I walk into a bar…
I’m sure you’ve heard a million jokes that started with “walks into a bar” and I really wish this was one of them. But instead this I’ve got a story, maybe even a cautionary tale that starts with “I walk into a bar”… A little disappointing right? Whatever. Nobody’s making you read this.
I guess I should start by telling you a little about myself, I mean, what story is complete without a little exposition? But, to make a long story slightly shorter, I used to be a partner at one of the three biggest jet engine manufacturers in the United States. Things were good at first, the three companies pretty much split the market equally. The problem was, an equal split wasn’t good enough for the boss man. Yep, he had bigger ambitions, more specifically he wanted to merge with one of our competitors, a North Eastern aero-space manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney. This big move would solidify the big man’s legacy and make sure our company stood the test of time.
Being from that part of the country, the boss man asked me to handle the business, he said “It’s good to send a local boy to set up deals like this.”. While I didn’t disagree, I was reluctant to go back to Connecticut. I never liked it there and I didn’t have fond memories of my last visit…
But in those days, the company came first. I made some calls, set up a meeting and one red eye flight later I was in East Hartford, Connecticut. While this is the first time I recall being in this particular town, it seemed familiar. The buildings stood where I expected them too and I walked the streets as if I had done so a thousand times… I decided my parents must’ve taken me and my brother here when I was a child. Soon after landing I checked into my hotel. It looked like it provided luxurious accommodations at one point but years of use and abuse had left it worse for wear.
The women who was working at the front desk had a cheerful demeanor on the surface but her wiry white hair and sunken eyes told a different story. She fit in perfectly with the rest of the hotel… After introducing myself she soundlessly plucked a set of keys that hung from a rack behind her. After handing them to me, she said “If things don’t work out, come visit us at the hotel bar tonight.” and contorted her mouth into a plastic grin. I smiled politely and made my way to my room. What did she mean by that? How could she possibly know why I was in East Hartford? As I walked away I saw her eyes follow me in the reflection of a cracked mirror.
When it was time to meet with Pratt & Whitney, I had already forgotten about the strange encounter with the old women at the front desk. But as she suggested might happen, things didn’t work out. Our proposal was outright refused and to make matters worse, P&W announced a merger with the other guys later that same day. Our two biggest competitors were now together and our company seemed doomed. After calling the boss man and telling him the bad news, I decided to take the old woman up on her offer and made my way downstairs to the hotel bar.
The hotel bar (simply named “bar” from what I could tell) was a strange place. It was completely concrete from floor to ceiling and in place of traditional soft orange lights there were harsh, fluorescent tubes that were so bright that I had to squint. The clientele was odd as well, all wore suits and some were grouped together, yet, they looked like they all came alone. Behind the bar was the woman from the front desk. She had the same plastic smile fixed on her face. The fluorescent lights made her skin seem like leather and her eyes black holes. But I payed no mind, I just wanted a drink.
I walked towards the bar, each step resonating against the concrete walls. No one spoke, or moved except to bring their drinks to their mouths. The closer I got to the bar the more the women smiled and the more decrepit she appeared. I ordered an Old Fashioned. My favourite drink. She got to making the drink silently. Throughout the whole process her body moved but her head kept locked on me her already sunken eyes appeared to sink deeper into her face. She reached effortlessly for ingredients her arms twisting and weaving, she made that drink like she had eight arms. She put the finished cocktail in front of me. I tasted it, perfect. She continued to smile as I drank.
With each sip I took came the memories of my childhood in Connecticut. I remembered my brother, the soldier. Even when he was young he would always fight for what he believed in, sometimes physically. Tommy Sroka knew that. My brother broke his nose when he was five years old for saying dogs were better then cats. I chuckled to myself, my mother sure gave him hell for that. I took another sip and saw the day we sent him away to basic training. He still looked like a kid to me, but after his first tour, he came back older. Maybe I should’ve talked him out of going back… I don’t think he would’ve listened anyway. I polished off the drink in one gulp.
When I put down the glass she was still looking at me. She had the same smile but even wider. Her lipstick a turned shade of clownish red and her teeth were stained yellow. Without moving her teeth she said, “would you like to see your brother again?”.
I put down my drink and stumbled out of my chair nearly falling over. What was in that drink? I made my way towards the door I came in. Each step was a laborious effort as if I was walking through water. The exit seemed to move constantly, it was in reach one minute and miles away the next. I heard a high cackling behind me and each breath drew a deathly stench into my lungs. I could feel her behind me but I was too afraid to turn around. I screamed for help but the men in suits made no movements except to bring their drinks to their mouths. I felt thin weightless arms grasp tight me and pull me backwards. Reaching out I felt the door and pushed it with all my might. I fell onto the floor and the arms loosed from me. I picked myself up quickly and went back to my room.