A Hazy View on a Sunny Day
by Howard Vogl
It was Tuesday morning at Miller’s Irish Pub. George, a large man sporting a wiry red beard, was standing behind the dark wooden bar. He tied his apron and rolled up the sleeves of his starched white shirt. George polished a glass and smiled as he watched people walk by the sun-streaked front window. They reminded him of phantoms in a dream.
A clump on the back steps confirmed that Felix had arrived from his apartment upstairs. Felix’s leathery face collapsed on a stool at the far end of the bar, and George walked over and poured him a Newcastle, the price Felix asked every morning to sweep the floor.
“Morning, Felix, what’s new?” George asked.
“Same old, same old,” he said slurping off the head of his beer.
While George was tallying the vodka consumption from the previous night, the front bell rang. George looked up and saw a woman with short, dark hair walk in and take a seat. She was fortyish, casually dressed, thin but not skinny; pretty in her way. George did a quick study. Like all good bartenders, he could tell in an instant who was going to tip well and who was going to cause trouble.
“We don’t open till eleven,” he said.
“You’ve got a customer down on the end.”
“He’s an employee.”
“Liberal fringe benefits here. Look, I need two things: a drink and change,” she said, holding up a hundred-dollar bill.
“There’s a bank around the corner.”
“Like I said, I need two things.”
George hesitated for a moment, then decided it was too nice of a day to argue. “What’ll you have?”
“Dirty martini, light on the vermouth.”
While he was mixing her drink, George watched her stare out the window. “Here you go,” George said.
She handed him the hundred and he threw her change back, including a few singles for the tip.
“So, what brings you in on a nice day like this?”
“Just a drink and some change. Who’s the guy at the end of the bar talking to? I don’t see anyone.”
“That’s Felix. He talks to himself. Just pretend you’re at the matinee watching Harvey,” George said, hoping to elicit a smile.
She turned back to the window, and he followed up with: “Where are you headed to?”
“I just saw Sam at the apartment,” she said.
“How’s he doing?”
“Not that well.”
“I hope everything’s OK.”
“It is, now that he’s dead.”
“Oh, sorry to hear that.”
“I’m not. He had it coming.”
Figuring it was time to change the subject George said, “Busy out there, isn’t it?”
Ignoring him, she said, “I’ve waited for two years for this day. That’s why I’m starting the celebration so early.”
“Celebration?” George whispered, realizing that he had missed the exit ramp off this conversation.
“Like I said, he had it coming. He didn’t deserve to live.”
George kneeled down behind the bar with a newfound enthusiasm to get on with the inventory, but she kept on talking.
“For all the time I knew him, he was no good. He ran around and made a mess everywhere he went. Today, I finally caught him in the apartment, and that was the end of him,” she said.
At the other end of the bar, Felix was going on about something or other.
“Felix, put a sock in it, will you!” George yelled from down behind the bar.
Felix stopped mumbling as the woman went on.
“I told him if I ever caught him doing it again, I’d kill him,” she said.
“Did she say she killed?” George mumbled to the captain on a bottle of rum.
He poked his head over the edge of the bar and watched as she sipped her drink. She looked normal enough, but he couldn’t be sure. A lot of people came into the bar and started out normal only to end up needing an escort out the door. He decided to take the coward’s way out, let her finish her drink and leave. He’d learn the truth on the nightly news.
“That was good. I’ll have another,” she said.
They say things become clear in a crisis, but the only thing clear to George was his heart trying to jump out of his chest. Now, Felix started up again.
“Felix, come on, will you. I’m trying to count bottles here.”
“How about that drink?” she said.
George got up, hiding his shaking hands in a bar rag. With one eye on her, he splashed vodka into a fresh glass.
“You know, like Sam, I think there are certain people in the world that deserve to die. I imagine you see people like that come in all the time,” she said. “By the way, what’s your name? If we’re going to have a conversation, I need to know your name.”
“Uh, George,” he squeaked out as he pushed the martini in her general direction.
“Well, George, I’m Adele. Here’s to Sam. May the bastard rest in peace,” she said with a sly smile.
George withered down behind the bar trying to figure out how to get away. She must be high. That’s why she was so loose about doing in Sam. When the second martini kicked in, she might realize she was confessing a murder and flip out.
“You know, George, I laughed when I saw him lying dead on the living room floor,” Adele said.
George wanted to run, but she might have a gun. He started calculating the odds of his demise.
“Fifty-fifty she’ll shoot, fifty-fifty she’ll hit me, that gives me one in four, fifty-fifty, it’ll be fatal, that’s one in eight.”
“Who you talking to George? You got somebody down there?” Adele said.
He racked his brain for an answer. Finally, he remembered something he saw on TV. Talk to her in a normal way. Have her see you as a person, and maybe she’ll be less likely to shoot.
“How’s the drink, Adele?”
“Great. Here’s a toast to Sam.”
“To Sam,” George said, feeling his knees start to buckle.
“You know, George. I hated the bastard, but I didn’t kill him.”
Just as George was about to regain control of his bladder, she added, “Sabastian did it for me.”
From the end of the bar, Felix started mumbling, “Sabastian, Sabastian.”
“The job would have been too messy for me,” Adele said. “I always got along with Sebastian. It was when Sam came into the picture that things started to go sour.”
“Sorry to hear that. Sometimes relationships can be complicated,” George said avoiding eye contact.
“You’re telling me. I loved Sebastian but, when my husband, Bob, came home with Sam, it was just too much to handle.”
As a bartender, George heard a lot about alternative lifestyles, but this was something, Sam, Sabastian, now Bob. Obviously, they were sharing more than the rent.
“Sabastian,” Felix said again. George ran down to the end of the bar and topped off Felix’s beer to shut him up.
He slowly walked back to her and said, “Look lady. You can walk right out of here. I won’t say anything.”
“I don’t care who knows. I’ve got nothing to lose,” she said and reached into her purse.
George took a couple of seconds to realize it was only her phone, not a gun. Now, while she was occupied, he could call the police. He went back to Felix and leaned close to him. “Stop looking over at her and listen to me. I’m going to go back to the kitchen and call the cops. Just sit here quietly and sip your beer.”
Felix repeated, “Sebastian, Sabastian.”
Poor guy was out of it in his own drunken way, George thought.
He was about to sneak out back when he heard Adele say, “George it’s been nice talking to you, but I have to go. My husband will be back shortly, and I’m going to have to explain how his hamster died.”
Adele stood up, threw a couple of bills on the bar and walked out. George looked out the front window as she joined the phantoms outside.
Able to catch his breath for the first time, he looked at Felix and said, “Can you believe it, she was talking about a dead hamster. All that over a rat’s ass, and here I thought it was some guy.”
George stroked his beard and said, “So, Bob was the husband and Sam was the hamster. The only thing I can’t figure is who Sabastian was.”
Felix rolled his eyes up from his beer and said, “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Sabastian was the name on the cat carrier on the floor next to her.”
Copyright © 2020 by Howard Vogl