Echo

Friday night shift was always busy. Echo was a small bar, just around the corner from Dawn Street Cinema, and across the street from Dawn Park. Bianca looked up from the drink she was preparing as the door opened again.

It was him again. The same man every Friday. His skin was pale green and faintly mottled, his hair was a mess of dark green reeds, permanently damp and dripping onto his shoulders. His shirt was never wet.

She nodded at him once and went back to the ice tea, careful not to look over at him again. He always came in for Tori. Well, that’s what they said. He sat in her section, he ordered her specialty, he only came in on her shifts. Tori had liked the attention, but she would love attention if it came from a group of pigeons in Dawn Park.

“He doesn’t know she’s not in tonight, then?” Foster elbowed her on his way from the kitchens, nodding at the nameless regular.

“Well, it isn’t like her… you okay working her section?” she asked, sliding the Long Island Ice Tea down the bar to the young woman with the bright peach-coloured spikes for hair.

Foster shrugged nonchalantly and sashayed his way in between tables, laden with plates of hot food. The man made her feel clumsy and oaf like, the way he could make it from one end of the room to the other so gracefully, and then set down his load with an effortless flourish. She realised she was staring and hurried to take another order.

Tori never missed a shift. She needed the money, though she hated the venue. She and Bianca had never been friends, but they were friendly. Bianca mused about her absence for a while, imagining extravagant excuses for the girl that got more and more crazy with each idea. In truth, that was how Bianca spent most of her time. In thought. Daydreaming. Imagining. Whatever you want to call it.

“He’s staring at you.” Foster was back. He raised a dark eyebrow and drew her out of her reverie. The man was in fact watching her. Scrutinising her in the same way he used to watch Tori. Bianca shivered.

“What does he want?” she muttered, more to herself than to Foster. The guy had always given her the creeps. Not that that was unusual in Echo, you get a lot of odd characters on the midnight and early am shifts. But still.

She clocked off early, changing in the staff loos and waving to Giles, the owner, on her way out. It was 2am, and the city was as alive and moving as ever. She stomped her boots on the partially frozen pavement outside a few times, hands shoved deep into her coat pockets, scarf wrapped tightly. The chill bit and lashed at her face, her teeth felt like blocks of ice. She’d forgotten how warm Echo’s heating was, and how wintry the air outside had been earlier that evening.

Her flat was only three blocks down, so she walked. The nearest underground station was across Dawn Park, that was the route Tori took after her shift, through the darkened gardens. Bianca had never liked it. She briefly worried about Tori, but shook off the feeling. She probably had a cold or something. Everybody had one at the moment.

Last month she’d had a fever, had still come in. Giles had sent her home. But she needed the money.

“Spare a light, miss?” The girl had to be barely sixteen, skinny and sick-looking. She had ratty, fair hair and thin clothes that looked like they hadn’t seen the inside of a washer in months. Bianca shook her head and kept moving, out of the cold.

Tori would turn up.

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