A man in a suit sat at the bar, four empty stools beside him in either direction.
There were quite a few tables full, a busy night for the middle of the week in Big Paul’s, but the man was the only customer sitting at the bar. He swirled his glass around and finished off what he had been nursing for the past three minutes. He raised one finger to the bartender, Big Paul himself, working a shift for according to him, the laziest prick to walk the earth, Paul’s brother Milo. Milo, by the misfortune of Big Paul’s monetary and romantic choices, had become the shadow owner of Big Paul’s Bar and Grill, and was paying Paul a wage in the very bar he had built and ran successfully for 8 years. Milo had also recently began to see Paul’s previous girlfriend. These thoughts often crossed Paul’s mind, and he was in revery at the moment the man at the bar signalled for another drink. He slipped on his sociable face and walked over to the man.
The man nodded. “Please. No ice this time.”
Paul topped up his glass, and topped it up again when the man slid another twenty across.
He took a long sip, and put the glass back on the coaster. Paul liked people who did that. The bar was as beaten and worn as some of the crowd that piled in for Sunday night Senior Singles, and had a few choice phrases carved into the counter detailing the questionable sexuality of some of the patrons. Paul let his thumb rub absentmindedly over a wound in the wood where a knife had been put through someone’s hand in a long forgotten fight, back in the early days of Big Paul’s rise to near-bankruptcy. He liked that the guy didn’t mess with the wood like the rest of them.
In fact, the guy wasn’t anything like the people who came to his bar. He was well dressed and marginally polite. He tipped too. Paul doubted he was a soft touch though. He looked quick, and Paul thought he could hurt a man pretty badly if he wanted to. And there was something going on with his eyes.
The door to the bar swung open, hitting the wall hard on the inward swing.
“Paulie! Paulie, you fat fuck…”
Milo missed the last of the three steps and stumbled, catching himself on the pool table just inside the door. His shirt was half tucked in, the other hanging over his not inconsiderable behind. His tie was loosened and veering left. He stood straight up and pointed a slightly crooked finger at Paul. He walked in a more or less straight line to the counter, a foot away from the man at the bar.
“You soppy bastard, what’s going on in here? Where is everyone?” Milo said, punctuating the end of the question with a hiccup.
“It’s Wednesday. There ain’t so many people around week nights in here, you know that,” replied Paul.
“I don’t give a fiddler’s fuck if it’s Wednesday or Doris Day. How much you have in the till?”
Paul reddened slightly. In a low voice, he asked Milo to not be like that in front of the customers, especially paying, polite ones he might want back again for future trade.
“Customers?!” Milo looked to his left, seeing the man in the suit for the first time. He snatched the man’s glass and hurled it behind the bar in Paul’s general direction. “Balls to paying customers! Open that till and give me what’s in there. That bitch has spent the last 700 dollars I had in my wallet on fucking shoes!”
The suited man turned his head and regarded the side of Milo Jones’ face. He reached out, his palm resting on Milo’s left ear and his fingers in Milo’s hair gripping the back of his head and smashed his face on the bar nine times. Milo was unconscious by the third, and dead on the eighth. The man let go, and Milo poured onto the floor, blood and teeth spilling over his shirt.
People had stopped with food halfway to their mouths, all eyes turning towards the violence at the bar. Paul stood frozen behind it, watching the blood on the bar run down the cracks and slowly fill the gash left in the countertop he had touched minutes, lifetimes ago. He looked, using all the courage left to him from a brow beaten adult life, at the man in the suit. He had stood up and was buttoning his blazer, pristine in spite of the mess next to him.
“I won’t ask you to replace the drink this man spilled,” he said as he poked Milo’s very dead body with one foot, “but I do need some directions.”
Big Paul opened and closed his mouth, and finding himself unable to answer vocally, he nodded twice.
“There is a hotel in the area, but it’s not listed on anywhere I can find. It’s quite… old fashioned. Has an elevator, with a porter?”
Paul had a second of white hot panic when he couldn’t remember the name, then breathed out when it came to him.
“The Regent,” Paul offered. The man stared at him. “Y-you go out, turn right, shit, no, left for a couple streets and then go right on Bishop. It’s the red one, there’s a sign outside.”
“Thank you.” The man turned and walked up the three steps out of Big Paul’s Bar and Grill, home for the next few hours of the remains of Milo Jones, and for the next 10 seconds, Big Paul’s sobriety. Paul poured and drank two big glasses of whiskey one after the other and poured a smaller third. Most of the clientele had left in a hurry or were inching towards the body crumpled up on the floor, like children slowly approaching a dead animal. Paul looked one last time at the blood filling the cracks and cuts on the bar (“Fuck Carl!” had filled up as far as the “r”). Then he turned, raised his glass to the door, and went to call an ambulance.
The Blue Ridge Project: A Novel
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