I was chugging down a frosty mug of Pabst when this freaky lookin’ dude came walking into the bar. He had one of them Cat in the Hat jobs on his noggin’ and a monocle in his left eye. His jeans were made up like the Stars and Stripes. His shirt was black, but it had a peace symbol on it in red. Never saw a red peace symbol before.
Anyway, he looked almost like a Flower Child from the 60s. Except, this was one of them Gen X kids with the pierced eyebrow and the tattoo action. I think he came in here looking for someone to kick his ass and I have to admit I felt mighty tempted.
It’s not like he walked into Starbucks. Red’s Recovery Room was a hard drinkers watering hole. The only other patrons wearing tattoos in this joint got them in the slammer. Hell, I had a couple on my chest I picked up in Joliet back in ’73, but that’s another story.
So, Mr. Fashion plate sits down at a booth and orders a Black Russian. He ignores the patrons who are giving him the eye. Instead, he whips out this cell phone and dials a number. Listens for a few seconds, then starts talking. I couldn’t hear what he said, but like all people with those damn things, he was acting like Joe Billionaire. You know what I’m talking about. A guy gets a cell phone, thinks he’s Rockefeller or some Hollywood Producer.
Well, it didn’t take long for someone to come over and start things with Dr. Seuss. And surprise, surprise…it was Buck Hanson.
Now, Buck is one of them type guys you see around who half the time looks pissed off at the world, and the other half is busy telling you what the facts are about it. Trouble is, Buck is one dumb S.O.B. His opinions range anywhere from bone ignorant to out-of-his-mind. And he sure likes to mess with anyone he thinks he can get one over on.
So he sets himself down right across from the hat kid, leans forward, and says:
“You look like you’re beggin’ to get you ass whupped, boy. Maybe you can tell me why I shouldn’t be the one to do it.”
In response, the hat kid pulled out a piece. A nine mill ruger and shot Buck in the chest, point blank. Buck fell back, blood draining from his face, and hit the floor.
Naturally, everyone in the bar was in a state of shock for a second or three. Enough for hat boy to stand up and make a little announcement.
“My life sucks. It’s one big steaming pile of dog turds. And I don’t want to live anymore. So I get this idea, see. I think, I’m not the only loser in the world. No. There’s gotta be a room full of losers out there just like me and maybe I can do them all a favor at the same time. So here I am.”
Everyone kinda looked at him slack jawed. Then Red, the bar’s owner reached under the counter. But before he could do diddly, the hat kid had his gun trained on him.
“No you don’t. Put you hands where I can see them and come around from behind the bar.”
Red complied. Tried to reason with the dude.
“This is a bad move, son. Put down the gun before anyone else gets hurt.”
“Did I ask for your opinion, dufus? Sit the fuck down. I have some things I need to say to you yokels.”
I looked around the bar. There were five of us besides the nut job. Me, Red, Buck, who looked dead. Then there was Sophie who was a regular. And some other woman I never saw before. She looked like she was some kind of office worker. A secretary, maybe. She was crying. Red looked grim, Sophie looked scared. Me, I kept on my best poker face and hoped for the best.
Hat job spoke up again once Red took a seat near the rest of us.
“Okay, here’s the deal. I plan on killing myself tonite, but I don’t want to die alone. So I’m willing to take as many of you with me as I feel like shooting.”
“That’s crazy, son. We didn’t do you any harm.” Said Red.
“Shut up and listen!”
“I figure a place like this, catering to bar flies, must be full of people with no point to their existence. So I’m going to let each of you tell me their story and then I get to decide whether to spare you or do you. Am I making myself clear?”
I decided it was time to say something.
“What if our life is great? What if we have nothing bad to say about ourselves?”
“Then I kill your ass because I hate people like that. And if you give me some sob story about how many kids you have, that’ll be an extra incentive to air you out. So spare me the pathos and get on with it. Who wants to go first?”
Nobody said anything. The office woman was sobbing. Hat Freak pointed his gun at her.
“You! Stop sobbing and start talking or I’ll just send you after the asshole over there.”
“I…I…I’m just an accounting clerk at a insurance company. Please…I don’t want to die.”
“Sounds pathetic to me. Do you have kids?”
“N-No. Just two dogs.”
“Man, your story is getting worse all the time.”
He waves the gun theatrically.
“Maybe I should just solve all your problems right now.”
She started crying again. I could feel my anger rising. He turned to look at me.
“You got something to say?”
“Yeah.” I said. “What’s with the outfit? You trying to convince someone you’re crazy? Cause you don’t need to look like a fool the way you’re acting.”
“I wanted to get some attention in here. See if you people were assholes. I found one right off the bat. Now I see we have another walking sphincter in here.”
He pointed his gun at me. I was staring into the bore, wondering what it would feel like. A strange sense of calm descended on me. But then he smiled and lowered the gun a little.
“I’ll save you for last.”
He turned to Red.
“What’s your story, pops? Make it good.”
“My story is my business. Put that gun away and stop this madness before it gets worse.”
BLAM! The punk shot Red in the leg. Red yelled. Looked at the blood with bug eyes.
“One more time, old man. What’s your story?”
“I’m only 53! I’m not an old man, you son of a bitch!”
“That’s old to me. So what’s your story?”
“My story is, my friends are going to make you pay for this, you bastard!”
“You’re forgetting something, pops. I plan on dying today. So your threats are pretty meaningless. Now answer my question or I’ll do you now.”
Red cursed for a few seconds, then said:
“I’ve had this bar for 22 years. I take home around $25 grand a year, after expenses, so I am not living high. And out of that I have to pay child support to some ex-girlfriend. But I’m happy to be alive and I love my place, so leave me the hell alone.”
The hat job smiled.
“See. That wasn’t so bad. I’ll make up my mind about you when I finish with the others. You better put pressure on that wound, if you don’t want to bleed to death.”
Red shut up and put a hand on his wound. Obviously in pain. The kid looked at Sophie.
“Okay, now you.”
“I’m 36. Divorced. My son lives with his father. I’m…I work phone sales.”
“That’s it? I get the feeling you’re holding back on me. What kind of phone sales? You sell phones? You sell crap to old people? You working some kind of telemarketing scam?”
Sophie didn’t say anything.
“Answer me, bitch!”
“Okay…I work a phone sex line. All right? I’m an actress.”
The kid laughed.
“Oh, that’s great! An actress! You must be pretty good, if you get guys off, ’cause I sure wouldn’t want to jump your mangy bones.
“Asshole!” Sophie shrieked. “Stop this! Stop it!”
“In a minute, Meryl Streep. I have one last retard to interview before the bullets fly.”
He looked at me. Came over and got close enough for me to smell the Old Spice he was wearing.
“Your turn, sunshine. Make me laugh and I might not hold a grudge against you.”
“You know,” I said. “I don’t give a damn what you do to me. But these other people don’t deserve this. Let them go.”
He pointed his gun at my head. Close.
“That nobility shit went out with John Wayne movies. Now we live in a dog-eat-dog hell. So cut the heroism, genius. Answer my question.”
“You first. I think we deserve to know why you’re doing this.”
He eased up a little, smiled slightly.
“I like that. Yeah. OK. See, I’m a college graduate who can’t get a job. The economy’s supposed to be so great, but no one’s hiring me for the kind of wages I want. On top of that my girlfriend left me, saying I was impossible to deal with. I really hate the kind of music they play on the top 40 stations. And I think the world is probably going to end when a big meteor hits the earth on January 1st, 2000. So, I figure I should just spare myself a few more years of aggravation. Go out in a blaze of glory.”
He held up his cell phone.
“Before I grabbed everyone’s attention by wasting chump change over there, I called 911 and told them what I was going to do. I figured that would give us a few hours to get to know each other before the cops showed up. Then, I could just rush out and meet their gunfire. Go out like a man.”
I looked him up and down with contempt.
“The only thing more pathetic than a suicidal freak like you, is a suicidal freak who wants to kill other people before he gets it. You are the lowest form of life there is. And I’m not telling you shit about me, clown. Go ahead and shoot. I’m gonna make you my bitch in hell!”
He looked surprised. Almost taken aback. Then the sound of sirens became audible, getting closer. He was distracted long enough for me to kick him in the balls.
Except I missed.
He was turned enough for my kick to get him in the upper thigh. He fell back. I moved in to punch him.
I got one in the gut. Felt like a mule kicked me. But I didn’t care. I punched him as hard as I could. My fist connected with his nose. Bones crunched. He fell to the floor, gun flying from his hand. I was on him, feeling my strength going. My fists connected with his face a few more times before I felt Red pull me off.
Then everything went black.
When I woke up I was in a hospital. I tried to move, but my right arm was hand-cuffed to the bed.
A cop came over, told me they ran my ID and found I was wanted in Illinois for a grand theft bounce.
The kid, he said, is big news. He was chained to a bed in the next room with a wired jaw and broken nose. His arraignment’s tomorrow. Me, I’m gonna get put on a plane soon as I’m better.
That’s what I get for playing hero, one night at Red’s.