Episode Forty Nine
The pub was hipster judging by the clientele. Among the men, long shaggy beards predominated. Or the three-day stubble.
Moving in, Andrew searched the room for Tim. He couldn’t spot him anywhere. Taking his time, he made his way towards the bar and casually leaned up against it. A one-day-old stubble bearded bartender made towards him.
‘Hi. What’d you like?’
‘What’d you got?’
‘Everything.’ He gestured at the array of pump handles and then pointed at the glass fronted fridges. Andrew read off some of the labels. Pils. Brau. IPA. Golden. Gruit. Malt. Cauim.
The on-taps seemed more sensible.
‘I’ll have a pint of London Pride.’
The bartender grabbed a tall glass, moved over to the pump and started pulling it. Dark beer slushed out of the nozzle and frothed up in the glass.
‘Sorry, mate. Seems to have run out. It’ll be a moment before I can change it.’
‘Ah, just give me something similar.’
‘How about an ESB?’
‘Yeah, OK, that’s fine.’
The barman grabbed a new glass and pulled the pint. He handed it over then went over to the cash register and clocked it up.
‘That’ll be four ninety. Cash or card?’
Andrew flashed his debit card. The barman produced a reader and Andrew tapped it. It whirred and a receipt popped out.
‘Here you are, mate.’ The barman handed him the slip of paper.
Pocketing it, Andrew resumed his scanning of the bar for any sign of Tim. Nothing.
Shrugging his shoulders, Andrew made for an empty table opposite the bar that gave him a view of the way in. Pulling out a chair, he sat down. After a sip of the beer, he got out his phone and checked the message from Tim. Right place. Right time.
‘There you are!’
Andrew turned to see who had called out to him.
Tim came prancing across the floor of the bar in his direction.
Tim turned around as if inspecting the place. ‘It looks like it. I’m not somewhere else.’ He laughed, slapped Andrew on the shoulder and sat down opposite him. ‘How’s me future bro-in-law?’
‘She’s fine. We’re over the morning sickness, thank God. Now it’s the fattening tummy. Sometimes she seems pleased the baby is growing. At other times, she gets upset about what’s happening to her body.’
‘Yeah, she can be like that.’
‘I’m getting used to it.’
‘I see you’ve bought yourself a drink. Wait a mo, while I get myself something.’
‘Be careful what you get, they’ve got some really weird stuff here.’
Tim skipped over to the bar. Andrew watched as he was served by the same barman. He seemed to take a long time in getting the bottled beer Tim had ordered.
Eventually, Tim returned to the table and sat down opposite. He placed his bottle in front of him. Andrew didn’t recognise the label.
‘What did you get?’
‘It’s a Mongozo Mango. You know, one of those fruit beers.’
‘Rather you than me.’
‘I could say the same of your relationship with Jill.’ Tim grinned.
‘I don’t think we’re weird like your beer.’
‘You know, Andrew, you can be such a stick in the mud. This’ll be great.’ He took a sip. ‘Not as good as I’d hoped.’
‘That’s a euphemism for piss.’
‘I think it’s an acquired taste.’
‘Just admit it, it’s foul.’
‘Yeah, it is.’ Tim eyed Andrew’s ESB. ‘You’ve probably made the better choice there.’
‘The safe one.’
‘Indeed. I agree that perhaps a fruity beer isn’t such a good idea, but if you don’t try these things, you’ll never get to find great new tastes.’
‘And have your experiments delivered anything you’ve had a second of?’
Andrew pointed a finger at the bottle. ‘So, you’re pissing away good money on this stuff.’
‘It’s not a waste of money.’
‘To me it is. Don’t forget, I’ve got responsibilities now.’
Tim laughed. ‘You sure do.’
‘Perhaps you can help me?’
‘Wow wait a minute. I’m happy to be your bro-in-law. But I’m not your banker.’
‘I wasn’t asking for money.’
‘Advice. About Jill.’
‘What’s she done now?’
‘She fine. Really. It’s just that Valentine’s Day is coming up and I can’t seem to think what to get her. I was hoping you could help since you’re her brother.’
‘She likes men. We used to compete for them until you came along.’
‘Don’t talk about her like that.’
‘Andrew, I’d never have guessed you’d be squeamish about her past liaisons.’ He paused and tapped at the side of the bottle with a finger. It rang dully. ‘I suppose it isn’t any of your business. I never ask my lovers.’
‘Aren’t you worried about HIV?’
‘No, not really. Why should I?’
‘I don’t know.’
There was an awkward silence. Time tapped his drink again.
‘I’d get Jill some jewellery.’ He looked away as if considering what he had said. After a moment he turned back and tapped the bottle again. ‘But not the standard stuff. Something different.’
‘Jewellery but not the usual stuff. I suppose that helps.’
‘Sorry, Andrew, it’s the best I can do.’ He started to shift in his seat. ‘I really didn’t pay too much attention to what Jill’s passions were.’ He stood up. ‘Excuse me, I’m going to go get myself a pint of that ESB you’ve got.’
‘Don’t mind me.’
* * *
‘Ah, Mary, bienvenue, welcome.’
‘Bernard, good to see you again.’
Bernard gestured towards one of the plush chairs lined up along the long side of a table that dominated the centre of the conference room. ‘A table.’
‘We’d pronounce it table in English.’
Bernard scowled at her.
Mary took a seat in the middle. Her advisors sat to each side. Bernard and his team did the same. There was a certain shuffling of papers.
‘We’re here because…’
‘I should tell you I voted remain.’ She gave him her best dispatch box reprimanding expression.
‘But you’re back seeking to get a better deal. First, there’s the 40-billion-euro bill, to pay.’
‘We haven’t agreed to the agreement.’
‘Zut alors, Mary, why are you here then?’ He gestured angrily at the British delegates.
‘Brexiters.’ Mary shook her head. ‘It’s the backstop, you know. It’s stopping us agreeing the withdrawal agreement.’
‘Non, non, non. We’ve got the deal. The one we agreed. You. Me. The Commission. The heads of government. I’ve told you. Junket has told you. Tusk-tusk has told you. There can be no renegotiation.’
‘You wouldn’t want us to leave without a deal, would you?’
Bernard wiggled the fingers of both his hands in front of him. ‘We’d prefer the agreement.’ He paused for dramatic effect. ‘But we’re prepared for a no deal exit.’
‘Tis a pity. Exiting next month without an agreement might disrupt trade somewhat.’ Mary looked down at her lap before fixing Bernard in the ye. ‘According to the latest indicators, the eurozone seems to be entering a recession and soon after we leave and there’s likely to be maximum disruption across the EU just when those elections to the European Parliament that you good people worry will fuel populist candidates’ prospects take place.’
‘Yes, your timing on leaving the club is not great.’
‘There’s a rumour—but I’m sure its untrue—that you have ambitions to take over from Junket when he finishes his term.’
‘There’s absolutely no truth to that.’
‘But making a success of Brexit negotiations would put such a hypothetical candidacy in a good light.’
‘Yes, obviously. But I’m not in the running.’
‘But you would like these negotiations to reach a happy conclusion.’
‘Bien sûr. We’d much prefer an agreement to no deal.’
‘Then perhaps we can discuss how we can achieve this over a nice lunch at Comme chez Soi mano-a-mano?’
‘Ah, the Brussels way.’