Creepy didn’t quite manage to enter like Clint Eastwood either, but I could tell the same basic impulse had crossed his mind and been similarly thwarted. The music, at least, was now some sort of weirdly-appropriate Country-and-Western techno remix, largely drowned out by the crowd. The reserved tables were now mostly-filled by Nobbo and Wanker’s party guests, many of whom were devouring nachos in an enviable display of wasteful excess. The bar was well-manned by thirsty punters. It was a reasonably busy Saturday – perhaps slightly more so than usual, due to the semi-private function. Nobody noticed Creepy, despite the fact that he was still in his raincoat and still seemed to be carrying most of his ad-libbed weapons.
We stood facing each other down the length of the bar, largely ignored by the rest of the patrons and staff, although bar-muchacho did cast his jaundiced gaze across the newcomer and evidently decided he was no serious threat.
“There you are,” I said, wondering if we could skip the recriminations about me sending him to The Python Lounge if I just told him about the corner-of-my-eye weirdoes quickly enough. He glared at me, letting me know in no uncertain terms that this was not a viable alternative to the bitter outpouring he had been rehearsing on the long walk here. “Look, can we just-”
“The people waiting in line in front of me,” he said evenly, “were debating the merits of tapas restaurants.”
“I … oh,” I coughed. “There was a line? You waited in an actual line?”
“And the people behind me,” he went on, his tone darkening, “had just read Gravity’s Rainbow.”
“Look, that sucks, but I really think-”
“And they thought it had meanings.”
“Please note, Hatboy, the plural.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, still trying to be serious but unable to hide a smirk, “you just – you – I just wanted to see if you’d keep pretending to have figured it all out if I led us somewhere completely…” I paused. “Is that … what’s that on your hand?” I leaned forward and squinted, and he tried to cover it up. “Is that an admission stamp?”
“It cost eight bucks to get in,” he muttered.
“And you paid?” I said incredulously, momentarily shocked out of my train of thought and forced to jog alongside. “And got a stamp in case you wanted to go back in later?”
“The stamp was the only thing they were offering for the price of admission,” Creepy flared. “I would have gotten more of them but they said no. You’re paying me back for that.”
“Sure,” I hooted, “I’ll take a scraping from my solid gold toilet and get the cash to you by the end of the financial year.”
And then a girl detached herself from the bar and made her way towards us, weaving easily through the crowd with only the occasional smile and murmur of cheerful chatter to the people she was passing by.
She was … well, remarkable, in that most people are remarkable for at least something, but in her case – in this place, at this time – it was accentuated. I won’t bother myself overmuch with describing her, except to say that she had dark hair, and eyes.
Make no mistake, I don’t fudge that grammar idly. I mean it quite as-written. I know, saying someone has eyes isn’t exactly sensational, because most people have eyes.
Not like these ones, though.
These were serious, intent, and brooked neither nonsense nor foolishness. They were the eyes of someone you wanted on your side, because the prospect of having them not on your side was frankly worrisome. These were eyes that had read tomes, pulled all-nighters, seen things they would never forget and perhaps should never have seen in the first place.
I like to think that Creepy and I, on those rare days when we are both magnificent bastards, have eyes like that. From the looks of this girl, she had them three hundred and fifty days a year, with about two weeks of wriggle-room to permit them to be even more hardcore.
“So you made it,” she said. “Good.”
“Um,” I said sceptically, “yes. Hello.”
“You got my invitation in the mail,” she said. “I’m Carl.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“Highly unlikely,” Creepy said loftily. “The victim’s name was Carl and that is clearly a male name, and besides, Carl has been murdered. You are clearly an impostor and those,” he pointed, “are fake.”
I glanced at my watch. “Oh look,” I said. “Seventeen seconds.”