Blades & Barriers: Chapter 63

                While he’d never been a big fan of partying or drinking, as one might imagine from a person competing in a physically demanding program, Brett had still spent four years trying to sell the cover of a normal college student, so he’d been to more than a few bars in his time. From the outside, “Take a Cue” seemed like many of the ones he’d spent time in during college, setting his nerves at ease. Sure, the music from one side of the building was louder, which seemed odd, but through the windows he could see people milling around pool tables with drinks in hand, shooting the shit along with the billiards. It shouldn’t have been all that surprising, this was supposed to be a normal night off for bonding, but somehow he’d built it up in his head that Justin and Angela would pick some weird place with swings on the ceilings or people in full costumes.

                “I have to say, looks like a fun choice,” Brett admitted. “From the noise, I’m guessing there’s a dance floor on the other side of the pool hall?”

                “Got it in one shot.” Angela slapped him on the back in what he took to be a gesture of congratulations. “Justin wanted somewhere that seedy types might hang out in case there was any underworld gossip to eavesdrop on, but that risked us getting into a fight if someone decided we looked like easy pickings, so instead we chose a spot that was respectable with slight seedy undertones. I wanted to dance, he wanted something to amuse himself with, so this was a good option, and we were on the same page about wanting a gay bar from the start. It was this or a joint that’s part EDM club and part arcade, but you get more bang for your buck on a game of pool. Also, I’m not going to be able to get anywhere near fucked-up enough to like EDM tonight.”

                There was a lot to unpack in her explanation, not the least of which was that Justin was the one who had wanted to take them somewhere more dangerous and Angela had apparently been the voice of reason. That fact alone made Brett feel the strong urge to have a drink in his hand. But there was one matter that seemed important to clarify first, especially since the point of tonight was to get to know each other better.

                “Why a gay bar? I thought you had a boyfriend.”

                “They play better music and I don’t have to deal with scummy dudes trying to hit on me the whole time,” Angela explained.

                Justin gave an eye-roll that was practice to perfection. “Glad to see your ego is just as strong in normal situations. And while I can tell you were trying to be polite about how you asked, I voted for this place because I actually am gay. If you’re keeping track on the bingo card, that’s gay, Jewish, and short enough to seem like an easy target. High school was just a barrel of fun.”

                He put a hand on each of their necks and started leading them forward, toward the front where a guy most would have considered burly, if they didn’t have HCP standards, was checking the I.D. of every would-be patron. “That’s all in the past though, let’s put an eye toward the future of our little team.  How about we start with something simple: what does everyone like to drink? I’ll make a run to the bar for our first round while you two grab us a table.”

                “Let’s do a vodka and soda to start the night,” Angela said. “And why am I on table duty?”

                “Because you’ll browbeat, flirt, or threaten as needed until you’ve gotten us one.” There wasn’t so much as a flicker of a pause between the question and the answer, as though Justin had been expecting and ready for it the whole time.

                “Well, you hit that right on the nose.” Angela jerked a thumb over at Brett. “He’s good backup too. Looks tough enough that I can make my moves without anything actually getting physical. Just don’t talk, Brett, and we’ll be playing in no time.”

                “Thank… you?” Brett genuinely had lost track of whether or not she’d paid him a compliment or an insult, and he didn’t feel especially motivated to puzzle it out. “And a beer is fine for me, Justin. Whatever they have that’s on draft and dark.”

                The talk had to pause as they reached the bouncer, who took a look at each driver’s license handed to him and examined it like CSI going over a crime scene. Finally he handed all three back and motioned for them to go inside the bar.

                It was an interesting set-up: the building was split into three distinct spaces, the smallest of which was the bar itself. This served as little more than a filling station, where people could freshen their drinks or go around a corner to the bathrooms. On the right were a large number of pool tables with cues lining the walls, and when briefly opened the doors on the left revealed a number of bodies packed into a dance floor with flashing lights. The crowd wasn’t huge yet, but it was also still early in the evening. While team building was all well and good, they did have work to do in the morning. Couldn’t risk being too tired or having a hangover.

                “So a vodka with soda and a dark beer on draft. For future reference, my drink of choice is a screwdriver. Keep that in mind when it’s time for the next round.” With that, Justin peeled off; making his way through the crush of people already trying to get served. Despite his smaller stature, or perhaps because of it, he slid easily through the crowd, arriving at the bar in moments.

                Angela grabbed Brett by the shoulder, dragging him toward the pool hall. “Come on, I see a few games on the verge of wrapping up. If we slide in quick, we might be able to jump on their table when they peel off. Or play them for control, if this place runs on pride and ego like most pool joints.”

                “I hope you’re great at pool if that’s your plan, because I’ve barely played ten games through the course of college,” Brett said.

                “I’m decent, sometimes good when I’m in the zone, but we’ve got an advantage those people don’t.” Angela gave Brett an exaggerated wink that he dearly hoped was not her version of attempting to be subtle. “See, we haven’t been drinking yet. One of these tables is already deep into the sauce, so if it comes to a challenge we just have to find them and play smart. Worst case scenario, we stake a claim and hold out until Justin gets back. I’ve got a strong hunch that he wouldn’t have signed off on a place like this unless it gave him room to impress. Let’s start with diplomacy first, though.”

                Now that was something he hadn’t expected to hear come out of Angela’s mouth. She wasn’t exactly reckless in the field, in fact she always seemed to be aware of the situation and in control of her strategy, but diplomacy didn’t spring to mind as her first strategy. Although he hadn’t said anything at the base, Brett hadn’t been entirely sure that this was really the best way to spend their evening. They were barely in the door and he was learning more about his teammates though, just the shift in their surroundings had given them a chance to show different parts of themselves. Maybe it was good that they were getting this time before the trip.

                There were sure to be enough surprises waiting for them in United Avalon, the last thing they needed were any from their own team.