Long Lost Page 25

But I was wrong.

We pushed open the door, and it was like walking into a past dimension. Madness\'s classic hit ’’Our House’’ poured out onto the streets along with two couples, both with their arms around each other, more to keep themselves upright than out of affection. The smell of sizzling sausage wafted through the air. The floor was sticky. The place was loud and jammed and clearly whatever no-smoking law had taken effect in this country had not stretched down into this alley. I bet few laws had.

The place was New Wave, which was to say Old Wave, and proud of it. A large-screen TV showed a petulant Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club. The waitresses maneuvered through the boisterous crowd clad in black dresses, bright lipstick, slicked-back hair, and nearly Kabuki whiteface. Guitars hung from around their necks. They were supposed to look like the models in that Robert Palmer ’’Addicted to Love’’ video except, well, they were rather, uh, more mature and less attractive. Like the video had been remade with the cast of The Golden Girls.

Madness finished telling us about their house in the middle of the street, and Bananarama came on offering to be our Venus, our fire at our desire.

Win gave me a little jab. ’’The word \'Venus.\' ’’

’’What?’’ I shouted.

’’When I was young,’’ Win said, ’’I thought they were singing, \'I\'m your pen**.\' It confused me.’’

’’Thanks for sharing.’’

The trappings might have been eighties New Wave, but this was still a working-class bar, where hardy men and seen-too-much women came after a full day of labor and damned if it wasn\'t deserved. You couldn\'t fake belonging here. I might be wearing jeans, but I still didn\'t come close to fitting in. Win, however, stuck out like a Twinkie at a health club.

Patrons some wearing shoulder pads and thin leather ties and Terax in their hair glared daggers at Win. It was how it always was. We know about the obvious prejudices and stereotypes and Win would be the last to ask for sympathy, but people saw him and hated him. We judge by looks that\'s no surprise. People saw undeserved privilege in Win. They wanted to hurt him. It had been that way his whole life. Even I don\'t know the full story Win\'s ’’origin,’’ to use superhero lexicon but one of those childhood beatings broke him. He didn\'t want to be afraid anymore. Not ever. So he used his finances and his natural gifts and spent years developing his skills. By the time we met in college, he was already a lethal weapon.

Win walked through the glares with a smile and a nod. The pub was old and run-down, and it looked almost fake, which only made it feel more authentic. The women were big and chesty with rat-nest hair. Many wore those off-one-shoulder Flashdance sweatshirts. One eyed Win. She had several missing teeth. There were little ribbons in her hair that seemed to add nothing, àla ’’Starlight’’-era Madonna, and her makeup looked as though it\'d been applied with paintball pellets in a dark closet.

’’Well, well,’’ she said to Win. ’’Ain\'t you pretty?’’

’’Yes,’’ Win said. ’’Yes, I am.’’

The bartender nodded at us as we approached. He wore a FRANKIE SAY RELAX T-shirt.

’’Two beers,’’ I said.

Win shook his head. ’’He means two pints of lager.’’

Again with the terminology.

I asked for Nigel Manderson. The bartender didn\'t blink. I knew this was useless. I turned and shouted out, ’’Which one of you is Nigel Manderson?’’

A man wearing a baroque ruffled white shirt with squared-off shoulders raised his glass. He looked like he\'d just walked out of a Spandau Ballet video. ’’Cheers, mate.’’

The slurred voice came from down at the end of the bar. Manderson had his hands around his drink as though it were a baby bird that had fallen out of a nest and needed protection. His eyes were rheumy. He had one of those spider veins on his nose, though it looked as if someone had stepped on the spider and squashed it.

’’Nice place,’’ I said.

’’Ain\'t it just the maddest? It\'s a little rough diamond to remind me of the better times. So, now who the hell are you?’’

I introduced myself and asked him if he recalled a fatal car accident from ten years ago. I mentioned Terese Collins. He interrupted me midway through.

’’I don\'t remember,’’ he said.

’’She was a famous anchorwoman. Her child died in the accident. She was seven years old.’’

’’I still don\'t remember.’’

’’Did you have a lot of cases where seven-year-old girls ended up dead?’’

He turned on his stool to face me. ’’You calling me a liar?’’

I know his accent was legit, the real deal, but it sounded to my tin ear like kon*** Van Dyke\'s in Mary Poppins. I half expected him to call me guv\'nor.

I told him the intersection where the accident occurred and the make of her car. I heard a waa-waa sound and glanced to my left. Someone was playing a game of Space Invaders on an arcade machine.

’’I\'m retired,’’ he said.

I kept at him patiently repeating all the details I knew. The TV screen was behind him, and I confess that I love the movie The Breakfast Club and it was a little distracting. I don\'t get why I love the movie. The casting had to be a joke ’’a hard-core jock wrestler? How about muscle-free Emilio Estevez? A convincing tough school punk? How about Judd Nelson?’’ I mean, Judd Nelson. Who came in second place? It would be like, to maintain the Golden Girls analogy, remaking a Marilyn Monroe film with Bea Arthur. And yet Nelson and Estevez worked and the movie worked and I love it and I can say every line.

After a while Nigel Manderson said, ’’Maybe I remember a little.’’

He wasn\'t very convincing. He finished his drink and ordered another. He watched the bartender pour and scooped it up the second it touched the sticky wood in front of him.

I looked at Win. Win\'s face was as usual unreadable.

The woman with the paintball makeup hard to say an age, could have been an easy fifty or a hard twenty-five, and I was counting on the latter said to Win, ’’I live near here.’’

Win gave her the superior gaze that made people hate him. ’’In that alley perhaps?’’

’’No,’’ she said with a big hearty laugh. Win was such a card. ’’I have a basement flat.’’

’’Must be divine,’’ Win said in a voice richly marinated in sarcasm.

’’Oh, it\'s nothing special,’’ Paintball said, not picking up on Win\'s tone. ’’But it\'s got a bed.’’


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