Saturday, 7 April 2012

Blue Swan

The door that allows entrance to the Blue Swan opens inwards and doesn't open outwards.  To leave the bar you have to use another door, or possibly an old beer-barrel hatch if the bouncers have decided they don't like you.  The hatch is in the middle of the wall after you've walked down the steps from the door to the bar floor and is at road-level on the outside, so the drayman could just roll the barrels through the hatch for the bar staff to catch (or drop, more often) and then roll down to the cellar.  The bouncers have perfected the art of throwing a man through it so that he skids along the pavement on his nose for the last three feet or so, and you can spot the regulars by the way their noses are worn away.
I don't count as a regular, but the bouncers recognised me anyway as I came down the stairs, and they came to attention, muscles bulging and rearranging under their black, smart suit jackets.  Their eyebrows raised a little – and if they stood close enough together it looked like they shared a single eyebrow running from the guy on the left to the guy on the right.  They weren't even the same height and the eyebrow somehow managed that trick.  I paused on the stairs, and they tensed a little, and then the barman called out my name.
"Mac!" he yelled, his tone more friendly than I'd been expecting.  "You looking for someone?"
"How did you know?" I asked, continuing my descent.  My heels ached, and my ankles clicked, and one of the bouncers looked at me with surprise distorting his ugly features.
"You sound like you've got death-watch beetle," he grunted, his lips barely moving when he spoke.
"I have," I said, and walked past them to the bar.
I don't have death-watch beetle, but I did for a while, which both puzzled and scared my doctor.  He'd looked at me long and hard in the white, hard fluorescent light of his surgery, edged his chair away from me, and poked me with a tongue-depressor.
"I don't get it," he'd said.  "The medical text-books say you should be dead.  The voodoo books say you should be dead.  All the second opinions I've gathered say you should be dead.  The blood-test results say you are dead, and yet you're still moving around, and catching tree-diseases.  What the hell are you?"
"Just lucky, I guess," I'd said, and accepted the referral to a tree-surgeon and a prescription for creosote.
"Might have some news for you, Mac," said the barman.  I didn't recognise him, but I sat down on a bar-stool anyway and stared hungrily at him.  He stared back, meeting my gaze unflinchingly, and then moved a menu in front of me with a twitch of his fingers.
"Tell me, then," I said.  "I'm looking for Little Boy Blue, or, failing that, someone with a thing for sheep." I looked at the menu and realised that I'd not eaten in a couple of days.  My stomach gurgled, which is as enthusiastic as it ever gets, and I pointed at the first two steaks on the battered bit of cardboard.  "What sides do I get with them?"
"Bashed potatoes, bruised onions, soggy frites, some white sauce the chef doesn't like to talk about," said the barman promptly.  "I'd recommend the pasta Mac.  Comes with lamb."
"Pasta's not a food for men," I snorted, my finger not shifting from the steak.
"Might be for boys, though," said the barman, and suddenly the import he was trying to give his words made it past the defensive barricades of my mind and I realised what I was being told to do.
"I'll have the pasta," I said, mechanically.  "Comes with lamb does it?"
"And there's a drink on the house as well," said the barman, his smile wide enough to let the top of his head fall off if he leaned back.  "What are you drinking, Mac?"
"Make it an old peculiar," I said.
"You mean an old-fashioned, there, hey?"
"Nope," I said.  "Old peculiar.  Mix whiskey sours with a splash of tangerine juice, a jigger of vermouth and top it up with cheap white wine.  Add a twist of grapefruit."
"Sounds peculiar," said the barman nodding.
"And while you're making it," I said, "you can tell me how you know my name."

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