Star stepped carefully down the stairs to the Bucket of Blood and let herself in, scanning the crowd. There were more people than usual huddled in brooding groups around the rickety tables, which suited her just fine. Even better, the bar had no one sitting at it at all, the majority of the crowd having decided to sit far from the door in the darkest recesses of the pub. She set her carpet-bag on the floor and took a seat at one of the stools.
“Wot’ll it be.” Pip eyed her warily.
“A glass of red, please, Pip.” She smiled, one of the scars on her face twinged at the movement and she winced.
“Dunno why you gotta be comin’ here to drink when you’ve got plenty o’ booze at your own place.” Pip grumbled, pouring the glass and sliding it in front of her.
“Atmosphere, Pip, atmosphere. Plus, it is always so nice to see your charming face.” She lifted her glass to him in salute and took a sip.
He watched her like a hawk as she drank. She feigned disinterest in his interest, she noticed that the ever-charming Boris was absent and that Mr. Underby was nowhere to be seen, though she doubted he was far away. A voice called out an order to pip from a shadowy corner and he dashed off to fill the order.
Quick as a flash she reached out and snatched-up the skull at the end of the bar and dropped it into her carpet-bag, using her foot to nudge the top shut and hide the tell-tale whiteness of the bones. If anyone saw anything they didn’t say a word. She settled back against the stool and finished off her glass of wine as Pip returned, grabbing a bottle and a pair of glasses and running off again.
She settled up her bill with Pip and wished him well, picking up her cane and tap-tapping her way out of the pub, her carpet-bag in her free hand. She felt a thrill of fear when, as she approached the door, it opened and Mr. Underby stepped in, she hoped she hid the look faster than he noticed it.
“Macbain?” He pulled his bowler from his head.
“Mr. Underby.” She inclined her head.
“My dear, am I just missing you?” He smiled.
“I’ve just finished my wine, I’m afraid.”
“Please, join me for another glass.”
“No, no, it’s a long walk home, as I’m sure you know, and I’m feeling a little tired today.” She smiled weakly, leaning a little heavier on her cane, trying to play-up her injuries.
“Then let me help you out, at the very least.” He took the carpet-bag from her hand and gently took hold of her elbow, helping her up the stairs to the street.
[i]We could have been friends[/i], Star realized, looking up at him from the corner of her eye as he continued to hold her up, one long arm extended to hail a hansom,[i] If he had never threatened my home, if he had never…..[/i] She squashed the thought from her mind, he was the enemy. She had to remember that.
He all-but lifted her into the cab, tucking the carpet-bag next to her feet. He paid the cab-driver for her and smiled, “Do come again soon. Do you still like chess?”
“Of course, but it’s been ages since I’ve played.”
“Even better.” He waved as the cab pulled away and she leaned out the window to wave back before settling back into the seat. She waited until she was sure she was well out of sight before pulling the skull from the bag and holding it up.
“I’ve a riddle for you, missus,” She murmured to the lifeless bone, “how do you hurt someone you can’t touch?”