21 Angel's wings in the dive-bar

41 0 0

21   Angel's wings in the dive-bar

Downstairs turns out to be a busy, no-frills dive bar on Summerfield Avenue, west of the tracks. Following my tacit agreement with Lucan that he will make sure Alaia and I maintain a low profile, I've not heard him relaying this instruction to Flames, Kev and Damian. Yet it's as if he has conveyed it to them somehow without words; because upon entering Downstairs, this trio undertake no publicising whatsoever of her and me, but instead just shepherd us inside in a low-key manner, to a table in a low-lit area near the back. Lucan steers me into a chair positioned so that I face across the table into the corner of the room, and says I'm not to go to the bar. Several people are curious when they see us slipping past, but our haste and the low lighting and the smoke all conspire to ensure that anyone who did see Sound & Vision, of which there must be some, do not in fact recognise me. In addition I see that Kev has been given, or has assumed, the task of discouraging others' interest in our party; for he manages always to loom large and unwelcoming between us and anyone who shows signs of wanting to approach us, until they lose interest. Downstairs is clearly home territory for Lucan and his crowd.

It turns out Flames has come here to work a shift behind the bar, where he will soon be taking over from someone else. "Drinks time," he says. "Vision? Sound?"

We all place our orders and he darts off. "I'm timing this," says Kev, glancing at his phone. Then in just another minute or so, after I have had chance to do little more than take my jacket off, Flames sweeps back to the table with an entire round of seven drinks on a tray. "Fifty-five seconds," Kev announces.

"For Jaymi and Alaia, red wine," says Flames as he places them in front of us. "For Lucan, straight whisky. "For Kev and me, beer. And for Damian, grapefruit juice."

"Alcohol's a rank poison," Damian mutters.

"That's good," says Lucan, slapping him on the back, "we need you sober back there," and he jerks his thumb towards the corridor at the back.

Making the fifty-five-second total genuinely noteworthy, there is also the seventh drink. One cherry garnishes a brown-brimming cocktail glass, handed out by Flames to one who cuts in from somewhere, passing Kev without obstruction—a dark-eyed Latino boy of maybe twenty-one, whose spiteful sleek depraved face radiates decadence and damage from its sharp beauty. "And for Angel, one Manhattan," Flames announces, takes a bow and returns to the bar.

With the arrival of drinks, talk around the table starts to drift and split. This newest face, I observe, is active here, though incongruous. He is shadowy, effete, both unhealthy and luminous: I picture him a pirate-queen scuttling up the masts of a slave-ship, to keep watch. Aside from a silver earring in his right ear, a shiny black vinyl brassiere is all that he wears above the waist, above black leggings and pointed black boots. Through his smooth brown skin I can sense the charge of nerves around his ribs beneath the faint swell of his breasts. His smooth little torso is built like a whip, thin and supple. Beautifully tattooed down the length of his back is a stark, emblematic pair of angel's wings, cross-cut with faint lash-marks. Half the time his mouth, with its lips painted cinnabar, is sulky; and half the time his teeth are bared, jaws tense and snapping like a starved baby she-wolf. His voice is intersexual, with a degenerate breathiness underlying a fluid steel edge and a slight lisp on every s. A clean but musky sexual scent coils about him, even through the smoke. When his eyes fix mine for the first time, I have to make an effort not to flick my gaze away, so potent is the damage and so luscious is the blackness of fever within them. Hard excitement and the pulsing of attraction to the beauty of the dark spills out of him, as if his sweetest wish is for a violent revenge against life and all who live it.

One hidden thing do I let myself tune in to as yet, for a split-second only: tattooed on his forehead, in an ink that's invisible, a single word flickers up and shouts out—SLAVE.

THE IMAGINATION THIEF (mini-chapters 1-98)Read this story for FREE!