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LOVE, LATTES, AND MUTANTS
The breeze picked up and was bursting insistent, frigid puffs that threatened to dislodge his hat. Archie clamped one hand on top, squishing it down around his lean face as he resolutely lengthened his stride and marched on, determined to make it home before the storm set in. He'd almost made it to the corner, to the place where he normally made the left on N. Westburl, and then a right onto 43rd, followed by a various assortment of other long deviations that would get him safely home, when a large crack of thunder shook the air. He decided that just this once he might consider taking the most direct route, albeit dangerous, foreboding, and possibly life-threatening.
He stopped right on the bend of the street, uncertain for a split moment, until the next jolting crack of thunder made up his mind for him. He headed straight along Market St that followed the length of the Thames River, hoping that the seedy individuals who lurked around the pier were as mindful of the storm as he and would not cause him trouble on this particular evening, for even though he was quick-witted and could talk himself out of most troubles, sailors tended to be a harder breed of people. They were a sharp and cunning lot, and Archie did not know if he could outsmart anyone else that day and didn't wish to press his luck. He made it past the pier, hesitating just long enough to glance at the small boats tied to the dock. There were obviously people about, and so far he had been lucky enough not to encounter any of them. But one final ground-shaking crack and the tinkling sound of bells changed it all. The clouds overhead clashed and he ran for the shelter of a nearby tavern, barely escaping the torrent of rain. Archie had never been in The Captain's Keg before.
He stopped just inside the door and let his eyes adjust to the dark, smoke-filled room. He realized that not only had he run into the very people he wished to avoid, but that he also had a new problem. These men weren't just sailors. He was ready to run back out and take his chances of drowning in the street, when he heard the same tinkling of bells from earlier. This time, it sounded like mocking laughter. Well. He might very well be losing his mind, but a coward he was not. He straightened to his full height—all six feet and four inches of it—and removed his crumpled hat with a flourish, tucking it under his arm. He walked proudly down the three steps that led into the heart of the tavern—to a bar, teeming with pirates. A couple of heads turned at his arrival and those who met his solemn, blue gaze were quick to drop their eyes back to their drinks. His spirits momentarily lifted, Archibald nodded to himself more than to anyone else in particular, a slight smile playing on his lips. He was holding his own. Still erring on the side of caution, he scanned the length of the bar, finding three open seats. Two were between rather burly, shifty-looking blokes with tattoos. The third seat, nearly on the end of the bar, sat betwixt an elderly gentleman with longish white sideburns, a round belly, and spectacles to match that sat precariously upon a rather bulbous nose. The gent on the other side was scrawny, his clothes in tatters, thin face in a scowl as he stared at a leaflet of paper before him. Even though he sat still, there was a nervous energy that pulsed off the small man. He gave Archibald the impression of a jittery, starving squirrel.
Archibald decided his best chances lay between the old man and the squirrel and so he took his seat, nodding in a genial fashion to the old man, whose watery blue eyes barely gave him a passing glance. The squirrel didn't acknowledge his presence. "What'll it be, mate?" the barkeep asked. Archibald bit his lip to keep from laughing. Every drink in the tavern was the same yellowish liquid. Why the bald man standing behind the bar bothered to even ask such a mundane question was beyond him. Perhaps he was daydreaming again. He did do that a lot and at times it seemed real.
"Aye, but will it be single or double ye'll be havin'?""'Tis all ale, is it not?"
"Careful now, lads, mind the poor lout's head, aye? He'll be having a dreadful headache come morning without any extra bumps ye'd be givin' him along the way." The voice was familiar—rather achingly so—though Archie couldn't quite seem to get his faculties in order to remember who the owner of the voice was. The few times he could open his eyes, nothing at all made sense. It all came and went in blurs with distorted figures he couldn't quite make out. The darkness came and went, so in the end, he figured it better to keep his eyes shut for the time being and try to concentrate on other things, foggy and confusing as they might seem. He thought he was being drug along the rough boards of the pier, and while that familiar voice seemed to care about the condition of his head, his legs and backside seemed to be another matter entirely of which the man cared not a whit as they bumped him along each splintering plank. Luckily, the drug slipped in his drink deadened the pain, and he only registered the faint, odd pricks and scrapes where the wood had its way with his flesh.
"He's got hair like black candles, he does," a crackling voice snickered by his head. "Aye, Smee, are we taking this poor soul aboard for his long locks? Did the Cap'n order you fetch him a wifey, then?" another voice chimed in, followed by raucous laughter, and a low retort from the man named Smee that Archibald couldn't make out. "A good bit heavier than he looks," the first voice by his head huffed, "Slow ye down a bit, Murph. I'm losin' my grip. Oh drat, there he goes!" And those were the last words Archibald ever heard on the shores of bonnie England as his head hit the pier and the darkness crept over him once again.