01 Feb I run a bar that serves one of a kind drinks to clients in exchange for their stories
My name is Sully, I run a bar a ways out from anywhere affectionately called “The Spaces In Between” (don’t judge, I didn’t fucking name it). My companion is Cheddar, a Bernese Mountain dog that understands the words “attack”, “kill”, “stun” and “defend”, but not the word “breakfast”. We try to create a welcoming but chill atmosphere for the patrons that stumble through here every now and then. To be honest? We have to.
Because to say my clientele is unusual would be a gross understatement.
The kinds of folks we get here are looking for an escape, a place where they can talk their troubles away for a nominal fee and won’t be judged. I guess that doesn’t separate it from many other bars out there, does it?
Well, not only am I a superb listener, but we have a wide selection of unusual beverages. I like to think of them as mood enhancers or, depending on the patron’s desire, dampeners. I’ve gotten together with some unrecognised genius brewery masters, working out deals to sell their phenomenal mixtures at a unique place, it brings the customers in by the droves to seek their poison of choice that they cannot find elsewhere and the brewery get exposure. Everyone wins.
I guess for me, I knew sharing some of the stories I’ve picked up along the way would be of interest to you, and who knows? Maybe you’ll stop by yourselves one day, but you don’t pay in cash here. You pay with stories.
If you’ve ever worked in a bar before, you know the happy-go-lucky environment you see on a show like Cheers or on a weekend filled with excitable youths is nothing like the dreary reality of a bar. Mid-week Tuesday will forever serve as my motivator to abstain from booze and it’s one of these mid-week Tuesdays that I want to begin our stories.
First patron is a bonafide regular, Kathryn Letty, she spends every waking moment with her lips around a bottle of Peruvian Beer called “Mama Killa’s Pulse Thumper”, the contents designed to bring your mood and excitement up to such a level that you felt the world around you was virtually throbbing. For someone like Letty, though, it simply evened her out.
I liked Letty, she was a woman who could not stop talking about her life but always seemed to have something interesting tucked up her sleeve, or a way about her that turned a mundane story into one of intrigue. She once spent 15 minutes telling me about the watering of her plants and the way her system worked before taking a left turn into how her giant pitcher plant was fed some of her experimental alcohol and it ate her cat.
“I got home one day and he…Methuselah was just gone…” She said between swigs, her youthful face riddled with stress lines, bags under her eyes and a mess of unkempt brown hair, the majority tied back with a clip but the fringe leaving streaks down her face to compliment the streaks of booze running down her chin when she downed too much in one go.
“With a name like that, maybe it was a godsend…” I thought, wiping down the counter while looking at her and offering a vocal affirmation of my condolences. She downed the rest of the booze and slammed the bottle down, swaying as she looked up at me.
“D’ya know why I came here, Sully?” She asks, her eyes half open and a jovial grin forming across her face as the effects kicked in.
“Mm, same as everyone else who frequents a bar like mine, I suppose. You want to go somewhere away from prying eyes and drink without being judged.” I shrug, letting the rag fall across my shoulder as I rung my hands. “Maybe the booze too, I can’t say we’re not unique in that regard.”
“Nah, I came here because I had nowhere else to go where I could wallow,” she declares, annunciating the words “nowhere” and “wallow” for dramatic effect as she spun in a circle. She pushes some coins my way and I grab another Pulse Thumper for her, but she shakes her head before I can pop the cap.
“No, I want something else, Sully. I want the Pincer.” She says, pointing a shaking digit to the shelf behind me where my top stock sat: an assortment of bottles of different shapes and sizes adorned with labels and logos of equally unique measure. I follow the trajectory of her finger as it landed on a brown bottle with a square centre, the liquid settling neatly as it extended out on either side, following up and into jagged glass spikes that form two huge pincers. If you looked at it through the beer goggles that i’m 99% certain Letty had on, the glass could pass for a stag beetle.
I didn’t reach for it, instead pressing both my hands onto the table and pushing her money back to her.
“You don’t pay for top shelf goods with money, Letty. You tell me a story and if it’s good, I’ll pour you that drink.”
She sighed, a hiccup escaping her lips. “My money’s not good enough for you?”
I smile and shake my head. “Nope, but your stories are. So tell me what happened that day when you came home from work. It was raining, right? You’d forgotten your raincoat.”
“How did you…yeah, it was freezing out and I’d had to get some supplies, they said Hurricane Zander was coming in and I wanted to be ready.” Her eyes sobered over and her hands shook; she tried to steady them as she cast her eyes to the floor. “I thought he’d be okay for just a few minutes, it was just around the corner…”
I stared at her for a few moments and twirled my moustache. Cheddar was asleep next to me, his drool beginning to coat the floor as he had a habit of falling asleep with his favourite stuffed animal in his mouth. I looked at Letty’s posture, the tremble in her limbs as she fooled with her sleeves and the hesitation in her words…I began to wonder…
I sighed and reached for a bottle on the top shelf; it was a delicate orange at the bottom and the shape was akin to an egg with deep cracks down the middle, allowing for a far brighter shade of yellow to break through. The top was cracked open with the head of a baby chick popping out blind and screaming, the open mouth serving as the distributor of the drink. A label across the middle of the egg read “Abbacus & Sons Whirlwind Milcham Concoction! One shot and you’ll feel the day start anew!”
I pulled it down and grabbed a shot glass from under the bar. It was clear and the initials “S.R.” were written across it in beautiful black calligraphy. I poured it as she stared aimlessly and I pushed it towards her.
“This isn’t a pincer,” she began, staring at the bubbling orange liquid in front of her. “I came here for the pincer because I heard it-“
“What it does isn’t important anymore, Letty. As your expert bartender I have decided this is the better drink for you, trust me.” I pushed a contact number on my phone and nodded to her as she hesitantly downed the shot, an audible hiss emanating from her chest as she breathed out a yellow smoke.
“Your taxi will be here in a minute, time to go home.” I said, detaching myself and beginning to prep the bar for the next patron.
“I…I don’t…what does this do?” She asked, the realisation beginning to take her as she put her head in her hands. “I feel faint…why…why did I do this?”
“Go home, Letty.” I say almost coldly. “If you have any trouble you can come back, ok?”
She struggles to get to her feet and rubs her arms as she heads for the door, a small “Thanks, I guess” as she leaves.
I assure you, I was doing her a kindness. Letty was going to make a very, very big mistake and I didn’t want to see further harm come to her.
A few minutes later, I heard the doors swing open as a skinny hipster sauntered in, no older than 25 and his thick black locks greased back into an undercut; his Armani suit that usually impressed so many people did nothing to flatter me here. He stared around at the bar, scoffing a couple times as he looked at the signs and plaques on the walls before rolling his eyes at the whole place and taking a seat in front of me.
This was the ever intolerable Gomez DeStefano and I didn’t want him anywhere near Letty. This dude has problems with socialising the way incels have problems with dating.
“Janus special, yesterday,” he says, looking down disapprovingly of Cheddar and back to me.
“And make sure your fucking dog stays away from my drink, he comes near my suit and I swear i’ll kick him.”
Cheddar looks up at him with sleepy eyes, puffs out a sound of protest before sinking his face into his paws to sleep, and I laugh as I find the bottle.
“You would be on the floor in five seconds begging for him not to chomp off your salami slice, Gomez.” I call from under the bar, finally finding the cooler. Inside were a set of aged vials split evenly down the middle, the left a deep blue and the right an intense magenta, the label reading “Estefania Brewery Co. Presents the ultimate emotional experience in Janus: All emotions, two sides, one bottle.”
I pull it up and motion to Gomez which side he’d like, he picks the blue and I oblige, pouring it into a tall glass with some ice.
“What brings you to my ever so fine establishment, Gomez?” I ask, putting the cooler on the counter and knowing full well that i’ll need more of them soon, Gomez drank profusely once he began.
“I just…I needed somewhere I could go to talk, y’know? And this place is the only one I was told wouldn’t judge me…” His eyes were welling up with tears and he looked morose, I’d daresay pathetic in the right light. But since this is what he wanted by taking that concoction, I didn’t hold much sympathy for him.
“Alright, what do you wanna talk about? Is it what you told me about last time?” I asked, watching for any spillage of tears I’d need to dutifully mop up from my beautiful mahogany counter.
“The stealing thing? Nah, I don’t feel too bad about that part…it’s what I saw while I was stealing that fucked with me…I don’t know if I’ll ever sleep well again now. God, I should have done something…” He buries his head in his forearms and sobs, Cheddar snorting before getting up, stretching and walking off to the back. Even he wasn’t buying this shit.
I lean forward, my arms folded, and press him for more.
“What did you see that night, Gomez?”
He composes himself and looks up, snot running down his face that he quickly wipes away.
“The apartment I scouted was simple, it wasn’t in a busy area, the broad who lived there wasn’t a threat and neighbours minded their own business. I could go about my job without incident and my client would get paid nicely. I was told to get a specific item and to do it at a specific time. Only I saw an opportunity and decided to get it earlier on account of the weather.”
“The weather? What was so important about that?” I narrowed my eyes as his began to widen, clearly impressed with himself.
“Hurricane season, there was a fresh one on the horizon and it was even quieter than usual.
So, I stepped into the apartment without any problems after I knew the broad had left and began to do my thing, searching for her lockbox. But as I went into her bedroom, I heard something coming from the living room, an awful sound like a bear rummaging through trash but…wetter…I heard the sounds of wailing and crunching as I saw a shadow cast over the wall, hunched over and the jaws tearing at whatever was there, pincer-like arms holding it in place as mandibles ripped and tore.”
He retched and took a moment to steady himself. I listened intently, the uncomfortable sensation of familiarity running through me.
“I can’t get the fucking image out of my head, even now. I got what I needed and bugged out, handed my shit to the client and never said a word. I came here to forget, to get it out of my fucking head.” He shook in his seat and reached for the other half of the bottle with the magenta mixture, downing it so quickly that splotches fell and stained his suit.
“You got this upset over someones kitten being eaten? I don’t buy it.” I asked, reaching for a bottle on the top shelf, a golden heart with vines growing around it and a rusted key in the centre producing a beautiful oaken hue, the label reading “Winchester’s very own Hemlock-infused Adjudicator! Your first step in the right direction was choosing this drink!”
His bravado returned save for a slight shaking in his knee, and he laughed at me as I asked.
“What can I say? I’m a softie, hearing a kitten screaming was upsetting. Besides, why wouldn’t someone be freaked the fuck out from seeing a shadow eating it, huh? I thought you types were meant to be insightful?”
I grabbed a shot glass and, after turning the key on the heart, a satisfying click rang out and I poured the shimmering contents for him.
“It’s on the house, Gomez.” I reply dryly as he looks uncertain.
“I gotta get moving soon, chief. Can’t be having too many!” He pushes it back to me, apprehension now clear in his voice, not even bothering to ask for the remaining stack of Janus I’d gotten for him.
“Oh you won’t need to worry, the taxis aren’t available yet. Sit and drink, I’ll give you a little insider info.” I smile, leaning my knuckles onto the counter as I look at the pathetic creature in front of me. He sits gingerly and after a few moments, takes the Adjudicator drink and downs it heartily.
No sooner than he had done so, his entire being froze. Limbs would no longer obey him, his eyes fixed forward and onto me, the body betraying his soul entirely. I am no longer smiling as I speak aloud while clearing the bar away of mess.
“You are a superb thief, Gomez. It’s how you can afford the suits, the nice cars, the temporary friends around you who feign interest and sex to get loans. But, you are a very, very bad liar.” I look deep into his face as I finish my sentence, the disgust in my expression apparent as he looks back in fear.
“You wanna know how I know you didn’t see a kitten in that apartment? How I know you saw more than you’re letting on and even why you really didn’t report it?”
He blinks once at me, a confirmation. “Well first, we need to discuss what you just drank. It’s a drink that will determine what happens to you next, essentially. One of my own special blends, designed to weed out cancerous cells like you. If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ll feel elation beyond your wildest dreams and you’ll get into that taxi without issue. But if you feel even a shred of guilt in you after I’m done talking, well…”
I walk around the bar and put my hands on his shoulders, leaning in as I speak to him: “Let’s come back to that later, shall we?”
“I know you didn’t see a kitten because I just served your victim a few minutes ago and funnily enough, she said it was a kitten too, with some degree of confusion. She came here to suffer, you know. Not entirely willingly, but that was her intention. I don’t know what you gave her but it took a very special blend to help her memory recover, I don’t even know if that’s the right call but it’s what has to happen. She will wake up and everything she went through will be there to greet her like a fucking parasite.”
I leaned towards him, my voice becoming low. “But I did her a favour, Gomez. I gave her a chance to take a different path than the one you and your client sought out for her.”
Gomez began to shake, his entire body bouncing up and down as his pupils dilated and his head shook.
“I don’t doubt you have no idea who or what your client is, what is in Letty’s lockbox or that you’re very, very sorry. But people like you never learn. You’ll save your own skin the moment this happens again, and unfortunately for you, I know it will happen again. The thing I can’t forgive though? Myself, if I let you go. Because you saw something in that room and you still ignored any impulse to do right. You saw something that would turn anyone else’s stomach, push their fight or flight instincts and still chose yourself.”
I turn my back to him and pour myself a magenta shot of Janus, downing it as I hear the sizzling of Gomez’s body begin to crescendo.
“You deserve what you get.”
The form that housed Gomez began to melt away, the skin and bones beginning to burn as his limbs sagged and eventually fell from the torso, continuing to burn and melt on the floor.
Gomez tries to scream through the foam that coats his throat, but a soft gurgling is all that’s audible as his head sinks into his torso and that too melts into a viscous sludge that hardens as soon as it settles.
Cheddar walks back in and his head nudges my hand as I pet him, my face stuck in a permanent scowl as I look at the ultrasound photo Letty had left behind.
“You saw a crib, Gomez. You saw a fucking crib.”