After the police finished their questions, I said goodnight to Abby. I needed a drink. And this time, wine wasn’t going to be enough. I got into my low-budget rental car, and headed for O’Malley’s Pub. It was a hole in the wall, and usually packed with kids from Creighton University, but on a Tuesday night, it’d be relatively empty, except for a few local old-timers.
I found a seat at the far end of the bar. My backpack rested on the empty chair next to me -- to keep it that way. The gun on my hip nudged my side. I unzipped my jacket and adjusted it.
“What can I get ya?” The bartender’s Irish accent had lost its thickness. Too much time in the Midwest, I guessed.
“Redbreast, neat. Thanks.”
“Ah, good choice.” He retrieved the bottle from behind etched-glass doors and placed a glass in front of me. “You look like you could use a little extra.”
I nodded, picked up my glass, and inhaled. Chocolate, laced with a hint of vanilla and spice, soothed my frazzled nerves. One sip. That’s all I needed.
A few students stumbled into the bar, followed by a stocky, pale man. The brim of his cap formed a shadow over his eyes. The well-worn leather of his jacket fell heavy on the back of the chair to my left. It smacked my backpack.
“Don’t mind if I set this here, do ya?” he asked. His voice was gravelly from what was probably a lifetime of smoking.
Yeah, I did, but as long as he kept his distance, I would let it go.
I shrugged. “Knock yourself out.”
He ordered a shot of whiskey — the cheapest they had — and a beer. He knocked the shot back.
“Pretty cold out there ta night, ain’t it?” He looked straight ahead.
I decided to ignore him. Maybe he wasn’t trying to talk to me. Maybe he was one those guys that liked talking out loud to no one in particular.
“Yeah, winter’s gonna be a real bitch. Don’t ya think?” he asked.
Okay, so he was trying to talk to me. My “fuck off” sign wasn’t bright enough. Damn it.
“I suppose.” I took another sip.
“Name’s Mike.” He turned his stool toward me.
“Uh, huh.” My number one rule in situations like this is don’t make eye contact. All that does is encourage bad behavior.
“I didn’t catch your name.”
Seriously? That’s his line of choice? I sighed.
“That’s because I didn’t offer it. Look,” I said, still keeping my gaze straight ahead of me, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m not much for talking right now.”
He sat there for a beat, taking in my answer. “What’s your deal? I’m just striking up a conversation, that’s all. You haven’t changed much.”
A chill went up my spine. I set my glass down, rolled my shoulders back, and cocked my head to the left and right. I looked at him through the bar mirror. He’d taken off his hat. His straggly hair was still blonde. A smirk twisted the left corner of his mouth. I reached for my bag. He grabbed my hand.
“It’s been a long time, Dez.”
“You’re going to want to let that go.”
“Or, what?” He laughed.
I reached for his hand, twisted his wrist and locked it. His chest fell into the bar. The bartender rushed over.
“What’s going on here? Is this bum bothering you?”
“I don’t know.” I looked at Mike. “Are you bothering me?” I grabbed my bag, let go of his hand, and stood. Mike sat up. All eyes were on us. “No, I guess you’re not bothering me. Let’s keep it that way.” I left the bar and headed home. I knew he wouldn’t be dumb enough to follow me.
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