Sample Day: The Final Battle

Here it is: The Final To-Do.

I finish off the Week o’ Samples with what I unofficially dubbed “My Bar Book” for a long time over the year or so that I spent writing it. As you may or may not know, I’ve been a bartender for a long time. A really long time. So long that I’ve actually started serving a second generation of drinkers. Yeah, I know.

It was suggested me many years ago by more than one person that I should write a bar-themed book. “You’re supposed to write what you know, aren’t you?” It took several attempts before I found something that clicked. The other attempts were contrived, derivative, and hacky. Most importantly, they didn’t interest me very much. If I can’t hold my own interest while writing it, how am I supposed to hold a reader’s interest?

DISCLAIMER!!! This book is by no means autobiographical or semi-autobiographical! This book is inspired not based on my time working in bars. Far too many times people have read this book and made connections that do not exist. Yes, some characters are loosely based on real people. Some characters are amalgams of several people. I did, however, directly lift the lay out of Little Bo’s (may she rest in peace) for the main bar in the book. 

So please, do not read more into it than what’s on the page. It’s a work of fiction and nothing more. Just read it, enjoy it, tell your friends, and maybe even buy a copy of it for your Kindle, your Nook, or in paperback.

            When all else failed, there was always booze.

            Alcohol never yelled at him, never told him he wasn’t good enough.  Alcohol never scolded him for the things that he’d done or the things that he had neglected to do.  Alcohol never blamed him for the sins he’d committed.  And alcohol came in so many different forms.  Pale ales as light and clean as a summer morn, stout lagers as dark as pits of the soul you were trying to escape from.  There were clear rums, amber whiskeys, black liqueurs, and dozens of other colors of varying hues and depths.

            And he loved them all.

            Tommy had spent many nights seeking solace in nearly all of them over the years.  Wasted days and wasted nights, wasn’t that how the song went?  Often there was more than just the booze that gave solace and that was something he’d forgotten.  He had forgotten about how much he enjoyed a good bar.  A darkly lit room bathed in white and red neon, a pool table, maybe a dart board or foosball table, and most importantly a good bar.  Tommy had always thought that what would make or break a bar was what a patron could belly up to.  He had been in too many watering holes over the years with poorly set up bars that were too tall, too short, sunk into the floor or elevated on to a platform.  Or maybe the bar was just the right height and size but there was a bad stool paired with it.  It seemed like an easy thing to do, but he’d seen so many people get it wrong over the years.

            It was always a pleasant thing for Tommy to find a new watering hole with a good bar paired with a good stool.  A good bar stool needed a soft, comfortable cushion and a good back to lean against.  He’d never understood bars that put in the cast iron seat from an old tractor, the ones that are almost molded for a person’s hind end but made out of forged steel.  How could a bar owner honestly expect someone to sit down and drown themselves in a glass or bottle of anything with their ass stuck to something so unforgiving?  It was mind boggling to him.

            Drinking had always seemed more natural to him while sitting in a bar, too.  He’d never been one to sit at home and tie one on.  That would mean he was hiding, or it made the whole process of drinking that much sadder.  Drinking in isolation in a Barcalounger watching Sports Center was depressing.  Sitting on a stool at a bar with good piece of glassware in your hand, well that just being sociable.  And as far as he was concerned, the booze tasted better in a bar than at home.  Sure it was all that more expensive, but you were paying for the ambience. 

            “A scented candle that smelled like stale beer and cigarettes just isn’t marketable,” he once quipped.

            Plus, if he was going out to have a drink, it meant that he was bored, generally bored at home.  If he was sitting at home drinking, he’d just be bored and drinking while watching television.  Granted, he was just watching television and drinking in a bar, but the change of scenery felt good.

            Besides, bars often had better cable or satellite packages than he had at home so there was more nothing to watch.  That particular evening, he had settled for watching an old college football game on ESPN-Classic.  The cable company had recently moved it to a higher grade that he simply couldn’t afford.

            There had been an extra chill in the winter air that night, one that had seemed to follow Tommy wherever he went.  So much so that while he was seated indoors at the bar and having a cocktail, he still wore his heavy coat and tried close in on himself as he sat and stared without really watching the television. 

            That night he was drinking for heat.  He drank a domestic draught of beer—he hadn’t even asked what was on tap, he just ordered it—and was using that for chaser against top shelf whiskey.  He’d been switching off sampling different bourbons just for the sake of doing it.  He wasn’t on a binge by any means, slamming back shots as quickly as he would gulps of air, but instead sipping them, savoring them, appreciating their unique qualities and noting what made them so different from their contemporaries.  He was moving in no particular order, although trying to focus on American bourbons, starting first with Jim Beam and Jack Daniels and then broadening out.  He was lingering on a bit of Maker’s Mark and contemplating the Knob Creek when a gentle hand interrupted his personal dissertation.

            “Hi, Tommy,” said a soft voice.  The voice belonged to Gloria.  She was a young thing, not quite yet twenty-two.  She was the barmaid on duty, the only employee working at Sawyer’s Pub on a quiet Monday night.  Tommy turned his gaze away from a long forgotten meeting between Michigan and Notre Dame and looked at her.  It was plain she was tired, but there was something else in her face.

            “Hey, Gloria,” he said happily.  He smiled at her and it put Gloria at ease.  Too many times had she bothered a solitary customer and been rewarded rudely for it.  “How’s every little thing?”

            “Heh,” she replied with a weak laugh.  “Listen, can I ask you a favor?”

            Tommy smiled.  “This isn’t going to be the kind of favor I think it is, is it?”

            She laughed again, this time it was much more genuine.  “No,” she said.  “At least not this time anyway.”  They both smiled.  Everyone knew Tommy was a horrible flirt whose banter was usually nothing more than just talk.  “There’s something going on in the restroom and I don’t know what to do.  Could you help me out quick?”

            With a long sigh, Tommy leaned back in his stool and looked past Gloria, down the length of the bar to where the bathrooms were kept.  It’s not like it would be the first time he’d jumped to the rescue.  It usually happened at least once a month, depending on how often he went out.  As much as he refused to admit it publicly, he actually enjoyed it most of the time.  However, there were times where it was often just an annoyance.

            Tommy looked at his short cocktail glass with Maker’s Mark served neat, then looked at Gloria and saw her smiling back at him while still having a pleading look in her eyes. 

            “The men’s or the women’s can?”

            “The men’s,” she said, her neck shrinking and her head touching her shoulders as she cringed.

            You always have to be the good guy, don’t ya’ Grissom, he thought to himself as he rubbed his chin and could hear the two day’s worth of beard growth on his chin scrape against his hand.  Then he took a deep breath, grabbed his glass of Maker’s and gulped the rest of the whiskey down, a sharp contrast to the careful and dignified sipping he’d been doing all night long.  He nodded and winked at Gloria as he swallowed the booze down with a grimace and walked to the bathroom.

            He decided to play it cool like he’d done several times before.  He would be just another guy going in to take a whiz just like any other bar patron.  He’d casually find out what was going on and then play the rest by ear.  Just another night in the life.

            He opened up the heavy door and stepped inside.  It wasn’t a very large space to step into.  The porcelain sink with its chrome pipes beneath it welcomed Tommy as he “thought thin” to avoid bumping into it.  To the left was the lone urinal, and just beyond the sink were two stalls with doors offering some privacy to patrons who needed to go Number Two.  He couldn’t see anyone, but there was a curious smell in the air.  Tommy nodded to himself as he turned to the left and approached the urinal and unzipped his fly.  His trip to the men’s room wasn’t entirely an act.  As he went about tending to his personal business he suddenly heard a muffled cough and some subdued laughter.  It was obvious there was more than one person laughing in the stall closest to him.

            “Um, guys,” said Tommy in mid-stream, “do you really think this is the best place to be doing that?”

            The laughter stopped abruptly and the latch to the door sounded.  The door opened slightly one bloodshot eye peaked through.  “Tommy?” spoke the eye.  It was Jerry Crohn.  Jerry and Tommy knew each other, although not formally.  “I thought that sounded like you.  What are you doing here?”

            “Just pissing.”

            “Ha, yeah,” said Crohn as he opened the stall door with a goofy grin.  Crohn liked to think of himself as a hard man.  Not that he necessarily thought of himself as a hard case, like a bad ass, but hard as in his personal mantra was ‘Live hard and party harder’.  Actually, Jerry had several mantras or taglines that he was fond of saying: ‘If you’re not living, you’re dying’ and the general and rather ordinary ‘I like to party’.  No one had every accused Jerry Crohn as being very clever or original.

            “What are you doing?  Pissing with another guy in there?” said Tommy.

            He wasn’t, of course.  Jerry had been smoking pot in the cramped confines of the bathroom stall with his buddy Gene Conroy.  They were both constructions workers passing through town like modern day Joads, going from state to state building all sorts of iron monstrosities of different kinds.  It was something Jerry and Gene took great pride and boasted to others.  They built things for a living, and in their limited view of the world that was more important than the jobs that most people had, except for maybe the attorneys whom they hired from time to time to get them out of whatever jam they would get themselves in involving alcohol or the occasional controlled substance.

            One of the few differences between the two men was that while Jerry Crohn was from Arkansas, Gene Conroy was a local.  He and Tommy had known each other back in their high school days.  While they’d gone to different schools and had their own circles of friends, they knew each other.  Tommy was fairly indifferent about Gene, but Gene—for no good reason at all—had never cared for Tommy at all.

            “No man, we’re just smoking a little bit,” said Jerry as he nodded at Gene who popped his head out and gave a half hearted nod to Jerry with only his chin.  Gene and Tommy had met before and it hadn’t exactly gone well.  Tommy had pretty much forgotten it and let it all go, but Gene regarded Tommy with more than just a little bit of disdain and it showed as he looked Tommy down through half lidded eyes, but eyes were not at all heavy from the marijuana.

            “What’s up, Tommy,” he said.  It wasn’t a question.

            Tommy did his best to finish his business before doing anything else.  His face flushed slightly and the muscles in his back tensed sharply as an early rush of adrenaline started to work through his veins.  He turned around as he zipped his fly and met Conroy’s gaze.  While he wasn’t scared of Gene Conroy exactly, there was something about the man that put Tommy off, made him ill at ease.  Conroy knew that.  He made most people a little ill at ease.  It was the way he carried himself, the crazy look he would often get in his eyes, and the way he almost never backed down from anyone.

            “Not much,” said Tommy as he tried to square off with Conroy without exactly squaring off with him.  While he didn’t expect anything to happen in the tight confines of the Sawyer’s Pub bathroom, he didn’t want to get caught off guard and get knocked face first into the urinal either.  “You guys don’t usually hang out down here, do you?”

            “No, not usually,” said Jerry.  Unlike Conroy, Crohn had never had a problem with Tommy Grissom and was easy with his manner when talking to him.  Crohn thought they were pals simply because they had gotten drunk together a few times and they even liked a couple of the same sports teams.  They were almost brothers, in some ways, in Crohn’s diminished eyes.  “We just kind of decided to mix it up a little bit; try something a little different, you know what I mean?”

            “Sure,” he replied with a small smile.  Tommy was trying to sound easy and casual, but Conroy hadn’t stopped staring him down since their quaint little conversation had started.  He was very aware of his breathing.  “Hey, um, the girl behind the bar, Gloria, she’s a friend of mine.”

            “She’s pretty hot,” said Conroy.  He didn’t smile when he said it and it sent an odd chill up Tommy’s spine.

            “Yeah,” he said, trying to dismiss the comment, “anyway she’s a friend of mine and she kind of has an idea what you guys were doing in here.”

            “Oh really,” said Jerry, his posture stiffening and the easy smile dropping from his face.  Suddenly now he was on the defensive and the sense of friendship, such as it was, was gone.  “And just what is it we’re supposed to be doing, Tommy?”

            “Don’t worry, man,” said Tommy with a smile and a shake of his head.  “She’s not going to like freak out or anything and call a cop.  She’d just appreciate it if, you know, wouldn’t do it in here.  Okay?”

            “What if it ain’t okay, Tommy?” said Conroy defiantly.  He had cocked his head back a bit more and was looking down his nose at Tommy.  Tommy gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to turn his head in such a way as to crack his neck.

            “Come on, Gene,” he said.  “It doesn’t have to be that way and you know it.  Just lay off the stuff for right now until you leave or something.  Or at least step out behind the damn bar to do it.”

            “Or what?” said Conroy as the door to the men’s room opened and in walked a man all three men knew.  It was Harold Crane.  Harold was a cop and his biggest duty as a city policeman was going around to the grade schools around the community and talking to kids about the dangers of drugs and what not.  Tommy always had enjoyed irony; Gene and Jerry were less impressed by it. 

            What Gene and Jerry failed to truly acknowledge was the fact that Harold was out of uniform.  He was in the bar as just another patron who had just entered the bar and ordered a beer on his way to the bathroom.  Naturally, he had smelled the somewhat pungent aroma of pot in the air, but he said nothing.  He simply continued on course to a bathroom stall, actually the same stall that Gene and Jerry had just been occupying, to do what he had to do.  He figured that most people in town knew who he was and that his mere presence would handle the rest.  He didn’t have a specific preference on whether it simply deterred the guys from smoking anymore dope in the bar or if it triggered some bit of pot smoking induced paranoia.  They both got the job done, although the latter was entirely more entertaining.

            Gene froze but Jerry, not being a native, seemed a little oblivious.  Conroy put his hands on Crohn’s shoulders and eased him out the door, his eyes fixed on Tommy. 

            “This isn’t done yet, Grissom,” he said as he followed Crohn out the door.

            Tommy Grissom sighed.  “Yeah, I didn’t think it was.” 

TWO

 

            For whatever reason, there had always been a stigma surrounding the Hideaway.  It wasn’t really dissimilar from any other bar; it had a jukebox and it had a dance floor.  People would come in looking to get laid, or get so drunk they’d forget where they lived, or they would come in looking for a fight.

            It was the fighting more than anything else that hampered the bar’s reputation.  Some of it was unfounded; then again some of it was quite real.  While the occasional fight did happen, it was rarely anything really bad.  Sure there were a few injuries and maybe once every two years someone would have to make a trip to the emergency room for a nasty cut or a broken hand, but that happened at a couple of other bars in town as well, not that anyone ever heard about it.  For whatever reason, the Hideaway was the one that everyone talked about.

            It was the general public that kept the stigma alive and well, either by talking about it, or feeding it themselves.  It was as though there was an unwritten rule that fighting inside of Sawyer’s Pub on a Friday night was simply not done, but if a guy instead happened to run in to the person who had offended him an hour later at the Hideaway, then it was game on; Marquis of Queensbury’s Rules.

            It was ten thirty on a Friday night, close to the witching hour when most of the bar going and partying crowd in town would be done ‘priming’ themselves by drinking at smaller, quieter, cheaper establishments and begin to file in to dance and scream and get really rowdy.

            Most of the time, ten thirty was still a relatively calm and quiet time on a Friday night.  Not quite half of the tables would be full, a few people would be huddled around the pool table, and the DJ’s would be playing mostly rock music still until the younger dancing crowd began to file in and demand the latest in hip hop and rap and R&B.  But that night it was March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, and it fell on a Friday night so a great number of people were out to “get their Irish on” and really tear it up.  There was also an influx of new, younger patrons in the bar:  college kids home for an early Spring Break who liked to drink beyond intoxication, scream and holler, and act like they were still 16 having a drink at Danny Jones’ parents’ house while mom and dad were vacationing in Cancun for the weekend.

            The bouncer at the door, Kevin, had nearly had his fill of idiots for one night.  More than once he had caught a group of fresh faced kids trying to sneak one of their underage friends past him.  Fortunately, he’d been at his job for a while and knew most of the tricks; he’d even used a few himself in his younger days.  He’d stopped a couple of kids from a little rough horseplay in the middle of an aisle where waitresses with trays full of shots or arms full of empty glasses were trying to make their way to and from the bar along with customers just trying to order just one drink to send to a person they’d like to try and ask to dance with later.  In the grand scheme of things, they were all fairly petty things, but it was only going to get better.

            One of the many things Kevin had learned working the door was that guys coming in at night wearing Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses were bad news.  At a quarter till eleven a group of ten of them came walking through the door, several even sporting straw Panama hats and leis made from tissue paper.  They flung open the Hideaway’s double doors and walked in with their chests puffed out, their chins stuck up in the air, and arrogance oozing out of every pore on their bodies.  They thought they were the shit and they wanted everyone to know about it.  After all, it was there buddy Jason Wilson’s bachelor party!  They were going to have fun and tear shit it up in every way imaginable.

            They ordered several rounds of shots of Jagerbombs, they tried to dance with every girl they could and if the girl refused they called her a bitch or a slut and slapped her on the ass.  Most of this went unnoticed or unreported to Kevin or anyone else working.  What Kevin did notice was the group of ten guys trying to slam dance in the middle of a narrow walk way, bumping into customers trying to get to the bathroom and nearly knocking over several customers’ tables and spilling their drinks.

            It was time.

            He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  Half of it was a sigh, half of it was a type of meditation before ‘going into battle’.  He put on a fake smile and walked up to the group of guys and stood in the middle of them with his arms and their large hands stretched out on each side of his giant barrel of a body as a sign to stop. 

            “Guys, guys, guys!” he said loudly over their boisterous yells and the roar of the PA system, careful not to yell or scream and come off confrontationally.  “Look, I know you’re trying to have a good time but can you calm it down just a little bit?”

            “What the fuck you talking ‘bout?” shouted one of the Luau boys.  Kevin guessed him to be the leader of the pack, and he was.  His name was Jared Garret and he was Jason’s best man.  He’d been the most popular kid at his high school and became that by being the biggest ass hole in his high school.  Not much had changed since high school.

            “You guys are slamming around and bumping into people,” said Kevin as pleasantly as he could without lowering his voice.  “I’m just asking you guys to bring it down a notch before something happens, okay?”

            Jared Garret didn’t like Kevin.  Not for any particular reason other than that he was trying to call the shots when everyone in the room wearing a Hawaiian shirt knew that Jared Garret called all the shots all the time.  He’d also been drinking since two o’clock in the afternoon and was hypersensitive to any attack on his authority.

            “Fuck you!” he snapped, spittle flying from his lips as he stuck the middle finger of his right hand in Kevin’s face.  The knuckles of Garret’s hand bumped Kevin’s nose, and Kevin didn’t care for it all that much.

            He quickly grabbed at Garret’s wrist and twisted the upturned finger away from him.  The rest of the bachelor party saw it without really understanding.  All they knew was that their fearless leader had just been attacked in some way and they were not going to take it.

            The mob of polyester and rayon closed in on Kevin and tried to swallow him whole.  Kevin was a large man, standing 6’3” and weighing well over two hundred and seventy pounds, and he was able to get a few good pushes and shoves in against the crashing bodies but it didn’t take long before he suddenly found himself on his hands and knees and feeling pairs of fists pound against his back.

            When Kevin went down, everything seemed to stop.  The crowd on the dance floor stopped in mid shimmy, conversations ended abruptly, jokes went without punch lines.  A few women gasped.  One woman shouted out for Kevin to kick their asses because her butt was going to have a bruise from being pinched.

            It took only a moment for a few new bodies to enter the fray.  Two of them wore bright orange shirts like Kevin’s that had the bar’s logo on the back with the word STAFF below it, all in white lettering.  Another was wearing a plain black tee shirt with the Bacardi Rum logo on the left chest.  Almost indiscriminately, the three men began grabbing Hawaiian clad bodies and dragging them back out the double doors of the bar.  Often they would grab the owner of the shirt from behind, wrapping their arms around their necks and yanking them so that they couldn’t get their footing under them, and dropping them outside on their rear ends.  Once the bulk of the bachelor party had been removed from on top of him, Kevin had been able to fight back some.  In addition to his time as a football player in high school and at a division three college, he’d had a modest career as a high school wrestler.  He never competed at a state competition, but he’d been good enough for it come in handy later in life.  He grabbed the nearest pair of legs near him and threw his weight forward as he pulled the legs in, dropping one man to the floor as he then reached above him and grabbed a fistful of synthetic fabric and threw another Hawaiian clad foe on top of the first one.  Then he and another orange shirted bouncer dragged the two men out the door while the bartender in the Bacardi tee shirt forcibly pushed the last of the partygoers out the doors and to the ground while a group of more peaceful bar patrons surrounded them and flooded them with congratulations, pats on the backs, and concerns to their collective well being. 

            They were all fine for the most part.  A few noses had been bloodied, seams had torn in shirts.  After a couple of days all of the men would develop bruises of varying degrees.

            “Well, that was fun,” said the bartender sarcastically and with a weak and tired smile as he lit a cigarette offered to him by a customer, his hands still shaking with adrenaline.  He took in a deep lung full of nicotine and carcinogens and let them roll out of his mouth as he looked down at his shirt.

            “Aw, son of a bitch,” said Tommy Grissom.  “They tore my fucking shirt.”

           

            Word of the brawl spread quickly around town the next day.  When Tommy showed up to work behind the bar that evening at six, half of the late afternoon regulars all asked him questions about it.  The small event had ballooned in magnitude as it spread through word of mouth.  By the time it got to Tommy there had been three city cops and a state patrolman involved, two of the fighters had gone straight to the emergency room, and Tommy had been cut with a knife.  Tommy assured everyone that the fight had been nowhere near as epic and that in the grand scheme of things, had been a pretty simple affair.

            But it was too late.  Word of the fight had spread and the bars reputation as a roadhouse was further cemented in the minds of the general public.

Gary Bosworth owned the bar and he took a lot of it in stride.  He was a gruff old man pushing sixty who had been a figure in bars around the town for almost forty years.  He’d owned his first bar when he was in his early twenties and since then had either owned or managed most of popular nightspots in town ever since.  Stories about the man circulated far and wide.  His time in and out of bars was of local legend.  Some of the stories were almost mythical in their detail.  Oddly enough, though, most of the details were true.  Some days he would wear the bar’s ‘roadhouse’ stigma almost like a badge of honor.  Other days, he would curse the general public left and right.

            “The worthless idiots don’t have any God damn idea what the hell they’re talking about,” he griped after one particularly scathing op-ed piece had run in the local newspaper.  “If we were half as bad as that jack ass says we are then we’d be closed.  I mean it:  Fucking.  Closed.  Either the cops or the liquor commission or maybe even me…one of us would have the bastard closed.”

            It was impossible for anyone that knew how each report of alleged malfeasance would strike him.  Bosworth’s moods often fluctuated quickly and randomly.  It was also never known how he would choose to demonstrate his feelings on the subject at any given time.  The most common method was biting humor.  He would make jokes at the expense of whoever had made the latest accusation or go on tirades about average, tedious nuisances as though the fate of the world depended on them.  In his mind, the events that brought about the public outcries were no more than average nuisances. 

            Other times, however, he could be almost volatile and, depending on just how angry he was, there was no way of knowing how far he would carry his outrage.

            That had Tommy particularly nervous the Wednesday evening following the altercation with the bachelor party.  On Wednesdays, Tommy took over behind the bar for Gary.  It was early in his shift and instead of going about his usual duties of cutting up fruit to garnish drinks with or making sure his beer coolers and liquor shelves behind the bar were properly stocked for the night; he was talking to a pretty young reporter from the local newspaper. 

            Her name was Rachel Miller.  Rachel was a local girl who had gone to the best university in the state and studied journalism.  She’d had grand dreams of becoming an investigative report and breaking huge news stories and winning awards for her courage and writing prowess.  Then graduation day came and went and she found that she couldn’t get hired in any of the prestigious markets she applied in.  What everyone from newspaper editors to college professors knew but she failed to accept was that Rachel just wasn’t a very good writer and not all that bright.  So with her tail tucked between her legs and her pride stuck away in a box between a Justin Timberlake CD and a journalism textbook, she had moved home to live with her parents and found work with the local paper writing small time human interest pieces.

            The human interest story she was working on with Tommy was a sidebar to the annual “Best of” poll that the paper conducted every year.  Tommy and Gary were fairly indifferent to the whole thing.  They had both agreed long ago that it was nothing more than a popularity contest filled out mostly by the paper’s older readership that had nothing better to do with their time.  The bar was often snubbed in the category for Best Bar or Best Nightclub.  Every couple of years it would receive the “Best Place to Dance” award.  Gary would hang the cheaply framed plaque behind the bar for all to see, not because he was proud of it but so that he could direct his ire toward it.

            The bar, by proxy, had received top honors for one other category that year: Tommy Grissom had been voted by the reading public as the “Best Bartender”.  It was a dubious distinction at best and Tommy laughed it off and acted apathetic about it, but he secretly relished the honor.  In fact, he’d been envious of the bartenders who had won the honor in previous years.  So while he was trying to be blasé and play it cool, Tommy was floating on cloud nine while the young cub reporter sat before him seeming ready to hang on his every word.  He was in his usual spot, standing behind the bar directly behind a serving well with the girl seated at a bar stool opposite him.

            “So,” said Rachel Miller, with her head cocked to one side as she looked at a notepad on which she’d written several questions in advance.  She always wrote out her questions in advance and rarely deviated from them.  Thinking on the fly had never been one of her strong suits.  “Tell me, Timmy—”

            “Tommy.”

            “I’m sorry, what?”

            “My name,” he said calmly and doing his best to keep smiling, “it’s Tommy, not Timmy.  Timmy’s my cousin.”

            “Oh,” said Rachel as he she flipped quickly through her notes.  “Am I supposed to be talking to him?”

            “No, you’ve got the right guy.”

            “But you said you’re name is Tommy.  I’m supposed to talk to Timmy Grissom.”

            “No, Timmy doesn’t work here.  My name is Tommy Grissom and I’m the guy your paper’s readers called the town’s best bartender.”

            Rachel’s eyes glazed over for a moment as her brain shifted in to overdrive to compensate for this sudden change in her schedule.  Her face went red and she thought for sure that she was going to hyperventilate or have sort of episode in the middle of the miserable dive her editor had sent her to.  She’d only been inside of the Hideaway once, when she’d come home from school for Christmas vacation shortly after her twenty-first birthday.  She and a few friends had come in for the last hour of the night, pretended to be lesbians and made out with each other to thrill any guy that would look and then turn around and be offended when any of the guys would hit on them, before finally being peacefully removed when tried to dance on the bar and take their tops off despite their inability to stand up straight.  When she returned to school for the spring semester she’d told her friends that the place was a hole and that she and her friends had had a horrible time.

            “So it’s Tommy, not Timmy,” she asked, unsure of herself.  He nodded.  She laughed with embarrassment and shrugged.  “My editor must have told me wrong.”

            He smiled back at her and said, “Sure,” with a slight chuckle, trying to hide his own embarrassment and frustration.  However, Gary was down at the end of the bar and overheard most of the conversation.  He turned his back away from them to keep Tommy from seeing him smile, although out of the corner of his Tommy was fairly sure he could see Gary’s shoulders bounce with subdued laughter.

            “So, Tommy,” said Rachel with a smile and putting extra emphasis on his name, “tell me how you started out tending bar.”

            He smiled, genuinely this time.  Tommy’s genesis as a bartender was actually a pretty good story, but it was lengthy and he was annoyed with this cooze sent to interview him.

            “I started back in college,” he said plainly. 

            “Oh, did you go to a bartender’s college?” she said.

            He gritted his teeth slightly.  “No,” he said, choosing to keep his disdain for bartending schools to himself.  “I was a communications major in college and started tending bar on weekends for some extra cash.”

            “Oh, I see,” she said as she nodded and made an interested expression with her face.  Tommy thought she was interested, but it was just a face Rachel made when she needed a little extra time to write down her notes.  She wrote in admittedly sloppy short hand so she knew there was no way Tommy the Lowly Bartender would be able to fathom what she was writing with the notebook upside down.

            “So you started in college, but stuck with it afterwards, why?”

            “It’s something that I really came to enjoy, and basically love doing,” said Tommy sincerely.  “You get to know your regulars and kind of build a relationship with them, I’ve got genuine affection for the people that I work with, but mostly, when the bar is real busy on a Friday or Saturday night I really love running behind this bar like a mad man and trying to get as many drinks out as I can.”

            “Why is that?”

            “Why is what?
            “Why do you love running behind the bar?” said Rachel.  “I would have thought that you wouldn’t like having to run around, that you’d prefer it when it was slower and you could take your time serving your customers.”

            Tommy shrugged.  “I like to do it all at the same time,” he said with a grin.  “I like the adrenaline rush.”

            Rachel looked at him and smiled.  It made Tommy uneasy.  There was something inhuman and resentful in it, and he could tell by her eyes that the thin fog that had seemed to be a perpetual hindrance for the young reporter was temporarily lifted.

            “Is that why you involve yourself in the fights that happen in the bar?” she said.  “Because you like the adrenaline rush?”

            “Excuse me?” replied Tommy.  He wasn’t quite sure he’d heard the question correctly.

            “I asked if you get involved in the bar fights that happen here because you enjoy the rush of adrenaline?  There are some people in town who believe that the fights that happen in this bar are often started by the bar staff and that the bar staff actually encourages such behavior.” 

            Tommy shook his head.  Her question had been too nicely phrased.  She’d planned on asking it the whole time; she’d just been waiting for the right time to ask it.  He tried as casually as he could to look down the bar at Gary out of the corner of his eye.  He’d heard Rachel’s question all right and was quietly fuming at the end of the bar with his teeth gritted and his cheeks flushed with anger.

            “Is that so,” he said calmly and trying to smile as pleasantly as he could.  “I think that if you really thought about that question and the implications therein you’d realize just how dumb a question that is.”

            “I bet your pardon?” she said aghast.

            “A fight doesn’t do anything to help a bar’s reputation,” said Tommy.  “Fights are bad for business.  No one wants to go drink someplace if they think they’re going to get hurt, and that’s just how it is.  And anyone that thinks otherwise is an idiot.”

            “Is that a fact?” said the girl defensively, as though the lowly bartender were questioning her own intelligence, which he was.  Rachel however wasn’t personally offended; the question had actually come from her father.  What neither Tommy, Gary, or even Rachel’s editor knew was that Rachel’s younger brother had been one of the young men with the bachelor party the preceding Friday night and afterwards he had been arrested for DUI while driving his daddy’s snazzy new Cadillac Escalade after hitting a parked car.  When Preston Miller, Jr. was questioned about where he’d gotten so drunk, he only mentioned the last place he’d visited that night which of course had been the Hideaway and then he’d told his dad about how the bouncers had ganged up on him and his friends without provocation and beat them up and threw them out of the bar.

            “Yeah,” said Tommy.  “Now tell me, Miss Miller, are you here to do a sidebar piece for the local best of or to do an expose on bar violence?”

            She smiled at him weakly as she stared him down at the same time.  Her face was still flushed and her pen trembled slightly in her hand.

            “I think that’ll just about do it for today,” she said finally as she stood and placed her notepad and pen in her purse.

            “Your editor said something about a picture to go along with the sidebar,” said Tommy.

            “Oh, I don’t think that’ll be necessary today,” said Rachel Miller as she smiled with her head cocked to one side and walked deliberately out of the bar, her clunky heels sounding hard on the parquet floor with every step.

            Tommy chuckled weakly to himself as he shook his head and took in a deep breath before sitting back on the bar as Gary stepped over to him.

            “Sorry,” he said as he let out a lung full of air.  “I guess we won’t be getting any free pub in the paper this week.”

            Gary shrugged as he let out a dismissive grunt.

            “To hell with it,” he said.  “You did that fine, son.”  He patted Tommy on the shoulder approvingly.

            “Thanks.”

            “No problem,” said Gary.  “Now get to work, Timmy.”

            “Shut up.”

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