Steve Cullis watched the three newcomers enter McHooligans pub. Students, was his initial thought. He finished cleaning a pint glass and put it on the rack above the bar.
What were they doing here? Were they lost? Did they pay any attention to the local news at all?
The three of them were dressed in fancy dress costumes for Halloween. Well two of them were, the third, a skinny blond kid, looked like any other student. He wore baggy blue jeans and a white T-shirt with a cartoon of a sheep striking up a Kung Fu pose on the front. An oversize pair of headphones hung around his neck and led down to an iPod clipped to his waist.
Cullis shook his head. Didn't they know where they were? You didn't show off your expensive gadgets around here. Not if you wanted to keep them.
The kid's blond hair was gelled up in crazy spikes. Maybe he was supposed to be a character from a Japanese anime series.
The other kid was wearing a tatty old black robe. What was he supposed to be? A Jedi? A monk? Either way it looked like someone with rudimentary sewing skills had been let loose on a piece of old sackcloth.
Cullis wasn't that interested in the two blokes anyway. It was the girl in the middle that caught his attention.
Wow, what a hottie.
She was smoking. Slim and long-legged like a fashion model, but with a pair of boobs a Page 3 girl would die for. Her face looked sweet and innocent, like the typical girl next door, but her large blue eyes, hidden behind a pair of spectacles, told a different story. Cullis was glad his significant other wasn't here tonight. He'd get an ear bashing for sure over the way he was staring at this scorching hot redhead.
The girl was dressed in a devil girl outfit — complete with horns, wings and tail — that suited her perfectly. The costume was really good. Cullis wondered if they were art students. The horns and wings looked as good as any prosthetics he'd seen in films.
This was no place for art students.
Phil Rowling felt uncomfortable as soon as he walked through the door. There was a real atmosphere about the pub, and not a good one. Groups of sallow youths clustered around a couple of pool tables or in booths on the far side of the room. Phil felt beady eyes follow them all the way to the bar, like those of nocturnal predators.
This place was trouble.
Rosa and Carny didn't seem to notice at all. They walked up to the bar with the breezy smiles of lost tourists. Which was what they were, Phil supposed.
Phil also noticed there were no women in the bar. Rosa was the only female present. Unsurprisingly all eyes, very hungry eyes, were fixed on her. Phil felt a momentary tinge of concern for her, then chided himself for being silly.
"Hi, nice little quiet place you've got here," Carny said to the barman.
Phil put the barman as maybe a few years older than his own eighteen years. The man behind the bar didn't look like he belonged here. Phil guessed he was a mature student looking to top up his funds with a bit of extra work on the side.
"Quiet now," the barman replied. "But it can get a little rough later on. You want to be careful."
Cullis wanted to tell them to get the hell out of here right now for their own good, but that witch Harriet Diamond had ears everywhere. If she found out he'd turned paying customers away she'd have his guts.
"We'll be fine," the girl in the devil costume said. "We've got Phil to protect us." She hugged the robed guy's head, squashing it against the side of her ample breast.
Were they on something? Cullis thought. The kid in the white T-shirt and the girl looked completely clueless. At least the one in robes, Phil, had the sense to look uncomfortable. Cullis didn't have much faith in the kid's abilities as protector. Underneath the robes he looked as skinny as a rake.
"What'll you be having?" he asked.
Maybe they'd notice the poisonous atmosphere choking the place and leave after one drink.
"A pint of lager please," Phil said.
"Bloody Mary," the redhead said.
"Just a bottle of water," the kid in the white T-shirt said.
Phil had got maybe a third of the way through his pint when the front door slammed open and a crowd of shaven headed men with football scarves tramped in.
"Fucking joke. No way was that a penalty," the lead man said.
"That ref's always been a cunt," a second man said.
The two looked like they could be brothers, Phil thought. They were both tall with similar pudgy features. Despite their height they both had thickset builds with fists the size of hams. Though they didn't have the sharply defined figures of body-builders, it was obvious there was plenty of muscle hiding beneath their slabs of fat. Slap a coat of green paint on them and they'd make good orcs or ogres for a fantasy film, Phil thought.
As the crowd of football supporters entered Phil noticed one of the groups of youths slinking out of the side entrance. A pack of hyena's ceding ground to a pride of lions was his thought. He would have liked to have done the same but it was too late, the lead brother had already spotted them.
Fuck, the Lions had lost, Cullis thought as he watched the Diamond brothers and their firm enter the pub, and in dodgy circumstances by the sounds of things. That was bad. Lennie and Johnny would be in an ugly mood.
Lennie noticed the students immediately.
"What you fuckers doing here dressed up like that?" he demanded.
The kid in the robes pointed to a sorry looking plastic skull mask hanging above the bar. "We're in fancy dress," he said. "For Halloween." He flashed the man a nervous smile, the kind that said 'we don't want any trouble'.
The kid looked shit-scared. Cullis didn't blame him. Lennie, and his brother, were the type that relished being trouble.
"What's with the robes?" Lennie continued. "You a flasher or something."
"He's a warlock," Rosa said, flashing them a bright smile.
"You his pet then?" a younger member of the crew, a short kid with a weaselly looking face Cullis couldn't remember the name of, asked. "Like off WoW?"
"I'm a librarian," the girl said with put upon haughtiness. She pointed to her bookish spectacles.
"Librarian?" Lennie said, doubtful.
Her friend prodded her and pointed to the horns on her head.
"Demon librarian," the girl added.
She was either kooky or completely cuckoo. Cullis couldn't decide which. Absolute killer body though.
"Hey look," the weaselly-faced kid said, pointing to the miniature pair of bat wings the girl was wearing on her head. "Innit cool how she makes them move."
Wow, that was pretty good, Cullis thought, watching as the girl gave them a sweet smile and the little wings on the side of her head flapped of their own accord. What was it, some kind of hidden air pump? Or strings? Either way she'd really made an effort on her costume.
"Where's your costume?" Lennie asked the kid in the white T-shirt.
The kid looked crestfallen. He looked down at his clothes.
"And I made such an effort," he said.
He was just as barmy as the girl, Cullis thought. Nuts, both of them.
It worked though, or maybe because the girl had such a sweet smile. Either way Lennie left them alone and continued to the bar. Cullis suddenly had his hands full pouring drinks for the thirsty firm as they continued to swear and grumble about the refereeing decisions in tonight's game.
Phil rushed his pint, wanting to down it and get out of here as fast as possible. They were outsiders here and the new arrivals looked like the type of men that didn't think a night was complete until they'd kicked the teeth out of somebody they didn't like the look of. He'd just finished his drink when Rosa plonked a fresh one down next to his empty glass.
"Come on slow coach," she cajoled.
"I thought we were leaving after one drink," Phil said.
"We like it here," Carny said. "Very authentic."
They were both crazy. Those 'authentic' locals were currently staring at them with 'authentic' open hostility.
Well, except for Rosa. They leered at her with open lust.
"Mmm, all this testosterone," Rosa murmured. "My pussy is positively salivating." She crossed and uncrossed her legs.
"Hungry?" Carny asked.
"Are you sure?" Cullis asked in disbelief as the girl ordered a second round.
"We'll be fine," the girl replied with a breezy smile.
Were they mad or just dumb? Cullis thought. Couldn't they sense the tangible threat of violence rippling through the air. The Diamond brothers were bad enough sober. With beers they were animals.
The students seemed totally oblivious. Middle class twits without a clue how the real world worked, Cullis thought.
Then, right in front of everyone in the pub, the girl put her arms around the kid in the robes and leaned in for a very sloppy and passionate kiss.
Cullis was flabbergasted.
And also a little turned on.
Did they want to get to hurt? This was no place for a full-on Public Show of Affection. Especially not with your super hot girlfriend in front of a whole pub full of blokes that would really like to fuck her. That was like getting your tackle out and rubbing it right in their faces. Look what I'm getting tonight lads.
.... There is more of this story ...