Fate rolls in and fucks up the place when least expected. Like when Yancy’s Tavern was empty, as it often was mid-afternoon Mondays, up until four when happy hour kicks in and the place fills with exactly the sort of people with whom you didn’t want to associate. I knew because I’d been watching it for a while. Part of the job. Sitting and watching. Boring as hell, but the pay’s good. No benefits except the occasional increase in heart rate. I could also include booze as an expense and no one asked any questions. I think they called that a fringe benefit.
The analog clock on the dash of my ’67 Comet eased a tick to three o’clock and I killed the motor, letting myself out of the car’s warm interior into the angry bite of winter’s air. The door screeched in protest as I sent it home and used the key to lock it. Modern cars had that electric piece of crap that locks the doors with the push of a button. Hell, some cars didn’t even need a key to start the damned things. I preferred the tactile feel of turning the key. Confirmed the connection between vehicle and me.
I strode across the road towards Yancy’s. I didn’t look for oncoming traffic; there wouldn’t be any. Sitting in the middle of a row of squat, downtown storefronts, the bar boasted a set of high-placed windows along the front of the building through which even the sun often refused to enter. Daylight made its begrudging appearance in the form of a row of geometrical motes as dingy as the walls and uneven hardwood floors that hadn’t seen a mop since “soda jerk” was still a thing. I let myself into the place.
Behind the bar was a guy named Wilber Jones. How I knew who he was we’d get to later, but Wilber was a real piece of shit. Most people who hung out in Yancy’s were, yours truly excepted. Some would argue the veracity of my exception to the rule, but I maintain the quality of the content of my character. Wilbur had on a tight black t-shirt, faded Levi’s, a ponytail, and many years of a rough life. At least he didn’t have a man-bun. I wore my favorite black leather coat and chose charcoal-colored jeans from which a pair of trodden ropers extended, vouching for my rank as a possible shit-kicker. The Hawaiian shirt sort of clashed, but it was comfortable. I was proud to be a counterpunch to what Wilber thought was cool.
The few lights hanging from the ceiling shrugged at their job of illuminating the joint, but most patrons—when there were any—weren’t the type to complain. Yancy’s was the kind of bar someone frequented when they didn’t want to drink alone, but sure as hell didn’t want company. A long bar ran in an L-shape along almost the entire length of the narrow establishment, a once-rich dark wooden top, now a relic of its heyday, lacquered over and worn through so many times that it was no longer possible to tell the wood’s original species. And never mind the air, so thick with the scent of desperation that even the city’s smoking ban didn’t help.
Most importantly, along the back bar huddled empty glasses and half-full bottles of salvation from the misery of the human condition. Clear liquors and ambers filled the shelves along the wall, lined up like soldiers waiting their turn to storm the front line of drunks bellying-up on the battlefront against sobriety and harsh reality. Gins, vodkas, whiskeys and brandies, all ready to be drafted into harm’s way. And boy, did those soldiers get called into action regularly. After four P.M., of course. Happy hour.
I strolled through the place and slipped onto a stool about midway along the bar. I made sure my jacket flapped open to show no gun on my hip as I sat. I briefly considered popping the collar but thought it too much. Wilber made a big show of looking at the clock over the bar before bringing his eyes back to me, shook his head, then came over to me and wiped the bar down with a rag that was sure to add bacteria to the surface rather than remove it.
“Kinda early,” he said. A statement. Like I was an idiot to enter his establishment, despite the door being unlocked, and the open sign loitering on the front door’s grimy window.
“You’re open, ain’t you?” I said. I’d have added touché, but I’d already told you about the content of my character.
“Then it isn’t kinda early, is it?”
“Touché,” he said. See? Wilber was a real piece of crap. “Drink?”
“We have a bunch,” Wilber said. “You can’t just say whiskey and expect me to know what to pour. Scotch? Bourbon? Irish? Canadian? Then we start talking about brands.”