I ran across this tonight while browsing through some old writing, looking for inspiration. Call it cheating if you want, but I’m going to copy it in as my post for tonight.
Quick survey: If this were the first chapter of a book would you want to read Chapter 2? In other words, does it have a little something I like to call, “First Chapter-ness”?
by Steven A. Vinson
Fred sat at the bar staring into space. He was on his fourth scotch, getting drunk, and he still was scared to death.
“Another Dewar’s, Pal?”
“Sure,” said Fred.
“Tell me, friend,” he said to the bartender. “ Have you ever had the opportunity of a life time dropped in your lap, but you knew you would fuck it up if you took it?”
The bartender slid him another Dewar’s rocks and leaned on the bar. He said, “Pal, I own this bar. When my boss offered to sell it to me, I puked on his shoes. He said take a day to figure it out. I puked my guts out all that night. I said yes the next day and haven’t looked back. Fifteen years and I haven’t looked back.”
Fred said, “I wish I had your guts. I run the corn processing plant on Highway 31 –”
“Yeah? That you? Did you have anything to do with that explosion last year?”
“I wasn’t even there that night. I mean, I feel like shit that those guys died but accidents like that happen all the time. Why, that plant in Decatur, Illinois had an explosion and –”
“So, I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you didn’t have anything to do with those guys dying.”
Fred thought for a second. Sipped his Dewar’s. “Well, no. I didn’t say that exactly. But, you know, I wasn’t even on site that day.”
The bartender went back to washing glasses. He said, “I get it, man. You had no responsibility for those guys. Or their families.”
Fred put his glass down hard and said, “Now wait just a damn minute. What the hell are you accusing me of?”
The bartender put down his towel and walked back to Fred. “Look, pal. You’re the plant manager, right? That’s what you said.”
“So, what happens at that plant – good or bad – is your responsibility. If you don’t get that –”
“Shut the hell up and serve me drinks. I didn’t come here to be lectured by a bartender.”
The bartender straightened up and said, “whoa, buddy. I’m just saying.”
“Saying what? That I had something to do with that explosion? That it was my fault or something?”
“Well, I’m just saying –”
Fred jumped up from his stool. “What if I broke one of your pool cues?” He kicked his stool to the floor and headed toward the rack of cue sticks behind the pool table. “Would that be your fault? I mean, it is your bar.”
Fred grabbed one of the cues, raised it over his head with both hands.
The bartender jumped over the bar and ran at Fred just as he was swinging the stick down toward the floor. The cue struck the bartender’s shoulder, splintering as hit made contact with his collar bone.
“Ah! Shit! You fucking crazy drunk bastard,” shouted the bartender in pain. “You’re outa here!”
“Why? It’s your bar! Must be your fault!” Fred took a swing at the bartender. He missed wildly. The bartender grabbed his wrist.
“Alright, buddy, you’re getting in a cab.”
“Just like I killed those guys, right? You broke that stick, not me! You cracked your shoulder, not me! Right? That’s what you said. Just like I killed those guys!”
“Calm down, pal.” The bartender had Fred in a half nelson.
“Like it’s my fault all those projects are late. Over budget. What the hell do they want from me?”
Fred slumped to his knees and started crying. The bartender let go of his arm and took a step back. Still ready, just in case.
“If I fuck up this next project They’re going to shut the plant down All those jobs. Gone. All those families. This town. What if there’s another accident? How can it all be my fault?
“Is it my fault my wife’s probably sleeping around? I work my ass off. That’s why I’m not home. And, she thanks me by fucking her therapist?
“If the plant closes that’s it. I know she’ll leave me.
“How is any of this my fault?”
Fred’s tear streaked face was in his hands. The bartender placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “I don’t know, pal. I don’t know.”
A voice from the back of the bar room said, “It’s not his fault.”
A man stepped out of the shadows. Glass of beer in his hand. “It’s not your fault. But it is all your responsibility.”
Fred stood up slowly, suddenly embarrassed in front of this stranger. The bartender had a peculiar look on his face.
The stranger said, “You want to get that project done? On time. Under budget. You want to save all those jobs and create more jobs? You want to keep your people safe? You want to hang on to that lovely wife of yours, Fred?”
“Who the hell are you?” Fred’s embarrassment turned to defensive anger. “How do you know my name? You don’t talk about my wife.”
The stranger sat in one of the bar chairs. “It doesn’t matter who I am. What matters, is do you know who you are?”
“This is bullshit. Go back to your own damn business.”
“Oh, but this is my business,” said the stranger. “You will find that out soon enough. For now, if you want all these things, you need to decide right now. You are everything you need to be in order to do and have everything you want. And I can support you.”
“I don’t even know you. You’re just some dude at a bar.”
“Fair enough. Let’s have a drink and get to know each other. Or my friend here can call the cops and I can tell them how you tried to kill him.”
“Now, wait just a damn minute, you can’t –”
“I can. But I won’t. Not if you just agree to have a drink with me.”
The bartender said, “I think our Plant Manager friend has had enough to drink for tonight. Both of you can come back tomorrow. First round’s on me.”
Fred glared at the bartender.
“Or, I can call the cops,” said the bartender.
Fred looked like he was going to vomit. Or start breaking more pool cues.
“Just one drink, Fred. What’ve you got to lose?”
Fred sat down hard. He crushed his palms into his eye sockets, let out a long sigh, and said, “Fine. One drink. But you’d better have something good for me or I might break the next cue on your head.”
The bartender was not amused, “Watch it, Chuck Norris. Go home. Sleep this one off. Tomorrow night your life starts to change.”