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PART ONE excerpt

PART ONE - 1987


I stepped into Mick’s Paradise Lounge and there was Silas Harkins, dark and some thicker than years ago, circling the felt like the predator he was, dropping balls in the pockets —tap, click, thunk!— with the unerring monotony that only came when no “gift” was in the room.

He didn't recognize me, and quickly checked me off as someone too straight for his game. I took a stool at the near end of the bar, pulling down the brim of my hat while I held on to a medley of memories.

There were new stools and chairs mixed with the old familiars, but Mick’s hadn’t changed it’s soul. Natural light still came only by way of the glass block windows at the front. A shaded light above Silas’ table lit the back area and random recessed floods did the rest. The worn hardwood floor matched the oak bar-top set upon a black tile front. A steel pipe foot rail had replaced the old spit trough at it’s base but the spigot that once flushed away the tobacco hocks, butts, stale beer, and occasional piss still remained. Whiskey bottle lamps flanked the mirror on the wall behind the bar and popular liquor lined the upper shelves. The less demanded hooch lanquished below, embarrassed by a layer of dust.

It was like many saloons in the old towns of the river valley. The only unique item was a wall clock irreparably damaged and elegantly framed, hanging uselessly above the mirror.

Though not yet eleven in the morning, three women shared a booth against the wall opposite the bar, sipping beer from teacups and refilling from a pitcher at the center of the table. Leaning together, they conspired in whispers and frequently broke into belly laughs. Suddenly one jumped to her feet, pantomiming some unknown subject to the wild delight of the other two.

No service in sight. I slapped the bar top twice. Silas looked up, raising his hand and freezing it for a second as he studied me. Strangers in suits weren’t usually pushy in a place like Mick’s, if they came in at all. He jabbed a finger toward the Ladies room.

“Sit tight. She’s busy.” He still looked menacing.

I slipped from the stool and moved toward him. He missed his next shot, moved less gracefully to another and muffed that too. He was setting me up, just in case. You never know.

“You could sink that in your sleep, Silas.” I said, tipping back my hat.

He pulled up his stick and squinted until his brows raised, pulling up the corners of his mouth.

“Son of a bitch. Damned if it ain’t you, Danny. It’s been a while.”

We shook hands and slapped shoulders. He was solid.

A redhead emerged from the restroom, smiled quizzically as she approached.

“Maddy,” said Harkins. “this is Dan Roberts, old friend from once upon a time. This is Maddy, best barmaid on the river.” He kissed her forehead.

“Pleased,” she said, wiping her hand on her hip before shaking mine. “Couple frosteds.” It wasn’t a question and she didn’t wait for an answer. She headed for the cooler and extracted two mugs. She was worn but not brittle, near Silas in age, maybe a tick or two older than me but hard to tell.

“Special lady?” I asked. He smiled.

“Same deal as DeeDee, minus the frisky hormones. Don’t count on walking out with her.”

Laughs, mine with a little discomfort...after all this time.

Maddy delivered a fresh pitcher to the booth before bringing us the iced drafts and a cup of coffee for herself.

“Maddy,” Silas grinned, “you should’a been around here when these guys built the Monster.”

“I don’t think so.” said Maddy.

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