Last Call By Ray Charbonneau

Feb 03 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

Roy trudged through Jefferson Station, heading toward the Look-in Glass.  He was still wearing his stained overalls after another long day at the air plant, but the day’s first drink had already waited long enough.

Back when Roy starting working infrastructure maintenance, Jefferson Station was Luna City.  30 years later Luna City sprawled across thousands of hectares and down hundreds of meters.  Roy owned a nice little cube deep in Heinlein Village but he still returned to Jefferson Station almost every night to wind down after work.

Roy turned as a tubecar pulled into the station.  He smiled when he saw Judy climb out onto the platform.  Roy waved, then picked up his pace so he reached the bar module just ahead of Judy.  Roy opened the door, bowed and swept an arm toward the inside, saying “Your kingdom awaits!”

Judy’s lip curled up in a half-smile.  She nodded the beginning of a curtsey to thank Roy for holding the door and then she went inside.

The Look-in Glass was one of the oldest modules in Jefferson Station.  Repeated washings with harsh cleansers had taken the shine from the plasteel walls even before Luna City was large enough to allow living space to be dedicated to frivolities like a bar.  The years of spilled drinks and bloody bar fights that followed left a patina that was impossible to wash away.

Judy fit right in.  Her face, like the food services uniform she wore, was no longer crisp and fresh, marking her as another veteran of many nights spent in this bar or others like it.

It was still early, so most of the seats were empty.  As Judy’s tired eyes scanned the bar, she saw Neil’s familiar shape at one end, staring vacantly at the vid hanging in the corner.  The blue-grey light from the screen barely registered in the starkly lit room as it played across the creases on his upturned face.

Judy made her way across the stained wooden floor to the stool next to Neil.  “Hey there,” she said as she settled into place.  “I knew you’d be here for the last call.”

“Hey Judy,” said Neil.  He twisted on his seat to look at Roy, who’d followed Judy in after closing the door behind them.  “What’s up?”

“Some people might be too sad to come in the night their home-away-from-home closes for good,” said Roy as he sat down on the other side of Judy.  “Not Neil.  How long you been here today?”

“Well, Timmy opened up at two like he always does, but I was a little late.  He had time to get the door unlocked and the vid on before I showed.”  Neil turned and called down the bar, “Timmy, how’s about you bring us a round.”

The bartender popped open three beers and set them on the bar.  Neil asked him, “What’s the corporation gonna do with all the leftover booze? Free drinks after hours tonight?”

Tim raised an eyebrow, amused by the idea.  “You think those cheap bastards are gonna give anything away?  The booze stays with the bar.  Hell, I gotta come in tomorrow and do one last inventory before I go.”

“Well, a job’s a job,” said Roy.  “You think the new guys will take you on?”

“Doubt it,” said Tim, leaning back and relaxing with his elbows on the cash register shelf.  “Once they rip out the plasteel and rehab the mod the place is going upscale and that’s not my style.  Besides, my cousin’s on the contract and he says they’ve got 3-4 months of work ahead of them before the new place opens up.  They’re waiting until the hotel pods are installed and the entire Jefferson project is finished.  I can’t wait that long before I look for another job.”

“Does your cousin know the new managers?” said Judy.  “Think they might be using live cooks and waitresses?  I’m so sick of cafeteria drones and “it’s Thursday, dial up meal 47B”.

“Yours ain’t the kind of ‘experience’ they’re looking for in a nice place, Judy,” said Neil.

“Vac you, Neil.  I don’t need your crap today, even if you did finally buy a round.”

“Yeah, rockhead,” said Roy.  “Can you dial it back a notch for one night.  This sucks enough as it is.”

“Whatever,” Neil muttered as he turned and huddled over his beer.  “Sorry.  Just trying to have a little fun.”

“So what are you guys gonna do once this place closes?” asked Tim.  “You’re gonna have to find another place to hang out.”

“One thing this town has is plenty of bars,” said Roy.  “We’ll find some place.  But we’ll miss your smiling face.  Where’ve you been looking?”

“I stopped in Smitty’s last week.  He might have some hours for me.  I’d only be working weekdays to start, but it’s something.  Still, it’ll be tough without the weekend tip money.”

“Smitty’s?”  Roy grimaced.  “Last time I was in there, it looked like a geriatric ward.  There was one couple making out in the corner, they must have been 75.  Yecch!”

Judy laughed.  “You should go there more often Roy.  It’ll be good for you.  Lets you know how you look to the girls who are still in their 20’s.  Maybe you’ll start to act your age.”

Roy smirked as he sat up straight and ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it back from his widow’s peak.  “I’m not old!  I’m distinguished!”

“Nearly extinguished, I’d say,” snickered Neil.

“Didn’t we tell you to shut up?” said Roy.  Then he laughed too.  “Maybe I should start going to Smitty’s.  Then I’d be the young guy there.  I’d have all the women chasing me for once.”

“I can’t go back to Smitty’s, not for a while,” said Neil.  “I got in a fight with Paul Andersen there and Smitty banned me.”

“Paul Andersen?” said Judy.  “You must have got your ass kicked!”

“Well, yeah,” said Neil.  “I was drunk.”

“You would have to be drunk to get in a fight with Andersen, you moron,” said Roy.  “You’re lucky he didn’t kill you.”

“Were you hitting on his sister again?  She told you to leave her alone,” said Judy.

“I wasn’t hitting on her.  I just wanted to talk for a minute.  But then Paulie started pushing me around, and things got out of hand.”

“That happens a lot, doesn’t it?” Tim said.  He turned to Judy and asked, “What about you?  What do you think you’ll be doing after this place closes?”

Judy looked down at her bottle and slid a fingernail along the edge of the embossed “Moonshine Lager” logo.  “I don’t know.  I was thinking that maybe I might find something else to do other than hang out in bars.”

“What else is there?” asked Neil.

“Jeez, Neil.  Not everybody gets drunk every night,” said Roy.  “Hell, even I got my alley-pin night on Tuesdays and I still get out and go crater skiing with the guys most weeks.”

“Yeah, there’s no beer there,” said Neil.  “At least not until you get back into pressure.”  He nudged Judy with his elbow.  “Right?”

Judy turned to Roy and smiled, ignoring Neil.  For a guy who was always in a bar, Roy wasn’t bad.  He never hit on her, or at least he wasn’t obnoxious about it, even when they were drunk.  That made him a gentleman, sort of.  “OK, you’re not totally pathetic.  But I’m not the sporty type.  When I came up here, women worked until they got pregnant and raised kids.  Girls these days, I see them out soaring and cratering and whatever, but I’m too old and tired to start running around like that.”

Roy smiled back at Judy.  She wasn’t bad looking, considering.  Not like those hags at Smitty’s.  “You aren’t that old,” he said.  “We’ve got guys older than both of us on the alley-pin team.”

“I went to one of your games once, remember?” said Judy.  She put her hand on Roy’s shoulder and gave him a friendly shove.  “That fat blocker kept kicking pins in my direction so he could come over and hit on me.  I coulda just stayed in the bar for that.”

“If you’re not gonna drink, and you’re not gonna play sports, then what’re you gonna do?” asked Tim.  “Sit home and watch vid?”  He shrugged.  “You might as well be married.”

“I wouldn’t mind, if I found the right guy,” Judy told Tim.  “Not like that asshole I married before.  There’s gotta be somebody out there I could live with without going crazy.  But I don’t think I’m gonna find him hanging out in bars.  People our age whose lives revolve around going out drinking at night aren’t exactly winners.  Nothing against you guys, of course,” she added quickly, looking over at Roy.  “After all, I’m here too.”  She wondered what Roy thought about marriage, then wondered why she’d never really thought about that before.

“No problem,” said Tim.  “I know what you mean.  I’ve gotta serve ‘em.  Right, Roy?”

“You guys talking to me or about me?” Roy grinned.  Then the grin faded as he tried to remember the last time he’d gone anywhere that didn’t have beer.  “Either way, you might have something going.  I don’t know about you but for me, seems like every day it gets harder to get up in the morning.  Maybe I’m drinking too much, or maybe I’m just getting old.”

“Maybe you just need a better reason to get up,” said Judy.  “Or a reason to go to bed earlier,” she said.  She flashed a coy smile, then ducked her head and picked her beer up abruptly to cover her embarrassment with a sip.  Judy hoped she wasn’t blushing.

Roy smiled back at Judy, then his eyes drifted away from her, distracted by the idea that she might be flirting with him.  He swiveled to stare at the mirror behind the bar, wondering.  They’d known each other for years.  Judy never pissed him off, and most people did at some point.  Take Neil, for instance.  But he never really thought of her as dating material.  Maybe that was a mistake.  “People do all sorts of things at night,” he told his reflection slowly.  “They go to tri-vids or concerts or they go out dancing.  The trick is to have someone to do it with.”

Tim looked at Judy, then back at Roy.  “You gotta meet your somebody somehow.”  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone waving from the other end of the bar.  He headed that way, saying, “It’s been known to happen in bars,” over his shoulder as he left to serve the other customers.

“I haven’t got lucky for ages,” complained Neil.  He sat up, then forced out a long belch.  “I don’t know why.”

Roy looked down and traced a damp ring on the top of the bar with his finger.  What if Judy was flirting with him?  Was that so bad?  What if she wasn’t?  Roy picked at the grease under his fingernails.  It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been wrong about a woman.  He decided to keep it cool.  “I was thinking I might like to go see that new Mel Glover tri-vid one of these nights,” he said to no one in particular.  “Do you like Mel Glover?”

“He’s great!  Remember Mad Manhattan, that tri-vid with the skirts fighting the blue facepaint gang?  I felt like I never left New York.  Who cares if he said a few things about Premier Schulty?” said Neil.  “He probably just had a few too many.  We’ve all been there – I know I have.”

Roy grimaced at Neil and then turned to Judy.  “What do you think?”

Now it was Judy’s turn to gaze off at the mirror.  Was Roy was asking her if she wanted to go on a date?  She snuck a peek at his reflection.  He didn’t look bad – a little thick around the middle, but he reminded her of a dissolute version of that lasgunner from “Ragnar’s Rangers”.  Her view turned to her own reflection, and she had to acknowledge that she wasn’t the size 8 she used to be on Earth either.

She enjoyed hanging out with him.  It might be fun to spend more time with him outside of the bar.  But what if he didn’t actually want to go out?  She didn’t want the guys thinking she was desperate.   They’d laugh.  And when they went to that alley-pin game, he’d let the blocker harass her.  She decided it was best to play it safe and keep things vague.  “I dunno.  I guess he’s OK.  Isn’t his last tri-vid about some puppet?  That sounds a little silly.  And I don’t think it got good reviews.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” said Roy.  He frowned and wondered if he had been mistaken.  Why did women have to be so cryptic?   “Still, it might be amusing.  It’s not like a night at the vid hall would keep me from anything important.”

“Might be fun,” said Judy.  She hesitated.  Did Roy want to go out, or did he just want to see the tri-vid?  Maybe if she threw out other options, he’d know she was open to the idea.  “You ever go to an aerial?” she asked.  “I went to see Catspaw once when my sister came up from Earth.  It was a lot of fun, with all the live singing and costumes, and the aerobatics were amazing!”

Roy wondered what that had to do with going to a tri-vid.  “Aren’t aerial tickets sort of expensive?” he asked.  It looked like Judy wasn’t really interested in dating.  That was too bad, but at least he hadn’t made a fool out of himself.

Judy shrugged.  She decided Roy didn’t seem very interested after all.  At least she hadn’t embarrassed herself.  “Well, they usually cost more than a tri-vid, I guess.  I only went the one time.”  She took one last shot.  “But it might be fun to try again.”

Roy picked up his beer.  “One of these days, maybe you should.”  The beer wasn’t quite empty, so he drained it in one long, slow swallow.  The warm dregs tasted a little sour, matching his mood.  “I’m feeling a little tired tonight,” he said as he set the bottle down.  “Guess I’ll go home early.”  Looking down the bar, he called, “So long, Tim.  See you Monday at Smitty’s?”

“Sure,” Tim called back.

“And you guys?” Roy asked, carefully careless.

“I suppose so,” said Judy.  “Typical Monday night, and we gotta go somewhere, right?”

“I suppose so.”  Roy shrugged as he got up and headed for the door.

Judy twisted in her stool to watch Roy leave.  Neil took a glance over his shoulder, then he turned back and said, “Guess it’s just you and me, Judy.  Want another round?”

The door closed.  Judy turned back to Neil.  “I don’t think so. I’m a little tired myself.  I think I’ll be leaving too.”

“Ah don’t go.  It’s our last night.”

“Bye, Neil.”  She got up and waved toward the other end of the bar.  “Bye Tim.”

“Ah, it figures,” Neil muttered.  “For once I buy the first round and look what happens.”  He looked up at Tim, walking toward him with an open beer.  “Was it something I said?”

Ray Charbonneau lives in Arlington, MA with his wife and their two cats.  You can often find Ray and Ruth out on the streets running, but Felix and Phoebe stay inside.  Ray is the author of the books “Chasing the Runner’s High” and “R is for Running”.  His stories have appeared in both national dead-tree publications and landfill-saving electronic formats. Find out more at www.y42k.com.

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