They say New York is the city that never sleeps. Clearly 'they' had never been to Saint and Ninth, thought Natalia. Even on a night so terrible that a hurricane could feel like a light breeze, the city lights still shined like beacons and the people still headed straight for them. Across the five boroughs, New Yorkers of all kind, from the fast talking and facetious Italians of Brooklyn to boisterous and bold African Americans of Harlem, found their way to the safe heavens of their local joints where even God himself could not lay waste to their good spirit and even better spirits.
But not Saint and Ninth. A graveyard held more life than the short block she had stumbled upon whilst looking for shelter. She only wished she had paid more attention to when she was going instead of focusing so intently on where she should be going to.
Eddie's Bar, 'The best bar in Queens'. Though the windows were covered by a layer of grime, she could make out a few individuals moving lazily around. It made her think back to her ninth-grade school play, an adaption of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, as she, civilian number four, watched from a distance as kids trudged around with tense, almost painfully slow, movements in order to mimic the undead.
She couldn't say it had been her intent on walking through the door. The door seemed to say everything about the place itself. The door, what should have been there to invite her in was what almost deterred her. Looking at it she could see cracks in wood filled in by blood stains. Though, to be fair, she was certain the blood stains had been left to cover up the butchered paint job. Half the door was white, or grey she supposed. The other was a faded crimson painted by many alcohols fuelled brawls.
She had never really remarked on doors before, but she supposed there was always a first time for everything. Like two seconds after, when she decided that a dirty bar was better than the rain of which each drop fell with the force of a bullet. She was certain to have more than a few bruises in the morning, for once not for anything fun.
Walking in she took in the place with eyes ready for disappointment and half expecting someone to knife her before she reached the bar. She was surprised to find it a rather mild establishment, all things considered. It reminded her of a place she'd been when her family had gone to visit her Nana in Ohio. Though it was clearly old, it was not as decrepit as she'd expected.
The tables towards the front by the window were like those in a diner, with small benches on either side. The rest were scattered in the centre, round tables with high chairs and in the middle of all a small piece of paper she assumed was a menu.
The bar itself was perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the establishment. Though, she reckoned the sight of alcohol in mass quantities would make any man or woman happy.
As she walked in further she was pleased to note she wasn't the only one who'd clearly walked in to hide from the rain. Aside from the bartender, an older gentleman wearing a plain blue shirt and pants, there were nine other people in bar. Three people, two men and a woman around her age, sat next to the window having a quiet conversation. In the centre of the room there was an elderly couple, both large with their eyes fixed on their drinks. Further back in the room there was two middle-aged gentleman who seemed to be very drunk from what she could tell from their red faces and beer stained shirts. At the bar itself was a young girl, possible eighteen, in a grey hoodie and cargo pants starring gormlessly at the counter. The ninth was a man, sat in the furthest corner of the room though beyond that she could see little to help her describe him. He sat in the darkest corner of the room with his two feet raised and crossed over another chair. The pose might have led her to believe he was no more than a common thug. She knew the type well enough, men who were really boys who never managed to understand the concept that they weren't the kings of wherever they deemed to dine or drink. She might have thought that if a sudden flash of lightning hadn't illuminated the room and revealed the hidden stranger.
It was only a quick second flash but that was enough for Natalia's enlightenment of the man hiding in the shadows. He was tall, not gigantic but quite imposing, even sitting down. He wore a brown pin-striped jacket as well as a leather hat of the same colour. It made her think of the law enforcement in a western movie. His eyes were a dull grey and his left hand, shaped like a claw, held a glass a few inches off his table whilst the other stroked his jacket pocket with care.
As if sensing he had been noticed he turned and looked at her and for a second their eyes met. He frowned at her, an action which made Natalia shiver. The next second, he was submerged back into the dark.
Well that was freaky, she thought to herself moving quickly to take one of the seats nearest to the window and close to the three people that looked to be her age. One of them glanced up at her, one of the guys, of course, moving his eyes up and down her body giving her the once over. Usually that would make her uncomfortable, but after having a minor interaction with a guy who vanished into darkness being checked out by some horny douchebag was the last thing that was going to bother her.
Sitting down she quickly retrieved her phone and was utterly dismayed to find that she no bars. She sighed, wiping her hand through her drenched hair wondering what her next move should be. She wasn't going to stay in this dump that was for sure. The smell of stale beer and vomit lingered under the table, and she daren't question why it felt like her ass was glued to the seat. She supposed she could try and wait out the storm, though seeing as it had only been worse by the second she doubted she would be leaving in anything under forty days and nights.
In her mind she quickly ran through all the bus stations she knew to be close, or close enough that she wouldn't have to travel out of Queens. To her memory there were three stops nearby, though they were all at least half a mile from where she was.
"Fucking shit." She muttered to herself, blushing as one of the young men glanced up at her. She had never been too fond of people noticing her curse. She was sure it was something of a side effect from her mother's strict teachings.
"A lady should never be heard cursing, it's not proper." She had said, in a thick Brooklyn accent with one hand on a bottle of scotch and the other lazily grasping a glass filled to the brim. Natalia hadn't come from a particularly rich background, the apartment she had grown up in was barely big enough to her and her mom let alone her three younger sisters and two older brothers. She hadn't come from a privileged background, but her mother had raised her as her mother before her, who her mother had claimed was the illegitimate child of a Russian noble. A family that was once prominent and powerful in Russia, then of course the revolution occurred and suddenly they were nothing. Nothing like the bastard like the bastard child that was her great grandmother. As Natalia's mother had told it, the family had fled their homeland, disappearing as if they had nothing but smoke. Her great grandmother did not run with the others, she knew better than to think they were care for her. So, she left for America, and with her brought several small bags of diamonds which she had used to set herself up in the brave new world.
It was a story, that Natalia was sure of. She had never seen a diamond that wasn't protected by a thin layer of glass. It was a story however, one she had used to pass her English exam in Senior year. No, she had never had any real wealth but every time she heard the story she felt amount of pride. Not at the fiction of a bastard daughter and her stolen jewels, but of a young girl who braved foreign lands alone and raised three children and four grand children to have both dignity and pride.
"There's something beautiful about it, no?"
Natalia could have jumped a mile high, she was so caught off guard. So deep was she in her own thoughts she hadn't even noticed the strange man leave his dark corner. He stood in front of her, a slight smile on his face that didn't match the titanium gaze of his eyes. They lacked everything, even life.
Uncertainty and fear caused her to stutter out a pardon, to which he replied with a light chuckle and the taking of the seat opposite her.
"The sheer force of nature. We men now like to think of ourselves of Gods. We control so much, yet the weather remains unbound to the chains and whips that mankind has used to dominate this small blue vessel." His accent was not placeable in her mind, he could have been Spanish or Mexican or any other nationality that spoke Spanish.
"I guess?" Was her reply, though he did not seem to hear. If he did, he didn't show it. His eyes now watched the rain.
"We think we can control our world, navigate our future to a destination that we choose. But we forget, the moment we gained our power our planet began to fight back." He turned to look at her now, his eyes meeting hers made her shiver. They were cold and empty but filled with strength and determination. Determination to do what exactly, she could not tell. "Do you ever what were the last thoughts of those who died on the Titanic? Of course, you don't, silly question I know. But I do. I wonder, did they think of loved ones, of God, did they look Hail Mary? Personally, if I had been there I would have cried. Not because I was about to die. Because man can never defeat nature. Nature will always win. The Titanic was a declaration of war against the ocean, and she fought back. If the Titanic was to be the first in a new breed of sea kings, then the ocean is a Queen. It can move anywhere for it is everywhere. Man cannot defeat God, for God is nature."
As she sat, confused and slightly afraid, the stranger dug into his coat pocket and drew out a lone cigarette. Reaching into his trouser pocket he drew out a light. Carefully, he ignited then inhaled and not for one second blinking.
"What's your name?" He asked her.
She did not answer at first though more out of confusion than fear of the man. There was certainly to be feared about him, she didn't doubt that. The way he carried himself, his demeanour, the look in his eyes. She'd seen fury in many a man, the spark of rage alight in their eye as they rained down holy hell onto their opponents. She saw that rage in his eyes, controlled and caged but he made his hands on the key and he was ready to let loose at a moments notice.
Natalia was drawn out of her thoughts with a startled squeak that she quickly, and embarrassingly, realised was her own. The sound had been an unconscious reaction to the man slamming his fist on the table. She thought for a second, he was going to lay into her, but his focus was turned towards the bar.
"Another pint of beer please!" He called, his voice monotone. "And a whisky for my…friend here. You like whisky?"
It took her a moment to realise he was asking her, and she stuttered out a 'yes'. To this he turned and grinned and her, not an unkind grin but more like one shared between two good friends. She didn't for a second believe it.
"Good. She'll take it neat."
The bartender nodded, and the man return his gaze to her. He still held the cigarette in his mouth. They sat there like that for what seemed an eternity. Him carefully drawing breath from his cigarette, and her starring at him expectantly. She didn't know what to expect for she didn't know the man. Yet he seemed to know her. She knew this from the fact he sat so comfortably in his chair, reassured that by his certainty that he knew her. But how, she wondered.
The words were as much a surprise to her as they were to him. He drew one final long breath from the cigarette before grinding it into the table, it's spark finally gone.
"Natalia." He said, testing the name on his mouth. He raised his free hand and scratched at his chin. "Na-tal-i-a." He shrugged, and for the first time seemed to blink. "I will be honest, I did expect your name to be so…beautiful."
The way he said it made it sound like an insult.
Why should he have expected anything?
"I'm sorry?" was her response which he pushed aside with a short and lazy wave of his hand.
"It's fine…I suppose there's a lot I didn't expect of you. To be honest, I had someone very different in mind.
Who did he have in mind?
Seeming to read her mind he answered, "I imagined someone taller, stronger, keener to the bar than the booth. Though I suppose we all have our days…"
He looked her dead in the eyes, an action that made her look away. She almost felt ashamed to have met his gaze, as behind the steel look she saw anger and blame that burned like an inferno.
"So how would you like to die?"
"I-…wha-what?" She stuttered out.
"How would you like to die?" He asked her again, his whole body tensing like a tiger about to pounce on its prey. "Don't pretend you didn't see this coming. You know what you did, however beautiful you may be I know there is an ugliness to your soul. So, I ask again, how would you like to die?"
Before she could answer him, the bartender brought over their drinks. Desperately, Natalia tried to make eye contact with the man to show she was in danger. The bartender didn't even look at her, or the man for that matter. She thanked him wordlessly with a nod as the man gave him twenty becks.
"Keep the change old timer."
The bartender grumbled as if the small act of kindness meant nothing to him.
With shaking hands Natalia went to grab her drink, taking a sip. Bottom shelf whisky. She could almost laugh, the last drink she might have was the first she ever had. When she looked up the man frowned at her action.
"You drink with your left hand?" He asked, accusingly.
Natalia nodded, the only action she could seem to make. The man's presence had changed, he was no longer calm and cool. No longer in control. He sat forward at the edge of his seat, his eyes meeting hers.
"Do you know who I am?" He asked.
"No." She told him, honestly. And being honest to herself, becoming more afraid.
He continued to stare into her eyes as if looking for something that told him she was otherwise, that what she had said was a lie.
"Why did you come here? Why this bar?"
"The rain." She said, then added, as if to defend herself, "I came here to shelter from the rain."
The man ran a hand through his hair, then looked at her with uncertainty.
"Are you lying to me?"
Unable to speak she shook her head. That moment could have stretched a lifetime, her and him in that booth and neither for a second blinking or averting eye contact. In this moment she really took him in, the smell of sweat that lingered on his clothes, dry despite the rain. His face was stretched, worn down by a hard life. Yet his hands seemed soft.
One word, startling her and removing the shroud of silence. Yet she didn't need to hear it twice.
As she passed through the door she bumped into a large man who apologised.
"I'd recommend staying in little missy, weather's only getting' worse."
Not waiting for a reply, he walked in and her eyes followed him as he made his way to same seat she had been in not moments ago. Her eyes raised and then the steely gaze of the man, now once again in his corner.
"No," She said, "I think I'll take my chances."
And with that in mind she decided to risk running to one of the nearby bus stops. She wasn't so cold any more, that whisky had warmed her up.