Authors: Jessie Chandler
He grabbed my wrists in alarm, unable to prevent me from shaking him like Dawg doing a death rattle on one of his stuffed toys.
“You.” Shake. “Got.” Shake. “That?” Shake.
“’Kay. ’Kay. Sorry. Leggo.” He tugged against my grip. “’Kay, I said!” His eyes rolled back in his head. If he puked on me, I was definitely going to rip his drunken ass apart.
My gaze flicked to the linebacker-sized kid standing next to Mr. Happy. He looked like he was on the wrong side of twenty-one, and that dinged my caution bell. I pinned him in place with narrowed eyes. “You with him?”
The kid had the courtesy to look sheepish and simply nodded.
“Get him the hell out of here. I don’t want to see him again tonight.” I straight-armed Mr. Happy and shoved him away from the bar.
His buddy caught him before he hit the floor.
The crowd had surged away from the trouble. As Mr. Happy staggered toward the front door, they flooded back, refilling the open space.
I’d reached my limit. “LISTEN UP!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. The noise decreased by a couple decibels. I hopped up on top of the bar and repeated my command. When I thought most people were following directions, I bellowed, “PLAY NICE OR GET OUT. I PROMISE TO DO MY BEST TO GET YOUR ORDER. PLEASE BE PATIENT!” The more I shouted, the more the bar quieted, and there were some rumbles of acquiescence. In a lower register I rumbled, “THANK YOU!”
I hadn’t even jumped down from the bar top before the cacophony ramped up again.
Jill yelled, “Damn, Little O, you haven’t lost your touch. And no, I have no idea where your dad keeps his financial stuff.”
“I’m outta practice, but it comes back fast. What do you need?”
She rattled off a list. Fortunately bottled beer rounded out the bulk of it. I hustled to the cooler under the bar, scored the requested bottles, popped them, and set them on the waiting tray. Then I slapped three well drinks together and sloshed them onto the tray. I was rusty, but my skills were on the way back.
“Thanks,” Jill shouted over her shoulder. She hefted the tray and was immediately swallowed up by the throng. The crowd surged against the bar, looking thirstier by the second. I took a deep breath and caught sight of the Summit delivery guy still waiting for payment.
My head felt like it was about to explode. I worked the rabble as fast as I could down the length of the bar toward the delivery man, feeling like a broken typewriter. I wasn’t sure of my father’s current prices, so I made them up as I went and eyeballed the liquor I splashed into glasses.
Before I reached the end of the bar, a tall woman with long, straight, honey-blond hair, wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket pushed up to the counter and flashed a bill. I stopped in front of her and tilted my head, waiting for her order.
“Whiskey, neat. Top shelf, if you have it.” Her voice was resonant, her demeanor friendly.
“Sure.” I grabbed a bottle of Knappogue Castle and a glass and poured.
“Looks like you’ve got your hands full.”
“You can say that again.” I pushed the drink toward her.
She held a twenty in hand, back far enough that I’d have to make an uncomfortable reach for it. That pissed me off. She said, “Is Pete O’Hanlon around?”
I let a fraction of my irritation color my tone. “No, he’s not. It’ll be fourteen bucks.”
Still she held onto the bill and leaned in close. “When will he be in?”
Who did this chick think she was? “Look, I have no goddamn idea. Please give me your money so I can get your change and move on. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve got a few people waiting here.”
Both her eyebrows rocketed skyward. She handed me the twenty and held both hands up, palms out. “Hey, take it easy. I didn’t mean anything.” She shot a quick glance down the length of the counter and back. “You the only one on?”
Would this lady leave already? “Yep.” I slapped her change in her hand.
She dropped the six bucks in front of me. “It’s New Year’s Eve. You’re never going to make it at this rate.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” I turned away before I gave in to my desire to punch her and moved on to the poor delivery man, who by now had been waiting forever. I said to him, “I’m so sorry. How much do you need?”
He told me and settled on his stool, apparently content to nurse a half-full mug of beer. I quickly drew another and slid it down the bar toward him. He grabbed the handle and nodded his thanks.
I yelled, “I’ll see if we have enough in the till to cover it.”
My heart sank when I popped the drawer beneath the bar and made a quick cash calculation. The total didn’t even come close.
I stuffed the money back in the till and stood, ignoring the couple of college-age guys a few feet away who were howling for their drinks. My left eye started to twitch, and I pushed my fingers against my eyebrow.
“Hey!” a voice hollered. I wasn’t surprised to see the biker-jacketed woman who’d so handily summed up the totality of my life moments ago trying to get my attention. She no doubt wished to ensure that my knowledge of the shittiness of my current lot was complete.
“What?” I bellowed and shot her a drop-dead glare.
She bit her bottom lip. “I know how to pour. Been slinging liquor for years. I can help you out if … ” She trailed off with a raised eyebrow and a shrug. She looked far too young to have been “slinging liquor for years.”
Did I want to keep trying to hold the masses at bay, knowing it was only going to get busier as the night went on? And I had to find some way to pay the Summit dude. Desperation clawed at my core. It was time to wave the white flag. “Okay, yeah.” I met her compassion-filled eyes and felt like a jerk. “I could use a hand or three. Look, I—I’m really sorry.”
With a shake of her head she stopped my bumbling apology and made her way around the bar.
Things were happening too fast for me to track. I felt like hell for being an ass. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why this woman would want to dive into my nightmare. However, I wasn’t about to argue.
I jerked a thumb under the counter. “Apron’s down there if you want one. Mixers in the cooler.” I pointed at the squat silver refrigerator tucked under the bar. “Garnishes on both ends and the middle of the bar. Wait staff down on the far right. Right now I’m free pouring. If you can find the jiggers, go for it.” I quickly ran down the prices I’d been charging. “And hey, name’s Shay. Thank you.”
She stuck her hand out, and I shook it. Her grip was firm and sure. “Lisa. Lisa Vecoli. Glad to help.”
I wasn’t in any position to question why she didn’t have anything better to do on New Year’s Eve. I clapped her on the shoulder, helped a couple more people, and watched Lisa do her thing. After she poured her first drink, I could see she was confident and capable. I hoped she was as proficient with money as she was with booze.
“Lisa,” I called as I handed an honest-to-god Shirley Temple to a short, round lady with curly dishwater-blond hair. “Can you hold the natives at bay while I go find a way to pay that delivery dude at the end of the bar?” I wasn’t sure if I could trust this chick or not, but right now my options were pared down to one.
Without missing a beat, she said, “Sure. I’m good.” She flipped the bottle she’d been holding high over her head, caught it, and proceeded to add it to the drink she was making.
Whatever the case, I was grateful. As long as she didn’t rob me blind.
I hustled through a swinging door into the kitchen. A ghastly stench assailed my nose and I pulled up short. I took a second, deeper sniff, but the odor had wafted away. It was probably an olfactory hallucination. I was feeling quite like I’d lost most of my senses anyway.
Two more steps and I was out the back door. The cold hit me like a slap in the face and sucked the breath from my lungs. I ignored it and charged around the corner of the building. My footsteps echoed against the wall as I pounded up a set of exterior stairs that led to my father’s second-floor apartment.
At the top, I stopped short. Maybe my dad was inside but something had happened to him. Maybe he’d finally had that stroke I’d been worrying about for years. I reached a tentative hand to the doorknob, expecting to find it locked. I jerked my hand off the metal as it twisted in my palm, then turned the knob again and swung the door open.
My heart leapt from my chest and landed securely in my throat. I pushed the door wider and peered into the dim apartment. The front door opened directly into the living room, with an open kitchen situated in the back. To the left a hall led to two bedrooms and a tiny bathroom. The light above the stove was on, and that was the only illumination in the place, save the glow of various electronics. Every time I came here, I was thrust back to my childhood, and the ghosts of the past roared into my head. It was so hard to believe Mom, Dad, and I had once lived in this cramped place.
The faint tang of burnt toast lingered in the air. I flipped on the light switch next to the door, and a few of the ghosts disappeared.
“Dad?” I called out. My heart triple-timed. I did not want to walk down that hall and find my father. But my feet had a mind of their own. I slowly stepped farther inside. “Dad?” I called again, louder.
I took a calming breath and moved across the floor and turned on the hall light.
Just do it, O’Hanlon. Go to your parents’ room and look inside.
My late mother had been gone for the better part of my life, and I still couldn’t think of that room as my dad’s alone.
My dry throat clicked as I swallowed hard. Before I could talk myself out of it, I marched to the first door, reached in, and hit the light. “Dad?”
I stuck my head around the doorjamb. For a minute I thought
I was going to hyperventilate. I concentrated on even breaths as I scanned the room. The bed was made—my father was a tidy drunk—and the rest of the room looked organized and neat like it usually did, minus any bodies.
Emboldened, I moved on to the room that had been my own. I didn’t need light to see that it was void of my father. The bedroom was largely unchanged from when I’d moved out. Same twin mattress topped by the same old patchwork quilt. The same desk that had seen me suffer trigonometry and term papers sat in the same corner.
Nowadays, my old room was an emergency crash pad for the pals my dad played poker with—on the rare occasion they actually admitted they were too drunk to drive home.
The bathroom was the last place I checked. I flipped the light on and did a quick once-over. No one home there either.
I steamed back out to the living room, breathing easier and a little miffed at myself for getting carried away. However, nothing about this night was anywhere near normal.
Back to the task at hand. I needed to find the checkbook, post-haste.
The metal TV tray next to my dad’s recliner seemed a good place to start. After shuffling magazines and almost spilling a half-full glass of some questionable liquid, I gave that up.
Next I headed for the desk by the front door. It was a beautiful piece of furniture, hand-carved and inlaid by my grandfather. Bills and unfolded statements were strewn across the top. I sifted through the mess, noting that the dates on a number of the bills were past due. I tried to remember if my father had complained recently about his cash flow.
At the bottom of the stack of crap was a typewritten sheet that looked like it had been balled up and flattened out again, maybe more than once. A business card was stapled to the corner. I was about to pass it by when I caught the words
Intent to Purchase
at the top of the paper. I pulled the piece of stationery from the pile and scanned the first few lines.
Dear Peter O’Hanlon,
This letter expresses the mutual interest in a transaction currently in negotiations between the following parties:
Buyer: Subsidy Renovations Inc.
Seller: Peter James O’Hanlon
This document outlines the potential terms of the sale of the property known as the Leprechaun Bar and its respective holdings to be negotiated and finalized at a later date.
I sank into the chair and stared at the letter in disbelief. No way would Dad ever sell the Lep. He loved his bar, and I didn’t think it was just because he was a drunk. Although that did help. But seriously. He wouldn’t consider it without talking to me beforehand.
And what was Subsidy Renovations? As I perched on the hard wooden seat, I recalled my father mentioning some time ago that he’d been approached by someone who was interested in the property the bar was built on. I remembered he said he laughed in the guy’s face and told him that it would be over his dead body that he’d let them tear the place down and build a parking ramp or some other unnecessary “un”-improvement. Then he said he’d kicked the man out of the bar.
Maybe he’d reconsidered. I knew his funds were tight. Were his finances that bad? My father and I were going to have to have a heart-to-heart whenever he decided to show his face again. After I killed him, that is. I folded the letter and pocketed it, fully intending to confront my dad with it when I saw him.
I hit the drawer on the right side of the desk and rifled through it, finding nothing but writing utensils and three tins of peppermint Altoids. I shuddered to look at them, their smell reminding me of all the years my father sucked on the potent little white disks in an attempt to hide the odor of alcohol on his breath.
Next drawer down I hit the jackpot. I snatched out a blue vinyl-covered checkbook and flipped to the register. There was barely enough in the account to cover the cost of the beer downstairs. Right now, it didn’t matter. I scribbled out the check. With a lift of my shoulder, I scrawled my father’s name and entered the numbers into the register. It would have to do.
I locked the door and hustled down to the truck where the delivery man was now waiting, his hands stuffed in his armpits. I thrust the check at him, and he pocketed it with a grunt of thanks, white vapor billowing from his mouth.
“You know where to put the product?” I asked.