Dive Bar Nepotism

Dive Bar Nepotism

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if Charlie is trying to run this place into the ground on purpose.  Between charging for tap water and beer backs, catering to regulars who don’t spend any money at the expense of new customers, and the condensation I find in countless bottles of vodka, it is really no surprise the parking lot is empty when I arrive for my shift.  I am surprised, however, by the new face sitting at the bar.

“This is my nephew, John,” Charlie introduces us.  John also goes by the name Peyton Manning… just in case anyone calls the bar asking for him.

“Um, ok,” I say, confused at why this near 40 year old burnout with yellowed eyes and pants three sizes too big has adopted the moniker of a famous quarterback.

“I’m putting him in charge,” Charlie says.  “This place needs some new life and this kid, this kid right here, he’s got some great ideas.”

Kid?  This “kid’s” hairline recedes, but instead of rounding out at the back like a cul-de-sac, the baldness continues down the back of his head to his neck, so that what hair he does have left exists as strips down the sides of his head kind of like a reverse Mohawk.  “Yeah, what kind of ideas?”

“You know, like ladies night, getting a DJ in here,” the aging wangster says as he takes a long pull off a well drink.

“Right…” I say, my blood seething in my veins.  Like no one has told Charlie he needs to get with the basic staples of the bar business already.  Like I haven’t written out lists of real ideas that Charlie promptly ignored…

After the owner leaves I ask our new “manager” about the last bar he ran.  “Oh I ain’t never ran a bar before,” he says.

Okay… “So where have you bartended?”

He shakes his head.  “I ain’t a bartender, I’m a hustler,” he says with a proud smirk.  Further digging, a little asking around, and the full picture is painted:  John is a high school dropout; closest he ever got to a real job was raking leaves on a work crew during one of many stints in prison.  He starts talking about how he’s going to run dollar shots tonight and I’m thinking I might have to break the Visine out again if this place is going to keep from going under.

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A Cameo of Sorts

Suicide in Tiny IncrementsTina, the star of Dive Bar Blues Tales is a character that made her first appearance in my (as of yet) unpublished novel Suicide in Tiny Increments.  In the novel she is quite a few years older, no longer working at the bar and has instead returned to desk work in the bureaucracy.  A lot happens in between DBBT and the chapter I am about to share with you, so keep that in mind in regards to the evolution of her character.  If you would prefer to read the PDF version click here.  For the novel synopsis and more from my other manuscripts click here.

Enjoy!

Chapter Eleven: Hostage

from Suicide in Tiny Increments by Riya Anne Polcastro

It was a nice run, but Daniel’s foray into optimism was inevitably enveloped by the shadow of his failures and general unhappiness. Maybe there had been a chance for him, while Jennifer was still alive. But now? What was the point? “I’m just gonna go home,” he said. “While I still have one. This is ridiculous. I shouldn’t be imposing on you like this.”

“Oh stop it,” she said, her gaze resting on a fashion spread of shoes so expensive she had never seen them in any local stores.

“I need to figure out what to do with my stuff anyway.” He pushed himself off of her sunken leather couch with a grunt, grabbed his backpack from the corner and headed for the door. He stopped and turned to say goodbye. “Thanks for everything.”

She finally looked up from her magazine. “You don’t need to go.”

“Yeah,” he said with a sigh. “I do.”  With that he drove home, his usual route, his pre-hit man route, without any extra turns or detours. He parked in his assigned spot. He trudged up the stairs to his apartment and stuck his key in the door. Over the threshold and back into his old life, he was ambivalent. He had been scared to live and scared to die for too long. He had been committing suicide in teeny tiny increments, putting death on layaway, for as long as he could remember. The time had come to accept fate; to let what was meant to happen just happen already. As for his own hand in this, the hand that had brought all of this about, well there was nothing he could do about that now, he may as well just go along with it. Stop fighting to prolong this miserable existence. Give in. Lay back and take the bullet. So he went through his usual routines, feeling dull. Like a butter knife. Unpolished; silver plated.

He made himself a drink and watched a game but the Coke with his Captain was flat and when he tried to cheer for his team basketball seemed so minuscule in the whole scheme of things. Inside, he was hollow. Like the gaudy butt of that same plated knife.
This is what it all came down to. That was all his story was about. Boredom. Melancholy. Indecisive resolve. He would finally get what he wanted, but only because he had finally realized that it was a stupid thing to want in the first place.

Meanwhile Tina wasn’t taking his resignation and departure with quite as much calm. She drank gin and tonics steadily through the afternoon and evening, picturing her life without Daniel, without the one person she could tell all of her suicidal fantasies to. He was her relief valve; when the pressure built up she released her pent up angst and he would listen and not judge her or freak out and call the crisis line. Instead he might offer a suicide pact or at the very least bemoan his own desperation to expire. If Daniel was killed, who would she talk to? She wouldn’t let it happen! She couldn’t! If only for her own selfish reasons, she would save Daniel Long.

Tina grabbed her gun from where it had fallen on the floor, then a steak knife from the kitchen drawer, and slid both into her purse. Out the front door, down the steps, to her car, too drunk and determined to care about her blood alcohol content. What was a fucking DUI when her safety net was about to be cut down?

* * *

Daniel woke to a drunken shadow hovering over him. His heart skipped and then galloped in fear. Death had finally come for him. Just as expected, so predictable after all. Daniel didn’t move. He was frozen in the fetal position; the figure haunted the corner of his eye, unable to turn his head far enough to confirm his fear. Why didn’t the hit man get it over with? But the figure just stood there, doing nothing, saying nothing. Daniel still too scared to move. It was a stalemate of sorts, until the figure raised a knife above its head. He had not expected Death to use a knife. Especially a small one like that, a common kitchen knife. Something wasn’t right. Then, a drunken wail, a high pitched bass if there could be such a thing, a growl and a roar and a shriek all in one, and the figure brought the knife down and in, stabbing itself in the thigh. A quick red trail shone in the dark and ran down the jeaned leg. The figure proceeded to stab itself a second, third, fourth, fifth time.

“Tina!” Daniel yelled in horror when he finally got up the nerve to turn and look the figure in the face.  In his fantasies Tina burst in on the 11th hour of his impending suicide and saved him with her proclamation of eternal love. She convinced him to live. She told him she wanted to marry him, bear his children. She didn’t stand over him and stab herself!

Six. Seven.

“Tina! Stop!”

Eight.

He scrambled from the bed and rushed at her. There were tears in her eyes and her face was wet, shiny in the moonlight that crept between the blinds. She backed away and drew her gun, pointing it at him. “You’re coming with me!” she demanded, her voice an angry snarl atremble with despair.

This was the opposite of love. This was control and abuse and fear. This was not what he had dreamed of, or even what he had feared in his worst nightmares. What would she do with him? Would she torture him? Pull out his fingernails with a pair of pliers? Make him watch daytime television while she used him as a foot rest and sounding board for her psychotic female ranting? Would she force him into unmentionable acts? Would she don that strap on she always talked about? Make him pay for the sins his brothers had committed against her sisters?

Daniel shuddered, his hands on the wheel, ten and two. She forced him to drive so she could hold a towel to her bloodied leg. He tried to argue when she directed him back to her place. “Shouldn’t I take you to the emergency room instead?”

“I’ll be fine.” Her voice was dry and hollow, her gaze aimed sideways out the window even though her eyes were really watching her captive.

“You might need stitches.”

“It was dull. Barely went through my pants.”

“So you’re going to wait until you have gangrene and they have to cut your leg off?” Daniel was exasperated, exhausted by his distress for this person who had turned out to be so alien, so different, and yet so exactly like the person he had been friends with for so many years.

She looked over at him, her eyes tight, two small slits of insult. “I know how to clean a wound. Not the first time I’ve done something stupid,” she mumbled.

That was true, he had to admit. There were the burn marks on her feet from when she was passed over for a promotion, knocked over a barbecue in a drunken rage and proceeded to walk on the hot coals; the minute scarring on the inside of her knees from breakups and pinpricks; the pinched squished scarred holes on the sides of her wrists from anything that threatened to wrench tears from her eyes. Tina never went to the doctor for these or any other self-inflicted wounds. Nothing had ever gotten infected before, why should she worry now?

“This is different. You stabbed yourself…”

“Shut up.”

“No.” He turned to her, his face contorted with concern. He was both scared of her and for her.

Her furrowed brow reflected in the purple tinted window of her Japanese sports car and she repeated her demand. “Shut the fuck up.”

“You need help.”  He had only mumbled but he may as well have yelled it.

Tina was instantly furious. “You know what? Fuck you!”Daniel inhaled hard and deep, trying to stay calm. But she pulled the gun on him anyway. From the passenger side, aimed it at his right temple. “Fuck you! You need help! You can’t fucking talk to me! You’re the sicko! You hired a hit man to kill yourself! You wanted to die so bad but you were too pussy to do it, you’re the fuckingsicko!” She breathed deep and heavy. Angry. Bleeding. Drunk. Tina was the type of person that boiled and seethed. Even in her greatest sadness, even in her ultimate despair, rage was her go to emotion. Sometimes it was so powerful she didn’t understand where it had come from, so out of proportion with reality, with the here and now, as it was. It could overtake her. Convince her to commit spontaneous acts of stupidity: break beer bottles in the street, spar with a best friend, stab herself in the leg. She could be like a rabid animal, furious to the point of psychosis. Alcohol didn’t help. Afterwards, she would know that she had gone too far, she would vow to never let it happen again. Until the next time. It was the pattern of domestic violence, without the domesticity.

Maybe it was best not to talk. Daniel decided to remain silent, refrain from speaking until spoken to or something like that. And so after a few moments she dropped the gun and the ride was completely silent, Tina staring out the window, a-fume, while he made his best attempt to be non-existent. But his heart still beat faster as they drew close to her complex and pulled into her parking spot. It still raced as they climbed the stairs to her flat and as she locked the door behind them. Was he really a hostage now? Daniel didn’t know what to expect. What to think. Should he try to escape?

On the upside Death did not stand a chance against this crazy bitch.

Daniel’s present dangers gave meaning to his life, gave him something to fight, a monster or two to vanquish. Something better to wrestle with than the backhanded compliments divvied out in the break room by a post-menopausal woman whose clothes always carried the heady mildew of a poorly assembled manufactured home. And so even though he was scared for his life, between being kidnapped by Tina and hunted by Death, he felt a hell of a lot more alive than when he was dodging supervisors and prioritizing clients. And more than anything? More than anything he wasn’t BORED. Daniel glowed with enlightenment. Eyes wide open; he could see that which had been right in front of him all along, obvious to everyone else. Hidden under his suicidal fantasies, under all of his grief and sadness, was good old fashioned boredom. Like Tina, he had blown things way out of proportion. Not only that, but he had fashioned his own prison, he could dismantle it. The sources of his misery, his boredom, he could change them! Daniel thought he might know what Buddha felt like on his awakening.

Bald, fat, happy.

* * *

Death did not come that night or the next. Tina had figured that, figured he would wait a few days for her to drop her guard. But that wouldn’t happen, she was prepared for him, she was ready whenever he might come, day or night. Daniel’s first two days as a captive were Saturday and Sunday. Monday, he figured, Monday would bring the freedom. Freedom to shit by himself, to masturbate. He had been holding the toxins in, waiting for some privacy. But Monday came and Tina did not wake up early to shower and put on one of her pin striped skirt suits. She did not make herself a double espresso or toast two pieces of whole wheat bread or dig into a grapefruit. Worst of all, she did not leave! She just kept watching him. Watching the door, the balcony. Listening for the slightest sound of suspicion. She had the television remote on a hair trigger, one footfall and it was instantly on mute.

An eight ball was delivered just after his capture. It was the first time she had made a purchase for herself, the first time she wasn’t just the middle man, the go-between, the skimmer off the top. She snorted lines in front of him to sleep as little as possible. She didn’t share. When she did sleep it was with one eye open. Instead of snapping out of her rage, lack of sleep fueled it. But at least it had grown quiet, introverted, directed at herself instead of Daniel. She watched him, true, but she did not lash out at him anymore. Silent, she picked and twisted at a spot inside of her elbow. And she drank. Bloody Marys in the morning. Blended Margaritas in the afternoon. Gin and tonics after dark.

Truth be told, Daniel was more scared for her than for himself. As luck would have it, since her knives had never been sharpened, the wounds in her leg were mostly superficial. The deepest one, in the center of her thigh, had gone past the last layer of skin, maybe even into the fat, but it had failed to reach the meat. And she kept it clean in drunken ritual twice a day: first rinsing with sea salt dissolved in hot water, then wiping clean with alcohol, before bandaging the whole thing up again. More than puncture wounds her thigh was covered in deep bruises. It was the bruising, the feeling of a Charlie horse with each step, that made her hobble about the apartment for the first two days. But it wasn’t the physical wounds that worried Daniel. Tina’s emotional wounds ran much deeper. Of course, whatever those wounds were, they were a mystery to him. All he knew was that her head was all sorts of fucked up. True, he had always known that. To an extent anyway, but he had been under the illusion that she had it together better than he did. Clearly he had been wrong. Whatever it was that tortured her, he feared it was worse than his own boredom, his self-induced misery. Worse, whatever it was gave her the capacity to do things he could never dream of.

Tuesday came and Tina still did not rise at the crack of dawn, trade her bed on the couch for a hot shower, or her pajamas for a black pencil skirt and hot pink v-neck sweater, her Bloody Mary for a cappuccino and a poached egg. She kept watching. Waiting. Listening. Drinking. Chopping and snorting. “He’ll come tonight,” she said , half-way through her first Margarita of the afternoon. She said it calmly, straight face, matter of fact.

Daniel wondered how she could be so sure but he didn’t question her, didn’t say anything, just nodded and tried to prepare himself for whatever would happen after the sun set. The afternoon dragged on into an anxious sluggish evening. He tapped his feet incessantly, nervous energy flowing through them. Whatever happened, it wouldn’t be the monotony of a tedious desk job. And even though he had been trapped in a living room for four days with nothing to do but watch TV, this wasn’t the boredom of his day to day sequestered apartment life. Something decisive was about to happen. He might live. He might die. He might even kill
to live. But this bullshit with the hit man and crazy ass Tina, if she was right it would finally come to a head. There would be action. Excitement. Danger. Freedom. Either from this life or the boredom of the one he had been abducted from.

His faith did eventually wane. As midnight became one in the morning, then two. He moved from the armchair in the corner where he sat during the day to the air mattress and sleeping bag on the floor. “I’m going to sleep,” he told her. She just sat there, in the same alert straight-backed position she had been in for days, didn’t say a thing. She didn’t go brush her teeth or empty her bladder or even get another drink. “You’re not going to sleep?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I’m going to wait him out.”

Two thirty. Daniel couldn’t sleep. He counted her breaths, slow and measured. She hadn’t moved. Two forty five. Still awake. Still counting. Three a.m. Eyelids drooping, sleep settling in. Tina unmoving until 3:06 a.m. when she clicks the power button on the TV remote. Four a.m. Fast asleep. Unaware of the armed woman on the couch.

Sometime between then and when the birds began to chirp there was a battery operated whirr at the balcony door. Then a click and the door swung open, silent, oiled seconds earlier with a generous spray of WD-40. Tina sat flush with the couch, unmoving, her profile hidden by a strategically placed bookshelf. A dark figure entered the apartment, shutting the door on the last sliver of light. He crept, slow, quiet, towards the living room, to where Daniel lay in the middle of the living room floor, front and center, purposeful prominent target, un-missable, completely distracting. Tina knew her enemy, knew he would be so drawn to the target in plain view he would forget to look for the hidden one. The quick scan of the room he did, he only checked to see that there was no one sprawled out on the couch. He did not bother to look for the shadows at its head, the motionless form still against the bookshelf. He did not see the gun rise from her side and point towards his frontal lobe. Death had failed the most basic test. He had failed to pay attention. And it would cost him. He didn’t know she was there until she spoke.

“Freeze.” Her voice was stern, a command from the deepest part of her diaphragm.  Death looked up to the faint outline of a barrel and knew he was fucked. “Put your hands up!” She rose from the couch, 9mm still aimed at his head. He did as he was told.

Daniel was jolted from his short sleep. Above him, Death, prostrated, hands on his head.  Across from the hit man, Tina with her finger on the trigger, rage bubbling in her eyes, a snarl on her lips. This was his chance.
“That way,” Tina ordered her new captive, directing him through the dining room, kitchen, down the hall. The bathroom fan flipped on, Tina’s extra insurance for that left over blip of space age sounding discharge from the silencer.

This was Daniel’s cue. As if in one quick stride, he bolted from his makeshift bed and crawled on his dimpled elbows towards the dining room. He planned to make it to the front door and slip out quietly while Tina sent Death to his grave and decided how to dispose of his body. He wouldn’t have long. She had probably been thinking about it all night. She had already stocked the bathroom with extra bleach.

As it turned out, he didn’t even have as long as he thought. To everyone’s great surprise Death turned and bolted back down the hallway when she ordered him into the bathroom. She fired immediately, he dove the rest of the way to the front door and the bullet hit the foyer wall instead. Daniel changed course, jumping to his feet and throwing open the balcony door. He hurled himself over the balcony, the most athletic move he had ever made. With a stumble he hit the grass below and took off at a sprint. It wasn’t pretty, Daniel knew, the sight of a fat man running. His man boobs flopped with each stride and he was glad it was still dark. His belly bounced, his balls swung. Sweat collected in his folds and poured from atop his bald head.

The birds started to chirp and he feared the impending sun rise. Where could he go? He couldn’t hide forever, couldn’t run forever. Who could he call? He ran through the options in his head, the short list of people who could help him. There was Brian; his only guy friend might let him sleep on his couch for a night. But might was the operative word. If he told him the truth about why he needed to stay, Brian would just tell him to call the police. As he ran through fewer names than he could count on one hand Daniel realized that just about everyone on that list would tell him the same exact thing. Except… there was a pair. He hadn’t talked to either of them in so long, how could he even ask them for help now? Still, if he had any hope at all it was them…

Insomnia

Insomnia crowsHe never said she was dead.

Shit.  I roll over, tangling my feet in the blankets.  Can’t sleep for shit, too busy freaking the fuck out.

Detective Lin never said Celia was dead; he said she was missing.  The dead part was all me.

But she did die!  She did.  I saw her.  And I killed her.

I kick my legs free from the sheets and stare out at the dark nothingness of my room.  The digital clock on my nightstand reads 4:08 in red. 4:09.  4:10.  4:11… 4:53.  Sleep is not going to come, there is no point in just lying here so I reach for the lamp, pull its silver chain.  The room gets too bright and I squint while I slide my feet into my slippers and slip an oversized hoodie over my head.  Dressed, the light goes back off and I shuffle through the dark house to the kitchen.  Delilah follows me, five or so steps behind.  From the hall, she watches me with her chestnut eyebrows knitted, her black eyes questioning, as I crab a Corona from the fridge and pop the top off.  She waits for me to pass her in the hallway, on my way to the living room, before she turns around and trudges behind again.  If she could talk she would ask, “What the fuck are you doing?  Let’s go back to bed silly.”

I plop down on the couch and run my hand over the suede cushions in search of the remote.  There has got to be something on that will take my mind off of that little slip with Celia.  Delilah stares at me from the floor, she lets out a little whimper.  “Ok,” I sigh, and pat the cushion next to me.  Suddenly, all eighty pounds of Rottweiler vaults onto the couch, pushing us a couple inches across the hardwood floors.  I chuckle and scratch behind her ears while flipping through the channels.  But it doesn’t take long for my mind to wander and instead of the images that flip across the screen, I see Celia dead; I see myself dragging her body out to the ditch; I see Detective Lin NOT mentioning a damn thing about her being dead; and I see myself drop a tray of drinks and self-incriminate in front of her and all of her friends.  A sigh empties my lungs.  She is totally going to know I had something to do with her waking up in that ditch!

No, I shake my head.  She was drinking, she’ll forget all about it.  And what are the chances she’ll talk to Detective Lin and find out he never actually said she was dead anyway?

*          *          *

100% apparently.

Speechless, I stare across the bar at Celia.  She is waiting for an answer.  Her joking manner starts to get nervous, probably a reaction to my silence and deer in the headlights look in my eyes.

“So…” she asks again.  “Why did you say that?”

Spiked, Part 3

Friday night- time to put the Visine, the body in the ditch, Detective Lin, all of it, out of my head and make some money.  The music is up, the beer is flowing, the shots are being tossed back.  The regulars are here to belt their hearts out on karaoke.  Crack heads and immigrants crowd the lottery machines.  Leeches look for a mark, the perfect place to stand when drinks are bought in rounds.  There are even some new faces in the crowd: a few tanning bed blonds are crowded around the bar, sipping on Cosmos while their two-sizes-too-small-mixed-martial-arts-t shirt-wearing-boyfriends take turns on the punching bag machine (also known as the dick measuring stick).

Everything is going great.  Sales are good.  The dollars in my tip jar are piling up.  The atmosphere is chill; none of the usual psychos have shown their faces.  I’m carrying a tray of drinks to a table when the room goes cold and I feel the weight slip from my fingers.

I see a ghost.  Celia’s ghost.  At the table, waiting for her vodka cran just like the rest of the girls.  They laugh and joke and she flips her hair and smiles right at me, just in time to watch me drop the tray with hers and everyone else’s drinks on it.  “Oh Tina, when did you get so clumsy?”

“How?”  I stutter.  “Where?”… “How?  I thought you were dead?”  She was dead.  She didn’t have a pulse.   I drug her out to the ditch.  “There was a detective here.”  My words are slow, cautious.  My hands shake as I kneel down to pick up the mess.  Everyone is staring.  “He said you were dead.”

“Oh my god,” she says, slamming her hands down on the table.  “You’re not going to believe what happened to me!”  Her words grow muffled, as if she is telling me the story from underwater.  “I woke up in a ditch!”   She turns and points towards the back of the bar.  “That ditch!  The one back there.  Can you believe it?  I was there the whole time.  Just passed the fuck out!  Tina, how drunk was I that night?”

My pulse races and my lips stammer.  “I…”

The girls laugh and say things in Spanish that I don’t understand.  “Exactly,” Celia says.  “How much did I drink?”

I can feel the sweat collecting on my brow, pouring out of my palms. What should I say?

“The last thing I remember is sitting at the bar, talking to you…”

“You shouldn’ta server her that much,” a girl who forgot to draw her eyebrows on says.  “That’s irresponsible.”

“Yeah,” another girl agrees. “Couldn’t you lose your license?”

“I…I..” I stammer again.

“Psssccchhh, chill out,” Celia laughs.  “Not like I died.  And I woulda been pissed if she had cut me off!”

But you did die!  You were totally dead!  “How… how…”  There is so much glass on the floor I give up and stand.  I’m going to need a broom and a dustpan.  Charlie is going to be pissed.  He’ll probably try to charge me for the broken glasses.  But she was dead!

“How did I pass out in a ditch for like four days?”  I can’t seem to say anything so I just nod.  She shrugs.  “I guess I was just that tired.”