The inconveniences started, as they so often do, with a woman. Not in a sappy, romantic adventure sort of way; but in that specific manner that always seems to follow the introduction of two people who, for better or worse, were going to be stuck with each other for a good long while. That the person in question was a woman, it could be posited, was entirely irrelevant. But it was a woman nonetheless, and no one could deny the inconveniences started with her.
She stood exactly five foot seven, with short, dark hair worn in a fashionable pixie cut with a single magenta stripe in the front, obviously done by a professional. She was just on the lean side of curvy, but with taut thighs and a hint of definition in the muscles of her shoulders and arms. The shape and tone reminded Roland of a dancer’s body. It was the body of someone who took care of her health and fitness without getting obsessed with it. He decided it was a good body.
Roland approved of the look, in the style of banal acknowledgement that the males of the species were inclined to bestow upon the females, entirely unencumbered by the females’ complete and utter disinterest in such. Roland had grown accustomed to the disinterest of women, so his approval went unvocalized and subsequently unacknowledged. This was probably for the best since Roland was not the kind of man women wanted any kind of acknowledgement from. Most people were happier if Roland did not acknowledge them at all. So was Roland. It was a system that worked for everyone.
Other than her general good looks, there were other reasons to keep an eye on the girl... no... woman as she entered the room. Roland adjusted his estimation of her age to mid-thirties as her face caught the dim light near the bar. Pretty face, too, he acknowledged. Not that it mattered.
No, she commanded the eye for reasons other than attractiveness. First among the interesting phenomena was her presence here at all. This was a spacer’s bar; located one long block from Farragut Shipping’s main platform. Arguably cleaner than most Dockside watering holes to be sure, but the furniture and décor were showing their age. As were many of the patrons, for that matter. The lights burned dim and yellow, and both music and clientele leaned towards the ‘loud’ and ‘old’ ends of the spectrum for either. The bar, a long hardwood affair at the back of the room, had more gouges than grain left in it.
Coincidentally, this is how an astute observer might have described the bartender as well.
It was an old-school watering hole, with old school sensibilities. It did not have a stage for bands to play, nor did it have a wine list. Beer they had though, in wonderful variety and quality, which elevated ‘The Smoking Wreck’ above most gin mills this side of the Sprawl. The suds ran cold and flowed cheaply. This pleased the clientele; who were decent enough folk (for Dockside, at least).
The uniqueness of the surroundings and the patrons meant no one came here except longshoremen, spacers, pimps, thieves, and whores. She did not belong to any of those groups, Roland was sure. Her clothes appeared nice and fashionable, but also practical. She wore tight blue pants with black leather boots that rose to just below the knee, with a wide belt trimmed to match the leather of her footwear. A black shirt made of some style of shimmery material that looked comfortable and durable covered her upper body. It had no sleeves and had been tailored snug against her body. Not sleazy-snug... more like... fitted. It was a garment for practical purposes, and it looked well made. She carried a small bag over one shoulder. Black, and about eight square inches in size, it sported a simple silver button at the flap. Everything about her screamed “Upper-class socialite.” Which made her a very strange addition to the current cohort of Dockside lowlifes and ambitious street scum who liked this bar. “The Smoking Wreck” wasn’t just a wry turn of phrase; it was truth in advertising.
Second, she moved funny. She was twitchy as if hopped up on chemical speed or perhaps neurologically augmented. This might make her presence more à propos, but her eyes were clear and there was no sign of ataxia or shuffling. When she spoke to the bartender, her voice was a sure, unshaken alto that neither stammered nor slurred. To Roland’s practiced eye, she didn’t look like she was on anything. But every move she made had the aspect of an old film reel run at a speed just a little faster than it should have been. The woman walked too fast. She talked too fast. Her hands darted like striking cobras with even the most basic movements. The effect appeared subtle, but consistent. Roland doubted anyone but he had even noticed it.
The last thing keeping Roland’s attention on the girl was what she said to the bartender. It started innocuous enough, and Roland could hear it quite well despite the noisy bar.
“I’m trying to find someone. I was told he would be here.”