to live.’
Lucy was worldly wise enough to recognise Brian’s story. She guessed he had recently split up from his wife, he was starting a new life in London and was depressed at what had gone on. She had seen it all before.
‘Well, I can read you like a book. I know what’s hurting you and I can tell you I’ve been there before. You don’t have to tell me the whole story if you don’t want to.’ Lucy said as she pushed open the door to a pub called the Basing House.
She was obviously known to the barman who greeted her with a smile.
‘Hi Dave, got a couple of Stellas please?’ Lucy called out.
‘Coming up, Lucy.’ The barman replied polishing a couple of glasses and pulling two pints for them as they sat down at a tiny table next to the window.
Brian was trying not to cry as Lucy looked him in the eye.
‘Come on Brian, get it off your chest. You’ve left your wife and kids and you don’t know where it all went wrong. Am I right?’
‘Well done. That’s it in a nutshell. My wife had been having loads of affairs while I was down here on business. It all came to a head the other day and we decided to divorce. It was the worst thing I have ever done having to explain it to our boys. I feel like I’ve let them down.’
‘Nobody has let them down, Brian. These things happen. People fall out of love all the time. You’ll look back on this in a few months’ time and wonder why you were so upset. I was the same when my husband left me when he found out I was stripping. I only did it to make some extra money as he didn’t earn much.’ Lucy told him.
‘That’s terrible.’ Said Brian. ‘What’s wrong with a bit of exotic dancing anyway? It’s not like you were on the game.’
‘I know. I wouldn’t go that far, although I had plenty of offers. Mainly from suits in the City. They would flash me a wad of cash and expect me to give them a blow job at least, but I’m not like that.’
Brian was warming to Lucy; she seemed like a genuine type who had taken a bad turn in her life, just like him. He didn’t feel any physical attraction, although she was definitely pretty with a nice body. It was just too soon for him and he was purely enjoying the company and a shoulder to cry on.
After three more pints of Stella, they were getting on like a house on fire. Laughing at each other’s jokes, smiling across the table and even at one point touching hands, although that was accidental.
When the barman rang for time at 11, they felt as if they had known each other for years. They finished their drinks and bade Dave the barman goodnight as he pulled the door open for her. It had stopped raining and the streets nearby were deserted as they walked back along Kingsland Road hand in hand.
‘So, do you live near here?’ Brian enquired.
‘Not too far, I’ve got a flat off Pitfield Street. Do you know it?’
‘I know Pitfield Street well. What’s happened to all the pubs around there? The Admiral? The Hop Pole? They were my first choice tonight but they’ve closed down.’
‘I used to drink in the Admiral. Owners had enough and sold it to some clubbing dude last year. Hop Pole was a strange one. I went there one night and it was boarded up. Nobody knows what happened, but it was never that busy. How come you know them?’ Asked Lucy.
‘I often stayed at the Holiday Inn Express nearby and used to pop into those two places for a quiet drink. Surprised I never saw you in them.’
‘The Admiral was always a bit boisterous for me at the weekends. Plus my ex-husband used to go there so when he left me I didn’t feel that welcome there. I prefer the Basing House; they all know me in there. Are you staying at the Holiday Inn Express tonight?’ Lucy asked.
‘No, I’m having to pay for it this time so I got a good deal at the Travelodge in City road. I’ll be spending the next few days looking for a permanent place. I’ve got a couple of places lined up to have a look at.’
They reached the corner of Pitfield Street and looked at each other. It was time to say goodnight and Brian thanked her for being such great company. She had really cheered him up and although it wasn’t great, it was nice to talk to someone who had been through the same thing.
‘Well, I live just up here.’ Lucy said. ‘Thanks for a lovely evening, if you ever want to talk to someone about your split, give me a call.’ As she wrote down her number on a piece of paper she found in her bag.
‘Thanks, Lucy. I’ll give you a call. Here’s my number; it would be nice to meet for dinner soon, if you are up for it.’ Brian replied, handing her one of his business cards.
As they hugged their goodnights, Brian felt Lucy’s lips meet his. They kissed for a few minutes then Lucy pulled away.
‘I’d invite you back Brian, but it’s maybe a bit too soon. Let’s not spoil the evening, eh?’ Lucy whispered.
‘Of course. I don’t want you to think I’m only after one thing.’ Brian laughed.
Brian headed off towards his hotel, looking back once to smile and wave at Lucy as she disappeared up Pitfield Street. She was a nice girl; good looking brunette, probably early thirties. She certainly made his evening a cheerier one than it would have been if he had been stuck in his hotel room staring at the walls.