THE WRONG PLACE V

25 Nov

Cont
Beckmannnigh
“The Night”, 1918-19
Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Germany

It was a long time before anyone heard a thing in the place. One of those life’s pauses incalculable in retrospect that take seconds to pass. When the silence was finally broken it was the sound of a chair scraping. Who’s no-one cared to contemplate.

“Well that’s different,” Gij said finally. Nervous giggle. “You think he’s alright? Maybe someone should go after him.

“Leave him alone” said Heidi. “You know he’s never lost a game in here?” she addressed the stranger adding a sarcastic ‘Barry’.

“No.”, said the stranger, “I know he owes me two-hundred and fifty bucks.”

“Well there’s the door,” Heidi pointed.

The stranger leaned back in his seat as if to rise.

“I wouldn’t go out there mate”, said Gij, “Claude’s hard, you’ll regret it.”

“I wasn’t going to,” said the stranger.

The door opened and Claude walked in, quiet. The stranger looked up at him as he walked over and stood above him. There was a beat or two when nothing was said and then Claude inhaled taking out his wallet, withdrawing two hundred-dollar notes and a fifty. “Good game,” he said, handing over the notes, no feeling, . “Nice trick with the clock, have to watch that.” The stranger took the notes and didn’t say anything.

“Another drink mate?” said Zach. “Let’s have a round of shots on me.”

“Shots? Nah.” Claude said. “I reckon it’s homeways for me now. Might stay in for a while.” He bent down, pulled his backpack over his shoulder, turned and walked to the door, leaving without making a sound.

“Let’s have a round of shots.” Zach reiterated without much enthusiasm still reaching for the bottle. He set five short glasses on the bar and filled them to the lip with with Sherman T Cooper. They crowded ’round them, looking at each other over as if for permission. Together they knocked them back. Zach poured again.

“Gotta say that was different”, he said.

“Yeah.” Gij’s chorus, “That was wicked! I never thought I’d see anyone beat Claude.”

“His pride will be wound,” said the guy in the beret, his first words all night. His voice was squeaky. “I ham Milič.” He held his hand out to the stranger who took it indifferently. “Do you know the work of Arshille Gorky. I ham off his School.” He reached in and withdrew a shabby, dirt-stained envelope from his coat and started putting A5 cards on the table. They were hand-painted abstract shapes in blue and red. “Is original work,” said Milič, “I sell. Five dollar.”

The stranger sipped some more bourbon and took one of the cards, flipped it over, inspecting it as if for engine trouble. “Yeah alright”, he said. He handed over five bucks and the guy in the beret ordered another beer hastily swallowing his second free bourbon. The stranger downed his bourbon. “Interesting night.”

“You know Claude really has never lost a game,” Heidi said. “He’s a serious guy. He used to be on the docks, yeah?” He could bury you.

“That a fact?” asked the stranger.

“Yeah, that’s a fact.”

“You a friend of his?”

“I see him in here most nights.”

“You fuck him?”

“You could become really unpopular here pretty fast.. ‘Barry'”

“Yeah. Figures,” the stranger said as if that was his story so far. “You have a pen?” he asked Gij.

“Yeah” she gave him one.

“You didn’t answer the question,” said the stranger, writing. “You fuck him?”

“I’ll fuck you in a minute,” Heidi snapped, holding up her glass. “With the broken end of this!”

“Ooo wee; hard birch ain’t cha?”

“Try it fuckface. I didn’t like you one bit when you walked in here and I like you a whole lot less now. Go and look for fresh necks to bite somewhere else, ‘ey? Everyone here’s bled out already”

“Easy sister,” said Zach softly.

“Fuck off Zach! The dude’s a showpony, Class-A – Arsehole!”

“You fuckin’ him as well?” said the stranger.

“Oi!” Zach’s turn to get irate, “This is my bar pal. Drink up and just fuck off, okay. We don’t want it to get ugly do we.”

“Got ugly a long time before I arrived didn’t it,” said the stranger.

“What’s your problem arsehole,” Heidi’s composure long gone. “You come in here and I’m not interested so you’ve gotta be a total prick, you’ve got problems.”

“You? Be serious for a minute.”

“Right.” Zach cuts in, “Drink it and out. You’ve got 60 seconds.”

“Plenty of time,” the stranger emptied his glass and stood up. He walked over to the bar and slipped the beret guy’s card into Gij’s hand, went back to his seat and picked up his coat. Zach looked at Gij nervously, she was glued to whatever the stranger had written on the back of the card. The stranger put his coat on and tossed some coins on the bar by way of a tip. He slipped a twenty dollar note to the guy with the beret. “Like your stuff, comes in handy. I’ll have another four.” The guy with the beret took out his grubby envelope and started to place the stuff on the bar. “Any four, ” said the stranger. “The first four – there.” He picked four up and walked to the door slipping out past a crowd of kids coming in.

Suddenly the place was an explosion of noise. “Zach!” cried the leader of the new crew.

“Zach!”

“Zach, Zach, Zach,” the chorus of funsters went. We want beer Zach.

“Beer? Sure. Gij?” said Zach, putting on his best fake party grin. “Gij?” Gij didn’t look up from the card. And she was reaching for her bag, her coat. “Gij we got customers,” Zach was taking beret guy’s money and handing him a beer. The funsters were all at the bar, rowdy, oblivious to whatever pain was being felt in the room. “Gij?”

Gij looked at Zach finally, briefly. She shrugged and tilted her head. Her eyes full of pity and resignation. “I gotta go.”

“The place just filled up! You’re working.” Zach’s tone said he didn’t really care about the customers. He struggled to keep the desperate edge off the tone in his voice.

“Yeah?” Gij said sadly, “Yeah. I’ve been thinking it’s time I… y’know. Moved on.” She headed for the door.

“You leave and you do move on,” said Zach.

“Yeah well….” Gij was out the door already waving wait for me down the street.

It was quiet then. The funsters had turned sombre. Heidi just gazed at the record collection her eyes misted over with something long ignored but never quite gone. Zach just stared at his boots. The guy in the beret sucked at his beer twitchy, checking out the kids for possible art-loving marks. Zach snapped out of it, shrugged. The shrug was more like a sob. He walked over to the turntable and flipped down a record from the shelf, out the plastic sleeve, on the rubber wheel: the tune opened – the appregio riff of “Gimme Shelter”. Ominous Then he counted the kids at the bar – six.

He set up ten shot glasses and brought down the cheaper whiskey bottle. Ten glasses, one each and two for him. Charlie Watt’s drums started in, Bill Wyman’s bass. The music drowned all feeling in the room save that of the need to move to a beat. The Blue Ruin, two o’ clock in the morning. Just another night in their weathered lives. Some places they probably tell the story about the guy they never saw again, but not here.

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