‘The Cunning Plan’ by Anne Nicholls
Sunset painted the tops of the mountains, but on the alpine meadows no goats whatsoever gambolled. Nobody, absolutely nobody, yodelled. Cheerfulness was not allowed.
Crimson light rivered from the sky, seeping like blood into the valley. At the edge of the shadowed village, lights twinkled merrily through diamond-lattice windows. A creaking sign at the front and a stack of empties at the back showed what this place was. As soon as it was full night, dark-cloaked figures began to make their way to the tavern.
Four customers slumocked along close behind. The bright wedge of firelight from the door swallowed them up. Tossing their cloaks over the pegs on the wall, they made their way to their usual table. They sat with an air of cheerful expectancy, watching through the crowd as alleged maidens in black-laced bodices ploughed a path with their ample, up-thrust bosoms.
It was happy hour at the Carpathian Arms.
One such mock-virgin plonked down a tray of tankards for the quartet. Foaming liquid splashed from the steins, staining the table red. Four hands reached eagerly for the scarlet drinks, four sets of pointed eye-teeth plunged into the fluid. Over the rim of their drinks, Sleepless MacBride, Mack the Fang, Long-Tooth McGurkl and Kevin the Killer leered at the wench.
Fräulein Liesl smiled nervously.
Then Sleepless MacBride lifted his face from his tankard to glare around in disgust. Without warning he hurled his glass at the wall. ‘Bleedin’ Ribena!’
Crash, tinkle, silence. You could have heard a needle drop – except someone would have caught the syringe to suck out the dregs.
But the waitress was indignant. Worse, she owed Sleepless for getting her into trouble. Hadn’t he tripped her up the day before when she was carrying a bun full of raw meat, dill pickles and Emmental? She’d fallen on Long-Tooth and the Fang, covering them in goo and soggy lettuce to the detriment of their tempers and her health. And what had he said? ‘Big Mack is served with cheese and Gurkl.’
Now everyone was listening, Liesl grinned vindictively. ‘Is it my fault you emptied the cat?’