Chapter 24

Vince, Mary, and Camille found the wait to get into Six-Shooter long, but quick-moving. Say what you will about college bars, the bouncers understand that every moment the customers spend standing in line is time not spent hurling alcoholic beverages down their throats. Once they reached the front, a large man in a dark t-shirt examined their I.D.’s, then directed Vince to the closest register to pay cover. This led to a slight bit of confusion while Mary had to explain to her friend why girls weren’t charged for entry at places like this. Once Vince got the concept, he forked over his five dollars and all three received wrist bands.

Camille’s first thought upon entering the club was that the insulation in the front area must be fantastic, because the waves of sound hadn’t been this powerful before they crossed through. Then she realized she was standing next to the speaker, and found that with a little distance the music dimmed to where conversation was possible. Unlike the club they went to freshman year, this was a place where talking while dancing was an option, though what implications that carried she couldn’t really guess. Instead she focused on staying close to Vince and Mary while they navigated the sea of bodies in desperate search of a place to sit and set-up shop. Despite their roving eyes, the trio was found by someone else before they could spot their friends.

“Hey there!” Angela greeted, clapping a hand on Mary and Camille’s shoulders. “I didn’t expect to see you three tonight.”

“Roy and Alice are starting, aren’t they?” Mary asked politely.

“They sure are. Come on, let me get you to a table and then I’ll let them know you’re here.” Angela’s ability to part crowds wasn’t dulled by even this hectic environment, the forms of fellow college students moving away instinctively at her approach. Camille would have given quite a bit to be able to pull off such a trick; however she suspected it required something she knew deep down that she didn’t possess. Angela exuded confidence, just as she always had, and the rest of the world seemed to pick up on that.

After a brief walk Angela deposited them at a high-top table with four stools, then made her own way back into the crowd, assuring them she’d fetch their friends for them.

“I didn’t know she worked here,” Vince said once their escort had departed.

“Alice mentioned it,” Mary replied. “Evidently she’s a shot girl, and very good at it.”

“What’s a shot girl?” Vince asked.

Mary weighed how much to tell him. Sometimes explaining things to Vince could lead down a rabbit’s hole of questions, revealing how little he knew of the outside world. She decided to keep it simple and hope he just accepted what he was told.

“A shot girl is someone whose specific job is to walk around giving people shots of liquor,” Mary explained. “Since shots are in high demand, it lets the waitresses and bartenders focus on cocktails while still giving the customers what they want.”

“Like how ranged combat and close combat specialists can work in tandem to maximize the effectiveness of their attacks,” Camille chimed in.

“Oh, well that makes sense.”

Mary said a prayer of thanks that Camille had tagged along, then turned her attention to the club that surrounded them. Normally she kept her telepathy suppressed in places like this; the swell of voices weren’t so bad, however the loud music made it nearly impossible to hear anything useful. Professor Stone had been on her about pushing her limits though, so while there was downtime she decided to do a little mental eavesdropping.

At first it was just what she was used to: the cacophony of voices mixed together with the blasting bass scrambled everything into a garbled mess. Mary took some deep breaths and sharpened her focus. She sifted through the thoughts like a prospector scanning for gold. It was slow going, however bit by bit she began finding patterns and putting together cohesive thoughts.

The young man two tables over was trying to work up the courage to ask a redhead at the bar to dance.

Two girls in the corner were wondering if their friend was drunk and needed to get hauled off the dance floor.

A bartender near the front was wondering what the odds were of being able to bang that new blonde shot girl.

Mary pulled away from that last thought; she’d gotten a bit of his sentiment along with the words in his head, and it wasn’t a feeling she much cared for. Sexual attraction was nothing new to Mary, she’d overheard that sort of thing many times a day. There was a feeling to this that disturbed her, though. Something unpleasant in the way the intentions were strung together. Given that Alice was blonde, new, and looked like she did, it seemed a fair bet that she was the shot girl in question. Mary made a note to give her friend fair warning not to accept dinner invitations from that guy.

She’d nearly completely gotten her telepathy turned off again when a nearby thought grabbed her attention. It was an impulse of attraction, but this one without the creepy taint of the bartender eyeing Alice. This thought was admiring how cute the short girl with the pale hair sitting at the nearby table was. It wondered whether the muscly guy with the silver hair was her boyfriend, or maybe he was with the girl with the mousey brown hair who was making weird faces.

The last part of that made Mary very conscious of her own expression, she’d probably let more show than she should have. As nonchalantly as possible, she turned around and looked off toward one of the bars, like she was searching for someone. Instead she allowed her peripheral vision to find the mind she’d been listening to. He was cute, she had to give him that. Dark hair, nice blue plaid shirt, lean frame that would have passed as fit outside of HCP standards. The other men around him were similarly attired, and they all seemed to be talking and laughing and having a good time.

An idea formed instantly

“Hey Camille,” Mary said, turning back around. “Looks like someone has an admirer.”

“I do?”

“Yup. That guy over my left shoulder thinks you’re cute. He can barely take his eyes off you.”