Glasnost was a restaurant for the twenty-first century. The interior was as minimalist as it could be without appearing to be under refurbishment, the dishes as minimalist as they could be without seeming to take the piss. The atmosphere was not cold exactly, but it was perhaps just a bit severe. A few strange splashes of grey paint adorned the walls and the background music was very much that. The waiters wore black and remained silent and stern-faced for most of the evening, like silken Nazis waiting for the call.
Sitting alone at a table near the back, next to the doors that led into the kitchens, one man was watching another as he swaggered back from the gents towards his waiting dinner-date. He slid back into his chair as smoothly as if his body were made of a slick, oily fluid. The woman, the supposed dinner-date, started to tell him something and so Slick – the watcher decided the name was appropriate – leant forward, hands clasped in front, apparently all ears. He must have been reading books on how to appear attentive, thought the watcher, recognising a vague sort of insincerity in Slick’s movements; the man’s gestures seemed to have been practiced only in mirrors.
The watcher continued to observe the date from afar, between mouthfuls of his own meal and, pleasurably incongruous this in such a restaurant, reading his paper. One of the waiters had given him a funny look as the watcher had removed the paper from his coat but of course said nothing. ‘Ashes to ashes…,’ he read under his breath, smiling. He liked that. He turned his attention back to the couple and saw that Slick was now in full swing, talking away and gesticulating in an animated fashion. The woman on the other hand seemed to have lost all interest and was gazing around dispassionately at the other tables. Now that’s very rude, thought the watcher, wondering why Slick didn’t simply yank the woman’s chin in his direction so that she was at least facing him. Then he noticed the thin cable hanging from Slick’s ear and realised that he wasn’t talking to his date after all but rather to someone he obviously considered much more important on the other end of his pretentious compact earpiece. No wonder the woman looked bored. Mind you, thought the watcher, she didn’t seem all that upset either. If they were a long term item, she would probably be used to it. Or perhaps Slick had already proved himself to be dull beyond tolerance.
The watcher finished up his meal and signed to the waiter for the bill. While the tally was prepared, the watcher took a tiny, transparent capsule of clear liquid from his pocket and squeezed it appreciatively, like an angler sizing up a juicy maggot for his next piece of bait.
The waiter came over and the bill was paid. The waiter grinned when he saw the tip; even in an arty restaurant, tipping could still make a waiter smile. The watcher got to his feet and started to make his way towards the exit, making sure his route took him past Slick’s table, where the watcher pretended to trip and bang his thigh against the corner, knocking things about as he did so. Slick looked annoyed but the woman stood up to ask if he were okay. The watcher smiled graciously and told her he was fine. He reached over to straighten a candle that had been knocked out of whack when he had impacted with the table, blocking the woman’s view with his body and talking to Slick so that their eyes remained locked. Slick did not see the capsule disappear and dissolve in his glass. ‘There,’ said the watcher, ‘all as it was.’ He then smiled at the couple once more and left.
Outside, the watcher remained long enough to observe Slick lift the wine to his lips. The effects would take longer to appear this time, maybe half an hour. He stroked his beard, enjoying the sensation but eager to get home and remove it. There was a certain thrill in going about in disguise, a wonderful freedom from consequence. Plus, of course, it was necessary if he was to remain at large. Good luck, Slick, he thought, pulling his collar up about his neck and walking away into the night.