I walked into Horace’s at three o’clock and inhaled deeply—smelled the way a bar should—salt, sawdust, bottom-of-the-keg beer.
I settled into my stool. Horace placed my Old Fashioned on a cocktail napkin. I closed my eyes, savored the anticipation.
When it felt right, I dipped the cherry in the amber liquid and popped it in my mouth. Squeezed the orange until it was dry.
Lenny was stationed at the corner of the bar. He focused on the boxy TV set a few feet away as he peeled a sticker off a bottle of light beer.
I took a sip. The ice cubes clinked together. The glass was appropriately heavy. “How the Cubbies doing?”
“They were up five-oh and then,” he gestured at the screen, “well, you know how that shit goes.”
I nodded. Lenny’d watch the Cubs with five or six beers. Once in a while he’d stay and we’d do shots of Tequila with Horace. But that hadn’t happened in a long time. That was more of a young man’s game.
Horace came out of the back room carrying a large red container with a spout on it. He dumped clear liquid on the pool table, on the bar, on the liquor bottles.
I knew what was coming—Horace had talked about this for years—but I wanted to hear him say it. “What you doing?”
“I’m burning this shithole down.” He pointed at Lenny and me. “You two drunks are the only people who come in here. I’m sick of it.”
Lenny polished off his beer. “So you gonna collect the insurance?”
“Sure am. Took out a policy six months ago. Six figures. Once I get that, I’m on the first flight to San Diego.”
Lenny whistled long and low. “Sounds pretty sweet. Say, you mind if I take a few beers for the road?”
“Better do it quick.”
Lenny climbed over the bar. He opened a small fridge and put as many beers into his jacket as it would hold. “You want anything?”
I drained the rest of my drink. I hated to rush it, but I had a last request. “One more Old Fashioned.”
Horace grunted. “Goddammit. One more. That’s it. Then I’m burning this mother down.”
He slapped together my drink. Plopped it down on the bar. Nothing about it seemed right. He went back to covering the booths with accelerant.
“I’m going out for a smoke,” Lenny said. “Stinks in here anyway.”
“I’ll keep an eye on the Cubbies for you.”
“Good man.” He pulled a cigarette from a pack and put behind his ear. His jacket full of bottles made a lot of noise as he pushed open the door, a slab of sunshine invaded the darkness. “You know, I’m gonna miss this joint. Not too many like it left.”
“None like it left,” I said.
Horace’s red canister finally went dry. He wiped sweat off his brow. “That does it. Say bye-bye to debt.” He reached into his apron pocket and pulled out a barbeque lighter. “You know, if I was you I’d get out of here. It’s gonna get mighty hot mighty fast.”
“In a minute.”
The drink didn’t taste quite right. “I need to say goodbye.”
Horace shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
He lit the pool table and ran out.
The flames really were something, vivid and immediate. Better than any fireworks display. They spread quickly.
The drink was a bit heavy on the brandy. That was the problem.
It was also getting a bit warm.
I poured the rest of it on the bar. Took the glass with me and waded through the thick smoke. If I couldn’t say a proper goodbye, I at least wanted a souvenir.
My eyes adjusted to the sun and I knew I wouldn’t see Horace and Lenny, knew they were long gone, like they couldn’t exist outside of the bar.
I sat on the curb across the street in front of the check cashing place, among the weeds and the broken bottles and the discarded fast food bags, rolled the glass from one hand to the other. I didn’t think about where I would go next.
Chris Rhatigan is the editor of the zine All Due Respect and the co-editor of the Spinetingler Award-nominated anthology Pulp Ink. Pulp Metal Fiction recently published a collection of his short stories, Watch You Drown. He talks short fiction at his blog, Death by Killing.