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“Oh good heavens!” The elderly woman in the hallway jumps as Helena gives a great push at the door. “For fuck’s sake, what good did that do?” She casts an angry look at Helena before she disappears into one of the stalls.
(Sorry but since yesterday’s poll gave me a tie between three different options, and I didn’t want to pick the fourth because y’all decidedly did not pick that one, so I went for option five – some other pub patron. Ha!)
Helena breathes heavily and keeps a firm grip on the soap bottle in her hand. Wait, that’s not right, and she decides to put the soap back. Might as well give people the chance to return to their drinks with clean hands. Would she even be able to use the extra weight of the soap for her swing – as if she could take a real swing in these narrow hallways.
A few more breaths calms her down and she straightens her back before opening the door to the pub again. The group of Spaniards is still locked in their perpetual discussions, although Helena sees Marta poke Rogelio in his side so he looks up and sees her. He makes his way over, but Helena has already spotted the face she was looking for.
Fred is standing not far from her, leaning on the bar and looking at the opposite side of the pub. A tall glass of beer is next to him. The great head of foam tells her it has only just been pulled, and inexpertly by the look of it. Fred is chatting with the young woman behind the bar who seems to be telling him about something outside. Fred is toying with the beer but the foamy layer makes it impossible for him to take even a sip without making him look like a total idiot with a foam moustache. The idea makes Helena smile, and for a moment she strongly considers just walking up to him, acting surprised at his presence there, and ignoring everything that has happened so far. She could just innocently ask him how come he was in Amsterdam, and wasn’t he supposed to be working today, and that she definitely thought she had seen him on the schedule, and isn’t it funny to be running into each other like this?
But she doesn’t.
She wants to, and she wants to make the whole thing normal again. But how can she with the knowledge she has now, and all the questions? The ball of wool is burning in her pocket, metaphorically thankfully this time. She needs to know more about it before she confronts Fred. She is absolutely sure that if she were to address him now, show him the necklace, and tell him what she knows, he would… He would what, exactly? Would he become violent with her? Threaten her? Why does she expect him to? He has never been violent before, not to her anyway, not really.
A hand is suddenly on her sleeve and the friendly face of Rogelio appears in her line of sight, flanked by Marta. Together they have her cornered as Helena watches Fred lift his ridiculous beer to try for a sip. Helena looks into the kind and concerned eyes of her new-found friends and decides she cannot confront Fred. Not yet, not now. She smiles at her Spanish friends and gives them both a kiss. Then she turns and heads through the doors to the bathroom again, but now doesn’t move into the toilet area – where the elderly lady is enthusiastically using the soap dispenser – but keeps walking down the narrow hallway. She has been that young woman behind the bar, including the ridiculous heads on beers until she learned the right way to pull a pint, and she knows the make-up of cafés like these. There is bound to be… Yes! The end of the little hallway leads to the tiny kitchen, where the bitterballen are fried and during lunchtime the toasties are prepared by sulky men who once had big dreams about coming to Amsterdam and launch their own beer brand or finding the girl (or boy) of their dreams, but who are now coming to resemble the characters from a Jacques Brel song. Cigarettes are usually involved, as are profound wisdoms about the nature of people.
She steps into the kitchen. Ah, but of course: the sulky existentialists have been replaced now by travellers from distant lands who take any job they can until they can move on to other European cities and try their luck there. A kitchen job in a pub provides just enough sustenance between sleep and a night gig, for an entrepreneurial musician or other type of entertainer.
“You no come here” this one tells her immediately, “You wrong, go back.”
The accent sounds… Portuguese?
“Porta?” she asks and curses her lack of Duolingo discipline. “Uh… donde?” She puts on her most desperate expression and pleading eyes.
He regards her impassively and points to the back door. This must be a not infrequent occurrence then, apparently.
Something moves in the dark and dirty alley behind the café but Helena can see the streetlights at the end of it and quickly makes her way down. Taking the long way round in order to avoid being seen from the café window she makes her way to Betty’s shop, only to just catch her friend closing the door behind her and turning to lock it.
Her friend turns and lets out a great sigh of relief. “Oh thank the gods for that!”
“What’s the matter?”
Betty rolls her eyes. “What’s the matter? Good grief, you disappear in without an explanation, after all that talk of Benny’s about jewellery that kills you and strange mystic metals and everything, and you ask me what is the matter!”
Helena smiles. “Don’t worry about me, Bets, I am fine.”
“I bet you are,” Betty still doesn’t smile back, “but I was worried sick. Especially” – she pulls Helena’s phone out of her impressive purse – “since you left this in my back room and I couldn’t reach you in any way, shape or form. I called Luc and he wasn’t very communicative about anything, the little rat, and I had no idea where you had gone. I though you were going back for another sandwich!”
“Why would I… Never mind. I have been trying to find Fred.”
“Fred the garden gnome or whatever he is?”
“Forest ranger, yes. Him. I saw him on the bridge earlier.”
“So you said. Why would you want to find him?”
“Well I am thinking that maybe he knows more about this necklace and may even be involved in some way with…”
“Yes yes, I gathered as much before. But I didn’t ask after that, I am asking why you would even want to find him at this point! I mean, he was really pissy with you before, wasn’t he?”
Helena nods. “He was, yes.”
“And now you want to find out why?” Betty picks up her massive purse and another big bag and starts to walk, beckoning Helena to follow her.
“Actually no, not anymore” says Helena, “I decided against it when I found him.”
Betty stops and turns to look at her friend. “Of course you did” she says, shaking her head. “So what are you going to do next?”
“Take the train home, I think.”
“Why would you do that?”
“For one thing, I need to open the shop tomorrow again and I have no idea how Rick managed things today so there may be extra clean up involved before opening.”
“Oh honey, that shop job is long gone by now, I have no doubt! You basically told him to shove it when you left him on his own like that.”
Helena deflates a little. “Oh yeah.” She had forgotten that. She stops for a moment to consider it and then decides to file all that for later.
“Now you better come to my place and we will have a nice sleepover. We can discuss your findings and tell me your thrilling tale of the day. You will feel better in the morning and we can decide on your next career move together. After you are done with this lowlands Indiana Jones exercise of course.”
She walks on in her impossible heels, her long woollen coat flapping in the autumn breeze. The streetlights cause her blonde hair to shine in the evening air.
tl;dr Helena manages to get away from Fred and is determined to find out more before confronting him.
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