With his hands in his pockets, Jim glances over to the woman he just met a few moments ago at the Grand Central terminal and smiles to himself for somehow getting himself roped into a half hour walk with a total stranger. A rather pretty stranger, with curly hair and sweet smile, which he can’t deny played a part in his decision to help.
And of course this allows him to go in the general direction of the reception but also delay the decision of actually going for a while.
“So, where are you heading, if you don't mind me asking,” Jim says.
She glances up and he can sense she's debating how much information to give him. “Boston,” she answers finally.
Jim lets out a whistle, “That's a bit of a ride, right?”
“Yeah, five hours. The train I missed at Grand Central was the last one ‘til the morning, but there's an overnight at Penn.”
“So, you'll get to Penn, hang there till midnight–“
“To almost three AM, actually,”
Jim feels his eyebrow shoot up his forehead, “3am? Wow, so what, you’ll just hang in a station bar?”
“If I had money I guess I would,” she says in a tone that's trying to be funny but just comes across as nervous.
He slows his pace and looks her over, only now does it occur to him she’s lacking any kind of bag. “Hold on, did you get mugged?”
“No, not exactly,” she averts her gaze, “I was in a bar and I took my eyes off my purse for two seconds and poof, it was gone. I thought it’d just be a waste of time to go to the police and I still had my phone and my ticket so I figured I'd go home and deal with everything from there.”
Jim nods, “Sounds fair. What kind of purse was it?”
She scoffs, “Prada.”
“Fancy. And yeah, sadly made you a prime target.”
“I don’t even care about the purse, I do wish I could get back something that was in it, though,” she said. She looks up to Jim’s face and shrugs, “It was a little notebook, in the inside pocket, probably in a dumpster by now.”
He watches her as they walk up to the next street crossing and an idea pops into his head as they wait for the signal, “Hey, where’s the bar you were at?”
She snaps her face to Jim and knits her brows, “Huh?”
“I’ve heard how these designer purse things go, the bartender may know something if we ask nicely enough and promise not to rat him out.”
She shakes her head, “It’s really not important, we should just get to Penn.”
“This will take up max one hour of the nearly seven you have till your train, c’mon.”
She stares at him for a moment before laughing, “Okay, fine.”
“Great,” Jim exclaims, rubbing his hand together and then regretting it when she arches an eyebrow at him. “Um, do you remember where it is or the name?”
“Yeah it was called …” The smile fades from her face and her eyes widen, “Oh my god, I knew the name until you asked me, I swear.” Jim lets out a chuckle and watches her struggle to remember, finding her furrowed brows and downturn mouth awfully cute. “It was three or four blocks from the station, pub-style.”
Jim pulls out his phone, swips away another text notification from Mark and pulls up Maps. “Okay, pub near Grand central,” he recites as he types. “Wow, that didn’t narrow it down much. Um, The Junction, Mulligans, Lionheart–“
“Yes, Lionheart! That’s it,” she nearly shouts.
“Great!” He taps the map and then looks up at the street sign, “It’s straight that-a-way.” A ‘low battery’ warning pops up on his phone and he taps it close quickly then looks to her and smiles. “Let’s do this,” he says, telling himself it’s the cold and not her giggle making his heart beat a little faster.
Don’t get your hopes up, she tells herself all the way to the bar. But he seems so optimistic about finding her purse that she starts to feel it herself.
She’s curious about him, this lanky floppy hair man who she really shouldn’t trust at all as yet somehow does. She wants to know more about his guitar and she really wants to know what this event his friend Mark is bugging him about and who Karen is, though she has a few guesses for both. But asking questions only means he’ll ask questions and there’s too many that she really doesn’t want to answer. So they walk mostly in silence to the bar.
“Hey Rachel,” he says, slowing his pace. “Here it is.”
She winces a little at “Rachel”, she gave him that name because as he said he’s a ‘guy busking in Grand Central’. Now she wishes she at least used her middle name ‘Morgan’, then it wouldn’t feel like a total lie.
Jim opens the door for her, and they stand just inside the doorway. “Is this the place?” he asks. She looks around the pub, heavy on dark wood paneling and English flags, and nods yes. They take a seat at the bar and Jim sets his guitar case in upright between them while the balding, heavyset bartender makes his way over.
“Welcome to Lionheart, what can I get you?”
Before she gets a chance, Jim starts talking. “We’re actually hoping you can help us out, see this lovely lady sitting next to me was here earlier this evening and had her purse swiped.” She hopes her cheeks aren’t red.
The bartender blinks a couple times then speaks in a slow, monotone voice, “Sorry, we are not responsible for lost items.”
Jim shrugs and shakes his head, “No no, I know, but we were wondering if maybe it turned up? Or maybe … see it was a Prada purse and I’ve heard about expensive purses like that disappearing in places like this and the bartender turns a blind eye so long as he gets a cut.”
What are you doing? she tries to ask with her wide eyes when Jim glances at her, this wasn’t going to get them anywhere.
The bartender blinks a couple more times and knits his brows, “Hey, I’m not involved in anything like that. And if you’re gonna accuse me like that I’m going to have to ask you to le-”
“Hold on, is that you?” Jim points to a poster on the bar wall, a black-and-white photo of a band with horizontal blue yellow and red color bands overlaid. “You’re a drummer?”
The bartender glances at the poster and turns back smiling, “Yeah, that’s my band, Kevin and the Zits. I’m Kevin.”
“I’m guessing from the poster design here, you guys play Police covers?”
Kevin smiles even more widely, “Wow, you’re the first person that got that.”
“Of course, I mean are you even a musician if you don’t have Synchronicity on your shelf?”
Her eyes dart from Kevin’s elated grin to Jim’s confident face and she smiles, Jim knows exactly what he’s doing and he knows he's good at it.
“You play?” Kevin says.
Jim patted the top of his case, “Guitar, Not a pro or anything but-”
“He’s really good,” she chimes in. Jim looks at her surprises and she gives a slight shrug, may as well get in on the fun.
“You looking for a band? Our guitarist might leave us soon, he’s trying to get a job at his old school, one of those ivy schools. Oh, he talks about it all the time. Not Harvard, not Yale…”
“Dartmouth?” she suggests.
Kevin shakes his head, “No, not that one.”
“Brown?” Jim says.
He shakes his head again, “No, Ivy.”
She presses her lips together and very nearly laughs when Jim looks at her with wide eyes.
“Yeah, man, I’ll leave my number and if you need a guitarist hit me up.” Jim says, grabbing a nearby paper coaster and a pen. “Before I give this to you though,” he says, holding the coaster in the air, “you sure you don’t have any clue about the purse? Just something you suspect?”
Kevin frowns, and then looks over to her, “You said it was Prada?”
She nods, “Yes, any info is a huge help.”
“And we’ll make it worth your while, of course.” Jim adds.
“Let me see something,” Kevin finally says, walking over to the swinging down leading to the back.
Once Kevin was out of sight, both she and Jim let out breaths they didn’t realize they were holding. “I do not know how I kept together with the Brown/Ivy thing, I do not,” Jim says half-laughing.
She lets out a giggle, “Yeah that was … but you were amazing!” Jim smiles and shrugs. “Seriously, the Police cover band thing? How did you know?”
“Well, that poster looks just like the Synchronicity album cover, and you’re sitting next to a guy who as a moody teen listened to ‘King of Pain’ more than a few times.”
She nods, and her eyes fall onto his guitar case. “Is that what made you want to be a guitar player?”
“No, though Sting did make me very briefly consider bass because. Nah, my inspirations are the usual subjects, Hendrix, Clapton, Richards. My folks played a lot of Fleetwood Mac and I used to listen and think “man if I could play guitar half as good as Lindsey Buckingham I’ll be set.”
“Fleetwood Mac, they do that ‘Thunder only happens when it’s raining’ song, right? With the singer that wears all the boho dresses?”
Jim laughs, “Yeah, ‘Dreams’ from the Rumours album. Stevie Nicks is the singer.”
“Yes, Stevie Nicks! And Lindsey is a guy?” He nods ‘yes’ and she smiles, “That’s kinda funny, a girl named Stevie and a guy named Lindsey.”
“Even funnier they were together, though they were breaking up while recording Rumours. The whole band was a big mess then. Probably why the album is so good.” He spins the coaster between his fingers. “The best songs are break-up songs right?” he says with a nervous chuckle.
She smiles politely but feels it fade fast, her right hand unconsciously going to her left ring finger.
“Okay,” Kevin returns from the back with a paper in his hand, “Took a few calls but I got an address.”
Jim glanced at the paper and scoffed, “Seriously? That’s a shitty neighborhood.”
She puts up her hand on Jim’s shoulder and speaks quietly, “I’m sure it’s fine.”
“No, he’s right, it’s pretty bad.” Kevin deapans. “But that’s where they are.”
She stares at Kevin for a moment then shakes her head and looks at the scribbled writing, “What does this say? ‘Alley green door’?”
“Yeah that’s not the exact address, it’s in the alley around the corner, the green door. And you gotta go tonight, they’ll probably move by tomorrow.”
“I guess we better go then.” Jim stands and picks up his guitar, looking at her and tilting her head to the exit. She almost reminds Jim he promised Kevin a reward, but decides against it and starts following him. “Thanks Kev, appreciate it,” Jim says over his shoulder.
“Hey, you said you’d make it worth my while,” Kevin calls after them.
Jim, already halfway to the door, turns back and looks to her, “Did I?”
She presses her lips together and nods a tiny bit.
“You’re right, I did, fair’s fair.” He walks back to the bar, reaching for his wallet. “Here you go,” Jim says, handing him a $20 bill. Kevin looks unsatisfied, but then Jim pulls the coaster from his coat pocket. “Sorry, almost forgot this! Seriously, give me a buzz when your guitarist goes to not-Harvard or wherever.”
“Oh, hey,” she says, a name popping into her head. “Cornell! that’s an Ivy, right?”
Kevin’s face lights up for a moment, then he shakes his head, “No that’s not it.”
She gives Jim a shrug and they start towards the door again.
“Hey, one more thing,” Kevin calls again. “What’s your favorite Police song?”
“Track eight on Synchronicity: ‘King of Pain’,” Jim replies, pushing the door open.
Kevin grins, “Nice.”