He sat in the dim, resting his arm on the table and letting his gaze caress the subdued lamps that created the perfect atmosphere. Quiet music flowed around him and he didn't even bother to look for its source, he knew Olivia saw a lot of trouble to make her club perfect.
Nick didn't usually feel comfortable in places like that, he couldn't stand the beatniks or their useless waffles on life and death. To him their rubbish was totally unimportant and without a good reason he would have never stepped in through the door of Blue Casket.
But his reason was very good indeed.
Olivia was of course peculiar and she had many characterisations Nick despised. But still, something in the woman was different and made a clear difference between her and the idiots in the club.
Nick had thought about it many times and had always snorted. Neither of them needed love and there was no strong feelings in their relationship.
And yet he dragged himself there almost every night when he could have spent his time better in the Cat Track or some other place.
He and Olivia got along very well, that was clear. The woman had exotic nature -- which was so different from his own -- fascinated him and maybe he was searching some excitement in his life after death.
It was very obvious that the one who fawned on Maximino's girlfriend was begging to be sprouted. To Nick the situation was even worse, he was the personal lawyer of the kingpin of Rubacava and if Maximino ever found out what he was doing...
This very real threat wasn't enough to make him stop, something just drew him there to wait for Olivia, who always appeared at some point of the night. Their relationship hung totally on pleasure and when the other got bored it all would be over.
Nick lit a cigarette and looked around. Everything was calming blue and if the customers were a bit different he might have been able to relax.
Everything had been so peaceful after Manuel Calavera had left the city with his demon friend about two years ago. The Calavera cafe had been closed and Maximino had soon turned it into his personal club, of course firing the incredibly annoying coach girl.
He didn't miss Calavera at all, was only happy for that he had left. He had been so different than the other people in Rubacava and he hadn't fit in. The city was much quieter now when the new casinos had been opened in Nuevo Marrow and most of the people had left there, so maybe Calavera could have survived now.
Or not, Nick had a strong feeling that if he had stayed Calavera would have got himself into trouble and been sprouted.
Not that he would have cared.
He noticed that one if the beatniks still in town rose from his chair and stepped on the small stage in the middle of the club. If he still had had eyeballs he would have rolled them; more stupid poems.
The man on the stage was dressed in dark grey clothes and he looked just perfect to fit the local atmosphere. Nothing seemed to happen in Rubacava anymore and if Olivia and his job weren't there Nick would have left long time ago.
"Agony, my soul screaming when the white snowflakes touch my bones. The feel of forever lasting sorrow in my eyes. I raise my hand," the man on the stage said and got few quiet applauds here and there. Nick snorted loudly and some people gave him angry glances.
He knew he wasn't welcome with these pathetic fools, but that didn't matter to him. He despised them and their stupid hallucinations, they deceived themselves if really believed in their ideas.
"So I find you here again." Olivia's soft voice was heard and the woman sat next to him. Nick shrugged.
"Unfortunately. If there was another option I wouldn't be here listening to that rubbish," he answered nodding towards the stage where another poet was reading something.
"You like my poems," Olivia remarked.
"Only because they are yours," Nick replied making Olivia glance at him.
"Come on, Nick. Didn't we agree you wouldn't get romantic?" she asked with mock disgust in her voice.
"We did, but since when has a friendly compliment been bad?"
"When I get it from you. If you are polite I know you are up to something." Their conversations were always like this, they carped at each other as much as possible and enjoyed it.
Nick stretched his arm and laid it on Olivia's shoulder immediately noticing how the woman stiffened under his touch. He stubbed his cigarette and looked at her on guard. Olivia lowered her eye sockets and stood up.
"I want to read a poem," she answered to the lawyer's questioning expression. Nick watched as Olivia stepped on the stage and tapped his fingers on the table deeb in thought.
Olivia had never flinched when he touched her, not even when he suddenly kissed her with no warning. Had something happened and shocked her? Maybe Maximino was suspecting something and she wanted to be extra careful?
He shook his head and concentrated in listening Olivia's poem. He didn't really like poems, but usually he enjoyed Olivia's ones enough to listen them.
"I had a sparrow sitting on my finger, singing. I watched the tiny bird as it sung and my heart joined its quiet song."
There was quiet mumbling among the tables, this was totally against Olivia's style and no one had ever heard her reading such a ... happy... poem. Nick too was confused, what had happened to her?
"My soul was happy, I was happy. Never did we notice the cat which watched us, prayed. I hid the sparrow away, tried to save it."
Olivia's voice was somehow strange, it felt like she could at any moment fall apart. Nick didn't like this, something was very wrong now.
"So I hid the sparrow, was happy when it flew free. I watched it and wished I could join it without the cat noticing."
This wasn't even a poem, it was like a short story. Nick leaned his elbow on the table and played with a new cigarette. When Olivia came back she would have to explain what was going on.
"And now the sparrow is gone, I'm sitting on a dark bird of prey with mad glow in his eyes. The cat is dead too, blood wetting the dry land."
When Olivia was finished there was a brief pause before anyone said or did anything. Then someone started to clap and soon the others joined him. This wasn't an ordinary poem from Olivia, but it had been written by the owner of the club and you had to respect that.
"What was that?" Nick asked immediately when Olivia returned to him. The woman raised her look and tilted her head.
"What? I read a poem," she said.
"Don't lie to me Olivia, you know I hate it. Something is going on, I can sense it," Nick said demanding.
Olivia didn't answer, but seemed to gaze somewhere really far away.
"Olivia?" When he still got no answer Nick leaned closer trying to give the woman a gentle kiss, but at the last moment Olivia drew back.
"Nick, don't," she said sharply and the man was really confused. What the heck was going on?
Everything had been so well during the last years, they had managed to keep their relationship hidden from Maximino, who was the only barrier between them. So what had gone wrong?
"What is it Olivia?" he asked carefully and for the first time in years Olivia heard a hint of desperation in his voice. As if he really cared...
She clenched her fists, this shouldn't be this difficult. She had promised herself she would never learn to care about Nick at any level, he was just a toy to her.
"Nick, I think we shouldn't meet again," she said forcing the words out and watching as the man stiffened when he understood. The cigarette fell from his fingers.
"What do you mean? I mean - " the lawyer started but Olivia glanced at him sharply.
"Don't you understand what I'm saying? I don't want to see you again," she said tightly and Nick thought he knew what this all was about.
"It's Maximino, isn't it? He has found out and is threatening you," he said and realised how much this suddenly made sense. Maximino was a clever man, he wouldn't want to give up his girlfriend or best lawyer, but would try to force them apart.
"No, it's not Maximino," Olivia said and forced herself to sound bored. She had planned this all beforehand, she knew exactly what to say. Nick flinched in surprise.
"Who then?" he asked. Who could be more dangerous or powerful than Maximino?
"It doesn't matter as long as you understand that we will never see each other again. He doesn't want me to see other men." Olivia said.
"What about Maximino? What does he say if you leave him?"
"Maximino? Come on Nick! He was fascinating in the beginning, but I'm not a girl who likes to stay in one place. I've found a much bigger fish and I'm not going to let it go."
"Let me guess, this new man of yours has power, money and fame?" Nick asked grudgingly and Olivia shrugged.
"Isn't that obvious? You know me, what else could attract me? Compared to him Maximino was just a useless toy to me," she answered getting her self-confidence back. This wasn't that hard after all.
"What about me? What was I?" Nick wanted to know. Olivia snorted.
"You? You were just a game to me too. I thought you knew it, didn't we agree with that? That we'd never mean anything to each other?" she asked sarcastically.
And Nick had to admit it was true. He had known it all was just fun with no meaning, but he had got so used to it during the years that he couldn't imagine giving up just like that.
"So I have to retreat from the way of this man? Just like Maximino?" he made sure.
"No, Maximino won't go anywhere. I think his roots should take care of that pretty well," Olivia said and Nick almost jumped on his seat when he understood.
"Maximino has been sprouted?" he asked disbelieving and losing the remains of his calm expression. It was impossible, Maximino couldn't be gone! He was the spirit of Rubacava, without him the whole city would slowly die until nothing remained.
And what about himself? He had no job anymore and suddenly the whole world seemed to fade around himself.
"Of course he has, how can you even ask? My new love doesn't want old boyfriends to mess up with us," Olivia said softly and Nick flinched. Than meant that he too... He took a quick glance around himself but didn't see anything alarming. That didn't calm him though, just the mere thought of his body pushing flowers was almost enough to make him run away immediately.
"I have to go," he said in hurry and was already standing up when Olivia put her palm on his hand.
"Yes you do. But..." she said taking something from her pocket. "Take this with you. I wouldn't want you to end up like Maximino," she said almost ashamed and pressed the item in Nick's hand. The lawyer couldn't say anything, he just looked at her and what he now had in his hand.
"Olivia - " he started, but the woman pushed him away.
"Leave, you fool! They are coming already!" she hissed angrily and after a moment of hesitation Nick hurried out from the dim Blue Casket.
The cold night air surrounded him and it was almost possible to believe what had just happened.
Everything was over. He now had nothing that had meant something to him. Only the item in his hand told everything was true and not some surrealistic nightmare.
It was a golden Double N-ticket.
Nick touched it carefully, nothing was as valuable in the Land of the Dead. Everybody would have given anything to get one, there was not an easier way to the Ninth Underworld and Eternal Rest.
Olivia had given it to him even though she could have sold it easily. For a moment Nick thought the ticket actually belonged to the woman, but he gave up that idea. The tickets had the habit to be drawn to their owners and this one had not protested when Olivia had given it away.
Whose ticket was it then? Actually Nick didn't care at all, what was important was that he himself now had a way to get away.
The ticket felt strange in his fingers and somehow he knew it would be wrong to use it. Questions of moral had never mattered to him and he didn't stop to think about it.
Nick took one last look at the Blue Casket before starting to walk the shadowy street. He couldn't say what he thought about this sudden change of things, but he had enough time to think. He hurried his pace, he couldn't afford being too slow now and getting caught by the assassins.
Besides, the Number Nine was waiting for him.