The Birthday Surprise

I was standing behind the bar a full half hour before anyone stepped foot into Marlin’s Inn.

H.L. was first.  He dropped a five on the counter in front of me and dug in his pocket for change to use in the jukebox.  Of course, he selected some Warren Zevon and proceeded to the MegaTouch.  He paid no mind to me; he was lost in a myriad of puzzles and games.  I filled a clean ashtray with quarters and put it next to him.  Eventually I remembered to fix him a drink.

Within another half hour, Kilgore arrived.  He hung his coat on the rack, whistling all the way to his bar stool.  I made sure he had enough napkins earlier, and sure enough, out came his pen and after a click, scribbling ensued.  I also poured him some spirits without being prompted.

Another half hour passed, and someone unexpected dropped in.  He took his place in front of the spigots, and without hesitation I held out an empty mug.

Thanks, Hank said, and he poured himself a beer.

I leaned against the back of the counter and smiled. 

Everything was smooth. 

Everything was cool.

Everything was how it should be.

Holy shit!  What the hell are you doing here?  Hank shouted in reference to me, as if I had been invisible, or– I thought you were Santiago.

Kilgore and H.L. pried themselves from their distractions to acknowledge me.

I wondered why there were so many napkins, Kilgore said.

And I didn’t have to pick up my coins off the floor, H.L. added.

Where is that refugee anyway?  Hank would never have said that to Santiago’s face.  Nor his back.  To Santiago’s fist?  Definitely.

“He went out to find Ms. Barkley.”

They all howled at that response.

I clarified, “Well, that’s just my guess, anyway.”

With great authority, Hank had this to say:

If anyone’s learned anything in this joint, it’s that a woman ain’t worth the trouble.

I foolishly responded: “Why?  Did Grace leave you?”

Hank stood up on the rungs of his stool to tower over me.  If it weren’t for these other pair of fools needing service – cuz I sure as hell don’t – grace would be leaving me, and you’d be leaving in a trash can.  You understand me, Puss N’ Boots?

I had gotten so used to Hank, that my fear of him had left me.  Guess what came back in a hurry.

Oh, and guess who walked into Marlin’s Inn at the exact moment to hear that.

If you ever threaten my son again, you’ll be leaving in coffee cans.

Hank returned to his seat and turned around.  The other guys faced the fragile woman in the doorway.

All I could think to say was, “Happy Birthday, Mom.”

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