“Go see The Pie-maker,” Yusuf suggests.
Cobb swears that people’s aliases are getting weirder and weirder. “The Pie-maker,” he repeats slowly. “And he came by that nickname, how...”
“No, he’s actually a real pie-maker. He owns that little pie shop? By the dry cleaners?”
Cobb writes this down into his small notebook. “What’s it called?”
“The Funeral Pie-re,” says Yusuf.
Cobb just looks at him.
“I think he was trying to deter any customers from going in, but the pies are actually quite delicious. It’s become somewhat of an indie hit, especially because of the unwelcoming name,” Yusuf explains. He contemplates this, then says, “I don’t think he’s very happy about it.”
“Right. Could you, by any chance, tell me The Pie-maker’s real name?”
Yusuf blinks. “Sure. It’s Arthur.”
Cobb flips his notebook shut, then says goodbye to Yusuf. Luckily, there’s a bus-stop just outside Yusuf’s lab. The B16 takes Cobb all the way downtown, and he pulls the stop cord when the shop starts looming close. ‘THE FUNERAL PIE-RE’ is spelled out in the straight lines of Helvetica, situated above a black-and-white striped awning.
As soon as he hops off the bus, the last of the blinds get rolled up and a sign on the door is flipped from ‘NO’ to ‘YES’. He walks in and discovers that the place is entirely decorated in a monochrome palette of black. Black booths lining the walls, cream-colored tables, and large, reflective gunmetal floor tiling that gives the illusion that Cobb is floating on water. All in all, it reminds him a bit of a room reserved for sterile medical procedures, but it’s warm and smells amazing.
A sprawling granite counter occupies most of the space in the middle, separated from the kitchen by a short wall. When Cobb seats himself, a man in an apron walks up to him. He’s holding an order pad but he doesn’t say anything.
“Um,” Cobb says, waiting for any kind of cue. When he gets none, he tries, “Coffee?”
The man writes it down.
“And a slice of the peanut butter pie,” he adds.
The food comes posthaste. Cobb almost gets distracted, but manages to catch the man who served him before he heads off. “Excuse me. I’m looking for Arthur?”
It comes out as a question, to which the man nods and says, “I’m Arthur.”
Cobb sticks his hand out. They shake. “Nice to meet you. I’m Dom Cobb, private detective.”
“Private detective,” Arthur echoes, his expression inscrutable.
“Yes. I investigate anything from missing persons cases to murders.”
“Well, I’m neither missing nor murdered,” Arthur says, “as you can see.”
Cobb huffs out a smile. “This is true,” he agrees. “Actually, I was hoping to get your input on a case of mine, if you wouldn’t mind. Yusuf referred me to you with the hope that you’d be able to help.”
“I see,” Arthur says after a pause. “Well, I’m free on Tuesday. Is 2:00 good for you? The lunch rush should be gone by then.”
“That sounds good, I really appreciate it.” Cobb notices a second man hanging around the expansive window to the kitchen. He looks familiar in a way that Cobb can’t quite place, and it irks him like a burr sticking to his brain.
Arthur flaps a hand at him. “That’s my associate, Eames. Eames, this is Dom Cobb. Private investigator.”
“Fascinating. Pleasure to meet you,” Eames says.
“Likewise.” Dom nods at him. He recognizes him, he can swear it. To cover up how intensely he’s trying to place this Eames, he takes a huge bite of pie and almost chokes. On the other hand, Eames is all casual. He procures a blueberry from somewhere and eats it.
“Eames.” Arthur sounds long-suffering as he turns and heads into the kitchen. The two of them dance around each other for a few seconds, with Arthur appearing to cut a pie while Eames hovers close behind him.
“You’re pushing it,” Arthur says quietly, and to Cobb, it’s akin to the sound a rattlesnake would make before it strikes.
“Hold still,” Eames commands, apparently with little regard for his safety. He dips his fingers into the middle of the pie, and they emerge dripping with viscous blueberry sauce. Then he hooks his arm over Arthur’s shoulder and carefully smears it just underneath Arthur’s right eye, leaving behind a curtain of vivid color.
“Tuesday, then?” Cobb calls quickly, snapping his notebook closed once more. Judging by the tension in Arthur’s jaw, Cobb would rather not be around for when the kitchen will inevitably explode with tempers and yelling and rhubarb pie.
“Yes,” Arthur confirms. He cricks his jaw once and nods. Over his shoulder, Eames’s beaming expression is the polar opposite. “Tuesday, 2:00. Do you have any special requests?”
Cobb’s eyes dart back to Arthur, who hasn’t bothered to wipe away the sauce, which has now run down and is dripping off his chin. “Requests?” he repeats.
“For pie,” Arthur says. Paired with the butcher knife that he’s currently holding, Cobb doesn’t think he’s ever been so scared of the word ‘pie’ in his life.
“Ah. No, thank you.” Cobb slides off the stool and pats his stomach. “It was delicious, though. You’ve got talent.”
Arthur moves his lips into a ghost of a smile. “Thanks,” he says.
When Cobb has his hand on the door, he instinctively looks back and sees Eames ripping a single paper towel from a roll. Arthur accepts it without a word.
Cobb steps outside, shaking his head. This should be interesting, at least.
(Of course, what Cobb doesn’t know is that the niggling feeling in the back of his head will prove itself noteworthy once he stumbles across an obituary from three months ago. The words will all run together, because the grainy picture of Eames is all he’ll be focusing on.
He’ll call Yusuf, who will say, “I’ve heard he can raise people from the dead just by touching them. Another touch, and then they’re dead again.”
“Even if that’s true -- which it’s not, because that is ludicrous -- there must be some kind of rational explanation. You’re a scientist, you’re not curious at all?” Cobb will ask.
“There’s pursuing science, and there’s pursuing insanity,” Yusuf will laugh. “Somehow I feel that trying to pinpoint Arthur’s abilities will lead me down the road of the latter.”)
Eames wakes up.
The whole thing is still a novelty. He goes to sleep, and he wakes up. It’s all quite amazing. Instead of getting out of bed, he spends almost twenty minutes moving his feet around underneath the sheets just to feel the cotton pulling against his skin.
Above him, the ceiling is a bright, lime green. Arthur had helped him paint the entire apartment a few weeks ago, with no objections to Eames’s wishes that there be at least three different colors in each room. They’d also put textured wall liner along the bottom molding and the glue had made them both woozy by the time they’d finished. Coupled with the pre-dawn hours and aching arm muscles, they had ended the night lying side-by-side on the canvas tarps.
Compared to his usual black-and-white ensemble, Arthur had been covered in brilliant colors: a wing of canary yellow in his hair, the thin river of blue on his cheek. Once he’d closed his eyes, Eames had taken a brush and added some green to the expanse of his lids. Arthur had smiled, eyes still closed.
Half an hour later, Eames is showered, dressed, and ready to go. Just as he steps outside and pulls the door shut behind him, the door across the hall opens and Arthur emerges as well, looking sharp as per usual.
“Good morning,” Eames greets.
“Hello,” says Arthur.
They walk to the end of the hall and then down the staircase. Eames follows behind Arthur, keeping one hand trailing over the wall the entire time. His fingertips drag across paint, peeling wallpaper, Stucco, and skip nimbly over the corners until Arthur is unlocking the back door and flicking on the lights. As always, the shop looks immaculate, even more so because the blinds are still drawn and the tiles free of footprints.
Eames hops up onto the counter, wincing a bit at the cold granite. The kitchen tends to be drafty until the ovens get going. “So, what’s our day like?”
“My day,” Arthur says, “is filled with making pies. Your day can be whatever you would like it to be.”
He’s already distracted, crouching down in front of an open cupboard and sifting through the sacks of flour. On a whim, Eames toes off his shoes and places one sock-clad foot right on top of Arthur’s hair.
To his surprise, Arthur just props an elbow on his knee and rests his chin on the heel of his palm. He looks mildly up at Eames, who says, “Don’t worry, they’re freshly laundered.”
“That doesn’t detract from the fact that you have your foot in my hair,” Arthur points out.
Eames shrugs. Arthur is still looking up at him, sleeves already messily rolled to the elbows -- and when had that happened, they’ve only been here for about two minutes --, and Eames smiles ruefully, because he must be some kind of masochistic bastard to constantly sit here like this while the chasm between them stays as invariable as ever. They both must be.
Arthur finally shifts as if to stand up and Eames simultaneously takes his foot off and lets it swing against the dishwasher again.
“I’m going to open up -- don’t,” Arthur interrupts himself to warn Eames, who, of course, had been prepared to twist Arthur’s words into many and varied euphemisms, because jokes are always easy. Jokes and petty annoyances are their lifeboats, buoying them away from everything they never talk about. “Can you count the flour bags?” he finishes, already walking away.
“I can, and I will.” Eames watches as Arthur takes an apron off the row of hooks, ducking his head underneath the loop and tying the strings with quick, smart loops of his fingers.
Window by window, the shop becomes flooded with sunlight when Arthur leans into the booths and zips up the blinds. Eames finally hops off the counter to take inventory of their stock. He also starts an enormous pot of coffee, empties the dishwasher, rechecks the order for six pecan pies being picked up at 3:00PM, and starts bringing out ingredients onto the kitchen island. Arthur says he cooks too slowly to be efficient, but that’s only because Eames pays too much attention to too may things.
By the time he emerges from the fridge one last time, a carton of eggs in each hand, there are a few early birds at the counter with steaming cups of coffee. One of them is eating a slice of peanut butter pie as well, which makes Eames’s stomach churn seeing as how it’s not even 9:00 yet. What’s interesting is that he’s also holding a conversation with Arthur.
The coffeemaker is still percolating, making it hard to overhear from this distance. Eames puts the cartons down and moves over to the ledge that separates the counter from the kitchen.
“That’s my associate, Eames,” Arthur acknowledges, waving his hand in Eames’s general direction. “Eames, this is Dom Cobb. Private investigator.”
Eames raises his eyebrows. “Fascinating. Pleasure to meet you,” he says automatically.
“Likewise,” nods Dom Cobb, punctuating it with a bite of pie and a loud slurp of coffee.
To Eames’s left, there’s a blueberry pie about three-quarters finished. Eames picks out a blueberry and pops it into his mouth.
“Eames,” Arthur sighs. He comes back around into the kitchen, twitching the pie away and, with a knife that’s entirely too large, cutting off a tiny sliver where Eames had gouged it.
Watching Arthur’s shoulder-blades move under his shirt is one of Eames’s favorite things to do, so he stands behind Arthur and does exactly that. Behind the counter, out of Cobb’s sight, he touches one hand to Arthur’s hip, feeling only the scratchy wool of his sweater.
“You’re pushing it,” Arthur breathes.
“Hold still,” Eames manages to say. His voice has been betraying him a lot lately, so he just smiles, dips his fingers into the pie once more, and carefully, carefully smears blueberry over Arthur’s cheek, trying to emulate the paint streak he’d been thinking of that morning.
(Eames will go to sleep that night, still thinking of Arthur lolling to sleep with the rainbow of colors on his face. Standing in the kitchen, with blueberry sauce dripping from his fingers and Arthur’s cheek -- Arthur had studied Eames, eyes wide open, standing too still, and it had been a different thing entirely.)
Arthur stares at himself in the mirror. It’s probably just his imagination, but he thinks he sees one cheek darker than the other, still stained with the purple tint of blueberry sauce. He rubs at it. Maybe it’s the lighting.
Outside, business is winding down for the night as families finish off their desserts and couples wind down their dates. Eames is already wiping tables while mopping the floor at the same time. The actions come easily to him, as if he’s been working his entire life at the shop. He can build rapport with just about anyone who comes in, and sales have gone up ever since the day he stood outside on the sidewalk, stuffed into a costume in the shape of a pie slice as he handed out fliers.
This is Eames. Moving, talking, touching -- this is Eames. Sometimes Arthur still has nightmares about that night; the phone call, asking him to please come identify the body; the rush to get to the city morgue, and how they’d led him through the harshly lit hallways.
The strangest thing was seeing Eames being pulled out on the morgue tray. Pale and lying still, he had had his eyes closed, mouth pressed into a thin, waxy line. His skin had probably been cold as well, but Arthur hadn’t been able to confirm it. As soon as the coroner left, he had just touched Eames without thinking, without considering anything else, then Eames was warm again, opening his eyes and blinking at Arthur.
Probably not one of Arthur’s brightest decisions.
What’s the point, Arthur asks himself over and over again. What’s the point. And then Eames will sit on the counter and put his foot in Arthur’s hair and Arthur will think, this, this is --
-- and he’ll stand behind Arthur and touch him through his sweater, trace his cheekbone through the buffer of blueberry sauce, and Arthur will think, Christ, why --
-- and at night, they’ll adjourn to their separate apartments and Arthur will miss him, he’ll miss all of it.
“You’re being awfully quiet tonight,” Eames comments when Arthur comes out of the bathroom. The shop is empty and the sign has been flipped to ‘NO’.
“Just wondering what Cobb wanted,” Arthur says vaguely.
Neither of them speak for a while after that, because the consequences of someone potentially noticing that Eames, once dead, is now alive again has been an issue that’s been much easier to deal with if not dealt with at all.
Arthur focuses on wrapping the leftover pies with clingfilm and putting them away. At some point, when they’re almost done closing up, Eames walks over and flicks all ten fingers at Arthur’s face, but Arthur is prepared with an extra piece of clingfilm that he holds up. It shields him from most of the flour, though some of it dots his pants like snowflakes.
“Spoilsport,” Eames sighs.
Sometimes, at the end of the day, Arthur is tired enough to get some bad ideas in his head. Like now; he has the materials and the urge and the proximity -- it’d be easy enough to use the clingfilm and kiss Eames, just once -- but then that would be a complete, inextricable mess.
Instead, he slips on some oven mitts and pats Eames’s face. “Good night, Mr. Eames,” he says, patting hard enough that Eames’s head twitches each time. His smile grows larger as well.
(A few months later, Arthur will sneak down to the shop to make use of the whiskey stash he keeps next to the cornmeal, but Eames will already be there.
Too many swigs later, Arthur, head clad in a sherpa hat with earflaps, will lean his head on Eames’s shoulder and slur, not for the first time, “This is ridiculous.”
“Isn’t it, though,” Eames will laugh, low and gravelly and probably the best sound in the universe, as far as Arthur is concerned.
Arthur will smile to himself. “You’ll -- you’ll tell me, right, if you ever want to -- if this gets too strange, or too much, you know you can leave anytime and I won’t -- ”
“Do I owe you an apology? For doing what I did,” Arthur will keep going.
“Arthur,” Eames will say, sharper this time, and Arthur will finally fall silent.
After a while, Eames will murmur, “Of course not, you stupid bastard.” He’ll press his shoe against Arthur’s and repeat it: “Of course not. Never.”)