Prelude

Unnoticed by the bartender drinking more than the patrons under a spectral layer of cigarette smoke, the two men lean heavily on the far corner of the bar, their forearms on the shellacked wood, pints in their fists, murder on their lips. 

The patrons, men and women, crowd the green leather chairs and knee-high tables with dim lamps of brass and green glass, and brush against one another and list and shout into ears or backward to laugh or gesture and so thump into other men and women and spill drinks and fag end ashes as the din of drunk conversation defeats a rumor of music.

All these eyes in motion yet none fixes on the two manning the corner of the bar, one shorter than the other and the shorter one with a blue eye and a brown eye breaking off a filter of another cigarette and smoking it down to his yellowed fingertips, most of his weight now on the bar.  He grinds his right hand into a heavy workers fist with chewed nails stained black, lifts the pint of brown to his mouth that releases smoke when he curses in low tones into the froth.

The fokkin police have teh die, he says, they have teh and jews too, fokkin kike bastards ownin everythin and givin nuwthin, it’s all readied mate nah one can stop it if dey tried its gawt fokkin nails and ball bearins and shit and will right do the fokkin job on these English mate it will do the fokkin job alright

And whispering now raises his glass out in front of him and closes his eyes and says to the air, Ireland, his thick fist working like a bloodless heart atop the bar, and the taller of the two who isn’t really tall just taller and thinner than the one with the working fist and odd colored eyes is while he listens fingerpainting scallop shells in the sweat his glass leaves on the wax shiny wood and, raising his empty pint glass, curses its emptiness and makes a big point to step away, and the shorter one says, jeeesus you pissin again mate you need teh get that checked out mate.  But no one else pays heed when the taller staggers one last time across the back of the pub and it’s now shoulders and elbows through clumps of men and women drinkers on his way to the wash room where his hand presses open a wooden door thickly painted green and he thumbs the tarnished metal latch shut behind him and steps to the sink and uses his hand as a cup to force down thrice as much water as he ingests alcohol and sees briefly his wide nose and wider mouth with flat lips and the tangle of black curls and dred locks on his head, and then stitches his way back through the crowd to the Irishman and gestures to him that it’s time to leave.  And still no one pays much mind to how, without a word, they stagger out of the pub or how the taller catches the shorter from falling or how the Irishman’s arm reaches to the empty air for help, or how the door closes behind them.

In the middle of the street now.  Only the two of them, moonlit.  The Irishman stops and sways.  He digs into the frayed openings of his front jean pockets and pulls out a crooked cigarette.  Tears off the filter, tries to light it but fails, and the taller man curses and strokes his lighter and helps, the Irish’s thick hands reaching up and cupping the taller man’s hands that are around the cigarette and the flame, and the blackened pluggy fingers tap lightly when the end is lit.

You’re a good ‘un.  For a Yank.  You’re alright for a Yank you are.  You get it, don’t’chya.  You get what we’re doin.  You get it.  Don’t’chya.

That’s my job.

The Irishman digs out another cigarette and gives it to the Yank who lights it and the Irishman belches and bends over then stands tall as he can and belches to the sky and holds his right hand out to the American, and they shake and move on into the cool night of London pavement.  They pass low brick facades and eventually enter a neighborhood of neat white homes, and they step through a black iron swinging gate and up several white marble steps worn smooth and drooping at the middle then through a large red unlocked door and into a foyer.  To the left and right are other rooms, their entrances barred by blankets of various designs and colors hanging from thin nylon ropes knotted at nails driven deep and high into opposing walls.  Across from the door, a wide staircase with ballustrade curves up into darkness.  The American listens to the house and hears nothing, and he breathes in deep the smells of hashish tar and of the unwashed and, faintly, of cumin.  Without a pause or a gesture they plod up the staircase, its wood making small creaks in places, and in the meager moonlight the house would allow they come to what once was a large salon but is now a warren of blankets of differing shades and patterns like banners of a dozen armies stretched slipshod over a high web of thin rope clinging from wall to wall, corner to corner, the American no longer staggering and all but carrying in one arm the smaller one who at this moment has no anger just a breath and a pulse and a dead meaty weight like a fallen child soldier fetched across a ruined field and now brushing with purpose past the hanging blankets the American’s boots carefully finding floor between paperback books, newspapers, clothes, shoes, backpacks and pots and pans and water pipes and empty bottles and smoking paper wrappers, and the American’s nostrils taking from all around the sweet acrid hashish tar odor and from somewhere a flashing scent of a clean woman, and now laying the Irish on a cot with his workbooted feet on the floor, and the American now stepping gently away through the clutter and the blankets to the other side of the great salon to a bed roll on the floor and grabbing up a backpack, pulling out a small flashlight and using it to search under the pallet and retrieve a book-sized leather shaving kit and from it carefully pulling gloves and putting them on and arranging atop the pallet a piece of white cloth and on it emptying from the kit a syringe and spoon and lighter and a plastic bag with white powder inside and turning off the flashlight and pausing to let his eyes adjust to the dimness, and returning quietly through the dark salon to the cot behind the blanket where the Irish snores with his booted feet yet on the floor and his breath a stale fume of cigarettes and beer and placing all beside the Irish, then pulling the Irish’s belt from his waist and wrapping it above the Irish’s elbow and placing one end in the Irish’s mouth and using the lighter to liquefy a small heap of white powder in the spoon and filling the syringe with the liquid, finding the median cubital above the thick hairy forearm and plunging the plunger down into it, then wiping all down and smearing and pressing the thick worker fingers on all and placing the syringe in the hand and raising it slightly from the cot and letting it drop, the needle sticking in the cloth of the cot and the hand dangling toward the floor, two gloved fingers now at the neck waiting for the pulse to quicken and slow and disappear, for the breathing to quicken and subside, for the long exhale, the quivering and the urine.

∞∞∞

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