This is a snippet of an idea I’ve been kicking around for some time, about a bar that is a sanctuary for people who need it. It may appear in one of my books someday. Today’s exercise is just to get some ideas and a little story down on e-paper.
Sandra staggered into the bar shortly after 11:30 on a Friday night. Blood oozed around the hand she had pressed to the long, nasty cut on her left side just above the hipbone. People glanced up at her as she stumbled against one of the tables. I waved her towards the backroom and tossed my towel to Tom, the assistant bartender. Coming around the front of the large mahogany bar, I put my arm around her and helped her to the back room.
She could have picked a better time to get knifed. There were too many eyes in the bar tonight, too many people saw her come in. In addition to the regulars, there were eight tourists; a group of four college kids from the Valley, and two couples from elsewhere come to see the ‘real’ Hollywood. Definitely not good.
I helped her into one of the cots in the back room we keep for those too drunk to drive home, or those who, for other reasons, need a place to crash for the night. Thanks to her injury, Sandra fell into the later category. As I eased her back, the door opened again and Tina slipped in.
Tina was one of our waitresses. Small and slender, with an unruly mop of blonde hair and huge green eyes, she wasn’t as popular as the more voluptuous Desire, but she had a vibrant liveliness to her that more than made up for her lack of rack. Also, she was about three weeks away from receiving her RN credentials. I stepped aside and let Tina get to work, hovering around only so I could talk to Sandra.
“Sandra, who did this?”
She hissed in pain as Tina pulled her shirt away from the wound, tugging and reopening a clot. She hissed louder when Tina splashed some antiseptic on the nasty looking cut. “Raymond,” she finally replied.
I nodded. I had suspected as much, but it was good to have confirmation.
Raymond was Sandra’s pimp. Typical of many of his breed, he tried to keep his girls hooked and hooking, as the saying goes. Sandra was one of our success stories. She had come to us at rock-bottom, and we helped her get clean. She kept turning tricks because there aren’t a lot of other job opportunities for a sixteen-year old runaway who isn’t quite pretty enough to land a real acting gig. Raymond had been pressuring her to start using again, but so far she had managed to fend him off. Today, I suspected, he had lost his patience.
“You rest easy,” I told the girl, “Tina’s gonna take good care of you.” Tina was another of our successes, and had really helped out a lot with Sandra’s detox.
Tom already had the blackboard ready when I returned to the front. It is one of those rolling deals that you can flip over to show two different sides. Normally, one side had whatever bar games we were playing that day; often music trivia or bad puns. Now, it was flipped over to the other side, and a number was written on the top and underlined several times. $100. About how much we expected it would cost to nurse Sandra back to health. On the floor beneath the board was a small white bucket, identical to the one Tom put on the end of the bar near the cash register as I emerged. I nodded and opened my wallet, dropping a fiver into the bucket by the board.
“Can I have your attention please,” I spoke loudly enough to cut through the general chatter. The locals turned to look at me. The tourists were already doing so, curious about the ballet with bucket and board. “As you saw, someone needs your help. If you can look deep in your hearts and wallets and donate anything, anything at all, I would appreciate it. Thank you.”
One of the tourists, the man in the couple I figured for midwesterners from the checkered shirts they wore, spoke up. “Why not take her to the hospital?”
Some of the locals were unkind enough to laugh at this, but they fell silent when I held up my hand. I faced the man with the twangy Kentucky accent, and smiled. “See this?” I gestured to the board behind me. “That’s how much it would cost us to stitch her up and keep her fed for a few days until she can head back out there on her own. Do you know how much it would cost her to go to a hospital for that same treatment?”
The man shrugged helplessly, shaking his head.
“Around $5000,” I said.
The man looked a little shocked, but he shook his head. “Insurance,” he said. This time, the laughter that greeted his idea was even more scornful than before. “What?” he looked around at the regulars in annoyance.
Carlos, a local with ‘La Eme’ tattoo’d on the back of his neck, shook his head. “Man, where are you from? They don’t give no health insurance to no ho’s.” There were general nods of agreement and some mumbled ‘amens,’ at this.
I held up my hand for silence again. “He’s right,” I nodded towards Carlos. “She has no health insurance. Now, if you don’t want to give anything, that’s fine. No one is forcing you to. This is strictly voluntary. Thank you.” I stepped away from the board and went back behind the bar. Tom handed me my towel back.
No one moved right away. I didn’t expect them too. The buckets were mostly symbolic. The majority of donations would come from locals, who would put an extra tip on their credit card charges. Tom or I would then pull money from the register in an equal amount and put that in the bucket on the bar. But you never knew, sometimes you got a tourist with a heart and a wad of cash who would drop a couple bucks on their way to the bathroom.
Evidently, the idea that we would care for a hurt prostitute bothered Mr. Kentucky enough that he and his wife got up and left, leaving no tip at all. Time passed. The other couple left. The kids from the Valley put their heads together and came up with $3.18 which they donated. Tina came back out after Sandra was stitched up and asleep. People came, people left.
Around 1 AM, my fears were realized when Raymond swaggered in like he owned the place. The hit of heroin in his veins and the shotgun in his hands contributed to his evident feeling of invincibility.
“Where is she?” he roared, ratcheting the shotgun like you see on TV. Of course, unlike TV, the shotgun was already loaded so all he did was eject a perfectly good shell. Still, he was high enough that he didn’t notice. In his own mind, he looked like Billy-Badass in his leather vest, wife-beater tanktop, and tattoos. The college kids saw the shotgun and wisely ducked under their table. Most of the regulars just looked at Raymond with disdain.
“Where is who?” Tom asked mildly from his place at the far end of the bar.
As planned, Raymond’s focus turned to him and he strode further into the bar, right past me. He leveled the weapon at Tom and snarled, “Don’t mess with me, boy. You know who I mean. Where’s Sandra?”
Back in my sociology 101 days, I used to love how people would do stuff like that. Say that you know who they mean, and then tell you anyways. It was right up there with inappropriate greetings, like when you say, “How are ya?” to someone who walks into your store and they reply with, “Hi.” That kind of stuff normally makes me laugh, but I will admit a character flaw: I seldom find anything funny when someone is pointing a loaded Remington at a friend’s face.
Tom raised his hands over his shoulders, although he had a casual, unconcerned look on his face. That drives people crazy. Nothing is more frustrating than indifference in the face of naked aggression and intimidation. Raymond seethed, and pumped the shotgun again. At this rate, he’d be out of ammo before he got a chance to fire. Still, better safe than sorry.
Like a ghost, I drifted around the other side of the bar, behind Raymond. I held the knife, point down, at my hip. Raymond never saw me coming. His first clue that something was wrong was the feel of cold steel kissing his throat. “Drop the gun,” I whispered into his ear.
Later, Tom told me it was all he could do to keep from laughing at the look on Raymond’s face. I wish I could have seen it myself, but a mirror would have defeated the purpose in this instance. All I got to see was the shotgun waver in Ray’s hand, then the tip dipped towards the floor. Sven, a huge hulking regular who rides with the Angels, stepped over and took the gun from Raymond’s suddenly nerveless hands. Sven pumped it several times in rapid succession, and three more shells came out. So maybe he would have gotten a shot off after all.
I stepped back, pulling the knife away from Raymond’s throat. The turned to me and tried to bluster, “You’re dead man! You don’t know who you’re dealing with!”
“Sure I do,” I smiled without warmth, “Raymond ‘Bloody Ray’ Zendeki. You live in that rust colored one story over on Highland. Your mother lives in Eagle Rock with your kid brother.” He turned pale as I spoke. “I think, Raymond, that it is you who does not know with whom the dealing with is occurring.”
It took him a second to puzzle that one out, which, if I may be honest, I why I said it that way. The danger was over, and I was taking a mildly sadistic glee messing with the jerk-off. He looked about him, as if expecting henchmen or supporters to suddenly materialize and come to his aid. All he saw were the cold looks directed at him by the regulars. He began, finally, to notice the colors being flown. It’s quite impressive, actually. The Gangs Taskforce would have a field day with my place if they knew about it.
“Run along now,” I told Raymond, bringing his attention back to me. I stepped aside so he could hit the pavement. Just as he was about to walk out the door, I called out, “And Raymond? You really should know who you’re dealing with, before you come into my place. Get out and don’t come back. You’re not welcome here.”
He started to sputter a protest, but I pointed to the sign by the door. Very prominently displayed to those leaving, the white sign with black letters read, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” Raymond blinked dumbly at the sign, and several of the regulars laughed. Their cat-calls followed Raymond out.
“Think we’ll have any more problems with him?” Tom asked a few minutes later.
“Naw,” I shook my head. “And if we do, we’ll deal with it. He’s just a small time pimp with delusions of bad-ass-ness. Don’t even worry about it.”
He nodded and shrugged. “You’re the boss, boss,” he grinned and danced out of the way as I flicked the towel at him.
“Why don’t you go ahead and head home?” I offered. “I’m gonna stay here tonight with Sandra. I’ll close up. Say ‘hi’ to Gina for me.” Gina was Tom’s wife.
“Alright, thanks,” Tom nodded, “will do. Take care, Liz.”
“You too, Tom.”
After I shoo’d everyone out and closed out the register, I emptied the buckets and counted the donations. $146.38. I smiled softly to myself. It’s always strange how it goes. My regulars are not good people, by and large, but they can always be counted on to pitch in to help out those who need it when they come here. I guess it gives them something they need in their lives, a chance to feel like maybe what they do in Sanctuary makes up, just a tiny bit, for the rest of it.
Or maybe they just like my 20 Megaton Burritos.