Opening Scene of Ghoster – First Draft

Posted: August 23, 2014 in Fiction, Ghoster Novel, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

blackwhiteGage Malloy crosses the floor of The Foundry Bar to the open front door. The few people milling about on the streets outside pay him little attention. It’s still warm for December and they’ve got other places to be. There’s moisture in the air and clouds rolling in from the west promising an evening storm, and those people passing by, they can sense it coming; so best hurry before getting caught up in something unhealthy.

Standing there in the doorway Gage squints up at the afternoon sky. He can feel it too. An ominous tingle below the skin. But he’s not concerned. The bar is his, free and clear, always a haven from the raging storms.

“Hey, you think you could get me another drink?”

Gage glances back into the bar. It’s cool and dim inside. Not much to look at. The furniture has seen better days, but it’ll do until Gage can salvage better. The crowd’s light this afternoon and scattered around the place; A couple paired off back in the corner booth, quiet and keeping to themselves; A knot of teenagers throwing darts and being loud like teenagers tend to be; the barflies sit at the bar, empty stools between them, keeping what ails them personal and private.

“Today maybe?”

Then there’s Steve, The Foundry’s one true show-boat. Twenty-four years old and already half a step from the grave. If the alcohol don’t kill him one of his Tip’s will. Steve’s a Crown, and a dirty, two-timing one at that. Around Chalk Street word gets around a Crown is skimming or double dipping it’s not long before his whole outfit is wiped.

“Yeah, I’m coming.” Gage says. He turns, casts a quick look over to the group playing darts and then moves back to his place behind the bar. He grabs a bottle of the cheap stuff from the shelf below the counter, sloshes two fingers into Steve’s glass, and slips the bottle back to the shelf. “That’s your last one, Steve. ‘Bout time you pack it in and head home.”

“Can’t do that, barkeep. Got a hot one on the way,” Steve says and then downs the liquor in one quick slug. He bangs the glass on the bar a little too hard. It bounces from his hand and clatters over the edge to the floor where it crashes and shatters.

Everyone goes quiet and all heads in the place swivel toward the bar. Fine, let them watch. Half of them are regular enough to have seen worse. Gage shakes his head and counts to ten. He leans forward, hands braced on the bar top, and glares right into Steve’s face. “It would be best if you stood up and walked out of my bar. But, personally, I’m kind of partial to you limping out. So, what’s it going to be, pay up and leave or start something?”

Steve throws his hands up and moves his face back from Gage’s. “I can’t leave. I need the job that’s headed this way. The outfit needs the work.” He drops his hands, his head. His lip trembles. “Look, Gage, the truth is we haven’t worked a tip in weeks. If I don’t get the work—”

“Your guys are going to leave you,” Gage says. “Steve, cry to someone who gives a shit. I’ve played the game. I know what it’s like. You get no sympathy from me. Now, once more: pay up and get out of my bar. I won’t ask again.”

Steve stands, shoves the barstool back and tumbling to the floor. He kicks at it and sends it spinning wildly. Across the room two of the dart throwers tense and shuffle forward a bit.

“Fuck you, Gage,” Steve says. His body tenses, his eyes wide and bright. “You’re nothing but a sell-out. All these stories about the great Gage Malloy. How you were the Top Dog, the best Sword to ever cross the Void. A Ghoster without equal. Well, to hell with that. You know what I see when I look at you?”

Gage leans back against the cooler behind the bar and crosses his arm. Steve’s drunk and aching for some action. No point bringing more tension into the situation. Just relax and let him work off the steam.

“Tell me. Let’s hear it, Steve. What do you see when you look at me?”

“I see a pitiful old man who got spooked on the other side and couldn’t shake it. So, what do you do? You hang up your guns and cower behind that bar.” Steve takes a step back from the bar. “Yeah, you still have your legend. And maybe that earns you some respect from the younger ones, but, you know, most of us veterans, we laugh at you. The Almighty Gage, just another barmaid slinging booze to his betters.”

Steve shifts his feet. It’s minute, but it’s there. “I’m not leaving here until I’ve met with my Tip. You’re not gonna take work out of my pocket.”

“Don’t do it,” says Gage. He brings his arms down, lays his hands along the front edge of the cooler.

It shouldn’t have come to this but a man will do what’s necessary to protect what he considers his by right. Gage understands what is going through Steve’s mind, because right now he’s thinking basically the same. This is his bar and some shady little shit’s not going to change that. He can go pout about it in Hell.

Steve goes for his gun, but Gage’s Lancer .45 is already up and firing. Two shots into Steve’s chest and Gage is diving to his left, swinging the handgun to the right. Another two shots and the two guys back near the dart board fall as well. Then Gage is on the floor behind the bar, rolling to his feet and back up, his eye and pistol tracking the room. Nobody moves. Nobody speaks.

Gage takes a breath and lowers his pistol. He leans forward, props his elbows on the bar and looks down at Steve’s body laying dead on the floor. Steve’s hand never made it to the pistol holstered under his jacket. One of his boys back at the dart board, likely the Sword of the outfit, managed to get a shot off. But it was wild; probably wedged in the wall somewhere.

“Hello. Am I interrupting something?”

There’s a man standing in the doorway. Gage can’t make out his features with the light glaring behind him. He moves into the bar and looks around, barely reacting at the sight of the bodies bleeding out on the floor.

“Nope,” Gage says as he holsters his Lancer.

One of the barflies at the counter slips off his stool and heads for the door. “I’ll go fetch Pork Pie,” he says to Gage as he stumbles past.

“Thank you,” Gage says without turning. He stays focused on the man stepping to the bar.

The guy is over-dressed for this part of town, pressed slacks instead of tattered jeans or leathers; a sports coat rather than something that looks stolen from the local surplus store. Despite the man’s girth, the clothes fit perfectly. Definitely tailored. He reaches the bar and with some effort manages to hoists himself up onto a nearby stool. He laces his fingers together, his arms resting along the edge, careful not to place his elbows on the bar.

“Can I get you a drink? I suspect I owe you one,” Gage says as he moves from behind the counter and begins righting chairs and tables. At that the young men go back to their dart game, the couple in the back booth return to their canoodling.

Slacks watches Gage’s reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Without turning he asks, “And exactly why would you suspect such a thing?”

Gage reaches down, takes hold of Steve’s arms and drags him across the floor toward the back of the room. There he leaves him, sitting up against the wall.

“Because,” Gage says, wiping his hands on his apron. “I’m fairly certain I just put two holes in the Crown you’re here to meet.”

“Well, that certainly changes my plans for the evening. I’ll take that drink.”

Returning to his place behind the bar Gage gives the guy a look, hands out.

“Oh, sorry,” Slacks says. “Whiskey, on the rocks.”

“You got it.”

Gage pours the drink, sits it on the bar top. He leans back against the cooler and crosses his arms over his chest as Slacks takes the drink and sips at it.

“Thank you,” Slacks says. “This is excellent whiskey you’re serving.”

“Yeah, ships up from down south.”

Something isn’t sitting right with this guy. The Crown he came to hire is dead, along with half the outfit. He should have turned and walked right back out the door. A Tip rarely wants to get his hands dirty. He’s just the middle man, the guy doing the hiring for a higher up. The Crown finds the job, the outfit crosses the gap to the Other Side and finds the coveted item. Then they return to the Real World. The Crown delivers the treasure to the Tip and every one goes away happy and paid. So why is this man still sitting here nursing a shot of whiskey?

“So?” Gage asks.

“Yes, there it is. The Gage Malloy I was expecting.”

“Do I know you?”

The man sits the glass of whiskey down and reaches his right hand out. “The name is Wallace.”

“Sorry, the name doesn’t ring a bell,” Gage says, ignoring the outstretched hand.

Wallace draws his hand back, returns to sipping the whiskey. “No, it wouldn’t. I don’t make a habit of sharing it with others. Especially worthless crowns”—he looks over at the body propped against the back wall—”like Steve there.”

Pulling himself up from the cooler, Gage leans forward, rests his elbows on the bar. “Okay, you obviously have something to say so spill it. If you aren’t here to offer Steve a job then why, exactly, are you here Mr. Wallace?”

“Hey Gage, I got Pork Pie.” says the old barfly as he comes shuffling through the doorway. “He’ll be here in a few.” He returns to his place at the bar and immediately points at the empty bottle before him.

“Yeah, I got ya.” Gage turns and reaches into the cooler. He lifts out a bottle, pops the cap and hands it down to the barfly.

“Mr. Wallace, you were about—”

But Wallace is gone.

“Sonuvabitch.”

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