I don’t know if I like Bar Black, but I know it’s where I go when I need a place to drink while I think. The overflow morgue’s great for thinking, but the only stuff to drink in there will pickle your insides. Literally. It’s on a street that’s down another street, and you only get to that street by walking to the end of another street that you’d be forgiven for thinking wasn’t going to end. I met the guy who did the city planning during a previous investigation: in order to makes ends meet he was dressed up as Shirley Bassey and singing karaoke at a place that specialised in burlesque. Right before I punched him in the jaw he told me that all of his city planning was done on the comedown after nights like that. He also offered to rezone Mad Frankie’s office as a school district for me, and I won’t say I wasn’t tempted.
I reached the end of the street and turned down on the next street. There were little groups of people sitting on the front steps of the houses here, muted conversations being had just on the fringes of the streetlights. The windows of the houses behind them were all dark and quiet; families tucked up in bed and dreaming of a better future while their heads talked about the world and the possibilities it might offer in the morning light. Now and then someone would look up as I walked past, and a conversation would pause for just long enough to let me know I wasn’t welcome, but I walked on and they resumed talking behind my back. Which is where most of the world talks, it would seem.
One more turn onto a street darker still, more forgotten by the world, and I stepped up to a door with a man the size and shape of the Michelin-man outside. He grunted, tiny red eyes opening and glaring at me like those of a homicidal robot in a science-fiction film.
“Mac?” he said, his voice high-pitched and slightly whistly from the holes in his teeth.
“The very same,” I said, and tipped my hat slightly towards him.
“You’re welcome,” he said, and shuffled aside to allow me to squeeze past him. He could have moved further, but I happen to know he likes a little frottage now and them, and not many people are happy to have me touch them.
The bar was busy, but there were still two seats available. One was next to the torch-singer, who was putting on her make-up and sipping from a martini glass, and the other was between two guys who looked like sailors. I picked the sailors; Gaby the torch-singer lives up to her name and I wasn’t in the mood for listening to second-hand showbiz gossip from a lush. I can get that in the morning papers. Away from the bar there were tables with people sat at them, a small stage with a piano and a microphone, and a tiny little stand holding three chafing dishes that met the ‘hot food’ requirement for the bar to have its current licence. No-one seemed to be eating from them, and past experience reminded me why. Botulism is a dish best not served at all. I hoisted myself up on to the bar-stool and tried to get Blue’s bed-leg out from my trousers.
“Hey.” The voice from the guy on my left wasn’t friendly. “Why are you playing with yourself?”
“Because you probably won’t do it for him,” said the barman walking over from where he’d been pouring Gaby another martini. “The usual, Mac?”
“Uh-huh,” I said. “It’s a big one,” I said to the talkative guy getting a grip on the leg at last. “Want to see?”
He growled, a low, rumbling, threatening sound like a volcano letting you know that it’s feeling congested and might be doing something about it shortly. I yanked hard and pulled the bed-leg free, though I heard something tear and knew that my trousers were going to draughty after this. Tom, the barman, slid a cocktail glass in front of me, and I shoved the bed-leg under talkative-guy’s nose. “Impressed?” I asked.
“I bet that’s the biggest thing you’ve ever pulled out of your pants, Mac,” said Tom. I spared him a glance; I’ve known him for years and indirectly I’m responsible for him only having three fingers on each hand. He gestured at my glass, “One pink lady. And don’t ask for a tab.”
“What the fuck is this?” growled talkative guy. “You bringing your bed in here with you?”
“Would you go home with him to find it?” asked Tom, stepping neatly out of reach and going over to the other side of the bar to serve a tall man dressed head-to-toe in a haz-mat suit.
“It’s not my bed, and it’s none of your business,” I said. “Just keep drinking and let me worry about the furniture.”
Talkative guy grunted and swivelled on his stool slightly so that his shoulder was all I could see of his head, and I shook the bed-leg experimentally to see what might drop out.