For the past year and a half, I have been using my blog to post installments of serial writing. The story Road Kill ran for 32 weeks and Extra Innings ran for 41 weeks. Both of these serials will be reworked and published as books (more on that soon).
Instead of starting another serial, I’ve decided to make these Saturday posts a place to try out shorter stories. The stories will be standalone pieces that will run over 1-2 weeks. I will be writing in genres that are different than my detective/mystery category.
I hope you read these stories and feel free to give me feedback on what you like and did not like. I will try to give a short introduction on what inspired each story. I may collect a number of them over time and publish them as an anthology similar to my book of stories, Random Tales.
Please enjoy this first entry in the Story Saturday feature:
I wrote this story after spending a week in Chicago for work. I was staying at a hotel that was attached to an “authentic” English Pub called the Elephant and Castle in the heart of the business district. Combine this with watching an old sitcom episode and a story emerged. I hope you enjoy this piece.
“You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”
Ed walked into the Elephant and Mallet Pub on Adams Street between Clark and Lasalle every Friday and Saturday night. He wasn’t the best looking guy or the most successful guy, but he was well liked. The patrons at the E&M Pub were like a family. They had suffered through countless disappointing seasons with the Cubs and then rejoiced when the century old drought finally ended. They had enjoyed the Michael Jordan years with the Bulls and had lived and died with each shot even though they knew that MJ would eventually bring them a championship. Ed’s time here even stretched back to Mike Ditka’s years with Dah Bears in the 1980s as they watched Jim McMahon, Walter Payton and William “The Refrigerator” Perry bring home a Super Bowl victory.
This bar had seen Ed through the birth of children, a divorce, a remarriage and yet another divorce. They were the closest thing he had to family as he stumbled into his middle 60s. His children were grown and had their own families. They were partial to Mom anyway, since Ed was always traveling during their childhood and experienced their growth from the telephone and weekends that went by much too quickly. His ex-wives, well, it could be said that things didn’t end on the best of terms. They were happy to take half of Ed’s earnings, but not very friendly during the brief encounters they had at family events like weddings and funerals.
So here he was on a bitterly cold February night. He had just come back from O’Hare taking the Blue Line of the “L” directly from the airport to the Monroe station. He waked the short distance to the E&M ready to have some drinks, eat some junk food and swap the latest jokes and tales from the road.
Even though the wind was bitter, Ed didn’t feel as cold as he thought he should. He had learned long ago to invest in a warm overcoat and gloves and they seemed to be doing the trick tonight. He felt good, better than he had in a while. All of these years on the road had taken a toll on him, but he had caught a good nap on the plane and his aches and pains seemed to be minimal tonight.
Ed walked in the bar and saw the usual faces. It was a busy night. The Blackhawks were playing the dreaded Red Wings and everyone was glued to the flat screens around the bar. His usual stool was occupied, which he found odd, but it was a big crowd and there were a lot of unfamiliar faces that were likely guests from the hotel attached to the bar.
He found a spot at the far end of the bar and figured he would sit there until the person on his stool left. As the large guy in the business suit next to him drained the rest of his beer, the bartender, Pete, drifted over in their direction.
“What’ll it be?”
“I’ll have another Yuengling,” Mr. business suit said.
“Hey Pete, I’ll have the usual,” Ed added.
Pete went back to the taps and drew another mug of beer for Ed’s neighbor and delivered it to him. Ed expected his drink to be next. Pete went off and waited on some other customers.
Ed was a bit miffed, but not surprised. Pete was catering to the out-of-towners. They drank faster and spent more. Ed could hardly blame him. He did, however, need some Scotch. It was that kind of week. He decided to relocate. The bar was too busy and, with the big out-of-town crowd, he was invisible. Pete knew he would come back no matter how poor the service was.
Ed found a table near the restrooms. It was a small round table that had just been abandoned by two 40 something women that looked like they were having a pre-dinner drink. Ed grabbed a seat. The table was one of the few that did not have a view of a television making it undesirable for those that were standing watching the game. Ed settled in. He was oddly comfortable at this little table. He tried to key in on some of the conversations. Everyone he knew was deeply engaged in some discussion. There was Bob the lawyer and Jim the construction contractor arguing about politics as usual. Nancy and Jim were openly flirting. They worked together. Both were married to others, but their flirting was well-known to everyone in the bar with the exception of their spouses. As far as anyone knew, they had not taken their flirtations to the next level.
As Ed scanned the rest of the bar, he saw a few more people head toward the adjoining dining room. The E&M served “authentic” British food. Ed had ordered from the menu on occasion and, in comparison to the food he had eaten in the UK, this food was as “authentic” as the Chinese Food at Panda Express.
As Ed was about to give up on getting that drink any time soon, a waitress appeared and began wiping down the table with a damp bar rag.
“I was beginning to think I was invisible,” Ed said.
The waitress looked at him and smiled.
“You’re not invisible. It’s just a busy night.”
Ed had not seen this waitress before although she seemed to fit in with the atmosphere as if she had worked at the E&M for years.
“Are you new?”
“Not exactly. I don’t think we’ve seen each other before, but I come in and work when I’m needed,” she said.
“We must have missed each other.”
“We must have. I’ve been helping out here since Pete’s father owned the bar.”
“Ah, yes. Pete Senior. He was a character.”
Ed thought about that. Pete Senior had died back in 85. This waitress appeared to be in her early to mid-thirties. She was either older and had aged well or she had known Pete Senior when she was a toddler. He turned to ask her about it, but she was gone before taking his drink order.
Ed was just about to get up when the waitress reappeared.
She set down a tumbler of scotch on the rocks in front of him.
“Thanks. How did you know? I didn’t even order.”
She just smiled and went back toward the bar.
Ed took a sip of the brown liquid. He usually order Makers Mark and he hoped that the waitress had not given him a cheaper brand of scotch from the well. From the first sip, Ed was convinced that this was no well brand. In fact, it was like no other scotch that Ed had ever tasted. It was like nectar from the gods. He could feel the warmth coursing through his body and bringing a sense of peace over him with each sip. He would have to remember to ask Pete where he had been hiding this good stuff.
Ed continued to savor the scotch as he sat at the table. He didn’t know if it was due to the quality, but after several sips, the amount of liquid gold in the glass didn’t seem to diminish and the ice didn’t seem to be melting to explain the volume or dilute the taste. He decided to enjoy it and not think about it.
He had done enough thinking during the week. After 30 years of consulting, with 12-14 hour work days and 45 weeks of travel per year, the grind was starting to wear on him. He had done this for a while and it was starting to lose the luster that it had when he started and he was losing the fire for continuing. On this trip, as he boarded the last leg of his flight from JFK in New York to Chicago, he thought it might be time to pull the plug. He had faithfully contributed to his 401K. He had a pension coming from his company. Even with his second ex-wife getting her hooks into some of his retirement, he could still spend the next 15-20 years that he had left comfortably. He thought about this as he sunk into his first class seat and drifted off.
So, here he was. He wanted to share his news with his E&M family, but they were all otherwise engaged. Maybe after the hockey was over and everyone left he would spring the news on them. Hell, he would be able to spend more time here and he would be able to enjoy this wonderful scotch. Somehow the quality of this drink made Ed’s thoughts of retiring seem right.
A loud cheer erupted in the bar. The Blackhawks had won the game against their rivals from Detroit. It was a bitter rivalry that went back years. This pub began to empty and the only faces that remained were the familiar patrons that kept the place afloat for years. Ed picked up his tumbler, which was still somehow filled, and began to walk toward the bar. He was going to ask Pete what was in his glass so he could stock up at home. With his luck, it was probably some rare bottle that Pete had squirreled away that had been mistakenly opened by the temporary waitress.
Ed wanted to talk to Pete, but he was on the phone and, from the bartender’s demeanor, the call was not pleasant. The big man kept running his fingers through his thick salt-and-pepper hair and squeezing his bar rag with his free hand. Pete hung up the phone, but it didn’t appear to be a great time to approach him. He looked like a man that had been unexpectedly punched in the stomach.
“Did you find him,” Bob asked.
Pete raised his head and took a deep breath.
“I just got off the phone with his son. He got a call about three hours ago. His Dad didn’t wake up. He’s gone,” Pete said choking back his emotion.
“Who?” Ed asked.
He did a quick inventory and everyone who was usually here on a Friday night was present and accounted for. Maybe Pete was talking about his brother, Mike, who was usually here for the Blackhawk games if he was in town.
“It’s hard to believe,” Pete said. “It won’t be the same around here.”
“Who is it?” Ed asked again.
A hush fell over the pub as word of Pete’s phone call made its way around in murmured whispers. Nancy began to cry. Ed was drawing a blank. Who were they so upset about? Who was he not seeing here that was missing?
Pete seemed to gather himself. He grabbed a tumbler and poured himself a glass of bourbon on the rocks. He lifted his glass into the air.
“To a great man, a member of our family. You will be missed. To Ed.”
Ed set down his glass. To Ed? How could that be, he was right here.
He felt a hand on his elbow.
“I’m sorry Ed. It’s time to go.”
It was the waitress.
“What do you mean time to go? What’s going on here? Is this some kind of joke?”
“I’m afraid it’s not, dear Ed.”
She pulled Ed in the direction of the dining room, but instead of the usual hostess stand and the tables beyond, the room was awash in a warm golden glow of light.
“Our souls always return home before leaving for the final destination. This was your home. This was your family. Now it’s time to go.”
Ed allowed the waitress to lead him away from the bar, but stopped abruptly.
“Can I take my drink with me?”
The waitress laughed.
“Where we’re going, there is an endless supply for you to enjoy whenever you want it.”
“That makes this a bit more tolerable.”
As they moved into the light Ed turned to the waitress.
“What is your name, anyway?”
“My name? My name is Faith.”