D.B. stepped up to the bar. “Bourbon and water,” he said, with a nod to the bartender.
“Sure. Got a particular flavor?” the bartender said.
D.B. shook his head and the bartender busied himself with a bottle of his cheapest. His sleeves were rolled up to this elbow and his arms were lined with tattoos. D.B. found himself staring at them.
“You like the ink?” the bartender asked as he passed the bourbon over.
D.B. shook his head. “Never much cared for it.”
“No?” the bartender said with a smile. “Guess not many folks your age have them.”
“You’d be surprised. I was in the navy. Lot of the boys had them then. I never did. And it was a good thing. Easy way for people to remember you.”
“Some of us want to be remembered,” the bartender said.
“Sure,” D.B. said. “Some do. Some don’t.”
By his tone he made it plain which he preferred. The bartender looked as though he were about to reply but another customer, a young woman with large glasses, entered and he went to her. D.B. took a sip of his bourbon and cast about the room with a studied eye, noting the exits and the few people present. An old habit, one he did not intend to lose.
There were no more than a half dozen people in the place at this hour—a grubby little bar with pretensions to being hip, that didn’t quite manage it. Most of them were young—D.B. had a half-century on all of them, he would guess—and absorbed in the heat of their lives. Only the bartender paid him any mind, with, what seemed to D.B., a genuine curiosity as to why an old man was having a bourbon in his establishment at two in the afternoon.
When D.B. was finished his first bourbon the bartender made his way over. “Care for another?”
“Sure. I got the time.” He could feel a twinge of his old accent coming back into his voice as he spoke. It was always there, hidden, but visible. Something he had to watch for.
“Great. Big plans for the rest of the day?”
“Can’t say as I do. I’m done with big plans.”
The bartender chuckled. “They never work out, do they?”
D.B shrugged. “Sometimes they do. It’s always harder than you think, though. And then you wonder if it was all worth it.”
The bartender gave a helpless shrug and went to refill a pint for the girl with the glasses. D.B. took a sip of the bourbon and looked her over. A cute thing, he had to admit, though he didn’t like the glasses. She reminded him of someone, though he couldn’t say who. Someone from another life, most likely.
Moments like this, these brief little interludes he allowed himself, were the only companionship he had. Friends were risky, lovers even more so. What he did—what he had done—required a discipline that had to adhered to absolutely. There could be no allowances made, no exceptions. It was an iron rule. That discipline, and the patience to wait, to not give in to haste or impetuousness. No long term ties, nothing that he couldn’t walk away from without a second thought. These were the things that had kept him free, alive, and able to live out his reward.
“What brings you here?” the bartender said, coming back over to talk to him.
D.B. frowned. The kid was curious, which meant he would remember this old man he was talking to, at least for a time. He regretted coming in here. This was supposed to be a minor celebration—a private one—of his return.
“Just visiting some old haunts,” D.B. said.
“Oh yeah. You been here before?”
D.B. shook his head. “Nah. Lived in Tacoma for a few years, you know. I’m just passing through and thought I’d see the old neighborhoods. Catch up with some folks.”
The bartender nodded and went to fix a gin and tonic. D.B. grimaced as he walked away. Getting chatty in his old age. There was no need to be going and telling him all that. It was too near the truth. Mistakes added up, and they led to others.
Still, he had to admit, he was probably being overcautious. It had been twenty years since he’d last set foot in Tacoma. That had been after a long, solitary walk through the forest in winter. He’d nearly died those two nights, nearly died coming off the plane. That had been risky, but a risk he’d needed to take. And there had been mistakes then as well.
It had taken some time to disappear, but he’d done so. Everything had been exactingly planned and carried out to the letter. Dozens of suspects had been named, and presumably investigated, but they’d never come near to finding him. They were always looking in the wrong places, for someone who had a history of that sort of thing. He had none, at least nothing they would know of.
His time had been spent planning, planning and waiting for the right moment to set everything in motion. Once it had started, he’d just gone through with everything and hoped that his luck would hold. When it did, he waited again. First for the money to be cleaned and then for enough time to pass that he wouldn’t be noticed.
This had always been the plan, and now that it was at an end he felt an odd sense of emptiness. What had been the point of it all? The plan had defined everything and now it was through and he was left with nothing to do. A man approaching his sixties, the best of his life behind him, and he had to start over. He felt a twinge of regret and pushed it aside with the last sip of his bourbon. No time to be worrying about that now. He’d find a new plan, a new set of rules. That would be nice.
He shook his head as the bartender came over to offer him another bourbon, slipping some money on the counter of the bar, and headed to the bathroom. It reeked of piss and urinal cakes, everything looking as though it were barely holding together, graffiti tagged on every wall. As he worked his zipper open, he heard the door behind him swing open, squeaking as it did.
It was a woman who spoke and when he turned around he saw the girl with big glasses standing there. She had a small pistol in her hand and was screwing on a silencer. He stared at her open mouthed, his hands still at his open fly.
“You recognize me old man?” She spoke in a clipped tone, with the barest hint of an accent.
She was familiar. D.B. struggled to remember how he knew her. “You were in the casino in Vegas,” he said at last.
“I was there long before that. I’ve been on your trail for a long time D.B. Do you know why?”
He shook his head. “If it’s the money you want—“
“It isn’t. You never had time to look at me. You were always looking at that damn money. Even before it was there.”
With those words, D.B. did recognize her. His eyes widened. She raised the gun and shot him, twice, near the heart. He fell to the bathroom floor with a soft groan, thinking that it had never occurred to him. Never occurred to him at all. He was staring up as she came to stand over him and put a bullet in his head, but he already couldn’t see.
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…
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