I pull onto the driveway.
"Oh look, there’s your car," I say.
"Yes, this is where I’m living at the moment. Mostly."
We get out of the car, and walk up to the small Barrett home with a tidy lawn. I expect him to ring the bell, but he produces a key and we walk in. Children’s toys litter the hall.
"Yours?" I ask, incredulously, thinking things are about to get really interesting.
"No, she had two already," he grins. "Hello?"
We sit in the kitchen and drink tea with his girlfriend, me not being able to think of anything to say. She has heard of me, which is a strange feeling. I suppose ultimately I have the upper hand though. It’s clearly his house: he knows where everything is, there are traces of him in the kitchen and the living room and the two of them are clearly very comfortable. We finish our tea, and make to leave.
"Are you working nearby today then?" She asks.
"Can’t really say. I’m sorry," he shrugs apologetically. "I’ll be back tonight, but I’m not sure what time."
"How long have you been together," I ask, starting up the car and reversing off the drive.
"Six months, moved in about six weeks ago. Ready for the next one?"
We get on the motorway and head for a town 30 miles or so to the east.
"Just… just… how?" I ask, feeling it to be as suitable as anything else to ask.
"It’s not rocket science, nothing that would surprise you," he says, stretching out in his seat. "Three mobiles, obviously. Sometimes you feel you need more than three, but that’s just not manageable. Two are work related as far as each woman knows, and calls have to be taken in private. Delete incriminating text messages immediately (sentimentality is best avoided), use ambiguous names in the phonebook, wipe your call records now and again, but don’t delete too often and too thoroughly as that looks suspicious. Have a hobby that takes you out of town: rock climbing, sailing. Just make sure it’s something you do actually have an interest in though; you don’t want to be introduced to a friend of theirs with the same interest, and it looks weird if you don’t have any equipment or that sort of thing. Numerous email accounts. Obviously, don’t use Facebook or anything like that. Memorise any lies you have to tell. Don’t try and involve friends in covering for you: it’s your web, and only you should try and manage it."
"Three women is best, never go for more than five."
I laugh at this constraint. "How do you manage your numbers though?"
"Well, some of it’s just the natural process. Some of them I tire of, some of them tire of me, especially after a few months of not seeing as much of me as they’d like. And, of course, sometimes you get busted."
"What’s happened then?"
"As you’d expect: a lot of grief. But you go into damage limitation mode. I’ve never been fully caught; just two have found about each other, so you’re not left with nothing. And then you can’t target that town for a year at least."
"Right, okay. Rule one. Spread out. Unless the city you live in is huge, the small amount of steps that separate us all will soon surprise you, catch up with you. Never the same town at once, a minimum of 20 miles between each partner. Rule two. When you first meet them, ask lots of questions about their friends, their family. Fulfils two functions: firstly you can soon suss out amazingly quickly who they know, who they’re related to, what parts of the world they have contacts to, and all the while you come across as having a genuine interest in what they’re saying – which you in fact do – which everyone likes. If there’s a risk, accept that you have to step away. Someone else will present themselves, so long as you know how to find them."
"And how do you manage to meet enough women to manage to constantly have all these numerous partners?"
"It’s easy enough if you have no shame," he laughs. "But seriously, it’s just a matter of having the front to talk to them first of all, and then knowing what to say. Most people crave attention, and it’s just a matter of knowing what sort of attention to pay in order for things to take the direction you want. You were a psychologist, right? So you know all about how evolution has shaped group dynamics, status, those things? It’s a matter of employing them. Paying a woman a lot of attention, but at the same time asserting your dominance – without being a cock – so as to make them feel she should be glad you’ve come to talk to her, rather than finding you creepy."
"I know what you’re talking about. Throwing in a few veiled insults and disguised compliments, so she can’t quite get a fix on you and isn’t sure what you want."
"You’ve got it. And then soon enough they get to thinking “well, he’s come over to talk to me, but if he doesn’t want me, maybe it’s me that should want him?”. And then, later on when you’re together, when you disappear for a week it’s the same sort of principle; instead of being annoyed you always go away, they’re pleased you keep coming back. It’s sad to say, but a lot of it is mind games, knowing what people want, and being quite brutal in using that for your own gain. Forget ladies who tell you they want someone who’s funny, tall, in shape, all of that. You just need to know what boxes to tick to gain superiority, and for most people those boxes are one and the same. I sound like a cunt I know, but I only say it because experience shows me it’s what works. Turn off here."
We enter a flat, again with a key. She seems surprised and pleased to see us, or him rather.
"Surprise visit!" he says. "I managed to get away for a bit."
"Great!" She says, wrapping herself around him. She turns to me. "Nice to meet you. Cup of tea?"
"No thanks," I say. "We’ve not long had one."
"Oh really, where have you two been?"
I flounder, wide-eyed. He steps in, expertly.
"We stopped at the motorway service on our way. I’ll have another though."
As she steps into the kitchen, he smiles indulgently at me.
"In this game," he says quietly, "you’ve always got to be hungry, thirsty, and horny, and if not you need to have a reason ready why."
I watch them together, still wondering if I’m being had on. But no, they are definitely together. The mantlepiece actually hosts a few photos of them, one at the pyramids.
"How long?" I ask, as we leave.
"It’s not adultery, it’s… it’s…"
"Furtive polygamy?" I suggest. He glances at me, looking defensive.
"I’m not cheating on them, because they’re all my girlfriends. I love them. I have meaningful relationships with all of them, and they each get to spend equal amounts of time with me. That’s part of the problem for me though, it’s what will make it harder."
"What do you mean?
"The fact I’m not doing it for sex or thrills. I genuinely like having numerous relationships. But I’m forty this year. I’m getting broody, and I want to have somewhere to really call home. But not to the extent I’ll stop and settle for one person I don’t think. I might find that I try and keep it going. And that’s when it will become too hard. Two, three families? And all the while whilst trying to meet more women at the same time, because, you know, I will. Too much."
"Yeah, and there’s the one big obvious problem there."
"You mean the fact I’ll get arrested for bigamy?"
"No, I mean, who will you invite to all those different weddings?"