(This one comes from a daydream scratched out on bar napkins while waiting to rendezvous with a friend . . . )
He was different. He? It; you never know out here.
I had just turned away from the bar to put away a call bottle, and when I turned back, he was there. Now lots of guys can slip up to a bar unnoticed, but this one seemed too comfortable too soon. I thought there might be a name for the feeling I had, something like déjà vu.. Strange.
I wiped up in front of him. “Whatchya drinkin’?”
He turned his head deliberately, and he looked at my face before he looked at my eyes. I thought maybe he didn’t understand, ‘cause we get all kinds in here. I motioned tipping a glass into my mouth. “Whatchya drinking’?”
“Everything. Start me with something tall and cold and smooth.”
Everything. Right. A third class jerk amateur? Maybe, but maybe not: he’d delivered the words way too easily to have thought about them much. I poured him something tall and cold and smooth.
The crowd continually lost some and gained others, some going to rest and others coming in post flight. He stayed, and he sat, and he drank. He wasn’t big, and he didn’t look especially athletic, but somehow he still seemed powerful. His face was hard, but his eyes were alert and light over the crowd. I suspected that he was quick. He spoke only to order a drink, and he quit that when I started automatically filling his glass with whatever bottle was next on the rail.
This guy could drink like nothing I’ve ever seen. I got Maggie and Jakk to keep an eye on him too, and it wasn’t often that we’d catch him getting up to walk around the bar for relief. And when he did, his steps were always casual but firm and with steady aim. No sway, no shuffle, no slide. And like I said, he was mixing his poison, too. He was still there after my second break, and he was still counting out his coin precisely. Phenomenal.
I thought about calling attention to him to start some kind of a contest, you know, for business. I didn’t though, and not because he was too quiet: although he just sat there and looked around, he was way too intense.
The customers noticed it also, and most gave him plenty of room, but some slid up next to him to see what he was about. For half of these he’d buy them a drink and then turn away, and for the other half he’d just turn away. Always they would leave him alone. I’ve seen fights and deaths in this joint for absolutely no apparent reason, and this guy was getting away with quietly insulting some of the nastiest looking customers on this side of the galaxy. How? I don’t know.
Just before my shift was finally over, he did fight. Well, sort of. A young and drunken Sarkian came over, and when my customer turned away, the hulking Sarkian gave him a spinning blow to the back of the head. I’ve seen smacks like that knock customers completely over the bar. Not just into the well, but over the whole bar, both sides! My guy just flinched, bent his head way down as if he wanted to look at his own neck, and then pushed his almost empty glass toward my side of the bar. Every set of eyes that saw him take the hit was watching him, and the slimy Sarkian just stood there in disbelief. My guy didn’t even look to aim his backhand. Hardly turning or getting out of his seat, he lashed into his attacker. Sarkian blood speckled the crowd and my new white shirt. With his bony face shattered, the Sarkian balanced himself for a moment before he fell backwards across a table and then slid to the floor. No weapon, one hit, and my guy was done. What planet did he come from?
I poured him a shooter. “On the house. Try not to do that too often, OK? It’s bad for business.”
No real response. He looked at me blankly, as calm as he was before his first drink.
I couldn’t resist. “Hey, Buddy, where you from? What’s your story, what’s your game?” I hoped I was smiling the right kind of smile.
He looked at my face again, and then into my eyes. “You ever heard stories about Death? Maybe you know him as The Grim Reaper?”
I haven’t been scared in a long time, but this guy was more than just a bit spooky. Was I having a bad dream? “Ya, I heard stories.”
Just before he tossed back the shooter, he said, “Well, I’m not him.” He actually smiled, even grinned.
I realized that I had been holding my breath, so I let it go in a chuckle. He chuckled, too, as he pushed the shot glass toward me. I swept it up in my hand and turned to put it in the sink. When I turned back he was gone, leaving behind only a big tip and that same funny feeling I had when he’d first come in.
Ya, he was different.