"Quite nice," Henry said, looking around.
Lucas's expression implied a stronger worded response might be called for. Henry sought for suitable words - some adjectives that would soothe Lucas's spirit without venturing into the territory of actual falsehoods.
"Well-stocked?" Henry tried. "Efficiently spaced?"
"I've been a regular here since I was a kid," Lucas said. "Old Phil - the owner, he's almost like a second father to me. Or an uncle. You know, the fun kind, not the kind that smell like peppermint."
It was probably safe to assume the young person behind the counter was not 'Old Phil'. For one, she was the wrong gender. Henry offered her a friendly nod.
"All right, fine, you got me." Lucas lowered his voice. "But, I mean, can you blame me? She's hot, right? At least a nine. And she actually talks to me."
Henry refrained from pointing out that being willing to address the customers might be considered a requirement for those wishing to work in a shop. "Should I be jealous?"
"I wish," Lucas said. "Way too intimidating."
"I suppose that I should feel flattered."
"Oh, you're totally intimidating, too," Lucas said. "I mean, talk about way out of my league. But hey, you only live once, right? Gotta take a chance some time. No guts, no glory, and all that jazz."
"Were you actually planning on purchasing anything?"
"Naw, I'm good for now. I'm just saying, with Christmas coming up - they've got a lot of stuff here."
"Duly noted," Henry said.
"Well, sure I used to read comics as a kid," Abe said, while Lucas was buttering a piece of perfect toast that Henry had intended for his own breakfast. "But, you know, at some point you realize there's better things to spend your money on."
"Like antiques?" Lucas asked, picking up the marmalade right before Henry.
Henry tried to take comfort in his sole and uncontested ownership of the morning newspaper.
Abe chuckled. "I'm talking about girls. Girls. You think you can impress a girl by showing her your comic book collection? I remember, I used to keep mine in a shoebox under my bed. Well, that says it all, doesn't it? 'course, that was a different time back then," he added, after a discrete but pointed look from Henry.
"No, I think that's pretty much still accurate." Lucas sighed. "At least in my experience."
"Well, you're - you know. Gay. So you probably weren't that interested in impressing girls to begin with, am I right? I mean, subconsciously, maybe you just weren't really trying all that hard."
"You think so?"
"Sure," Abe said, all cheer and goodwill. "I mean, you're not that hard on the eyes, are you? On a scale of one to ten, I'd say you're about a six. That's not so bad."
"Now me, I used to be an eight. At least."
"It's kind of a lame superpower, isn't it?" Lucas said. He sounded a bit critical, like commenting on the state of a body that had clearly not been handled according to regulations. "I mean, don't get me wrong - big time crush on good old Captain Jack right here, but still."
"Who?" Henry had made an effort to become more informed on the topic of comics. Without a doubt, there were some fascinating tidbits to be found in the history of the industry.
The appeal of the stories themselves - if stories they could be called, had not yet made itself apparent to Henry, but as Abe reminded him on occasion, one was never too old to learn.
"You actually know ...? " Lucas snapped his fingers. "Right. Of course. The scarves. I should have known. Old-school fan, huh? I'm partial to nine and eleven myself, little bit of ten, maybe."
"Lucas, you've lost me."
"Doctor Who? Captain Jack Harkness? Pansexual, immortal time-traveller?"
"I have no idea who those people are." Actually, not people, most likely. Characters. True, Henry was no stranger to the appeal of fiction - far from it, but it disappointed him sometimes to find people far more interested in fictional events than factual history.
"Well, then you're in for a treat." Lucas's eyes had obtained that particular gleam Henry had come to associate with nights spent staying up far too late. "Got the whole show on DVD. Or most of it, anyway."
Not quite how Henry had imagined this conversation going. "You did hear the part where I just explained my condition to you?"
"Sure, sure." Lucas considered. "I guess one out of three isn't too bad. Fact, you're kind of like a crossover between the Captain and Batman - minus the whole billionaire playboy thing, of course. And the cool car. The butler. Okay, so maybe not Batman."
"I don't know - Wonder Woman?" Jo said.
"Excellent choice," Lucas said. "Great role model, too. And is that a bit of a bondage kink I'm sensing?"
Jo turned to Henry. "So anyway, about this case - "
"Sorry, sorry. None of my business."
"I've found that Lucas has a tendency to project," Henry said mildly. He considered winking, but it might give the game away and besides, Jo was Jo.
Jo grimaced. "Way too much information."
"What's wrong with a bit of bondage, huh?" Lucas asked, faltering a bit as Henry and Jo both looked at him. "Other than the fact that it's clearly not an appropriate topic to discuss in the workplace, I mean."
"You know," Lucas said, fiddling with his tie (again), "when I said that I would do anything you wanted if you got me the first Superman comic in mint condition for Christmas, this wasn't what I had in mind."
Henry noticed a man in an impeccable suit staring at Lucas in a way that fell little short of insulting. "This?" Well, each age had had its snobs. Henry told himself that it was no reflection on either his taste or his eye for color - and even if it was, what of it?
He had come here with far nobler pursuits in mind than to feel slighted by someone who appeared to have been unable to afford a new pair of shoes these past three years.
Lucas gestured. "The opera? I mean, come on. I'm not an opera kind of guy. All that singing - it's just not my thing. No offense."
"In matters of personal taste, it's impossible to give offense," Henry said. Abe had told him not to lecture - "You tend to do that, you know, and a date is not the place for it,". Still, surely correcting a simple and all too common mistake was permitted. "That does not mean I, and others, will not judge you for it, of course. It all falls under the header of free speech, Lucas."
"Yay," said Lucas. He'd stopped touching his tie, though, so Henry felt a small victory had been won.
"Have you read your program? On occasion, novice visitors may find the plot somewhat hard to follow."
"Sure, I've read it." Lucas chuckled. "Although really, isn't it just a bit of an overstatement, calling this a 'plot'? I mean, dude loves girl, miscommunication happens, war, yada, yada, rocks fall and everybody dies. Some plot."
"I thought it bore a certain resemblance to that comic book you insisted I read the other day," Henry said. In fact, he had chosen Lucas's first opera with that in mind. "I confess that its name escapes me at the moment, but ... "
"All right, first of all, no," Lucas said. "Second of all, no. Third - "
"Even the structure shows a certain similarity, as a matter of fact," Henry interrupted. Not the best of manners, but once Lucas got going on the subject of comic books, he tended to get somewhat verbose, and there was only so much time before curtain. "In the essentials, at least, the first act can roughly be compared to the events taking place in the first three issues, setting the scene for the dramatic reveals and reversals of fortune in respectively the second and third act, and the fourth through eighth issue. Only look at - "
Lucas raised his hands. Henry thought the gesture a little uncalled for. "Fine, fine. How about we agree to disagree? Personal taste, right?"
Henry was tempted to point out that this was a question of facts, not tastes. It seemed unlikely to improve the evening, though, so in the end, he settled for a smile that felt somewhat forced and a "Right," that sounded a bit strained to his ears. "Trust me, you'll enjoy yourself," he added.
"Well, you've never been wrong before when you said that, so either this evening will be a historic event, or we'll both be very, very disappointed."
"Kidding, kidding. I'll do my best, okay?" Lucas put his hand over his heart. "Mind open and prepared to be blown."
"Thank you, Lucas."
"Hey, least I can do. Although next time, can't you just ask for something we can do - well, you know, naked and in bed?"