Previous instalments can be found at Tempting Fate: Part One, Tempting Fate: Part Two, Tempting Fate: Part Three, Tempting Fate: Part Four, Tempting Fate: Part Five, Tempting Fate: Part Six, Tempting Fate: Part Seven and Tempting Fate: Part Eight. thanks as always to drmegsorick.com for advice and support.
Max returned with the drinks and slid in beside Margot. ‘Cheers,’ he said, as they touched glasses and then promptly drained them. He was back at the bar within minutes, not even having time to finish smoking one cigarette. Boy, he was in the mood, now. The second dose was unfurling within his cells like a flower opening up to receive the first rays of the morning sun. This promised to be a hell of a night, indeed. Never before had he felt so clear-headed, so sharp and so aware. Preternaturally aware, in fact, of everything that was going to happen before it actually happened. He was a god surveying the world from the majestic heights of Mount Olympus.
After the fourth (or maybe fifth) drink, Margot decided that, even though still early —night had just fallen— it was time they made their way to Kubla Khan’s. Another drink at the bar would while away the time.
‘Great, I just need to head to the jacks before we go,’ Max said, standing.
‘Work away. I’ll meet you in the lobby.’
Everything in the toilet —the urinals, the cubicles, the porcelain sink— was a vivid, startling shade of ultramarine. Was it the lighting? Or maybe the drugs?
After pissing in the bright blue urinal and washing his hands at the equally dazzling sink, Max thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to splash a little water on his face and freshen up his appearance, though he already felt better than fine. As he reached for the paper towels to dry his face, he checked himself in the mirror. He studied his reflection in the mirror and found everything to be just right until, as he was about to walk away, he noticed a splash of red appear on the left hand side. ‘God, what was this now?’ Max thought. Hadn’t he learnt his lesson? You should never look in the mirror when you are completely fucking out of it.
The red splash on the facing cubicle door gradually coalesced into a blob which then separated into letters that read out ᗡAƎᗡ ᖷᖷO ЯƎTTƎᙠ TИUƆ What? Of course it was reversed in the mirror and after a moment’s thought Max realised it read CUNT BETTER OFF DEAD.
He spun on his heels to look at the defaced cubicle, but found it pristine and glowing banally blue. Yet, when he returned his gaze to the mirror, the obscene message was still there. It didn’t even make any sense. Was it in some way directed at him? Did someone feel that he would be better off dead? Or was it meant to be a vicious insult, an expression of violent, misogynistic rage aimed randomly or directed at women in general?
While Max pivoted back and forth to stare at the blank cubicle and the mirror with its message, someone emerged from the corner of the toilet. Where the fuck did this joker come from? Had he been there the whole time? Had he silently witnessed the strange behaviour which could only be construed as the actions of a madman? Time to get out of this cursed bathroom and get some clean, fresh air.
The man stood next to him, sighed and turned on the tap. He washed his hands and as he was drying them said, ‘Howrye? You seem slightly distracted my friend, however not to worry, it’s nothing a little bump wouldn’t sort out in a hurry. I trust you partake?’
Max gaped at him, perplexed. He seemed to be in his late forties or thereabouts. What was this? A mad, fucking, Irish queen?
‘?’ Max silently queried.
‘Ahhh, I think you have misconstrued me my friend. No, I mean a little something something, you know?’ he said, pulling out a small clear plastic bag containing a pure white powder. He then proceeded to carefully pour it out onto the space between the index finger and thumb of his clenched left fist. Holding it toward Max’s face, he went on, ‘Trust me. I mean you and your lovely lady friend —my, isn’t she just peachy creamy— no harm whatsoever. Go on, what currently offends your eyes will disappear without a trace after you have tried a taste.’
This was getting stranger by the second. He knew about Margot? How? He knew Max was seeing things? Was his state of mind that obvious? And why the hell did everyone Max met today want to give him drugs?
‘Thanks,’ Max said, bending down to inhale the substance. In for a penny, in for a pound after all.
‘My pleasure. See, isn’t that better?’
Max dusted his nose and hardly daring to look, glanced at the left-hand corner of the mirror. The red lettering was gone. Thank God.
‘It most certainly is. Thanks. Ummm, do I owe you anything for that?’ Max asked, starting to grin. He just couldn’t help himself.
‘Not at all. I was just helping someone who was obviously in need. What terrible reprobate and general scoundrel wouldn’t do the same? Ask anyone in Carlingford in the Wee County what kind of man is Matthew Flynn Flaherty O’Neill and they will say without exception that he is a good man, a kind man.’
‘I am sure they would. So how did you end up here?’ Max asked as he buried his face under the running tap.
‘Ahhh well, you know, it’s a beautiful corner of God’s earth, but with The Troubles and it being not only in Ireland but in Ra-Ra-Land, a poor soul like me just cannot enjoy himself. So I came over here and now I am the Night-Watchman. Such is life,’ he said and sighed.
‘Well, thanks again. I am in your debt.’
‘Not at all. In fact, please give this to your delightful lady friend with my compliments,’ he said and handed over another small bag full to the brim with white powder.
‘Cheers, mate,’ Max said, quickly walking out of the bathroom before the Irishman sprung the catch on him and headed towards the hotel lobby.
Margot was sitting on one of the lobby’s angular leather sofas. When Max reached her, she said, ‘Christ, you certainly took your time. My God, you are positively glowing! What on earth were you doing in there?’
‘It’s a long story. However, somebody give me a gift for you,’ Max said and passed over the packet.
Margot looked down briefly before closing her palm.
‘Who gave you this?’ she asked.
‘Some crazy Irishman, said he was the Night-Watchman. I dunno. But it’s good, I can testify to that.’
‘Well, I suppose I better go to the powder room then,’ Margot said, rising. ‘By the way, I booked us a room for the night, just in case we miss the last train.’
Max tried to prevent his already wide grin from growing wider but his attempt was doomed to fail. ‘Really? Good idea, Batman.’
‘You needn’t be getting any ideas, Max. Now, wipe that stupid grin off your face and all. It’s merely a precaution.’
‘I won’t be long. Sit tight.’
‘I’m going nowhere. Hurry up, though.’
‘Will do,’ she said, sauntering off across the lobby. Max followed the switch of her hips for as long as she was within sight.
Happy, happy fucking, happy days.
Margot was as good as her word and soon came out. As they left the hotel, Max couldn’t suppress the anticipation he felt inside that soon enough —this very night— they would be back.
There were several taxis waiting. They got in the one at the top of the queue. Their driver was a heavy looking fellow with a bull’s neck wearing a fluorescent-pink polo shirt.
‘Where to?’ he asked in a thick Birmingham accent.
‘To Kubla Khan’s please,’ Margot replied.
He shook his head vigorously. ’Sorry about this, but you two lovebirds can hop right out again and get into the next taxi in the line, because there is no way I am going anywhere near that place. It’s in a fucking shit-hole of a neighbourhood and what with the canals and flyovers it will ruin my vehicle. Go on then, run along.’
Max was stunned. How could he refuse to take them? And more importantly, what kind of place was Margot taking him to?
Margot, however, didn’t skip a beat. Smiling sweetly, Margot merely leaned over and whispered into the taxi driver’s ear. Max couldn’t overhear a single word, but whatever she said did the trick. Looking visibly paler beneath his sun-bed tan, the driver turned the key in the ignition and pulled away from the curb.
Max marveled. What kind of power did Margot wield that she could, with a few words, coerce this taciturn bully of a man into taking them someplace he had moments earlier refused to go? His attitude had been so transformed that he even attempted to make conversation, albeit the usual taxi driver drivel about Birmingham having more canals than Venice and such-like. Did they know that? No, and neither did they care.
He was right about the location, as well. Beneath a gigantic flyover, they crossed a pot-holed bridge that was the only access to the disused warehouse that had been converted, complete with a fake pagoda facade, into Kubla Khan’s.
The driver stopped the taxi in front of the entrance to let them out, but drove off without asking for any money. Weird. Had he muttered something about some cunts being better off dead? Or was Max just being paranoid? Hearing things that were just an echo of his earlier hallucination? Whatever the case, Margot must have really done a number on the driver. He wanted to ask her what she had said to him, but in this instance maybe ignorance was bliss. Maybe. Probably. Almost definitely so.
Margot took his hand as they walked though the muddy wasteland, stepping over craters overflowing with rusty water and averting their eyes from the homeless people who huddled over garbage can fires and found shelter beneath the herculean legs of the flyover.
So finally, Max thought, we have reached our destination. Everybody who is anybody is in the place. Well, it seems as though the night is just starting but the games have already begun.