Читать онлайн "Pandora's Closet" автора Zahn Timothy - RuLit - Страница 7


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Quig sighed, glanced at the shears, then started scanning the room. He usually won the game. He had a good eye for weirdness. I watched him go from wall, to wall, to…

“Mother of God,” he said.

“What?” we asked.

Saying nothing, he got up and went over toward the bar. There was a ghastly old puppet that must have provided nightmare fuel for kids fifty years ago, and I thought he was going for that, but instead he reached to the right and picked up something else. He brought it back to the table.

It was round and wide, a tarnished disc of brass with a deep bowl in the middle and what looked like a bite out of the rim. He held it up.

“I give you the Golden Helmet of Mambrino,” he said.

“The who of the what now?” I asked.

“You never read Cervantes?”

I gave him a look. “Sorry. I’m still working my way through the collected works of Proust. Come on, Quig. That thing’s just an old bowl.”

“Close,” he said, his eyes shining. “Shaving basin. You put your throat in the niche, here, fill it with water, and a barber shaves you.”

“I thought it was a helmet,” Gabby said.

“It is. Don Quixote. He met a barber on the road, and he thought the man’s basin was a famous helmet. He wore it on his head after that. Like so.”

He raised it, ready to put on the bowl. Other tables were staring at him now. So was the restaurant manager, a beefy, humorless guy named Stan who rumbled toward us from across the room. “Hey!” he yelled. “What have I told you guys about taking stuff off the walls?”

People at the other tables chuckled. Quig turned a little red, then lowered the bowl-basin-whatever-and handed it to Stan. “My apologies, good sir,” he said. “It was not my intent to weigh upon the hospitality of your inn.”

Ravi nearly folded up, he was laughing so hard. The others at least tried to contain it. I wiped tears from my eyes as Stan took back the basin and rumbled away.

“I say my thing still beats that,” Rick said.

“Nah,” I replied. “The demonstration put it over the top. You win, Quig.”

Rick gave me a dark look. “I could arrange a demonstration…”

“Easy, now,” Gabby said. “Where’d you find out about the helmet, Quig?”

Quig watched Stan hang the basin back on the wall. “Oh, I played the Don once, in a production of Man of La Mancha. Dinner theater in Connecticut, back in the eighties.”

“Ah,” Ravi said, still laughing. “Glamour.”

“Shut up,” Gabby told him.

Quig wasn’t listening. He’d gone back in time. “I got to wear the helmet every night, and sing ‘The Impossible Dream.’ ” He hesitated, then sighed as he sat down again. “And I gave that up for e-Baby.”

“At least you’ve got me, hon,” said Donna, coming back over. She was older than most waitresses at Chuckles Feeblebuzzard’s Cholesterol Hut, maybe forty, and still good-looking. She flirted with Quig constantly-and not, I got the feeling, just because he tipped well. She set down a plate of wings that gave off eyeball-melting fumes and another round of drinks. “You guys know what you want?”

We told Donna our orders. She gave Quig another wink and went back toward the kitchen. We laid into the wings-all but Ravi, who kept looking up at the shears.

As we were eating, I noticed Quig glancing back at the basin. “You could go back to it, you know,” I said after a while. “Acting, I mean. Give up this crap, sell your condo, try again. God, you could probably put together your own little troupe of disenchanted programmers, tour the country.”

“I’d join,” said Gabby. Rick, sucking meat off a bone, nodded too.

Quig shook his head. “It’s a hard life, J. I can’t go back to cinder-block furniture and insta-noodles for dinner.”

But then he looked at the basin again.

By that point, Donna was on her way with our food. With the drinks and all, the tray must have weighed twenty pounds, but she carried it one-handed, weaving through the place like it was nothing. And the damn thing is, I saw what was about to happen, saw the biker-types snickering, but I froze up and couldn’t say anything until it was too late.

It all went in slow motion, like so:

The biker who nearly grabbed her ass before, a fat guy with a bushy beard that looked like his neck had thrown up, gives it another shot. And this time Donna can’t get away. He gets a handful. She stumbles. The tray rocks, she twists, her ankle rolls, and down she goes-along with about a hundred dollars’ worth of greasy food and frozen drinks. She doesn’t make a sound, but glasses smash and cutlery clatters and plates go crrrang, and there’s about a fifteen-foot spray of fries and ice and Krazy Tequila Lime Dippin’ Sauce splatted across the floor. Somehow, she manages to miss all the customers. The noise is ridiculous-and all the talking and laughing stops, just a lousy Foreigner song playing in the background. Count to three, and no one moves.

Then someone says something. It’s one of the food-throwing teens. “Two points!” he shouts.

The idiot teens laugh and go back to flinging onion rings. But everyone else is paralyzed-even the bikers, who stare at Donna, sprawled on the tiles. Mortified.

I stare, too. Your brain just kinda locks.

But then a chair squeaks, and next thing I know, Quig’s on his feet. And the look on his face-well, there’s anger and then there’s blank, white-lipped rage. He walks to Donna, through broken glass and mango salsa, and offers his hand.

Oh, yeah… I have no idea how he got it down from the wall again, but that brass bowl-thing? It’s on his head.

“Milady,” he says.

“His what?” murmurs Rick. Gabby kicks him under the table.

Donna looks up at Quig. There’s a smear of coleslaw on her cheek. She’s got rice in her hair and tears in her eyes. She takes his hand, and he helps her up. The whole restaurant applauds. I’ve never been so proud of anyone. He should’ve looked like a fool with that thing on his head, but he didn’t. He looked… well, noble.

But the slow motion doesn’t stop there. Quig offers Donna a napkin to clean herself up, then turns to the bikers. If looks could blow things up, there would have been a smoking crater there in the middle of the restaurant. But looks can only… well, look. So he reaches out, grabs a beer mug off the table, and dumps it over Neck-beard’s head.

That’s when things started moving normal speed again. Maybe even a little faster.

The bikers all got up at once, yelling stuff that sent moms diving to cover their kids’ ears. Neck-beard was dripping-with the beer on him, he smelled like a college dorm stairwell-and he took a swing. Quig ducked, and Neck-beard slipped in the goo on the floor and went down. Our table got up next, and we grabbed hold of Quig before he could hit back. I saw his eyes-he was going to. Donna helped us drag him away, while two truckers, three college kids, and a guy who looked like a retired accountant surrounded the bikers, trying to break up the fight.

The bikers looked ready to grab chairs, flip tables, just trash the place-but Stan the manager came barreling out of the back, his face a really spectacular shade of purple. I remember there was this vein throbbing on his right temple. I thought it was going to pop, and boom, down he’d go with an aneurysm, but it didn’t.

“What in the flying hell is going on here?” he roared. “Anyone touches a stick of furniture, and I’ll have the cops here. Any of you have any outstanding warrants?”

The bikers quieted down.

“Asshole dumped beer on my head!” yelled Neck-beard, getting up off the floor. He pointed at Quig.

“And you tripped me!” said Donna.

Stan looked at her, at the mustard-and-ketchup Jackson Pollock all over the floor. His lips moved, and I could see he was counting to ten. When he was on seven, Quig stepped forward.

“Sir,” he said, “it’s true, I did what that man said. But I was avenging the honor of the lady-”



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