Three stone steps led down to the club from the street. The bar was private and a sign on the wall by the door proclaimed it to be 'A high class establishment, accessible by invitation only.' Someone had vomited on the floor just beyond the front porch and the heavy door had been pushed aside, smearing the regurgitated curry across the flagstones like a scented welcome mat.
The bar itself was vast and low-ceilinged; a subterranean gymnasium where her thoughts seemed to echo off the dripping brickwork. She felt the expanse of the space rather than saw it. The noise of her footsteps fell away unseen. The bar was dark, not through lack of light, but rather from the abundance of darkness. It clustered around the tables and weaved across the floor, until the woman in the nurse's uniform felt like the room was writhing with shadows.
It was a place to be endured. A seedy, sorrowful, squalid, stinking pit of human misery. It was the sort of establishment which could be unfavourably compared to major bowel surgery.
If he was anywhere, it would be here.
Three snooker tables crouched, stock-still and mesmerised by the green-shaded lamps under which they stood. The tables were roughly-hewn and bestial. They creaked and groaned, moving their weight imperceptibly from foot to foot. Snooker balls rolled within their vast bellies, growling like claps of thunder. Each table was tethered to a vast iron bolt on the floor, linked by heavy steel chains. The chains were taught and the tables were crowded by the door, like baize-skinned guard dogs, sniffing the air and snarling at the intruder.
The woman in the nurse's uniform took off her sun glasses and deftly wove them through a shirt button hole, ensuring they emphasised the curve of her breasts. She smoothed her hair, which flowed to her shoulders in red, glossy curls, and peered into the foggy gloom. The air was thick with scents that seemed to have solidified, reducing her visibility to just a few metres ahead of her. Breathing through her month so as to avoid the stench, her tongue became heavy with the taste of sweat, as if she had licked the armpit of the Chaos God himself. I just won't breath she told herself. And she stopped.
As she walked on through the maze of upended tables and chairs, she noticed a parade of gambling machines and mechanical pinball games, slumped against the columns that ran the length of the room. Each machine bore a science-fiction theme; their lights provided a temporary source of comfort, like the glow from a lighthouse might calm a vexed sailor in a storm.
Lilith was sure, then, that her disguise had been the right decision. She would get the information she needed.
After several uncertain steps – and a careful detour around what she hoped was a sleeping man – Lilith perceived the neon glow of the bar itself rise up out of the mist like some incredibly disappointing medieval fortress. The bartender, a small man with elaborately-styled ear-hair and more teeth than was necessary in one mouth, wiped a greasy rag along a greasy bar. He wore a T-Shirt bearing the slogan 'Klingons do it in full battle armour' and he was missing the third finger of his left hand. Congealed at his lips was a fat cigar which he chewed incessantly, like a cow chewing cud.
The bartender had noticed the woman as soon as she had entered the club. His eyesight was keen and his loneliness keener still. How could he have failed to see her? She was everything he had ever wanted in a woman. Tall and achingly beautiful, with masses of red curls that flowed from her head like a white dwarf going supernova. She wore a nurses' uniform, cut unprofessionally high on her rounded thighs, so that a flash of stocking-top was clearly visible. The cherry lace of her underwear made the bartender feel light-headed, and his long-forgotten libido stirred fitfully in his trousers.
The woman stopped walking and wiped a bead of sweat from her collar bone, her tapered fingertips brushing her bosom as she did so. The bartender was an observant man. He had already noticed that the woman in the nurse's uniform had blue skin. What he also come to realise, in a moment of giddy pleasure, were her breasts. All three of them. A small moan of excitement escaped the bartender's thin lips as he felt a bolt a fission ricochet through his body, ending in a curious tingling in the missing finger of his left hand.
Lilith looked at the bartender from beneath her eyelashes, smiled coyly and placed a cigarette between her lips, lighting it with a match she had retrieved from one of her cleavages. The bartender stared open-mouthed.
'Ere, you can't smoke that in here!' he whispered, unsure of his position. He took an ill-timed drag on his own cigar, 'It's 'ealth and safety.'
The blue woman smiled again. For a moment the bartender thought she may not have heard him. But, as he watched, and without taking her eyes off him for a second, she plucked the lit cigarette from her lips. Then, without warning, she pressed the burning ash into the skin of her breast. The bartender flinched as he heard the sizzle of burning flesh. The sound set his teeth on edge, (a dangerous notion, considering just how many teeth he had.) He wiped the greasy rag across his forehead, which left a trail of residue on his already filthy face. The woman continued to smile. She had discarded the spent cigarette now and moved closer to join him. She lent forward, resting her ample bosom on the bar. Her breasts were unblemished.
'I'm looking for Pete.'
She touched the bartender's arm with her long fingers, her eyes boring into his soul. He felt like she could ask him anything and he would comply. Just to taste that blue skin, to catch that perfect flesh with his lips. He might even be persuaded to remove his cigar.
'Where is Pete?' The woman asked. 'If you tell me, I might make it worth your while.' She performed a complicated and obscene gesture with her hands that made beads of sweat run down the bartender's back. Something in his heart (or some other blood-filled organ) told him he should help the nice young lady, but his thoughts were interrupted by a voice from a far-off corner.
'Leave him alone Lilith. I'm over here.'
The blue woman winked at the bartender. 'Maybe next time, cutie.' She purred,before retreating towards the direction of the voice.
The bartender considered going down to the cellar to gather his thoughts.
'I knew I'd find you here.'
Lilith perched on a low bar stool and lit a cigarette. She had reverted back to her normal human form, aware that Pete would not speak to her if she was in 'whore mode', as he so affectionately described it. Her ability to shift shape in order to capture her prey was one of her more interesting qualities, a sort of sexual camouflage that allowed her to feed and move among the shadows, gathering knowledge and harvesting men's souls as she went.
Pete was slumped in a stained leather armchair, a pint of breakfast lager squeezed tightly into his fat fist. He had gained at least three stone since Lilith had last encountered him and lost almost all his hair. The remaining follicles were bright white and clumped together around the crown of his head, as if the individual hairs had sought safety in numbers.
Lilith offered Pete a cigarette. He made a face and waved the packet away with his left hand, while simultaneously draining his pint. He belched contentedly.
'Well,' he said after a time, 'you've found me. Now what is it that you want?'
Lilith shuffled in her seat and ignored the question. 'What is this place? It smells like something died in here!'
'It's a themed pub.'
'And the theme is..?'
Lilith nodded. Hair was mousey brown now, shoulder-length and uninteresting. She was of slight build and the nurses uniform she had filled so impressively as the bartender's fantasy, now hung limply around her bony shoulders, as if the shirt still contained it's coat-hanger. Her face was still beautiful, but it was an unconventional, understated beauty. Subtlety was what attracted Pete.
'What are you doing here anyway?' She asked.
Pete coughed and pointed the rim of his empty pint glass to a poster on the wall behind him. Lilith peered through the gloom to decipher the crudely written calligraphy.
'Darts Tournament?' She said incredulously, 'I don't understand.'
Pete placed the glass on the floor by his feet and arched himself forward in the seat, his large hand foraging in the pocket of his jeans. He removed a pound coin from his trousers and rolled it around his plate-like palm.
'Prize money,' he said simply. 'Two hundred and fifty quid for chucking a few arrows? Easiest money I'll ever make.'
Lilith narrowed her eyes, then opened them wide with a look of shocked embarrassment. 'You can't be serious Pete? After everything you said about using your powers for the good of humanity?' She looked away. 'If you needed money, all you have to do was ask.'
Pete spat on to the polished floor. 'I know how you earn your money. Besides, this place doesn't mind how I win, as long as I buy the rounds.'
'Sure. And how much of that two fifty goes straight back into the till at the bar?'
As if on cue, the bartender scuttled over, bringing Pete a fresh pint of straw-coloured ale. He seemed genuinely surprised to see Lilith, unaware that she was his blue goddess unmasked.
Pete waited until the bartender had disappeared into the gloom. Then he leaned forward, his voice barely even a whisper. 'Look, Lilith. You gave up the right to give a shit about me three years ago. So don't you dare come here and tell me how to live my life. I didn't invite you back, so just say what you've got to say and get out.'
He threw the pound coin down onto the table that sat between them. His fingers had deftly moulded the metal into a precision spinning top, which whirled across the counter between them. The Queen's face stretched across the surface of the ornament, slightly squashed by the metamorphosis making the monarch look more than a little cross-eyed. Though maybe this was from dizziness rather than from supernatural manipulation.
'I know you felt it.' Lilith said, watching the misshapen coin spin across the table. 'We all felt it. The call.' She paused for a second, studying Pete's features carefully. His face remained expressionless. 'We've been summoned.' Lilith said, rubbing the back of her neck with her long tapered fingers.
Pete took a long slug from his beer. His eyes were already beginning to slide out of focus. 'I didn't feel nothing' he said thickly, the metal of his belt buckle bowing beneath his rising emotions. 'Even if I did feel it, I'm not going back there. It's not my responsibility. I'm happy here.'
Lilith sighed and rose from her seat. 'If that's the way you feel about it, I guess there's nothing I can do.' She shrugged her handbag onto her shoulder. 'It was nice to see you again Pete,' she whispered, before disappearing off through the gloom.
After several minutes, he heard the door of the bar close and knew that she had left his life forever. He set his pint down on the table and collected up the knives and forks which lay around his chair. The force of his emotion had pulled the cutlery towards him and distorted each item horribly. He stuffed the metal wares down behind the armchair cushion and sighed. The fingers of his fat hands pressed the flesh at the back of his neck. The microchip there buzzed and vibrated like a trapped insect. It was the call.