It’s once more into the breach with Saturday Scenes at Google+! There were some pretty wonderful contributions last week, so I’m looking forward to seeing what gets added this time around.
This week, we have another installment of Valkyrie, a work in progress that’s not all that in progress at the moment. It’s told with alternating first person chapters. Last week we started off with Val; this is Rick’s first chapter. We meet him as he’s chilling in a bar.
As I scan the faces in the gloom, a new arrival catches my attention. She has a long mass of dark, curly hair, and her confident, purposeful stride is hampered by an almost invisible limp. Her near-expressionless face would almost be a perfect mask, but there’s something… I don’t know, off about her eyes–something shaken, haunted. She takes a seat a few stools down from the depressive handyman. The bartender approaches with the same familiar smile that he gives all of his customers, whether they’re currently regulars or about to become so. “So what time are you getting in tonight?” he asks.
She glances at her watch; it’s a plain, utilitarian black number, which seems to go along with her style. “Oh, let’s say 7:00?” she says.
“No problem. The usual?”
“Please,” she says.
I glance at my own watch–rather more ostentatious than hers. I guess it’s the magpie in me, I do like to have a few shiny things in my life. Right now, it’s just a touch shy of 8:15. Now I’m definitely interested. I drain the rest of my drink, leave my usual comfortable seat, and sidle over to the bar. She gives me a flat look as I take the seat next to her. But I’m not a complete innocent at this sort of thing. I catch Tom’s attention from where he’s fiddling with the cappuccino machine. “When you’ve got a minute?” I say, giving my empty glass a demonstrative jiggle.
“What, you’re not driving tonight?” he asks.
“It’s still pretty early,” I reply. “We’ll see if anyone needs a ride.”
“That’s a pretty shitty pickup line,” the woman says.
“Not if what you’re trying to pick up is a fare,” I retort.
“What, like a cab driver?”
“So you just hang around in bars waiting for people to get too drunk to drive home?”
“In so many words, I suppose.”
“That’s…” She pauses, and gives her head a contemplative waggle. “That’s actually pretty smart. Doesn’t your boss have a problem with you just chilling here all night?”
I can’t help but grin. “No boss for me. I own the car myself. I take my breaks whenever I like.”
Tom returns with two drinks in hand: a foamy concoction in a coffee cup for the lady, and a brandy sour for me. “Do you always come to bars for coffee?” I ask.
“I keep asking, but Starbucks won’t Irish it up for me.”
“Fair enough.” I sip at my drink. “So, do you come here often?”
She laughs. “Seriously, you’re going with that?”
“You mentioned shitty pickup lines, I figured I might as well.”
“Mm-hmm,” she says, and sips at her brew. For a minute, I think I’ve overdone it and put her off. I told you I wasn’t a very good conversationalist. But after a good long drag on the mug, she says, “I get over here when I can get a chance.”
“Really? I haven’t seen you before.”
She gives me a sly, sidelong smile. “You might say I’m good at not being seen.”
I have to admit, I’m completely fascinated. Not by her beauty–although she’s certainly quite attractive–but by the heavy sense of mystery around her. Everyone has a story to tell, true, but I’m positive that she’s got a doozy. I offer my hand. “I’m Rick.”
She hesitates a moment, then clasps my hand in a quick shake. “Call me Desi,” she says.
“Very pleased to meet you, Desi,” I reply. “So, what did you do to your ankle?”
Her relaxed demeanor vanishes, and she glares icily at me. When she speaks, her tone is still casual, but strained at the edges. “What do you mean?”
“Well, you were limping when you came in. I guess I was just curious.”
She takes another long, meditative drink, her eyes dissecting me over the top of the white china cup. I wonder what she sees. “Tripped over the curb,” she says.
“Hard enough to limp?”
“I’m really clumsy.”
I put up my hands to ward off the daggers in her voice. “Sorry to hear that, I was just asking.”
“Do you always ask this many questions?” she says.
Tom snorts from behind the bar. I glare at him. “Sometimes,” I say. “Usually people just start talking.”
She eyes me skeptically. “Do they.” It should be a question, but it’s not.
“You’d be surprised. Most people just like to have someone listen to them.”
“What, is that a cabbie thing?”
“I suppose that’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question.”
“You mean you became a cab driver so you could listen to people talk?”
I give a modest shrug. “You could say that.”
“What did you do before that?”
Now it’s my turn to be on the defensive. I’m not ashamed of or unhappy with my previous work, I’m just… annoyed by it, I guess. I used to be more open about it, but it tended to dominate the conversation, and I suppose I’m just not one of those people whose company I so value that are able to simply lay their entire lives bare for a stranger to peruse. Perhaps it’s a bit hypocritical of me. I’ve never said I was perfect, after all. “I was an office drone,” I reply. It’s mostly true, I suppose.
“That sounds… interesting,” Desi says, with a tone that suggests anything but.
“It was terrible,” I say with feeling. “Nothing but politics. I couldn’t stand it.”
“So you’re living the dream?”
I shrug. “I’m living. I didn’t feel like I was before.”
She raises her glass to me in a brief toast. I return the gesture, and we sip in silence for a moment. Tom clears his throat a bit and catches her eye, giving his head a brief jerk toward the door. My companion turns to see what he’s indicating, then spins back to the counter and drains her coffee cup. “Well, Rick,” she says, easing off her stool, “thanks for the chat.”
“Any time,” I say. I watch out of the corner of my eye as she follows a tall, burly man toward the back of the bar, where they maintain private rooms. I give an internal rueful laugh that manifests itself as a snort and a small smile. I probably should have guessed as much.