I took a sip and set the glass back on the bar. The brown liquid sloshed a bit then settled itself to stillness. This wasn’t my first drink of the night and although I hadn’t given it much thought I didn’t expect it to be my last.
Somewhere in the bar an old country song played on a tired player. Pool balls clacked together and people laughed. It wasn’t a busy night, being in the middle of the week and all, but somehow the locals still managed to make the place feel lively. It was nice to be somewhere that felt like it still had some life left in it.
The waitress pulled up next to me, leaning in to tell the bartender what beers she needed. She seemed a nice enough girl, I briefly wondered what her excuse was for working in an establishment like this. She looked more the friendly IHOP type, smart pony-tail, not too much make-up. Shame to think that even nice girls ended up working at sloppy bars in the middle of backwards small towns.
Not that it was my place to judge mind you. If people around here knew what I really did for a living I’d be lucky if they even left me have a place at the bar anymore. I wrinkled my forehead in irritation, I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about that now. Hell, I didn’t want to be thinking about anything right now.
I grabbed my glass and took another sip of the brown liquor. It burned my throat on the way down, but I didn’t mind. Throwing my head back I finished off the glass and set it back on the bar.
“Another?” the bartender asked. I nodded and he topped the glass off again.
I pulled the tumbler back towards me, perfectly content to continue milling in my own silence when a man hopped onto the bar stool next to me.
“Don’t ya know ya ain’t supposed to drink alone?” he said.
I turned my head slowly toward his grinning face. Looked like some sort of business type, dress shirt and slacks, collar pulled up a bit on the side as if he’d just pulled his tie off in the car on the way over.
“Mind if I join ya?” he asked waving to the bartender. I just shrugged. Small talk with strangers isn’t exactly my strong suit. Not that I was in a social mood anyway.
He got his drink that turned his attention back to me.
“Name’s Leo,” he said.
“Jake,” I replied.
“Nice to meet ya Jake,” he said. I began to worry he was going to launch into an insurance sales pitch or something. He was giving off the creepy car salesman vibe of over-eagerness. I don’t trust people that happy to talk to someone they don’t even know.
Apparently my lack of enthusiasm didn’t dismay him in the least as he continued talking.
“Great weather today, wish I could have spent more time outside in it, I hear it’s going to rain some more again next week,” Leo chatted.
I just nodded and sipped my drink. Most people, normal people, get the hint soon enough and leave me to myself. Evidently Leo wasn’t such a person.
“What kind of work do you do Jake?” he asked.
“Sales,” I lied.
This was enough to send him off on another tangent about something or another. At some point in his monologue he finished off his drink and ordered another. Not sure when he found time to drink with all the talking he was doing, but I continued nursing my own glass and only contributing the minimal obligatory social responses to Leo’s conversation.
“Did ya hear about the murder in the next town over from here?” Leo asked suddenly.
I shook my head.
“Damn shame, some poor girl strangled to death on her way home from work. It was all over the news,” he said.
“I don’t watch much TV,” I said looking down at my drink. It was probably the longest sentence I’d uttered to him all night and I immediately regretted it. I didn’t owe this guy an explanation of my media habits.
Leo must have taken this as a sign that I was interested and started to fill me in on all the gory details. How the girl was found naked in an alley, no sign of a murder weapon, no suspects.
“That ain’t even the worst of it though,” he said leaning closer, “Seems like this wasn’t the first girl to go missing lately, just the first one they found.”
“Is that true?” a woman’s voice asked. Leo and I both turned in our seats to see the waitress standing behind us, hanging on Leo’s ever word.
“100% true, the news is trying to keep it quiet, but I got friends around that say the same kinda things been happening all over the state.”
“That’s horrible,” she said.
“Yeah, shame what the world’s coming to, eh Jake?” he said.
“Seems like it,” I replied setting my glass back down.
The waitress got some more beers and scampered away toward the less morbid patrons. Part of me wanted to follow her.
“Half-empty or half-full?” Leo asked.
“What’s that?” I frowned, unsure where the conversation had gone in the past two seconds.
“Your glass Jake, do you see it as half-empty or half-full?”
“Empty I suppose,” I said wondering where the trick was to his question.
“I figured as much, you seem like an empty sort of guy, no offense,” Leo said taking another drink.
He paused as if giving me a moment to consider if I should actually be offended before he continued.
“I’m more of a half-full type of guy myself, good way to live, right on the edge,” he said, his fingers drumming absently on the bar top.
“Ya know, I used to be a lot like you Jake,” Leo continued.
“Is that so?” I asked. My patience was starting to wear thin. If my tone conveyed any of that though, Leo deftly ignored it.
“True story, dead end job, nothing to ease the pain of daily life. I was pretty miserable,” he said.
“I’m not miserable,” I said.
“Sorry man, didn’t mean to imply anything,” he said patting me on the back. My hand instinctively curled into a fist, but I just took another sip of my drink.
The din of the bar had quieted down by now. The bartender was setting chairs on empty tables and the waitress collecting the last of her tips as the patrons stumbled out into the night.
“Anyhow, you know what I finally figured out? The trick to being happy?”
The question hung in the air for a bit, I would have been happy to let it stay there all night, but Leo grew impatient.
“Finding your rush, finding what makes you feel alive and want to get out of bed everyday,” Leo finished.
“Is that all?” I asked with a chuckle. I’d half expected him to pull out a bible and start lecturing me on the best way to find God at this point. Instead his expression grew dark and his lips turned down at the corners.
“Don’t laugh man, it wasn’t easy to do. The first time…. Well it took some practice, but I’ve got it all figured out now,” he snapped.
“If you say so,” I said wondering at his change in demeanor.
The waitress came back up to the bar and set her serving tray down.
“I’m gonna be heading out in a minute Charley, you want me to take the trash out on my way?” she called to the bartender.
“That would be great Shirl, thanks,” he said. She ducked under the bar and went into the kitchen.
Leo finished his drink and put a couple of crumpled bills down on the bar.
“Been a real pleasure talking to ya Jake,” he said, “You think about what I told you, okay?”
Leo stepped down from the bar stool and made his way to the door. It swung shut behind him just as the waitress came back out from the kitchen.
The bartender glanced around and scooped up the money on the bar. Then went back to cleaning up for the night.
“See you tomorrow Charley,” the waitress called waving with the hand that wasn’t carrying a bag of garbage.
Sighing heavily I pushed myself to my feet.
“I’ll be right back to settle up,” I called gesturing to the men’s room.
“No problem,” the bartender called back, grabbing some ketchup bottles and taking them back to the kitchen.
The bathroom was dimly lit and as I figured, poorly ventilated. As such there was a half open window next to the sink that served as the only source of fresh air in the place. After locking the door I placed both hands on the window and shoved it all the way open. It would be a tight fit, but I’d dealt with worse.
I hoisted myself up and tumbled through onto the ground outside. The faint light from the window cast my shadow on the grass below as I pressed myself tight against the building and began sliding towards the rear of the bar.
Sure enough I could hear the sound of bottles smacking together as the young waitress tossed her load into the dumpster. There was a pungent smell of old liquor and rotting food that I could have done without.
Suddenly the waitress paused and looked over her shoulder.
“Charley is that you?” she asked.
Her sneakers crunched on the rocky back lot as she walked towards the sound of the noise. There was a startled yelp then a sickening thud as her head was bashed into the ground. Blood pooled over the white gravel.
Leo crouched over his victim wrapping the rope tightly around her neck. I stepped out from the side of the building calmly and walked up to him.
The girl was struggling under his weight, the blow to the head hadn’t been enough to knock her out. Leo purred vulgarities to her under his breath, panting with the exertion of keeping her pinned.
It was a simple matter to take my blade and run it right into the back of his neck. He swung around in surprise as my fist connected neatly with the side of his face, the blood from his neck spattering the already moist rocks as he slumped over.
I pulled the knife back out, having to twist it slightly to dislodge it from the vertebrae it had impacted. Leo lay panting on the ground. The waitress’s eyes were wide with horror as her hands frantically worked to undo the rope around her neck. She kicked her legs and managed to buck Leo off of her. His body twitched and twisted where he fell.
I lifted the knife again, not too high, not like they do in the movies, just the right amount to get some force behind it and plunged it into his throat. It was sloppy work, I’m usually much more meticulous about these kind of things, but in the end there was no ‘nice’ death.
Leo stopped twitching and the last trace of life left his eyes. I removed the knife and pulled a handkerchief from my pocket to clean the handle.
“You, you saved me,” the waitress choked. I glanced down at her, she was covered in blood and dirt, her eyes full of tears. It was a shame to see her in a place like this. The rope had finally come undone from her neck and lay in coils on her legs.
“Here,” I said holding the knife handle first out to her. She reached up slowly and took it from my hand as I folded the handkerchief back up and tucked it neatly into my pocket.
Her eyes were locked on the dark smears of blood dripping off the blade. She never saw my foot coming up to connect with her head. As her cranium smacked hard into the rocky lot once more I waited to see if her eyes would flutter open again, but they remained still.
Climbing back through the bathroom window was more difficult, it always is for some reason I mused. I cleaned myself up at the sink, letting the water run a bit longer than necessary. The white noise was always soothing. Finally I dried up and unlocked the door. The bartender was waiting for my by the door.
“There you are, was starting to worry,” he said.
I made my way back to the bar and to my glass. I picked it up and downed the last of the liquor in one final sip before tossing some money on the bar. The bartender unlocked the door and came over to pick up his cash.
I took one last good look at my glass before I walked out the door into the night. It might be empty, but at least I wasn’t thirsty anymore.