Strangers in a Bar
Genre: Suspense | Read Time: 6 min 30 sec | 1,670 words
“Take it easy there, mister. Whatever it is can’t be all that bad.” The bartender wiped down in front of the gentleman chugging his third glass of beer. Unable to down any more he slammed it down on the bar, spilling where the bartender just finished cleaning.
“Fill her up,” he said, ignoring the comments.
The bartender sized up the patron, and said, “I have half a mind to cut you off. I don’t get many drunks in my bar. At least not in the middle of the afternoon on a Monday.”
“I find that hard to believe. Every married man should be in here drinking till they forget why they got married.”
“Woman trouble,” the bartender said, filling up the glass of beer, “I should’ve known it would be something like that.”
The man chuckled. “You know what I discovered today? My wife is more to me dead than alive.” He raises the glass of beer for a toast to no one. “Here’s to life insurance. Really puts things into perspective when you find yourself assessing your miserable life.”
“Worth more dead than alive, you say?” The bartender glances past the man at the bar towards a corner booth. “You’ll be wanting to go have a conversation with the one who sits over there.”
“Is that right? And why’s that?” The man turned too quickly and nearly wobbled off the barstool. He squinted in the general direction of the corner booth but his vision became fuzzy trying to look that far away.
“You’ll see. And who knows, you might end up thanking me some day for the suggestion.” The bartender gave a sinister wink and a smile though it went unnoticed by the man stumbling his way towards the corner booth.
His drink sloshing about in one hand he plopped down opposite a woman with very blonde hair and bright red lipstick. Forgetting his manners, he stretched his free hand out for a gentleman’s shake.
“Name’s Barnaby. And you are?”
“Less interested in names as I am with circumstances,” she said. Her voice was smooth as silk and Barnaby fought to sober up or at least pretend. He couldn’t quite focus on her face, his vision currently seeing double what they should. But he managed to deliver a half smile at both of them.
“Circumstances? I may be a tad buzzed but even I know that’s a strange thing to say to a total stranger,” Barnaby said, managing to take another swig of liquid courage.
“You can tell a lot from a person’s circumstance. For instance, how far they are willing to go to change it. If that’s what they desire. So, Barnaby, tell me, what is your circumstance?”
“You first,” Barnaby said, doing his best to suppress a belch but failing miserably.
The woman rolled her eyes and sighed, exasperated. “I want get rid of my cheating husband.”
Barnaby starts to laugh loud enough to get the attention of the other patrons in the bar. “Sorry,” he said, trying to make himself stop. “But isn’t that what all you married women say? You hook us then you can’t wait to be rid of us.”
“I don’t think you fully grasp what I’m saying, Barnaby,” she says and leans forward to whisper so no one else will hear, “I’m talking about murder.”
With that one word Barnaby became silent. He no longer felt like laughing and whatever affects the beer had on him faded just as quickly as it came.
“Now that I see I have your attention. Who do you want killed?” she asked. While Barnaby found himself at a loss for words the woman raised a finger to get the attention of the bartender who immediately brought over a tall glass of orange juice.
“Everything alright, Delilah?”
“Indeed, Sam. Thank you.” Sam walked away as she wrapped her perfectly manicured fingers around the glass and took a long sip. Staring daggers into Barnaby’s eyes.
Then his eyes brightened. “Did he say, Delilah? I thought I recognized you. Delilah Harris of stage and screen. My wife adores you. She must’ve seen every single one of your movies a dozen times… Wait, aren’t you going through a nasty divorce? It’s all over the news. Photos of him cheating on you with—”
“Yes, yes, another man. It’s all very tiresome. And my career suffers daily because of it. Bloody men. My mother warned me about them, but my agent thought it would help my image if I was married and not a single woman about town. Look at what it’s got me? Sitting in a bar waiting for someone like you to come along and rescue me from a fate worse than death.” Barnaby remained silent. “Soap operas.”
“I think I’m gonna just take my drink back to the bar and forget about any of this,” he said, and started to get up.
“No fair. I told you my circumstance,” Delilah said, batting her eyes the same way she does in her countless movies.
Barnaby rolls his eyes. He could just walk away but how often does he get to brag to his friends about a chance meeting with a celebrity? Never. He sat back down and finished the last of his beer before uttering, “my wife. If she were, you know, then I’d be a pretty wealthy man. But it’s all said in jest, right? No one really means it.”
“You do,” Delilah said, pretending to drink more of her orange juice but really hiding a grin.
“Okay, seriously, jokes over. Time to go back to our boring adult lives. And I hope I never see you again.” Before she could coax him into staying longer he leaves the booth, drops a generous tip on the bar and leaves.
The bright sunlight stuns him briefly and he shields his eyes till he can regain focus.
“I’ll make sure it looks like an accident. No one will ever suspect you. Just make sure to come home late tomorrow night. Bit of a quid pro quo.” That silly voice again. This time a mere whisper from behind into his ear. He feels a hand in his jacket pocket that stiffens his spine. His eyes duly adjusted to the light he moved his hand away and found himself standing alone outside The Equal Measure.
By the following morning Barnaby had forgotten all about the conversation at the bar or his chance meeting with Delilah Harris. It left his mind completely, just like his hangover. Thankfully.
The rest of his day was much the same as any other. He left for work on time. A place he hated but no more than being at home with his wife. He was thankful for the escape.
It wasn’t until the day came to an end and he put his hand in his jacket pocket, for his lighter, that he felt it. A piece of paper he knew he hadn’t placed there. The memory and her silky words of murder and quid pro quo came rushing back. He unfolded the paper and read an address. Her address. He knew that’s what it had to be as sure as he was standing in front of The Equal Measure again, ready to drown his sorrows. Get home late. As he pushed open the door to the bar he hoped to find her, blonde hair and red lipstick, sitting at the corner booth.
This time when Barnaby left the bar the sun had set completely and he didn’t need to shield his eyes. He waited and waited for her to come walking through that door but she never showed up. Not only that, but the bartender swears he’s never had a celebrity in his bar for as long as he’s owned it.
“Delilah Harris here? In my bar? And drinking orange juice? No way. I’d figure her to be more of a martini woman if I had to guess,” he said, laughing and shaking his head at Barnaby.
“Woah, who are you callin’ Sam? Not every bartender is named Sam, you know? My name happens to be Gus.”
Barnaby leaves the bar and heads for home. Easy enough to find as he discovers it’s where the police sirens and flashing lights happen to also be when he arrives.
He spends the next week answering questions from the police. Funny how they never ask him about the half empty glass of orange juice on their kitchen counter. His wife hated orange juice. It wasn’t long before they closed the case. An accidental death. And Barnaby was finally able to bury his wife who broke her neck when she fell down the stairs.
And there the folded piece of paper with an address remained in his jacket pocket. The proof he could’ve used to accuse formerly famous actress Delilah Harris of murdering his wife. Except, what if she didn’t? What if it was all in his head?
But what if it was her? And she was expecting his quid pro quo? How long would she wait before trying to find him and point the finger? He vowed to never step foot in The Equal Measure again. Or at least not for a very long time. Something told him he needed to keep his wits about him.
And he was right.
The following day a brunette walks into The Equal Measure and right up to the bar.
“Anything interesting in the paper, Sam?”
He lowers the paper and smiles, “Why, yes, Delilah. It seems a married couple of some years died under similar circumstances.”
Sam lays the paper down onto the bar to show her the headline about Barnaby and Felicity Tucker. Both dead from broken necks suffered by a nasty tumble down a flight of stairs.
“I’ll have the usual, Sam,” she said, walking towards the corner booth. “Oh, and should another desperate soul find himself at your bar…”
“Of course. I’ll send them right over,” Sam said, pouring a tall glass of orange juice for the corner booth.
FULL DISCLOSURE: 1. I’m not perfect. 2. I’m not rich. Keeping those two things in mind, you may come across typos in grammar, punctuation, and tense (my known biggest writing issue). My feelings won’t be hurt if you point them out to me in the comments.
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