“So….’nother round?” asked the bartender. The greasy joint Cade had found to hide in was stale and sticky, with crusted and dried blood on a couple of barstools. The decent job he had lost had not yet faded from memory, but another beer would do it.
“Sure, uno mas brother-man,” he slurred. The bartender nodded and turned back, his ponytail swishing back and barely missing the tip of Cade’s nose. His face was warm and he was enjoying the heat, sweating a bit in the heat of the afternoon as the open deck of the bar let in the sweltering summer air to mix with the fans overhead that were spinning quick enough to achieve liftoff. He felt a bead of sweat run down his forehead, down the bridge of his nose and hang at the tip. Squinting first one eye, then the other, he tried to look at it. Precariously perched over his beer glass, the droplet hung there like a bat in slumber. He slid his near-empty glass to the side right as it fell to splash on the wood, landing on a stain from long ago that sat on the ancient wood.
Cade’s glass left his hand before he could polish it off, rising up and a full one sliding into the exact spot, the position of his fingers never altering as the magic trick was performed. He looked up at the large man tending bar and fixated on the patch over the man’s t-shirt, the one right over his heart.
“Ralph,” he said, “you gotta tell me what that is. I got no clue dude, no idea.”
“This?” Ralph asked, looking down and pointing to the patch.
“Yup, that right there.”
“Oh, ha,” Ralph laughed, “It’s a Starfleet emblem.”
“Starfleet, like Star Trek? The ships, the Federation, ‘live long and prosper’, all that?”
“Oh!” Cade exclaimed, “I used to watch that. I had a cousin who was into it.” His face wrinkled in drunken confusion. “Cousin? Maybe it was an aunt or a neighbor. Anyway, someone in my life liked it and I watched it with ‘em.” He lifted his beer, conscious of the effort it was starting to take to raise a full glass, and took a big swig right down the gullet. “Ah well, are you a high rank?”
“Ensign,” Ralph sighed. “Captain doesn’t like me, I never get promoted.”
“Ah, shit,” came a voice from behind Cade. He had a vague recognition of it, even through the drunken haze. The guy’s name was something like Tim or Travis. For some reason Cade’s brain was calling up “T” names.
The stool next to him pulled out and an older man sat down next to him. The graying beard and fluffy hair were swaying back and forth, though Cade was fairly certain the man was sitting quite still in the seat. Silver spectacles sat on the bridge of his nose and led back into the thinning hair over his ears. They gave his eyes a sad gleam, like they were hiding.
Cade was drunk and they both knew it.
“Hello Cade,” the man said.
“What you want, Teddy?” Cade asked, the name coming up through the beer in his brain.
The man nodded a bit, as though reassuring himself, then held up his fingers to indicate to the bartender that he wanted two drinks. Ralph saw him, nodded, and set about getting the watery beers poured. In moments they were on coasters in front of the men, the glasses already perspiring in the heat. Teddy tapped the side of his twice, careful so as not to tip it over, and then quickly lifted it and took a deep sip. The swallowed, sighed, and closed his eyes to savor what little flavor the beer offered. Cade sat up slightly, looking at Teddy in the mirror on the back of the bar wall. The neon signs lit it up around the reflections, casting the man in shades of pink and yellow and green, the party colors of a group of drinkers who were there to do anything but have a good time.
“What,” Cade asked again, “do you want?”
“Look, kid,” Teddy started, “it’s not like I knew you’d be here or anything. I come in here on rougher days, have a beer or two, and then head home.”
“You’re telling me this? You’re a manager, man, you can’t be telling me stuff like that if you want to maintain that ‘image’ that’s so damned important to you.”
Teddy winced at this. “You don’t know the first thing about it,” he said to the young man. “ Your image is everything in our business.”
“Oh, for shit’s sake,” Cade groaned, lolling is hazy head around and resting it in his hands. “Come on, man, just admit you were being a dick.”
“I wasn’t being a dick,” Teddy snapped. “You were being a little snot, that’s what I think.”
“Well boss-man sided with you.”
“That mean nothing to you?”
“I think boss-man might-a gone with seniority on this one,” Cade mumbled.
Teddy rolled his eyes and turned back to his beer, lifting it for another swig. He took a handful of peanuts and began picking at them one by one, chewing them slowly and enjoying them. He smiled a little, then looked down at the kid next to him. Cade’s head had sunk to the bar, his chin resting on the edge as his eyes stared at the baseball game in the reflection of the TV behind them. That guilty feeling popped up again, the same one as when they had told Cade outright that he was fired. It had been with him all day, the glares in the halls and offices. Cade was far from the best employee but he was decently liked and a few had been wary of Teddy after the deed had been done, the tomfoolery that had led to it an open secret amongst most of the other employees.
It had been stupid, he could admit that to himself. Teddy worked for FilmOp, a small company that processed film and rented cameras to students and aspiring photographers. Most of the people renting would amount to nothing, amateurs that just wanted to take a crack at it, but a few really learned and did something with it. Cade had refused to rent to a friend of Teddy’s who wanted the best camera they had, despite the man having a history of bringing them back lightly damaged and in one case completely destroyed. Teddy had angrily taken him to Arnold Carnahan’s office, the head of the small company, and proceeded to calmly and tersely tell the boy off and demand his removal from the company. The President had looked back and forth between them, sighed, and acquiesced.
“You’re a cockroach,” the boy said. “A mean little bug.”
“Cade, that’s not necessary.”
“Why not? What are you gonna do, get me fired?”
“I thought so.”
“Look,” Teddy said, “I’m sorry. I really am, but you know the life. Respect the chain, ya know?”
“Oh fuck the chain,” Cade snapped back. “You didn’t do anything to get to be where you are on it, the rest of us actually have to put in time. I started there three years ago and worked my ass off for what little I had. You? You just showed up the day Carnahan opened the place and that was that. Longevity doesn’t mean you actually do anything. You don’t know anything about film or the tech, you don’t know anything about developing. You know how to process applications, that’s all.”
“That’s important for a rental place, Cade,” Teddy said quietly.
“Well yeah, but you don’t actually do anything. In a place full of people with talent or personalities you just sit in that office and now oversee other people who process applications.”
“Kid, it needs doing and I’m good at it,” came the reply, a red flush creeping up Teddy’s neck.
“And only by you,” Cade sneered, “cause you no good at anything and think your seniority makes you the reincarnated Christ.” Teddy shook a bit, trying to control his temper. “Big hat, no cattle, right Teddy? Big head, no brain.”
This set Teddy off at last, his hand balling into a fist and lashing out, socking the boy in the side of the head. As the knuckles connected with the bone he felt something in his knuckle give and there was a sharp stab of pain. The kid fell off the stool to the floor, knocking his chin against the bar on the way down. He sprawled on his side and his head cracked into the concrete, the sound loud and ringing over even the twanging country that sung out softly from the jukebox in the corner. The few people in the bar turned to look at the boy on the floor, laying there at the feet of the older man as he sat, shaking his hand in pain and trying to make sense of what he had just done.
Ralph walked over from the other end of the bar, trying to lean over till he could see Cade on the floor. He couldn’t quite get the angle and gave up after a moment. Leaning on both hands over the bar, he eased right into Teddy’s face.
“I’m calling the cops, asshole,” he whispered. Teddy’s lower jaw worked up and down, trying to form words. “I’m calling the cops because you hit that guy in my bar. You were a dick, I was listening. You got that kid fired over nothing and then you came in here and attacked him.”
“He….he was poking at me. He was being horrible,” Teddy sputtered.
“Doesn’t matter,” Ralph replied. “You hit him.”
Teddy slumped down in the stool, his head bowed in his hands. He was going to get arrested for assault. It would get back to work, to his family. His wife would have to come bail him out. He could call Carnahan, but he would be refused. So Diane, his wife, would come down and shell out for the bail and then take him home. He would be lucky if she stayed instead of taking the kids and heading for her mother’s house. They had been on thin ice for awhile and he knew it was coming. “Christ,” he thought, “this is it.”
A groan came from the floor beside him and he looked over, terrified. Cade rose from the floor, still drunk and swaying a little. He had blood running down the side of his head from hitting the floor and his teeth were stained red from cracking his lower lip on the bar. Red dripped from his lips and he spit a little on the floor. Ralph looked at him, shock evident, and crooked his head to the side as though trying to understand what was happening. “Kid,” Ralph said, “you okay?”
“Never butter,” Cade slurred, the large amount of alcohol in his veins impairing his speech and causing him to mispronounce his words. He shuffled forward, leaning on the bar, then stood up straight. He reached for his glass of beer, lifted it, and chugged the last of it. As he set it down a bloodstain remained on the rim of the glass. “You call the cops?” he asked Ralph.
“I was going to,” Ralph said, “but it looks like you need an ambulance instead.”
“Ha,” Cade laughed without humor, “why nah call both?” He stumbled off. “Imma take a piss,” he said. “You call the cops for this, I’ll piss and wait on the curb outside.” As he stumbled off Cade looked down at Teddy, slumped over in his seat, and smiled. The stained smile spread out and Teddy began shaking in fear.
Cade reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He rustled around in it for a moment and took out two twenties and a ten. He set them on the counter. “His beer’s on me,” he told Ralph. Then he walked away, leaving Teddy to sit in silence on his stool. The older man reached out and picked up his beer. It was nearly empty. He threw the last of it back, the sat up and sighed, settling in to wait for them to arrive.