Guy goes to work, gets the axe.
- Sam Thomas
The night I died was pretty conventional.
My shift at The DoubleDown started 8pm so I took my beer and finished it in the shower. The water stayed hot and The Stones were playing Time is on my side on the radio. I hummed along while I towelled off and dug a loose black t-shirt from fairly-clean pile then threw on some dark blue jeans and a pair of thick soled leather boots. Anybody that works a bar in trainers is either a fool or a nihilist and should be avoided at all times.
One of the building’s countless tenants, Tony something, poked his head round my door as I was doing up my laces. His only defining feature was the constant, acrid cigar cloud that followed him around like Mary’s little nicotine lamb.
‘You see the game last night?’ He asked.
‘What game?’ I said, slipping on my pea coat.
Tony just grunted and kept moving down the hall in search of the true sports fans.
I combed a few errant brown hairs out of my sky blues with my fingers and walked out into the evening chill around 7:20. It was only a ten-minute walk to The DD but I needed to find dinner and tradition dictated I get a pint on the ‘right side of the bar’ before signing on. I was devoutly orthodox. A lot of bar tenders come across as habitual but really they're just professional alcoholics. Still, apart from the obvious benefits it gave you a chance to test the air and the clientele.
About half way to the bar I popped in to my regular dingy noodle joint and ordered the satay special. The little old lady behind the counter hellowed me by name when I walked in, and for the millionth night in a row I considered the quality of my diet. I was only 24 but I was starting to wonder just how long you could survive on food that comes in a cardboard box. The noodle lady bagged my box then threw in some prawn crackers for nutritional value. She waved cheerfully as I stepped back out into the street. I lit up a cigarette as I rounded the corner and walked straight into a man wearing a dog-eared grey suit with a slick black pompadour coming the other way. There was a sickly sweet smell to him and his face looked like a polished apple with all the flesh sucked out.
‘Sorry boss,’ he winked, ‘didn’t see ya there.’
‘Ah, that’s alright man.’ I tried to step around him. The guy seemed to inhabit the entire pavement. He was short and wiry, but the way he constantly ducked and stretched, hoping from toe to heel, foot to foot, heel to toe, made it impossible to get a proper gauge on his dimensions. It was hard to tell if he was about to start dancing or running.
‘Well in that case boss, ya wouldn’t have a spare coffin nail would ya?’
‘Have ya got a smoke boss?’ He said each word slowly, flicking his tongue across stained teeth, and held two fingers up to his lips in the universal sign for ‘got a smoke?’ He had what looked like the word VENNI tattooed across his jagged knuckles. I wondered uncomfortably whether the other hand had just seen, or conquered.
‘Just rollies man’ I said.
‘Perfect.’ His voice came out as oily as his hair.
I dropped my pouch into his outstretched hand and watched him deftly roll a perfect cylinder, still doing his vague shuffle. The man stuck the cigarette in his mouth and patted down his suit until he found a bright yellow Bic lighter in some hidden pocket. He lit it, breathed deeply and smiled like the Cheshire cat. Then he passed me back the pouch.
‘Thanks boss.’ He gave me another roguish wink and sauntered around the corner whistling a Stones tune. I watched him go.
‘All good.’ I mumbled to nobody in particular. I shook my head and quickly walked the last block to work.
When I got there Gary was already on the door. Gary was sound; he used to work security for various gay clubs around the city until his wife found photos of him doing body shots off the head queen at BENT. The man’s tastes were as kosher as a bacon free bagel but he wisely chose to move to a less risqué venue post counselling.
‘Tommy boy,’ he smiled, shaking my hand, ‘how’s it going?’
‘Good man, real good.’ I flicked my smoke away. ‘Few in tonight?’
Nah mate it’s a graveyard.
‘Nah mate it’s a graveyard.’
If only. I poked my head into the muggy gloom and took in the early bird crowd. The bar never picked up until around 12. There were about fifteen or so people slumped over cheap pints along the length of the bar, doing their level best to will the band into non-existence. The singer was having none of it, screaming and rolling around on the stage as if the mic was a taser. He wasn’t a slim dude and writhing around like that his skinny jeans resembled two primordial snakes that had bitten off more than they could chew.
‘They’re corpse-y enough man, but graveyards have flowers and birds. Sunlight. This is more like a morgue.’ I looked at the peeling off-white walls and stained carpets. ‘A classy morgue.’
Michael chuckled. ‘I don't think you stick to the floors in morgues mate.’
I laughed along. ‘I should hope not.’
We skinned palms again and I bee-lined for an empty stool. Julian was serving a pretty blonde down the far end so I threw my pea coat on the chair next to me, dug into the greasy Chinese mess I’d picked up, and waited. Jules leaned in close to give the girl her the change and said something that put a little colour in her cheeks. She walked haughtily out into the beer garden with her drinks, passing me on the way. She didn’t look back but there was a small smile on her face. Jules is a handsome dude.
I finally caught the man’s eye. He nodded sagaciously to me and then grinned like an idiot. He poured the long anticipated pint and walked over, dropping it in front of my meal.
‘Smooth moves man,’ I said, ‘When are you announcing the wedding?’
‘We’re eloping,’ he deadpanned, ‘she’s an Aries, so we’re thinking spring.’
‘Sound plan.’ I shovelled some more MSG into my system and washed it down with my beer.
‘That shit is going to make you fat and dead Tom,’ said Jules.
‘No one stays dead and fat for long Jules.’ I polished off the satay special and my pint and got to work.
‘Hmm mayd ken eh geh ah pine.’
The guy leant in close, knocking the wine glasses hanging over the bar with his head, and slurred his order again.
I flinched a little, wiping some spittle from my cheek. ‘I’m getting you a glass of water man.’
Drunk guy’s face scrunched up like its weaker features had lost the struggle with the enormous gravitational pull of his hot pink nose. His tiny chin pulled in, met his neck, and disappeared. ‘Yoow whad?’
I gave him the water and moved on before he opened his mouth again and tried to slick my hair back. When I turned to serve the next customer there was a greasy pompadour bobbing over the bar.
‘Evening boss, I’ll have a scotch on the rocks.’
That’s when the night got a little unconventional.