Chad lounged at the lonely barstool, occasionally swiveling from side to side. These barstools always fascinated him for some odd reason. Though they were stuck in place, often bolted to the floor, they could still turn side-to-side. Was that real movement or only an illusion? Whenever he was here, which was often, he often thought about that odd question.
As he thought about this, he looked into the drink in front of him. The clear brownish liquid reflected his face, distorting it with every tremor of the cup. He had startling green eyes, a strong nose, and a mouth too often hung up in a frown. He was handsome once, but four years of drinking had taken that away from him. His brown hair was slicked back and hung almost to his shoulders. He hadn’t gotten it cut in a while. He didn’t have the money too.
He sighed and stretched. He glanced at the cracked clock on the far wall. 10:54 p.m. He had been here for about five hours now. He briefly wondered how Emily was doing. She’s probably fine.
His burden suddenly returned, pouring sadness on his shoulders and heart. He had almost forgotten why he comes here.
His drink reflected his shining green eyes. It seemed to sympathize with him. He knew that it would hurt him to drink it, but there was no other way to live. He convinced himself that there was no other way to escape. His burdens were too great and he could not get through it alone. He decided, had decided long ago, that this drink would be his companion through these dark times.
That was four years ago.
Now he slouched at the lonely barstool, alone at the counter. The drink stared up at him, feeling abandoned. It made him feel abandoned too. His tongue longed for the drink but Chad hesitated for a brief moment. Was this right?
Does that matter? the drink responded back. You came to me four years ago, ready to bury your burdens. I’ve done that. You didn’t ask if it was right back then, so don’t ask if it’s right now.
He nodded slowly. It might not be right but it certainly took the sorrows away, at least until the next drink.
He took the cup and put it to his lips.
A picture of Emily surfaced in front of his eyes. Was this good for her?
Don’t stop now.
He tipped the cup and drank the contents.
Liquid fire drained down his throat, scorching him all the way down. By no stretch of the imagination did it taste good, but it did its job. His mind became numb and his bright green eyes clouded. He dropped the cup on the counter again and bent over the counter.
A bell rang, signifying that someone had entered the bar. Chad languidly glanced over and observed the new customer.
He was a businessman, or so it seemed. The dark gray suit he wore was newly-made and complemented the scarlet red tie that he wore. He was tall, handsome, and strongly built. His shoulders swayed with confidence and he seemed right at home here. He had black hair, neatly cropped and styled perfectly. He strode through the bar, greeting people as he walked by.
When Chad realized that it was the man’s intention to come to him, he turned away and focused on his empty glass. He called the bartender over and asked for another drink, trying to look anywhere except at the new man that entered the bar.
His dignity compelled him to look elsewhere.
The businessman continued to make his way slowly through the bar, indirectly walking to Chad. Chad made sure that no eye contact was made. He thought that this man was someone from the bank, and Chad definitely didn’t have a good relationship with the bank.
The businessman tapped him lightly on the shoulder.
“Chad Dunham?” he asked.
Chad slowly circled to him, trying to recognize him now that he was closer. He didn’t seem like anyone from the bank, although he certainly looked professional. As much as he knew the regulars of the bar, Chad knew that this man wasn’t a regular himself. He was sure that he hadn’t seen the man before, but he looked familiar somehow. No matter who he was, he didn’t trust this man. He resolved not to tell him anything.
“Depends on who’s askin’,'' Chad gruffly answered. “You someone from the bank?”
He laughed jauntily. “No, I’m not someone from the bank. Does the bank usually send someone into bars?”
Chad’s numbed mind considered that. “If they want money enough, people’d go anywhere.”
“I suppose.” He sat on the barstool next to Chad. “But I’m not from the bank. I’ve heard of you, Chad Dunham.”
Chad’s eyes widened. “How? I’m not important- to anyone.”
The businessman’s eyes smiled but his mouth kept its cool. “You’re important to me, Chad Dunham. I want to make a bargain with you.”
Chad guffawed. “I don’t fall for no scams. Who even are you?”
The businessman nodded knowingly. “That’s a good question. My name is Lucien Wilkes.”
“Mhm.” Chad wasn’t reassured yet. “What’s yer job?”
Lucien seemed to expect this question too. “I’m a stock broker and investor. And I’m rather good at it.” He smiled at Chad, a peculiar smile that tried its best to placate him. It didn’t quite work. “Any other questions for me?”
His darkened mind tried to come up with other questions. None surfaced so he shook his head. Lucien nodded and got more comfortable in the barstool as he ordered a couple drinks.
“Let’s talk business then, Chad Dunham,” Lucien said. “As I said, I’ve heard of you. I’ve asked around, figured out your situation. I want to help.”
“You don’t know my situation,” Chad retorted under his breath. “You’re just tryin’ to scam me outta what little money I have. Get on outta here.” He swiveled the barstool with his back to Lucien.
Lucien got up and walked to face Chad, hiding his dark grimace. “Chad, I’m serious. I know, and I understand. Let me help you. Give me a chance.”
“No,” came the quick reply.
The bartender came and set two full shot glasses in front of Lucien. He took one and set it in front of Chad. “I get it, you don’t trust me. But Chad, believe it or not, I’m an honest man. I’m not here for your money, or your house, or your car, or anything you own. I’m here for you. Let me help. Please.”
His mind furiously tried to figure out this man. Too many things were playing out at once, too much for his disabled mind to handle. “You- you’re not here for my money?”
Lucien shook his head solemnly. “No sir, I’m not. I just heard about your predicament and want to help.”
After several more moments of crippled contemplation, Chad nodded slowly. “How you gonna help me?”
Lucien got into another barstool. “You sure that you want to make a bargain with me?”
Although he was agreeable at this point, Chad still had not lost all sense of reason. “Depends on what the ‘bargain’ is. And I better not have to sign nothin’.”
“Nope, this is a verbal agreement. Are you in?” Chad nodded. “Good.”
Lucien’s manner shifted. He no longer wore his friendly, appealing man-of-the-people persona. He became, although still handsome and appealing, the businessman that he outwardly was. He became more formal and seemed to demand that respect, if not fear, accompany him wherever he went.
“The terms of the bargain are this,” Lucien explained. “Occasionally, you do favors for me. There will be no illegal activity, so don’t worry about getting caught doing something bad. In return, I’ll help you take care of your problems, whatever they may be. It’s a beneficial situation for both of us. Do you agree?”
“I think so,” Chad replied after a few seconds. He didn’t have much of a job at the moment, so the favors shouldn’t be too hard for him to do. He was curious to see how this Lucien would help him. “I accept your offer,” he said with mock solemnity. He offered his hand for a handshake to seal the matter.
Lucien laughed, once again the warm and friendly man he had appeared to be. “No, we’re not going to shake hands. We’re in a bar! There’s only one way to finalize this.” He seized his shot glass and raised it up in the air, gesturing at Chad to do the same. “To seal this deal, just drink that. I’ll consider that official.”
Chad gazed deep into the liquid. For an instance, it fogged up into a dark black, with two scarlet red dots pinpointing the middle. Eyes? His drunk mind questioned. It had looked like the black silhouette of a wolf. Before his mind could answer his own question, the vision disappeared. Shrugging, he lifted up the glass and gazed into Lucien's eyes. He nodded encouragingly.
Chad raised his glass and clinked it against Lucien’s. “Cheers!” the businessman cried and downed the drink.
Chad rested the glass on his lips. The drink splashed against his mouth, feeling abandoned once again.
Don’t stop now.
He tipped the cup and drank the contents.
Lucien clapped his shoulder jovially. “Thank you, my friend! You won’t regret this.” Chad muttered something in reply. He felt funny. Small specks of light skipped across his vision, and his mind hammered his skull in three different places.
Lucien rose from his stool and walked away. “Bye, Chad Dunham. I’ll see you soon!” He walked out of the bar, leaving Chad alone again.
Chad’s headache got worse very fast. Trying to get up, trying to walk out of the bar, he staggered and swooped dangerously close to the floor. It was mean of the world to spin like that. All he was trying to do was get.. Somewhere. His house, right? Yeah. His house. Man, these lights were bright. They should-
He collapsed in the parking lot, and the world slowly gave way to darkness.