Authors: Mercy Celeste
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The 51st Thursday
Copyright(C) 2011 Mercy Celeste
Cover Artist: Kendra Egert
Editor: Lynne Anderson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
Cobblestone Press, LLC
* * * *
To my husband for his support and for living with me and my "voices."
Outside the storm clouds swirled ominously against a pewter gray sky. Inside, the five flat-screen televisions mounted on various walls were tuned to each of the local stations offering nonstop coverage as Hurricane Sally loomed in the Gulf of Mexico.
A Category Four, Sally was due to make landfall sometime after midnight and Deacon's bar in downtown Mobile was right smack-dab in the crosshairs of the predicted path. That was the bad news. The good news was it was a small, fast-moving storm and it was only five in the afternoon. Plenty of time to batten down the hatches, as they say.
Deacon's Place was Joe Deacon's now, his daddy's before him, and his daddy's before him. Located in a pre-World War Uno era five-story brick edifice in the old part of town, Deacon's had survived countless storms, including the monsters Ivan, Katrina, and Frederick.
Joe--or just Deacon as he was called by friend and foe alike--enjoyed the impromptu hurricane party going on around him, though the crowd was smaller than the one for Ivan had been. Once bitten and all that jazz, most people knew enough to get the hell out of Dodge, or at least stay their asses home and hope the old girl took a jagged turn in a different direction. However, the patrons who braved the squalls already coming ashore weren't most people, as evidenced by their choice of dress.
Of course, it being the day before Halloween could account for the costumes, or in one girl's case the lack thereof, but hey, if she thought she was Lady Godiva then more power to her. As long as she kept the wig draped in the right places Deacon wouldn't say a thing.
The light outside began to grow dimmer and Deacon glanced at the clock and then the open doorway where he watched rain pelt the street. Disappointment formed a deep well in his chest.
Of course, Mr. Thursday Night would be one of those people with enough sense to stay in out of the rain. Nevertheless, Deacon had hoped he would come in for a moment at the very least, but with each newcomer that hope was beginning to dwindle.
Trying to keep his mind on his business and not the door, Deacon stood mindlessly wiping the counter as he watched television. In particular, the red crawl at the bottom of the screen that issued the curfew warning. The new data streamed across the screen followed by the updated curfew of nine o'clock when all business in the greater Mobile area must close their doors.
Deacon tried to ignore the little spark of hope that twirled in the pit of his belly. Thursday could still come in. There were still three hours left until he had to close the place down. Three hours were an awful long time in which anything could happen. Realizing he was behaving like a fool, Deacon tossed the bar cloth into the sink. He was a fool. A fool waiting for someone he really didn't even know to walk through his door.
Hell, he didn't know Thursday's real name. He didn't really care, he told himself. Why should he care what Thursday's real name was when he'd had fifty Thursdays to ask him? Why had he counted the damned days anyway, Deacon wondered, shaking his head at his own foolishness.
Try as he might, Deacon couldn't help remembering that night fifty-one Thursdays ago. The night Thursday had rolled in, or rather staggered in as if he was on a weeklong drunk. Deacon hadn't wanted to serve him anything until he proved he wasn't drunk. Banged up and argumentative, yes; drunk, no; looking to rectify that situation, hell yeah. He was probably about the same height as Deacon, which was just an inch less than six feet. Not as broad across the shoulders but nicely made just the same. His eyes were sort of a green-brown color that defied explanation, his hair sandy brown. Incredibly pale, he looked as if the slightest breeze would knock him over. He was bruised, battered, and broken in more ways than Deacon could see from his side of the bar.
He'd asked for a beer. After Deacon poured him one, he didn't say anything else. After the third, he paid his tab and stumbled out into the dark. Deacon could see the cast on his leg as he left. A stab of something pierced Deacon's thick skin that night, sympathy maybe.
He came every Thursday after that, earning him his name. He came for the quiet, taking the same seat at the bar and ordering the same three beers before taking his leave. Sometimes he came dressed in jeans, other times in business attire, but always in an oxford cloth shirt, usually white, sometimes blue. Deacon started noticing his clothes sometime in January. He didn't usually notice his male patrons or their attire, but Thursday wore his in a way that made Deacon want to look.
Then in May, something changed and Thursday came for more than just the quiet spot at the bar and a few beers. He joined in a game of pool, which was just fine. Deacon enjoyed looking at his ass across the room as he leaned over the table to make the shot. He still didn't say much. Then he left with one of Deacon's waitresses.
The next visit Deacon had to remove him and a couple of wannabe bikers to the parking lot. Thursday gave 'em hell before Deacon put him a cab and told the driver to take him home. After that, Thursday kept his temper, except when he lost it. And when he did, it was a magnificent temper to behold. In June Deacon noticed a pattern where Thursday was concerned. Woman, fight, brood alone in angry silence, rinse, repeat.
That's when he started wondering what made the man tick. Why just Thursdays; what was so special about Thursday? Why the reckless behavior? He was obviously well schooled and he wore expensive clothes and an air of authority when he was dressed in his Sunday go-to-meeting best. The blue tie with a discreet gold letter
tie tack. The choirboy haircut he wore at first became a thing of the past in May, and as of last Thursday, his hair just touched his collar, falling in soft waves that he constantly pushed out of his eyes.
Dark began to creep in the door, and Deacon gave up watching. He wouldn't show. He'd gone farther inland. He would be safe, sitting in some other bar on a Thursday night. The fifty-first Thursday night. At the top of the hour, he turned up the volume on the closest television to catch the latest update on the projected path, making a beeline for the bay.
Shit, it was going to be a long night. In an hour or so, he'd do last call and send the brave souls out to seek shelter elsewhere. There was still work to be done before old Sally turned the street outside into a raging river.
At seven, the weathergirl started looking nervous. She was new to the area and this was her first hurricane, or so she said. Most of the costumed customers had gone home, and only a few die-hard drinkers were left when he saw the headlights sweep the falling rain outside the door. Irritated, he told himself to stop being a fool, Thursday wouldn't walk through the door. It was just a car driving slowly because of the wet streets.
Then he stepped inside, just as he had every week for the past year, pausing in the doorway to take in the place before taking the same seat at the bar. Tonight he was dressed in a pair of faded and ripped jeans. A blue button-down collar oxford shirt, slightly wrinkled and half-buttoned to expose a white tank undershirt and a pair of beat-up Top-Siders. His hair was wet and slicked back from the rain.
Deacon nodded just as he did every Thursday night and pulled him the only beer he had on tap. "I'm closing in an hour."
He walked away to put away another box in the storeroom while trying to ignore the strange sensations churning in the pit of his stomach.
Shelby took the beer from the bartender, nodding to the closing time warning before he looked around at the nearly empty establishment. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, coming all the way out here this late. Any other day and this would be a great time. Just not hours before a damned hurricane was going to crawl ashore right over them.
He'd tried to stay away. Needed to stay away for his own safety. But today was the day. The one he'd been dreading all year. The one-year anniversary of the last day of his life.
He couldn't stay away; he needed to be here at this bar tonight. He had no idea why. He had no idea why he needed to come here once a week every week since the first one after that night. He had no idea why this bar had called his name that first Thursday. He just knew he needed to dull the pain, and the quiet of his loft apartment was killing him.
Her things were killing him, damning him as they taunted him. Her scent still lingered on her pillow and her books still lay on the coffee table where she'd left them. His skin had begun to feel too tight that night. He couldn't swallow, his eyes so dry it felt as if a million tiny cactus stingers had been shoved beneath his eyelids.
Then he'd been within walking distance. Or hobbling distance, since his leg was fractured. All he knew was he had to get out and he had to get a drink or he was going to do something dire, like burn the place down.
He found Deacon's Place after passing by two other dives. Funny, it was on the same street as his apartment and he'd never noticed it before. The door was open and music spilled out into the street. The glass windows draped with green curtains on brass rods couldn't contain the light that filtered out. There was laughter and song and that's where he wanted to be, in a warm, inviting place with laughter and song and life.
The bartender had given him hell. Did he really look stumbling drunk? After a few moments, he got a beer and for the first time in a week he didn't feel numb. This incredible sensation of calm came over him as he watched the bartender work the room. The waitresses swarmed around him, people smiled at him, told him dirty jokes, and he told them to shut the fuck up, there's ladies present. And once when an old Bob Seger song came on the juke he sang along, loudly, and surprisingly not too badly.
"Beautiful Loser". He put the song on his iPod after he went home and some nights afterward he put it on repeat. He found himself there the next week, and the next. The beers were cold, the music good, and the people friendly without being pushy. The bartender recognized him each time, and each time he pulled him a tap without asking before he went about his business. Sometimes he sang. Other times he yelled. Once he threw a chair at a drunk. There was that one time when Shelby drank too much and let a couple of punks try to hustle him. He'd thrown both Shelby and the punks out. When they'd got the best of him in the parking lot he tossed him in a cab and told him, "Nice job, dude," and sent him home.
Somehow, over the year this place had become his anchor. After a grueling week in the rat race, Deacon's Place became a safe haven for him.
He drank his beer and watched the weather on the television overhead, his gaze following Deacon as he placed chairs on tables and moved fragile things away from the windows. He was surprised to look up after his second beer to find himself alone in the place. "Guess it's time to go home," he said, pulling out his phone to call a cab.
Deacon looked at him in that way that used to make him nervous, and shrugged. "There's still a half hour before I lock the doors. No hurry." He handed him another drink and went back to cleaning up.
The cab company refused to send out a car. Damn, he hadn't thought of that. If he still lived in the studio down the street it would be fine, he'd just walk home. If he'd listened to that warning that said driving downtown in a squall wasn't a good idea, he'd be safe at home watching the weather on his own TV. No, he'd had to drive all the way out here and now he was stranded because he couldn't be alone tonight of all nights.
"The cabs aren't running then?" Deacon startled him after he threw his phone on the bar in disgust. Deacon leaned on his elbows on his side of the wooden barrier, his chin rigid as he watched him with concern in his eyes.
"Looks that way." Shelby now knew how the bugs he used to study with his dad's magnifying glass felt as he met the unwavering blue stare.
"Where do you live?"
"Dude, that's a seriously long way to come for a beer." His lips stretched into a smile that made Shelby shiver. "So what are you going to do? Any friends still dumb enough to be on this side of town?"
"No." Shit. The buses stopped running hours ago. He was stranded, and it was all his own stupid fault.
"Any family willing to risk their necks to come and rescue your ass?" Deacon washed his glass and wiped down the bar. He laughed when Shelby shook his head. "Dude, you are screwed."
"Shit. Shit, I am so stupid. It isn't funny." It was pathetic, is what it was.