I thought you were a racing man Who: Percy and Jayati What: Percy learns that Jay’s bite is worse than her bark. Sort of. Almost. When: March 9th, 8 p.m. Where:Last Stop
His evening was going by slowly--too slowly. He hadn’t written about anything exciting in what seemed like ages. In fact, his most recent article had been a detailed overview of the events offered at the Cherry Blossom Festival. Sure, it had been a fun afternoon, but Percy wanted a story that was...meatier. Festivals came and went, whereas criminal records stayed with an individual forever.
Unless they were clever or lucky enough to escape their fate.
While he didn’t necessarily consider himself a workaholic, it was possible that browsing the world wide webs after dinner in a lazy search for any strange happenings in Newport Beach might count as working off the clock. In his defense, dinner was finished, his turtle was fed, the dishwasher was noisily taking care of business, and the entire night still stretched before him.
On a whim, he chose a random video recommended to him by the all mighty Youtube. Apparently, a fight had occurred at a nearby bar, and out of drunken delight, it had been filmed and quickly uploaded to the internet. Seeing as how there was nothing wrong with watching a good cage match, Percy loaded the video to watch; when it began to play, he realized why it had been recorded (albeit by someone with a shaky, likely inebriated, hand). Two women were tearing at one another, and neither of them seemed willing to back down. Although the video was not the clearest, Percy could make out that one of them had a rather large tattoo across the back of her shoulders. He leaned closer to his laptop, squinting to try and make out the shape--but with the bad camera handling, it was next to impossible.
The recording stopped right before the fight ended (or must have ended). Percy mulled his thoughts for a few minutes, deciding to input the bar’s location into his phone’s gps app.
He’d never been to the Last Stop before, but there was only one way to find out information about the woman with the blurry tattoo, and it needed to involve the bartender that’d been on the scene. If the woman working the counter hadn’t seen the fight, he’d simply ask her as to who had. Nothing stirred up Baptist fears like tattooed, fighting women, especially if they were involved with...oh, gangs. Hoodlums. Unsavory Californians.
And if he came away with little to no information, he’d at least have a drink for the road.
“Hey there, nice place you’ve got here.” Adopting his most pleasant smile, Percy slid onto a bar stool, pulling a bill out of his wallet. “I’d like a gin and tonic if you’re not too busy.”
Outside, Jayati parked her bike out in the back of the bar in perfect view of two different cameras out of more habit than legitimate concern but out of all the ones she kept out of her previous life this was definitely the least troublesome.
Inside, AJ peered curiously at the newcomer to the bar she had never seen before. The Last Stop was the sort of place that tended to attract regular dedicated sort of customers, as many hole-in-the-wall sorts of places did, so seeing someone who wasn’t a barfly sort was interesting. Especially with that drink order, a mite more classy than their common clientele--if she were being honest. Plus, he was cute.
“Sure, starting a tab?” The words were hardly out of her mouth before she felt the ghost of a touch on her shoulder, her boss’s way of alerting the employees of her proximity. Jayati wore thick, heavy riding boots nearly all the time that appeared to have as much history as their wearer’s scarred and misshapen knuckles, yet still managed to sneak up on everyone as if she were wearing slippers, “Did you get a good nap?”
Jayati nodded at the man, not unfriendly but with the professional sort of non emotive face she used for customers not that it made a difference what her intention was, Jayati had been told her default was ‘Death Ray Eyes’. But she smiled at AJ, “Yeah, thanks, go take your break, I’ll get this, Frida texted and she’ll be here soon so you’re good to relax for a few, send Moe out.” She watched AJ look almost disappointed as she smiled at the man but she listened anyway, passing on his order as she headed towards the back. Jayati turned back to the bar and started to make his drink, sliding it over to him before shucking off her leather riding jacket that held the smell of the road from it’s years of use and got too hot for the bar, revealing her torso with only a tanktop for a moment as she hung the jacket up on a hook and grabbed a light sweater to pull it on over her tightly done french braid.
“So, she didn’t tell me, sorry to ask again, tab or you settled at that?” Even as she spoke to him her eyes and hands were skimming the bottles she could see while facing him, doing an at a glance inventory.
The switch between bartenders was expedient if nothing else, the second woman effectively sending away the first--a supervisor, perhaps? She clearly held herself in an easy, confident manner. Percy watched her movements with a lazy sort of interest, contradictory to the list of questions he wanted to ask once he had the chance.
And then he saw it--the blurry tattoo from the youtube video. It was quickly covered up by a sweater, but it looked nearly the same, albeit far less blurry. A slithering snake wrapped itself around the bartender’s nigh bare shoulders. He didn’t have much information to go from, but he doubted there were an extensive amount of women in this place with the same tattoo. “I’m settled,” he answered, having missed his chance to speak to the first bartender--but clearly, she wasn’t the person he had so recently decided to find. “I don’t want to be too forward, but I noticed your tattoo. Is there a story behind it?” Percy squeezed a lime into his drink, letting the citrus fruit fall into the glass with a quiet splash once it had served its main purpose.
Jayati took a moment to examine him in her peripheral vision after his question, a skill learned when watching potential opponents while their bosses talked while trying not to look like she was scoping someone one. The question that needed answering was if he was just a normal, annoying person or the one there for a purpose.
Either way, she had a good nap and was at her place of business--literally, her’s-- so she didn’t snap at him like she might have on a different day. Because obviously, if she was open to asking questions about it then it would be out in the open wouldn’t it?
So, looking him in the eye and straight faced she rattled off a bit in Mandarin, shrugging her shoulders and shaking her head. It translated, vaguely, to “If you’re writing a book, leave that part out.” Replying in a different language usually worked to make people uncomfortable and send a clear message, even if it wasn’t as fun as violence.
The night was still young, and yet Percy was already receiving a lesson in linguistics. The perks of living in a mixing pot, especially one as varied as California, were not lost on him. However, he definitely didn’t speak East Asian languages.
“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that--I’m only interested in making conversation. You’ve got a pretty nice place here, all things considered. Ever have any issues?” He stirred his drink with a small black straw, calmly waiting for a response.
Bartenders had a certain reputation, a bit like barbers and hair stylists. They were informal counselors who were more down to earth listeners but who still couldn’t tell the person talking to just shut up. It was a thing that she had gotten used to, and to a certain point used it to her advantage. People expected her to listen, and sometimes she did.
Jayati wasn’t sure what ‘all things considered’ was supposed to mean exactly, their location maybe, or perhaps the kind of clientele they attracted. Either way, it felt like a subtle insult, “Water pressure can be a little touch and go, but most people here don’t really care if their glasses are clean so.” She shrugged, curious about what he was actually getting at but willing to let him talk. It wasn’t something she could have done when she was 22, the waiting and the listening, but now she could.
Excellent, she was willing to speak with him in, sadly, the only language Percy had managed to master. Well, mostly. It would seem that if water issues were the only issues coming to the bartender’s mind, she hadn’t actually been the same woman as in the video. And yet she simply had to be. Same bar. Same tattoo. Roughly the same height, if he squinted. “What would life be without decent water pressure? I’ll toast to that ingenious design,” he jested, tossing out the straw from his glass and finally taking a drink from it. Percy glanced around the bar, nothing seeming too out of place. No extensively damaged furniture or floors that he could see, minus the general wear and tear from well-scuffed chairs. Not that the women had been in the process of burning down the entire establishment, but one couldn’t help but look for signs of the obvious.
Speaking of the obvious, he focused again on the bartender. She wasn’t exactly the talkative type, but surely she would be willing to chat with him--he was a patron, after all.
“You know, it’s pretty calm in here.” Percy wore a mask of sycophantic uncertainty, shrugging as if he hadn’t expected to actually see a newborn youtube star in person. “From the looks of things the other night, you’d almost think Fight Club could’ve been filmed here.”
Oh. Oh! He was one of those sorts, that made more sense. They had seen a few here and there since they had opened up, though Jayati and her people tried really hard to keep the violence to a minimum--or at least the filmable bits of violence. But then there was that guy who she threw out for trying to drug a girl’s drink, and then the fight with the racist assholes last week where her and max teamed up, and then one of their wives came up for revenge of all things.
Like she was living in a kung fu movie, or something equally as ridiculous.
Still, at least she knew his type who liked to hang around places they shouldn’t because it was exciting or made them feel ‘alive’ because they were sheltered, naive, or arrogant.
But she didn’t need a flunky, a lackey or hanger on because her busted up hands and scars were cool and danger was sexy, so she dismissed him in her mind like she did everyone else she shoved in that box, “Thanks, everyone’s gotta have a talent.” Whether she was referring to cleanup, or the violence she didn’t clarify, nor did she try and deny what happened, “YouTube or word of mouth then?” Damn her curiosity.
Ah, so she did know. And, by association, the possibility of her and the woman in the video being one and the same increased exponentially.
“Youtube,” he answered easily. “I caught the video tonight, and thought you might be someone worth talking to,” Percy paused, his curiosity having briefly gotten the best of him. He might be getting ahead of himself, but what was the use in giving up so early in the game? “I’m kind of on the lookout for unsavory situations. I write for a living, and if you don’t mind, I’d just like to ask you a few questions. Of course, I won’t link you directly to anything you say.”
The counting of bottles and limes could wait, she paused and gave him her full attention, hands resting on the bar in front of him and eyes narrowed. Behind her, AJ came back from her break with another girl chattering at her side as they went into the fray of the bar that was gradually filling up.
People who asked questions were bad for business, the business she couldn’t help but attract even when she wasn’t trying to. There were a couple in the placeright now in fact, not that this kid needed to know that. She held up her fingers and counted off, “I don’t talk to writers, cops, or car salesmen. Period.” Her fingers drummed on the bar in front of him, and if she were younger and more brash she would have threatened him, pointed out one spot where her knuckles were misshapen and say ‘I broke this when I punched someone who asked too many questions’. But she was out of the game now. Mostly. Sort of. Tried.
That and she didn’t have the Protections she used so, so she just leveled him with a stern look and went back to inventory and glancing around for anyone else her girls weren’t already helping.
“I’m not here to make a profit off your business, Miss,” Percy said calmly. It was clear she didn’t want to talk, but he figured there wasn’t any harm in trying one more time. Arguably, he hadn’t anything better to do at the moment, and as a paying patron, she technically couldn’t oust him from the bar without a good reason. Furthermore, if she did, then she’d definitely be giving him a story worth sharing, even if it only resulted in a short OpEd piece.
“I’m only curious if you know about anything strange happening in this neighborhood lately. Or if you know anyone who does. That’s all.”
Unwillingly, Jayati thought back to car salesman, one of her many unwitting nemeses who drove her up the wall just by existing. Bastards. But sometimes the best way to throw someone off of a chase was to give them something else to chase.
So she contemplated for a moment, giving him a considering look even as she grabbed a paring knife and a handful of fruit that needed to be sliced. She twirled the knife in her fingers idly, callouses catching on it just right so it never wobbled or wavered, “Define odd?” But she didn’t give him time to answer before she continued, “Two of my regulars suddenly live in the same building I do, which, in a city this size is odd. One coincidence is funny, two is usually caused by manipulation.” Chris had shrugged off her concerns, saying that there were no worries to be had about the Gods twisting their strings. But with the life she led it wasn’t the powers that be that concerned her; it was people.
He hadn’t expected that kind of a response. Percy’s gaze followed the movements of the bartender’s knife, aware that she was attempting to send him a silent message. But he didn’t care to listen to it at the moment.
Percy had always been the bearer of messages, and didn’t necessarily take kindly to being on the receiving end. Especially when the woman’s situation sounded eerily familiar to his own; albeit everyone he’d met so far that also lived at Pax was an agreeable sort--mostly--it was nonetheless unusual.
“That sounds unfortunate. I could look into it, if you wanted. No cost involved, just curiosity, like I said.” The level of gin and tonic in his glass went down as he took a swig, lime mixing pleasantly with the alcohol. It wasn’t yet worth it to divulge his own series of coincidences to her--supposing by a twist of fate that she, too, happened to live in his complex. No, that would be ludicrous.
Well, the boy could roll with the punches at least she could say that much for him, but that wasn’t enough to win her over. Her hands shifted in a practiced movement to transition from playing with the knife to slicing limes in a smooth motion, making quick work of one before moving to another, dropping the wedges into a bowl with quiet thumps.
For some reason she hadn’t expected him to be so reasonable sounding when he bit into her bait, maybe it made her a bit nicer, “Look, kid, can I call you kid?” Jayati’s accent that was still a mutt from Brooklyn as much as she was seemed to be stronger on the phrase, and she waved her hand a moment later, “Don’t answer that, I don’t care. I appreciate your tenacity, that you saw a video of me breaking bones of men who had a good buck fifty on me and decided to show up anyway but--”
Across the bar AJ’s weird sense for her boss’s irritation caused her to look up and eyeball her with concern in her features and in a flash her expression changed from from closed off and stern to warm assurance before looking back to the man in front of her.
“--There’s always a cost, and I am the start of a dangerous tree you’re not equipped to bark up.” There wasn’t pity in her tone, or worry, just the sort of calm finality of someone who's already stubbornly made their judgement and is sticking to it.
It had been a minute since anyone had called him kid; who was it, again, that was fond of that expression? Oh, that was it--Old Aunt Gerthie. What a doll. She had punctuated her affectionate terms with pinches to Percy’s cheeks, his sisters giggling in the background, entertained by their little brother paying his dues as a Chapman.
Needless to say, Percy was almost glad he didn’t get the chance to weasel a word or two in; the bartender did the job for him. There were dark suggestions behind her blunt explanation, and he reminded himself to expect this sort of thing from a woman who could almost single-handedly take down a grown man twice his size. It wasn’t frightening as it should have been, but instead interesting...if only she would actually give him solid facts.
“You’d be surprised,” he countered. The silent communication between the tattooed bartender and her more demure associate did not go unnoticed. He knew when to leave when situations became too hairy, too out of control for even him to talk his way out of them. This one, however, did not seem to be the case. Nevertheless, he clearly needed to try a different approach. A bargain, perhaps.
“But I can tell you’re not comfortable talking here, and it’s fine. No one needs to be pressured on a Thursday night, least of all a capable lady like yourself. In fact, you’re probably the one that’s usually doing the pressuring.” It was jest and nothing more, although Percy had a funny inkling she wouldn’t see it in the same light. In lieu of this, he hastened to push for what he felt was a fair deal. “Listen, why don’t I leave you my card? I live in the area, and if you see anything suspiciously ‘coincidental,’ you might be inclined to pass the information to me. No strings attached.”
Surely Jayati had seen a Hannah Barbera cartoon like this before, something about a fox or a rabbit in a sweater trying to make a sales pitch in a old school jazz lounge filled with rottweilers or the like. The kid probably wasn’t as harmless as all that, and most of the bar’s patrons on a regular basis didn’t have her bite by any means but the image still amused it. The corners of her mouth twitched into the first hint of a smile in their interaction, even if it was to herself more than him.
Still, his questions were harmless and vague, he wasn’t even fishing for anything in particular, just fishing for something. He was probably bored, or trying to get a promotion at work, hungry for fame and fortune. Or something. The days of working for the most dangerous in the burrows were gone, but still near enough that they scraped and scratched against her thoughts when she didn’t control them and left her waking up reaching for weapons.
So she could be forgiven, if nothing else by herself, for letting her quills get rankled. Old habits died hard and old dogs bit at opponents long dead, and other such cliches. All that aside, the kid was annoying but harmless, though she didn't want to set some sort of precedent for nosy ambitious writers to sniff around her bar.
She raised an eyebrow at his first comments, “I can't tell whether you're trying to buddy up or try for weak flattery, either way you suck at it.” At his business card offer - pitch? - she shrugged, tired of her inner waffling and a little bitter at him showing up at her job where she couldn't react like instinct told her to.
Direct, aggressive and succinct.
Jayati wiped her rough hands out for the card, “Sure, go ahead. I'll consider it, depending on my mood. Anyone that sets off my alarms won't lie down out of pity like that girl you took to prom when you come sniffing around though.”
Pleased, Percy pulled out his wallet again to retrieve his business cards that were tucked into the sleeves. Things were now going much smoother, and the bartender’s attitude seemed to have changed--albeit slightly. It was an improvement.
“I’m going to choose to ignore that rub, if you don’t mind,” he said breezily, handing over a personally embellished card. “Feel free to call or email me with anything you might notice. I’ll be on the look-out for further coincidental events myself.” The remainder of his drink was swallowed, the lime resting sadly at the bottom of the glass, a graveyard of small ice chunks. “Keep the tip from that bill earlier,” he added with a wink. Percy arose from his chair, bidding the bartender goodbye.