This story idea started small but as I wrote it got bigger. I’ve actually been working on it all week. It will be at least two parts, maybe three. So I’m stretching it out, rather than hurrying to finish it. Gotta listen to my muse.
His voice had never sounded so cold before. That was my first clue. Not that we had a close relationship. He ordered the drinks, I served them. But he’d been coming in on a regular basis for a couple of weeks now, every couple of nights.
Alone, which wasn’t unusual for a customer in a titty bar. Particularly a male one.
“May I get a Seven and Seven?” he asked. He did not lean on the bar, his hands were at his side, and he did not lean down to look under the hanging glasses and mugs that obscured vision of me behind the bar, in spite of his height.
“Sure,” I said, and I started putting his drink together. While I poured, I nodded towards him. “Welcome back.”
“Oh. Thank you.” His hand went up abruptly, then stopped, then went towards his back pocket to pull out his wallet, which looked shiny and brand new. For that matter, he was dressed in what appeared to be a completely new outfit, head to toe: a simple gray trilby with a red silk hat band, dark colored button shirt still starched and creased from the package, a dark gray wool vest, loose fit black jeans held with an uncreased leather belt, and long-pointed toe shoes.
“You’ve made a good impression, man.” I said. With a flourish I spun a cocktail napkin onto the bar, then set the drink on top and slid it across to him. A little hippy-hippy shake is good for tips. “I’m Leo.” I held out my hand. He ignored it, dropping three twenties on the bar and sliding his drink closer.
“Some ones, please.”
“Right.” OK, then. I made change for him, accepted his tip (he gave me $1.50 on a $6.50 drink) and promptly forgot about him.
Business was steady but not spectacular, but enough to keep me moving for a while. It was still early, just around 9 PM when the dancers had a shift change; the four swing shift girls leaving as they danced their last sets, the six closing shift dancers straggling in, dragging their bags of makeup, dancing wear, shoes and who knows what else in, or having the bouncers drag them in for them, disappearing up the stairs behind the bar in street clothes, descending in lingerie or bikinis, made up to the nines.
By the time the final pair of night shift girls took their respective stages, the stream of customers to the bar, and the constant pop of waitresses trading orders for drinks, had slowed a bit, and I was able to look around the room and catch my breath. I really wanted a smoke, too. “Hey, watch the bar for a minute,” I asked Cecelia, the main stage waitress.
“Ugh,” she said, because she’s an ex-smoker, but she flipped up the gate and came back behind the bar. I grabbed a jacket, made sure my cigs were in there, and went out through the kitchen.
It was a bit chilly for early summer. I lit one up and then walked around the building to the front door. I wanted company. There was an awning that was technically 25 feet from the entrance, although the way the building was situated, with the freeway so close, smoke often got blown inside just from the traffic. It was annoying, even to me: I thought of myself as a considerate smoker. I didn’t want to make trouble for people who lacked my addiction.
Under the awning was a picnic table, and in the dim light I could see a tiny person in a long black trenchcoat sitting on top of the table, her face orange from the glow of the cherry on her cigarette. “Hey, Jamie,” I said.
She scowled but softly. “Good thing there’s no custies out here.”
“Oh, right,” I said. “I mean Hey, Saffron.”
“Sapphire,” she corrected me. She had the coat bundled around her pretty tight. She was probably wearing next to nothing under it.
“Did you change it?”
“No, it’s always been Sapphire. Because of my blue eyes.” She fluttered her lashes at me, laughing and taking a drag.
“Gotcha. So what’s happening tonight? Anything good? Too early to tell?”
“It’s dead, but I’ve only been on stage once. There’s a strange one, though. Tall thin guy, dark hair. Giving me the eye.”
“Oh, him. He’s been coming in, couple of times a week, for a couple of weeks. He’s not being too weird, is he?”
“He’s the only one tipping me, and he was tipping a couple of bucks a song. Not weird. But quiet. Respectful.” She got up, stepping down to the ground and dropping her cigarette into the gravel and crushing it with her clear plastic 9″ heels in a smooth motion. “He’s been paying me a lot of attention. Was here last time I worked, too.” She patted my cheek. “You’re cute when you get all big brother-y. He’s cute, too, but in an intense kind of way.”
“Let the guys know if he shows any sign of trouble, Saff,” I said.
She walked away back into the club. The bouncer opened and held the door for her, introducing a blast of music that soared above the passing cars.
I finished my smoke, tossing the butt in the coffee can on the table, and spent a minute picking up other butts and trash, then walked back around the building to the kitchen door.