It had always been his partner who was the better one in undercover situations. One of them had to be the best at it he supposed, they each had their strengths. He was a marvel to watch, changing only his attitude and deciding he would be confident, or surly, or friendly, or uncertain. Everything else was still him, and anyone who knew him could see that. Everything he did was what he would have been doing anyway, but this time he was A Confident Person, and somehow that was all he needed. It was the simplicity that was the beauty of it, that made it work so seamlessly, no unnecessary complications for him to trip up on, just a person doing very normal things for a person to do and fitting in very nicely.

Today's utilisation of his talents was based in a pub, a fact for which they were both rather grateful. Similar jobs had been undertaken in much worse locations so they would quite happily take what they were given at this point. The star of the show was lounging on a bar stool, somehow leaning back on it, as if the stool itself was part of his act, or perhaps it was so in awe of him that it had forgotten to become overbalanced. It certainly did not seem like a seat one should be able to comfortably relax on, although he appeared to be doing so. He had undone one more button than usual on his shirt, hoping he was giving off a lack of self-consciousness and not just a need for some company for the night. Either way it could not hurt to come across as someone who would take a stranger home, it would make him seem trusting, make him seem approachable, and he took great joy in being underestimated.

Their target was seated behind the bar, looking very out of place and fascinated by her fingernails, not necessarily in an insecure fashion, but rather in a bored one. As if she was not meant to be working the taps or serving customers and was instead here waiting for something or someone, and it was merely a coincidence that she was dressed as a member of staff. So far, his partner’s smiles sent her way had done no good at all, but they seemed to have at least done no bad either. It all seemed to have no effect on her, she observed as the world went by around her without so much as a curious glance up when somebody new opened the door. Did not do much for her appearance of waiting for somebody. In the beginning, he had gone with a casual friendly smile, the kind that says nothing at all, simply acknowledges the other person’s presence and makes sure they know you are available for necessary small talk, like asking for directions to the motorway or the toilets. When that did not evoke any reaction, he had tried going with something more flirtatious, but trying to catch the eye of someone who never finds it necessary to look up from their own hands is easier said than done.

Smiling having failed to do it’s requested job, he upped the confidence portrayal level, if that was even possible, and, adding a sprinkling of coquetry just for good measure, he moved on to stage two of the plan. Starting a conversation. If she responded badly to his advances at least it would be a response or some sort, and he could work with that, he would have to at this rate. Leaning forward slightly further than he quite needed to so that his shirt hung open just enough, he tapped his glass on the bar, outwardly completely at ease, inwardly wondering if he would have time to apologise to the bartender at some point for his obnoxious behaviour. He flashed his biggest smile at the man who approached him, hoping to distract his suspicions from his obvious desires to talk to his colleague by splashing some spare flirtation in his direction. Should be enough to ply him to leave them alone, he was going to have enough of a job of this already, he did not need diligent bartenders becoming frustrated that their less so diligent counterparts were not quite pulling their weight.

In the end he had to shout over to her, launching into whatever he could find to talk about and plucking more grand smiles out of the bag to hide his vague annoyance at her. She could not make this easy could she, could not just sit at his side drinking a pint and telling him everything he needed to know. Now where would be the excitement in that. Earlier this evening, his foot had been tapping against the stall legs in time with the music, if it was a song he really liked, he even allowed his fingers to dance along the edge of his glass. That had all gone out the window now, she did not seem to be one for dancing, even if it was the tapping of a foot, and he tailored his version of confidence further from the loud guy who wanted to be everyone’s friend, and more toward a very self-assured guy out for a friendly drink and some interesting conversation. The kind of guy one meets and wonders if they are aware that they are a real person at all, or if the other people in their world are more like them and you are the one in the wrong here, you are the one who was not updated on the fact that we all do no care about what others think of now. He was going to that guy for tonight, and he was very aware of his partner’s eyes on his back as he tucked all self-consciousness up in a box to be opened and examined later. Now was the time for working, thinking about the kinds of characters he turned into was work, but for another day.

August 18, 2021 23:00

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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