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Writer’s Round Table - A Man Walked Into a Bar

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Blame it on Rusty.

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I do. He got the whole thing started. And then it spiraled out of control. That’s what happens when you tap into a couple of awesome writers like Will Graham and Rusty Rhoad.

Rusty: I propose we co-author a vignette. Won’t rise to the level of a short story; we’ll quit when we get long enough no matter if we’ve gotten to “the point” or not.”

Stella: That’s right. He came up with an idea. I thought, sounds good, but told the guys that I wasn’t sure I’d contribute—famous last words, as I added a paragraph that totally messed things up. In my typical and unconventional way.

So right off the bat, Will jumped in and started us off. I’ll let Will tell his side. When it’s all over, I’m adding the story they’ve come up with and let you enjoy!

William: Rusty named Charles Foster. Then . . . Freudian slip: Charles Foster triggered Kane as in CITIZEN KANE starring Orson Welles. We left it in.

“I feel as if we’re descending into madness. But, what the hell…” Rusty used those exact words in an email about all this, which triggered the last two paragraphs.

Stella: And here it is. See if you can pick out Will’s style and Rusty’s style. Then see if you can find the paragraph I incorporated.

I hope these two talented guys finish this story, because I want to know more!

PS. This is what happens when you leave us without adult supervision, Melissa Ohnoutka!

A Man Walked Into A Bar

It was close to midnight when he walked into the bar.

There was no one else in the room but the bartender, a guy named Phil. He walked over and sat at the bar, pulling out a deck of smokes and a lighter. Placing them on the bar, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a crisp new fifty dollar bill. He put the money down and pushed it toward P. "When this runs out," he said, "let me know."

Phil nodded and set a rocks glass in front of the man. Pouring a more than generous double shot of scotch into the glass, Phil slid it over. He nodded his thanks and went to the jukebox. Phil hit a switch under the counter, allowing free selections. The man pushed some buttons —the same buttons repeatedly—and walked back. Downing the drink in one long swallow, the opening strains of Sinatra's "One for my Baby" began playing.

"Tough day?" Phil asked as he poured the same again.

"Had better, had worse," the man said.

Through a crack in the bathroom door, I watched the man sip his drink this time. Maybe I’d been lucky not to have been there when he walked in. I didn’t know him well, although I’d heard a lot about him. Probably not all of it true, since it’d come from his wife. A sultry woman with full lips locked in a permanent pout. I suspected she was the ‘baby’ Sinatra was crooning about.

“Want to know the worst thing in the world?” he asked Phil.

“What’s that?”

“Being in love with a woman you can never have.” The man tossed another double back.

“Why not?”

“You mean why I can never have her?” the man asked. “It’s . . . complicated.”

What’s complicated is being stuck in the bathroom while a guy cries in his beer over his wife. Well, maybe he was talking about his wife. Although from the stories she’d shared, it could have been any of a number of women. Maybe he was talking about his secretary. The cocktail waitress in the skin tight dresses at the Blue Coyote. The pony-tailed stranger at the park bench he struck up a conversation with over lunch. If Andrea was to be believed, he didn’t strike out very often.

Except that believing a woman when she was bitching about her husband was pretty risky. I should know. I’d done it often enough. And it rarely turned out well.

People amuse me, they really do. I keep hoping one day, someone will surprise me, but at this point the only thing that genuinely surprises me at what people do to each other.

It’s one of the main reasons I stayed professional about such things. Time had taught me a few lessons, and I like to think I learned from them.

It’s not easy to remain professional when one of the women he’s bellyaching about is the main source of my income. Without her—well, I don’t want to think of what life would be without her. Those memories are still too fresh. Fresh. That word shouldn’t even be brought up in the same sentence as that apartment next to the hellhole I called home before she entered my life. So, the question is, do I let him go on, grumbling, non-stop, over and over? What if he says something that I need? What I need is a drink. I’m tempted to walk away. Leave this mildew-stained, stale-cigarette-smoke reeking bathroom and head to the nearest bar for a stiff one. But I can’t risk leaving. No, what if that’s the moment that he lets the cat out of the bag, after all this time.

Hey, wait. This was a bar. A drink was thirteen steps away, give or take a step or two. My stride in high heels was pretty long. Come to think of it, my legs were pretty long, too. Besides, if things turned ugly, I had my little .380 equalizer tucked away . . . well, never mind where I keep it these days.

“Phil. I’ll have whatever he’s having. Pour me one of those.”

Phil poured me a shot of the same scotch. I looked over at him. “Hi,” I said. “How ya doing?”

He took his attention away from his glass long enough to look my way. “Hello,” he said. “I’m good. You?”

“Not bad at all,” I said as I lifted my glass in his direction.

“Good.” He paused for a long moment. “Listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but—”

“Let me guess,” I interrupted him. “You just came in for a drink.”

He nodded as he took another pull. “That covers it, yeah.”

If that’s how the evening turned out, I was good with it. It’s not like I came here to spy on Angie’s husband. But he was a target of opportunity, as the flyboys might say. I slid forward on the barstool so my skirt rode up, showing off a lot of leg. Freshened up my lipstick, checking out Mr. Cool in the mirror as I did so. Then I starting humming along with Old Blue Eyes. That was it. If none of those worked, well, I wasn’t finding out anything more tonight than I already knew.

It didn’t take long for me to realize the truth: this guy was as interested in me as I would be interested in a used fly-strip. Something had really gotten into him, and it looked like it would consume him alive.

As I sipped the mediocre Scotch and contemplated whether to call Andrea and see if she was awake or just go home, a siren growled outside in the night. A minute later, a couple of cops walked into the bar. The tall, beefy one dropped his hand to the butt of his revolver and moved a couple of steps to the side while the slight one with the eyes that looked right through you slipped up next to the stranger. I noted that his hand was close to his pistol as well, and the strap was unsnapped.

“You Charles Foster?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Turn around, very slowly,” the taller cop said. “Keep your hands where I can see them.”

“You want to tell me what this is all about?” Kane asked as he did as instructed.

“You wife was murdered tonight. She called 911 and said she was afraid for her life and to please get someone over there right away. When the cops got there, she’d been gut shot and left to bleed to death.”

“Well, I sure as hell didn’t kill her. Why would I do that? Where’s the motive? I’m not even Andrea’s beneficiary. She is.” Charles Foster or Kane or whatever his name is pointed at me.

“I feel as if we’re descending into madness,” the younger cop said. “But, what the hell . . .”

My eyes clouded, and I could not stop myself from saying the words any more than I could stop breathing. “C’thulu flagon!” I cried at the top of my lungs. “Yog-Sattoth!”

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