An excerpt from the new novel (coming October 2013) …
I walked into the crowded bar, barely able to see for the intermittent bright lights and completely unable to hear due to the blaring beat of a song without a melody. The locals were doing that dance where you put your hands in the air and look for all the world like a second grader who is trying to get the teacher’s attention because you really have to go number two. The place smelled like beer, wine, whiskey and something semi-flammable but illegal mixed with sweat and too much body spray.
In other words, it was not a unique bar.
It was also not my kind of bar. I’m not a drinker, but my line of work takes me into a lot of drinking establishments. On a personal level, I prefer the low-key bars—like the one down the street—where the music is a little more laid back and the patrons are so laid back they’re about to fall over even when they’re sober. The kind of place where the lights start out dim and stay that way, except for a few well-placed neon signs that advertise the favorite brands, bands and teams. The problem with those bars, though, is that if you’re an outsider you’re usually spotted within ten seconds of crossing the threshold.
At these loud, boisterous, pushy establishments, a person can sometimes blend in, even an outsider. Part of that is because almost everyone there—at least that night—was an outsider. What few locals were “partying” there were doing so because they either worked there or had sponged off so many locals that they had to hit up people who didn’t know them if they wanted to drink—or partake of anything else.
It was late February, in a ski town, on the penultimate night before the big “Mind-Games Finale” (which, incongruously enough, was going to last all weekend), and every place in town was filled with ski-culture tourists who had come to Toltec Mountain to watch the big snowboarding competition and, maybe, meet some of the participants. While most of the participants that I had met knew how to put down their share of lubricants, their time spent in the middle of a pressing crowd was kept to a minimum by their coaches and handlers—especially if they were expected to perform the next day, when their performance would directly affect the payday of said coaches and handlers.
Still, I took a look around, trying to place the people in that particular bar and discern if any of them needed to be on my radar. Over at the bar—a surprisingly short one for the business it did—I saw Clay “Leadfoot” Headly getting a pitcher refilled with what looked like that green goo they put in glow sticks. Leadfoot was a recent entrant to the world of the “Mind-Games”, having first made his mark in the summer-time sport of mountain bike racing. The word I had was that he could top the podium in the snowboard half-pipe within the next year if his handlers could keep his head on straight. I wasn’t betting on the handlers’ success.
Over by the DJ, one of those people who thought the crowd wanted to hear him grunt along with the vinyl he was massacring, I saw Lena “P.J.s” (“always make sure the ‘s’ is lower-case”) Johnson, women’s ballet ski competitor and rumored girlfriend of “Mind-Games” big-shot Andy Crow. I didn’t see Andy anywhere, which was probably why that kid with the lemon yellow hair felt so comfortable hanging onLenalike that.
And in the center of the room, regaling people who were pretending they could hear his stories. was Pete “Pete” (OK, I had to) Oni, extreme snow-mobiler and resident bad boy of the junior circuit. Pete’s exploits were talked about in whispered tones all up and down theRocky Mountainsand were what kept him on the mountain and flush with sponsors even though his days of leading the pack were long behind him. If there were any other notables in the room, I didn’t see them and even back then I was pretty good at making a surreptitious survey of a room count.
A stoned-out chair-lift operator offered me a high five and exclaimed, “Baaaaattttt!” when I took him up on it. “How’s the P.I.?!?!” This was followed by a couple other people who also greeted me in similar fashion.
I was not exactly supposed to have had a cover, which was good because it had been blown pretty early on in the investigation. I had been peeved at the time, but then had learned that most of the people at the “Mind-Games” seemed to think private detectives were a strange and interesting species and they all wanted to tell me something. Very little of it was of value, but I was trying to sift through it all and see if any of it amounted to anything.
In a way, I had become the father confessor to a lot of people whose lifestyles led me to believe they couldn’t have found a church building from the inside. They all had something they wanted to tell me about the recent accident, or something else they thought was going on, and they all wanted to do it in confidence. Simultaneously, they wanted their friends and supposed admirers to all see that they had something worth telling the private eye—whether they actually did or not.
“You found out who did it?” Stoner John shouted.
“Did what?” I replied with a smile. “Haven’t you heard? It was just a freak accident!” I didn’t really want to say that with an exclamation point, but I had to for it to be heard at all.
“Right, dude!” he shouted back, giving me an overdone wink.
He was distracted by something—perhaps a friend calling out to him or, more likely, just a voice in his head—and was jerked away like a dog on a leash. I wasn’t too disappointed.
A couple more greetings and then I spotted someone I had missed in my initial sweep of the room. She saw me looking her way and rolled her eyes. To anyone watching, she probably appeared annoyed at having been spotted. I knew that look, though, and knew it really meant she was bored out of her mind.
She was hanging out in a corner with a bunch of half-drunk college-age but not-college-material types, several of whom were trying to make some time with her. She was laughing at their jokes and deftly putting off their pawing ways, all the while making it seem like her casual gestures were getting in their way. If they were chagrined, they were either too drunk or too prideful to admit it.
I walked over and a guy with a beet-red mohawk and terminal acne shouted out, “Hey look, it’s the private detective! Come to arrest one of us?”
Everyone at the table laughed and I chuckled along with the joke. Sitting down, I turned to Mohawk and said, “You’re the one they call the ‘Donkey’, right?”
“Yeah, what of it?” he asked insolently.
“I have it on good authority that you’re known in some circles as a mule.”
He mumbled something about needing to be somewhere else and skedaddled. I took the opportunity to slide in next to the girl who had caught my eye. She was wearing the baggy, hip clothing of the grungy snowboard chic set and had pink highlights in her hair that did a good job of catching the flashing lights of the bar. She wore lots of bracelets on one wrist and had a tattoo of a Greek word on the other. “Didn’t I see you on the terrain park this afternoon?” I asked over the din.
“Maybe. You the one who was filming us?”
“Wasn’t me. I hate cameras,” I replied.
She laughed, the laugh going all the way to her eyes—something most of the laughter never did in that room, for anyone—then asked, “You really a detective?”
“Wanna see my badge?”
She laughed again, nudging me in the ribs and then answering a question from someone else at the table. This led into a discussion of the snow conditions, which led into a discussion of the next day’s events, which led into a discussion of other mountain-related topics.
I think. It was hard to hear anything clearly. The answers I gave to the questions that seemed to be directed to me may have been complete nonsense. If so, no one seemed to care. I was thinking I was wasting my time, in more ways than one.
Then, maybe a fruitless hour later, the girl with the neon pink highlights leaned over and asked, “So, finding any big leads, Detective?” She put one hand on my thigh and the other on my chest, acting like the next move might be to reach inside my jacket … or maybe even my pants. If anyone at the table noticed her actions, they didn’t say anything about it. Even the dude sitting on her other side, who had been quite interested in her earlier, seemed to have lost that interest in favor of the dark-skinned woman to his right.
“You never know,” I answered. “There’s still some people I’d like to interrogate, though.”
“Is that a really cheesy pickup line?” she chided with another laugh.
“Maybe? Did it work?” I asked, getting a chuckle from several people at the table.
Then, leaning in close, she whispered something in my ear, punctuated by a lascivious wink to the rest of the table.
“Wanna go somewhere else and,” I asked, “Um … you finish that sentence.”
“Sounds like fun,” she told me, bumping me out of the booth with her hip and then standing up to follow me. Turning to the table, she told them with a lascivious smile, “I’m going to go get interrogated.”
The girls at the table “whooped” and the guys—who had still been hitting on her in a desultory manner even after I moved in close—looked disappointed. Still, she took my arm—more than my hand, more like she was hanging on me to steady herself—and let me lead her out of the bar, after she’d slid into her coat. We made our way through the maddening crowd and over towards the door.
Not out the door. That had been my goal, but the press of people coming in was making it too hard to swim upstream. I turned to say something to the girl and she threw her arms around my neck and kissed me. I thought I heard a cheer go up from the table we had been sitting at, but it was hard to be sure in the cacophony of The Dive Bar (that really was its name).
I returned the kiss passionately until I sensed a break in the crowd and we fell through it and out the door. Outside, on the snow-covered sidewalks of the frozen mountain town, we stepped out of the rush of the door and fell to kissing again. It wasn’t just to keep our lips warm. It felt really good.
And it helped us stay in character.
Finally, when we had to breathe, we broke off the kiss and—with my mouth near her ear—I said, “I have missed you so much!”
“I’m not sure I like being someone who can be picked up in a bar.”
“You want to go back in?”
“This is just helping to establish our street cred,” I told her, before kissing her again.
She then asked, “How much longer do I have to keep playing Sheila the Boarder Groupie?”