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1:12 Hired Help
When Joe told Chad they were headed to a bar, he was excited, but when he saw the slumped old building barely lit by the neon sign of the adjacent dry cleaners, he began to have second thoughts. The day had turned to night and thick clouds blotted out the moon, bathing midway in a rare darkness. It was an odd turn for Midway, which rarely saw any moisture during the dry summer months. As Chad looked up at the clouds, he saw a certain thickness to them, like they were ready to burst. An odd tingling sensation ran up and down his back.
To say the bar was nothing special would have been an understatement. It was a squat wooden building that looked as though it might have had an Asian theme at one point. Bamboo grew wild on one side, untended for years. The lot would have been unlit had it not been for the rotating neon sign depicting a two-legged gold dragon attached to the laundromat. Its glow gave the impression that the laundromat was somehow important, and by comparison, that the bar was not.
“You sure this is the right place?” asked Chad.
Joe was taking off a gold cross he wore beneath his robes and hiding it in the car’s center console. “What? Not what you expected?”
A grimy backlit sign above the bar read: “Jimmy’s”. There was no neon sign declaring that it was open for business, and the bar itself did little to attract attention. The building might have been Asian themed at some point, but all that remained of those times were the sweeping edges of the roof. It looked as though at one point it might have been a pagoda, but now it was just run down.
“Doesn’t look like much.”
“They want you to think that.” Joe rubbed his hands together nervously and looked around the parking lot. “If it was conspicuous, then everyone would know where it was.”
“Church of the Second Book is easy enough to find.” If anyone wanted to keep their practices secret, Chad would have thought it to be them.
“Ah, but they stay out of conflict, which puts them in considerably less danger. These ones run toward it.” Joe opened the car door, and a light breeze laden with static blew into the car.
“Feels like a storm,” said Chad absently. Something about the whole situation felt off, like he was watching it from the perspective of an outside observer. Maybe this is how people feel before they die, his mind added, ever helpful. Or maybe you’re still feeling the remnants of last night’s hangover and need a drink, he countered. Chad’s hand once more reached for the mescaline, and this time, there was no intervention to stop it. As he opened the car door and stepped into the night air, he popped the pill in his mouth and swallowed before Joe could notice.
The air outside was muggy. Chad’s clothes stuck to his body almost immediately and he found himself once more looking up, apprehensive at the sky.
Joe stepped out of the car. “I think you might be right.” He looked up at the clouds. “Best we finish our business here quickly. Something tells me these clouds aren’t the work of a benevolent God.” He crossed himself.
Chad had been feeling the same, but didn’t want to say anything about it. Shrugging the notion off as a piece of his omnipresent anxiety, Chad walked toward the bar. “How are we going to know this Nick when we see him?”
“Oh you’ll know him,” seethed Joe. “Real asshole. Some might call him good looking, but I’m not going to do his ego the service. He’ll be surrounded by a crowd of drunks, telling some terrible story about a monster that he never actually fought.”
“I thought he was supposed to be the best?”
“Manchester was the best. Nick is just pretty good, and reputations are almost always built on lies and deceit. It’s just the way the industry works.” Joe approached the bar’s western-style double doors and pushed them open. His long black coat flared behind him dramatically.
Inside, was exactly what Chad expected. A dive bar with several drunks sitting around faded booths with flickering lights, and in the center, a good-looking man, telling a tall tale about monster he had most definitely never fought. When they walked in, the man was making a waving gesture with his arm, depicting a massive snake, and talking about the deaths of an Amazonian porter crew like they were nothing.
“Yacumamas are no joking matter,” he slurred.
Christ, thought Chad, are we all just a bunch of alchies then? As the thought dawned on him, another took precedence, he wanted a drink. The nausea would soon kick in from the mescaline, and nothing would sooth his stomach better than a cup of coke and ice drenched in rum. Before Joe could say anything, he walked over to the counter in the back of the bar.
At first glance, the bar’s occupants looked exceedingly normal. There was a man passed out in a darkened corner cradling an empty glass, a lanky woman leaning over the table touching the hand of another whispering sweet nothing, and of course, the roar of storytelling from what he presumed to be Nick’s table. The bar’s overall dim nature made details easy to miss at first glance, but as his eyes adjusted, Chad saw more.
For instance, the drunk in the darkened booth might have been cradling an empty glass in one hand, but there was an oversized crossbow in the other with a silver skull wrought on top. The lanky woman was certainly whispering sweet nothings, but her eyes twisted and turned in hypnotic rhythm. Chad wondered whether the drugs had begun to kick in, but dismissed the thought. Even the best stuff would still take an hour.
He reached the bar at the back abruptly and found himself face-to-face with a burly man in a suit that was far too nice for the bar they were in. “You new around here?” the man asked with no pretense of politeness.
Chad took too long to think of a response.
“Alright, here’s what I’m going to do,” said the man, just as Joe was catching up. “You’re going to have a drink on the house, and then you’re going to forget you ever found this place. Sound good?” His tone was kind, but with a hint of deadly seriousness beneath the surface.
“But if we leave, how will we ever gain the endless knowledge of the fantastic Mr. Ventner over there,” said Joe, sitting down on a stool next to Chad.
The bartender looked at Joe with recognition. “Long time, Joe.”
“Well, I tend to drink behind the pews these days.” He motioned to his robes.
“You’re not the first priest to drink here, and I’m sure you won’t be the last.” The bartender brought out two high-ball glasses. “Still drink Whiskey?”
“That I do, Jimmy.”
“What about you?” he asked, turning to Chad.
“Rum and coke will do.”
“Good man.” Jimmy filled the glasses with ice and the respective spirits. “Nick’s in the middle of a pretty fiery one right now, you’ll be hard pressed to get his attention.” A small crowd had gathered around Mr. Ventner and appeared to be hanging on his every word. He made a loud sound effect to simulate the rattling of machine gun fire and slammed a fist down on the table. The pint glasses shook precariously on the table, but none fell.
Joe drained his glass. “Well, he owes me one.” He stood up and walked over to the table where Nick was telling his story.
Jimmy shrugged. “This oughta be interesting.”
Not wanting to be left behind, Chad finished his drink, thanked Jimmy and followed Joe.
Nick looked up briefly at the newcomers and then returned to telling his story.
When it became clear that Nick wasn’t going to stop, Joe cleared his throat. “Excuse me Mr. Ventner.”
Nick looked up, annoyed. “What do you want, priest? I thought we didn’t allow religious zealots into this bar, Jimmy!”
“That was your suggestion, not my rule,” said Jimmy who had returned to polishing glasses.
Nick made a rude gesture. “So, father, what’s so important that you needed to interrupt my sto—”
Before Nick could finish his sentence, Joe swung his fist, knocking Nick onto the ground. He was on the verge of getting up when there was the click of a shotgun barrel being loaded. Jimmy stood behind the bar with it pointed straight at Joe’s back. “Swing again and it’ll be the last thing you ever do.”
“But he—” started Joe.
“I’m sure he deserved it, but this bar is a neutral zone, and I intend to keep it that way. Now put your fucking fist down and get out of this bar.” Then, softening his tone he said: “You know the rules, Joe. No exceptions.”
Chad raised his hands to protest, but Jimmy pointed the shotgun a little higher. “Don’t be an idiot.”
Nick stood slowly from the floor, wiping the blood from his mouth as he did so. “Fucking priests, always holding a god damned grudge.”
“Shut up Nick or I’ll let him hit you again,” said Jimmy coolly.
Joe let out a frustrated huff and walked away. “I knew this was a waste of time.” Joe walked away, cursing as he went. The bars doors had swung shut before Chad had even begun to move.
“You too, kid,” said Jimmy to Chad. “Trust me, walk away.”
Chad threw up his hands in frustration and turned to Nick. “When the apocalypse wipes you the fuck out, you’ll wish you’d been nicer.”
“Not the first time someone’s threatened us with the end of the world,” said Nick, his lower lip growing puffy.
Chad felt anger rise within him, but kept a hold on it and walked outside. Rain had begun to fall. Joe was standing on the curb cursing and holding his swollen hand. The punch had landed square, but it was never as easy as they made it look in the movies. “Arrogant bastard,” he seethed.
Chad walked over to him, furious, and also nervous that he had wasted the drugs on the vengeance of a drunk. “What the hell did you do that for?” Once more he felt like a parent admonishing a willful child.
“It was for the boy. Nick fucking deserved it. We’ll find someone else to help us with the horseman.”
“Mrs. B said to find Nick Ventner, and Carla said not to ignore the words of the dead. Seems like you don’t give much of a fuck when it comes to the advice of others.” Chad understood, he was also prone to irrational action, but it was more frustrating to be on the receiving end. Tired bags clung to the bottom of his eyelids. He just wanted to go home, sleep for a week, and then get good and drunk. The apocalypse could go fuck itself so long as the demons left him his year.
“I couldn’t help but overhear your predicament.”
Joe and Chad spun around.
The voice had come from a shadowy corner of the bar where the light from the laundromat’s neon sign didn’t quite reach.
“Back the fuck up,” said Chad, feigning confidence, and feeling his stomach tighten.
“Woah, easy there.” A young man stepped out of the shadows, a crop of brown hair hanging over his eyes, hands raised in a gesture of peace. He wore a long coat that looked more like it was trying to make an impression than be functional. “I’m a friend of Nick’s.”
Joe took another step back. “That’s not saying much.”
“Fair enough,” said the man. “Let me guess, he’s in there drunk, telling an unbelievable story, and your hand is swollen because you hit him.” The man spread his hands in an understanding gesture. “I know, because I’ve done it too.”
“Took one of my clergy as an apprentice and got them killed.”
“Sounds like Nick,” said the man with a long sigh. “His apprentices don’t tend to live long.” His hand moved to his stomach involuntarily.
Thinking he was pulling a gun, Chad stepped back.
“Oh, ease up. I was and am Nick’s apprentice. James Schaefer at your service. If he can’t help you, maybe I can.”
Want to know more about Nick Ventner? Check out the first few chapters of Whiteout, the first in the Nick Ventner series! There’s also a short story featuring Nick, a lake monster, and a whole lot of chocolate. Links Below: