Ed Bedford 11:44 p.m., June 19
I was already there, two drinks into the morning and outside of the Star Bar when I saw Hank tumbling out of the bus. He was dressed for work and I was smoking a cigarette outside with my third beer in there covered by a napkin, and I puffed quickly. Hank didn't see me and he likely didn’t see anyone; he was in bad shape. I watched him take a few steps and three things were apparent. He was still half drunk but mostly hung over from the night before, he was broke, and he had no plans on going to work.
Hard to blame him on any accounts.
Quickly, I tossed the cigarette and went back inside, taking the napkin from the top of my draught and Hank walked in, he looked like death. Tony had opened the place and was already passed out on the other end of the bar, Francisco and Teddy were arguing about baseball, and Hank and me made five. Hank took a seat next to mine, I could tell he was broke by the way he walked. I had some money.
“Hey, sweetheart, get Hank a beer on me.”
“Thanks,” Hank said. It took him a while to get a little bit straight. “The openers are all here,” he said, referring to us five, the hard core drinkers, the drunks, the hopeless.
“Just got here,” I said. I was lying out of kindness.
“Thanks for the beer. Thank you too, Lolite,” he said and raised his glass to both of us. He drank and I drank, and Hank looked better about halfway through that first glass. The whole world looks better after that first beer. The only difference between Hank and me is that I had to get there earlier. We had been on both sides of that necessity.
Lolite is the morning girl, Monday through Friday. They’re all Filipinas, morning, noon, and night, no one knows their real names. They’re only nice to us for the tips. Otherwise, we’re just a bunch of God Damned drunks. Lolite spends the morning on the side of the bar with Tony, because he isn’t a problem. Hank and me, we’re problems, so are Francisco and Teddy. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they don’t. I don’t fight much, but I don’t stop any of them, either.
“Haven’t seen you in here for a few days, Hank,” I said. “Been working?”
“Took the day off. What have I missed?”
“Not much,” I said. “Some guy walked in the other morning and gave Teddy a hard time. Teddy finally swung on him, but he missed. Cops came. They were both gone by then.”
Hank grinned for the first time that morning. “Guy never came back?”
“No. Not yet. Yesterday, some preacher came in here, telling all of us that Jesus would save us. That was a hoot. Tony chased him out, finally. Threatened to kick his butt all the way to the Pearly Gates.”
Laughing, Hank looked back at Tony who was still passed out. “Dumb bastard looks so peaceful.”
Hank then looked up thoughtfully. “Christianity. The belief that over 2,000 years ago, a Jewish man who was executed turned into a zombie and can grant immortality if one symbolically eats of his flesh and drinks of his blood and accepts him as one’s master in order to cast demons from the souls of all of humanity because thousands of years before he was born a woman who came from a rib followed the advice of a talking snake and ate some fruit from an enchanted tree.”
That was when I knew that Hank had his groove back. And then it happened; I smelled her perfume before she even walked in. When you spend enough time in a bar in the mornings, with the drunks and the desperate, you can have your eyes closed and know when someone new enters the place. Everyone looked over at once. She wasn’t a working girl, we knew all of the hookers, and she wasn’t the prettiest thing either. But she was enough. She sat in the middle of the bar, next to no one, and ordered a drink. I got Hank and me two more beers and covered mine with a napkin and excused myself, I needed another cigarette outside.
I puffed on that cigarette, slowly, while counting how many more drinks it would take in there before another fight broke out. Reaching into my pocket I pulled out a twenty dollar bill and thought that maybe that would be just enough, and maybe I would be drunk by the time it was done. The sun was getting too hot to keep me going outside and waiting for it. Sometimes all it took was some broad with nothing better to do than to get us drunks in a fight over her. It wasn’t even noon, and I wondered what would happen next.