New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample story from 21 Tales by Dave Zeltserman

Closing Time

This was my first story to appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The concept for this one: a guy spending a night buying drinks in a Dublin Bar. Anyone who thinks Alfred Hitchcock doesn’t publish dark nasty crime fiction needs to think again!

When I walk into Donlan’s there’s a loud chorus of “Dev”, just as the bar patrons used to yell “Norm” in the old sitcom Cheers. These days I am going by the name Devlin Smith. Over the years I’ve gone by a number of different names, which is important in my line of work. My current business card reads: Devlin Smith—Dealer in antiquities and rare objects. While the name’s phony, for the most part the rest of the card’s correct, although you could argue how rare the objects really are that I collect.

Anyway, I acknowledge the greeting with the same sort of wave the aforementioned Norm used to give. I even look a bit like Norm these days, although I’m quite a bit taller. About six and a half feet, topping out at three hundred pounds.

Jack already has a pint of Murphy’s waiting for me. “Right on cue, Dev,” he says as he hands me the glass, a genuine smile stretching his lips.

“Now what in the world would make me miss my night at Donlan’s?” I answer back. “And you better start pouring more drinks. Round for the house on me.”

Another cheer roars through the pub. They know that I’ll be buying rounds all night. I take a sip of the Murphy’s, grateful that Jack had poured me the ale instead of waiting for my order. I’d been hankering all day for a Jameson’s, and that wouldn’t have done me any good. Alcohol has always been my downfall. If I started with whiskey this early who knows what trouble I’d get into? Better to stretch the night with Murphy’s and finish off with a couple of Jameson’s. Much, much safer that way. I really do enjoy my nights at Donlan’s and it would be a shame to lose them over a sloppy night of drinking. I let out a sigh of relief that Jack had been looking out for me, and say a silent prayer for him.

Katy’s working the tables and stops by to give me a wink and a smile bright enough to blind. “Howya doin’, Dev?” she says. It’s great to have ya here, ya know?” She’s a little thing, barely able to fill out a size two pair of jeans. But as cute and perky as any I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen many, trust me. Blond hair, blue eyes, slightly upturned nose, and that perfect Irish skin.

“Seeing you makes it all worthwhile,” I tell her. “Screw all this. Let’s say you and me get married after your shift and I’ll show you how well I’m really doing.”

She giggles at that, her face blushing a perfect amount of pink. “Ah, if only you weren’t joking me,” she says, and then grabs a tray of drinks and squeezes by, turning back to give me one last wink.

I take another long drink of my Murphy’s and am surprised to see the pint glass already empty. Jack has another glass waiting for me. I make a mental note to slow down. I remember other times where I had screwed things up because of alcohol. Then I stand for a moment soaking in the atmosphere of Donlan’s, and smile broadly at all the beaming faces that are turned my way already smiling at me.

Four months earlier I had business up north and stopped off afterwards in Dublin for what I thought would be a couple of days rest and relaxation. Then I found Donlan’s. Now Dublin is a city of over a hundred bars, many of them these days trendy, loud, with music blaring, and filled with well-dressed, beautiful but basically plastic people. I can have fun in places like that, and usually in my own way find them rewarding, but Donlan’s was something special. Genuine salt-of-the-earth types. Good wholesome people. So I stretched my vacation from a few days to four months. Well, sort of, because in a way I’m always working.

I squeeze through the bar area, getting numerous slaps on the back. Donlan’s seats forty, another thirty can crowd by the bar. These days the place is stuffed to the rafters since word got out about that generous Yank from Brooklyn buying rounds all night long. Still, as I look around I notice most of the faces, the regulars still fighting their way in each night.

In reality I’m not from Brooklyn, not even from North America, but I guess I developed that heavy accent from the years I spent in New York. Anyway, I saw no reason to correct these people’s impression. With some amusement I’ve noticed an Irish brogue slipping into my speech patterns recently. If I stay here long enough, next place I go all the locals will assume I’m Irish.

Gerald Herrity, an eighty year-old duffer who could barely keep his false teeth in his mouth, starts to get up from his barstool to offer me his seat. I place my arm around his shoulder to keep him where he is. “I don’t mind standing awhile,” I say to him. He flashes me a drunken grin, his eyes already glazing from the alcohol, and then raises his shot glass for a salute.

I raise my own pint glass, and with some alarm notice the glass is again empty. Another mental note to slow myself down. I catch Jack’s eye and he starts pouring me another draft.

A thin, fiftyish year-old man with a shock of white hair is making his way over so he can pump my hand.

“Devlin, an honor to be able to spend the night drinking with the likes of you.”

I like the guy. He’s a writer from Galway, been coming to Donlan’s the last two weeks. Probably made the trip to Dublin on word of my nightly buying routine at Donlan’s.

“Pleasure’s all mine, Ken.”

Jack works his way through the other patrons so he can hand me a fresh pint and I indicate to him from this point on to make the switch to Jameson’s. He gives me a wary eye but acknowledges my request. I turn back to this Galway writer of all things criminal and dark.

“I finished your wonderful manuscript,” I tell him. “A thing of pure beauty. I loved every second of it.” And I’m not kidding him. I really did.

“Now if I can only find a publisher with the bollocks to print it,” the Galway writer tells me, smiling somewhat bitterly. He finishes his Jameson’s in a gulp. I signal to Jack with four fingers to bring us a couple more apiece.

“I don’t understand why they wouldn’t,” I say.

“Too dark and violent for them, I guess.”

“To me it could be even darker.” I finish the last of my Murphy’s and take the shot glasses from Jack, handing two of them to Ken. I hold one of my shot glasses up to the light and study the amber beauty of it. My hand shakes slightly. Deep down I know I’m making a mistake, but I’ve had the taste of Jameson’s on my tongue all day.

“As much as I love your manuscript,” I tell the writer, “you could make it even darker. Screw them. You need to make it even more over the top, more violent. I can give you some ideas I have about what more you could do with your hero.”

“You mean my anti-hero. There’s no hero in this one.”

“Sure. Whatever.” I spot Mick. I’ve been counseling him every night for the last three weeks about a problem of his and am anxious to talk more with him. I slap Ken on the back, leaving him nodding, thinking over what I said.

Mick’s looking glum. I can almost feel the lump in his throat. When he sees me he tries to smile but it doesn’t stick.

“I don’t think Cara cares for me,” he tells me.

Katy’s walking by. I ask if she can bring a tray of Jameson’s. Knowing the shape Mick’s in, he’s going to need them.

“Mick,” I say to him. “I’ve seen the two of you. I know about these things. I’ve been the same place you are now. Trust me, okay?”

We stand together silently twiddling our thumbs until Katy brings over the tray. After a few more shots each, I ask him if he’s been calling Cara and telling her all the things I’ve told him to tell her.

“I have,” he admits. “Although it don’t seem right.”

“Sometimes you have to let them know you won’t take no for an answer. Trust me, Mick. I’ve been there.”

With some disbelief, I realize the tray is loaded with nothing but empty shot glasses. Fortunately Katy is within earshot. I signal for a fresh tray. After she brings it over and Mick and I have a few more shots, I explain to him that sometimes actions mean more than words.

“Mick, I can see in her eyes how she feels about you. Sometimes a girl’s just shy. Sometimes you need a boy to act like a man. Are you a man?”

Mick shoots down another tumbler of Jameson’s, his jaw hardening. He nods.

“Well, goddamn it, show her you’re a man,” I tell him. “Go straight to her apartment now and give her what she’s been wanting.”

Gawd, he’s drunk. In the state he’s in I doubt he could get it up. More likely he’ll end up beating her to death. Still, Mick takes a deep breath and then clenches his jaw even tighter. I give him a slap on the back and send him on his way.

Of course I’m laughing on the inside. I saw the way Cara had looked at him in the past. No interest whatsoever. Still, this is what I do.

I can feel someone staring at me, feel the hotness of it. I turn and see Katy, her eyes now narrow and beady as she looks at me, her mouth scrunched up into some sort of hurt look. All the cuteness and perkiness has been bled out of that tiny little body of hers. “I overheard you talking to Mick,” she says, her voice cautious, controlled. “I don’t think that was good advice at all. Someone’s going to get hurt.”

I finish off the last of the Jameson’s. How many does that make? Eleven, twelve? I’ve lost count. “Don’t worry, Darling,” I tell her. “Everything will work out as it should.”

For a moment I’m lost in thought. I’m thinking about the events that are going to unfold between Mick and his darling Cara, about whether he’ll end up beating her to death or whether she uses that gun I had sent to her. Then my mind drifts to other bar patrons I had counseled at Donlan’s and the violent ends they have recently met. There was George O’Halloran, suspecting his wife of cheating on him, and me telling him about it all being hogwash and convincing him where and when he should surprise her, all in the name of romance. And then there was Seamus, a disillusioned young man needing some meaning to his life. The advice I gave him over two months about how he could make a difference in Belfast, and only a few short weeks later his corpse being returned back to Dublin for a proper burial. And there were others, maybe not making as big a splash, but the damage still done. You see I’m always working. Even when on vacation, I’m always working. Always collecting. . . .

I’m laughing now, silently, but uncontrollably. I mean it’s all so goddamn funny. I notice Katy now, her mouth twisted into a look of pure horror, her face utterly drained of blood. I don’t get it. Why that reaction, just from a few uncontrollable belly laughs?

“Looksh, darling—” I realize I’m now slurring my words. Then I stop dead, also realizing what she has noticed. What the whole bar has noticed. Cause Donlan’s is now dead as any morgue. For a long ten-count utter complete silence. Then you can hear all of their bloody hearts beating like crazy.

What they’re all staring at, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, is that I had slipped up and had given myself away. My hoofs are now visible, and my tail, red as any flame and sharper than any dagger, has ripped through my pants. As I said before, alcohol has always been my downfall. With Pontius Pilate it was wine, with the Pharaohs it was mead, with the Tsars it was vodka. So it has always been. And, as I am sure, so will it always be. As much as I have enjoyed my nights at Donlan’s I have to face facts that the place was now lost to me.

Since it no longer matters, I give up all pretenses and show them who I really am in all my glory. As my body expands, as my clothes rip from me, some of the bar patrons swoon, and I’m sure some probably expired right then and there. I let loose a laugh, but it’s hollow. I know I’m going to miss the place.

As I leave for the last time, I try to cheer myself up, remembering reading in People Magazine about a trendy new bar opening up recently in Los Angeles. A place that’s a magnet for Hollywood’s rich and famous. While I know it will be no Donlan’s I take solace that in my own way I’ll make it my home.

I turn, give Donlan’s one last nod, and disappear into the night.