Well, I'm just on a writing roll lately, aren't I? I just need to
finally update hall and it'll be perfect!
Anyway, here's this.
When Gil showed up alone at the shady Brooklyn bar of the week Saturday night, Francis knew something was wrong.
He smiled at him as Gil sat down next to him at the bar and slid him his first drink of the night. The glass of sherry he’d ordered as well sat on his other side.
“So, where’s Toni?” he asked, leaning on his knuckles and raising his eyebrows elegantly at his friend. The albino laughed raucously, throwing his head back.
“He got his ass deported, the idiot,” he said, taking a swig of his imported German beer.
Francis blinked at him. “Deported? How did he ever manage that?”
Gil chuckled and stared into his bottle. “He didn’t renew his paperwork. He forgot.”
Francis rubbed at his face with a smile. “Completely hopeless,” he muttered. “So what does his little lover think about it?”
“What do you expect?” Gil smirked. “He’s pissed as hell, but that’s Romano’s natural state. He must’ve cursed at him in four different languages when he found out – and then he followed him to Spain to make sure he didn’t hurt himself!” They both laughed at the antics of their friend and his boyfriend.
“Do you know how long he’ll be away this time?” Francis asked, swirling around his brandy in his glass. Gil shrugged.
“At least a few months, I’d wager, maybe more. Who knows with the system?” Gil raised his bottle in a toast. “To Toni!”
Francis laughed and clinked his glass against the bottle. “To Toni!”
They drained their drinks together, then Gil waved over another round. “Come on, just because all three of us aren’t here doesn’t mean we still can’t get smashed!”
They split the untouched sherry between them in honor of their missing friend, but their usual Saturday of drunken disorder wasn’t the same.
For the next week, Arthur spent most of his time on the back porch.
He did other things, of course. He’d spend most mornings in The Sugar Maple keeping Matt company and meeting the locals. It was oddly simple to settle into his new self. Kensington was only different in theory and in background, not in personality, and one of Arthur’s many other minor aspirations in a past life had been acting. After the initial intense interest by the neighbors, they grew used to seeing him picking through a different tea a day at the bar, although they never grew tired of hearing his accent. He quickly bonded with the loud-mouthed and excitable Australian named Jake who was the groundskeeper at the golf course, along with the quiet Japanese stockbroker.
Arthur’s mobility was extremely limited, however. Not only did he not have a car (both anymore or at all), but he hadn’t ever bothered to learn how to drive in America, so even borrowing Matt’s car to go for food was far out of the question. (Matt quickly learned how hopeless he was at cooking when he came home at his usual after lunch time to find the kitchen an atomic mess and a despondent Arthur facedown at the table. He’d agreed to help him clean up and never speak a word about it as long as he never tried to make anything more complicated than a bag of popcorn in his house ever again.)
For the most part, however, he wasted away the hours on the back porch, a space heater under his chair and a blanket around his shoulders. He started a few novels and scrapped them instantly, then dug them out the next day to see if they were any good. He burned his way through the book or two he’d thrown into the bottom of his duffel from home, and then started on the romance novel collection Katyusha kept under the coffee table to keep himself from going mad. If the sun was out and the wind wasn’t blowing, he took up the care of Kat’s little garden, even though most of the plants were dead at this time of year. When Alfred called to check in on him every evening, he pounced on the human contact and wouldn’t let him hang up for at least half an hour and ended up learning more about him than he was strictly supposed to. Arthur wasn’t Alfred’s only assignment, although he was the only human one. For now, the cover story they had for Arthur allowed him to waste away in Matthew’s backyard, but if he was going to be here for any period of time, he needed to get a job just so he could have something to do.
Right around the point where Arthur hit the wall of screaming boredom, Friday rolled around. For the few residents of Shannon, that meant the day when the wall of alcohol in The Sugar Maple actually got used and the restaurant turned into a bar. The thought of getting himself smashed had never been more appealing, so Arthur agreed to meet Jake there that night at the end of the bar.
Arthur had met all of Susan’s employees during the week – Matthew, a large Cuban man named Alejandro (and he’d appreciate it if you didn’t sing that song to him, at least if you liked your face), a Korean college student, the high school girl who waited tables in the evenings, and a Mexican immigrant family working the kitchens. The bartender, however, was a new face. A smaller man that was closer to a boy with curly, dishwater hair had taken residence where usually Susan and whichever man she had for the shift stood, pouring drinks for the redneck crowd that had appeared from the woods. Jake was already there, heckling the overworked bartender. When Arthur sat down next to him, Jake greeted him loudly and called for another round. The bartender plopped two Foster’s down, barely glancing at Arthur to see if he would disagree with Jake’s choice, and hurried away.
Jake started a conversation about rugby that was halfway unintelligible, and Arthur humored him while idly watching the little bartender flit between burly farmers and construction workers. “What’s the lad’s name?” he asked Jake after he finished a thought, gesturing to the bartender with his bottle.
“Hmm? Oh, that’s Ray,” he said, unphased by the switch in conversation topic. “Usually runs the bar over at the golf course, but Susan pays him a lil’ overtime to come down here on the weekends.” They watched him scurry around for a moment before Arthur drained the rest of his beer and stood up.
“I’ll be right back. I need to ask Susan something.”
Ray had been surprised to find a stranger behind the bar with his boss’s seal of approval, but he soon learned not to look a gift horse in the mouth as Arthur started taking over his job.
Between university and the publisher, Arthur had run through a steady stream of odd jobs that he’d always wanted to try out, including bartending. It had been his favorite of the minimum wage series, and his longest running job before leaving it to be an editor. He had expected to stumble at first as he tried to remember the motions of bartending, but something about the week of boredom combined with the instant flurry he was thrown into caused all of it to come back as natural as breathing. With the two of them working together, the mob on the other side of the counter was satisfied enough to allow them to breathe again.
When everyone finally settled down and pulled away from the bar, Arthur and Ray leaned against the counter and sighed.
“Thanks for that,” the original bartender said.
“It was my pleasure, really,” Arthur assured him, wiping down the counter with the dishtowel he’d put into his back pocket. “I needed to do something productive or else I thought I’d go crazy.”
Ray straightened and set about wiping down the accumulation of glasses set on a shelf under the counter. “Who are you, anyway? I’ve never seen you around these parts before.”
“I’m Susan’s nephew,” Arthur said, the fabricated story flowing off his tongue easily after the continued questionings by the locals. “It’s a long story that I’d rather not talk about, but I needed to get away from England for a while, so I came down for an extended visit.”
Ray looked at him with a curious expression. “How extended?”
Arthur shrugged, perturbed by the look on his face. “At least a few months, probably more. Why do you ask?”
“Chyes!” Ray cheered, pumping his fist in the air. Arthur backed a step away as he was given a wildly happy grin and had a finger pointed at him. “You can take my job!”
Arthur blinked a few times. “Pardon?”
“Oh, not this one, my other job! It’ll be awesome!” Ray’s glass cleaning picked up in intensity as he started babbling to himself, ignoring a very confused Arthur.
“I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Ray looked up and remembered he had an audience to his insanity. “Arthur, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”
It turned out that Ray hated his job.
There was more to the story, of course. He’d followed a friend out of college since he’d graduated with a virtually useless English degree and didn’t have a job, and had then looked upon the three year contract at the golf course club as a blessing of a stable job. When his new boss started to take a shine to him, though, he’d gotten nervous quickly. It wasn’t necessarily stalking, he emphasized, but it was definitely creepy and uncomfortable.
Either way, he wanted to get out, but he was bound by contract until June. He had an Internet friend who owned some big site that was willing to give him a job, but he had to go to California for it, and unless he found a replacement for his contract, he couldn’t leave. To him, Arthur was literally a God send.
After he’d pleaded with Arthur for the rest of the night, Arthur called Alfred to inform him of this new possibility. He’d laughed at the story, for whatever bizarre humor he found in it, and said that if the place met the Marshal’s standards, he didn’t see why, since the visa had come into the Marshal’s Birmingham office on Friday.
They drove up to the main building of the golf course, a sprawling, overdressed affair, and parked in the front drop-off area. It was a little too cold and a little too early for golfers to want to be out on a Saturday, but it was still open.
“I really hope this Ivan Braginski isn’t who I think it is,” Alfred muttered to Arthur as they went up the stairs to the front door.
Arthur shrugged. “Well, I’m sure there’s more than one Ivan Braginski in the world.” Al held the door open for Arthur to his ever-decreasing irritation, then walked up to the front desk.
“We’re here to speak with Ivan Braginski,” he told the receptionist with a smile. She nodded and picked up her phone.
“Mr. Braginski, your interview is here,” she said in a dull monotone. After the response, she hung up and said to the two, “He’ll be down in just a moment. You can wait over there.” She gestured to the sitting area across the lobby.
Alfred nodded and gave her a “Thank ya kindly, ma’am,” then joined Arthur on the closest couch.
“Where did you know an Ivan Braginski, anyway?” Arthur asked him.
Al sat back and stretched out, arms along the back of the couch and feet on the coffee table. “We went to high school together,” he explained, staring out the tall windows over the brown grass of the course. “We were always buttin’ heads – in school, in sports, in girls, you name it. We went to different colleges after graduation and I haven’t seen him since – and good riddance.” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “It’d be just like him to not leave me alone, even after all these years.”
Arthur leaned forward to look past him to the door to the back, from where a broad, tall man had just emerged. “Would that be him?”
Alfred turned to look. “Oh, for all the shit in Heaven,” he hissed for only Arthur to hear. “Speak of the Devil and he will appear.” He stood up, however, and greeted the approaching man. “Yo, Ivan! ‘Sup, man?”
Ivan looked momentarily startled to see his old rival smiling at him, but he recovered quickly and laughed, taking the offered hand in a vice grip. “Alfred! It has been a long time, my friend.” Arthur detected a faint Slavic accent not Southern – not nearly the strength of Katyusha’s, but noticeable. The handshake was going on for far too long, and he eyed their grip under the idle pleasant small talk they exchanged to see their knuckles going white.
He moved to stand beside Alfred and crossed his arms, tapping his foot impatiently and glaring at the side of Alfred’s face. “I thought I was the one we were here for, not the other way around,” he said loudly. They looked at him sharply, then let go of their handshake battle and stepped away from each other.
“Of course, of course,” Ivan said, ushering him back towards the door he’d come from. “Right this way.”
Despite Alfred’s unsettling presence, and despite the fact that Arthur was taking his unwilling favorite’s place, Ivan could find no reason not to hire Arthur in Ray’s stead. After they got the paperwork filled out and put into the system, Ivan led him back out again, telling him to come back on Thursday to pick up the schedule for the next week. Alfred and Ivan exchanged another bone-crushing, achingly polite handshake, and then they left.
Once they were safely back in the silence of the car, Alfred groaned and banged his head against his steering wheel.
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, would you stop that?” Arthur pleaded, gripping Al by his collar and keeping him from giving himself a concussion.
“Of course my first big assignment would have him in it,” he grumbled, starting the car with a purr and driving away.
Arthur sighed in frustration. “Well, if you’re that concerned about it, you could find me a job somewhere else!” he exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air and sitting back against the car seat forcefully. Alfred sighed in return and waved his hand dismissively.
“Nah, that’s not my point,” he said. “Ivan’s a slimy bastard, but he’s also solid as a tank, and he’s about as hard to get past when he wants to protect somethin’. He’ll keep ya safe without even knowing you’re supposed to be kept safe. I jus’ hate him on a personal level.” He shrugged and glowered at the road. Arthur rolled his eyes and decided to ignore him until he stopped sulking.The next week was going to be very long, he could feel it.