By: Jake Hatcher, Official Bookshelf Battle Blog Private Eye
BQB Editorial Note: Jake Hatcher has lived an extraordinary life. Sometimes I’ll let him set aside the pop culture questions entirely and regale my 3.5 readers with tales of cases he’s worked on, both past and present.
Three faces of Abraham Lincoln sat on the counter, ready to emancipate me from my own hellish reality.
“Fifteen smackaroos,” I said after plunking them down. “What’ll they get me, Lou?”
Lou Ramos was the owner of the Pack N’ Sack Liquor Mart just down the street from Tsang’s China Palace.
He was a walking conundrum, big and small at the same time. He was so short he barely rose higher than the cash register in front of him, yet sturdy enough that he looked like he could knock your block off if he wanted to.
We chewed the fat once in awhile. Nothing too deep or serious. Idle chit chat mostly.
I hadn’t had much interest in exploring the new world around me, but Lou was peddling the one thing I couldn’t stand to be without.
“Wow,” Lou said. “Mr. Big Spender. What’d ya’ roll over a little old lady for her lunch money or something?”
“Saved up three jobs’ worth of pay. Time to celebrate.”
With a Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned at the top, gold medallion buried in a sea of chest hair, and the worst attempt at a comb-over this gumshoe had ever seen, Lou wasn’t exactly in danger of winning a male model competition.
“Three jobs and all you have to show for it is a lousy fifteen bucks?” Lou asked as he put a bottle down on the counter. “Your boss must be a real tightwad.”
“Tell me about it,” I said.
I picked up the bottle and examined it. It was big, heavy and the liquid inside was a lovely shade of amber. Bright red letters spelled out “La Orina de Serpiente” across the label.
A drawing of a snake started at the top of the label and curled around down to the bottom. It had a menacing face, like it wouldn’t mind swallowing me whole. Made sense. That’s what the concoction inside would do.
“New shit just in,” Lou said. “Nicaraguan tequila. Snake Piss.”
“Any good?” I asked.
“I assume it tastes like the water you’d get after ringing out a moldy dish rag,” Lou said. “But it’ll get you blotto.”
“You’re a helluva salesman, Lou. Ring ‘er up.”
Ding ding. The bell hooked up to the store’s front door rang as another customer walked in. It was almost ten o’clock at night, just a few minutes shy of closing time.
It was a young fella, somewhere in his early twenties. He wore a leather jacket and the hood of his sweatshirt was pulled down over his face.
Lou tossed the devil’s juice into a brown bag and handed me my change. Ninety-five years spent in this world and all I had to show for it were $2.05 and a $13.95 bottle of South American sadness medicine.
And we all know how long that bottle was going to last.
“Hatch,” Lou said. “I don’t know how to say this.”
“What’s up?” I asked. “You look like a cat stuck on a hairball.”
“You think you could find another booze joint to frequent?”
“What? My cash ‘aint green enough for you?”
“Nah man,” Lou said. “It’s not like that it’s just…”
The young guy moved closer to the counter. He looked around the shelves, finally picking up a bottle of wine.
Wine. Never cared for it myself. Too snooty. Wine is for people who like to get drunk but want to pretend like its some kind of educational experience.
Lou leaned over the counter.
“You’re killing yourself.”
“Every time you got a little money in your pocket you’re in here buying up the joint, probably going home drinking yourself silly and falling asleep in a pool of your own drool and piss, am I right?”
He was right.
“You’re wrong,” I lied. “I don’t know what you think you know but I’m not some kind of Terry Teetotaler who can’t hold his liquor, see?”
I unscrewed the cap and took a pull.
“I see you can’t even wait until you’re home to take a taste,” Lou said.
“What’s it to you, bub? You’re one to talk. You peddle this poison for a living.”
Lou reached into his shirt and pulled out another medallion, smaller and less flashier than the one more prominently displayed around his neck.
“Ten years sober,” Lou said.
“I swear on my saintly tia’s grave,” Lou replied.
“Quite a place to work when you’re a recovering booze fiend,” I said as I screwed the cap back on.
“I know,” Lou said. “Pretty ironic but my old man left me the place and I wasn’t about to turn away a chance to run my own business….but yeah. There are times when I want to drink this whole place dry.”
“You’re a better man than me,” I said. “Holding out against all the temptation around you and all.”
“I go to a meeting every Saturday night at St. Anthony’s. Come with me.”
“Meeting?” I asked. “Nothin’ doin. Those are for weirdoes with a problem.”
Lou stared at me as if to ask if I had really just said that.
“You know you’re going to go bankrupt if you keep trying to talk people off the sauce,” I said.
“Most people who come in here are beyond helping,” Lou said. “They don’t buy from me they’ll go somewhere else so I figure it’s not my place to get involved but I don’t know, Hatcher. I think there’s something about you that seems like it might be worth saving.”
I popped a cigarette into my mouth and smiled.
“If you think that then you’re probably knocking back the hard stuff more than you’re letting on. Goodnight, Lou.”
I turned around and barely took one step before the youngster pulled a piece and stuck it in my face.
Copyright (c) 2015 Bookshelf Q. Battler. All Rights Reserved.
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