A single decision can change countless lives, and I was unkindly reminded of it. For nearly forty years, I’ve been quenching the thirsts of mountaineers visiting Jaffrey, to climb Mount Monadnock. During this time, I’ve learned the faces of most of them, even if they only pass through once every few years, but more surprising, they too greet me by name, as soon as they walk in. Like the legend of the wolves who used to dwell at the top of the mountain, it seems like I have become a local attraction. If it helps with drawing in the customers, so be it.
Besides a few people who poke their heads in, just to say they’ve been here, I have nothing to complain about. As for my regular customers, they were happy as long as the beer kept flowing, the peanut dishes stayed filled and the TV was set for ESPN. Nothing had changed much during my time here, and I thought I knew all my patrons. That was, until yesterday morning.
It was 11 a.m. sharp, when I opened the doors for business and without delay, the regulars from Jaffrey stepped in. They knew the visiting mountaineers would finish their trek on the mountain and engulf the town by midafternoon. So, during their absence, my bar was all there’s.
The faces passing through the doors would vary from day to day, but for my three true regulars, Mike, Paul, and Gordy, they would come like clockwork.
Mike, the leader of the group, would always walk in first and say, “Hey, Howie, how’s it hanging?”
Of course, I had a repertoire of replies to draw from, mostly sounding like, “Since I started taking Viagra, it’s been hanging pretty good.”
The boys would laugh, and I’d pour them two pitchers of beer. After that they’d settle down on the barstools and talk among themselves, leaving me to tend the bar.
It wasn’t long after I served the boys their second round, when an unfamiliar face barged through the door. He was a scrawny young man, in his mid-twenties. He had dark hair, with blues and couldn’t have weighed over one-hundred- twenty pounds, soaking wet. But the most unusual thing about him was the suitcase he was carrying. With its brass hasps and riveted corner guards, it looked more like a miniature trunk, and considering the size of it, I was amazed that such a petite man to burden its weight.
Unfortunate for the new patron, the boys noticed his entrance too. “Hey there, kid.” Paul’s voice bellowed out. “What’s in the bag?”
The newcomer fearlessly replied, “Well, for one thing, my name isn’t Kid, it’s Rob. And the thing I have in my case is something that will put Jaffrey on the map. But I’m not sure I want to show you what it is.”
The look on Paul’s face told me he was intrigued. Still, he continued his haranguing.
“Hey, take it easy, Rob. Don’t get your panties wadded up in a ball. We’re just curious, is all. You say it’s going to put Jaffrey on the map, so we’re going to find out what it is sooner or later. So, why not now?”
Mike and Gordy joined in. “Yeah. Come on. Show us what’s in the bag.”
The near empty pitchers on the bar told me the boys were drinking more than normal and knowing from experience, that wasn’t good news. Then, when they left their seats and walked towards Rob I began to worry.
Mike stopped in front of Rob, while Gordy and Paul stood at each side of him. While Mike’s six-foot frame towered over Rob’s boyish body, I was amazed to see him unwavering under Mike’s glare.
“Let me tell you what, big guy. You and your friends may best me in a fight, but I can assure you, you will get your fair share of cuts and bruises, before we’re through. So, I’ll tell you what. For the sake of peace, I’ll just tell you what’s inside.”
The boys nodded to each other and the tension in the room eased. It was Gordy’s turn to ask, “Okay. What’s in the box?”
Rob glanced at the boys, then back at me, and began, “This, my friends, is the most sophisticated metal detector of its kind. It’s light, portable, and able to detect a dime buried twenty feet under solid ground.”
As I smiled to myself, the boys broke out into laughter and jeers. “That’s it, kid?” Paul asked. “A metal detector? Whoop de doo! Go ahead and dig up all those dimes. Maybe in a thousand years, you’ll break even.”
Rob stood silently, until the laughter died down. “I don’t think I’ll have to wait a thousand years to break even. Have you ever heard about the Great Brink's Robbery? By the looks on your faces, I’m guessing you haven’t. In 1950, a group of robbers, broke into the Brinks Depot in Boston and got away with 2.7 million dollars. After years of searching, the police finally caught up with them and put them all in jail. The funny thing is, not one of them knew where the money disappeared to, except for the leader of the gang, "Big Joe" McGinnis and his lips were sealed until the day he died. At least that’s what people believed.
“When his cellmate made parole, he told a friend, who told a friend, that Big Joe said the loot was buried somewhere southeast of Mount Monadnock.” Gently, he patted the suitcase. “With this and a little luck, I’m going to be rich.”
Mike scoffed. “That’s the stupidest story I ever heard! Go ahead. Go out there and make an ass of yourself. You’ll be gone in a month, with nothing but blisters to show for it.”
Not a hint of doubt showed on his face. He just smiled and simply said, “The History Channel already gave me a hundred-thousand-dollar retainer for the filming rights of my expedition.”
My jaw dropped as soon as he said those words, but as for Mike, he turned white as a ghost.
He stammered, “I, I don’t understand. What do you mean by that?”
The influence Mike and the boys had was all but gone and I could tell Rob knew it.
“Have you heard of The Curse of Oak Island? It’s in its ninth season and The History Channel is looking for a replacement. Well, guess what? I, and the crew I hired, as well as the camera crew are all coming here to find that illusive treasure. Whether I find it or not is irrelevant. Either way, I’m going to make a fortune and what I said about Jaffrey changing is going to happen. The crews, all their support people, media, not to mention all the tourist who will come looking for the stars of the show, if not the treasure. Jaffrey will become a tourist trap and you’ll have me to thank for it.”
Without any warning, Mike’s fist crashed into the side of Rob’s face, landing him on the floor. “This is our town, not yours! Who do you think you are, coming here and threatening to upheave it?” Mike kicked him in the stomach, and Paul and Gordy joined in. “You just pick up your damn suitcase and get the hell out of here.”
But Rob, didn’t hear him. He just laid there unresponsive. Gordy pushed him with his foot. “You okay kid?”
There was no answer.
Before I realized what I was doing, I was talking to the 911 operator and a moment later an ambulance, followed by a squad car, pulled into the driveway.
As the police questioned Mike and the boys, the paramedic examined Rob. Then, he shook his head.
“He took a lot of beating to the abdomen. Something must have broken inside. I’d say he died from internal bleeding.”
As the paramedic took the body outside, I heard the police talking among themselves.
“I just did an ID check on him. His name was Rob Linton. Twenty-one years old male and a senior at Franklin Pierce University.”
It was here where I jumped in. “He said he was working for The History Channel, doing some kind of expedition and had a metal detector in that suitcase.”
One of the policemen shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry, no history of employment.” Then he walked over to the suitcase and opened it. As the lid popped opened, I couldn’t help but to look inside. In it were clothes and nothing else. “I guess the kid was pulling your leg, Howard. It’s a shame it ended up this way.
The policemen turned away and began to arrest Mike and the gang and shortly after, they drove away.
Silence surrounded me, as I tended an empty bar. For the first time in my forty years in Jaffrey, I had no desire to be here. So, I ripped off my apron and closed the bar for the day. There was no shred of doubt in my mind, things would be back to normal by tomorrow, less Mike and the boys of course. If anything, it would probably be busier, for the smell of death has a way of drawing people towards it. But that was yesterday.
Now, it is almost 11 a.m. and a line of people are waiting for me to open. Forty years of stability has hardened the people of Jaffrey to the point where a manslaughter wouldn’t phase them. But it took less than a minute to be reminded life is fleeting and every moment we have is a precious gift. So, I tightened my apron strings and unlocked the door. As the flow of patrons passed through the door, I smiled and greeted each one of them.
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This certainly took some unexpected turns! I've read quite a few stories for this prompt, and I think yours is one of the best I've seen as far as keeping in the spirit of it. Well done!
Thanks so much for your support. Hope some of my other stories are to your liking.
Write a comment and I'll write one on one of your stories. A quiet bar, a favorite spot for local patrons and visitors alike, turns into something quite different, when a stranger passes through its doors. Hidden thoughts and emotions emerge at a moment's notice, destroying the innocence of those witnessing the event.