Idjits Set the Bar
|“You ready for ‘nuther?”
It was a simple question conveyed across a length of resin-sealed, laminate countertop. Tinker Speed leaned into the bar from the edge of his stool, head down, deep within his own thoughts. His full, gray beard tickled the top of his chest slightly above clean coveralls fastened against one shoulder. A lit cigarette burned down to the filter rested undisturbed in the ashtray next by his left elbow. A watery bourbon drink full of melted ice perspired profusely to his right.
Tinker remained unfazed. He seemed to be staring at the end of his nose or else into his glossy reflection within the wood. Whatever the case, something clearly was sticking in his craw. Something serious was on his mind.
Either way, Cletus Manwray, the bartender, was sick of staring into Tinker’s bald spot. Seems he’d been that way for the last hour or more.
Cletus wrapped the bar with his knuckles. Tinker startled a fraction only just slightly wrested away from contemplation.
“Tinker. You okay?”
Tinker lifted his tired, ice gray eyes. He rubbed his grizzled forehead with stubby fingers, cocked an eye at his cigarette and considered his neglected drink. He pushed his glass back toward the bartender.
“Yeah. I’m alright, I suppose. Gimme another, would you?”
Cletus snatched the glass from the bar and chucked the watery contents into the sink.
Tinker propped a knee against the bar and leaned back rubbing at his his scruffy cheeks with both hands. He watched the heavy bartenders back remarking upon the bottle of Olde Gentleman as Cletus slid it from its place among its bottle brethren lined up in formation beneath the large mirror hung at the center of the tavern.
“Make it a double this time, would you?”
Cletus glanced over his shoulder, grabbed the jigger and poured.
Tinker tamped out his worthless smoke, pulled another from the pocket in the top of his bibs. He lowered his knee and wrestled his zippo from his pocket. He was beat to the punch however as Cletus leaned across the hardwood with a flick extending a light from the bar.
Tinker paused, grinned, placed his Doral between his lips and leaned into the flame.
“Thankee.” he said exhaling a heavy fist of gray out the side of his mouth.
Cletus gave him a mute thumbs up while firing soda from the gun. He wedged a lime into the rim, flicked a stirrer into the glass, placed a coaster atop the bar and slid the drink across.
Tinker took a sip, took another drag from his smoke, considered the emptiness of the premises and the never-changing, cave like shadiness of the place.
The television above the bar conveyed the early midday news. Smiling Gerald Ho reported a tractor trailer overturned on 679 avoiding a flock of geese crossing the highway at dawn. No fatalities, but the driver of the big rig seemed confused in his recounting the particulars. His hat sat atop his head at an unnatural angle, and his nose appeared to be crimped oddly against his face. Tinker wasn’t sure he could be trusted.
Speaking of which …
His eyes scanned the room. Just one other patron in a booth at the back. Seemed to be reading the paper. A singular tendril of smoke rose from a cigarette burning in the ashtray. A cellphone sat silently upon the tabletop within reach.
A halo of light outlined the door to their left at the other side of the shaded entryway where patrons could leave their coats if they had a mind to.
Tinker replaced his knee, tilted back, considered the cigarette between his stubby fingers. He glanced at the bartender who was leaning against the rear of the establishment wiping down his old glass with a large cloth. He glanced back at Cletus then again back to his cigarette.
He flicked some ash into the ashtray, leaned forward against his elbows and spoke low, almost under his breath.
Cletus was focused on the news and kept wiping out the glass.
“Psst. Cletus” hissed Tinker.
Cletus remained fixed upon Gerald Ho who had segued into the local fish and game report.
“CLETUS!” blurted Tinker. His head was suddenly atop a swivel darting side to side. The guy in the back continued reading his paper.
Cletus jumped and fumbled the glass. It bounced around his grabby fingers before getting caught up in the bar rag. Cletus placed the glass gently into the sink and came forward, wide eyed.
Tinker motioned him in, one eye locked on the guy at the back. He chinned forward suggesting secrecy.
“Hey man. You know me right?”
“Yeah sure. Our families are tight. You used to loan us that flatbottom so’s we could go fishin’ … when we was ditchin’ school. Always thought …”
“Shhhhhhh … so … so so so …”
Cletus leaned further in, his reddened, short beard nearly meeting the gnarly, gray, spongy one atop the bar. Tinker’s eyes were kinda wide, seemed kinda **********
“… yeah? … what?”
“So what if …”
At that moment the front door banged open, bathing the room in white and temporarily blinding the pair.
Cletus retreated to his station, and Tinker straightened before settling, head down, into his original stance. His cigarette burned aimlessly between his fingers. He took a drag and glanced at a pair of milenials dressed as hunters, strangers to the area. They loped to the end of the bar, tossed their smartphones onto the countertop, and pulled out a couple of stools.
One was saying, “Can’t believe that. Can you believe that??!”
His companion, both taller and thinner with obviously cultivated stubble along his jawline, replied while dressing his bar with his vest, “Naw man. You missed. There’s no other way.”
“I’m telling you. I plugged that thing. Dead through. Right through the heart. I’m telling you.”
“Well …” responded his buddy with hands and eyebrows raised.
Cletus sidled down the bar wiping the countertop with his towel.
“What can I get for you gents?”
The shorter, squatty hunter settled into his seat, picked up his phone and stared at the screen. “Whiskey Sour for me, annnnnndd …” he motioned at his friend who shrugged and vaulted into his seat. The little one eyeballed his friend skeptically, “… a Lemon Drop Martini, for him.”
“What??!” exclaimed the taller.
“Hey, you snoozed …”
Cletus flopped a coupla coasters down, “Coming up.” he said.
He marched back toward Tinker, mouthing, “kill me now” while rolling his eyes and flipping his bartowel over his shoulder. Cletus pulled a highball and a martini glass. Grabbed the shaker, checked the mixers and went to work.
Tinker gave the pair a sideways glance, straining to pick up on their conversation.
“You gonna card ’em?” Tinker muttered.
“Nah. Dead in here. I’ll take whatever I can get. And y’know … my dad’s the sheriff so …”
“Keepin’ it in the family.”
“He’s got no complaints.”
Tinker nodded absently and redirected his attention subtly toward the new guys.
“I mean. Did you get a look at the underbrush there? Something fell. Something fell hard!” said the shorter one while checking his calls.
The taller one, replaced his phone upon the countertop. “Yeah well. Where is it then. Nothing fell in there man. Nothing but your hopes and dreams.”
“Nah man, I nailed it.”
“You sure? I mean, we were kinda far away.”
“C’mon. Couldn’ta been more than 200 yards or so. And that scope. My new scope is like 100x.”
“Did you sight it in?”
“Sight it in?”
“Did you test it for accuracy … beforehand.”
“Ok Dude. Really?? … You tell me WHEN I was supposed to do that. and Besides. The guy at the store said it was guaranteed.”
“Uh huh. Each one perfected and tested before delivery.”
Tinker could hear the taller guy rolling his eyes. “Oh ok. Sure.”
“Seriously. It’s a Bushell Nightline.”
“… well that certainly changes things.”
“Dude. I’ve been shooting since I was 9. No way I missed.”
“What about that box.”
But the shorter one wouldn’t be diverted.
“What about the blood? I mean you saw …”
“Yeah. That really WAS weird. Maybe you winged it. So really Dude. What about the box?”
The little one pressed a button on his phone and replaced it upon the countertop beside his buddy’s. Leaned against the back of his chair splaying his knees and tucking his chin into his chest like a sullen child.
“And the smell.”
“Well but things die in the woods all the time. It wasn’t horrible. Probably a squirrel or something. Lots of those. You saw.”
Cletus poured into the martini glass from the shaker. Threw in a lemon slice. Tossed a swizzle stick into the highball and sauntered back toward the pair.
“That’ll be $14.50.” he said with a smile.
The shorter one fished a card from his phone case and flipped it onto the bar. “Leave it open please.”
“You got it, sir.”
Cletus snatched up the card and moved over to the register. Checked the name: Batholemew Munce Stillwell III. (Oh please.) He swiped it into the system. It came up clean so he returned the card to its owner.
Bart picked of the card with a glance at Cletus and grudgingly shoved it back into his phone case.
He turned back toward his friend.
“Yeah yeah …” he thought a moment. “But the way … Do you remember the trees shaking?”
“Yeah. All those leaves coming down, and the branches shaking.”
“No … I don’t …”
“Dude! I’m telling you. Something happened in there.”
The taller one regarded his friend skeptically.
“In THERE man! In the trees. Or under them. Under the branches. Something was in there.”
The tall one gingerly took up his glass and put it against his lips, replaced the glass on the bar.
“See. You say these things … and it’s just weird man.”
“But the blood. The branches. The way the brush was pressed down …”
“Yeah. It’s weird. You’re weird. Everything about you has always been weird.”
Bart took a hefty swig of whiskey sour, crunched some ice, flipped his buddy the bird and belched overwardly while replacing the glass upon the coaster.
The tall guy grinned and considered the television.
Several moments passed before the tall guy glanced over at his friend.
“… what about the box?”
Bartholemew stared up at the tv.
“Tackle box probably.”
“Kinda heavy … for a tackle box”
Bart shrugged, “I guess … one never knows.”
“It’s in the truck.”
The tall guy diverted his attention back to his friend, staring blankly.
Bart was crunching more ice and watching the television. He felt his friends eyes burrowing into him.
“What.” he said finally.
“It’s in the truck.”
They stared at each other for a moment more.
The tall guy stood suddenly and shrugged into his vest.
“Fine. Ok. Fine.” exclaimed Bart while waving his hands in exasperation. He chugged the rest of his drink, stood and together, they hurried back along the bar to the exit.
Tinker and Cletus watched in a sideways sort of way, never meeting their eyes. And then Cletus thought of something.
“Wait. Hold on.” exclaimed Cletus.
The pair pulled up short before reaching the threshold.
Cletus pressed a few buttons on the register. The register spit out a receipt.
“Need yer Handcock please sir.” he said placing the receipt and a pen at the corner of the bar.
Bartholemew Munce Stillwell III sauntered over from the door.
“Got yer cock right here.” he muttered.
“You come back and see us now.” crooned Cletus from the register.
The pair guffawed and blinded the bar with their departure.
“… the fuck.” said Tinker into his drink after they had gone.
“Yeah I know!” chortled Cletus.
They snickered a bit before Cletus offered Tinker the martini. Tinker refused so Cletus slung the wasted alcohol into the sink and commenced cleaning the glasses.
Tinker watched him clean a few moments before taking another drag off his cigarette. He considered what he’d overheard, glanced back toward the corner where the strangers had been sitting. He pulled an old cellphone from his pocket and cursed under his breath. His phone battery had gone dead.
“Hey Cletus.” he called.
“Hand me the house phone please sir.”
The man in the corner continued reading his paper. Cletus headed to the back with a coffee pot in his hand.