And I wasn’t wrong. There it was right there on the sign:
Wear Corpse-Blue, Get 3 for the Price of 2
Buy 3, Get Life-Free
Buy 4, Dine on Styx’s Shore
“Oh, I so would enjoy a shoreline view—wouldn’t that be delightful?” I asked.
“Very much,” Chevron said, salivating.
Macie and the Ambassador had a look of—well, a lifeless look, if I do say so myself. All color drawn out of them. Drawn out and put where, I don’t know. In a puddle on the floor, probably. Well, let the mops look lifeless! Chevron and I could appreciate the finer tastes in life, like the taste for…um, taste.
Without so much as a word from Macie and the Ambassador, Chevron and I popped into the establishment and were greeted by a dark-haired gent in a gentle flowing costume. All shadows and folds. “Two for lunch,” I said. “But do tell us what we would need to do in order to get the shoreline view. After the day we’ve had, nothing could be more felicific.”
The greeter nodded quite approvingly, I’d say. And led us straight back. Impressive, I considered, this ability to serve as a greeter without so much as a verbal greeting. Or a verbal affirmation. Without—even—a verb. But that’s the way with some professionals of the service class—they serve so smooth, it’s practically other-worldly. Supernatural, you might call it—without the heebie-jeebie part.
“Cold in here,” Chevron observed. And he was right. The dark of the place penetrated to the fingers and toes, like the cold glass of a window-pane. In December. With the sleet sleeting down.
“Would you happen to,” I started—and before I could finish, the greeter had handed us two heavy coats—flowing numbers just like him. Another win for first-class service! I took the fabric with pride. Now I’m quick to admit that it wasn’t my preferred style, but style takes second fiddle when there’s a cold concertmaster conducting the thermostat.
Chevron heaved his way into the fabric and I did the same—and the moment we did, the creaky-looking dining room fell away and the two of us found ourselves creaking and crooking across a deck in some misty backwoods place. It was a wooden platform of sorts, leading into the mist and, I hoped, out of it. I looked behind to see if there was continuity between where we had walked and where we were walking, but when I did, all I saw was more mist. I wondered, then, about the circulation in the place, and decided that they must be having a hell of a time with the air conditioning.
“Hell of a time with the air,” I said to our host in a jovial, forgiving fashion.
He shrugged in that embarrassed sort of way that all employees must when their employer decks the place in dilapidated appliances.
“It’s not your fault, I know,” I said to him. Or—I thought it was a him. I looked more closely and couldn’t tell, I tell you. And wasn’t it rotten? 'There’s the patrician brain for you!' Macie might say. And she’d be right: to think every anonymous person is a man—and even some not-so-anonymous ones. No wonder women feel such animus.
“Do you have anything less…” Chevron motioned to the mist. “…muggy?”
At this the greeter made a movement with his arm and the fog receded. Even more impressive stuff! If only Macie and the Ambassador could see how wrong they were about the place!
Beneath the mist was water—dark water, it looked black in this light, maybe fed by a swamp or some other briny pool. Ah! The name of the place, Pepper and Brine! Now it made sense! And if there was Brine, there was pepper!
As the greeter helped us onto a very comfortable looking little boat—a sea-cab to get us to dining on the other side of the river—I made a quick inquiry on the pepper situation.
And received in return a journey that I don’t think either of us will ever forget. It started—thank goodness—as all answers ought to start: with an appetizer.