Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An experiment in noir

I sit at the end of the bar, swirling the last finger of whisky while avoiding the inevitable.  I watch the couple at the opposite end of the bar laugh raucously.  Really, I’m listening to nothing, I’ve tuned out everything but the sound of my own breath mixing with the peaty exhalation of the Laphroaig as it warms in my hand, but I can still see them, falling off their stools as they drink mixed drinks, him in a poorly-fitted hand-me-down suit, her, far too casual with lipstick that matches her vodka cranberry and hair so teased it has a complex.

I’m better than them.  I think they know that as they glance at me furtively before stifling their guffaws.

The bartender tonight is Skippy.  He could care less, doesn’t know why I grin slightly when he takes the funds from my stack to pay for each drink, even though he’s ringing them up at the same price as Jack.  I don’t even know his real name, Todd or Blaine or Robbie, some preppy punk name, and I don’t care.  I’d call him Skippy to his face, but the only two words I’ve had to say to him all night are ‘double Laphroaig’.  If I did call him Skippy, I’d still get the same too-white smile and expect him to spout some goony catch-phrase.  He shouldn’t be working here, pouring his owner’s profits into my glass, he should be at some fun time restaurant with a brass-railed bar in the center, making blender drinks for tipsy nursing students and business travelers.

One more, I perform the international bar sign language, draining my glass in the process.  I don’t need it, this temporary refuge in liquid form, but I like it.  And it simply loves me.  I complete the ritual one final time this evening, breathing, warming, becoming engulfed, before splitting my change, leaving Skippy one twenty and taking one for myself, thinking I might want some aspirin after the inevitable happens. 

The inevitable.

The inevitable is having to leave, to go out into the world again, resisting the urge to shoulder-check Hand Me Down off his bar stool and telling Boufant that everyone in the bar knows she forgot to put on panties tonight.  Well, consciously chose to go without is probably more precise, but who’s keeping score?

* *

I pull my overcoat from the stool next to me and slump it over my arm, feeling the additional pressure of hard, cold metal in the pocket that makes the coat feel twice as heavy as yesterday.  Damn scientists.  I wouldn’t carry the fucking thing with me at all, except that my office wall safe isn’t exactly a convenient hiding place, the cops would find it soon enough since the brains splattered against the window are a vibrant pink and my neighbors are nosy.  The brains were there when I got in yesterday, and Tommy’s skull was resting in a thickening pool of crimson on my once pristine tile.  I shoved the thermostat as low as it would go and left.  There was nothing left in the wall safe aside from crowbar marks anyway, and nothing left in my desk but a few errant paperclips.

Tommy might have passed for me in a pinch. Without a face, I only know it’s him because he’s wearing the ugly tie I gave him for his last birthday.  Obviously, he interrupted something he shouldn’t have, but then again, maybe he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing, either.  I can only hope his presence in my office has bought me some time to think.