I got to the bar early, but just in time. Before I got all the way in I heard a familiar voice asking, no, telling the bar man “It’s plenty close to happy hour, you ring that up at happy prices!”
No doubt about it, I knew that voice. We used to work together. Well, she worked. I mostly sat at a computer shopping for fuel injected nutcrackers and looking up funny pictures of cats.
I gave up that day job years ago. I was tired of the corporate BS and office gossip. I wanted to use my time more as I pleased, too. Yeah, if I knew then what I know now about running a small business… As soon as I hung that paw-painted “Private Investigator” sign it was a non-stop parade of losers and lunatics – and that’s just my employees.
As I turned the corner, I scanned the room out of habit. The back door was unobstructed. There were defensible positions available. There were no ninjas in the rafters (hey, ya never know in my line of work).
Sure it was my day off, but that doesn’t mean I get to relax the way some people can. A concealed heater might’ve made me feel better, and I had the paperwork. But they don’t make holsters in squirrel sizes.
The crowd looked safe. Only a couple tables were occupied, plus one quiet guy at the near end of the bar. None of them were marks that we were supposed to be tailing. And I didn’t see anyone I owed money to – that’s always a plus.
I saw my former acquaintance down the bar. Not much had changed since those days. Her dark curls sat lightly on her broad shoulders. In her tight cotton shirt her back tapered lithely into her black jeans. Tall she wasn’t, but there was a lot of shape in that compact space. I wondered a bit about the blue spots on her canvas shoes, but I was more focused on coming up quietly to surprise her.
“It never worked then and it won’t work now, fuzz-butt!” She spun around and grinned at me.
“Dang it. How did you…?”
“The look on the bartender’s face! There’s only one explanation for a look like I just saw – a squirrel in a bar wearing a baseball cap trying to sneak up on tiptoes.”
“Hmm. I suppose that would make for a special kinda mugshot.” I got over the disappointment quickly. Climbing up into the next bar stool I stood on the chair to meet the barkeep’s face. “Gimmee a house bourbon, neat.” The bottle was already being tipped when I added “And make it a double, babycakes!”
The bartender looked back at me curiously over his thick wiry beard. I realized my flub. “Old habit” was all I offered. He took it and kept pouring.
I felt my head being scratched behind my ears. I liked it. “Make it two doubles.” Yeah, she still knew how to push my buttons, or scritch them. It felt happy for sure, but I wasn’t going to let her steer. I had an idea.
“Keep that up and I just might forget about how we split.” She was checking her memory and I didn’t know just how she’d remember it, if she’d dumped me or never paid me attention to begin with. I’d hoped to kick her into a guilt trip either way.
“Huh? We were never together, twerp!” No such luck.
“Right, you are, toots.”
“Some things never change. You are such a cruciverbalist!”
The tone of her voice saved me having to ask for an English lesson. That and the way she slugged me. Hard.
The quiet guy at the far end of the bar looked up for a moment. From the smell I knew he was sipping on some sloe gin concoction. I figured he was weird, but harmless, and paid him no more attention.
I noticed that fresh drinks had appeared in front of us. I took a sip to numb the pain, and another to numb the brain. I decided to stay a while. You can say it was bourbon goggles. The fact is this little lady had always caught my eye.
I wasn’t about to leave.
We talked some more. I got hit some more. I deserved most of it.
It was a good time, and a good view, but I couldn’t take any more bruises, so I moved for a change of venue. “How about dinner, you and me? We can pick up Chinese and take it back to my place.” Home field.
She looked down for a minute, considering the offer. I helped make up her mind.
“I’ve got my own chopsticks!” Yep, that made up her mind in a hurry.
“No, I can’t do it tonight. I, um…, I just remembered I’m supposed to be at my other job. I have to shop for cat sweaters. I need to dust my lint collection. And later on an old guy friend is coming over to help alphabetize CDs.”
Shot down again. It made me feel better to assume that at least one of those was true. I asked the bar man for my tab, ready to sulk off.
I thought I heard snickering from the other end of the bar. I brushed it off, couldn’t have anything to do with me. But that guy was starting to creep me out.
“I went ahead and put your tabs together.” The words brought my attention back to our end of the bar. I took a gander at the paper the bar man had under my nose, and liked neither the look nor smell of it. “Oh, no, bud, we weren’t really together like that so…” I turned toward my afternoon’s drinking partner, but of course she was already out the door. I’d missed watching her walk away, and I could think of at least two reasons I always used to like watching that.
Oh well. I counted off a chunk of that extra cash I had. Maybe I’d get some good karma out of this deal. It couldn’t hurt, could it?