At the Human Bhaji café, Slato ordered another cappuccino and rang Korner on his mobile.
"I got it, I got it, I got it. And if you want some, you'd better come around tonight and see me."
Korner was in a meeting but took the call anyway, because he liked Slato and the way she looked at him when she teased him about his maniac deals, like the one he was about to close now.
"I'll call in, on my way home—I'm in a meeting."
"I'll cook something to celebrate. You better turn up this time."
"I will. Gotta go—see you later, about seven."
Korner was always up to something. The day she'd met him she was temping for a record company, helping to re-catalogue over four thousand album titles that came from another company they'd just taken over. The IT manager, a long-haired, tee-shirt and trainer-wearing German called Mikey, showed her how to use the system.
"All the data is there, but it's not in a format we can use, so we have to copy it manually from here to here, and remember to add the extra fields."
He leant over her and showed her where 'here' and 'here' were. She smelt soap, aftershave, and some mustiness on his clothes, like they'd been left in the launderette washer too long. Everyone there seemed positive, even though she thought that a real IT manager would have found a way to transfer all that data using a program instead of paying her the basic wage to sit there for four weeks cutting and pasting from one place to another. She wasn't complaining, she needed the money to pay for her flute lessons and to replace the rug on which she'd spilt the oil burner while carrying it and trying to write a text message with the other hand. Martin, the guy who owned the flat and lent it to her while he went to work in Oz for a year had bought that rug himself in Kazakhstan, so it was technically irreplaceable although she'd seen one similar to it hanging up in the marketplace where she went looking for clothes she could hack about and resell to the girls she met at work and at the café.
The day Korner had come into the office she'd been taking a break and was drinking a coffee while watching a designer making up the cover for the latest Scum Reptiles CD on a huge, high-res screen. The girl worked with studied concentration and effortless ease, dragging image objects from one place to another, enlarging and shrinking them, applying colour transformations and visual effects. Slato was about to say something complimentary about the girl's talent when a door opened and a group of people came out, one of whom turned out to be Korner. Everyone else seemed to be turned towards him, as if he was the reason for the meeting and he finished what he was saying before shaking hands with all of them and walking towards the exit. There was something distinctive about him. It wasn't the fact that he was well over six feet tall, nor that his head was shaved, nor that his clothes looked like he'd got them from a second-hand Safari outfitters, all baggy khaki, straps and flaps, it was something about the expression on his face, which was shy and composed at the same time, as if he didn't want to draw the world's attention. He also had sea-blue eyes that were both clear and misty, clear on the way out but misty on the way in, like a privacy window. She wanted to talk to him.
"Do you want me to fix your jacket for you?" she asked, pointing to the cuff that was coming undone.
"Even better, I can make you one, like that one over there," she said, pointing to the back of her chair where her own jacket was hanging. "I'm cheap," she laughed.
"I like this jacket." He seemed a bit embarrassed and looked around at the graphic designer who had turned around from her screen and was watching them, amused.
"Okay, that one is a bit too colourful for you but, if you like, I can put some new cuffs on that one, blue ones, to match your eyes."
This really embarrassed him and he mumbled something and carried on walking.
"I'll give you my number, here…" She quickly scribbled it on a scrap of paper and handed it to him. "My name's Slato."
He never rang her. About three weeks after that she was leaving the cinema with one of her girlfriends and she saw him, on his own, walking away from the booth with a ticket in his hand. He was wearing the same jacket but now the cuff had dropped completely and he'd rolled the sleeve up to stop it hanging over his wrist.
"You really should get that jacket fixed."
"Oh, hi, how are you?"
"Fine. This is my friend, Ellie. What film are you going to see?"
"We just saw it."
"I don't want to spoil it for you."
"But you liked it?"
"Yeah, it was good. You can see my house in it, the bit where Clea talks to that guy on the seafront. Ring me and tell me what you think about it, and I'll fix your jacket for you, for nothing."
"Okay, it's a deal."
Korner's first name was Damian but he didn't like it because it reminded him of a horror film, so he told everyone to use his surname. He came round one night and she fixed his jacket for him while he looked through the clothes she'd made that were hanging up on an impromptu rail she'd made by suspending a long bamboo pole from the corner of the bay window to the bookcase.
"What is it you actually do?" she asked him.
"What sort of projects?"
"Anything, really—I just sell ideas to people and get them started. I don't have the patience to finish anything. I just like thinking them up."
"What are you doing for the record company?"
"Putting them online, so they don't have to make CDs anymore, and waste all that oil."
"That's what CDs are made from."
"Are they really?"
"Yup. And paper is made from trees."
"Do you want this jacket or not, smart arse?"
She stood up from her sewing machine and threw the jacket at him and then she said, "I'm really happy. I've been trying to learn Camarro's Dream of Flight for about three months and I've finally got it. Do you want to hear it?"
"Is it a song?"
"It's a piece of music. Rafael Camarro, you know?"
"No, I don't. Is he famous?"
"Well to flautists he is."
She took her flute out the case and stood on the rug, barefoot, to the left of the oil stain. Korner watched her fingers flex up and down on the keys and noticed the small percussive taps as the pads hit the valves, and the noise of her breath as she blew over the mouthpiece. He wondered if those noises were part of the music, or were you just supposed to ignore them and listen to the notes? Was he just supposed to ignore her as well, the way her toes caused small indentations in the rug, the straightness of her back and neck, her long black hair, caught behind her ear on the side she held the flute. Was he supposed to ignore the movement of her larynx as it moved in response to her breathing, the cavity at the base of her neck, where it met the chest and which seemed to have its own irregular pulse? Her name was Slato? Was that Armenian? She had dark eyes but they always seemed to be smiling, even when she was serious as she was now, concentrating, looking towards the bay window but really into that inner space where things come into being, somewhere between inside out. He followed her eyes and looked across the sea-front. The day had been stormy and wild, with winds that stretched the flags tight and swung the promenade lights in and out, but now, as it got near dusk, the wind had dropped away so that there was no longer a chaos of white waves halfway out to sea, just an undulant swell that moved cleanly forwards as if someone had picked up the end of a sleek bolt of seal-grey cloth and whipped it to spread it out. The swell finally crashed and broke against the steep shelf of pebbles and ruched around the stanchions of the derelict pier. Between the horizon and the clouds was a thin strip of silver which could have either been the sky or the sea. The way it gleamed like was like the flute, and the way the flute rose and fell was like the waves, and the way her breath hissed was liked the wind which had whistled through the obstructions on the shore—the piers and groynes, the walls and railings, the benches and the beached boats, the slapping lanyards. Everything was music.
"What do you think?"
"Yeah, it was beautiful. That bit where it really screeched, was that a mistake?"
"No-o! You… That's what it's supposed to sound like. That's why it's so different; all of the sounds you're not normally supposed to hear, like that, he puts into the music. Did you like it, then?"
"Yeah, it was fantastic. Do you play in an orchestra?"
"No, I'm not good enough yet, but my teacher says I should be ready in about six months. I'm still taking my exams."
"Well, you could always be a fashion designer, if it doesn't work out."
Slato bent over and her finger dreamily traced the outline of the oil stain, which was the shape of lake Baikal.
"Yeah, if it doesn't work out," she said, then jumping up, her smile came back. "But it is going to work out, isn't it, so that doesn't matter. Now, something to eat."
She cooked one of her own dishes, which she called 'eggdropchippalatoes', which was chorizo and cooked new potatoes, chopped up and fried in garlic and oil, finished off with an egg that was broken over the whole lot and mixed up to give a broken omelette. While they were eating, she was talking. She really liked talking, he noticed, and that was good, because he preferred to think and do, and he generally used speech to mediate between the two. So he was happy to sit and listen to her talk about her past and her plans. Korner didn't really have a past, at least not one that he could be bothered to speak about. Neither did he make plans. Korner just had ideas and projects. That was why he liked Slato, because she laughed at his ideas, without putting them down. She just thought it funny, that's all, the way he just came up with ideas and then went out and put them into action. On his part, Korner knew that this was going to be a big one, which was why he was going to play it cool for a while and see how it worked out. Something told him this could be the one, and it could last a lifetime. But Korner didn't like plans, he just had an idea, that's all.