I had been waiting for nearly two hours at the bar. The image on the photo in my pocket was all I was concerned with, but time tends to ebb one’s focus, especially after a cocktail or three. Yet, I pride myself on focus. I could see the whole restaurant from here, the cars outside the big windows on the other side of the raised dinning area. The brass bars shinning in the dim yellow light. The patrons come and go.
It was nearly eleven when the shape that had been leaning over the end of the bar all night finally said something.
“Fine times such as these eh Mel?”
I didn’t know who Mel was, and I certainly didn’t answer the shape at the end of the bar until I glanced over and saw that it was talking to me.
The man wore a large green overcoat, the kind with the separate stitching over the shoulders and buttons along the upper back. It was rough and, although it still retained it’s structural integrity, it was well worn and frayed around the ends of the sleeves. His hands were knotted bulbous things. One wrenched around his current tumbler glass of amber whiskey. The other hung down on the other side of the bar. The bartender had stopped telling him to stay on his side nearly an hour ago. The man’s face was covered with facial hair somewhere between a beard and a five o’ clock shadow. His eyes were dark under his low hat in the dim light of the corner.
What I could make out was his drunken smile. It was wide, and in complete contrast to his unkempt features, his teeth were as pearly as the queen’s necklace. I could tell he was looking at me because of a small twinkle under the black brim of the hat.
I looked back around the bar. The tobacco smoke drew a dim haze over all senses. The yellowed light sconces fell across the raised dining area. No one of interest was there yet. Carousers and late night flapper types laughed and gossiped in the booths.
I almost feigned that I had not heard him, I am by no means a good man by the moral standpoint of society, in all honesty, however, despite that fact, I felt a strange pity and interest in why I had become Mel.
“Excuse me?” I said, pulling out my silver cigarette case and leaning slightly towards him into the space of the red leather bar stool between us.
The grungy man took a deep sip of whiskey and placed it down.
“Fine times eh? Just like Puerto Rico.” he said, his gravely voice.
I smiled and lit my cigarette. “Quite.” I said letting him play out whatever drunken memory he had cropped up.
“You remember that joke I came up with?”
I took a pull and exhaled towards the ceiling. “I can’t really remember.” I said “You’ll have to regale me.”
He took another sip of whiskey and flapped his hand at me. “Oh comon Mel.”
“No really. it’s been some time.”
He chuckled to himself. “Alright. How many fucks does it take to turn on a light bulb?”
I thought for a moment. “How many?” I asked.
“Beats me” he said “But it only takes one to get it off!”
He laughed in short bursts and fits, slamming his hand against the bar in self satisfaction. I chuckled.
I glanced back to the dining area. The door on the far end opened. In came the familiar face I remembered from the photograph. He staggered in, drunk, but not quite as drunk as the woman draped around him. He swung a long chain around attached to his hip. The watch.
I decided it would be good to keep up an appearance for a little longer.
I hailed the barkeep over who was until this point chatting up a group of girls at the far end of the bar. He came over and I ordered a whiskey. “Tell me about Puerto Rico” I said to the man next to me.
he took another draw of whiskey and looked over. “How could you forget Puerto Rico Mel?”
“My memory ain’t what it used to be.” I said.
He looked forward into the dark glass behind the bar. Our reflections were lost and warped in it. He held the far away look of a lost soul. For all purposes he was. Another drunk swilling his way into oblivion. But how many conversations does he have anymore? How many people are fed up with being called Mel? fed up with hearing about Puerto Rico?
“It was hell Mel. We were still in the Corps, trying to keep the Haitian’s safe. After the shit they went through to try to get to the US. Then they get stuck there. I remember the gunfire coming in from the streets. God those Portoricans hated the Hatians. We were just in the middle.”
“It was some shit wasn’t it?” I said.
“Stupid was what it was.”
The man’s stare didn’t move as he downed the whiskey.
I said nothing. What could I say?
I muttered a “It sure was.” and turned back to the dinning area. The man did not respond.
The fellow from the photograph sat in a booth near the front. He was wearing a pin-striped caribbean-blue suit. It shined like linoleum along with his orange tie. The woman draped around him was in all white with blonde hair and goo goo eyes. I could make out his cut jaw and thin nose as he pushed a menu into the flabbergasted waiter’s arms. He was waving his free arm around and making a show of importance. I could tell why he had so many enemies.
From my visage at the corner of the bar with the shapely (rounded) veteran, I was invisible to him. He was in his own arrogant world. No danger existed in his life, none of the people he should have been keeping an eye on were planning his demise. It was like watching a fly land on a Venus fly trap and amble lazily between it’s deadly jaws. I took another draw on my cigarette as my whiskey approached from the other end of the bar. I regarded him carefully. More than once I saw a glance fall on me when he thought I wasn’t looking. I didn’t leave it to chance. I wasn’t a regular here, and It wasn’t quite so clear who could be trouble.
I’ve killed a fair number of people in my time. It is after all my profession. Not in a grizzly way or a morbid way. I just did what I needed to. I never picked sides, I never regretted, I never questioned how fate would be changed by my actions, I am a force of nature more than a mortal man. Sure I am a man, but what I do is simply a fact of life. We all die. I’ve done it all from stabbing someone through the throat to gunning one fellow down as he was leaving a church. It’s all for money. I’m not always happy with what I do, but hell, who is happy with their job? I am the fly trap, whoever lands in my jaws, well.
That fly happened to be wearing a caribbean blue suit with a linoleum orange tie.
I nursed my whiskey and felt the wave of excitement come over me. It’s so close to fear sometimes I forget, but I kind of enjoy fear as well. Waiting to make a kill is like preparing to skip rope on the moon. You can’t ever be ready for how it’s going to go. You can’t ever know what might happen. You can only stick to what you play out in your mind as close as you can. think of everything that could happen and if it happens it happens.
My muscles always tense, I feel my gun like a cinder block in the small of my back. I watch the target’s movements like I imagine a jaguar might watch a gazelle. My jungle is the city.
I let him finish his cocktail and I finished mine. He began groping the girl he was with, and I stood. I grasped the handle of my pistol and slid across the room. Around the tables, carousers, and flapper types.
I grasped a glass from a table of drunks and stepped up to the raised dinning area. I moved down each booth and saw her ankles sticking out at the end. There was a lace anklet on her left leg. She had Caribbean blue shoes on. I could hear his voice, telling some antidote about how he broke someone’s legs.
“- he was squealin’ on the ground so bad, I told him “SHUT THE FUCK UP” and he wouldn’t listen. So I-”
He stopped when i rounded the booth. I pretended to be a friendly drunk.
“Hey” I said staggering “You guys seem like you really know how to party” i fell onto their table and knocked the untouched complementary glass of water across the wood and onto that stupid suit. The material soaked and he stood up quicker than I expected.
“WHAT THE FUCK” He said, throwing the girl off of him presenting himself to me with his chest out. “Do you have any Idea what this suit cost me?!”
The patrons near us stopped talking and watched.The girl looked up at me and then back to the man with wide eyes.
“Ten cents?” I said and grasped my pistol. I pulled it out from the small of my back and brought it around in full view of his wide open chest. A shot rang out. I pulled the trigger.
The bullet clipped him through the shoulder. He fell back.
That’s when I felt the pain. The impact of the metal on my ribs wasn’t felt at all, but the white hot burning was inside my chest.
I looked over and saw the man at the end of the bar. He held a small pistol.
“Are you alright Johnny!?” He called.
I felt myself fall to the ground. I felt pain and cold blood leaking. I felt like a fly.