Here’s the thing…
Every time I close my eyes, I see something different.
I’d like to think the cinema of my dreams is playing a double feature but it’s a bit like a comedy cartoon night on Fox.
But these dreams are nothing to laugh about.
Once again there’s a new instalment of an old feature, and we’re back on the treasure hunt.
I stood at the entrance and counted to ten, then pushed the door open and went in.
I was not sure what I was expecting, but it was not what I saw. A country and western bar, with decorations that made you think you were in Texas, booths and tables elegantly set under subdued lighting, and well dressed serving staff serving customers.
Across the back was a long bar, and a bottle of every known drink known to mankind behind it, and two bartenders, looking busy. Several people were sitting at the bar, including Nadia, who was by herself, having a shot glass, no doubt with tequila, and beer put in front of her.
No one even looked up to note my arrival.
It took a minute to scan the customers I could see, and not recognise any of them, except they were not of the scoundrel variety, and whether or not there was another exit if I needed one.
Always an emergency exit near the restrooms and I could see them in the distance.
Another look around, then I crossed the room, weaving through the tables, to where Nadia was sitting. She hadn’t noticed my arrival.
“This seat taken?” I asked.
A quick turn of the head and I could see the rebuke on her lips. Then surprise on her face.
“Smidge. What are you doing here?”
“You keep asking me that question every time we meet.”
“Perhaps we should stop meeting like this.” She turned back to the bar and downed the shot glass contents. “Sit if you must.”
I had expected the back of her hand to slap me to the floor for daring to talk to her, but instead sat before she changed her mind.
“Same question,” she said, still not looking at me.
I’d try flippancy first and see how that went. “Always wanted to come and see the famous Lantern Inn, but it doesn’t seem to be famous any more, well, not in that respect.”
She looked sideways at me. “What if it had been?”
“Then I’m guessing this would have been a short encounter.”
“It still might be.”
OK, try not to be too brave, she could still beat me to a pulp with one hand tied behind her back. “I doubt you want to cause a scene, and especially not with someone like me.”
She turned and looked at me. Admittedly I was not the skinny assed punk I used to be, but still not her type.
“When did you go and grow up?” At least, now, she didn’t tower over me, I could see eye to eye, literally and figuratively.
“While you were away. Amazing what some sunshine and fertilizer will do.”
Was that a hint of a smile, or a grimace?
“Still a smart ass though.”
“You haven’t changed much either.” Short skirt, low cut top, she’d been wearing a coat when she came in. Hair was shorter and with a fringe. Didn’t suit her. “What happened to this place?”
“The last Mayor cleaned up the waterfront, most of it anyway.”
And died, rather ironically, in the crossfire between the two rival gangs in this very place. Nothing like killing a public official, corrupt or not, to precipitate a cleanup. It just sent the gangs into darker corners.
“Why are you here, then?” I had to ask.
“I’m respectable.” A nod to the bartended got another shot of tequila.
For me, a Budweiser.
“So does that mean you’re dating a Benderby?” For her, it would be the only type of respectability she could have in a town like ours unless she moved away to somewhere no one knew who she was.
“Not if they were the last family on earth.”
“So, what’s he got on you?”
She turned much faster this time to look at me, sliding off the chair and standing over me. There was not a pretty look on her face.
I tried not to exhibit signs of fear and failed.
“Who told you that?”
“No one.” I took a deep breath to get the tremor out of my voice. “They got the dirt on everyone, so why should you be an exception?”
I slipped of my chair and stood toe to toe with her.
For a person with an ugly soul, she had beautiful eyes.
Then she leaned forward those last six inches and kissed me briefly on the lips. Hers was cold.
“What do you really want Smidge?” She pulled back, and sat down again, picking up the beer and taking a sip.
“To get payback on Alex.”
“And you think I’ll help you?”
“Well, you need a map, and I don’t think you want to cosy up to Rico, do you?”
I had just put together a plan, shaky at best, highly dangerous at worst, but it might work. It didn’t have to be the real map, just one that was close enough to the real thing.
She reached into her purse and pulled out a key, and slid it across the bar towards me.
Room 14 at the Shingle Hotel. Where they used to have rooms to rent by the hour. And cockroaches, people not the bugs, in every corner.
“One hour. Now leave.”
I heard the door open and close and looked back through the mirror behind the bar. A large man with a beard and dark glasses. In a gloomy restaurant.
I took the key and left, trying to look like I was not leaving in a hurry.
© Charles Heath 2019