The funny thing about working all night into the next morning is the choices you have in dealing with the next day. Do you plow through and try to get back on normal time, or crawl immediately into bed and feed your tired body what it needs? It all depends on your next day’s schedule. Mine was wide open…
I like this pub. They open at 10:30 a.m. so people can “eat lunch.” It’s got giant windows in the front so if you choose to get a daytime drunk on, you can watch the world go by in daylight—which is absent on this beautifully dreary day. The bartender, Jeff, is a great piece of 21st century Americana. He’s a big Japanese guy, sort of tall for Japanese and borderline sumo size; when he talks, it sounds like a frat boy from the suburbs of Small Town Any State, USA. I pull up into my usual “area of the bar” right smack in the middle: good field of vision that way. I should have noticed the seat pulled out next to me but I don’t. Maybe that would explain the nervous look on Jeff‘s face. Before I ask what he was on about, I ordered a Morning Mourning Porter. It’s a delicious beer brewed with a shitload of Lapsang Souchong black tea, smokier than a 5,000 year-old fire pit. He pours the beer, hands it to me and I swear his hand is shaking. I take a nice little sip to savor and that’s when I feel the patron who was occupying the seat next to me return from the bathroom.
“There you are, you handsome devil,” he says, but not homosexual-like, more like an uncle or good friend would say. I have no idea who this guy is. He has a strange build; he looks like a dwarf stretched to 6 foot tall, big bushy eyebrows, a deep booming voice, dark hair and bright blue eyes. I think he is mumbling, or humming or whispering. He wears a freshly pressed, light green blazer and his shirt is a denim work shirt; his tie doesn’t match his outfit, like it was an afterthought. The whole outfit is very last minute, like he’s been working in the yard all day and just realized “Oh shit, I go to a wedding in 15 minutes.” He sits down and I notice that he’s twisting an imaginary wedding ring where there obviously used to be one, judging by the tell-tale color difference on his finger, which is attached to dirty, dirty hands. He orders a cup of coffee and two scotches.
“One for my friend here, because he looks Irish!” and lets out a huge, booming, hearty laugh that cracks me up and makes me really uncomfortable at the same time. I know right then: here we go.
He pays for the drinks from a big “Dago” roll of bills, all hundreds from what I can tell. Was that blood or paint on the money? I think to myself, don’t stare, and look straight ahead.
Right then the bar phone rings and I see a look of relief in Jeff ’s face; he disappears to the end of the bar.
“I shot Ronald Reagan. Look.” He nudges me hard enough to disturb the beer I didn’t realize I hadn’t moved from my face. I look to my right, making sure not to make eye contact and he’s got the right side of his jacket open, like he’s showing me a gun. But instead he’s got some sort of makeshift shrine pinned there inside the coat: one official, crumpled old 3×5 of Ronald Reagan; a petrified, dried dead garden lizard and a smushed bullet are taped to the picture. I think fast and pull the ol’ “my cell phone, let me take this call,” trick. Taking my phone out, I start an imaginary phone call. Not seven seconds into it, with my dumb luck, the fucking thing starts ringing for real. As chills run through my body I look and see it’s a call I do not want to take: my boss, calling to follow up on the job last night.
The guy laughs his ass off with that big, dumb, booming laugh and starts beating the bar rail. I see the bartender looking nervous at me in the mirror with his back turned to us and he disappears into the back storage.
“Hey, let’s go outside for a second. I got something else to show you,” he says, opening the left side of his jacket, which is indeed concealing a large chrome revolver in a shoulder holster.
We exit the bar into the back parking lot that’s only about 6 cars big and has buildings on both sides. We walk towards a small pick-up truck. Very small and very old, I’ve never seen one like it; it looks like a miniature ‘57 Chevy el Camino, faded to shit and actually missing the passenger door, which has a piece of plywood acting as half a door, and that is holding back a pile of junk. In fact, the truck bed is full of junk, too. We approach the back of the truck and he lets down the gate after untying a section of Romex electrical wire that’s holding it all together. Immediately I see a dead dog. It’s very dead, like many days, maybe a week dead, starting to mummify. Still has a lot of hair. Seems like a big, shaggy mutt-sheep dog mixed with German Shepherd or something.
“Some say he was a great president; I say he was an even better dog.” He says this as he reaches in, choking back some tears and picks up the stiff, dead dog lovingly. He starts humming and turning. I move to the other side of the truck towards the open end of the parking lot. He starts singing “How Much is That Doggy in the Window,” muffled because his face is buried in the matted hair of the dog. He lets out a big howl instead of the “ruff ruffs.” I move quickly because his back is to me now and I make it to the edge of the lot, almost to the corner. Thank you crepe shoe soles!
I look up and down the street to see the dark clouds break and I laugh at the small rainbow peeking through. I feel a big bump in my jacket pocket, reach in and look to find the wad of cash he was holding.
The sound of his head hitting the truck is more disturbing than the gunshot. Dogs nearby start barking. A bus pulls up and I jump on as the doors open to let a passenger out the back…