Work in progress pt.2
I don't know if I have any readers, but if I do, here is the next part.
Mike looked amused, like he saw this kind of thing every day. "I see this kind of thing every day" he said. "Every damn day." He shook his head and bit deeply on his greasy burger, forcing a little ketchup up between his braced fingers, which he licked at absent-mindedly while composing his next thought. "Its a fucking tragedy man. A fucking tragedy. We're all victims y'know? Insanity is all in the mind, its all about who they want to be mad and who they don't." I sort of agreed with him, but still didn't know what to say. In fact, I hadn't said anything yet, just nodded and offered the occasional understanding gaze. I felt it was time to break my silence, and said "Yeah, I know." Not my best work, but at least it was appropriate and congenial.
"Oh wow, you're not local are you?" said Mike. He grinned, as if fate had just hefted some great prize onto his lap. I felt strange that he didn't identify me as English. I thought my every word screamed it, to the point that what I was saying might even be obscured. Admittedly, most Californians so far had fingered me as an Australian.
Now down to the very stub of his burger, Mike began tearing at the wrapper, scattering little grimey confetti pieces on to the floor where he'd shredded two layers at the same time. He looked thoughtfully at me for a second or two, fingers poised to pinch off a piece of ketchup-sodden bun, and said "No, I can't place you man" before popping the bread into his mouth. He didn't look particularly disappointed with his failure to guess where I was from, and looked at me expectantly over the top of the burger and its corona of torn paper, which he had in the meantime raised to his lips.
"Ah, I'm from England" I said, "Been travelling around for a month or two, seeing what I can of the country."
"That's good, that's good" Mike enthused, "You liking what you've seen so far? Where've you gotten to? You gotta tell me all about it, what a guy from England thinks of our country." I felt sort of trapped, like I was being tied to the train-tracks of a conversation that was coming at me headlong and unavoidable. Then the bum lurched at a woman and she yelped, and the place came alive again through the membrane of our chatter. I had escaped, but I knew that at best it was a reprieve. Mike knew me now.
Through the door at the end of the hall walked a policeman, dressed in a summery uniform of short sleeved shirt and sunglasses. For some reason, the first thing I noticed about him were his gloves; shiny leather mittens which probably should have had metal studs protruding from the knuckles, but didn't. Hanging from his belt was a holstered gun and a set of cuffs, buttoned into a little plastic pouch. He walked slowly, confidently surveying the room as if we were all potential offenders, even though he had been called to deal with one filthy lunatic, and only one of the assembled was trying to pry up the floor tiles in the middle of the room.