Jack’s gut twisted like a cat falling off a building. He pulled on the brass handle and the heavy wooden door swung open with ease. His eyes on the ground, he crossed the threshold. Warm as the womb, smoke, stale beer, and the lingering scent of spilled liquor greeted him as he stepped into the bar. It was quiet and he kept his head down as he made his way to his stool. There were two couples in a booth toward the back by the fire place. Three sets of slumped shouldered men hovered over their drinks as if searching for truth at the bottom of their glass.
He found his stool, snakes in his belly were writhing and kicking. His head hurt and his hands shook as he settled in. Bennie, the bartender and owner of Jameson’s Pub watched him from down the bar. He managed a weak nod toward the older man and in a low voice muttered,
“Bourbon, neat Bennie,” he couldn’t meet the old man’s eyes.
He heard the old man sigh as he limped to the shelf and grabbed a tumbler and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. He watched him start to pour as tears welled in his eyes and he again had to turn his eyes to the floor.
Go! Now! The voice screamed in his head. Throughout the day that voice had grown progressively weaker like a clock winding down. In the end it was over matched by the thirst. The glass slapping the solid oak of the bar sounded like a gong and snapped him out of his thoughts. Before him stood the tumbler, half full of the harsh amber fluid. Flanking the larger glass on either side stood two shot glasses brimming with the same. Bennie loomed over the five drinks, his tired eyes boring into him. A hint of sadness trimmed the burning disgust in the bartenders eyes.
“What’s this?” Jack asked.
“This?” he pointed to the shot furthest to the right, “is for Tina,” pointing to the next shot glass he said, “Sammy,” Bennie skipped the tumbler and at the next shot glass said, “Jack Junior,” Bennie paused for a minute and studied him. Then his arm shot across the bar and into the breast pocket of Jack’s blazer. Smooth as lightning he slipped Jack’s wallet. Flipping it open before his face flopped a New York Police Department, Detective First Class shield. “The last shot,” Bennie palmed the badge and slammed it into the bar so hard it dented the wood. “is for your badge ya pathetic son of a bitch. If your wife and kids ain’t enough to keep you straight I thought maybe the job would. The last time Tina came to pick you up off my bar I could see it in her eyes Jackie. She’s done, she won’t be here for you this time. So here you go. Drink up, but let’s make it a toast.” Bennie lifted the shot farthest to the left. He then leaned in so close Jack could feel the heat of his breath. Jack stared at the bar. He was shaking.
“But…” he offered.
“No! No But, you selfish prick! Nobody gives a shit what your pantywaist, traumatic, predisposed, worthless excuse is or will be. Least of all me, and certainly not Tina or the kids.” He slammed the shot down in front of Jack, alcohol spewing from in between his meaty fingers. “So what’s it gonna be, Jackie boy,” he whispered.
Jack looked at Bennie. Met him eye to eye. They were red, swollen, broken. “You can be a real Son of a Bitch sometimes you know that Lieutenant? It’s a good thing you’re retired.”
“Bein an asshole is the only way I ever got you to learn boy.”
Slipping off the stool, shoulders still sagging, Jack tossed a twenty on the bar and started for the door.