Up Main, hiking up, we pressed our foreheads against a moving wall of rain. Past 5th the road became a wishbone and we were drawn towards the piece that would have, no doubt, been shorter. This piece, a street crowned Kingsway, also happened to be the most direct route to cheap drinks. Doubles were six bucks, or five fifty, or something in that price range.
The bar was above the Charles Cabaret — sat on top of it like a hat hiding an inebriated head. Only it was actually the opposite of that. The Charles was like a red velour cap and Avanti’s Sports Bar was a sloppy face with a toothy beer-glass smile.
Jane and I entered this garish grin. It was foggy and dark inside; some of the lights might have been broken, a couple were flickering. As I began to feel a fine mist imbed in the already smoky air, I considered asking Jane her thoughts. Avanti’s had always been a den, but tonight it was cavernous.
There’s a table in the corner.
The table we slid towards, much like all the rest, was held in the palm of a padded booth. The pillowy leather seats were restrained by deep-stitched seams that felt like giant fingers frozen in gesture.
A second set of double gin and tonics appeared on our table. I looked over and Jane’s hand, gripping a small pen, drew curtains on her napkin. These curtains blew out from a window in a lapping sweep. Jane’s posture and forward-facing head hid her hand motions while her vertical gaze pointed towards the illustration.
As I noticed her scribbling, I remembered thinking that I wanted to take a sip of my drink. Did I take that sip or just desire to take it? There was a tonic buzz in my mouth. When was that from? Fruitless anxiety rolled through my mind as Jane interjected.
What’s that guy doing?
She didn’t specify who she was referring to, but my head tilted left as if the ground to my right had raised.
With a tinge of cheap cinematics, a middle-aged man with middle parted grey hair motioned us to come towards him. My immediate response was skepticism and mild annoyance.
Jane was gliding towards him before I had fully processed my thoughts. Through the low-laying smoke, her long skirt billowed. In the dimness her figure seemed curvier than before and her hair longer, with coiling ends.
When she arrived at the seated man, her back bent and she put her hand to her ear, connecting with the man’s turned face. Between them bridged a mysterious exchange, for which I could not interpret in murmur or smirk. The back of Jane’s head betrayed nothing.
As the man’s face turned forward again, Jane raised her back, lowered her hand, and returned to me from across the room.
There’s a very secret meeting happening downstairs.
Now? At the Charles?
Apparently. That guy told me a password.
I started to laugh at the vagueness of this information, but Jane was already up and moving towards the exit.
On the way down it felt like the stairs met my feet and not vice versa. The stairwell added structure but no support as I disorientedly ventured into the Charles, to some confidential event.
A large man in a navy suit and a blue-hued tie greeted us. His welcome involved standing menacingly in front of a black curtain. Jane leaned in and said something that sounded a lot like “Save-On-Foods.”
The bouncer moved as if on a hinge; the curtain was pulled open and I followed Jane inside.
My eyes had been adjusted to the inky interior of the bar above, so the beams of light that suddenly hit my face were assaulting, at the least.
What is this?
But Jane couldn’t respond. She was gone. Replaced by silhouettes that grew thinner and thicker in front of pendulating orange flashes. These figures, my new companions, gradually took human form as my eyes adjusted.
What I saw was perplexing. Men, almost all men, white men, older men, wearing Hawaiian collared shirts. They were swaying and cheersing one another, sloshing beer onto their open-toed shoes.
As my eyes adapted, so did my ears. The music was like nothing I had ever heard at the Charles. Some form of miami retiree reggae/rock ‘n’ rock. The room was drunk on bouncy, tropical melodies and syrupy refrains. Riffs hit the walls and poured back down into half full beer glasses.
I turned to the stage, preparing for something hauntingly optimistic, something really blindly sunny. The drums yelled in cursive font: JIMMY P & THE BILLIONAIRES!
Like their audience, the band wore bright, floral button-up shirts. The lead singer was elderly. He sported a pink sunvisor and capris. Around his neck hung a string of plastic tequila shot glasses.
This next song’s called “Overwaitea in Paradise!”
As the bass player threw some sort of green paper out into the audience I waded frantically through the flooding brightness back the way I had come. The black curtain wiped against my back as I stumbled under it and the Caribbean tune that sprung after me halted exactly as the heavy curtain hit the ground.
Jane stood there.
The man in Avanti’s told me that was going to be a condo developers meeting.