Bartender, Keep ‘em Coming!
By David Eccles
“I’ll never forget the first time that I walked into this fine establishment. It was a Tuesday, and I’ll always remember just how beautiful Gina looked on the day that I met her,” slurred the unshaven, unkempt reflection of Carl Roach as he sat at the bar, staring into the mirror that was etched with the logo of a famous brand of Tennessee whisky. He tossed back yet another scotch on the rocks, grimacing as he swallowed, savouring the burn that was only too familiar to him as a tingle on the tip of his tongue that spread and grew in intensity, ending as a fire in the pit of his stomach.
“Another one, bartender!” he demanded, rapping his glass on the counter. Looking up from his glass, Carl noticed his reflection once more. God, I look like shit.
“Don’t you think it’s about time you were heading out for home, Carl?” the bartender asked, making it sound more like a suggestion rather than a request to leave the premises as he handed over a fresh glass. “Make this your last one, hmmm?”
Mumbling something inaudible before snatching the drink from the counter, Carl polished off his scotch in practiced fashion and returned it to the counter with a flourish and a deftness that belied his drunkenness. He reached into his pants pocket, withdrew a billfold and peeled off a few bills before tossing them onto the bar. “That should cover it.” Carl stopped and thought for a moment before adding, “Say, did I ever tell you—?”
“Yes, I’m pretty sure you did, Carl,” the bartender interrupted, not even bothering to look up as he continued wiping down the bar, knowing full well that Carl was about to begin his usual drunken monologue of how he had met Gina in this very bar, and how it had been love at first sight, for him at least, and yadda yadda yadda. Groans from the other customers seated at the bar revealed that they too had heard Carl’s story before, and on more than one occasion! Their actions also made it quite clear that they were not in the mood for his inebriated ramblings today, as each and every one of them deserted their barstools and made their way to a booth where they could drown their sorrows in relative peace and quiet.
“Carl, why do you do this to yourself? I thought you were getting some sort of counselling to help you try and get over…well, you know.” The look on the bartender’s face said it all. It was a look that delivered the message: I know you’re hurting, but for Christ’s sake get a fucking grip and get over it! Everyone here is sick and tired of hearing this shit!
“You just don’t understand! Nobody here could ever possibly understand!” Carl’s raised voice carried over to the rear of the bar where a small group of guys were gathered around the pool table, enjoying a few games.
“Keep it down old man! We’re trying to play here!” one of them bawled, his pool cue pointing directly at Carl in a threatening manner.
Carl grumbled something about the validity of the guy’s parentage then dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “I don’t need counselling. I’m fine,” he said to no one in particular as he pulled on his overcoat and made ready to leave.
“Is that so?” the guy with the pool cue chuckled. “That’s not what I heard,” he sneered as he circled around Carl, blocking his exit. Carl swallowed, fearing the worst. He was not a fighting man. Nervously, he looked for an exit, unaware that behind him pool cue guy’s cronies had closed in, making retreat an impossible prospect.
Recognizing the potential for trouble, the bartender quickly intervened. “Look, buddy, I don’t want any hassle in here. The man’s just leaving. Why don’t you leave him be then you and your buddies come and have another drink?” He quickly lined up a row of shot glasses along the freshly cleaned bar. “This one’s on me!”
Smiling, pool cue guy gave Carl’s face a gentle slap, then turned down his lapels for him and brushed off his shoulders. “You’re a lucky guy. Time you went home now, Carl. Mind how you go,” he whispered in Carl’s ear, giving emphasis to Carl’s name. Carl knew what pool cue guy meant, and it frightened him to the point where he really needed to take a piss, but he didn’t dare risk using the restroom for fear of being jumped by pool cue guy and his cronies. It would have to wait until he either got home or he found somewhere safe enough to take a leak. Hastily and again demonstrating surprising skill and agility, Carl sidestepped pool cue guy, who was now nameless, having rested his cue up against the bar, and half-ran through the nearest exit.
Carl’s leaving had not gone unnoticed by the bartender, who relaxed a little upon seeing that a knock-down-drag-out fight had been avoided. “I like to know the name of the guy I’m buying a drink for,” he stated as he filled the line of shot glasses with bourbon. Like thirsty vultures, the pool players rushed to claim their prize, holding aloft their glasses like newly won sports trophies as they backslapped and toasted their “captain”, Dylan.
“So, Dylan, just what exactly did you mean when you said that it’s not what you’d heard?” The bartender was good at his job, and had picked up on what Dylan had said to Carl. He continued to pour drinks as Dylan began to explain.
“Turns out old Carl is a bit of a fruit loop.”
“A fruit loop, yeah,” Dylan’s cronies whooped, in chorus.
Puzzled, the bartender asked, “How do you figure?”
Dylan took a sip of his bourbon, gritting his teeth as it went down, before continuing. “I bet you figured Gina was dead, for starters, didn’t you?”
“Well, yeah, seeing as how Carl goes on and on about her when he gets too much liquor inside him. It’s like he’s mourning her passing; like he just can’t seem to let go.”
“Yeah, he does tend to drag it out about how he met her in here, and how much of a looker she was.” The amusement Dylan felt as he recalled how enthusiastic Carl was whenever he spoke of Gina left him suddenly. “But that’s not whole story.” Dylan paused yet again, both for effect, and to knock back his bourbon. “The fact of the matter is: she ain’t dead!”
“You’re shitting me!” the bartender exclaimed, leaning forward and wanting to know more.
“Hell, no! It’s God’s honest truth. Cross my heart. For all I know, she could be married with kids and living on a cattle ranch in Texas, but I do know for a fact that she’s alive and well!” Dylan motioned for a refill; the bartender eagerly obliged.
“So why’s he so down about her and drunk all of the time, acting like she’s in her grave?”
Dylan shrugged. “Beats me, man, but I do know he’s one sick puppy. Yeah, they met in here, alright; that part’s true enough, but what you don’t know is that she only saw him as a friend. He just couldn’t accept that and took to following her and calling her at all hours; you know, really being a pest.”
“He stalked her, you mean?” the bartender whispered, incredulous. Dylan nodded.
“Yeah. She took out a restraining order and everything. Didn’t do no good, though. Carl ended up doing some time over it, and that’s when Gina saw fit to get the hell outta Dodge!”
“Crazy bastard! Don’t want no sick fucks like that coming in here! Thanks for telling me, man!”
“Any time, brother.” Dylan knocked back his bourbon and slammed the glass down on the bar before reaching for his billfold.
“The bartender motioned for Dylan to put it away. “Your money’s no good in here tonight, my friend. Drinks are on the house.”
Dylan grinned, showing an even set of immaculate teeth. “In that case…bartender, keep ‘em coming!”