Tales from The Last Resort // Part 1, Chapter 2

Rick’s van screeched to a halt in front of the entrance to The Last Resort. “Wake up, Al, we’re here,” said Wanda, gently shaking him by the shoulders.

“What…where…” Al sat up suddenly, nearly elbowing Wanda in the process. “I just had the strangest dream.” He shook his head as if to clear it.

“Tell me all about it, honey,” Wanda purred. “Maybe I can make you feel better.” She began to vigorously massage Al’s shoulders.

“Knock it off, you guys,” said Rick. “Why don’t you go inside and get us some brews. I’ve gotta find a place to park.”

“OK, Rick, keep your shirt on!” She got out of the van, held the door open wide with one hand and beckoned toward Al with the other. “After you, handsome,” she breathed.

Rather unsteadily, Al climbed out of the van and pushed his way through the old-fashioned swinging saloon doors which formed the entrance to the bar, Wanda following close behind. Once inside she took his hand and led him over to a long wooden bar crowded with nondescript middle-aged men morosely drinking their shots and beers. As she approached, a familiar voice greeted her warmly.

“Wanda, my dear, what an unexpected pleasure! Slumming at this hour of the night, and with such a handsome escort, too. My, my, whatever possessed you to honor my humble establishment tonight of all nights. Isn’t this the first of the month?” 

“You know how it is, BJ,” Wanda lowered her voice. “Rick’s unemployment check never comes on time anymore. He’s out front parking the van. Be a good guy and give us three beers, OK?”

“Certainly, dear lady, and will that be cash or charge?”

“Don’t try to be cute, BJ, it doesn’t suit you. Just put it on Rick’s tab. By the way, what are you doing behind the bar at this hour anyway? I thought your boy wonder, Fast Eddie, had the night shifts all locked up.”

BJ heaved a long sigh. “Between you and me, Wanda, Fast Eddie proved to be just a little bit too fast, if you know what I mean.”

“You mean—”

“I mean I caught him with his hand in the till surer than shit. And after all I did for that boy, trustin’ him with the keys to the place and payin’ him more than a decent wage. And him with no references to speak of. Why, I was like a father to him and look where it gets me.” 

“I know, BJ, you just get no respect. But listen, I want you to meet someone I hope I’m gonna see a lot more of. BJ, this is Al—Al what, I don’t know yet. Al, this is Mr. BJ Duckworth, the only man I’d trust in a dark alley. Al—BJ. BJ—Al.”

As Al and BJ shook hands an interesting thing happened. It was not the sort of thing that anyone would casually notice, but BJ and Al clasped hands just a little longer, looked into each other’s eyes just a little more deeply than would be considered normal for a bartender and his customer. When they finally stopped looking at each other, BJ seemed at a loss for words.

At length he said, “…Well…Al…any friend of Wanda’s…” He turned and busied himself behind the bar, remarking casually over his shoulder, “Your beer’s on the house.”

“Why, thank you, Mr. Duckworth,” replied Al pleasantly, as BJ set three mugs of beer on the bar.

Wanda looked at BJ in astonishment. “Wow!” she exclaimed to Al. “I just don’t believe this! BJ doesn’t buy drinks for strangers. Not these days!”

BJ shot her a sharp look. “It’s my business who I serve and what I charge, Wanda. And don’t you be forgettin’ it!” Before she could reply, BJ suddenly raised his hand and waved at a long-haired bearded man who was trying to make his way through the crowd toward the bar. “Rick! Rick the Relic, you old son of a bitch, I haven’t seen you in weeks. Where the hell have you been?”

When Rick had finally been able to elbow his way up to the bar beside Wanda and Al, he said nonchalantly, “Oh, you know. Hanging out with the hip and famous. Spreading my karma around. You know how it is.” He avoided BJ’s intent gaze for a few seconds, “But seriously, BJ, I have a sort of a confession to make.”

BJ folded his arms across his chest. “Go on, Rick.”

“Well, you know that metal sculpture I made a couple of years ago, the one I could never sell?”

“Oh, yeah, I recall that one. Ugly looking monstrosity. The one you called ‘Apocalypse Unchained’? Took up a whole room? What of it?”

“Well, I finally sold it last month. To a guy from Walnut Creek. He must’ve figured it was the latest thing ‘cause he gave me five hundred dollars for it. So, for the last few weeks…”

“C’mon, Rick, you can tell me. You’ve been drinking in more ‘fashionable’ establishments, haven’t you? Well, I am shocked! And saddened. After all we’ve been through together.” He turned his back on Rick and began to carefully check the levels in the liquor bottles on the shelf behind the bar.

“But BJ, don’t take it like that,” Rick pleaded. “You know I always come back home, don’t you?”

BJ grudgingly turned back around to face Rick. “Yeah, you always come home, all right. Like the Prodigal Son. But never when you have any bread. Where have you been drinking lately? And what have they got that I haven’t got?”

“OK, it’s like this. You know those new beer bars in the Lower Haight? The ones that feature what they call microbrews on tap? Well, their stuff is really great, but it costs. Three bucks a pint and sometimes more. So now I’m back. And broke.” He looked around the bar for a minute. “But really, BJ, this place gets more depressing every time I come in.” He pointed to a few of the men at the bar who seemed to be guzzling their drinks and staring sadly off into space at the same time. “Just look at these middle-aged zombies. Why do you put up with them?”

BJ looked around and held out both hands in a gesture of helplessness. “They’re the only customers I’ve got left, so what can I do? Not to change the subject, but your friend Wanda doesn’t look particularly depressed. And who is that hunk she sauntered in with? I mean, look at him!”

Rick looked at him. Then he looked at Wanda. She and Al were standing at the bar talking and drinking and Rick thought to himself how good they looked together. Wanda, only in her early twenties, had the kind of figure that made strong men whimper and weak men cry. But even she seemed positively overshadowed by Al’s good looks. He seems to be about 33 or 34, Rick mused, but something about him makes him look much younger. He took note of Al’s full head of curly black hair and his piercing blue eyes, but he decided that the difference lay in his change of expressions: one minute he seemed grimly determined; the next laughing with boyish charm, depending on his mood. His firm jawline almost concealed a slender aristocratic neck. And even in his ill-fitting borrowed clothes he had a body that would turn heads on Castro Street…

Rick’s musings were cut short by Wanda’s impatient tap on his shoulder. “C’mon, Rick, there’s a booth just opened up in back. Let’s go take a load off, huh?”

“Sure, Wanda, just a minute. Look, BJ, Al is just a guy we met tonight out by Golden Gate Park. He said he got mugged. Didn’t have a stitch on him when we picked him up. In fact, those are my old clothes he’s wearing.”

“Hmm,” said BJ. “Looks better in them than you ever did.” He grinned at Al. “So, stranger, just passing through? You a tourist, come to see the sights of our City by the Bay? Or what?”

“He told me he’s ‘on the road’,” said Rick, a tinge of awe in his voice.

“Just a moment, Rick,” Al interrupted. “I can speak for myself. It is true that I come from a place far distant from here. And when I told you that one place is as good as another to me now, I meant it. But now I think this may be the place. Mr. Duckworth, Rick mentioned to me that you had…connections. That maybe you could find me a place to stay. Or even a job. I wouldn’t ask you, having just met you, but you seem to be the kind of person one can trust. And judging by the tone of your establishment here, you also seem as if you could use some help from someone you can trust. Unlike this ‘Fast Eddie’ person.”

“I don’t know,” said BJ uncertainly. “Where are you from? How long do you plan on staying? I always worry about you drifters. Aside from everything else, if you’ve got a record, I could be in big trouble.”

Al suddenly blanched, but quickly recovered. “Not to worry, Mr. Duckworth. I have absolutely no record, anywhere.” He hurriedly drained the last of his beer.

Rick spoke up quickly. “I’ll vouch for him, BJ. Besides, you know that you and the cops have had an agreement for years. They don’t hassle you, and nobody here calls the cops.”

“This is true,” replied BJ a bit smugly. “It’s always been the law of the jungle down here.” He turned back to Al and scratched the stubble on his chin. “Well,” he said slowly. “I suppose I could give you a job. It seems I suddenly need a bartender. I wouldn’t be able to pay you much, and the hours are long. But on the bright side, I also have a room in the back where you could sleep, which means you could make a little more by doubling as a sort of security guard. So what do you say?”

“Mr. Duckworth, I would accept your kind offer, but I know nothing about bartending.”

BJ waved his hand dismissively. “Oh, never mind about that. The boys here mostly just drink shots and beers. About the fanciest drink you’ll ever have to make is a scotch and soda. I’ll show you the ropes and, believe me, you’ll be a pro in no time. After all, I’m an excellent teacher. Now, go have fun with your friends there and at two o’clock we’ll close up and clean up and I’ll show you your room. Tomorrow we’ll start your training at about four in the afternoon and then we’ll discuss your salary requirements. And Al…”

“Yes, Mr. Duckworth?”

“Don’t worry about a thing. I think you’re going to work out just fine.”

Chapter 3 >>

<< Table of Chapters >>

© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022


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