Steve Grogan is an ongoing contributor to Writer to Writers. He has published several short stories on the site, which can be found on the main page under the heading “Steve Grogan’s Fiction.” He has had several poems and short stories published over the years, some of which are available on Amazon. (See the announcement at the end of this post.)
He is the writer and creator of the ongoing, zombie, post-apocalyptic, Romero-meets-Dungeons-and-Dragons webcomic REDemption. Alternatively, Steve describes the comic by saying, “It is to zombie fiction what KILL BILL was to kung fu movies: everything I love about the genre housed under one roof and mixed with my voice.”
Doing my best to shake loose of these worries, I headed into the bar. On the way inside, I caught the name of the establishment: Positively 4th Street. Something about that title seemed familiar to me, but I didn’t care to waste time on this sense of déjà vu.
I entered the shadow-filled interior of the establishment. The sky had been a solid wall of gray, so my eyes were already accustomed to poor visibility. It didn’t take my vision long to get used to this slightly darker interior.
The bar was to the left, as well as a single booth near the front window. To my right I saw two recliners. Beyond them were several tables, followed by a jukebox and a dart board. There was a set of stairs and a wheelchair ramp leading to another room in the back. A lone bartender stood behind the counter leaning against the rows of glasses and liquor bottles. His only companion was a single barfly. I couldn’t decipher this man’s age because he was slumped over, his face buried in his arm. His other hand clung to a Budweiser bottle. There were five more of these (empty, of course) lined up on the bar in front of the unconscious figure.
The bartender was engrossed in some reality show on one of the overheard televisions. It was so quiet in the bar that you could hear the program. (Much to my dismay, I noticed he was watching The Principal’s Office.) He wasn’t planning on turning around anytime soon, so I had to get his attention.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” I said.
This man was over six feet tall and had to weight close to 250 pounds, yet my soft-spoken voice was enough to make this mammoth of a man jump.
After taking a moment to recover from being startled, he said, “Happy Thanksgiving to you too. So what can I…hold on a second.”
The bartender had a dish towel draped over his shoulder. He took it off and used it to whip the unconscious patron beside me. It took more than ten hits before the man finally stirred with an undead-sounding moan.
“Hey, asshole, I told you before: this ain’t your home. You’re not gonna sleep here, you bum. Now get the fuck out,” the bartender growled.
“Gimme a break,” the barfly mumbled. “I was resting my head. It feels so heavy.”
“It feels heavy because you’re so full of booze,” Mike replied. “Don’t make me come around there. Just go home.”
I watched the drunk with nervous anticipation. It was true that Mike wasn’t mad at me but, ever since a young age, I’d always hated being around people who were fighting. Maybe it was because of all the fights I’d heard mom and dad get in when I was at an impressionable young age. Whatever the psychological reason may be, I’ve just never could deal with watching people argue. It set me on edge, almost like I was thinking the parties were mad at me, even though the logical part of my brain knew that was absolute nonsense.
The man refused to move. To my surprise, he even laid his head back down on his arm! When Mike saw that, he leapt over the bar with agility one wouldn’t expect from a man his size. He grabbed the sleepy man by the shoulders and yanked him off the stool. I watched with a mix of fascination and horror as Mike dragged the drunk to the front door by his neck. Then he tossed the bum out as easily as one would toss out a bag of garbage.
When Mike got behind the bar again he had a broad, friendly grin splashed across his face. If you saw him at that moment, you never would have guessed he had just thrown some guy out on his ear. He went from man-handling madman to big friendly teddy bear in the space of seconds. To be honest, it was a little frightening.
“What can I get ya, pal?” Mike asked.
“A bottle of Bud and your autograph,” I said.
Mike laughed as he retrieved my drink from the cooler. By the time he brought it back to me, I already had my debit card out.
“The drink’s only two dollars, buddy,” Mike said.
I said, “I think I’ve got enough in my checking account for that.”
Mike chuckled again, then said, “What I mean is you gotta spend at least twenty-five to open a tab. You gonna be here that long?”
I thought this over and said, “Probably not. Do you have an ATM in here?”
Mike pointed to the back of the bar. I headed up the wheelchair ramp (even though I was more than capable of taking the stairs located a mere foot to the ramp’s right) and came upon a section of the bar that was set up like a living room. There was a love seat, a couch, a recliner, and a coffee table. Across the room I saw a small stage, maybe eight feet wide and ten feet long, which rose only six inches up from the floor. They also had a PA system and a drum kit set up. Imagine if someone converted their studio apartment into a club where bands could play, and that was how this place felt. In fact, it reminded a lot of the descriptions I’d read of the New York City club that helped give 1970s punk a jump-start: CBGB’s. Right away I made a mental note that I would have to come back someday and see what kind of bands played here.
At first I saw no ATM. Then I noticed a hallway over to my right, leading deeper into the establishment. I walked down the corrido, and at the other end of it the first thing I saw was the coveted ATM.
I went over and set about withdrawing $20 from my checking account. SEFCU considered this a “foreign ATM” so I knew they’d hit me for a ninety-five-cent fee. On top of that, the ATM’s own service fee was $1.25, so my total expense at this bar would be $22.20 for one lousy drink. And do you know what the real pisser is? That amount was only $2.80 short of what I had to spend in order to open a tab! Too bad I wasn’t out with the goal of getting shit-faced. It would have made more sense to open a tab instead of losing $2.20 to foreign ATM fees.
As I turned away from the ATM, I noticed the restrooms on the other side of the hall. The ladies’ room door swung open, and out she came.
In a brighter room, she might not have been much to look at, but in the dark end of that establishment she glimmered like the light of 1,000,000 holy visions. My eyes quickly soaked up every detail of her. Silky chestnut hair. Sky blue eyes. It was cold as hell outside and yet she was wearing a skirt. From the waist up she was dressed more appropriately for the weather, wearing a crimson red swear and an imitation fur coat. I could tell she was thin, but she wasn’t firm either. There was probably a good deal of rice pudding on her ass and the backs of her legs, but I didn’t care. Here was my savior, my guiding light, my revelation, my treasure, my reason for living.
Our eyes met, and we shared a glance that spoke what no words from any language could ever hope to express. It was a glance that said we both had a secret, we knew each other’s secret, and more importantly we realized that it was the same secret.
“Hi,” she said with a smile that revealed deep grooves of age around her mouth.
“Hi there,” I said. “Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Same to you,” she said. “You know, I really would be thankful if you were to buy a lady a drink, stranger.”
My smile told her that yes, indeed I would buy a round for her. She walked arm in arm with me to the front of the bar, where Mike was wiping the counter down. When he saw us, he immediately ceased all movement. He gave me a look that said: oh boy, look what we have here! Another loser who has to pay to get laid!
And there was something funny about my reaction to his stare, something that surprised even me. It was he fact that I didn’t give a shit one way or the other what he thought of me. I was going to get laid tonight; he wasn’t. Besides, in a way every guy pays for sex. What’s the difference between renting out a hooker’s services for a couple hours or taking a woman you want to bang out to dinner and a movie? Actually, I’ll tell you what the difference is: a couple hundred dollars, especially if you take the woman out on multiple dates before she’ll give you some. Plus, that’s not even mentioning the fact that, if you are taking someone out on dates, you are only hoping to get laid. With a hooker, you know you will.
“Get the lady whatever she likes,” I said.
I realized my lady friend was quite a regular here when Mike went to work grabbing various liquors to make her drink without her even saying what she would like. Then that I realized we hadn’t even exchanged names yet. I told her mine, and she responded in like kind: it was Cindy.
Then she asked me a question I’d heard hookers ask many times before, but only in the movies: “You wanna go on a date?”
“Sure,” I said. “That’ll be something to really give thanks for.”
Cindy responded with a smile. “Okay. Let’s finish our drinks and get out of here. You got somewhere in mind?”
“My place. We’ll have to take a cab though.”
“That’s fine,” she replied. “There’s a cab stand right around the corner.”
Mike gave us our drinks. Fearing that my penis would betray me, I downed mine within five minutes. Cindy decided to nurse hers. As she dragged this on and on, my agitation became more noticeable.
“Anxious to get started, slugger?” Cindy asked. “I take it it’s been a while.”
“Longer than you’d believe or I’d care to admit,” I said.
“All right. I’ll help you out then,” she replied.
Not wanting to leave her customer unhappy, she finished the rest of her drink in one gulp (quite an impressive feat when you consider the fact that the amount of alcohol in it would have burned the average drinker’s throat). I paid Mike, and we started for the door. Then one very important question entered my mind.
“How much will this be?” I asked.
“That depends, sweetie. How long did you want me to hang around?” Cindy asked. “And what did you want me to do?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” I said. “And maybe for an hour or so?”
“$100, sugar,” she answered without hesitation.
I went to the back of the establishment again and withdrew the requested fee from the ATM (pissed that I had just lost another $2.20 to those stupid fees). As I went back to Cindy, it crossed my mind that Mom might still be outside, wandering in circles and randomly muttering insulting phrases that only I would understand. For a moment, this made me stop in my tracks while I wondered what I would do if that woman was still out there.
“Nothing I can do if she is still there,” I said to myself, “other than hightail it over to the cab stand.”
I took a deep breath to brace myself. With my strength gathered, I continued to the front of the bar. Cindy looked my way and smiled.
“Ready to go?” she asked.
“You bet,” I said.
Then we left the bar and went around the corner to the cab stand. It took about five minutes for them to get a vehicle for us, and another three to get back to my place.
(TO BE CONTINUED…)
If you like what you have read and would like to purchase this serialized novel as one complete PDF, then please send $3.50 to Steve via PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, don’t forget to check out his other writing at the following links below:
Author: Redemption Comics
Steve Grogan was born in the often-filmed city of Troy, NY. He has written in a variety of formats (novels, short stories, poems, screen and stage plays, blogs/articles) and genres (horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, drama).
Steve is also a father, a boyfriend, a musician, a fitness fanatic, and a martial artist. He has been studying Wing Chun Kung Fu since 1995, and he maintains a blog/YouTube channel that describe his training habits, epiphanies, and advancement. It also candidly discusses his stumbling blocks, such as his struggle with nutrition and mental health issues.
He is no relation to the New England Patriots quarterback from the 1980’s.