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Bar’s a funny place, but it rarely makes me laugh.
Get to know someone, serve ‘em drinks for years maybe, learn their life story, who’s dead, who’s alive in their family, if they have a family and the name of their dog or cat. Then one day you never see them again. Just gone, not there, don’t come in any more and you never know why.
So when Anthony Angelo walked into Mario’s Tap Room after five years’ absence, all I could say was, “S’up Tone? Usual?” which kind of hid my surprise at seeing him missing his right arm and with a patch over his left eye. He also walked with a decided limp.
“Didn’t think I’d still find you working here,” he muttered with a tight lipped delivery I didn’t remember from back then. He was tougher, leaner and in his voice the hint of a threat. “Thought you’d have another job by now. Higher class joint, maybe. Serving sushi and sake. Yah. Gimme a Hook.”
I tried to look nonchalant as I wiped a glass and put it in the service rack. “Nope,” I said. “Like it here. Meet all kinds, including you. Where you been Tony? You look like hell if you don’t mind me saying. What happened?” I went over and pulled a pint. He didn’t say a word until I set it on the counter in front of him.
He groused in his beer, stared at it long and hard with that one good eye, blew the foam over to one side, took a sip and looked me straight in the face. “If I told you I’d have ta kill ya.”
I stepped back as quick as I could saying, “Whoa,” and almost bumped into the back bar. My reaction might have been a dead give away, but maybe not. It could simply mean I was not ready to put myself in harm’s way over some stupid comment, and Anthony Angelo was just the one to cause that harm even if he only had one arm.
“Don’t worry,” he grinned holding the rim of the glass up to his nose as if sighting down a rifle barrel, “Your secret’s safe with me.”
Which did not allay any of my sudden fear. Had this half-wit alkie figured it out or was he just making words come out his mouth to hear himself talk? Was he in my bar to fill a quota or was he accidentally hitting the right hot buttons? There was one way to find out, but I didn’t get a chance to deliver the first test question when a long, high pitched howl like a wolf braying at the moon came careening at us from the other end of the bar.
The only other patron in the place on a weekday afternoon was Slim who has stayed drunk since the day he rotated out of riding point on a LRP in the Mekong. Slim was not much of a witness, but neither was he a noisy drinker. His once black afro had grown snowy with age and he had not had it shaped in decades. Frankly, it looked like an explosion in a mattress factory. He usually kept his head down and drank quietly. Not today, not this afternoon. Something had him riled.
His first cry was followed by “Hooo! Hah!” which might have been a mispronunciation of “Ten-hut!” the way I heard it. The quiet was broken and I was suddenly on edge.
Tony took another sip of ale and smacked his lips, apparently unfazed by Slim’s outburst.
“Do I get the long story or the short version?” I persisted.
“Lost the arm and eye in the jungle on Frass where I been for the last few years.” He blew on his brew. I wiped another glass. I was not familiar with that particular battle zone. “Zigged when I should’a zagged. One blast caught me square in the back and the only thing the surgeon could do was cut it off here.” He wriggled his shoulder at me like he was waving his missing arm. “The eye fell out by itself.” He did that annoying blow sip, then said, “Supposed to grow back in about a lifetime.”
That clinched it, my suspicions were confirmed. There was no doubt he was a Supra because that’s the way they look at existence — with the long view, the very long view. And I was certain he had an agenda.
I had to be careful. I did not know how much he knew and, although I had him with that remark, I didn’t want him to know I knew. After all, this was San Francisco where any supranatural could drop off the screen, take a vacation or just get out of the line of fire for a while. That’s why we were all here, hiding out, waiting until the time was right.
For me, the time would probably never be right again. I didn’t like wiping glasses and pulling taps, but I decided I liked it a whole lot better than getting shot at. Which is why I stayed behind the bar, any bar. Been working in one or another joint since 1851 when the town was wild, the gold rush was on and it seemed to me just the place to settle in for a little R&R. I stole a ship, took a powder and got a job. I’ve been moving around town for the last two centuries without glancing back. Until now, that is.
Tony, I now realized, had also been on the lam only I didn’t know it. And look what happened to him. He returned and got busted up and now he was here again only half whole, probably on assignment this time. But was I his assignment or was this still just an accidental encounter? Stranger coincidences have occurred, though I couldn’t tell you when or where.
Meanwhile, I had no idea that what was about to come strolling through the heavy red curtains shielding the front door from daylight on Haight Street would be my worst nightmare come true.