You are a bartender working a night shift when a group of people come in on a holiday pub crawl.


It has been a slow night. Mondays are usually that way. Everybody goes back to work, the weekend’s abuses fast forgotten. Even the few customers left, my regulars as I call them, are not much of anything, sipping a beer while doing crosswords, playing chess or drowsing. Like Charlie in front of me who has not touched his drink for the last fifteen minutes and decided to take a nap after telling me of his recent troubles with the wife. God knows why I keep that job. The boss isn’t so bad and, well, what else could I do? I don’t like physical work. A desk job is what I prefer. I had one of those for a few years but wasn’t good enough or concerned and applicated enough to get promotions. So, I left after a fellow four years my junior and having two years less seniority in the organization than myself, hell, I had shown him the ropes the first few weeks he had been around, well the rascal was offered a promotion that would make him my superior immediate and cause me to work under his supervision.

My friend who did well in school had that bar and when I met him by chance on the street, the first thing he told me was coming recently in possession of the watering hole, a convoluted story that referred to investment going bad and some debtor named Pietro being in default and having implored him to take the business back in lieu of payment for his loan. The deal was consumed over a pint of draft beer. Compared with what the bankrupt deadbeat had invested to set up and started the tavern, my buddy thought he might be able to make some money out of the transaction if he could get the place working long enough to find a buyer.

PIETRO’S bar being near, we walked a bit and he invited me in for a drink. At first, I didn’t think much of the place. Just the usual joint in downtown St-Pete, big enough for ninety or one hundred patrons if you packed it to its full capacity. In the rear, two guys were playing pool, not very good at that if judging by the manner they were handling their cues. Just leave me alone with those schticks, I contemplated, and they would end up paying for my drinks and no doubt, my way to a bit of fun with my girl tonight.

We both sat at a table. Four were occupied, one by the pool players with their drinks left on its surface and which they visited in turn to take a sip. A trio of males that sat alone at the other three were looking in space figuring out, I guess, what they would do for the rest of the day. There was nobody behind the bar counter, a piece of furniture thirty feet long with ten or twelve tabouret waiting to get sit on. Was there anybody around or were we to serve ourselves? I didn’t ask, though, out of consideration for my old classmate. Finally, we heard some noise coming out of a set of doors that must open on the kitchen because there was a blackboard with what look like a menu du jour written on it.

I looked at Tulip, don’t ask me why but Charlie had always been Tulip in school, maybe as a result of his mother operating a flower shop and her son being forced one day to bring a bunch of tulips to poor Mr. Pinkos our teacher in grade six. I say poor because he died that year of a heart attack. The flowers had been for his anniversary and Charlie would forever be saddled with the sorry nickname. Anyway, he didn’t mind much and this had no impact on his obvious success at making money while me who wouldn’t have thrown him a dime as a teenager now was there with no job and listening to his silly stories.

The racket behind the doors became a roar. Some pots and pans must have crashed on walls and floors to make that much of turbulence. And then we saw erupting a man maybe fifty years old that cried out loud that he was finished with this shit place and wouldn’t work in it as a barman even if Robert de Niro was to sit in front of him and ask for his favorite cocktail.

I looked at Charlie, expecting him to show some uneasiness but all I got was a shrug of his shoulders and a yawn that showed his teeth. They were dentist white as you would expect of someone owning a bar and not being excited much over staff recruitment. At last, he said :

- I saw this coming.

- How so, I forced myself to ask but not giving a damn about his answer?

It took Tulip ten minutes to explain to me what in simple terms meant barman Joliecoeur couldn’t get along with the cook that was making his life miserable since he was flirting with the waitress and this was a privilege reserved to himself. I looked around and said :

- We sure could use the lady right now.

As a matter of fact, it was twenty minutes we were sitting at our table, me with the boss and nobody yet had shown to take care of our needs. This got Charlie’s attention.

- I am sorry, he erupted. What is it you want? Beer, wine, alcohol, just ask and I will get you the drink of your choice in less than one minute.

- Where is the waitress, I inquired?

- She won’t be here before five.

And then, he went behind the counter to get us both a glass with a can of beer. While my rich friend was away, I saw an opportunity. I was without a job. Obviously, Tulip needed somebody to serve the stuff he was selling. Surely, the function of delivering alcohol to a few drunkards didn’t need that much of training. I knew the ropes essential. I had served enough booze at parties I either assisted or put together to know that I could do it. While the position and its duties sure beat my pushing papers into files or making phone calls all day long and, when successful in reaching your mark, have them wait for a connection with the higher ups that dictated the letters and memos I was endlessly moving around.

This explains how I found myself one Monday night nine months later in PIETRO’s bar in downtown St-Petersburg looking at the pitiful example of humanity that was snoring in front of me. It was ten after eleven. Just Bill and me in the place. I didn’t expect anyone coming to have a last drink at this late hour. If it wasn’t for Billy and his sorry tales about he and his wife that had left him, or was about to leave him or might come back… or not, I could close before midnight. Who would know? Certainly not Tulip who was in Atlanta selling some building for a profit and investing that extra money into one new business or another. The bloke was unstoppable. He was now the holder of this bar, of one parking lot just near the Tropicana Field with prices exorbitant, of one Cadillac dealership that was gathering money through the roof and a fifty per cent partnership in one start up company that promised to refashion the way people were doing business on the internet.

Time to close shop.

Time to get the sleeper out of his torpor.

But just before my hand were to hit Bill’s shoulder, I heard a commotion at the bar’s entrance. I watched with incredulity six gentlemen dressed up in US marine outfit that look to me like they were invading the place. They were loud, rough and rowdy. All six had had more liquor than they could handle. The sorry lot came obviously from the base in Tampa Bay. How in hell had they found this dive? They walked choppily toward me and took place on the stools beside Billy. A small fellow with a nose like a hook and eyes of a snake asked me :

- You play pool?

- Not when I am in service, I responded.

- Look at that, he laughed, and uttering nothing more.

- What is it you want to drink, I asked the lot, not that you don’t already have your count, if I may say so, I added.

This got me a giggle by a giant with red hairs and hands as big as a baseball mitt.

- Serve me a shot of whisky, he commanded. The guy was a sergeant and I assume it was his way of speaking.

This must have been a signal because they all ordered in turn after that. Most had beer that would take them a bit of time to consume. But the colossus and one of his accomplices both had made their liquor disappear in one gulp. They asked for another. As long as they stay sat, they looked normal enough and I obliged. That’s when crook nose over his pint of draft beer addressed me :

- Close the shop and play a game of pool with us, he proposed with a devilish smile.

I knew a hustler when I saw one. I had been one myself a few times but I never took advantage beyond what he could afford of a poor lad that had thought himself good enough to take me in a game of pool or snooker. This little snickering shithead, though, I could deal with anytime and send him back crying like a baby all the way to his base.

- Sorry, I said. I don’t take advantage of drunk people.

My defier took my refusal with a short giggle. He turned to his comrades and issued : « You hear the man? He hints we are wasted. »

Everybody barked to the contrary.

To make sure to hook the lad, I stipulated :

- I won’t play for money while at work. So forget the matter, will you!

He glanced at his watch, looked around, then asked : « At what time you shut down this dive, anyway? There is nobody here except us. Just assume we aren’t there and close shop. »

- To challenge me the way you do, I pressed on, you must know how to hold a cue. Still, I don’t care how skilled you imagine yourself to be, you can’t beat me at that game, the more so because you are not actually in a state that makes you apt to give your best.

My last utterance put them all in a state of great agitation. Billy awoke and let out a squawk as if someone the wrong sex had touched him between the legs. He wasn’t long though to find out what the issue was and he gave advice :

- If you are to play this guy, he addressed the small motherfucker, I bet twenty bucks that he will beat you.

The other five marines took up this announcement like if it was a revelation and they shouted their wager in favor of Snake Eyes. Two for twenty, two others for thirty and thirty-five and Herculus made it fifty. In all 155$. Then, the challenger got out of his pocket a roll of bills, extracted 100$ from it and deposited the money on the counter in front of him. This was a signal worth imitating. All the participants did the same.

- What do you say, asked Herculus? You ain’t afraid, are you?

I made a show of being out of my league.

- $255… It’s a lot of money.

Snake Eyes was quick to reassure me. « Money that you will win, have you already forgotten that part? »

There wasn’t much else to do but to comply. Nevertheless, I announced : « We play one game. Winner takes all. Billy here will keep the money safe for delivery. Most likely to me, I added with a smile, and don’t lament after the fact because you will have been warned. »

We all walked to the end of the room where the pool table was. The triangle of balls, fifteen in rows of one, two, three, four and five, was in place on one back end of its green surface. I looked at my opponent while he picked up a cue out of a rack attached to the wall nearby. He chose the best of the half dozen offered. My own that I had bought many years before and kept around just in case. Normally out public view but, for having used it recently, I had not yet put back where it belonged. This left me with the garbage pieces of shit amateurs who didn’t know how to play didn’t object to play with. True, I could have claimed the device for my own usage but this would have made me look ungracious and unmannerly. Well. What was I to do? There was not much of a choice and I would need to make do with the second-best instrument. No big deal. Rested to be decided who would break. Snake Eye threw a quarter into the air and before he caught the piece and put it over the back of his left hand, I said : « Head. »

Tail it was. For all I knew, he might have used a phony coin but the hell with it. He wanted to break? With a gesture, I invited him to do so.

He leaned on the table, took position and let go of his cue with great vigor. The white projectile hit the triangle provoking an explosion like scattering of all the balls in the triangle, sending them on all four corner of the table and bouncing into each other on their trip back toward the center of the game. Unfortunately for my rival, the six pockets stayed empty, leaving me with good position on red ball number 3 in the right side pouch. I made the hit and managed to assure the cue ball a nice spot at one end of the table where three low balls waited to be shot at. I pocketed all three one after the other, showing off a bit, I admit, and enjoying myself nevertheless.

That left me three low balls to bury in one or the other six holes and then the eight. Number seven was ten feet away at the other end of the table. A lot of green, a difficult shot. I could well see in the rat’s physiognomy the kind of comfort that comes when you know your antagonist faces a wall he won’t be able to climb. I let go of my cue. The cue ball traveled slowly toward its target, hit the purple object at the right place and ball number 7 dropped out of sight. Everybody except Snake Eyes let go of a sight of astonishment. I heard him hissing the word DAMN. And then, he knew I would get the other four balls all in a row as they were well disposed and doable.

 Which I did.

Rat face was honest enough to issue : « Well done » while the rest of the assistance glowed in admiration. I approached Billy who gave me my money, conserving 40$ for himself.


Not so bad for five minutes of work. I interrupted the whoopee in saying :

- Time to close shop. It was nice to see you all but you must go now.

They all turned to Snake Eyes as he responded to my ultimatum;

- Another game.

-It’s late. Glancing at my watch, I added: «Ten past midnight. Must keep the insurer happy.»

- Crap, he contended. The way you play, five minutes more won’t make a difference. Listen man, he insisted, you must give me a chance to have a bit of fun too.

- One other game and that’s all, I relented.

- Two hundred and fifty this time, he imposed.

- As you wish.

Now his comrades were splitted, the two who had bet 20 made it 40 in his favor. The colossus and the rest of his platoon doubled their previous bet, believing this time I could beat their champion.

Having won the last game, I broke again. Did two balls, one stripe, one solid. The solids looked nice. So again, I took the low. Made two more and got stuck with no visual on any of my balls except for barely touching one, sending it nowhere.

Ratface could hit. This I realized as soon as he bent over the table. He pockets three stripes and when finished, left me with no position. We both played safe for a time and, with limited opportunity, few balls were made. Fifteen minutes passed. Only the eight ball on the table. It was Snake Eye’s turn. He had no shot except a cross corner.

- Set me up, I urged him.

And that, he did.

He didn’t complain after having seen me pocket the black ball.

- You’re a good player, he conceded with a venomous rictus. 

I was paid my money. I was richer by 585$. I was happy. I offered them a last drink out of my winnings.

These folks were not as bad as they looked.

Ratface told me when leaving : « We must do that again.»

And then, they were gone, the night still young, plenty of saloons still opened for six marines in search of one last drink.




December 25, 2019 21:15

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