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Another return journey on footpaths so familiar. He strides across each crack in each paving stone. Regular loose drain covers sidestepped. Mapping long ago mapped in Richard’s desolate mind.

His pace hastened by the sight of the oncoming storm. Quickening the homeward slog from store man’s drudgery in the warehouse of Protein Worldwide Winners Incorporated. Another tropical evening so dark, humid, close, filled with foreboding. 

Driven by the purple puce cloud two minutes are gained on his habitual daily arrival time of 5.10pm. Richard finds himself anchored, becalmed on the trusty deep-worn stool, second spot at the trough. Protection from the elements barred by the thick entry door. Shielded wide enough from the central active service hub. Line of sight direct to the Softball Champions 2006 team photograph hanging untended, crooked, below the malt whisky shelf. Richard views his younger self, back row right, half hidden behind Fat Freddy the 13th man, spies Richard the bat boy. Half a grin above his weak chin and hair almost still there. You can see that he doesn’t belong amongst the victors. Present yet leaving no historical mark.

A half-drained glass of locally brewed beer sits on the age-old mahogany of ‘Nic’s Sports Bar!’ Once famously tagged as ‘Where winners watch the game!’ Bar-mat slowly turning to Papier Mache under his once frosty glass, the decay of his home away from home matches the slide of Richard toward the grave. Old time average beer for an old timer piece of mediocrity desperately consuming cheap, strong, beer becoming drunk at the double.

Elbows on the ancient bar top support his head in hands. Richard contemplates fridge doors, non-compliant, past their health department-use-by-date. Damp towels hang from splintered door handles. Cracked green and cream tiled floor below, sluiced with rinse water draining spilled beer.

Nothing new explodes in his slow, muddled mind. No fresh sensations. Richard’s head is full of one true knowledge. His beloved daughter Mary did not meet her bitter end at the mercy of a metal bench seat. In truth her skull was caved by an ex-girlfriend gone mad. Richard knows this to be true to the bottom of his sclerotic heart. 

Why will law enforcement not listen? 

Why no active investigation?  

The latest tempest of the cyclone season has begun to hammer Nic’s Bar. Rattling the advertising boarded, neon blinded bar windows to the outside world. Blinkered to block out the murderous reality of the working life. Thunder rumbles. Lightning will follow. The summer heat is set to be doused by nature’s full force. Storms will wash the world clean.

Nic’s entryway door swings open a few centimeters. Sticks as it has done since its heyday. Swollen toe releases to swing wide and crack on rusted hinges from the effort without. Filling the void is a bulk silhouette made light. Detective Inspector William Bartlett crosses the threshold. Fills the sheltering browned oak panels. Casts shadow on beige paint. Head stretching toward off-white ceiling. Takes foot hold on Victorian green tiles. Casts his eye over a cavernous nicotine-stained dive bar protectorate as rejection of the world outside. 

DI Bartlett lights up the room. Burns fierce energy. Beams a smile that would crack on your dial. WB to his friends, DI Bartlett slides to the bar in one reptilian coil. A $50 note points toward Nic the barman (Nicolai to his mother) “Nic, Nico, Nicky, you are my storm savior! I’ll wet my whistle with a Pale Ale and chase it with a warming single malt. Your best choice my friend. You have saved this boy in blue from the extremities.”

Richard swallows burning, acidic, bile as he takes in this abomination of a man. This lazy, God forsaken piece of policing slime is the reason that nobody is looking for Mary’s assailant. The bat boy swallows burning, acidic, bile as he takes in this abomination of a man. 

Any doubt in his summation is crushed immediately as Richard casts a bloodshot eye over the retreat of those hovering about the front bar considering their next libation. Brittle men scuttle to the darker corners of the damp, stale room.

Any beer flowing from any tap comforts a career detective, a friend indeed to a friend in need. Single malt is a reward for trials and tribulations encountered over decades. Purest of Scottish ingredients distilled as the finest nectar, sustenance to a beaten and bloodied officer of the law treading water furiously in his effort to keep head above a cesspool swirling with murderous crime, organized grift and familial violence. 

Bravado has become his cloak of armor, protection against the common world. A cloak to make invisible the crimes of today and tomorrow. Colleagues have died too early, exploded like a pressure cooker gone rogue, heart attack, aneurysm, most tragic the end of life worn by the violence in the path of a train.

To let it go, release the burden of responsibility is every detective’s fantasy becomes a nightmare. Every fellow officer faces the same tsunami of workload, daily they deal with the floods in their own way. This is his way and so far, it kind of works.

“You save my life every day big Nic. You are the Man. You know that, don't you. My savior.” Again, he begins his social connection to pub life through the keeper of the bar and waits to blend into the optics as just another beaten down bag of bones. But superior.

“Simply here to serve you Mr. Detective along with all your friends, here for anyone in need of a soothing draft, you know that.” Nic moves away to smear another glass with his greasy bar cloth in an act of polish, a movement repeated hourly as an escape from the ear bashing of the unfortunates. Luckily, they are still paying his bills, just.

Little Richard climbs down from his bar stool, stumbles, and right himself. Raises the firearm. Fires. 

Big William Bartlett is no more.


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