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Fifty-Cent Beer

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Robert Patton paid the cabbie, got out on the dark street and realized he didn't know where he was. But it seemed too early to be so dark. There had been plenty of darkness in his life of late, but not in today’s weather. He looked up, saw the black, tumbling clouds and discovered the reason for the darkness just as the teeming flood of rain deluged out of the sky and instantly soaked him through.

The street was deserted and shiny dark from the wildly blowing rain, the wind noise blotting out other sound. Nothing seemed to be happening, no lights, no people, no traffic, only the downpour. He didn't know why he had stopped the taxi here except that he was far enough away from the congestion and confusion caused by the spectacular accident uptown. Maybe, to quiet his mood down. To get away from the whole day.

The rain pounded on his head and ran out of his hair into his eyes. He turned up the collar of his now sodden suit coat and squinted into the dark. Nothing, a deserted street with the heavy rain drumming and large drops dancing on the pavement. Wait, he saw a dim neon light visible in a window across the street. It looked like a beer sign and, as his vision adapted to the darkness, he could see a dull glow inside the place. He splashed through the downpour and pushed open the door. The dull glow was gloom.

Gloomy, but dry, at least, but chilly. The beer sign was right, this was a tavern. A gloomy and quiet one. No television, no chatter, no patrons moving, just sitting in place with their drinks in front of them. Plenty of space between them, frozen like a picture.

But on a clear day? He had the feeling that he had stepped out of one world and into an entirely new and strange one.

Well, he didn't know where he was, except in the city somewhere. The bar was cool and he felt the chill again, seeping through his wet clothes just enough to create an unpleasant sensation between cold and cool. He had always disliked that sensation. He couldn't warm up and knew he'd have to endure the frustrating discomfort of the penetrating chill.

He looked over the dim room, the worn, dirty rutted floors and chipped dull wooden chairs and tables and stools, the smell of a thousand spills and a hundred years of not caring. Everything seemed on its last legs. Except for the bar on the right which sparkled in the dull light.

The bar was neat and so polished the light would have to be called soft, elegant. The appointments and brass of the fittings glinted, the bar's lustrous surface shone as if waxed that day. Glasses glittered in their pyramid stacks on the bar and the shelves of bottles behind the bar were a lustrous vista of labels and liquor. It was really a surprisingly upscale - something - island? - for a dump like this. The kind of place he should be stopping at to pay his respects with a toast to the good life.

The bartender was a slender guy with black hair slicked back from his widow's peak and a pleasant, if not warm, smile. His red vest with gold buttons was bright against his white shirt with rolled back cuffs and the black bow tie shone like his hair.

Patton nodded to him as he looked around for a place to seat his sopping body and decided to stand for the time being. Maybe decide which world he wanted, the dark or the bright.

"Good day, sir. Not very nice out, is it?"

"No, it's terrible. Where am I anyway?"

"This side of the room is Cafe Omega. The rest is the Omega Bar."

"The living end any style you want."

The bartender smiled a little and gave the tiniest shrug.

"Something like that," he said.

"What's your name, anyway?"

"I'm Luke, sir."

"Short for Lucas, huh?"

"No, it's not really. May I ask yours, sir?"

Patton, he thought. Suddenly, everything that was Patton was flying out of years ago up through his memory. The long submerged events of his life were flowing out of the dark in a clear spreading vista of who he was, of how he was. There was no sensation of time as his spectacle developed. It was the Patton that only he would know. A hell of a dark, rainy, miserable day to remember the truth.

"Patton," he said to the bartender. "Robert Patton."

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Patton."

Patton shivered against that irritating chill that was going deeper around his shoulders and back. He looked around at the other patrons, silent and still, like shadows in the dim light.

"Why isn't there any TV or music, Luke? Why are they so quiet? They don't even say a word to each other. They don't move." Patton felt his annoyance rising. "Where the hell am I anyway?"

"You're downtown, sir."

"Downtown where? I know this town. I don't remember any Cafe Omega. And what about them?" Patton waved around the room at the other patrons. "What's their story?"

Lucas finished polishing a glass, stacked it on a pyramid and placed his hands lightly on the bar.

"They've lost their dreams, Mr. Patton"

"Lost?"

"Yes. Everyone has dreams in their lives. They've lost theirs."

"But 'lost'? What does 'lost' mean?"

"It means there are no more. They've lived their lives, used up their events the way they chose to. Nothing more to think about, talk about, look for." Patton wrestled with the idea, not quite getting it. Luke watched, then continued. "Didn't you ever have dreams, Mr. Patton? Dreams of the people, places, happenings you wanted in your life. You're a businessman, what about the deals you wanted to make?"

Patton hesitated. "Well, yes. I'm sure everyone has some objectives."

"Did you make a lot of your dreams come true?"

Patton thought of the hard luck that was plaguing him lately. His little empire crumbling because of people in business, people in his social life. Each year getting more lonely. Treacherous people.

"Up until now...some of them," said Patton.

"And now? I'm talking about 'how' you made dreams come true, not 'what' dreams."

"There's a winner and a loser in every deal. You play to win. I don't care that much about the other guy."

"You deal with a lot of people in a lifetime, Mr. Patton. What about them?"

"It doesn't all add up to anything."

"Men, women, business, personal, kids, old folks, all of the poor and rich you've dealt with?"

"I'm standing here talking to you and it's a rainy, miserable day and I'm getting chilled through and this place is weird and I don't know where I am and I don't get what you're trying to say. Say it!"

"You've lost your dreams," said Luke.

Patton swept his hand around the room. "Like these people? So, they lost their dreams, so what?"

"So, they sit there, empty. See nothing, say nothing, hear nothing. Just sitting silent drinking a fifty-cent beer. Waiting. And no one cares."

"Waiting for what?"

"The payback for their wasted lives, Mr. Patton. Do you know how that feels? Everyone has been humiliated sometime in their lives. That secret feeling of shame and cowardice that we remember all of our hidden lives. That humiliation that comes back like a bad dream when we don't expect it. And we cringe at our secret character failure and relive the humiliation over and over again. And we feel totally worthless."

Patton got a flashback of a particularly public humiliation and shuddered at that brief memory.

"They've lost their dreams.....and run out of time. This is the Omega Bar downtown, Mr. Patton, way downtown. By the river. The end. In a little while, I'm taking them across. They'll exist in their humiliation forever."

"Poor bastards," said Patton. "Forever?"

"That's what happens when you lose your dreams, sir. And run out of time. You were in that accident uptown. You've run out of time, too, Mr. Patton." Luke took a mug to one of the taps and started to fill it. "Here, have your fifty-cent beer."

 

*                   *             *

 

The door of the bar banged open and a medium height, medium build guy in a wet, belted trench coat marched in and across to the bar. Rain water dripped from the brim of his fedora.

"Mr. Patton, you're not going anywhere with him." His voice sounded like a polished street kid. "I'm Michael and you're coming with me. You were in the accident uptown and the Boss saw you save that kid before that truck took you out. He figured you must have some good in you." Patton stared, stunned. "Don't be afraid, Mr. Patton, you're okay with me. I'm taking you back to the hospital. You were injured, but you'll survive. This guy almost had his hooks in you."

"Luke?" Patton glanced at a transformed, simmering Luke.

"Yeah, Luke," chuckled Michael. "How about 'Lucifer'."

 

 

#

 

BIO: Quinn's zig-zag progress through life has involved him in some unlikely adventures. But he finds some truth even in the strangest fictions. .Quinn has lived and worked mostly around New Jersey and Florida.and half way around the world. He hasn't yet written the Western he promised a friend....or about running over a whale in the middle of the Pacific.

 

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