This story is by Gregory Faraone and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Bruce’s once glorious red 1967 Chevrolet Camaro gallops down a dark heavily wooded backroad. He takes another drag of his Lucky Strike, shifts into third gear, and lays down on the throttle as Just a Song Before I Go plays through the radio.
A shade before midnight, he pulls up to the old Milton Tavern. He walks through the saloon style doors to a half empty western themed dive bar. There is a thick pungent fog of smoke emanating from the covey of regulars huddled up at the bend of the bar. There’s a pool table in the far corner with red felt and a dull, bruised wood veneer finish. The only thing out of place is a beautiful young blond woman in a red dress with heels to match. She’s sitting alone at the far end of the bar sipping on a dirty martini.
Bruce greets the gregarious bartender, Ned, as he passes the usual suspects, ignoring their banter on the way to the bar stool adjacent to the beautiful young lady.
“Do you know what tonight is?” He said as he takes a seat.
She glances over to him, sizes him up for a moment, and takes another sip of her martini. Without looking directly back at Bruce, she responds apathetically, “Your birthday?”
Bruce chuckles. Then he calls to Ned, “Beer me.”
Ned cracks the cap off a crisp cold bottle and slides it down the bar to Bruce. The beer coasts to a stop right into his hands as he lifts it to his lips in one fluid motion. He exudes refreshment after his first sip, puts the cold beer down on the table, and says, “It’s just another Saturday night in the middle of nowhere.” Bruce shifts his body on the bar stool over to directly face the woman and says, “Now what’s a diamond like you doin’ in a rough like this?”
The woman looks back over to Bruce and responds archly, “I reckon the same reason you’re here – lookin’ for trouble.”
Bruce smiles, looks down and then back up, locking with her piercing silver eyes, “What’s your name miss?”
“Rose,” she says with a smirk as she pulls out a cigarette and puts it in her mouth. “Got a light?”
Bruce pulls a Zippo emblazoned with the insignia of the 75th Ranger Regiment from his pocket and lights her cigarette.
“Rangers?” She asks, pointing to the zippo.
“Yea,” Bruce responds curiously.
“My brother had one just like it,” she explains.
Bruce’s demeanor shifts as he checks his watch. “Listen here, Rose, you need to get out of here.” He pauses as a moment’s doubt about divulging his predicament passes, “This ain’t just any old Saturday. Tonight, is the night I get my life back. Somebody is going to walk through those doors any minute now and, well, I don’t know exactly what’ll happen next, but it’s not safe here tonight.”
“Oh,” Rose responds insouciantly. She takes a drag of her cigarette and blows a smoke ring into Bruce’s face as she facetiously says, “Well in that case, I might just stay.”
Bruce shifts on his barstool to face forward and takes a long pull from his beer. Out of the corner of his eye he catches a tall dark figure enter through the saloon doors wearing a black cowboy hat and a red neckerchief. The man calls to the bartender for a beer and heads over to the unoccupied billiards table in the far corner.
Bruce grabs Rose’s wrist and whispers sternly in her ear, “I’m in quite a hole with the kind of men you don’t want to owe a nickel to, but I’ve worked out a deal to absolve my debts. It’s time to go, things are going to get real messy. Perhaps we’ll meet again in another life.”
Her steely eyes light up realizing the severity in Bruce’s intonation. She plucks the olive pick out of her drink. Her red lips coax the olive off the pick as she gazes into Bruce’s eyes. She slaps a five-dollar bill down on the bar and whispers in his ear, “You know, when you die, if you don’t go to hell, you might just go to heaven.”
Bruce responds as Rose gets out of her stool to leave the saloon, “We all just rot in the dirt, baby.”
“Suit yourself,” she says before exiting.
Bruce finishes his beer. Ned slides him another. Bruce approaches Joey at the billiards table and proposes, “Care to play for drinks, friend?”
“Sure, partner. The names Slicks, and yourself?”
“James,” Bruce lies, deducing that Joey doesn’t recognize him from his tenure at the casino.
“You from around here?” Slicks asks.
Bruce responds, “No- no, just passing through.”
Bruce wins the first game. Slicks motions to Ned for another round.
Slicks nonchalantly proposes they up the stakes on the next game, “Perhaps we make this next one a little more interesting?”
Bruce’s recognizes Slicks hustle, “Sure, best of five for a Franklin?”
Slicks nods in agreement.
In the midst of game four, Slicks is up two to one, Bruce notes that he and Slicks are the only patrons left. It’s time. Bruce lets Slicks win.
Ned announces, “Hey fellas, I’m closing. Time to go.”
Slicks revels in his victory as he exits. Bruce follows behind him. They both walk outside into the night. The waning crescent moon awards minimal visibility. Slicks doesn’t notice Bruce reaching into his waistband. All of a sudden, Bruce’s pistol spurts out a hot bullet from close range that cuts through Slicks’ cheekbone, peeling off half his face, exiting through his temple. His body falls to the ground, limp and lifeless. Bruce grasps the gold cross beneath his shirt.
A second shot pierces the silence and drives through Bruce’s abdomen from behind. Rose emerges from the shadows. Standing over Bruce’s struggling body, she says, “You’re not the only one with debts,” Rose shoots Bruce again, “And, I guess, not the only one going to hell.”