The Red Tavern

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that ends with a twist.... view prompt



The Red Tavern


Sara Hume split her attention between her customers and Jim Raines, who sat alone at the bar, hovered over his drink like a protective daddy. The sight of his red-rimmed eyes and sour face pained the bar’s owner. Jim was in his pity-drenched world again. She clucked her tongue in disgust.


“Evening, Sara!” The friendly face of Randy Kane greeted her with his booming voice. “How about a cold one?”


“You got it.” She poured the big man a Samuel Adams and shared in some gossip. The small talk blended with the dozen other conversations going on around the dimly lit bar, charging the air with raucous energy.


Sara turned her head in search of other needy customers and met Jim’s stare. She sighed and walked over to him.  Wiping down the counter she mustered up a smile.


“Jim, how’s things?”


He ignored her and drained what was left of his drink. Wiping his mouth, he belched in her direction, and then glowered at Sarah. “How the hell do you think I’m doing? First I lost my job, then I get kicked out of my place ‘cause I can’t pay the rent.” Jim raised his finger and stabbed the air. “If you had helped me out, things would be different. This is your fault.”


“My fault?” Sarah shook her head as her rough hands settled on the sides of her hips. “Whose fault was it to come into work half-drunk, let his friends cover for him, not learn his lesson, and finally get caught?”


“My wife left me, damn it! You don’t just come back from that. It takes time.” Jim pouted as he banged his hand on the counter. People near them turned and watched.

“You could of lent me the money to pay some or all of my bills. You did for Dee and John Somers when they fell on hard times.” Short showers of spittle exploded from his lips each time he spoke.


Sara snorted and narrowed her eyes. “John lost his job when the factory closed, not because he was trifling, Jim. That and the fact he’s a good paymaster.”


Jim rose from the bar stool, face flushed. His hands balled into fists as he leaned in closer to Sarah.


“Why you self-righteous—“ A hand grabbed onto his arm.


“Hey buddy, maybe you should go on home and sleep it off.”


Jim tore around to face not one, but four men surrounding him. They inched in a little closer. He stood his ground and didn’t move.


“Easy or hard. Your choice, Jim.”


“Screw you.” He pushed through them and stomped out of the bar, cursing.


“Good riddance,” said Randy Kane. “I heard that he was leaving for Porterville tonight. Let them have a turn with him.”


Everyone laughed, but Sara. She watched Jim slam his car door shut as the tavern’s flashing neon lights washed him in red. He accelerated and sped out of the parking lot.


Here comes trouble for someone. Sara muttered under her breath


Her eyes scanned the wall behind the bar and were drawn to the photo of her husband Don, who had disappeared two years ago. He left her in bankruptcy that she had only gotten out of this year. She traced her finger over the photo of him with his signature scar above his left brow. As usual he was having a beer with some buddies, wasting time and their money. 


“You OK, Sara, ” her friend Randy asked.


“Everyone should have done something useful in their life, but for the life of me, I can’t think of one single thing this man’s done that would count. Always put himself first. Selfish bastard.”


“Now wait a minute, Sarah.  Jim did do something useful,” a customer said. “He left town.”


The bar howled and ordered another round of drinks. “Hey Sara, how about four mugs of Red?”



Sara stared at Randy for a second before she looked down at the photo of her husband and realized her confusion. She smiled and pinned the photo back on the wall. 


She nodded, remembering. Yeah, even a bastard can do something good, even if he never meant to.


“Sure, Randy. My treat.” 




The Red Tavern had been closed for six hours. The sun was already peeking over the horizon. Sara wouldn’t open for hours.


BAM! The mirror and all of the bottles of liquor behind the bar were the first to go. Liquids and glass went flying everywhere. Hard hits from the bat smashed and raised the shards and liquid as rain that fell everywhere. Jim Raines dragged the bat along the counters, clearing them. Then he took the bat, walked to the cash register, and swung. The ancient register sprang open and change and bills popped up into the air and descended like confetti. He picked up the bills and put the wad in his jacket pocket.


“Thanks for the loan, Sara. It’ll come in handy in Porterville. Now what?” Jim sat on a bar stool and slowly turned, taking in everything. “Bingo.”


At the end of the bar stood the keg.  Jim could see the big black “R” written on its wooden side. There sat Sara’s famous Red beer. It kept people and their wallets coming back to the middle-of-nowhere tavern. Without it, The Red Tavern would have been a boarded up failure by now. Jim thought back to a recent conversation between Sara and a worker.


“What was it?” The answer cleared from the mist in his mind. “He said, There are only two kegs left.” “Yeah, that was it.” A nasty smile slithered across his face.


This time he rose and walked to the keg. Jim held the bat high in the air and took some practice swings, causing the air to whistle. He cracked his neck and brought the bat down on the keg with all his anger and blame could muster.  The suffering wood yielded with a sharp crack. Dark, foamy liquid spilt out from the wound. He cupped the liquid in one hand and drank.


“Good stuff.” He belched and kicked the ruined container. “That’s for not giving me that loan, you damn witch.” He raised the bat again. “This one is just because.” The sound of a moan broke the silence and then he saw Sara standing calmly watching him, her hands folded in front of her. She stood at the other end of the bar.


Jim studied her face and expected anger and despair. There was none of that, just a sad calm. A tendril of anger rose in him.


“You’re early,” He looked around and shrugged. “Sorry, Sara. I guess I just lost it. I’d pay you back for the damage, but I lost my job.” He waited, but Sarah continued to watch him without any change. He shuffled his feet.


Must be in shock. Yeah. Guess that’ll have to be good enough.


“Hey, you might as well call the sheriff and have him take me in. It’s getting late and I’m tired after all this work I did.” He chuckled as he admired his handiwork. Sara approached the keg, ignoring Jim.  She leaned down and examined the mess. Her eyes roamed the splintered wood and stopped at the black “R”. Her hand shook as she raised it and traced the outline of the letter. She began to shake her head and closed her eyes. Sara stumbled back and grabbed the end of the bar. She shook her head again as she fought for breath and followed the flow of the beer stream onto the floor. Her calm face crumbled in despair.


Finally. A smug look of satisfaction spread over Jim’s face as he pointed to the damaged keg. “You know, that’s what I’m most sorry about. I only smashed one keg of Red. It takes you what? Three or six months to make another batch? You’re going to lose a lot of business for a while. Might even have to close down. Sure hope the ingredients aren’t hard to find.”


“Yes and no,” said Sara in a soft voice, “It all depends.”


“That’s great to hear.” Jim looked at the remains of the keg and rested the bat on his shoulder. “Excuse me, there’s still some beer left in here. I’m just going to give this one more good hit and make my time in jail worthwhile.”


“OK, Jim. You ruined me. Go away while you still can.” Sara’s stared at the dark liquid. Tears stained her cheeks.


I would, Sara, but I have to do this last thing.” Jim scanned the bar and scratched his head for a moment. Then he snapped his fingers. Moving nimbly, Jim turned and opened the door that led down to the basement. He shut it behind him and raced down the steps.


‘You don’t want to do that, Jim. Why don’t you just walk away and go on to Porterville. We’ll call it even.” Sara screamed at him. He heard her opening the basement door.


“Should have given me the loan and I wouldn’t be here. Your fault!” He scanned the sunlit room and found his object of vengeance. Jim spit and brought the bat down on the keg, labeled with the black R, splitting it open.” WHAM! Another geyser of beer rose into the air.


For a moment, Jim Raines just stared, unable to react. The bat dropped from his hand to the floor. When he raised his sickened face, Sarah held a gun in her hand.


“You monster. How could you?”


“I gave you the chance to walk away, but you didn’t. Jim Raines, you have the luck of shit in warm rain and are about as useful.  Now it’s too late.”


Jim heaved and stumbled backwards until his legs hit a chair and he fell onto its squeaky plastic seat. He stared at the keg and whimpered.


Hanging out of the keg was a bloated body. The bulging opaque eyes with the familiar scar over the left brow stared back at them. The mouth was open in a silent scream, drowning.


“You see, Jim. As I always say, “everyone should be useful and give back”, but there’s always some like you who simply are naturally trifling. But that’s gonna change. You’re going to help me to make that next batch of Red.” Sara walked over to the body and kneeled beside it.


“Just ask my husband.” She caressed the side of his face as he hung out the keg. “He wasn’t a bad person— just useless. Never lifted his hand to help anything or body. I changed all that. Put him in a whiskey keg and made my first batch of Red.” She looked up at Jim. “Secret family recipe.” Sara winked at him. “You see, the whiskey flavor left in the keg plus Don’s contribution, gave the beer a unique, robust flavor that everyone enjoyed.” Sara’s eyes sparkled. “Better yet, call it full-bodied.”


“And now you. Couldn’t have come at a better time. I couldn’t pour too much more beer over Don and still get that great flavor. But he should work until I get you going. Can’t give my customers watered down product, now can I? That would just be wrong.”


Tears fell down Jim’s face. He stared at the couple, wide-eyed, his body shaking like a bobble doll’s head on a dashboard. ‘I won’t tell anyone, Sara. I’ll leave and never come back.”


She tilted her head to the side and smiled. “No, Jim, you won’t.”


Sara raised the gun and fired.









February 01, 2020 10:05

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Martin Leigh
02:19 Feb 13, 2020

I liked the twist. I had to read it a few times to work out why it took so long to make the beer, and I wasn't convinced that a disappearing husband wouldn't trigger a thorough police search of the premises. I was not convinced either that one type of drink would make the difference between success and failure for a bar, but was prepared to let it go and the story was strong enough to carry it. The story has a Poe /Roald Dahl (Tales of the Unexpected) feel to it. Well done.


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Sue Mitchell
23:12 Feb 12, 2020

Love the characters and the build up of tension. Plenty of foreshadowing, a satisfying end. A great read.


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