The Sequence of Kai
On my way to Lee’s, I decided to pick up a hat. I’m going to be sitting out in the open, I want something that’ll help hide my face. Hoodie would be perfect for that of course.
When I arrive it’s quiet. Most of the booths are empty and the bar has its line of regulars seated upfront.
When I walk in, they take notice. Some do a good job of hiding it, others shift their gaze slightly in my direction. A couple brazenly turn their heads to look directly at me.
They’re the real regulars, the ones with no sense of shame. A quick wave of the hand and shake of the head wards them off. They all return their attention to their drinks in unison.
I hear a couple of those patented complimentary insults; the type men like to throw at women who won’t fall their way. I don’t know how someone as beautiful as Trish can stand working here.
I spot a free stool at the part of the bar that turns around the corner. Only room for one there, it’s probably reserved for me. As I take my seat, I hear a rather unpleasant voice.
“Well, look at what’s the cat dragged in.”
Darren, this place’s manager. Never was the smartest guy, you can tell from his turn of phrase. He only has this job because Lee was his dad.
“Fuck off and get me a beer.”
“I can getcha a beer.”
No intention of fucking off though, seems Darren hasn’t changed. He pours me a pint and slams it down in front of me.
“That’s on the house if ya wanna chat.”
“It’s fine, I’ll pay.”
“I’ll pay you double to fuck off.”
He holds his hand out, I hear a trademark 'bitch' mumbled from his broken lips. I hand him change for the pint and I’m met with a cold stare.
I root around in my pocket for a £10 note, making sure to ball it up in my hand so I can flick it at his face.
It lands with a 'thwack', right between the eyes. He catches the note on its way down and unballs it while glaring at me.
"You can keep the change."
Don’t know what he’s mad about. If I’m going to be paying double for pints, I better be getting some extras.
“Just move to one of the booths yeah? This seat’s reserved”
“Didn’t seem to be reserved when you thought I might talk to you.”
“Ya decided ya didn’t wanna talk, so ya can move.”
Just then Trish emerges from the staff room tightening the bow tying her hair back.
“Kai! You’re early!”
I can feel the smug grin crawling across my face, so I turn it towards Darren.
“Seat was reserved for me, asshole.”
Darren grumbles and slinks off into the staff room that Trish just came from.
“Sorry to put you in the corner, it’s the only seat at the bar that isn’t basically permanently reserved.”
She casts a side-eye towards the row of men lining the bar.
“Nah, it’s alright, anywhere is fine by me.”
In fact, this seat is perfect, it gives me an angle to use the big pub mirror on the wall opposite the bar to screen people coming in. This Elm guy doesn’t seem to be here right now, unless he’s hiding in the bathroom. I’ll check there in a while if he doesn’t appear.
“So Kai, why are you really here?”
“I told you why.”
“Yeah, but you were lying.”
“No I wasn’t.”
“Oh yeah, when have you ever wanted to talk?”
“Plenty of times, right now is one of them.”
She folds her arms and then stares at me.
“See you don’t want to talk!”
“I have performance issues; I can’t do it when you stare directly at me.”
One of the barflies flags Trish down for a pint. She gives him a thumbs up and then cranes her neck back towards me.
“You have until I pour this pint to get it up or I’m leaving you.”
While she’s off serving that customer, I pull out my phone and look up Elm again to make sure I haven’t forgotten his face.
He was pretty bland looking, the sort of guy that needs his career to seem attractive. I get a good photo of him and check it against all the patrons of the bar. It’s not too hard since most of them are people I recognize by face if not name.
Everyone who sits at the bar has this signature hollowness to their eyes. Over the course of who knows how many years, they’ve managed to subconsciously order themselves roughly by how dead their faces look. The guys who look like they still have a bit of life left in them sit next to the door, tantalizingly close to an escape. Those who know better than to think they could leave sit further into the bar, closer to the taps.
At any rate, none of them are Elm, that’s for sure. I cast my eyes over to the booths. The first two are empty. The second has a man with a hat drawn down over his face to block the light, clearly sleeping. Darren tends to let things like that slide if it’s a quiet day, Trish lets things like that slide. He looks too tall to be Elm anyway, so I move on.
The fourth booth is occupied by a middle-aged man and an overdressed young girl. The man bears no resemblance to Elm, the girl bears a striking resemblance to an old classmate of mine. I if I can recall, she had two sisters, one older, one younger. Seems they’re just about finished as they get up and head for the door, the girl hanging out of the man’s arm.
The rest of the booths are empty, no sign of Elm, just like I thought.
My attention is diverted back to Trish, who is doing her best to fold her arms more than is humanly possible. I was meant to come up with something to talk with her about.
Good thing I didn’t say what I was about to.
“I want you out of the house by tomorrow.”
“No, I won’t leave Paul without a father.”
“How does that even work?”
“It hasn’t worked for years, that’s why we’re fighting Trish.”
“I’ve had enough of this fake fight.”
She frowns at me, disappointed that I didn’t make an effort to talk to her.
“Why don’t you just choose the topic then? You were going to choose it mid-conversation if what I choose wasn’t good enough anyway.”
“But you didn’t choose anything.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“OK then, why did you really come here?”
“Why do you care?”
“If I’m being taken advantage of, I’d like to know why.”
I bite my tongue quick enough that its retort doesn’t start. If you’re concerned with why people are taking advantage of you, you’re better off not knowing you’re being taken advantage of. She wouldn’t want to hear that though, especially since I’m using up whatever brownie points I (possibly) have saved up with her right now. She’s scarily good at sniffing out deceit if she decides she wants to.
“I’m looking for someone who I heard might be showing up here.”
“Where’d you hear it?”
“You’re still going to church?”
“When the mood strikes.”
Don’t give me that look Trish, I hate that look.
“Who is it then?”
“I don’t remember his name exactly, but I heard he’s a bit of a celebrity. Online anyway.”
Trish’s eyes go wide and she leans in close.
“You wouldn’t be talking about a man called Elm would you?”
My heart stops. I shouldn’t overreact. There’s nothing strange about Trish knowing who I’m talking about. It’s normal for her to know the names and occupations of anyone who frequents the bar and, if Paul’s to be believed, Elm’s been doing exactly that.
It’s not strange but… I can’t help feeling anxious knowing how dangerous these people can be.
“Yeah, I think that was the name.”
Trish lets out a suppressed squeal. It’s the sound she makes when an impromptu plan of hers is coming to fruition. Conversely, if a plan falls apart as soon as it forms in her mind, she lets everyone know with a not so suppressed whimper.
“So, like, he’s been coming here every night lately. I’ve been talking to him for the last few weeks, he’s a really cool guy.”
“You sure he's all that?”
She looks at me incredulously.
“Yeah? Isn’t that why you’d want to meet him?”
“No, I just wanted to ask a couple things about his, uh…. writings. Have you read any of them actually?”
Trish’s eyes go dead and she stares at me in silence. Oh fuck. Has he gotten to her? Did I activate some sort of mental trigger? Is she OK? What do I-
“Do I look like a girl who reads books?”
FOR FUCK’S SAKE TRISH
“You OK Kai? You sound like you’re in pain.”
“I’m fine, don’t worry about it.”
Her expression of faux concern slides into a much more genuine shit-eating grin once she confirms in her mind that I’m ready for whatever she has planned.
“So, I could probably convince him to have a couple beers with you.”
“But at what cost?”
“Have dinner with me-”
Why the hell would she even want that? Does she just want ringside seats, or does she actually think it’s a good idea for some reason?
“Come on, please?”
All puppy eyes and soft words when she wants something, this girl.
“You won’t but if you can get him to agree, I don’t care.”
She hugs, or more accurately, squeezes my head for a second.
“It’ll be fun, just like when we first met.”
“Miss Trish! Hello?”
Another one of the regulars calls for Trish. She dashes off quickly to deal with him, having probably spent the last minute or two ignoring him.
Just like when we first met?
No. There’s no way that’s possible.