I had only ducked into the bar for a pint and some peace and quiet. Not only was there a pub quiz on, screwing my plans for peace, but as my Guinness settled I spied a new bottle on a shelf behind the bar. I clocked it as Four Roses bourbon, which I have never tried before.
‘Barkeep!’ I yelled. ‘Four fingers of Four Roses, please.’
‘We use measures here Ian, you know that,’ he said.
‘How many fingers in a measure?’
‘I don’t know. About one and half.’
‘Of course, depends on the fatness of one’s fingers, I suppose. So one and half fingers per measure… four divided by one and half… the fractions always get me… the number you’re diving by, turn upside down and multiply… hmmm… eleven? Jesus that can’t be right.’
‘How about you start with one and if you like it you can make the next one a double,’ said the barman, eyeing the queue that was forming behind me.
‘Good thinking,’ I said, and he poured me one. It was delicious, if you were wondering. Not the best bourbon I have ever had, but then I am a connoisseur. Or ‘fuckin wanker’, as they say in Belfast.
‘It’s about time,’ said one of the punters behind me. ‘I just missed the Strictly Come Dancing question.’
‘My apologies sir,’ I said, supping my whiskey. ‘Have them repeat it and I will give you the answer.’
‘You don’t look like a Strictly fan,’ he said.
‘But why wouldn’t I be. Strictly features a veritable feast of the most exotic women on television. They have names like Katya, Flavia and Aliona, and they are all leg. Not only that but you get the best of both worlds – all sweaty in tank tops and shorts while they’re practising, and all dolled up in nothing but two well-placed straps and a pair of satin knickers when they perform. It’s a work of fucking genius.’ The queue of thirsty people just stared at me, apparently awed by my cinematic speech.
‘Fuckin wanker,’ someone muttered.
‘Connoisseur!’ I corrected, but my attention was immediately diverted by the sight of the barmaid, pulling a pint. ‘Exotic as they are though,’ I said, leaning on the bar and giving her my best Roger Sterling smile, ‘they can’t quite match the staff in here.’ My line fell on the wrong side of sleazy though, and she just looked away. I drained my glass.
Many drinks later I motioned for the barman. The barmaid had successfully ignored my every attempt at eye-contact, thereby avoiding serving me.
‘I need more whiskey,’ I said.
‘How much this time?’
‘Hell, a whole bouquet!’
‘How much is that?’ he asked.
‘Hmm, how many fours in a bouquet? Jesus I must be drunk.’ Rather than wait for me to work it out he just gave me a single and took my money. The barmaid was at the tap right in front of me.
‘Listen!’ I yelled so loud she couldn’t hope to ignore me. ‘Your aloofness is understandable, and it compliments your beauty perfectly, but you are breaking my goddamn heart!’ My words – always my strongest asset – broke through the wall my drunken debauchery had built between us, and I swear it, we had a fucking moment. ‘When do you finish?’ I asked.
‘Ten minutes,’ she said. Which was lucky because I had drank all my money, and I am not sure how much longer I could have stretched this part of the story.
After her shift she met me outside. She had changed out of her sweaty tank top, let her hair down, and she was now fully made up, wearing a beautiful dress, which I felt was impractical but lovely nonetheless. I told her as much, and she smiled.
‘Let me show you something,’ I said.
The Bandwidth building.
We crept in through the front door and sprinted across the lobby to the elevator, the fat Mexican security guard giving chase as best he could. The damn lift was out of order so, giggling with the naughtiness of it all, we headed for the stairs and ran up a full five flights, well ahead of the guard. At the fifth floor I guided her to Will’s office, where we hid until we were sure the guard had given up looking.
‘Why are we here?’ she asked.
‘You’ll see,’ I said, and went to the floor-to-ceiling window. I pulled open the blinds, revealing the most spectacular view in all of Belfast. I know this because next to the window is a brass plaque which reads ‘The most spectacular view in all of Belfast.’ The city was beautifully illuminated and the cloudless sky impossibly full of stars. She came over to stand next to me and took my hand as we gazed out the window at the city. We had another moment. At around 2am, when the streets started to fill with boking students, we decided to call it a night. We went back to the stairs, but couldn’t open the door. The security guard had had a heart attack from the exertion and fallen down behind the door, sealing us in. The lift, of course, was still out of order.
‘It looks like we will have to stay the night,’ I said, and we went back to Will’s office.
‘I’m cold,’ she said, wrapping her arms around herself. I reminded her that I had warned her about the impracticality of her attire, but re-assured her that I would take care of it.
‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘I’ve seen like four episodes of Bear Grylls.’ I started kicking at the legs of Will’s desk until I splintered a couple of them off. I built them up into a little pile and tried to set fire to them, wondering why they wouldn’t catch. Then I remembered that Will’s desk is not made of wood, but of the bones of several notorious South American dictators. He claims their spirits live on, enriching him with what he calls his ‘death stare’, or ‘olhar mortal’.
‘I’m sorry, this isn’t going to work,’ I said. ‘We’ll have to find some other way to keep warm.’
‘Like what?’ she said.
‘Well if there was a camel carcass here I could hollow it out, but there isn’t…’
‘What else can we do?’ she asked.
The following morning.
The cleaners found the dead security guard on the stairs, then me, sleeping naked on Will’s smashed-up desk, clutching one of his sofa cushions to my chest. The carpet was charred and littered with shards of bone, and next to me on the floor was an empty Four Roses bottle, and Will’s coffee cup, half-filled with urine.
The damage to the office has subsequently been blamed on the security guard, since he was Mexican, and he was dead anyway.