First Draft: How To Walk Into A Pub
(“You have enemies in high places…”)
© Chris Port, 25th May 2012
See The Name of the Ghost for plot synopsis and clues.
[This is just me playing around with narrative style and character development for a spin-off project. It’s overwritten description at the moment, but it’s always easier to cut down than pad out. Nothing much happens here. There are a few minor clues, but the killer conversation takes place after the men sit down in the booth].
The Moon Rooms turned out to be a barrister’s pub near the Old Bailey, tucked slyly away in an Elizabethan mews. The alleyway was little more than a crevice. Without Sickert’s list of shop names, Josh would have walked right past it.
The entrance was guarded by a shabby Cerberus. A beggar sat on sentry duty while the world stepped around him. The heat and the traffic fumes were gagging.
Josh wondered how these men could survive in their heavy trench coats. The stench brought back sordid childhood memories – risky public toilets and sweaty fish paste sandwiches. London was full of these old soldiers. How middle-class of me, he thought. The streets are cold when the sun goes down. And tramps don’t have wardrobes.
Josh grinned at the man’s suspicious little dog. He filtered through his pocket change by touch and placed a quid in the cap. The landlocked ferryman gave him a gappy smile.
“You’re a gentleman, thank you.”
Josh nodded and said nothing. He didn’t feel like a gentleman. He felt like a cunt.
He stepped off the pavement onto cobble stones. The concrete had been sticky, sucking at his shoes like a dried coke stain. But the cobbles in the shadows were deliciously cool and smooth. They were polished slippery with age. The temperature dropped, and Josh smelled the Tudors soaked into the masonry. It felt like stepping back in time.
He pushed open the saloon door. An old shop bell jangled unexpectedly, echoing off oak wall panels. Not a pub you could sneak into then. Or out of.
Sickert was standing at the bar with his back to the door, ignoring the barman who was politely reading a book. Despite the bell, Sickert didn’t turn around. It was like walking into a room naked and being ignored. Josh noticed the mirror behind the bar. Status games. How tedious.
The lunchtime shift was back in court and the pub was dustily quiet. Josh walked up to the bar. His shoes clattered on hollow planks over a cellar. Not a western then, he thought. Sawdust. More like a man ascending the scaffold.
Sickert continued to ignore him and supped his real ale. It looked like ditch water.
The barman glanced up then returned to his book. Heart of Darkness Josh noted with wry respect. Probably a student on gap year. He looked tanned and Australian.
This wasn’t Sickert’s regular then. Josh knew that Sickert would despise barristers and Australians on principle. But he could see why Sickert had chosen it. The Moon Rooms was invisible to passers-by, and bored with the law. And it had booths.
“You look tired” said Josh. Not much of an icebreaker, but it filled the sunny silence.
“Fuck off” replied Sickert evenly. There was no malice in his voice. Sickert swore the way Professor Horquine frowned over his glasses – merely to kill a boring conversation.
Sickert glanced in the barman’s direction and scratched his nose like a secret bidder at an auction. The barman dog-eared his page and slid off the stool, all in one smooth movement. Good peripheral vision, thought Josh. I’ll bet he’s got good peripheral hearing too.
“Yuss bro” said the barman in a carefully modulated murmur. A slight nasal twang. But short slushy vowels. A Kiwi then. Close enough.
“Another pint of this filth, and a gin and tonic for the bush lawyer here.”
Sickert turned and smiled. “It is G and T, isn’t it?”
“Yes”. More games. “How did you know?”
Sickert turned back to the barman. “Beefeater, two cubes, one slice, lime not lemon. And Schweppes. None of that expensive shit.”
The barman looked a bit like Tom Cruise out of Cocktail, but he poured the drinks quickly without fuss. Josh and Sickert waited silently. One of Horquine’s homilies came to mind. ‘Only small men make small talk’.
Josh studied Sickert’s tie instead. It was plain, navy blue, silk, and uninteresting - apart from a tiny fleck of ale near the tip. And a gold masonic tie pin.
Sickert studied Josh’s face without embarrassment. “We look like two dogs sniffing each other’s arses” he said out of the blue without any discernible humour.
And Josh warmed to him a little more.