If Baedeker had ever written about the Gristle and Thorn, it would have delighted in pointing out that it was exceptionally sleazy. (Rick Steves, on the other hand, would have called it an excellent place to meet full of “local colour,” but this is neither here nor there.) The decor was garish, the atmosphere suffocating, and the food was an impressive combination of expensive and unappetizing. The building it was housed in appeared to have just barely survived the London Blitz, and the street it was on was one that Sweeney Todd would have gone whistling past rather quickly. Oddly enough, in a millennium of travelling writing, no researcher had stepped into the Gristle and Thorn, not even once. If the proprietors had ever noticed this, they wouldn’t have cared. The G and T catered to a fairly exclusive clientele.
Why exactly Wendy had decided to have a drink there is one of those mysteries lost to history. Older, wealthier, and less intellectually driven than her sister, Wendy had made a career out of finding obscure places to get drunk. In that respect, the G and T would have been quite a feather in her cap, although in almost all other respects, it was rather dreary. That Alice arrived before her sister was hardly surprising. Wendy regarded punctuality slightly above American Culture and popular music in terms of importance. Alice was used to this, and took a seat at a table in the corner that looked like it was the least likely to be infested with cockroaches.
This being the twenty-first century, Alice sat down, took out her cell phone, and quickly became engrossed in the world of email. Her father had sent her a message which she didn’t read, and her colleagues from New York were asking questions that might have had relevance if she wasn’t on another continent. Alice became so distracted that she didn’t notice that everyone in the pub was trying not to stare at her.
The bartender came over and handed Alice a drink. “Mango liquor, Kina Lillet and Cranberry Juice, with a thin layer of pomegranate seeds and a large slice of lime,” he said cheerfully.
“I didn’t order this,” Alice said, staring at him blankly.
“I’m sorry, miss?” he asked.
“The drink,” she said “I haven’t ordered anything.”
The bartender smiled. He was a bald little man with large eyes like ping pong balls and the pleasant smile of an insurance salesman. His accent was Cornish, and his manner was a little stiff. “I’m sorry, miss,” he said, still smiling.
“That’s all right,” Alice said. She didn’t know what to order and the drink looked lovely. “I’ll keep it anyway, if that’s okay.”
The bartender continued to smile. “If there’s anything else, miss, I’ll be behind the bar.”