Every time I arrive at Barry’s office, I notice something new.
I’d long since stopped asking him why his office is a table in the corner of the public bar at the Rising Sun Hotel in Richmond. “Convenient, centrally located with a well-stocked bar.” The well-stocked bar consisted of three different sized beer glasses with the vague possibility of a bottle of scotch, Most likely Black and White, and in recent times, “just in case one of these jokers brings his missus in here,” there is a bottle of Pimms.
I’ve had all the necessary inoculations, but even so, I’ve never chanced my luck by having a drink at the bar.
“Get ya a drink girly?” was Barry’s opening line, as I arrived for our meeting. The neatly typed pages were folded into my handbag, and the public bar looked different. The familiar smells were the same — stale beer and a not unpleasant aroma of very old dust — a strong memory trigger from my childhood, fetching my dad from the pub so he could have his dinner — my private moments with the most important man in my life.
On certain days, you can taste the dust, but it is never visible. For visibility there would need to be sunlight and sunlight never penetrates this dingy room.
On this day, the room was bright — almost festive.
“What’s with the bright lights?” I said as I waved off Barry’s lethal offer of a drink.
“Boris and the staff are getting ready for the celebration. You need light to celebrate and to clean up a bit in order to celebrate,” said Barry with an air certainty.
“This place has staff?” I asked.
“You don’t think that Boris does everything on his own, do ya?” said Barry.
I glanced at Boris wiping the bar. He had one eye almost closed, and I resisted the urge to dig deeper into the complex running of the Public Bar at the Rising Sun Hotel.
“What’s the occasion, why the celebration?” I said.
“Ancient Ivan is getting out tomorrow. It’s going to be a hell of a welcome home party. Of course, most of Ivan’s contemporaries have carked it, but all the young ones will be there. Ivan’s a fuckin’ legend. He pretty much ran this town even after they banged him up. Tiny little bloke — knew everyone — had something on everyone, including me. Not a bloke to be messed with — fuckin’ legend,” said Barry with the sort of enthusiasm he reserved for attacking a beef roll with extra mustard.
“Be sure to give him my best wishes,” I said.
“Wouldn’t do any good. He doesn’t know who you are and let’s keep it that way, besides, the bugger’s deaf as,” said Barry.
“Jesus Barry, is that what I think it is?” I said. Our conversation had taken place with me in a standing position as I scanned the room for the signs of the aforementioned improvements. I’d given up due to lack of evidence and was about to take a seat at Barry’s table. I reached for a chair — the room was populated by a large collection of identical wooden chairs, all in various stages of decomposition. The chair I reached for had a bullet hole in the back of the seat — just about where a person’s heart would be. I’d assumed that everything stayed the same in this mysterious room, but not so. I’ve sat at Barry’s favourite table many times, and I haven’t noticed this chair before.
“Boris rotates the chairs every now and then — not mine but. My bum is nice and comfy in this chair. People tend to sit at the same tables, and the chairs start to come apart, so Boris rotates them. Gets a longer life out of a set of chairs that way. Bright boy, that Boris. Just like rotating the tyres on your car,” said Barry and I shot a look at Boris who was still rubbing the same spot on the bar — one eye was now completely closed. “That chair could tell a story or two,” said Barry.
“How long have these chairs been here?” I asked.
“Bloody long time,” said Barry.
“And that bullet hole?” I said.
“Interesting story that,” said Barry and I winced. Barry’s stories are often hair-raising and a tad too graphic for my tender sensibilities.
Barry launched into an exciting tale of gunplay, jealousy and sudden death.
“He got his revolver out and squeezed off a couple of rounds, but it was mostly muscle memory. He was fucked the moment the bullet hit him. Shouldn’t have been giving the big bloke’s missus one behind his back. We don’t normally allow gun play in here — it tends to attract the chaps in blue — but everyone understands affairs of the heart. We banned the big bloke from the Public Bar for a year, and it broke his heart. All that was years ago now. No one has been shot in here since. A few blokes have waved their shooters around a bit, but nothing serious,” said Barry.
“Was anyone else hurt while all this was going on?” I asked.
“Na, the bullets lodged in the wall over there. Holes are still there — bullets as well. We stuck that painting over them before the cops arrived. We told them he shot himself, being all broken hearted and stuff. I don’t think they bought it, but apart from the usual hassle, we didn’t hear any more about it. Case is still open but. Coroner brought in an open finding, so it is just hanging there waiting to drop on some poor bugger who the cops don’t like, just like that sword thing,” said Barry.
“Damocles,” I said.
“Yeah, that bloke,” said Barry.
“Not exactly the same thing, but what would I know?” I said.
I produced the typed pages, and Barry read them carefully.
“Bloody hell. How did you get her to tell you all this?” said Barry.
“I have charms you know nothing about,” I said, feeling very pleased with myself. I recognised the opportunity, acted on it, formulated a plan and carried it out. I’m not sure it gets much better than this.
“I’ve got a feeling that there will be more, but the stuff in there should do the trick,” I said with the air of someone who had done this type of thing all their lives.
My grandmother flashed into my mind, and I imagined her behind enemy lines, making instant decisions and risking her life.
Barry ordered another beer and tried once again to tempt me. “We should celebrate. I could get him to make you a sheila’s drink?” said Barry.
“No thanks Barry, I’m driving,” I said.
I stood up and my finger traced around the bullet hole in the back of the chair, and I tried to imagine the scene on that night. I must have been standing there for a while because Barry said, “Are you, alright kid?”
“Right as rain,” I said, gathering up my handbag.
The drive home left me time to think, and even the idiot who drove right up behind me most of the way could not dampen my high. Susan Smith, industrial spy. I would love to read that on a business card. I’d like to hand it to some would be Casanova who tried to chat me up at one of my husband’s work parties — it isn’t going to happen, but a girl can dream.