Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chapter Seven : Marlboro

Zeke was the kind of person who harbored a passion for learning his trade, seconded very closely by his passion to share that knowledge with everyone and everyone as frequently as possible. Unfortunately, such opportunities were rare, and he took full advantage of Jericho's attention. The minutes stretched into hours, and Jericho, who had begun by taking furious notes on his tablet, was reduced to nodding and the occasional interjection to ask a point of clarification. The conversation found them wandering into the early afternoon, the bright sunlight a welcome contrast to the somber elegance of the reading room. The roads were a mixture of quaint cobblestone and newer asphalt; the buildings were multistory brick affairs with white iron railings and white window casings, gleaming in the sunlight. There was a lush park behind a wrought iron fence, and vines tumbled from balconies and balustrades. A monstrously large honeysuckle reared from the park like a pile of golden pillows, and Jericho noticed an abnormally large bumblebee hovering and flitting through the blooms. The cloying scent of the blossoms filled the air, and Jericho noted with a small part of his brain the rust colored patch on the bee's abdomen. For a moment the world was still and quiet, and all this talk of dark magick and spells and tarot seemed as alien as reinforced concrete and jet engines.

"You coming, old chap?" Zeke called over his shoulder. A motorbike clattered past, followed by a delivery van, and the world returned to normal. They turned left, and began walking past beautiful rows of brick buildings and a very old gothic church. Zeke took a break from his speech, the sounds of the city making conversation challenging. They crossed the A400 and stopped at a classic pub, The Marlboro Arms. It peaked out from the base of a massive brick and white building, its doors opening on the very corner of the structure. Its wood and gilt fa├žade supported maroon awnings stretched out over sidewalk seating, and old fashioned glass lanterns beckoned passersby. Above the restaurant, white pillars adorned a bulbous corner tower. Zeke slid into a table, and fished around in his pocket. His fingers emerged a moment later with a battered silver cigarette case, from which he plucked a rumpled Gauloise. He offered one to Jericho, who shook his head.

A girl appeared immediately, dressed in a very short leather skirt, fishnet stockings, platform sandals, and a biker jacket. Her hair was streaked with purple, and it looked as if her makeup had been applied by Alice Cooper.

“Ah, Zeke, ya barry bampot! Hown the fook are ya?” She slid a heavy mug of very dark beer to Zeke, while simultaneously slugging a drink of her own. "Who'se the bawheid?" She thumbed toward Jericho, without sparing him a glance. As if on queue, several burly men dressed in similar fashion crowded around the table.

“Blimey, mates!” Exclaimed a large man that looked suspiciously like Jericho’s cab driver. “It’s Zeke!”

There followed a general pandemonium that involved a lot of beer, some of which ended on the table and sidewalk, more than a few cigarettes, and copious amounts of battered and fried fish, French fried potatoes, and other heavy morsels that had apparently come into vogue at some point prior to the discovery of heart disease. Zeke, it turns out, had a fan club, and they listened in something rather less than rapt silence as Zeke continued to spin his yarn.

“It was the loneliness, really.” Zeke said, his voice raised from too much beer. “He thought himself so above it all, you know, but it was really the emerging insecurities of an unstable and insatiable ego who failed to apprehend the necessary interconnectivity of the social consciousness!”

The girl interrupted with a gaffaw like a braying donkey, spraying the better part of a pint of beer across the table. One of the boys wiped some foam off the basket of fries, and popped one in his mouth.

“Ya gantin dobber! Ya cannae ha two pints and yer all blootered! Ya kin string dead braw words, but nobody knows hoot ya talkin aboot!” She laughed again, and Jericho vaguely recalled a documentary on the mating habits of hippopotami. His head was thick, and his fingers burned. He realized it was the ashen stump of a Gauloise, and he stubbed it into the overflowing ashtray. He wondered how many he had smoked as he bit off a soggy piece of fish and washed it down with warm beer. The girl had ended up on his lap somehow, but he wasn’t complaining. It had been so long since he had really felt a part of anything, and he felt somehow that he could actually belong with this motley crew. Her hair smelled like cinnamon and beer.

A few pedestrians gave them sidelong glances, but probably thought better of complaining about what could be an ex-convicts association chapter luncheon. At one point, Zeke pulled a deck of tarot cards from his pocket, and began explaining the fundamental differences between the Rider-White deck and the Thoth tarot. This devolved quickly into a mad scramble to see what everyone’s fortune was, and the deck ended up in several piles, and no one knew whose cards were whose, and one of the larger blokes accused Zeke of cheating, which, given the circumstances, seemed to require an inappropriate suspension of disbelief. Jericho glanced down, his head spinning, his binocular vision only able to focus on one thing at a time. He noted briefly that his cards were the Lovers, the seven of Wands, and the Hanged Man before the cards ended up being whisked away. And then everything was a blur of gothic clothing, beer, cobblestones, and taxis, and Jericho had no idea where he was.

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