The bar was quiet when the woman entered. There were two other patrons, both smoking near the corner of the bar, chatting animatedly with each other. Lottie sat down on the stool at the other end of the bar and adjusted the cold steel that was sitting in the waistband of her jeans. The bartender, a young man with a fresh face and stubble on his cheeks, leaned forward on the bar and looked at Lottie.
“Hi, pretty lady. The usual?” he asked.
Lottie smiled and offered a slight nod. “Your dad take a vacation?” Lottie asked.
The bartender scooped some ice into a small cocktail glass and pulled the bourbon from the well. He poured a healthy shot into the glass and slid it in front of Lottie. “No. He’s just convinced that I need to work more.” The bartender raised his arms in the air, signifying the bar around him. “Especially if all of this will one day be mine.” The two smokers at the other end of the bar chuckled and resumed their conversation.
“He’s a good man, your father,” Lottie said. “And you’ll do well to be like him, Brian.”
Brian looked down the length of the bar. He was almost blushing. “Oh, I know he is, but I guess I never figured myself for a bar owner.”
Lottie took a sip of her drink and set it down. She pulled a pack of Camels from the breast pocket of her plaid shirt and popped out a cigarette. Brian pulled a lighter from his pocket and lit the tip of Lottie’s cigarette.
“Thank you,” she said. “You may not have figured on being here for the rest of your life, but there are some folks that come in here that might hope you think otherwise.”
Brian smiled and crossed his arms, clearly interested in what Lottie had to say. “Go on,” he said.
She took a drag from her Camel and placed it into the cheap black ashtray on the bar. A thin wisp of smoke curled up from the ashtray, swirling in the air before dispersing. “Well, it’s like this, Brian. When we’re growing up, we always have some sort of idea about how our lives are going to go. We imagine that we’ll go off to school, or a great job perhaps. We imagine finding the right mate and getting married. And then we begin living our lives and realize that maybe, just maybe, we don’t have any idea how it’s going to go at all. We simply wake up one day and realize that perhaps we have to forge a new path.”
Lottie took another pull from her bourbon and picked up her cigarette between two thick fingers. She inhaled and set the Camel down.
Brian was watching her, looking at her face thoughtfully. He leaned against the back of the bar. Lottie smiled at him. Brian smiled back.
“Is that something that happened to you?” he asked.
“Oh, no. My story is a little different. I had a fairy tale. I was very happy.”
The door of the bar opened, and a bell clanged overhead. Brian looked up and saw three men ambling towards the bar. They decided on their seats and sat down.
From where she sat, four stools down from the men, Lottie could smell trouble in the air. Not necessarily from these men, but from where they had been. The past year had been the most trying time of Lottie Ellis’s life. She had lost her husband, lost her faith, and on more than one occasion, had almost lost her life, but just as she preached to Brian a moment ago, sometimes life didn’t hand you bliss. Sometimes life shoved a great big middle finger in your face and asked, what are you gonna do about it? Lottie chose to break that finger.
Brian finished making the drinks for the new patrons and slid back over to Lottie. He grabbed her glass and shook it. “Another?” he asked. Lottie nodded and stubbed out her cigarette.
Feeling a heavy restlessness settling in the air, Lottie decided it best to change the subject and lighten the mood. “You got yourself a girlfriend, Brian?”
Brian put the fresh drink down in front of her and smiled. She smiled back at him. “Well?” she said.
“I have a lady that I’ve been seeing. Name’s Naomi. She comes in here once in a while.”
“Naomi? That’s a pretty name. So she’s what, 21?” Lottie asked.
“She’s twenty-eight. Five years older than me.”
“Oh,” Lottie nodded her approval. “An older woman is a wise choice. We tend to know what we want as we get older. We make the kind of choices that young girls couldn’t make.”
Brian blushed further and glanced down the bar at the other patrons. Noticing an empty bottle of beer at the end of the bar, he moved down and offered another round. Lottie watched him and then glanced at the three men closest to her. She smelled something again. Something that suggested violence. Where had they come from? Lottie didn’t dare glance too long. She knew the perils of men in bars who caught a woman looking at them. The merest glance, in their eyes, meant that a woman was down for anything. It amazed Lottie how stupid men were. So she pulled her gaze back to front and center and focused on Brian as he came back towards her.
“Have you found someone new, since, well…” Brian started.
“Since my husband died? No.” Lottie watched his expression change, and she put her hand on the bar near his. “It’s ok, Brian. I’m a tough chick. I can talk about it.”
“It’s none of my business.”
“It’s ok. Really. And to answer your question, no. I don’t seem to have the time right now.” This wasn’t a lie, but Lottie was not quite sure Brian the bartender would be willing to know why she didn’t have someone new in her life. She might tell him one day if he was still around when it was all over—when the last of them had paid for what they had done.
“My dad tells me stories sometimes about what happened. For a while, I wasn’t sure I even believed him,” Brian said.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in this bar talking to your father, especially after my husband, Will, died. Your father was a very sympathetic ear for me,” Lottie held up her bourbon, “as well as having a heavy hand with the bourbon.”
Brian stood up. He seemed eager to hear the story. Eager to know her tale. She felt like obliging him. Sometimes there was therapy in the telling. So Lottie took another swallow from her bourbon and set the glass on the bar. She twirled it in her hands for a moment and then leaned back in her stool. “What exactly did your father tell you?”
“He said your husband was murdered.”
“He’s right. Will was murdered. Brutally murdered. But it was a while ago now, and you have to move on.”
“But how do you move on from something like that?” Brian asked.
Lottie looked thoughtfully at her glass. She recalled many nights of crying and thoughts of taking her own life. She remembered spending many mornings hungover from too much bourbon and hating herself for such self-pity, but then she thought of that one moment when everything seemed to become clear. That moment that alcoholics call a moment of clarity. That’s how she moved on; by staying strong and powering through the most emotional experience of her life.
“You move on because you have to, Brian. You move on because if you don’t, you die. It’s that simple.” There was a long pause, with Brian taking in her words as he leaned against the register.
Lottie pulled another cigarette from her pack. Brian, removed from his daze, leaned forward with his lighter again. He lit it, lingering a bit longer than he should have. Lottie noticed and leaned back in her stool.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Did they ever find out who killed him?”
“I know who killed him. I knew the moment it happened,” Lottie said.
“Has he been caught?”
Lottie smirked, looking down the bar at the three men laughing and enjoying their drinks. She turned her attention back to Brian. “Not yet,” she replied. “But I’m working on that.”
That uneasy feeling of violence returned, and Lottie suddenly became more aware of her surroundings. The noises in the bar became muted, and each scent drifted through her nostrils. She was able to separate each smell; liquor, smoke, mildew, cleaning products, cologne, deodorant. She noticed Brian sense something different in the air. Lottie had spent the past five years training her senses, and she knew with great certainty that the unconscious mind had this power. It just had to be harnessed. So she watched Brian look towards the three men at the bar, not knowing why, but doing it all the same. He turned his attention back to Lottie.
“Would finding the people who did it bring you any peace?” he asked.
“I would be able to sleep again, Brian. God, I miss a good night’s sleep.”
Brian smiled and moved off. He refilled drinks in front of the men at the bar and then slid further down to the smoking couple. Lottie watched him, jealous of his naïveté. Jealous of his lack of knowing the things she knew. She wanted to end her whole ordeal. Be done with the thing that had consumed her for the past half-decade. But she wasn’t any closer to finishing her business at hand. So, as Brian slid back towards her, grabbing empty glasses and depositing them in the sink, she smiled at him.
“I think I need my bill, Brian.”
Brian turned around and printed out her receipt. He slid it across the bar towards her and put both hands on the bar. “Can I ask you one more thing?” he asked.
“Sure,” said Lottie, pulling money out of her pocket and glancing at the total on her bill.
“How did Will die? What did they do to him?” Brian asked.
Lottie stopped short, a twenty dollar bill in her hands. She hadn’t expected that question. Why not? It was the most obvious one, wasn’t it? The question everyone always asked when she had these conversations with people. But some people were not ready to hear the answer. Some people didn’t have the mind to accept what she could tell them. Brian was a good kid. She had watched him grow up for the past twenty years when she used to come into the bar with her husband. Her Will. Brian could take it, she decided, and perhaps by telling him the truth, she could share some of the burdens with someone else, as selfish as that may seem. Right now, she would gladly give away her obligation for just one night of peace. She laid the money on the bar on top of her bill and exhaled. She looked into Brian’s eyes, seeing the thirst for truth bubbling inside of him. That curiosity that just might change his life forever.
The three men at the bar had grown quiet as if they knew some great truth was about to be revealed, and then one of the men slammed his hand on the bar, and all three men began laughing again. Lottie felt relief. The sense of violence was gone. Whatever she was feeling earlier had disappeared. Now there was only one last bit of business to attend to: tell Brian what happened to her husband. Tell him how he had been killed.
“How did he die?” Lottie asked.
“He was killed by a vampire.”
Lottie exhaled again.