Yeah, I’ve heard all the stories. All the half-remembered gin-soaked tales of after dark escapades and no-good dames that have been kicked outa every other dive bar in town and somehow ended up here. Sure I’ve heard them stories.
Sounds swell. I walk into the joint. The bartender smiles nervously.
“Give me a beer, make it lukewarm.”
I’ve only taken a few slugs when up walks some broad with a couple of things she needs to get off her chest if you know what I mean.
“How you doing mister” she chirps.
“I’m doing just fine, I guess I’ll be even finer just as soon as the beer kicks in. How about you?”
She tells me things ain’t so swell. Seems she got kicked out of the strip joint across the street for looking better than the dancers. I tell her they ain’t worth a dime and she tells me she don’t charge a dime and buys me a drink. I give her a cigarette – a dame like that shouldn’t be smoking alone. She calls over to Johnny standing by the jukebox, “play something dirty, I feel like dancing”. The bartender chimes in saying the jukebox don’t work, it’s just there for show, to make the joint look respectable.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to make our own music” she says.
We go outside for a smoke, her hands are everywhere. I check my pockets, nothing missing, she’s clean. Maybe she’s the one. We finish our cigarettes and I ask if maybe she has room for a little more drink, my finger pointing at her belly. She mutters something being drunk and lonesome as we head back into the bar and my life time habit of walking 4 steps ahead of dames finally gets the better of me; I turn around to tell her maybe I can help her out if she knows what I mean but the door slams in my dumb grinning face, a 7 foot high bouncer and a bullet ridden door standing between me and my new future wife. I think about it for a second but figure I could use a drink anyway, so I make my way back to the bar. I figure she’ll get a cab and maybe sleep it off and forget about me. Put the whole thing behind her. Like nothing ever happened.
So I stand at the bar a while, watching the bartender switch the crisp packets to confuse drunk folk, wondering where she went, where do any of them go. Was she real? Did I just dream she was here?
What kind of freak eats haggis flavored crisps? My mind is racing in slow motion when up walks some kid, 18, maybe 35, comes bounding over to me with his arm outstretched.
“Hey, how’s your evening going buddy?”
“Just swell” I say with an imperceptible hint of irony.
“My name’s Henry, what brings you here this evening?”
I tell him I just finished work, fixing to have me a quiet pint of tepid beer when some broad walks in and just about turns my world inside out and cracks the sorry sky into a thousand pieces of….
“Dames”, he interrupts. “I just finished work too. I work for the police. Don’t believe me? Here…” he laughs as he reaches into his inside jacket pocket.
“Whoa! Put that away! Lot of folk in here get nervous about that kinda thing, this ain’t the kinda joint to………”
It isn’t a police badge, just some business card for janitor services. He’s a cleaner at the local precinct.
“You’re a funny guy” I tell him. This time the irony is a little more noticeable.
He gets serious, “so… you got woman troubles” he says. I tell him she was everything to me, “we were like that” I gesture by holding a cigarette in one hand while holding my beer in the other.
“Dames” he opines.
“Yeah, you said.”
Then he goes for the jugular.
“You want my two cents worth?” he asks stupidly. I gently slam my beer down on the counter and grab him by the lapel.
“Just what kinda racket you got going on here punk? You ain’t getting a cent off me buster, not a single dime, ya hear?”
As I loosen my grip he starts telling me that a dime is of a higher value than two cents, but that since we’re in a country that views neither as acceptable currency it’s a moot point. I nod my head slowly. I let go of him and order two bourbons.
“You know how it gets” I tell him, “everywhere you go somebody wants their two cents worth, two cents here, two cents there, it soon adds up. Times are hard, I ain’t got two cents for every dumbass with an opinion. It’s a goddamn stinking extortion racket and I ain’t playing ball, I ain’t even giving a single dime”.
“In fairness”, he said reasonably, “it’s been two cents since the 1930’s, if it’s an extortion racket they’re lousy extortionists. And as I said, the whole currency issue… I mean, you wouldn’t walk into a bank and say ‘this is a holdup, give me all your half-crowns and nobody gets hurt’ would you?”
The kid has a point. I look at the bartender, he looks at me.
“Yes?”, he says.
“Give me a packet of haggis crisps for the road.
“That’ll be two cents mister”
“Forget it” I tell him, as I pick up my hat.