Eva’s thinking spot was a corner diner in a nondescript city. It was late at night. A block of darkened shop windows brooded under brick apartments. A bar’s broad front window blasted away the night.
The bar’s name — “Phillies” — was written in gold letters on the marquee. Sir Erik could see a couple people sitting at the cherry-wood counter on little round stools, and a blonde guy in a mid-twentieth century soda jerk uniform — white shirt, white apron and white paper hat — manning two silver coffee stills. The other people were dressed in Humphrey Bogart suits and fedoras, and the woman wore a low-cut, form-fitting blouse of flushed red.
“You really don’t know what this is?” Eva said.
She’d changed out of her corset into a flattering 1940’s era blue blouse and skirt. She wore a jaunty little hat, too.
“You’re a freaking European, you have to know this.”
“I never paid attention to art history,” said Sir Erik. “I never had any opportunity or desire to learn it.”
Eva shook her head. Her Companion, a bluebird named Gregory, was riding on her shoulder.
“It’s a 1942 painting called Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. American. I had a print of it when I was a school girl, and I always wanted to go to America and visit a diner like this. Now, I can come to this exact diner.”
“Gregory likes to come, too. He says you should look up art history. It’s good for the soul.”
“I’ll take that into consideration,” said Sir Erik.
Gregory tweeted again as they walked across the darkened street.
“Gregory says that’s Obligation,” said Eva.
“You know, he’s right,” said Sir Erik.
Sir Erik didn’t understand why the bird was here. Eva had insisted on his presence. Gregory was starting to piss him off. And the way the little bird would stare at him with his oildrop eyes was downright creepy.
“I come here all the time,” said Eva. “Sometimes I’m by myself, and sometimes I bring dates.”
“I see,” said Sir Erik.
They got to the front door at the far right of the diner. Sir Erik opened it for Eva and she walked in.
“Eva,” said the guy behind the counter.
“Hey, Ed,” she said. “Everett, George, what’s happening?”
The two men at the counter tipped her a wave.
Eva looked at the woman and nodded.
“Eva Blue-Eyes,” said Josephine, playing with a packet of matches. “Back again.”
“You know it,” said Eva.
Ed, the counter man, stood in front of them. He held a rag.
“The usual, Eva?”
“Yessir,” said Eva. “Just stopping by. Can’t think of anything to do for our Audience! I thought some coffee would help jog our brains.”
They took a seat at the far end of the bar, opposite the other three patrons.
Ed grabbed two white coffee mugs and turned around to one of the two metal tanks against the far wall and began filling them. The place smelled great, like pie and fresh-brewed coffee and tea. It also smelled like fresh paint.
“Who’s your new fella?” Josephine asked, smoking a cigarette with one hand and fiddling with the matchbook with the other.
“Oh, this is Sir Erik the Red,” said Eva.
“How many Audiences you do in a day, anyway?” asked Josephine. “Seems like you’re in here every damn night.”
“Oh, I don’t even know anymore,” said Eva. “Not very many, though. I’m hard to beat.”
“Busy girl,” said Josephine coolly, staring right at Eva.
“Uh-huh,” said Eva, smiling and staring right back.
Ed brought their mugs over, filled with steaming black coffee.
“Just as you like it, my princess,” said Ed.
Eva took her mug, sniffed and blew on it. Gregory dipped his tiny beak and blew on the cup, too.
“You can put cream and sugar in if you want,” Eva said to Sir Erik. “But I like my coffee like I like my men. Hot and black!”
She cackled laughter again.
“I was gonna say,” said Josephine. “Usually you’re in here with a Negro. This is the first dough boy you’ve brought in.”
“Uh-huh,” said Eva, blowing on her coffee again.
The catty, crackling vibe between Eva and Josephine was palpable.
“Does he talk?” Josephine asked, nodding at Sir Erik.
“He’s a little high from this Spice trip I gave him for winning Audience with me,” said Eva. “I took him to all the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. I do that with all my new Audiences.”
“What’d you think of that, Sir Erik?” said Josephine.
“I barely remember it,” said Sir Erik. “It happened so fast.”
“I will have cream and sugar, though, please,” said Sir Erik, motioning to Ed. Coffee did sound good right now.
Ed slid a sugar dispenser and a little metal teapot of cream down.
“Eva here likes her meat dark, don’tcha Eva?” he said.
“I like it dark or tanned or pale,” said Eva. “Doesn’t matter to me! It’s all digestible!”
Sir Erik was surprised at how friendly and personable Eva was in conversation with others. There was no trace of the icy death eyes or the haughty half-smile she displayed when performing. Onstage she was an aloof goddess; in person she was a giggly schoolgirl.
“Negroes got their issues,” said Everett, Josephine’s companion, speaking for the first time. “But their music is swingin’.”
“I love to hear me some jazz,” said Ed.
The other man, George, the loner, spoke up.
“Ever heard a blues record?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Ed.
“Get yourself some Robert Johnson, Lead Belly, something like that,” he said. “Swell stuff. You can feel the vibrations of time and space itself within it.”
“White guys in my universe are called Repentants,” said Eva. “As I’ve explained before.”
“I was never really into jazz,” said Sir Erik. “I was never really into music in general, to be honest. Just what I’d hear on the radio.”
“I hear music is the religion in your universe,” said Josephine.
“It is at The Palace,” said Sir Erik. “But in my first life or whatever, I didn’t really bother with it too much.”
He lifted his steaming coffee and took a big sip.
Gregory tweeted in Eva’s ear. Her expression when from bright to dark.
“Erik lied to me,” said Eva.
“Pardon?” said George.
“He lied to me,” she said. “Gregory told me just now.”
“What’d he lie about?”
“His victory,” said Eva. “Among other things.”
Erik stared at her.
“I lied to you?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “You’re hacked. I mean, I knew it the second you won my Trial. But Gregory’s been watching you and he knows for sure.”
“How the hell could he — “
Sir Erik looked at the oildrop eyes.
That’s why she brought him, he thought. He can sense the hack. I don’t know how, but he can.
He couldn’t remember taking the potion, but he had. He was so calm now. Unnaturally calm. He hadn’t thought
“Wait,” Junelle had said to him. “Wait, you have to wait. You can’t just go storming in there. She’ll know.”
“I have to,” he’d told her. “Someone has to try.”
Junelle had been right. This was the dumbest move ever.
The diner had gone quiet and awkward. Only Josephine smoked her cigarette and stared daggers at Eva.
Eva slurped the last of her coffee and slapped money down on the counter. Gregory fluttered from the counter to her shoulder. Sir Erik would’ve loved nothing more than to grab the little fucker and crush him with one hand.
“But I know what I want to do about it now,” she said cheerfully.
Sir Erik had barely touched his coffee, not that he’d wanted it in the first place.
“I’m ready to go,” Eva said to him, expectantly.
“Wait,” said Sir Erik. “What do you mean I lied to you?”
“I just told you,” said Eva. “You’re hacked. The moth’s wing wasn’t illegal, no. But the hack is. That’s illegal. In The Palace. But it’s okay, because I know what I’m going to do.”
“I’m not hacked.”
“What’s hacked?” Everett asked.
No one answered him.
“You are,” said Eva, blue eyes burning. “Gregory sees all.”
“Then did he wait until now to say anything?”
Eva pointed to Erik’s coffee.
“That coffee just came out of the pot,” she said. “It hasn’t cooled at all. But you drank it like it was room temperature.”
Erik looked at his coffee. It was steaming. He had, he’d gulped it. If he wasn’t hacked, it would’ve burned him enoguh for him to spit it out.
“You’re privileged,” said Eva. “The Maya bends to you, just enough to make things easy. You’re hacked. Gregory wasn’t sure till he saw that.”
Erik couldn’t feel panic, but he knew then. The bird was right. He was fucked.
He tried to turn and go, but Eva’s eyes were already all iris. She Hyped him to the spot. He was all her’s.
“See you next time, Eva,” said Ed, collecting the dollar bills.
“Nice of her to tip so generous,” said Josephine. “Always barging in, then blowing right back out again.”
“Come off it, Jo,” said Everett. “You’re just mad because she’s immortal.”
Eva didn’t respond to them.
She took Sir Erik by the hand and towed him out of the diner. Gregory rode on her shoulder, oildrop eyes watching everything.
“You’re in so much trouble,” said Eva cheerfully.
The other four had already gone back to their quiet, pensive evening together.
Sir Erik looked behind them at the diner and the people in it, and for the first time, he recognized the painting.