Quick backstory on this thing. I live in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and we’ve had one of the worst winters ever. No, seriously. Record amount of snowfall, record low temperatures. Hell, one week the average temperature here was lower than either of the poles and all of Canada. Absolutely true.
But then…suddenly…spring! 50 degrees! Sunshine! Melting snow! And then…our dreams were dashed once again. Tonight it’s supposed to start raining. That rain will become sleet. The sleet will become snow. Up to seven inches worth, total. Then, as the Midwest would have it, our high on Friday is once again near fifty. It’s cruel, giving us a taste of Spring before hitting us in the nuts again with Winter. And Winter isn’t going anywhere any time soon. No, there are forecast highs in the 30’s off and on for the rest of the month of March. It’s a goddam Greek tragedy.
As a bit of therapy, I had this little short story form in my head and decided to try and put it down in writing. The formatting is shite because WordPress doesn’t let you import MS Word formatting without a great deal of coding and plug-ins and I’m sort of just throwing this together, so…try and enjoy it nonetheless!
The bar was small and dim. Not pitch black, as there was a small rectangular pane of glass in the front door. The glass had long ago been covered with what at one point must’ve been khaki canvas, but now resembled yellowed, dusty muslin. It glowed faintly, but not enough for true illumination. One interesting side-effect was the clear, black silhouette it presented whenever someone arrived at the doorstep
At that hour, not quite midday, the place was almost empty. There was Delores behind the main bar, her Salem hanging from the corner of her mouth and dropping ash while she perused the latest ‘Us’ magazine. Slumped across her bar, sleeping or worse, was Dan. Dan showed up each morning with a bag of McDonald’s breakfast burritos, sat down on his stool, and ate the burritos while drinking gin. He’d stir sometime after noon, shuffle to the men’s room for about fifteen minutes, then return and order rye. Nobody knew what Dan did (or had done) for a living or how old he was. He was just there, and everyone was okay with that.
The old man sat at one of two round tables near the front wall. He could’ve picked one of the dirty, dark green-leather upholstered booths in the back. That’s what he’d do if he were some rookie, some young fucker that’d seen too many movies. He shook his head and smiled at the thought.
“Who does that?” he mused. “What dumb son of a bitch sits back there with no escape route, no way to outflank ‘em, no way to even see ‘em as anything but shadows against that bright light from the street? Stupid. Stupid fuckin’ kids, that’s who.”
The old man couldn’t even recall being a kid, so ancient was he. Anyone that knew him would agree: he’d always just been…old. An old man.
A dangerous old man.
That’s why he’d chosen that table. It had a full view of the entire bar, and if someone were to burst through the front door, they might blow right past him. He’d be at their right rear-quarter, and have them dead to rights.
He waited. He sipped his water, stirred the disintegrating piece of lemon until the seeds separated. A rivulet of condensation ran down the outside of the Mason jar mug. Another sip. A glance at Delores and the immobile Dan. Another sip. Any second now.
The room grew slightly, almost imperceptibly, darker. A shadow at the front door. It was time.
The old man tensed. The door swung wide, seemingly all by itself. A pause, a beat…then the Company Man stepped in. Double-breasted grey suit and matching fedora. He turned immediately and made eye contact. He smiled.
“Hello, Winter! Sorry for making you wait.” The Company Man doffed his hat and started towards the table. Old man Winter’s tactical advantage was for naught, and both of them knew it.
The old man lifted his glass, finishing off the last of the water, eyes locked on his adversary. He didn’t quite slam the empty jar, but brought it down with conviction.
“What now? What more could you possibly want?” He half-whispered.
A bark of laughter flew from the well-dressed figure sitting casually on the other side of the table. He had one leg folded, resting across the other, like he was sitting down to breakfast and the paper.
“Well, you certainly get right to it, don’t you? Got somewhere to be, Winter? Hot date, maybe?”
“None of your concern. Don’t matter. We had a deal. Now it’s done. Done, y’hear? I got no time for the likes of you, and don’t give a shit what you think.”
“Don’t you?” the Company Man whispered. His smile left his face, which somehow made him look less menacing.
“No,” came the terse reply. The Company Man sighed.
“You can save your glare for someone else. This isn’t my fault, not my decision. You know the way this goes. You work until we say stop.”
“I’ve done enough! More than enough” Winter’s hands clenched into fists, and his nails pressed hard into his palms.
“Not so. We need one more job. One more, and I swear you’re done for a while.”
“One more. It’s always one more.”
“One more. Then you can go, until we need you again.”
Old man Winter leaned back in his chair, knowing that his protests were useless. The Company would get their way, they always did.
“Why? Why so much? Why so…hard? What have they done to deserve this?” his old voice cracked, thinking of those that had already suffered and those that would continue to.
“Not your worry. Or mine. The Company doesn’t let us in on their plans, their schemes. You know that. It’s above our pay grade.”
The Company Man leaned back as well, a reflection of old man Winter. But while Winter’s body language whispered ‘resignation’ the Company Man’s stated ‘confident repose.’ They both sat, silent, unmoving. After a minute passed, then another, the Man stood and replaced the Fedora on top of his head.
“For what it’s worth, you know what I think? I think this is more than a hit. This is something else. Do you ever question what they’ve done to deserve this? Like, look at what they’ve done to Her. Maybe we’re sending a message this time. Maybe it’s payback. I’m really curious to see what happens when they let Summer off the leash, if they ever do. Just a thought. An observation. Maybe it’ll help you sleep.”
The old man watched him go.
“One more job,” he muttered. He wiped a hand down across his face, pinching the bridge of his nose. One more. Then it would be done. Didn’t matter that Spring had jumped the gun. It was cruel, sure, but not his concern. The thought occurred that perhaps the Company had arranged that little bit of cruelty. Give the poor bastards in the Midwest a chance to catch their breath, to let hope grow in their hearts, before slamming the frigid hammer down once again.
Cruel, yes. But not his concern. The Company Man was right about that. Winter no longer cared. The job. One more job. That was what mattered. Then he could rest. His cold, tired, aching bones could rest.
One more job.
He stood, and nodded at Delores, who, engrossed in the latest Brad and Angelina scuttlebutt, missed his parting glance. Dan snored softly and gurgled.
Winter turned and pulled open the front door. The light was blinding, but he stepped out into the cold sunshine with ice in his heart. The job. The job was all that mattered.