• • •
The ladies are waiting at the door when Grit rolls into the lot. He keeps his distance along the far edge, his Harley purring like a leopard looking at a herd of gazelles. They’re staring at him and he’s staring right back – no need for pretense. Everybody knows what’s going down tonight. Everybody’s prepared.
Well… maybe the girls are, anyway.
Bricks consume the girls as Grit pulls around the side of the building. The wheels of his bike trade asphalt for dirt and the thorny limbs of overgrown bramble snatch and claw at his left side, but they don’t pierce his leather jacket. A stiletto couldn’t pierce that leather jacket.
The light at the end of the tunnel is a dim orange glow, and it will stay dim until the bulb blows out. Grit’s the only one who uses the back lot and quite frankly he doesn’t need the light, it’s only installed to meet code. Helps with the security camera, too, but that’s beside the point.
Grit parks before the garage door and dismounts, takes the keys with him. Normally he’d bring the bike in, but not tonight. The bike stays outside tonight.
Grit’s Pub is not a fancy place. The office used to be bigger, but then Grit put in the garage. The front room used to have six booths, but then Grit put in the two pool tables. Now there are four booths, and one gets more use than the others. Not a whole lot of folk fit at the counter, but not a whole lot of folk come into the pub. For those who do, there is an exquisite selection of fast-pouring liquor on the shelves and slow-flowing beers on tap. Grit won’t make you a cocktail, but he has a machine that will. It’s a good place, Grit’s Pub. Grit’s real proud of it.
After the lights are flicked on and the jukebox is kicked into playing a tune, Grit unlocks the front door. The girls are still waiting there, and they stay waiting there. The eye contact is thick, fibrous with knowing. After a moment Grit nods, and so do the girls, one by one. They all file in. Grit watches them sit in their booth, then closes the door.
Grit gets to washing glasses.
The girls don’t order a single thing for the first hour and a half, nor does a single human come through Grit’s Pub. This is nothing out of the ordinary; the rest stops usually take in all the traffic on this stretch of the highway. Business has never been booming at Grit’s Pub, but that’s just how Grit likes it. The girls are regulars, but there’s a reason for that.
There’s a reason for most everything going on in Grit’s life, come to think of it. He’s not a careless man, never has been. The girls all know that. Hell, that’s probably the only reason they’re still around. They know the risks, they know they don’t have to be here, but they choose to come anyway. Maybe they trust Grit. Maybe they want to help. Maybe they have nothing going for them.
“Hell, that’s the only reason I’m here,” Grit confesses under his breath to an audience of himself. The girls hear, one of them even looks over, but he pays ‘er no mind. It’s not like it’ll change what’s happening tonight. Certain gears have already been set a’churn.
Grit washes the glasses four times before the girls decide to start drinking. They each order a Gritty cosmo; while the mixer makes the sauce, Grit goes into the garage and fetches a full jar from the box next to the crate of castor beans. He almost steps on the mattress, almost ruins the whole thing. If the mattress has always been there, why would someone step on it?
“Chill out, it’s fine,” Grit says aloud. “It’s going to be fine.” He takes a breath and straightens himself, then closes the garage back up. He returns to the front room with a jar of moonshine clenched tightly in his right hand.
Four cosmos sit in four glasses before four girls sat at Grit’s bar. He uncaps the jar and makes the cosmos Gritty, looking the drinkers dead in the eyes as he pours. He recaps the jar and sets it down loudly, then puffs out his chest.
“Last chance, girls. You can leave right now.”
As if they practiced it, the girls simultaneously take up their Gritty cosmos and drain the glasses down to the last drop. In answer, Grit uncaps his moonshine and takes a brutal swig. It goes down smoothly, though he won’t be able to taste anything for the next two days at least.
“Very well,” when the jar is capped. “To your booths.”
Three of the girls go to their favorite booth. The fourth sits alone in the one next to the garage door. Grit begins to wash the glasses again.
Seven drinkers come and go through Grit’s Pub without hassle, some without a single word. The eighth is more talkative.
“Jeffers!” bleats the oily man as he bursts through the front door hard enough to knob the wall. The three girls ignore him. The fourth leans out of her booth at the sound of his voice. Grit takes his final breath of clean air, then turns around.
“Devyn Lind, as I live and breathe.” He walks out and meets the oily man halfway across the floor, uncomfortably close to the booth harboring the three girls. “I didn’t think you’d come all the way out here!”
“Sheeiit, and not see my new buddy’s place of work?!” The oily man slaps Grit on the back. In the explosion of motion, Grit catches a whiff of crude oil and hot slag. He has to fight himself to not double over on the spot. “You must be outta your head!”
Grit shrugs, admits such is a possibility, then leads the oily man to the counter. They talk. They drink. The oily man starts peeping at the girls. Grit washes the glasses.
The Night Continues
The night continues without another patron. The girls all drink liberally, especially the one sat alone. From a distance the oily man keeps pace, talking big shit betwixt his sips.
A Place to Stay
“Another Jager, Dev’?”
“You know what, Jeffers?” hiccups the oily man. “You pour me somethin’ light. I’m’a go check out that gee-rahge yous was tellin’ me al’about. Go ‘head an’ pour that beer now.” He sniffles loudly, then wipes his nose with his sleeve. “I won’t be long.”
Grit nods. He pulls out a glass and puts it beneath the nozzle of the Michelob Light tap. As the beer slowly, foamily flows, Grit watches the oily man approach the fourth girl. He points at her stack of empty glasses and they laugh. He offers her his hand. She takes it. As soon as the garage door closes behind them, Grit unscrews the Michelob Light handle and slaps the bottom of it against the palm of his hand. A small capsule falls out, no thicker than a pencil. Grit breaks the capsule and lets the white powder dissolve into the slow stream of beer. Grit then tosses the empty shells in the trash, washes his hands, and refastens the handle. Ten seconds later the beer finishes pouring. When Grit places the glass next to the empty shorty on the counter, the fourth girl slowly lets herself out of the garage before jetting through the bar, eyes on the floor. Two of the other girls follow her out. The fourth looks at Grit, then leaves the bar.
Grit takes the beer to the garage and knocks on the door. He leaves the beer for Devyn to drink, and Devyn thanks Grit for giving him a place to stay for the night. Grit locks up and walks outside.
The girls are all gone.
The ride home is a long one.
This has been the third story from Highdeas: The Lost Stories from the Seven Earths, a flash fiction anthology hidden in the back of the book Over the River: The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox. Here is everything you need to know about it:
Over the River
The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox
Over the River is the third book in a trilogy called The Fall of the Seven Earths. I’ve also released that trilogy as a single book called The Fall of the Seven Earths. Here’s everything you need to know about it:
The Fall of the Seven Earths
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
If supporting The Hillside Commons is something you want to do, click here.
If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~