But at the moment, it’s later rather than sooner. Ella and Lady Jane went back to Edinburgh the next morning and I haven’t heard from her since. Not that we exchanged phone numbers or anything, I just assumed she would have contacted my parents in one way or another. Patience isn’t my strong suit, and the longer I go not knowing where my future is heading, the more agitated I get.
Hence the need to leave the confines of this apartment and get smashed on whisky and aquavit.
“I think I should go with you,” Ottar says quietly, shutting the curtains.
“I’ll behave,” I tell him. “You know you don’t have to follow me.”
“I won’t be following you,” he says. “That’s what Einar is for. I’ll go with you. As your friend. You look like you need someone to talk to.”
“Do I?” I ask wryly.
“You’ve been under a lot of stress lately and we both know that stress can have an adverse affect on you, particularly emotional stress. I mean, you are getting married and that’s enough to make a normal man piss his pants, let alone you.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “There’s nothing emotional about any of this,” I tell him. Though the fact that he’s even mentioned it has made my heart rate start to pace. The smart thing for me to do would be to go for another run through the park like I did early this morning, or at least hit up the treadmill in my private gym, lift some weights until my muscles shake. Sometimes exercise is the only way I’m able to think clearly at all. It’s a positive place for all this pent-up energy and frustration to go.
“Are you sure you won’t stay in? You have all the booze in the world to get yourself bludgeoned. I think this is just going to cause trouble. I’m not sure if the public quite believes your apology or not.”
“Well, that’s on them,” I tell him, throwing on my coat and a newsboy cap. “I did the best I could and if they choose not to me believe me, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Just…” He trails off and sighs. “Be careful, sir.”
“I always am,” I tell him and step out the door. I pass Einar in the hallway and wave my arm, gesturing for him to follow me. “Come on, Einar, old friend, let’s have another night on the town.”
“Sir,” Einar says but he doesn’t follow it up with anything else. Once I get my heart set on something it’s hard to talk me out of it.
I head down the tunnel and pop out of a door on a quiet back street, then I walk along until I get to one of my favorite drinking spots, Harold’s.
Harold is the owner of Harold’s (not just a clever name), and also the bartender and the doorman and everything else in between. He’s about seventy years old with a hunchback and a glass eye and tufts of grey hair coming out of his ears that makes it look like he’s smuggling a Husky inside his head.
His place is dark, with a fine layer of dust covering the top shelf bottles that he can’t reach. It’s also about the size of my kitchen with just two booths and five seats at the long, stained copper bar. Tiny wood-framed paintings of whales adorn the green walls, which remind me of Ella. I wonder if she’d like this place, I wonder if she likes going out to bars at all. At first glance she strikes me as too goody two-shoes for that and though she said she drank too much at dinner, she only had two glasses.
I shouldn’t be thinking about her though. That’s why I’ve come to the bar to begin with. That and it’s one of the safer places for me to go. Sure, I’m not going to meet any single ladies when I’m here, but Harold won’t let any paparazzi inside, there’s a no camera or cell phone use rule, and I’ve gotten to know the regulars pretty well.
They don’t give a rat’s ass about me.
There’s Maud, who used to be a film actress in ye olden days whose biggest claim to fame is that she stole Ingrid Bergman’s husband after Ingrid dumped him for Roberto Rossellini. She’s got lavender hair, always wears red lipstick, and talks about classic actors as if they were best friends and is never shy with giving you drunken thoughts about love.
There’s Guillermo, who moved to Oslo from Spain who knows when, and doesn’t know a lick of Norwegian. The more he drinks, the more Spanish he speaks, and from what I gather he used to be a monk. I can’t tell how old he is or if he’s telling the truth, but it doesn’t really matter. But he never speaks above a whisper.
Then there’s Erik. Tall, skinny, and pale as snow, I call him Slender Man. Doesn’t help that he’s always wearing the same black suit and his features are decidedly flat, his mannerisms subtle, his voice monotonous. Truth is, Slender Man got laid off a year ago and is going through a terrible divorce, so when he does speak, you can bet it will take the wind out of your sails.
“Prince,” Harold greets me as I step inside, the bell ringing above my head. He doesn’t call me Prince Magnus, just Prince. Like the singer. Can’t say I mind.
Einar follows me in and gets a head nod from Harold. Usually he’s stationed outside or he finds a space at the end of the bar where he nurses a cup of instant coffee that Harold whips up for him, pretending he doesn’t know me.
Today only Maud and Guillermo are at the bar, sitting side by side.
“Where’s Slender Man?” I ask as I sit down next to Maud. Einar takes a spot at a booth, trying to blend in with the wall.
She barely looks at me. “Why do you call him that?” she asks in her hoarse voice, her long, crookedly glued-on nails tapping against her glass. “Slender Man.”
“Nothing you’d understand,” I tell her. I raise my finger at Harold. “Scotch, please, and keep them coming.”
“Won’t understand because I’m too old? I’m only too old now. I used to be young.”
“Just go back to your drinking, Maud,” I tell her as Harold hands me my drink. “I’m afraid Slender Man is too classless for you.”
She laughs and starts coughing. Though I’ve never seen her smoke I always get the feeling that she started as a baby and quit only yesterday. “Sometimes I have to remind myself of who you are,” she says when she recovers.
“I saw the press conference on the news,” Harold says, putting on the kettle for Einar’s coffee. “I can see why you need a drink.”
“Like he ever needs an excuse,” Maud says, and Guillermo giggles softly beside her.
“Hey, I come to this bar for your support,” I protest, finishing the rest of my scotch, savoring the delicious burn in my throat.
“You come here because we hassle you,” Harold says. “That’s what every good ruler needs, to be hassled from time to time by the people who care about you.”
“That’s what my parents are for,” I grumble.
“I remember when Ingrid left Petter for Roberto,” Maud says, waving her hands around. “What a scandal that was. She was thrown out of Hollywood for that affair. She didn’t work in the US for decades. All because she chose the love of Roberto over Petter. Now that was a scandal, but it was a scandal for love. You, Magnus, your scandal only cheapens you.”
Ouch. I clear my throat and slide my empty glass toward Harold. “I’m aware of that.” I take in a deep breath, knowing this is probably the right time to tell them about my news. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I’ve met a wonderful woman and we’re getting married.”
They all stop and stare at me. I can even feel Einar’s eyes burning into the back of my head, and I have to wonder if he knows exactly what’s going on.
But even though things aren’t settled with Ella yet, the fact is I’m going to have to get married to someone and I might as well start telling people now if it’s going to seem believable at all.
“Married?” Harold repeats. “To the prime minister’s daughter?”
“Oh hell no,” I tell him, wincing. “Not her. A lovely blue-blooded woman that I think you’d all approve of.”
“What’s her name?” Maud asks. “Where is she from? Is she Norwegian?”
Shit. It’s harder than I thought it would be to be vague about this. I can’t exactly say Ella if it doesn’t end up being her.
“I can’t say too much,” I tell her with a wink. “You understand. I shouldn’t be talking about it at all with you, but I trust you guys.”
“Well, then,” Maud says, sounding impressed. “Harold, I think this calls for a toast. On the house, right? Our drunken prince here has fallen in love.” She gives me a rarely used smile, showing off a row of fake teeth. “I am so proud of you. You need any advice on marriage and you come to me. I’m an expert.”
“Because you’ve been married four times,” Harold says derisively, but he decides to grab a bottle of champagne from the fridge. “Though I do think this is worth making a toast about. Here’s our prince, overcoming his adversity by doing something completely adverse.”
“Out of flames and into the frying pan,” Guillermo whispers in broken English.
I laugh. If only they knew the half of it.
So Harold fixes us all a glass of celebratory champagne, plus the coffee for Einar, and we all say cheers to this sad, sorry state of affairs.
I spend a couple of hours at the bar and manage to behave myself, drinking a little less than I had planned. Just enough to calm my mind and give my brain a break from the constant flurry of thoughts.
I walk back to my apartment with Einar half a block behind me, and I’m almost at the secret entrance when someone steps out of the bushes.
Instinctively I raise my fist, ready to fight, but thankfully the alcohol has slowed my reaction time because it’s not a photographer or assailant at all but Heidi Lundström, the prime minister’s daughter.
“Sorry!” she cries out softly, throwing her hands out. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Then you probably shouldn’t be leaping out of people’s bushes.” I glance over my shoulder to see Einar trotting up to me but give him a slight shake of my head to let him know it’s okay.