A skinny brown man enters a kitchen. Fridges and workbenches. Stainless steel. Clean and polished.
Boss is not there.
A door to an office is locked. No one is in the toilets. The trash is taken out since before, and boss wouldn’t leave without saying.
A skinny brown man heads for the basement. The lamp in the staircase is on and grunts of effort rise from below.
A mean bastard of a woman – tall and scarred and full of muscle – long brown hair, white skin. Tight blue jeans, red bandana, and a washed out black top with its arms ripped off and the faded logo of some band that played here and whose songs she can’t remember for having worked too hard all night.
Skulls and roses cover her skin. Guns and hearts – bleeding beating loving – symbols of power and of lust, of death and life and fate. A lone wolf howling at a burning moon. Her arms are covered with tattoos, from knuckle to shoulder, but her neck and cheeks are bare.
She carries one full keg of beer in each hand.
– – –
“Hey, boss. Someone’s looking for you.”
“Huh?” Paivi set down the kegs she’d been carrying and looked up.
Ali’ast stood at the bottom of the stairs, one hand on the railing, looking at her with a confused frown on his face. Didn’t he know she was busy? She always did the kegs after lunch. He knew that.
“Tell them to sit down. I’ll be up in a bit. Just need to finish this.” She bent her knees, grabbed the kegs again, and lifted with her legs.
“Uhm…” Ali’ast grimaced, glanced back up the stairs, and rubbed at his chin with the back of his hand. “I don’t think they expect to have to wait.”
“What?” Paivi raised an eyebrow at him, and shuffled another few steps towards the tap room. “Did they threaten you or something?”
“No no. Nothing like that.” He hunched up his shoulders. “It was… Well… I just got that feeling you know.”
Paivi sighed and set the kegs down again. “Really Al? What’s gotten into you?” She didn’t have time for this crap. “Are you playing some prank on me again?”
Ali’ast threw his arms wide. “No! Seriously, boss. Seriously. I don’t know what it is.”
He fell silent. His mouth opened and closed, and a frown appeared on his brow. Paivi crossed her arms over her chest and waited. This should be interesting.
“She’s just this weird little hippie woman,” he said eventually. “I just got this feeling you should talk to her. Like it’d be important you know.”
He took a deep breath and raised his hand to tap his chest over his heart. “There’s no trick. I swear.”
Paivi frowned. “Little hippie woman?” What in the world was he up to this time?
“Yeah, one of those nature freaks.” He grinned at her. Not his crowd – nor hers. “Dreadlocks and long skirt and everything.” Laughing, he pointed at his cheek. “She even had flowers or something tattooed on her face.”
“Huh?” Weirder and weirder. “I know no one like that. Did she say her name?”
The word hit her like a fist in the gut. Her lungs filled with ice, and she gasped for breath. “What?”
“Toini, boss,” Ali’ast repeated. “She said her name was Toini.”
Paivi’s knees grew weak, and she bent down to support herself on one of the kegs. “Yes… I heard you.” She took a deep breath. What was going on? “It’s just…”
Another breath. Nice and easy now. It was just a coincidence. The name wasn’t even that rare. “Never mind. It’s okay. Just unexpected.” Sure, it was uncommon, but she was really just being silly.
Silly. That was all. She slumped and sat down on the other keg with her elbows against her knees.
“Uhm… Paivi… Is something wrong?” Ali’ast stepped away from the stairs and came over to stand beside her. “You don’t look so good.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. Small, but warm and firm and safe. He never called her by her name. She was making a fool of herself. It was just a coincidence.
“No. It’s fine.” She’d met people with that name before. Why was she being all weird about it now? “I don’t know anyone by that name anymore.”
“Are you sure?” He squeezed her shoulder. “I can go and throw her out if you want?” He paused, and forced a little laugh. “I mean… We’re good with the mob anyway, right?”
Paivi’s head shot up. “No! Don’t! I’ll talk to her.”
Ali’ast took a step back. Poor man. She hadn’t seen him this confused in ages – worried even. One of these days she’d have to tell him about Toini – her Toini. They’d known each other long enough. She owed him that. Just not now. It could wait. Another day – maybe tomorrow. With beer.
For now, she needed to get her shit together and deal with this stranger that shared her sister’s name. Impostor.
She sighed to herself. What was wrong with her? That was so unfair. Poor woman just happened to have been born with that name. It wasn’t her fault.
Swallowing, she rubbed at her cheeks, and forced a smile to her face. “What did she look like?”
“Uh…” Ali’ast raised an eyebrow at her. “I already told you boss. Little hippie woman. Blonde, dreads, tattoos on the face.”
Paivi kept the smile in place. ”No, I mean, anything else?” She was in control. She just had to ask. Just to be sure. It made no harm. “Did she have a piercing in her lower lip, on the right side?”
“No,” said Ali’ast, and then he frowned. “I don’t know. Maybe.” He stroked at his beard. “I think so. Yes.”
Her head spun. “Ali’ast!”
Calm down. It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t know. She clenched her fists and pressed her eyes together. “Please, it’s important.”
Ali’ast sighed and threw his arms in the air. “I don’t stupid know. I didn’t think about it.” He turned around and stomped away a few steps. “What’s the big deal anyway? You can just go and look at her yourself – or do you want me to kick her out?”
“Yes. Yes. You’re right.” Paivi shook herself, stood up, and then sat right back down again. Her legs didn’t want to.
“Err… Boss?” Ali’ast frowned and took a step closer.
Paivi stared at the wall in front of her across the room. She knew every crack in the stone and every last scratch in the paint. The pub wasn’t much, but it was hers. Her life – whatever was left of it. It was all she had, the only thing that remained after everyone left.
She loved it here. It was safe. No one could hurt her here. She was strong. She’d built a new life here. Safe and strong and alone.
And now someone had shown up with the same name as her dead sister and all the walls crumbled.
“Paivi.” He’d come close again. His hand was on her shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She straightened up and shook herself, clearing her thoughts. “Just old memories. It’s nothing.” Groaning, she put her hands on her knees and pushed herself to her feet. “No big deal. I’ll go talk to her.”
Not completely alone.
“Yes. It’s fine.” She smiled, for real, and brushed her hands off against the back of her jeans. “Can you sort out the kegs? It’s just the Roedsbrews left.”
Ali’ast grinned and touched a finger to his brow in salute. “Of course boss, not a problem. Trust me.”
He stepped aside to let her past. Smiling after her, he grabbed the nearest keg with both hands and began dragging it towards the tap room.
As soon as she’d disappeared out of sight he stopped moving and listened. When he heard her step off the last step at the top of the stairs he let go of the keg and hurried up after her.
He’d sort the kegs out later.