After-dinner drinks were an almost religious occasion for Jack, Kate and Johnson. Jack and Kate had always enjoyed a tipple after supper, but Johnson brought his own enervating touch to proceedings. With the flourish of a conjuror, he would produce vintage overproof rum, Napolean brandy and uncut Cuban cigars from the labyrinthine pockets in his flight tunic.
To the table, Johnson brought a higher, heavier vein of conversation, that had Kate enthralled and Jack wondering at his undead girlfriend’s quick wits and at his undead best friend’s seemingly limitless well of quips, quotes and encyclopaedic anecdotes.
The ghosts’ after-dinner drinks were magical. They were cabaret, holy communion and boozy passover. They made Jack, Kate and Johnson feel alive, a valuable, almost mythical quality to three not-so-recently deceased spirits.
It was Tuesday and the post-prandial digestifs were flowing. Kate and Johnson were engaged in a slurred, red-faced exchange about Gilbert and Sullivan that saw Kate frequently descending into incoherent giggles, slapping Johnson’s thigh whilst he uncoordinatedly toyed with his monocle.
Jack was wrestling with the rusted-shut metal cap of a 60 year old bottle of Talisker single malt that he and Johnson had discovered on their travels. He gripped the lid with whitening knuckles and grunted as he twisted, the heavy sinews in his arms popping to their surface as he attempted to open the bottle.
After the third attempt, Jack gave up and slammed the unopened bottle on the table. He glowered at it for a moment, as if it were a taunting but out of reach child, then put his hand inside his guardsman’s tunic.
From inside it, Jack produced a huge, iron barrelled flintlock pistol, pulled its crescent shaped trigger and shot the neck of the bottle clean off, just above the fluid line so that not a drop was spilt.
“Bravo!” Johnson exclaimed.
Kate applauded and gave Jack a peck on the cheek as she threw her arms around him and whispered “first dibs for me, you gorgeous, crazy thing” into his ear.
Jack disentangled himself from Kate and placed three heavy bottomed glass tumblers on the occasional table. He poured three stiff measures from the truncated whiskey bottle before passing brim-full glasses to Johnson and Kate.
“Cheers!” Jack said, raising his glass.
“Bottoms up!” Kate giggled.
“Chin chin!” gurgled Johnson, sliding down in his chair.
“Are you alright, Lofty?” Kate enquired of him as his chin slid down to meet the table top.
“I, my darling”, Johnson slurred, as he clumsily pulled himself upright, ” am absolutely tickety-boo. Never been better. In fact, Jack”, he gave Jack a friendly, conspiratorial wink, “I’m in just the right frame of mind to do a wee bit of exploring. What do you say, Jack my lad?”
“Aye, I’m keen to bit of exploration myself. I’ve a good feeling about it this time.”
Jack got up from his seat and fastened his tunic to the neck.
Kate pouted sulkily. “Aw Jack! I thought me and you could, you know…” Kate nodded her head back to gesture towards her and Jack’s brass framed bed, which stood just out of view behind a worn red velvet curtain in one of their home tunnel’s many recesses.
“Oh we will love, we will…” Jack replied lustily, “…when I get back.”
With that, Jack strode out of the tunnel, with Johnson leaning on his shoulder, brandishing a rusty electric torch, whose light flickered unsteadily on the walls as the two ghosts strode drunkenly down the cavernous length of the main factory tunnel.
Kate shouted after them: “You sod Jack! Just you wait. I shall make sure I’m fast asleep before you get back!”
She touched the frayed lace edge of her petticoat, adjusted her bosom inside her whalebone corset, then poured herself a titanic measure of rum and threw her hobnail booted feet up onto the table top.
“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Kate sighed softly to herself and pulled her motheaten shawl first around her shoulders, then over her chest.