The following is a work of fiction created by James Hatton for NanoWriMo 2017. Copyrighted and owned and all that jazz.
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The Circle Bar was a real shit hole, but for some reason, every Thursday night, Pete Diggs found himself sitting on a bar stool waiting for his turn to sing. He took regular gulps of his beer, checked his Twitter feed, made small talk with some of the barflies, tried to figure out if Maxine the bartender was really hitting on him or just working the counter for tips, and waited until his name came up.
When the DJ, a balding man on the cusp of middle age with the hilarious stage name of Larry O’key finally called him up, he would get the same polite claps he gave everyone else, and for four to six minutes, Pete was a god. Whether he had chosen Open Arms by Journey, Limelight by Rush, Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison, or any of another dozen or so songs, Pete felt like had the entire room wrapped around his finger. He would hold the microphone tight between two hands, the same way he had seen Steven Tyler do in the video for Sweet Emotion, and he would lose himself in the white words that slowly turned red on the small television screen in front of him.
After he had finished and got the same polite reaction from the crowd he gave everyone else, he would sit back with his bottle and phone, and wait patiently for his next turn up an hour and a half later.
Tonight though, he hadn’t gone up a single time. Larry O’Key had even walked up to him mid-way through the night and asked if he was going to put himself on the list, and all Pete could tell him was, ‘eh.. maybe.’ It might have been out of some sort of friendly concern, or that weird feeling you get when a pattern doesn’t line up, or it might have been because Pete always dropped a couple dollars into Larry’s tip bucket and it was a quieter than average evening.
The fact was, Pete knew something that the rest of the bar didn’t know. Shit was about to go down and the directions on his phone made it abundantly clear that there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.
The clock above the bar said 8:45. In an hour and fifteen minutes, the world was going to be woken up to a brand new world, controlled by the collective conscience of whateverthefuck. Pete couldn’t see the red dot pointed at the back of his head, but he knew that right now some blonde haired, blue eyed, swedish swimsuit model with a sniper rifle was watching his every move.
A phone went off under the bar, and Pete watched as Maxine picked up, plugged a finger in her ear while she listened to whomever was on the other side. Gooseflesh rose on his arm as he nonchalantly turned to watch the singer up on stage. Pete had never considered that the cliche of the bartender answering the phone and calling out to one of the customers still occurred, but a second later, Maxine yelled out ‘Mike T? Anyone? Phone call for Mike T.’
“I’m Mike,” a man in red flannel pushed back against his table, blocking the sound of the singer with the screech of metal on tile. The big man walked up and shoved Pete just a bit to the side, not out of rudeness, it was just that Mike T was a very big guy.
On another night, Pete might have been upset enough at how hard he had been jostled to stand up and have a few words with Mike in the hopes to get a free drink out of the guy. Tonight though, he wondered if it was just enough to block the view of the sniper. He couldn’t look to find out though, as he had another plan that was beginning to formulate in his head. While Mike barked at his wife that he would be home when he damn well decided he should be, Pete signaled Maxine.
“Want another one Petey?” She smiled, winking one of her purple painted eyelids at him. For a heartbeat of a moment, Pete tried to figure out if her calling him Petey was just a cute nickname or if she really liked him, but he put it out of his head. One day he would have the balls to ask her out. Not today.
“Don’t need another one yet, but..” he reached into his side pocket, taking out his wallet, and pulled out a $100 bill. Maxine raised a perfectly drawn eyebrow as she saw Ben Franklin being pushed to her side of the bar. “I need you to do me a favor, and if you do it right, you can have this whole thing..” Maxine started to interject, but Pete cut her off as he hoped her sudden movement wasn’t telling the tale of what he was about to do. “But! You have to act like nothing is going on, and do exactly what I tell you. This is like some life or death shit, Maxie, so just look natural, ok?”
Maxine’s raised eyebrow of interest turned into the rolled eyes of doubt. “Ugh, whatever Petey. You’ve had one beer. You are nowhere near drunk enough to be trying to get some weird sex shit from me… and a hundred bucks?”
‘Shit’ Pete thought. ‘She’s blowing it.. We’re both dead..’ But wait. If Maxine was rolling her eyes and laughing at him, that would look a whole lot more natural than if she was conspiratorially hunched in front of him.
“I promise. Nothing weird at all. Like for real, all I need you to do is keep talking to me, and when Mike T. is off the phone, let me use it… but you have to do it exactly the way I say it. No strings at all. Just the phone and you get that hundred minus one more beer.”
A moment of relief came over Pete, even before she said anything. From here, there were only two options. Either he was going to get his story out and possibly save the world, or he just fucked up and the last thing he would see is his forehead blowing out all over Maxine’s low cut tank top.
At first, she just stared at him for a long moment. Long enough that he was getting ready to say something, but she got called away to the other side of the bar. Pete’s new friend Mike was now breathing heavily into the phone and saying something about what he was going to do to the person on the other side of the line when he got home. ‘I bet she’s a dream… or he, I shouldn’t assume.’ Pete took a long pull on his beer, near finishing it off, more to hide his laugh than anything. He turned and watched the singer on stage butchering Piano Man, and life-or-death situation, he was really pissed off he couldn’t get up on that stage right now.
By the time Maxine had circled back to him, Mike T. was putting the phone down and walking.. more swaying really, back to his table. The phone was now on the bar, a foot to Pete’s left. “Ok Maxie, take the phone and go pretend to hang it up, but then hide it under the bar and when you are standing right in front of me, bring it up and slide it face up on the bar so the mic is pointed to me.’
Another one of those extra beat’s of her staring at him, “I’m serious.” was all he could muster. Either she was in or she wasn’t.
It might have been the way he said it, or perhaps the look in his eye, but something signaled the bartender that there was something going on than a barfly playing some game. Maxine didn’t consider herself one of those bartenders you hear about that has a sixth sense about customers. She had seen Pete dozens of times, and he never sat at the same stool and didn’t talk, but more importantly, he never didn’t sing. Tonight though, he sat there, quiet and tense. So either something was really wrong, or he really thought there was, and it was definitely worth making a hundred dollars to see how it played out.
“Anyone I should call?” She asked, taking the phone.
Pete almost leapt up and knocked it out of her hand out of fear that she was going to not follow his instructions. “I mean, do you have the number of a reporter or a news anchor or something?”
Instead of answering, Maxine turned around and went to hang up the phone. “My cousin works for the town Gazette?” She bent down to hang up the phone, but instead kept it in her hand just underneath the bar. “And so whatever’s going on, we clearly can say whatever we want, but someone’s watching us or something?”
Pete sighed and nodded, “Yup.” He looked to either side of him to make sure nobody was paying any attention to what they were saying, but everyone was focussed on Larry, who, like almost every other karaoke DJ that Pete had ever met, could belt out a tune. They say that those who can’t, teach. Well, those who gave up on their band twenty years ago, run local karaoke. So while he tore his heart out singing Blaze of Glory, Pete felt a little more comfortable talking openly to Maxine. “Window behind me, but don’t even think about looking back there. You probably won’t see anything.”
A bit of the color faded from her pink cheeks, “Am I in danger?”
Pete laughed and nodded, “Yup, but if it makes you feel better, pretty much everyone is. It’s just a matter of from which source, you know?”
She had no clue, but she did have an idea. “You can’t get up or nothing, right?”
Pete shook his head, “Nope. Not for another hour or so, which sucks. I didn’t take a piss before I sat down.”
Maxine took a step towards the taps and poured a pint out, putting it in front of Pete at the same time she slid the hundred dollar bill into her apron. “I’m going to go to the bathroom, and when I get back, you’ll know what to do.” And she walked away, phone in hand. Pete sighed, not sure what she was thinking, but feeling at least like he wasn’t entirely alone. He had felt that way since the day before, when the problems began. He took a mouthful of beer and shifted in his seat, annoyed that he had even mentioned the bathroom as his bladder gave a subtle flag that it was nearing the time where he’d have to consider breaking the seal.
The line of thought was cut off by the flimsy door behind the bar opening and Maxine stepping through. His eyes skimmed her body, mostly for the phone. If she had it, it was well hidden. Her jeans weren’t entirely painted on, but there wasn’t a lot of room for a cordless phone. Instead of walking back to him, she did a quick circle of the bar, even filling up a couple shots and taking the money.
And then in one sweet move, she had done it.
Right before she got up to Pete, she pulled a bar rag from beneath the counter and began wiping a spot that seemed completely fine from where he sat. Just as she stepped in front of Pete, her cell phone slipped out and she kept walking. It was lit up, showing a number. ‘I got your call. Just talk.’
He had done it… or more realistically, Maxine had, and now it was his turn.
“Who is it?” He asked.
“You wanted a reporter right?” Maxine said, continuing to wipe the bar. Pete wasn’t sure what he had done to get her to buy into this all so quickly and, more to the point, efficiently, but if this worked out, he felt he owed her a whole lot more than a hundred bucks.
Pete put his head on his shoulder, bringing his mouth closer to the phone while still looking like he was just hanging out. “So hey, I’m Pete Diggs. I’m sitting in the Circle Bar, and at 9pm, there’s going to be a gas leak down at Big Bob’s Gas-It-Up which will irrevocably change the human race.”
The phone was about a foot and a half away from Pete’s ear. He was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to hear who was going to be on the other side or that they wouldn’t be able to hear him over the rest of the bar’s goings on. That concern evaporated as he heard a man’s voice as clear as a bell.
“Wait, what the fuck did you just say?”