“Whatcha drinking there?” A man said from across the bar as the bartender slid a martini glass in front of Jennie.
Jennie didn’t want to be at the bar, but she felt obligated. Her best work friend, Tabby, invited a few people to this new bar for her birthday. The bar had a Hollywood glamor theme, not to mention, it was about time someone opened a bar that was not a speakeasy in this town.
When Jennie entered the bar, she spotted Tabby right away. Tabby waved and Jennie waved back. Tabby was with two women who looked as though they belonged on the cover of a magazine. The bartender served the three woman martinis and asked what Jennie was having.
The second Jennie had ordered a Grey Goose martini dirty with blue cheese stuffed olive. Tabby waved at someone else as they entered the bar and left Jennie at the bar waiting for her drink. It occurred to Jennie only then that Tabby and these two magazine models were not the extent of the party. Jennie was now alone.
“A martini,” Jennie said with a tight-lipped smile.
“Oh, yum. I love martinis. Vodka or gin?”
“Do you mind if I scoot closer? I can barely hear you.”
Jennie looked around and then back at the man, “scoot closer to me?”
He laughed, picking up his half-drunk cocktail, made his way down the bar, and occupied the stool next to Jennie. Now she was stuck. When she looked at him, she noticed the mole on his left cheek with three short hairs sticking straight out. It made Jennie wince but she couldn’t help but stare and then glanced down at her drink, her strawberry hair covering her face.
“James,” he held out his hand at an awkward angle for her to take.
“Jennie,” she took his hand with the tips of her fingers.
He nodded. “Do you come here often?”
“I thought this bar was new,” Jennie furrowed her eyebrows.
“Is it? I’m not from here,” he said.
Jennie nodded her head, looking down at her martini. She couldn’t possibly be rude and walk away, or do as she really wanted to do, and down her drink and escape into the brink night air. No, she could not possibly offend this stranger.
“Do you want to know where I am from?” He asked with raised eyebrows.
“Of course,” Jennie said, looking up at him for a moment before returning her eyes back to her martini.
“I’m from Asheville, North Carolina. Home of the Biltmore Estate.”
Jennie nodded her head looking down at her martini glass. She wanted to force herself to look back up at him but could not make herself look at that mole again. Instead she took a sip of the bitter vodka.
“Ever been there?” he asked.
“Can’t say I have.”
The pair of strangers sat in silence. He opened his mouth and shut it before opening it again like a fish. “Look. If you are not interested in me, you could just say so. You don’t have to be so rude.” Before Jennie could respond, James had picked up his near empty cocktail and walked away.
Jennie shook her head surprised by his bold reaction. She was trying to be anything but rude. It was not her intention to make him feel unwanted and she felt guilty for making James feel that way. But the guilt subsided when she realized she was free from making small talk with a man who discussed her.
Later that night, as Jennie was settling up her bill for her one martini she looked up to see Tabby talking to James. She winced once again at that mole on his left cheek. How could Tabby be interested in such a weird guy? Tabby flipped her hair and looked up at James with doe eyes.
“So much for saying goodbye,” Jennie said to herself as she signed the check and escaped out the bar door. The idea of curling up with Mittens, her Pomeranian, and watching the latest episode of Big Brother thrilled her and she bounded down the street feeling the lifted weight of forced conversation.
On Monday morning, Jennie entered the office and grabbed her first cup of coffee before sitting down at her desk. That was strange, Tabby was usually the first in the office, but she was not at her desk. Jennie continued her work figuring she may have had a personal appointment she didn’t tell Jennie about.
From Jennie’s vantage point, she saw two police officers enter the office. Jennie watched as they talked to Darleen at the front desk. The look on Darleen’s face concerned Jennie. Darleen escorted the officers out of view, but that didn’t put Jennie’s mind at ease.
Jennie watched as Darleen walked towards the breakroom. Although she had her coffee already, she made a calculated bet that it would be simple to get Darleen to tell Jennie what had happened. Jennie poured her coffee into the wastebasket next to her desk and approached the breakroom for her second cup. Darleen had the refrigerator open and seemed to look for something.
“Good morning,” Jennie said with a tight smile and looked back down at the coffee machine.
“Good morning. It’s already been quite a morning hasn’t it,” Darleen started the conversation without Jennie pushing. This was too easy.
“Did you see those two officers?”
“Yeah, what was that about?”
“Well, they are asking about Tabby Johnson.”
Jennie’s mouth dropped open and she attempted to not look as surprised as she felt. She knew it was suspicious when Tabby didn’t show up to work. She pressed Darleen to give her more.
“Apparently, they found Tabby’s body down by the river. Someone had strangled her and sexually assaulted her. Last they saw her was at that new bar. You know, the one with the Hollywood glamor theme. She got into a cab with a guy with a mole on his left cheek. You were close with her, weren't you?”