Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik
Summer classes were something he'd always enjoyed, at least he thought he had. The condensed schedule, semesters measured in weeks rather than months should have been perfect for him. Instead, he felt restless.
Things he would have let ride in the past bothered him. The little things, the bullshit, he didn't have the patience for it. Scott could feel anger, like a pressure building within him. Workouts helped, but the student athletic facilities didn't have a heavy bag. A million dollar downtown residence would be worth it if he could hang an eighty-dollar heavy bag to beat the crap out of.
He jogged from the campus humanities building. A chime sounded from his backpack and he had to dig around to find the cell phone. The number wasn't one he recognized.
"Scott, this is Diane Beamer. I'm at the Black Horse."
"I think I'm done buying buildings for a while, Diane."
"That's not why I called."
Scott undid the bike lock with one hand and held the phone to his ear with the other.
"I'm calling about problems here," Diane said.
"What's Barley say? It's his place."
"That's part of what we'd like to talk to you about."
Scott heard some commotion over the phone.
"The assistant manager. She's a friend and it's important."
"I don't have any input on how the place operates."
"It's a bad situation, and I know you have a buyout clause from the bridge loan you extended to Barley."
What the hell, he thought. "I'm on campus. I'll be about fifteen minutes."
Scott slid the phone back into the book bag and turned the bike north, toward Main Street. He dodged afternoon traffic and made good time.
There hadn't been much progress on his building in the intervening weeks. The architect was busy, he knew that. She'd slated a design review meeting for the following week. That would mark one month since they'd signed a contract.
Scott snaked the bike cable through an eyebolt on a concrete post in the bar's small employee lot. He entered through the back entrance. The cool of the bar's air-conditioning was a nice contrast with the June heat.
What he couldn't get used to was how dark they kept the interior. His eyes adjusted and almost slipped into night vision mode, but he suppressed that with a thought. There were only a handful of hardcore drinkers in the bar.
Diane Beamer was seated at the bar, staring at the front door. A man deep in his cups sat a few stools away, nursing a whiskey glass.
Scott slid onto a barstool next to the realtor and her shoulders relaxed when she realized who he was.
"Thank you for coming," she said. She waved to the bartender, a weary peroxide blonde. "Have you met Shirl, the assistant manager?"
The bartender and apparent assistant manager slung a bar towel over her shoulder and walked over. "Get you anything?"
"I wouldn't say no to a glass of ice water. It's warm out."
"That it is," she said. "I'm Shirl, Shirley Gibson."
"Diane says you can help, is that true?"
Scott looked at the realtor. She shrugged, unapologetic for dragging him into whatever this was.
"What's the problem?"
"The manager left last Friday. One of the cooks says he moved to Oklahoma because he wasn't being paid. The beer distributor will only accept cash because the last two checks bounced and we're operating on what's in the tills."
Scott had the feeling he was never going to see the bridge loan repaid. "What's Barley doing to fix this?"
"That's the other problem."
"Tell him what's going on, Shirl."
The drunk at the bar had crowded close. "Tell who what?" the man slurred.
"None of your business, Burt," Shirl said. "Go back to your stool."
"I'll drink where I damn well please."
The bartender grabbed Burt's lowball glass and dumped the contents in a sink behind the bar.
Scott moved as the drunk cursed and started to swing.
Time slowed. Scott didn't need the extra help and boosted back into normal speed. He grabbed the man's wrist and squeezed.
"Ow!" the drunk hollered. "Who the hell are you?"
"Who I am," he growled, "is bigger than you. Touch the lady and you go out the door." He squeezed harder and the drunk whimpered. "Your choice is if the door is open or closed when I put you through it."
Some of the other patrons had risen to their feet. Scott surveyed the bar and dismissed them as threats.
"You're done for the day," Scott said. He released the man's wrist. "Go home and sleep it off."
The drunk staggered a step. "I'll be back with my gun."
Scott saw red.
He moved and had the drunk's face planted on a nearby table before the man could react. He twisted the drunk's arm behind the man's back. It was painful, as intended. Scott palmed the man's skull with his other hand and pressed until the drunk begged for him to stop.
"Call for a taxi," Scott said over his shoulder.
Shirl scrambled for the cordless phone.
"Who the hell are you?" one of other patrons asked from the dark of the bar.
"I'm the guy they called to take out the trash. Got a problem with that?"
There wasn't an answer.
"I understand a drunk mouthing off," Scott said. "You lay hands on a woman, you leave, period. Threaten to come back with a gun? It pisses me off."
"Shit," somebody muttered.
"I spent the last couple of years getting shot at by better assholes than this guy," Scott said. "I don't like it much."
"Hell, mister," the corner voice said, "Burt's an idiot, but he'd never shoot anybody. He's mad because the Black Horse is the last place locals can drink downtown, and now it's changing into a disco."
The other patrons grumbled in agreement.
Scott lifted Burt's head. The drunk had passed out. He let go of the man's arm.
"First off," he said. "I don't think they have discos anymore and you shouldn't believe every rumor you hear. Secondly, the city inspectors and the state liquor board were sixty days from shutting this place for good."
He had their attention.
"If 'local bar' means a place where drunks can assault the staff and turn everybody else's day to shit, then good riddance. But, if you want this place to survive, then spread the word -- there have to be changes, but the Black Horse isn't turning into a damn disco."
A car horn sounded from the street.
"Taxi's here," Shirl said.
Scott grabbed the drunk's belt and shook him until his eyes opened. "You know where you live?"
Burt's eyes uncrossed and attempted to focus. "Yeah?"
Scott moved the drunk so fast his feet barely hit the floor on the way to the door. He opened the backseat of the taxi and tossed Burt in. He took a twenty from the folded cash in his front pocket and handed it to the driver.
"Take him home. Keep the change."
He returned to the dark interior. The remaining patrons in the Black Horse were huddled around a table, conversing.
Diane Beamer and Shirl were standing by the bar, fidgeting.
"Okay," he said as he joined the ladies, "Does one of you want to tell me what's really going on here?"
"Barley's detoxing at Memorial," Shirl said.
"Memorial General, the hospital?"
"His liver is nearly shot, and most of the profits have gone up his nose."
Great, Scott thought. "You know this how?"
"One of my girlfriends is his ex," Shirl said. "They still talk. He's afraid what will happen when he comes back."
"Afraid to have a job?" Scott asked. "He's the owner."
"He's afraid that the bar will kill him. He can't control his own demons."
Scott squeezed the back of his neck. Some of the tension he'd felt during the day had eased while dealing with the drunk. Now, it was creeping back in.
"Let's put that aside for the moment. What's this about a disco?"
"Show him, Shirl," Diane said.
Scott looked from Diane to Shirl.
Shirl threw her hands up and walked behind the bar. She returned with a folder and sat it on the bar top. "Barley hired some guy from Dallas who turns bar operations around."
Scott flipped through the pages. He glanced up and saw Shirl biting her nails.
The folder contained a financial prospectus for converting the bar into a dance club, with a change in the ownership makeup - in direct violation of the agreement he had. He glanced at representational drawings and an extensive cost breakout. The proposal was for a two-story dance club, complete with multiple disc jockey booths, state-of-the art sound system, active lights, and something called a foam cannon.
"Where's this character getting the money for these proposals?"
"He's billed the bar corporation," Shirl said. "It's all going to bounce."
Scott felt acid start to churn in his stomach. So much for the business failing in six months, it hadn't lasted one. "Where's your bookkeeper been on this?" he asked. "What about the bar's lawyer?"
"The bookkeeper is Barley's cousin, he has the same problem," Shirl said. She made a rubbing motion at her nose.
Scott pressed his temples. "And the lawyer?"