Wednesday, 8 October 2014


The lights were low and the walls were decorated with flock wallpaper; stark black geometric patterns on an ivory background.  Shadows cast across the floor and tables wavered as though unsure of their welcome here, and people stepped in and out of them lithely like dancers.  The bar had a small number of people stood at it, stirring cocktails they looked uncertain of having ordered, or holding tumblers of brown and amber liquids with spherical ice cubes in and sipping them as though being forced to.  The tables were equally sparsely populated, mostly by single drinkers with more determination that the bar-huggers.  There was a low hubbub from disparate conversations, but a determined listener could have sat still in the middle and distinguished the words from each and every one.  There was a smell of liquorice in the air as well that might have been from a spilled bottle of cheap Absinthe, but then again might not have been.
A woman in a thin white dress walked through the door and was ignored by everyone.  She paused, clearly annoyed by this, and adjusted the front of her dress to expose a little more tanned cleavage, and still earned no reaction.  She shrugged, mostly to herself, and adjusted her shoulder bag; pale green leather with a gold leather strap intended to look like chain-link.  She looked around, then again, as though unable to believe that she couldn’t find who she was looking for.
He tapped her on the shoulder, having come in to the bar behind her.
“Toni,” he said, his voice a little husky.  She half-turned her head, saw him, and then flinched, several seconds too late.  His eyes recognised the slight but his face remained otherwise neutral.  “Shall we sit?”  He gestured to the tables.
She walked to one in the centre of them all and sat down, her bag swinging around to rest in her lap, and her hand cradling it protectively.  The man, Jarvis, raised his eyebrows in the direction of the bar, got an acknowledging nod from the barman, and then walked over and sat down opposite her.
“Why did it have to be here?” she said.  Her fingernails, long and painted papal purple tapped the table like a demented woodpecker.
“Because this is where we first met,” said Jarvis.  “It’s appropriate, we’re coming full circle.”
“We’re coming full circle.”  Her mimicry was snide but excellent.  The barman appeared at her elbow and ignored her, looking at Jarvis expectantly.  “Hey, bud!  Bud!  I want a drink!”
“Directions on a cold, dark night, please,” said Jarvis.  The barman nodded.  “And sure, I’ll buy her a drink.”  Only now did the barman look at her, and his dark eyes held hers for a moment, quieting her.
“Prosecco,” she said.  “Fizzy, too.  None of that funny flat stuff.”
When the barman left them she glared at Jarvis.  “What was up with him?  Is he a faggot?  Couldn’t take his eyes off you, could he!  And what was that… that thing you ordered?  Directions to a big gay fight?”
“Just a cocktail,” said Jarvis.  “I think he didn’t like you.”
“Hahahahaaaaa.”  Her laugh was too close to a shriek for comfort.  “Yeah right, he didn’t like me.  He didn’t like you.  No-one likes you.  All of my friends hated you.  You were always just this big lump in the corner, getting fat and staring at people like you’d never seen them before.  You never watched tv, and you never listened to any decent music.  You were just fat and useless.  I’m glad we split up.”
“I watched tv,” said Jarvis.  “We just watched different shows, we listened to different music. Your friends did seem to hate me though, even the ones who’d never met me.”  His words floated past her, unlistened to.
“You’re so fat.”
“Sure,” said Jarvis.  He was wearing a hoodie that she’d bought him a month after they’d met.  It was three sizes too large and looked it, but after she’d bought it she made a fuss every time he came out unless he was wearing it.  It smelled faintly of wet dog, even when it was fresh from the dryer.
“Everyone here’s weird, you know?  Like no-one’s looking at anyone.”
“They’re just hungry,” said Jarvis.  The barman appeared again and set a tumbler of blood-red liquid down in front of Jarvis and a champagne flute of pale yellow bubbles in front of Toni.  His eyes caught hers again, and she wondered for a moment why they seemed so blood-shot.
“Yeah, I get cranky when my blood-sugar’s low,” she said, picking the glass up.  She sipped it, wrinkled her nose against the prickle of the bubbles and then downed it.  She set the glass down on the table, and looked at Jarvis.
“Same again.” she said.
Jarvis picked his drink up, and brushed away a little frost that had formed on the table underneath it.
“I said I’d buy you one drink,” he said, and sipped his drink.
There was a moment of peace as the liquid swirled around his mouth, aromas of red fruit and old leather bubbling up into his nose and a hint of sweetness washed away by a sea of bitterness like the regret of old sins, and then, predictably, Toni erupted.
“You cheap bastard!” she yelled, standing up so she breathe deeper and scream louder.  Behind her several people at the bar looked round at last.  “All I want is one more fucking drink!  Is that so fucking much to ask of my ex-bloody boyfriend?”
“Ex,” said Jarvis quietly.  She reached across the table to slap him, but someone behind her caught her hand.  She tried to pull away, but their grip was like stone; cold and uncompromising.  She turned, torn between continuing to shout at Jarvis and wanting to scream at this interloper and found herself looking into another pair of bloodshot eyes.  She opened her mouth, but something inside her suggested that this would be a really bad idea, and she closed it again.
“The thing is,” said Jarvis.  “The thing is, you never knew what bar you’d walked in to, did you?”
“What?” she wanted to look at him but she couldn’t pull her gaze away.
“Exactly.  You were just looking for another mark, another stupid little fuck to take for a ride and bleed dry.  And you would have got just the opposite if I hadn’t seen you.”
“What?”  She felt incredibly distracted.  She didn’t normally listen to anything Jarvis said – well, anyone said, really, except maybe Bethany, but Bethany had been like a sister to her – but now it was like she was being told not to.  Only no-one else was talking.
“This is a vampire bar, Toni.  Lestatic.  The name’s a clue.”
“What?”  It sounded pathetic this time, and she could barely hear herself speaking.  The room seemed to be darker than she remembered and she was feeling dizzy.  Only the bloodshot eyes in front of her were keeping her upright, she was sure.
“So here you are, back where we met, and this time I’m leaving you to your fate.  I gave you three months you didn’t deserve and don’t appreciate.  I think that’s enough.”

“Jar–?”  She had a feeling something important had just happened, but she wasn’t sure what.  She inclined her head, trying to hear the voice that had just been speaking, stretching her neck out as she turned and twisted.  The light in the bar fell on it, graceful as a swan’s, and for a moment everyone held their breath.

Monday, 6 October 2014


There was a gentleman sitting in the Reception area of Data Analytics Marketetic Normalisations, his face carefully neutral while he read through a brochure describing the more public aspects of the purchase of a small island off the East Coast of America for the construction of a health-state on behalf of ADHD, the American Drivers for Healthcare Distribution.  He looked up briefly as a woman stalked past him, curious for a moment if giantesses were employed here, but then looked away again.  The woman, Jeronica, was simply wearing high-heels that must give her the most fantastic calf-muscles in the history of competitive body-building and appeared to add thirteen inches to her height.  That would explain, he mused momentarily, why the ceiling appeared to be so much higher in some places than others.  A short while later another man, much shorter, squatter, and smelling of patchouli oil paused for a moment opposite him, but he seemed interested only in checking the pile of newspapers and magazines for something he didn’t find.  He left again, and the gentleman carefully adjusted his position so as not to have to notice the slightly oily handprint that had been left on the back of the Claes Olson chair.
At one-seventeen exactly the receptionist, a young woman with white contact lenses that made her appear blind, a beehive hairdo that would have made Amy Winehouse bite through her microphone with jealousy, and a necklace around her neck that must have cost her two years’ salary pressed a buzzer.
“Dimitrion will see you now,” she said, her voice as modulated as Siri’s.  “In his office.”
The gentleman considered that information extraneous, but stood up anyway and carefully walked down a corridor different to the one the Receptionist was indicating.  He’d been here before.
Dimitrion was sat on a wooden platform suspended from the ceiling of his office by thin black chains.  The platform was directly over his desk, and the chairs that would normally be arranged around it were instead pushed back so that people sitting in them could clearly see Dimitrion on the platform.  Even so, he was slightly discomfitted when the gentleman came in from the door on the other side of his office.
“I believe you were invited to take the main corridor,” he said, a little waspishly.  He had a goatee that went wispy after the first three inches, and he looked a little like a goat.  His hair was dark and curly, and occasionally the drunk-and-suicidal would ruffle it, looking for horns.
“I felt like saving myself a little time,” said the gentleman, his words quiet and clear.  “You’ve kept me waiting exactly as many minutes after our appointed time as I arrived early for it.”
“We agreed a time,” said Dimitrion.  He was cross-legged, and he rested his elbows on his knees and then his chin on his prayer-folded hands.
“And you were not asked to see me any earlier,” said the gentleman.  “You were simply expected to let me sit in your reception area, drink your coffee, and read your brochures. How can you be annoyed about that?”
Dimitrion had no problems being annoyed about the sun rising every morning and him still not having found a way to monetise this, but he decided that at this stage he’d made his point and could afford to be generous.  “How was the coffee?  We have the interns make it.  Typically it takes them three months to learn how.”
“How very wasteful,” said the gentleman.  “Even assuming that they pay you for the privilege of working here and pay you bonuses for all the political and sociological information they encounter that’s still wasteful.  What else do you do with them?  Turn them into prosciutto for Christmas?”
“I hear that Margoyle uses them for pedicures,” said Dimitrion.  The concept of intern prosciutto had been floated at a company meeting a couple of years ago but he didn’t wish to go into any detail about it.  “However, you are here to talk about desalination, not pedicures or Christmas hams.  Perhaps we should attend to business?”
“Resalination,” said the gentleman placidly.  Dimitrion frowned.
Re-salination?” he said.  “That can’t be right.”
“Oh yes it can,” said the gentleman.  “As you are aware, I represent what me might choose to call a cartel, but only here and in the confines of these walls and the numerous listening devices your colleagues have installed –“ he paused, looking at Dimitrion’s upraised hand.
“There are no bugs that I don’t know about,” said Dimitrion.  “If you look on my desk you’ll see what appears to be a desktop calculator.  That’s feeding the various bugs that I haven’t accidentally destroyed or blocked with an appropriate conversation between myself and the Global Head of Ancient Samoan Tributes.  The Receptionist knows you’re here, but she’s a professional.”
The gentleman nodded as though not quite believing.  “Be that as it may,” he said.  “The people that I represent recognise that water must flow to be useful, and that water is often useful because of its dissolutive properties.  We wish to compete in a meaningful manner with the resort and tourist opportunities that the Dead Sea represents, and as such we wish to re-salinate a large inland lake where there is a significant tourism project already underway.”
“Lake Saras,” said Dimitrion.  He produced a clicker from his pocket and used it to first lower the lights and then to turn on a projector screen that showed a geographical map of the region.  “Also a major supplier of freshwater to about three-hundred villages and towns in a two-hundred-and-fifty mile radius.”
“Whose populaces have little interest in politics,” said the gentleman smoothly.  Dimitrion understood this to mean that the populace considered that the gentleman and his friends had inappropriate ideas about politics and the means to ends.  “But freshwater can be obtained in other ways, such as desalination plants and aqueductage.”
“Expensive options,” said Dimitrion.
“But affordable if the tourism industry at Lake Saras can be increased.”

There was a moment’s silence, and then Dimtrion smiled and offered his hand.  “I’m absolutely certain we can do business,” he said.