Every so often, one feels obliged to organise what is worst called a "catch-up", a sort of vague precautionary measure against seeming overly asocial. The key is not to be too transparent about the whole business. The café was perfect: an informal yet refined venue, for the accidental yet considerate host. I drained the last of my coffee and shivered. Ben, toying with the Hawaiian slice I'd bought for him, laughed and reached for his hot chocolate.
"Well, it beats a walk," conceded Harry, bubbling a pocket bong.
"Must you?" I said.
I gave Ben a look but he seemed neither to condone nor condemn.
"How's everybody been?" I ventured.
The conversation greyed and died, eventually succumbing to the noxious blend of Ben's indifference and my tiresome routines. Propped by a seemingly infinite cache of anecdotes, Harry had ultimate power but was content to let it slide. I started again.
"Are you working on anything, Harry?"
"Yes!" he yelped, betraying much. "It's about this feisty young brunette, all sex-appeal and balls. Cute, but not glamorous, you know? She's strong, too, but not so you'd notice — like, she's got muscle, but no muscles. And despite her bust she's small, petite even, and she's got these horizontal-stripe socks."
"And she's a bounty hunter." Harry looked around for approval and found only frowns. No less confident, he continued. "And get this, she's dead but she's been brought back to life by this voodoo spell, so she's got all these cool voodoo tattoos and shit — tomboyish but sexy."
"And there are these cool skeleton guys who are after her for some reason. Evil motherfuckers, but cool. I might do a spin-off with them."
"And the bounties, the people she kills — they fucking deserve it, man, let me tell you. Rapists, murderers, done all sorts of shit with kids, you wouldn't believe. She's a public servant, really."
"And you should see the shit she carries. Two mean fucking handguns, I'll tell you — steam-powered."
"Yeah! Fucking steam-punk guns! They've got this sort of hand-madey, ye-olde look, with like chips in the metal, and sometimes they jam."
"I know! Imagine that! She's standing there, in the middle of the jungle, like twenty skeleton guys around her, and the gun fucking jams! What the fuck does she do?"
"Use the other one?" offered Ben.
"Well..." Harry thought a moment. "No! She'd already lost the other one somehow. It's just that one. And these guys are closing in. And let me tell you, if there's twenty guys you don't want closing in on you, it's these twenty motherfuckers."
"So what does she do?"
"That, my friend, is where the fun really begins."
"You mean all this time we were just bored?"
Harry looked at Ben, more perplexed than offended.
"Just wait 'til you hear this."
"I'll try," said Ben.
"Right, so, they're closing in, her gun's jammed, it's all looking hopeless. This is the end. But hang on... What's this in my backpack? My swords!"
"Yeah! The ten she got from this rare Japanese guy, the only ten in the world."
"Yeah! Now, I know what you're thinking — how does she fight with ten swords?"
"I was thinking more along the lines of why, but go on," interjected Ben.
"Well, it's simple," began Harry. "Voodoo. The same spell that brought her back to life has given her the power to wield ten blades at once. It's this ancient power, and it's gonna have a cool name, like Sword o' Ten Tails or something."
"Please never say that again," said Ben.
"And that's how she beats 'em, skeleton shish kebabs."
I waited a few minutes before asking Ben the same.
"I'd prefer it if you didn't call me Harry, but yes."
"Care to elaborate?"
"Another misanthropic tale of loss and loss?"
"More or less. And how about your lovely self?"
"Me? I'm too busy writing this to do anything."