“Hey, there he is!” called a voice from inside. “That’s the guy!” Fifty alcohol-blushed faces turned to the door where Victor stood, while the pub owner weaved through the noisy throng toward him. “Hey, mate!” called the pub owner, raising his head above the crowd. “You’re just the guy we wanted to see.” He pressed between two gentlemen blocking the doorway and slapped his hand on Victor’s right shoulder. The pub owner’s smile devolved for a moment into a look of slightly horrified confusion. “Bloody hell—what happened to you?”
It was a fair question. Victor’s eyes were dark and sagging, and dark stubble coated his jaw. Beneath the soaking wet jacket clinging to his shoulders, his left arm lay in its makeshift sling and his right hung at his side with what appeared to be a possible stigma in his hand. A dark red stain, blossoming at his side where he had earlier nursed his bleeding palm, combined with a streak of black mud to render his once white business shirt beyond the redemptive powers of even the most potent laundry detergent. His pants were torn, his shoes scuffed, and soggy specks of ash and dirt speckled him from head to toe. He smiled at the pub owner and could only answer with a half-shrug and a shake of his head.
“Are you all right?”
Victor thought, and then laughed. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m doing all right.”
“Well, come here then,” said the pub owner, practically dragging Victor through the crowd. “Hey everyone, here he is—it’s the metronome man!” Cheers erupted and people gravitated toward Victor. The pub owner brought him to the bar, leaned over the counter and called to the barmaid, “Linda, get this man a drink.” A dozen celebratory slaps rained down on Victor’s back, and a few seconds later a glass clunked on the counter. “Thanks, love,” said the pub owner. He pressed the schooner of cold beer into Victor’s right hand. “There you go, mate.”
Victor winced at the pressure against his wound but welcomed the cool of the glass. As he took a long drought of the refreshing ale, he looked through the bottom of the glass and saw through the bubbles an amber sea of eager faces waiting for him to speak. He set the half-drained vessel on the counter. The room became quiet but for the beeps and buzzes of the poker machines drifting in from the next room and the ecstatic bellow of a moustachioed man in the corner as Cranky Hank came in first place in race five at Cannington; even the karaoke ceased. After a long pause, Victor asked, “What’s going on?”
The pub owner laughed, and everyone joined in. “What’s going on? Come on, mate. This is the biggest news in Stork since we won the Division Four footy Grand Final in ninety-eight. And it’s all because of you.”
“Wait…” said Victor. “You mean…”
“Yes,” said the pub owner.
Victor looked around at the gathering before him. “You all know?”
“Come on, Metronome Man,” called a voice at the back of the crowd. “Tell us about it!”
Victor looked at the pub owner; the pub owner nodded. “Well,” said Victor. “Where do I begin? I mean, people told me the mansion was cursed, but I didn’t think—”
“Can a bunch of people play at once?” yelled a woman at the side of the room.
“Yeah,” said a man near Victor, poking his head up over the crowd. “And what are the odds of winning, exactly?”
Victor stared at the faces watching him. “I, uh…”
“Can you give us a demonstration?” asked a man in front of him.
“Hold on,” said the pub owner, motioning for calm. “Slow down, everyone. We’ll get to the demonstration.” He put his arm around Victor’s shoulders. “They can’t wait to try it,” he said to Victor. “I told them the basics already.”
“The basics of the game.”
“Yeah, the metronome game. The one you showed me the other day. You know—win free drinks if guess how fast the metronome is ticking.”
“Oh,” said Victor. “Uh… yeah.” All eyes were upon him. He cleared his throat. “The, uh, the metronome game. Yes, of course.” He straightened his tie and threw his shoulders back. “Yes, the one and only metronome game—a guaranteed winner for any bar owner. More fun than Keno, more skilful than the pokies—the punters love it. And, most importantly, you’ll be selling more drinks than ever.”
Enthusiastic applause saturated the bar room. “Like I said,” said the pub owner, “we’re familiar with the basics of the game, but we’d like to know the finer details—rules, troubleshooting, metronome maintenance—that sort of thing. And, if you wouldn’t mind, I think a live demonstration of the game would help.”
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