Don’t Ever Fuck with the Bartender
The serrated blade of the steak knife sliced through the lemon I was cutting on the ancient beer cooler. I glanced up and around at the few patrons who had straggled in the moment we opened for the evening. The dull gazes and half-full beers told me everything was sauntering on as usual. To the rest of the world it was Tuesday, but for me it was Friday. My evening couldn’t end soon enough. I had plans. But nothing could fast forward the clock, so I simply turned my focus back to the lemons. It wouldn’t do for me to cut myself. We were lucky enough to have lemons around this hole in the wall; bandages would be too much to ask.
I ended up in this Podunk town seven years ago. I had woken up to find my soon-to-be-ex standing over me a suitcase in each hand.
“I’m leaving you.”
I sat up in bed, rubbing the grit from the corners of my eyes. “Hum, uh what?”
“I’m leaving you.”
“Gimme a minute to make some coffee and we’ll talk,” I mumbled as I threw my legs over the side of our bed.
“There’s nothing to talk about. You aren’t smart enough for me and I can’t respect anyone who’s never attended University.”
I felt my anger rise. “Excuse me?” I began and then thought better. “You know what? Never mind. Go fuck yourself.”
I let him walk out the door. Two days later, I got into my car to clear my head and kept driving. I don’t know why I kept driving at first, but then the road seemed to drag me onward. So, I popped in CD after CD and enjoyed the scenery. All the way to Medea’s Bar and Grill in Placitas, NM, seventeen hundred and sixty-three miles from where I started. I stopped for a beer and stayed for a job. There wasn’t anything left for me in Chicago anyway. Both my parents were dead and the rest of the family had disowned my mother for marrying below her class. It really wasn’t hard to leave them behind.
There was no actual grill at Medea’s Bar and Grill, but we kept bags of stale chips behind the bar. The single room had become a kind of home to me, with its electrical spindles for tables, sawdust floor, and overflowing ashtrays. While the rest of the world passed laws for the betterment of society, Medea’s held onto the world that used to be. The cracked walls hadn’t been painted since the Great Depression and the sickly yellow color matched the smoky haze that lingered in the air and coated everything it touched. The brown linoleum bar was the newest thing in the place and that hadn’t been replaced since the seventies, as evidenced by the tiny cigarette induced potholes from too many drunks with shaky hands.
We had our regulars, just like every other bar in the world, but we were also the place the riff raff came to when they wanted a night of anonymity. We were off the beaten path and had a reputation for brawls and blackouts. Minnie, the proprietor, figured that if you were stupid enough to get involved, then you pretty much got what you deserved. So they came: the rednecks and frat boys, the yuppies looking for a walk on the wild side, not too mention the locals who stopped in for a drink at the end of their day. Our only rule? No guns. Guns brought cops and we didn’t need that kind of attention. We kept a double barreled shotgun, that I’d nicknamed Bonnie, behind the bar for anyone who wanted to test the bartender, but the double click was usually enough to let you know that unless you wanted a hole the size of Kansas through your chest cavity, you’d better back the fuck off.
The night continued as the sun fell over the red rocks of the landscape and the crowd began to roll in for the evening. There were all the usual suspects. George and Leonard sat at the end of the twelve-person bar, our own Statler and Waldorf. I never figured out why they kept coming around, they were both retired ex-military, and neither were looking for a fight, but I surmised that they came to remind themselves of a past they left behind years ago. They drank cheap pints of whatever was on special and could be counted on to throw out anyone who decided to try their hand against Bonnie. I still hadn’t gotten the chance to fire her.
Two seats down was Bob, plaid-clad and scruffy, quiet and easy-going. He never got out of hand or stayed long. Sally was his lady-friend, dyed-blonde with dark roots and an old ratty Metallica t-shirt hanging off her bony frame. She was sweet, but older than her age. I knew her life had been hard and she’d never had to reveal a thing about her past. But Bob was good to her and they loved each other. That’s all that mattered to me. Next came Pete, Johnny, Ralph, and Benji. They varied in age from Benji, the youngest at twenty-five, who worked at the Quick Stop in town, and Pete, who was somewhere in his forties, a long-range trucker who only stopped by when things were bad at home with his wife.
The last man, sitting silent in the corner his back to the wall, nursing a Bud with a whiskey chaser, was an unknown. He wore an old motorcycle jacket and jeans with shit-kicker boots. He was good-looking, scruffy, and intense. He spoke to no one and eyed the groups gathered around the already smoky room with an intense awareness that I didn’t usually see in our customers. I followed his gaze.
“Looking for your next victim, Dory?” George asked when he caught me scanning. It was an old joke. They never understood why I was single and I never explained. Some things are better left unsaid. A blonde frat boy wandered in by himself, a cocky smile on his face, and he caught my attention, which was never a good thing. I turned my gaze back to George.
“Oh you know me, just looking for the love of my tonight to walk in the door.”
“You oughta find yourself a nice man to settle down with, maybe have some babies,” Leonard picked up where George left off.
“Boys, boys, boys, do I look like a woman should be popping out rugrats?” I gestured to my short but curvy stature and long fire engine red hair. “I’m too pretty to get all stretched out. Not too mention, there ain’t too many men who can handle me.”
They laughed good-naturedly, but the blonde crew cut with too much product in his hair sidled up to the bar during my short speech decided to add his two-cents worth.
“Oh I can handle you baby. You just ain’t never had a real man. Come on over here and I’ll make you scream my name all night.”
The smile froze on my face as I turned fully towards him and narrowed my eyes. “And what’s your name stud?” I let my gaze linger over his Ambercrombie and Fitch polo, blue jeans, and fifty-dollar flip-flops.
“Brad,” he answered with a smooth air of overconfidence as he propped one arm on the bar and waggled his eyebrows at his compatriots.
“Well Brad,” I said drawing out his name and leaning onto my forearms. “I doubt you could handle even half of what I have to offer, so why don’t you scurry on back to your little friends and leave the grown-ups alone.”
Of course he looked offended, they always did. I’d been a bartender long enough that his response wasn’t even remotely unexpected. “You’re probably some dike who just needs to be shown what she’s good for.”
I let the condescendence I felt for his type bubble up to the surface. “Listen, darlin’, you really oughta walk away before you can’t.”
“Oh you think you could handle me bitch?” He grabbed himself and gyrated.
I sneered at him and crossed my arms in front of my chest. “You look like a drunken billy-goat.”
The man in the motorcycle jacket spoke for the first time. “You should leave the lady alone.”
“What are you gonna do about it biker boy?”
I grabbed three shot glasses, pulled two bottles from under the ledge of the bar, and poured. “He’s not gonna do anything, but if you don’t get the fuck away from me, you and me’s gonna have words that sound more like ass-kicking and less like conversation.”
I slid one shot glass down the bar to Motorcycle man who simply lifted an eyebrow and downed the tequila. I nodded, smirking, and he smiled at the unspoken comment that I didn’t need his help. He was intriguing and could take a hint. I appreciated that in a man. I took in the dark gaze of his slate grey eyes as they narrowed back towards Brad. His jaw line was so tense it looked like it was made out of marble, but he didn’t make a move in the frat boy’s direction, and I smiled inwardly. This one might be worth a bit of time. I took the other shot, feeling the burn slide down my throat, refocused my attention, and dropped the smile.
“Now drink your shot and scram,” I commanded to Brad, who quickly obeyed, and turned to see George and Leonard barely hiding their hysterical laughter. It’s why I’d gotten the job in the first place. I didn’t take shit from anybody and it barely ruffled me.
Brad scurried along like a good little annoyance, found some like-minded assholes to befriend, and the rest of the evening went on as usual. Jackson, aka Motorcycle man, left his number scrawled on a napkin and tucked under his glass. I picked it up, intending initially on throwing it out like I did all the rest of the numbers that collected on my bar, but there was something definitely intriguing about him, so I folded it and slipped the napkin in my back pocket. By closing time, there were only two bar fights and nobody left needing stitches.
I kept an eye on the frat boys and only had to intervene once when they started harassing a couple of the younger local girls who came here on occasion to play a little pool after they got off their shifts at Denny’s. They never came in looking for trouble, but sometimes it found them anyway. They were safe here though. No matter how rough we were, if you weren’t looking for trouble we made sure you were protected. I hated bullies with a fiery passion and quite enjoyed giving them what-for when they started their antics.
Brad and the Frat Pack, as I’d dubbed them, were exactly the assholes they seemed upon initial contact. When the group began to follow the girls out of the bar, I threw down my bar towel and grabbed Bonnie, standing in their way, her muzzle indicating that they should head right back to where they had formerly been. Smartly, they took the hint. They were the ones who started both of the fights and by the time they left with three black eyes and a broken nose between the five of them, they were wasted, weaving a zig-zag pattern towards the door. What they didn’t notice in their drunken stupor was that Brad wasn’t with them. I didn’t remind them and went about cleaning up so that I could leave and get on with my evening.
Brad noticed he’d been abandoned about an hour later. I fed him three more shots and told him to shut the fuck up and stop whining. Told him there was no way I was letting him drive home. His head dropped onto the bar and I made sure he had a nice safe space to sleep it off.
“Braaaaaad,” my voice sing-songed out as I clicked open the door to the walk-in cooler. “Time to get up my little princess.”
His eyes opened only a slit and widened quickly as he began to take in the silver walls and rickety wooden shelving that held cases of beer. Propped up against a keg of Coors Light and covered with an old afghan, I didn’t want him to freeze while he waited where I’d stashed him; he finally began to look afraid. He tried to stand, but I brought Bonnie out from behind my back and the satisfying double click froze him in place. It was then that he noticed his hands and feet were bound in duct tape making his limbs essentially useless. I fed off the look of fear that etched itself into place across his face.
“Now, now, now Brad. As much as I’ve been waiting for years to fire Bonnie, I would hate to get this room all messy. Minnie prefers me to do the dirty work outside of the bar. Too much risk for DNA to be left behind in any of the nooks and crannies.”
“You’re insane you crazy bitch.”
I slid forward just enough so that the tip of the shotgun was resting against his breastbone. “I said prefers Brad. And I’m definitely not insane, I simply see the truth about the human condition clearer than most. You are a danger to society, one that I am ever so happy to remove. Now, here’s what gonna happen.” I pulled a thick cord of rope and the roll of duct tape from behind one of the kegs where I kept it. “I’m gonna thread this under your arms so I can get you into the trunk of my car.”
He thrashed about banging his head on the kegs and I gave a huff of annoyance. “Seriously Brad, I don’t want to have to dose you up again, though it would make it easier for me it might put you over the edge.” A shocked look fluttered across his face. “Oh! You’re just now noticing that your head’s a bit swimmy and not just from all the booze, eh? Well then, maybe you shouldn’t drink things from people who obviously don’t like you. Now let me tell you, we are going to have so much fun tonight. So be a good boy and let me get on with it.”
I took the coarse rope, threading it first under his left armpit, three times around his torso, and then back out from under his right side. Wrapping the ends around my right wrist I pulled him over to the flat bed cart shoved against the inside wall of the cooler and hoisted his body up. His head bounced off the metal.
“Whoops! Sorry there buddy.” I came around, propping open the door, and maneuvering the cart through the bar and out behind my black 1985 Pontiac Grand Prix. It took some doing, but I got him situated and slid myself in behind the wheel. Turning the ignition, Lou Reed blared through the sound system. I rolled the window down and sang along, driving through the clear night.
Oh, it’s such a perfect day,
I’m glad I spent it with you.
Oh, such a perfect day.
You just keep me hanging.
You just keep me hanging on…
Brad repeated kicks against the roof of the trunk echoed through the car, but it only gave me more justification. If only he could be quiet, but no, he had to open his mouth. If he hadn’t been such a cocky douchebag, he woulda been passed out in his bare bones apartment right now. But no. Such is life. I needed a victim and he fit the bill. He would soon know what it was to be terrified.
Brad started screaming the instant I popped open the trunk.
“Oh go ahead, scream all you want. Won’t make me no never mind. Ain’t another house around for miles.” I grabbed him by his crunchy hair and turned his head left and then right. “See that? Nothing to be seen. At all. You’re my bitch now.”
I used the rope to drag him into the house and down the solid wooden stairs, flipping on the single bare light bulb. The light barely reached a small circle at the bottom of the stairs, but it didn’t matter, I knew exactly where I was going. By the time we reached the basement, Brad was bruised, scraped, and bleeding. Small shallow cuts though, nothing like what I would soon make him suffer through. I dropped him when I reached the thick steel door, taking the keys from my belt loop and unlocking the three deadbolts in quick succession.
I hooked Brad’s bound hands to the pulley system I had rigged to the ceiling. It ensured that I could lift even the heaviest of my victims without strain. I rolled the jerry-rigged black metal table over and situated his body accordingly, strapping his head, neck, waist, and upper thighs to the table, then slicing through the tape to immobilize his hands and feet. While he thrashed uselessly about, I slammed one hand then the other down and listened to the tiny chink of the metal clasps fitting around his wrists, then repeated the action with his ankles. Pulling the thin cord attached to a second light hanging above the table, Brad blinked and his pupils slowly dilated.
“Good. The drug seems to be wearing off then. I wouldn’t want you to be asleep for the process.”
He blinked again and I took a piece of tape from the roll on the shelf behind me, forcing open one eyelid, then the other. Grabbing the duct tape that also sat on the shelf, I also stifled his speech. I hated it when they talked during my preparations. I tugged on my baby blue scrubs, and walked to corner of the dingy damp room and rolled my tray of surgical tools towards him. The room was cool, but not cold, smelling of bleach and ammonia. I was very careful about my workspace. I wouldn’t want any of my guests to develop an infection. Not all of them were simply overnighters. Some of them needed drawn-out punishments, or what I liked to call my “vacations.” I was doing a service to humanity. Albeit not one I could exactly brag about, but I felt it was my duty nonetheless. There were too many helpless women roaming the world, too many who’d been taken advantage of in the past; I wanted to be their Champion.
I rolled my tray of surgical tools from the dark corner where I hid it. Chuckling to myself, this was always the best part. The slight rattle of the metal against metal as the cart traveled over the grey concrete floor, my guest unable to move their head to see what was coming, their brains fitting the sound to a mental picture. I chose one of the gleaming blades and flicked it open, ensuring the safety lock was in place. I wouldn’t want to cut myself by accident. Using it to slice open Brad’s polo, I watched with joy as his eyes widened and his skin puckered against the chill in the room. It would get much warmer later, after I lit the fire, but it wouldn’t matter to him by then.
I set down the blade and grabbed a set of rubber gloves and a slim bottle of local anesthetic and a needle. I proceed to numb his torso while I explained.
“At one point, Brad, you should know that I wanted to be a doctor. But here’s the thing about being poor, there’s never enough money for Med school or anything fancy like that. I mean, I could have gotten a business degree or something of that ilk, but really, could you see me in a suit, working in some wood-paneled office selling life insurance?” I glanced down when I remembered that his mouth was taped shut. “Ahhhh yes, well, anyway. No, that’s just not me. It was quite lucky that I met up with Minnie. She was ready to retire and took me on as her apprentice. Kinda like the Dread Pirate Roberts, but for killers. You do know who the Dread Pirate Roberts is, right Brad?” He tried to waggle his head back and forth.
“Oh good Lord. How do you not know the Princess Bride? I mean seriously. ‘My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’ No? Not ringing a bell?” I clucked my tongue at him in disappointment.
“C’est la vie. Anywho,” I sing-songed out. “I might have a tiny problem with vigilantism so Minnie, taking a shine to me, taught me everything I know. How to choose my guest for the evening, you know, someone who really deserved to be splayed out before me. And you deserve it Brad, don’t you? I saw the look in your eye when you and your new gang of buddies started to follow those girls outside, they won’t miss you will they? In fact, they’ve probably already forgotten all about you. There might have been a roofie or two in their drinks as well. Blacking out while drunk is a bad thing. Makes people forget entire evenings. It’s just unfortunate for you that you were a dick to me, so you were on my radar from the get-go.”
I paused, allowing his misdeeds to sink in; some of those who lay on my table never figured it out. But Brad, I could see it in his eyes. There was no remorse there. I knew his kind. They thought the world belonged to them and they took what they wanted because no one ever told them no. Or even if someone did, his kind never listened.
I took my simple silver cross from where it hung on the shelving. “So, shall we get started? What music would you prefer? Tchaikovsky? Bach? Nine Inch Nails? OH! No, I know!”
I pressed the button for disc five in my cd player and Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica soundtrack poured into every nook and cranny. I grabbed another remote and light filled the concrete room. The dingy dark look worked for setting the stage, but when I worked, I needed light. There were no windows in my basement, so I didn’t have to worry about nosy neighbors, if some poor lost soul had the misfortune of accidently come across my humble abode.
I took a set of forceps and a tuft of cotton and dabbed it in iodine, tracing a line down the center of his body. I set them down and picked up my favorite scalpel again.
“Now, you’re numb, so you won’t feel anything physically, but mentally…well let’s just stay, you’ll be ready for repentance before the end.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to center myself. Then I set myself to the task in front of me. I traced my scalpel down his chest several times, peeling back thin layers of skin and laying it across his face. He tried to pass out on me a few times, but I woke him up, I didn’t want him to miss any of the fun.
I worked through the night until the first rays of dawn were peaking over the ruddy red of the landscape. I took the pieces of Brad and fed them into my wood furnace, my filthy scrubs following what was left of him. The bones would have to be retrieved later, after they cooled, and placed in the stainless steel sink that sat across the room. I still had enough hydrofluoric acid to dispose of the leftovers, but I would need to make a run again soon. After cleaning the table, I ran the hose across the floor, a river of blood pouring down the drain in the center. I grabbed a bottle of bleach and chased the blood down into the sewer system. The room once again spotless, I headed upstairs, turning off the music, lights, and locking up behind myself.
I walked over to my Crockpot and lifted the lid, smelling the delicious beef stew that had simmered patiently while I worked. I ladled out a bowlful and sat at my Formica table. I looked out my front window as the sun rose higher in the sky and was startled when I saw a man leaning against a Harley Davidson. I set the bowl aside and walked to the front door, opening it and leaning against the doorframe.
I called out to Jackson. “Mind explaining to me exactly why I find you in my front yard?” I sized him up, wondering if there was any chance I could get him in my basement if need be.
“Blonde boy’s car?” I arched an eyebrow at him as he strode towards me. “Taken care of.”
“Excuse me?” I asked, trying to keep the trepidation out of my voice.
“I saw you drag him out of the bar and throw him in the trunk of your car. And you should be better at watching whether you are followed or not.” He was almost within arm’s reach.
“Did I ask for your help?”
“Nope, but I do so enjoy creating accidents and burning things. One late model BMW, burnt to the shell a good hundred miles away from here.”
It really did save me some time. “Anybody ever tell you you’re a psycho?”
“No one who ever lived to tell the tale.”
I laughed heartily, opening the screen door and stepping out of his way. “Well Jackson, I’ve got some stew in the Crockpot if you’re hungry.”