nolan noticed the guy sitting at the bar as soon as he entered the prince hal room.
it was not exactly that he "didn't like his looks". more like he excited his curiosity a little bit. nolan could not quite place him. and there were not too many people nolan could not place.
nolan took the first stool at the bar, in front of the passage from the lobby. there was one empty stool between him and the stranger, who, he now saw, was drinking coffee.
despite the late hour, the place was still pretty full, with most of the tables taken, though not a lot of people at the bar. tony winston was noodling at the piano, but the other band members were either taking a break or had played their last set.
no sign of miss shirley de la salle. too bad, she was about the only thing in the place nolan thought worth looking at.
you didn't need a watch or a clock to tell how late it was - you just had to look at the smoke in the room, which now formed a cloud as thick as a feather mattress just below the ceiling.
two people who were at the bar, at the far end, were miss hyacinth wilde, and the girl reporter - what was her name again? flaherty? flanagan. the pair were deep in conversation, waving their cigarettes at each other, and took no notice of nolan.
raoul left the stranger, whom he had been listening politely to, and came over to nolan.
"another rheingold, mister nolan?"
"it's getting a little late, raoul. i think i'll have what this gentleman is having - a nice cup of coffee."
"coming right up. a little cream, no sugar, right?"
as raoul had just made a fresh pot for the stranger, he had nolan's cup ready quickly, and set it down in front of him.
the "stranger", the time-traveling assassin and ex-navy seal mack treacher, was taking the measure of nolan from the corner of his eye. he noticed that he did not pay for the coffee. he looked like a cop - not that it took any great powers of observation to see that. a city detective making the rounds? they usually traveled in pairs. the bartender had called him "mister", not "detective" or "inspector." and the old boy looked awfully comfortable - like he was watching television in his room with his shoes off. wait. did they even have television? - one of the first things mack had noticed about both the hotel lobby and the bar was the absence of televisions.
anyway, mack decided, this guy was most likely the house detective.
mack had already made one small gaffe tonight - talking about coffee with the bartender like it was the twenty-first century, not back here in the middle ages where coffee was just coffee and people drank the same way they ate - whatever was put in front of them.
should he try to make some use of this house detective - assuming that that was what he was? or avoid him? mack wanted to get this job done and over with as soon as possible.
mack ran through the cover story the professor had given him. jeez, if the professor only knew how many times mack had messed up the cover story - that the poor professor had probably sweated blood over - beyond all recognition, and had to just shoot and blast his way through the alarmed and suspicious natives back to the good old twenty-first century.
like the time in spain in the - what - sixteenth century? - when he had to penetrate the dungeons of the inquisition to save the alpha centaurion princess - and what a spitfire she was! - acting like mack was some kind of disgusting slob not good enough to save her -
because of a clause in the peace treaty the earthlings would sign in the seventy-third century. all he had done was go into a little roadside inn and ask for an ice cold beer - when the temperature was around two hundred in the shade - talk about opening the gates of hell…
or that time-warp caper between the ninth and eighty-ninth centuries - where mack never even knew for sure what planet or what dimension he was in - and where he got a little confused and told the siriusian ant queen that she had nice legs - even after the professor had told him that no account was he supposed to mention a siriusian ant woman's legs - yeah, that was one for the books… never to be forgotten…
or in rome, in the sixteenth (?) century again, where he was rescuing the painter, caravaggio from… from some damn thing or other… and mack could not get over the things the disgusting little pervert had suggested to him… and he ended up leading a bayonet charge up the spanish steps against the papal guard by the ragtag army of street urchins and hunchbacked beggars he had recruited in the back alleys around the colosseum…. yes, that was a bayonet charge that would live in memory forever….
yes, jobs like this were easier, where you did not have to rescue anybody and get them through the portals of time, just shoot them and be on your way.
although he was sick of all the killing.
mack decided to take a chance. he turned to nolan, who was sipping his coffee and staring straight ahead.
"excuse me, sir, can i ask you a question?'"
nolan turned a blank gaze on him. a definite cop gaze. "go ahead."
"are you the house detective of this excellent establishment?"
"i am, indeed."
"ha ha, i made a bet with myself that you were. i travel a lot, you see, and i like to think that no matter where i go, i can spot a person by his occupation. a harmless little foible of mine."
nolan stared at mack. "many people seem able to deduce my occupation."
"heh heh, i wasn't claiming any special powers." mack stuck out his hand. "my name is gormsby. clyde gormsby, from rhodesia." no reaction from the detective at "rhodesia" . good. just as the professor had predicted.
nolan reached over the empty bar stool between them and shook mack's hand. "pleased to meet you, mr gormsby. my name is nolan."
"i'm in the diamond business," mack continued, after they finished their shake, which he had not made too manly. he picked his coffee cup up again.
"diamonds!" a light flashed in nolan's brain. could this character have some connection with stan slade? wait - would he be that obvious about it if he did? nobody knew better than nolan how stupid criminals could be.
but mack had noticed the tiny movement in nolan's eyes. uh-oh, he thought, what have i said wrong now?
why did everything have to be so complicated? was he going to have to shoot his way out of this caper too?