The Dog and Duck, Public House, had a large downstairs bar that was currently mostly filled with young drinkers. They were attracted by the craft beers and its retro-chic – which was more accreditable to the landlord’s refusal to redecorate, renovate, or in any other way update the pub from it’s 70s look and feel. That this was now bringing in an astonishing number of customers, and consequently cash, was rather delighting him. The noise and hubbub was at levels that were enough to annoy the neighbours, who were used to the pub’s previous, more sedate days, and the bar staff, newly boosted to seven for the weekend trade, were sweating, laughing, and constantly rushing downstairs to the cellar to change the barrels over. In one corner a couple of bearded, studenty-looking men were assembling a small stage on which a local band would be playing later.
Up the stairs, a nice flight of Axminster-carpeted steps that turned two corners to reach the first floor, were two smaller lounges, both of which had their own smaller bars and were also packed. The landlord allowed them to be rented out for a very small charge to parties and groups, the charge having only appeared when he found that renting it for free was resulting in a lot of competition for the rooms. Even now, with a charge of ten pounds for the room, there was still a lot of groups where everyone paid fifty pence and enjoyed a private bar for the evening.
At the first turn of the stairs was a door that led into the staff-only parts of the pub: the cleaning cupboards, a tiny smoking room for the bar staff to sit down in for fifteen minute breaks, and the kitchens. The landlord’s bedroom and a tiny sitting room were also back here, with an en-suite bathroom and a couple of bookcases.
At the second turn of the stairs was another door marked Private, but behind here was a long corridor that eventually left the pub’s building altogether and terminated in a door at the adjacent building. There was a tiny private bar in this room, that was stocked by the landlord with bottled drinks and bar-snacks but never bar-tended. A conference-room table took up most of the room, surrounded by eight leather chairs, and in the corner next to the bar was a sophisticated audio-visual presentation unit that the landlord had neither installed nor knew how to use. At the other end of the room was an automatically-descending projection screen, a mat for people to leave their shoes on, and a window that looked out onto the street below, though the glass was tinted so that the street below couldn’t look back. Incongruously, there were two small pillars against the long wall without the door, on each of which was a glass display case containing an animal skull.
At eight o’clock a distinguished-looking older man walked into the pub with a look of distaste on his face. As he surveyed the people drinking, laughing and enjoying being in the bar, a sneer curled on his face.
“Oh come on, Arthur,” said a voice behind him. He half-turned, enough to see who was speaking out of the corner of his eye, and recognised Jaana Finnuuken, a man he’d gone to school with. “Let them have their fun, they’re not hurting anyone.”
“I remember when a man could come in here and no-one would look up because there was no-one here to look up,” said Arthur. The pair of them made for the stairs.
“Yes Arthur, but then you also remember when the dinosaurs used to come here when their watering hole ran dry,” said Jaana. His English was as impeccable and upper-class-sounding as Arthur’s.
They reached the second turn of the stairs and Arthur produced a key-card from an inside pocket and passed it over a patch of wallpaper. There was a tiny beep and a click as the door unlocked.
“I hope the landlord got my note about the wine,” said Arthur as they passed through. “The last bottle I had here was nearly execrable. It hadn’t been aged for even five years!”
“Not all wines have to be left to rot,” said Jaana. “Some of them are even very drinkable shortly after they’re bottled.”
“Pah!” said Arthur.
Four minutes after Arthur and Jaana had reached the room and starting arguing over the merits of the wines, the door to the meeting room opened again and Dolores Mudney came in. She paused in the doorway for a moment, her gaze meeting Jaana’s.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you,” she said, her tone a shade warmer than icy. “I wonder if this is such a good idea?”
“I wasn’t told who else would be coming,” said Jaana, “so I think you have the advantage of me in every way, dear lady.” Despite his casual words, his tone was also reserved and unfriendly.
“Well of course not,” she sniffed. She looked at Arthur. “Since I’m here I shall stay. For now. Be a gentlemen and get me a gin, Arthur.”
“And I’ll have an Archers!” Dolores stepped into the room, her face looking now like she’d stepped in something deplorable, as behind her a rotund man with sunburn all across his face came in. “Good lord, what an odd squad we have here! And… by the Lord Harry, it’s true! They’ve not redecorated in here either! My god, the landlord must be allergic to the smell of clean carpets and fresh paint.” Jaana smiled, and greeted the newcomer, while Arthur busied himself with Dolores’s drink and tried not to look revolted as he picked out the Archers’s bottle.
“Phillip,” said Jaana, not moving any closer because that would take him closer to Dolores. “You’re here as well! This is quite the little get-together isn’t it?”
“Top stuff,” said Philip, grinning. “So, who’s brought us all here then?”
Arthur handed round the drinks and frowned. “Not me,” he said. “I rather thought Dolores–“
“Not me, either!” she said sharply. “I did think it must have been you, Arthur, but then you’d have a more plausible guest list.”
All four people looked at one another in confusion for a few moments, until a voice in the doorway said, “I invited you all.”