Rory makes dogged try at a game of blindman's buff

The Trader: 'Lap dancers had dropped no-touch rule for blind customers'

There's a collective sigh of pleasure as the first vodka-and-tonic hits the back of our throats. Jaap, Findlay and I settle in our seats and let the hum of our favourite wine bar wash over us and clean the stress of the day away. Eventually Jaap opens his eyes. "I always forget how good the first drink of the evening tastes. Especially by the time I've reached the fifth or sixth."

There's a collective sigh of pleasure as the first vodka-and-tonic hits the back of our throats. Jaap, Findlay and I settle in our seats and let the hum of our favourite wine bar wash over us and clean the stress of the day away. Eventually Jaap opens his eyes. "I always forget how good the first drink of the evening tastes. Especially by the time I've reached the fifth or sixth."

"Well," Findlay says, pausing only to pop an olive into his mouth. "There's no danger of that tonight. We haven't got Rory with us, so we've actually got a sporting chance of getting home sober. Oh, look, some of these are stuffed with anchovies; that's good."

"I wonder where he is," I say, because it seems unnatural to be in a place that sells alcohol without Rory being there, too. "Do you think he's all right? Only he's been behaving a bit oddly recently - I mean, evenmore than usual. Or am I imagining it?"

Jaap and I look over at Findlay to see what he makes of my theory. He, after all, is the only one of us with an unrestricted view from his desk of our eccentric leader. Who better, then, to confirm or deny my suspicions? "You're not talking about the stick, are you?" Findlay says, in the tones of someone who isn't sure if he ought to mention it. "I must admit, that did seem strange." He pauses, sees that Jaap and I look blank, and continues. "Oh, well, yesterday he arrived back from lunch with a long, thin parcel wrapped in brown paper. He seemed very pleased with it. But when he undid it, all there was inside was a long, thin stick.

"Anyway, when I asked him about it, he got really touchy and said it was a pointer, for pointing at things, that was all, and that you could get them in lots of colours but he'd chosen white because it was practical."

Jaap raises both eyebrows and purses his lips as if to say, "How weird." I have something more complex to convey, so I say, "Actually, I was talking aboutthe dog."

Findlay and Jaap both look at me in amazement. "Dog?" Findlay says. "Dog," I reply.

"Perhaps we could progress to whole sentences now," Jaap says. "We're not going to get very far like this. What dog are you talking about?"

"No dog in particular," I say. "Just that yesterday afternoon, Rory came over to ask me if I knew where he could get a dog. All I could think of was Battersea Dogs' Home.

"But he's hardly going to be top of their list of desirable owners. After all, he lives in a flat and he's out all day - and most of the night as well. When I told him that, he looked really cross and said he supposed he'd have to borrow one."

It is, we agree, a puzzle, and as with so many puzzles we soon get bored with it and move on to more interesting subjects. So it's not until a few days later, when Jaap's helping me sort out newspapers for recycling, that the answer appears.

"Listen to this," Jaap says, sounding excited. "Apparently, a lap-dancing club owner has applied to have his licence changed so his blind customers will be allowed to break the no-touching rule. White stick.Dog. You don't think Rory...?" But that's exactly what I do think, and we snigger about itfor hours.

To be fair, Rory is embarrassed when we ask him about it. "It was just an idea. I wasn't going to go through with it. Apart from anything else, only one of my friends was able to lend me a dog - and who's ever heard of a guide chihuahua?"

* thetrader@hotmail.com

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