By: A. Wise
I’ve said, ‘How did I
get here,’ more than a few times in my life, but I never meant it more than
when I found myself being led into the Limbus Lounge by a couple of brutish
Seedy bars were a common
setting in my life. I got my first job as a bartender at the age of twenty-one,
and I’ve been sneaking drinks on someone else’s dime ever since. My habit of
‘borrowing’ drinks from my employer led me to collect quite a lengthy work
history. But one good thing about my industry, bar owners rarely check
references. Especially not mob-affiliated bars, like my last gig.
Unfortunately, my ‘tenure’ at that job got revoked when the boss caught me
stealing a case of single malt scotch.
That’s what led me to
Raven Delacourt’s joint, Limbus Lounge. I needed a job, and she was willing to
give me an interview. Actually, it was more of a contest. There were three
applicants, including me, and I was the last to arrive.
Raven was a sultry
creature. She was around forty, thin except in the places that counted, and had
a raspy voice that I’d love to hear singing. “You’re late,” she said, her long,
thin cigar pinched between her index and middle finger. She bit off the tip of
the cigar and spit it to the floor.
A single musician sat on
a stool, strumming an acoustic guitar and mumbling something that might’ve been
a Dylan cover. His black hat dipped low enough to cover his face. Tendrils of
smoke climbed from the tip of the cigarette pinched in place beneath a guitar
string at the headstock.
“I’m sorry?” My apology
to Raven sounded more like a question than I’d intended.
The two bouncers had led
me to the bottom of a slick stairwell that’d been painted black. The bar’s wood
panel walls and mounted animal heads would’ve given the Limbus Lounge a western
feel if it wasn’t for its other modern accents. The bar top was a concrete slab
that’d been lacquered over. White Christmas lights dangled from the rafters.
Behind the bar were long shelves loaded with hundreds of bottles I recognized,
and even more that I didn’t. A blue light glowed faintly behind the bottles,
imbuing their liquids with a ghostly hue.
The two, beefy bouncers
nodded at their boss, and then headed back upstairs to their post at the
“Don’t be sorry,” said
Raven as she lit her cigar. “Be on time. Get behind the bar. Crystal, David,
this is Tom. All three of you applied for this job, and tonight you’re going to
have to fight to get it. I’m not going to just hand it to you.”
This was an interesting
change of pace. I’d never been in an interview like this before. I sized up the
Crystal was a spritely
thing, but she looked like the type who wouldn’t take ‘cute’ as a compliment.
Silver studs sat in the dimples on both freckled cheeks, and a myriad of other
decorations adorned her face. Her blonde hair was shaved on both sides of her
head, revealing thick-lined black tattoos of fearsome lionesses. Her ears were
gauged, and her ice blue eyes had to be the work of colored contacts.
David was a somber
fellow, tall and thick, but not fat by any means. He had dark skin, though I
didn’t think he was black – perhaps Mexican, though it was hard to tell in the
Limbus Lounge’s dim light. He wore a tight, black v-neck that would’ve looked
more appropriate on a bouncer than a bartender. He side-eyed me, and I
sheepishly looked away.
“We’re going to skip the
bullshit,” said the owner as she straddled a bar stool in front of Crystal,
with me to her left and David to her right. “We’ve got a flood of folks on
their way in, and I don’t have time to fuck around.” She sucked in a long drag,
and looked at each of us as she did, her lungs gathering more smoke than any
human should be able to. When she finished, she ashed on the floor, and then
let the smoke drift from her nostrils before she spoke again. “Make me a Moscow
“Excuse me?” asked
“Strike one, cutie-pie,”
said Raven. “Don’t make me repeat myself. I hate having to say things twice.”
“How’re we supposed to
find anything?” asked David as he looked around. “I’ve never been back here
The limes were right in
front of us, on the lower shelf beneath the bar top. I grabbed one at the same
time as Crystal. We locked eyes, and the fire of her competitive spirit
might’ve torched me on the spot if possible. I got a paring knife, slit the
fruit in two, and slid my spare half across the bar to David.
“Strike one, Tommy Boy,”
said the owner. “Don’t help anyone but yourself or you’ll get taken advantage
of around here. And when my bartenders get taken advantage of, I get taken advantage
of.” She glowered at me and added, “And I don’t like getting taken advantage
My heart thundered, and
I couldn’t help but smirk a bit. I love a good competition. I grabbed a pint
glass and squeezed the lime into it while reaching for a bottle of Grey Goose.
Crystal beat me to it.
Not only that, but she’d found a copper mug somewhere behind the bar. I knew
that was the proper way to serve the drink, but hadn’t seen one around before
Time was of the essence,
and I didn’t want to wait for Crystal to finish with the high-end vodka. I
grabbed something I deemed good enough, hoping that the third and final
ingredient of the drink would mask the harshness of my vodka choice. Besides,
the Limbus Lounge didn’t strike me as the sort of place where the patrons had
I dropped the squeezed
lime half into my glass, and then filled it with ice. I poured the vodka,
careful not to let the spout shoot the liquor past the glass. I saw Crystal
measure her portions, but I didn’t bother. A seasoned bartender should be able
to count out the shots instead of measuring them. Despite my glass choice, I
felt like I might have a leg up on the nymph beside me.
David was lagging far
behind. He watched Crystal, and made a mess as he tried to copy her. He didn’t
drop the lime half into the bottom of his cup. A rookie mistake. I heard him
curse as he spilled vodka on himself.
The last ingredient was
ginger beer, but there was no telling if that was even an option. I opened the
mini-fridge under the bar and found it stocked with soda, beer, limes, lemons,
and finally ginger ale. “Fuck,” I muttered as I moved some of the bottles aside
in search of the perfect ingredient. No such luck. It didn’t look like the
Limbus Lounge stocked any ginger beers. I’d have to settle for a can of ginger
As I rose from my
squatted position, I saw Crystal pouring a bottle of ginger beer into her
copper mug. Where’d she find it? I was pissed, and she knew it. She smirked at
me, and then dumped the remainder of the ginger beer into the sink before
finishing her cocktail by dropping in a metal stirring stick. She slid her
perfect drink to the owner several seconds before I managed to finish mine.
David was dead last, and
when he slid his copper mug over to Raven there was a trail of wetness behind
it. He cursed, glowered, and then folded his hamhock arms like a petulant
“Good job, Crystal,”
said the owner. “Let’s give it a try.” She set her cigar down on the countertop,
not bothering to reach for the ashtray a foot to her right.
David retrieved the
ashtray, and then placed the owner’s cigar in it, eager to show how he would
care for the place if she hired him. She watched David, either intrigued or
appalled, I couldn’t tell which.
“Point to Davey for that
move. And then we’ll go ahead and take that point right off again, because…
Don’t ever touch my fucking shit again.”
She stirred Crystal’s
drink, smelled it, and then took a long drink. A very long drink. A ‘holy-shit-she’s-going-to-finish-it’
“God damn,” she said,
and then repeated the curse like it was a cheer. “God damn, Crystal!”
delicious. Ten out of ten. Good job.”
She turned to me. “Wrong
glass, Tom. And a Moscow Mule should be made with ginger beer, not that fake
ass ginger soda crap.”
“If you know, then why’d
you fuck it up?”
I shrugged, resigned to
the fact that this interview was going south fast. I was getting a bad feeling
about this place, and its owner. I felt like she was trouble – which was a
familiar feeling. It was as if I’d met someone like her in the past. She seemed
like the type who measured liquid levels and weighed bottles. I hate working at
those sorts of joints. I never last more than a couple weeks at them.
The owner took a sip of
my Moscow Mule – only a sip. She didn’t chug my offering like she did
Crystal’s. She looked at me and said, “It’s fine.”
She swiveled on her
stool to face the third competitor in our little battle, “On to you, David.
What’s this swill you’re shilling?”
“Only the best,” he
said, though his powers of bullshitting were woefully slight.
“Yeah right,” she said
before taking a sip. “Oh Christ.” She grimaced, held the drink far to her side,
and poured it out onto the floor. She even dropped the mug. It clanked on the
wood. “That’s a hot take on cold ass, Davey. Fucking hell. Is this your first
“Are you sure, because
that tasted like a four-year-old made it. Seriously, up your game or you can
take the southbound train.” She wiped her tongue off on a napkin, and then
said, “On to round two. Make me a…”
“Let’s get this party
started!” A young man’s voice bellowed from upstairs. It was a young man,
probably barely twenty-one, in a ripped t-shirt and jeans that were tattered
and dirty. He wasn’t an ugly kid, but it looked like he’d been strapped to the
bumper of a Jeep and dragged down a dirt road for a few miles. “I’ve been
trying to get to this place forever. I’m thirsty. Haven’t had a drink in… Shit,
who knows how long? Someone get me something to drink.”
“And so it begins,” said
Raven with a bored expression.
“We’re doing shots
tonight. All night, all night, all night.” The newcomer started chanting as he
approached the bar.
I took the initiative
and poured a shot of the cheapest whiskey I could find. He downed it as if in a
race, and then slammed the shot glass upside down on the bar. I hate it when
people do that. As if I want to wipe up your leftovers and spit.
“Should I start you a
tab?” I asked.
“It’s on the house,”
said the owner before shooing the guy away. He asked for some Natty Lights on
his way to a booth in the corner. We ignored his request.
“It’s only going to get
busier by the minute,” said the owner. “We should hurry this up. How about you
guys make me a…” She thought about it for a minute, and then with a burgeoning
smile she said, “A daiquiri.”
“What kind of daiquiri?”
asked David, but Crystal and I were already plowing ahead.
“Whatever sort of
daiquiri you want, my dear,” said the owner.
David reached for a
blender, and I grimaced in regret for him. This lady knows what she’s doing.
Asking a bartender for a daiquiri is the ideal way to test their basic skills.
While there’ve been a thousand different concoctions devised to blend rum, sugar,
and some sort of sour fruit to create what might be deemed a daiquiri, the real
thing is simple yet divine. It’s a test of perfect balance, blending just a few
ingredients into a swirl of notes, each complimenting the next. I make good
daiquiris. Damn good daiquiris.
I start with fresh limes
squeezed with a hand juicer into a tumbler. This gets a good amount of the oils
from the skins without getting any pulp or seeds in the mix. Next comes the
At this point in my
mixing, I heard poor David start blending his icy mixture. Again, I grimaced
and shook my head. The owner chuckled, and I casually looked up at her, offered
a wry smile, and then got back to work. Both of us knew David wasn’t going to
make the cut.
I found the simple
syrup, added a shot to the tumbler before a few cubes of ice, and then gave it
a rigorous shake. Crystal was already pouring her similarly made daiquiri, but
I took my time. I shook my drink until the chill on the tumbler stung my palm.
Then, finally, I poured my daiquiri.
Crystal’s drink looked
nearly identical to mine, but her martini coupe was colder, and it was
decorated with a thin slice of lime and cherry as a garnish. I was captivated
by it. She’d outdone me. I realized that she’d plunged her glass into ice
before serving, which gave her a frosty edge over me, not to mention the
garnish, which put her over the top.
I cursed under my
David was fumbling with
his strawberry nightmare. It fell in clumps from the blender into the mug he
chose to serve it in. He even had a tiny umbrella waiting to add.
“Just stop, David,” said
the owner. “Go ahead and dump that out. I’m too old and tired to even take a
sip of it.”
“You’re missing out,”
said David, desperate to save his chances. “It’s delicious.”
“Wait, don’t pour it
out,” said the owner as she turned to look at the newcomer in the corner booth.
“Give it to him.”
“You should really try
it,” said David.
“I said give it to the
“Does this mean I didn’t
get the job?” he asked, dejected and on the edge of anger.
“Did I say that?” asked
Raven. “Go take that shit to the shithead, and then get back here. I’ve got one
more drink I want the three of you to make me.”
Crystal and I watched
David pour his frozen strawberry daiquiri into a glass, and then walk it over
to the corner booth.
Crystal whispered, “His
mess is leaking all over the place.” She used a towel to wipe off the bar in
front of her, and then she left it in David’s mess for him to clean himself.
Raven tried my daiquiri
and gave me an appreciative nod. Then she sipped Crystal’s, and I knew I’d lost
by the way Raven’s eyes sparkled. Yet again, the owner finished Crystal’s
offering while leaving mine mostly full.
“How long have you been
bartending,” asked Raven of Crystal.
“You’re damn good,” said
Raven. She had no such compliment to offer me.
David returned and said,
“He liked it.”
“Good for him,” said
Raven. “Now clean off the bar and get ready for your last chance at getting
“Maybe I don’t want this
job,” said David, petulant.
“Oh really?” asked
Raven. She crossed her arms and leaned back as if enjoying this. “And what’s
your back-up plan if this falls through for you? Where’re you going to go next?
Where are any of you going to go if you don’t get this job?”
The three of us were
caught off guard by the question. None of us offered an answer.
“I’m the only place
Another new patron came
into the bar. He stumbled his way down the steps, disheveled and uncoordinated.
He was a businessman who looked like he was already ten shots deep in his
drunken stupor before getting here. He tugged at his red and white striped tie,
loosening it as he approached.
“Can I get a…” he
started to order a drink, but Raven interrupted.
“You can get a martini,”
she said. “Guys, the next drink I want you to make is a martini.”
“I don’t want a
martini,” said the businessman as the three of us got started.
Raven took a drag while
sizing her customer up. She blew smoke in his face, and then asked, “Do I look
like I give a flying fuck what you want?”
“What sort of place is
this?” he slurred his words.
“The last bar this side
of hell,” said Raven. “Go find a seat.”
David, Crystal, and I
were already in the process of making our drinks during Raven’s conversation
with the patron. What she said to him gave me pause. I had a bottle of dry
vermouth in one hand, and my tumbler of ice in the other, and I froze in place.
I looked at the black
stairs at the entrance and tried to recall what brought me here. How did I end
up at the Limbus Lounge?
I lost my last job when
my boss caught me stealing a case of expensive scotch. The owner of that bar
wasn’t the sort of guy who sent thieves off with a slap on the wrist.
“Holy shit,” I said as I
set my tumbler on the bar.
“What’s the matter?”
asked Crystal. “Did you forget how to make a martini?” She had already splashed
vermouth on her ice, and then dumped out the excess from her tumbler. This was
the same way I usually made martinis, because a nice touch of vermouth on the
ice helps harshen the delicate flavor of the gin, but too much sours the drink.
“I’m dead,” I said.
“Dead last,” said David,
enjoying the fact he was going to finish his drink before me. He was shaking
his martini vigorously, proving that he didn’t know what he was doing. Despite
what Bond said, you never shake a martini. You stir them. Shaking a martini
bruises the gin and causes chips of ice to break off in the tumbler, which
waters down the alcohol. Of course, he was using vodka instead of gin, another
mortal sin as far as I was concerned.
But none of that
mattered, because by the look in Raven’s eyes I knew I was right.
“I died last night.
They…” It was all coming back to me now. “They shot me in the head.”
My purloined case of
scotch ended up being the most expensive drink I’d ever stolen. My boss and his
goons had been hiding in the back of the van that I was supposed to deliver the
scotch to. It’d been a set-up, and there was no explaining my way out of it.
After pleading for my life, I remember the cold metal of the gun being pressed
behind my ear. There was blackness, and then…
The Limbus Lounge.
“Are we all dead?” I
Crystal had finished her
martini, but froze as she held the glass by its stem. I saw the glint of
realization lighten her features – the creep of terror in her eyes.
“Oh my God,” said
Crystal. “He’s right.”
“What’s going on?” asked
David, as clueless as ever.
“We’re fucking dead,”
said Crystal, the scant color fading from her already pale face. “I… I’m dead.”
She grasped at her throat, feeling for signs of injury. “I hung myself. And now
I’m here. I don’t remember how I got here.”
“All right,” said Raven
as she stood up. “Let’s cut the bullshit.”
She took a moment to
straighten the wrinkles in her dress with a quick swipe down the front, as if
she was a salesperson preparing to launch into a pitch. “Yes, you’re dead. Yes,
this is the afterlife – sort of. More specifically, this is limbo. Normally you
would’ve been given a chance to float around out there and contemplate a bunch
of existential nonsense, but my last bartender took a flying leap into forced
retirement, and I need a replacement.”
“Wait, are you for
real?” asked David.
Crystal had her hands on
her head and backed up until she collided with the shelves of liquor. She was
cursing, and on the verge of tears.
“Stop it,” commanded
Raven. “All three of you led shitty lives. Let’s face facts. You were garbage
people. You weren’t bad enough to get tossed down there.” She pointed to the
south door, on the opposite side of the tavern from the entrance. “But you sure
didn’t deserve a spot up top either. So now you’re here, in between. And…”
David began to say
something, but Raven was quick to shut him down.
“Wait, wait,” she said
while holding her hand out at him. “Listen to me. I’m giving you a once in an
afterlife shot here. A shot at something that’ll make your time here tolerable.
You three are stuck in limbo for a few thousand years or so. Without this job,
you’ll be sent out into the real limbo. Out with the nothingness, where you’ll
float around confronting all the worst memories your brains can conjure up.
Trust me, that’s not what you want. A thousand years of nothing but your own
demons to keep you company. You can have that, or you can work here, where
limbo touches the other side. You’ll help decide who stays, and who goes.”
“I need time to think,”
said Crystal as she wiped tears from her eyes.
“No time to think,
darling,” said Raven. “It’s time to fight.” She started to reach towards the
martini, but Crystal snatched it away.
“No, fuck you,” said
Crystal, finding inner strength despite the daunting circumstance. She dumped
her drink out into the sink. “This isn’t fair.”
“You’re right, it
isn’t,” said Raven. She snapped her fingers, and the bouncers from the entrance
came down the stairs. “If life’s not fair, you can bet your ass the afterlife’s
worse. Guys, show Crystal out.”
“No,” said the feisty
bartender as she moved behind David. “Fuck you. You can’t just throw me out.
You can’t expect us to just do whatever you tell us.”
“Yes I can,” said Raven,
as relaxed as ever, smoking the way a dame in a noir film might in midst of
One of the bouncers came
behind the bar, and the other skirted the outside, behind the stools. They both
looked similar, about six and a half feet tall with chests thicker than kegs
and arms as wide as my waist. Their heads were shaved, and their noses looked
like they’d been broken a few hundred times until they achieved the perfect
lumpy pancake appearance. They looked like mirror images of a mob hitman, each
focused on the waifish girl retreating to the other side of the bar.
“Crystal, don’t make
this hard on yourself,” said Raven, though I doubt she cared.
The spritely bartender
wasn’t going down without a fight. She leapt over the bar, taking a few mugs
with her that she tossed at the closest bouncer. “Fuck off!”
The musician paused his
lazy strumming, and watched the battle commence in front of his triangle stage
in the corner. He moved his beer when it was threatened by Crystal’s calamitous
attempt at an escape.
Crystal tipped over a
table and kicked a chair at the bouncer as he came for her. She ducked when he
lunged, but her nimbleness was no match for the trained fighter. As she tried
to crawl past him, he caught her by the belt. There was no compassion on his
part, despite the size difference. The bouncer tossed Crystal hard against the
wall, shaking the mounted animal heads above. She crumpled and whimpered.
“Hey, come on,” I said,
disturbed by the violent scene.
“Don’t get in the middle
of it,” said Raven. “Trust me. Once the bouncers get going, there’s nothing
anyone can do to stop them.”
“They’re going to…”
“What?” she asked. “Kill
her? Too bad, she already beat them to the punch on that one. Don’t forget
where you are, Tommy. You can’t die when you’re already dead.”
Crystal wasn’t tapping
out yet. She still had a little fight in her.
When the nearest bouncer
reached for her arm, she struck out at his neck with a broken bottle she’d been
hiding. The shard nearly stuck in the man’s throat. He avoided the potentially
lethal blow by twisting away from the strike, but the attack gave Crystal a
chance to make a break for the entrance. She scurried away, slipping on the
slick floor as she went. Her haphazard escape was halted by the second bouncer,
and this time there was no breaking free. He clasped his tree-trunk arms around
her tiny frame, and squeezed until she was gasping for breath as her ribs
compressed her lungs.
“Let’s go, baby girl,”
said the brute that held her.
“Where’re they taking
her?” I asked.
“Well, I was gonna send
her south, but maybe you can change my mind. You tell me where she should go.
Out into limbo,” she leaned her head towards the entrance. “Or out the south
side door?” she leaned her head the other direction, to the door that I hadn’t
seen open yet.
I stammered, and then
said, “Limbo, I guess.”
“You sure?” asked Raven,
sadistic enjoyment lighting her expression. “Because if we throw her out that
way, she’ll eventually circle the drain until she drops back in here. If you’re
my new bartender – my liquor stealing bartender,” she gave me a wry smile and
winked. “I might just find myself tempted to replace you with her. It’d be in
your best interest to send her that other way – where there’s no coming back.”
She looked at the black-painted south door. It wasn’t just barred shut. There
were several other silver locks adorning its edge, keeping it in place, and
keeping out whatever might be on the other side.
“No,” I said, eager to
hurry up the decision-making process. Poor Crystal was starting to turn a light
shade of purple in the python-grip of the bouncer. “Send her back up there.” I
motioned to the entrance I came through. “Wherever the hell it leads.”
“What about you, Davey
Boy?” she asked of my newly sole competitor. “Which door?”
He looked at me, as if
he was a jock looking for an answer from the nerd in class.
“Come on, man,” I said.
“Send her that way.” I motioned at the entrance to what I assumed was limbo
versus the barred door to hell.
“I… uh…” He stammered.
“Tick tock, Davey,” said
“Send her that way,” he
said, and I could hardly believe which direction he pointed. “Send her to the
“You fucking asshole,” I
“I’m with Dave,” said
Raven. “Let’s send this bitch packing. Peter, open the door.”
The bouncer that Crystal
had nearly stabbed was more than happy to comply. He nearly jogged to the door
with glee, and started undoing the numerous locks that kept it closed.
“Hey, come on,” I said,
feeling helpless, but uncomfortable with what was happening.
“Keep your mouth shut,
Tom,” said Raven. “Or you’ll get the boot just the same as her. Don’t test me,
That was something I’d
“What’d you call me?” I
“It means honey,” she
said. “I heard it somewhere. Not sure where. I like the way it sounds.”
A recollection of my
final night alive swam through the muddy waters of my brain. I watched the
scene play out from above, like a spiritual interloper spying from a window in
the wet, smelly, midnight alley.
There was a van parked
behind the bar where I worked, its fiery brakes providing the only light to the
scene. I was carrying a case of scotch up to the back of the van.
“No!” Crystal managed to
get out a plea for mercy as the bouncer eased his grip on her. “Please.”
“Too late, kid,” said
Raven. “Tell your devils I said hello.”
The south side door was
open now, and within it I saw the depths of depravity, sorrow, and anguish that
might be my future as well if I wasn’t careful. There wasn’t hellfire spewing
from its edges, nor scenes of torture being played out for us to bear witness
to now that the door was open. Instead, there was an emptiness laid before us,
so vast and hypnotic that you dare not stare too long. Its depths were
maddening, blackness and suffering, emerging from the void like the vacuum of
space threatening to pull one in. The certainty of everlasting pain and anguish
so apparent it need not show such things with base visual renderings of bloody
chains, gnashing teeth, or crackling flames.
I gazed into hell. Into
nothingness. Into pain the likes of which I’d never conceived.
And staring back at me,
from the yawning expanse of darkness, was an eager torturer. He wasn’t there to
be seen, but I knew he was there – waiting for me to take my turn stepping
through the south side door. Oh how eager he was to pull me in.
“Please, no,” said
Crystal, terror quaking her pleas. She saw the same sorts of devils I saw in
that blank canvas. They were all the devils we brought with us, set free to
tear us limb from limb if that’s what we deserved.
Upon staring into Hell,
David, Crystal, and I knew what Hell was. It was what we brought with us, and
it was ready to torture us for eternity.
Crystal was thrown in,
and the south side door was ready to be closed again. I could hear her screams
as she floated away, cast into the darkness I hoped to never see again. There
was a screeching whistle of air as the bouncers tried to force the door closed.
It pulled at the furniture in the Limbus Lounge, and several chairs fell to the
ground. All of us were affected by the gale, except for Raven. She sat across
the bar from me, calmly smoking her cigar.
Her long, thin, familiar
I was again transported
to my own memory. That final night out behind the bar, with a case of scotch in
my arms. I knocked on the back of the van, and then waited for it to open.
This case of scotch
wasn’t for me. I’d stolen my fair share of liquor from the bar, but never this
much. My addiction was better handled one bottle at a time. This scotch was to
“Let’s start round three
over again,” said Raven, breaking me of my momentary recollection. “I want the
best damn martini you’ve ever made. Remember, your afterlives depend on it!”
She was more animated
now than earlier, as if the sight of Crystal being tossed into the pits of hell
I put the ice in my
tumbler, as if on auto-pilot. Next, I splashed the ice with dry vermouth, and
then drained the excess so that only a kiss remained. I got the gin, and saw
that David was sticking with vodka.
I felt confident the
game was mine.
I stirred until the
tumbler frosted, and then strained the martini free of its ice as I poured it
into the glass. A couple olives later and the perfect martini was complete. I
slid it towards Raven right before David finished his.
Raven reached for mine
first, and said, “Thanks, Tupello.”
And then I remembered
how I died.
I saw myself carrying
that scotch out to the van to send it off with the person who’d promised to pay
me two hundred dollars for it. The woman with the sultry voice and the
“Thanks, Tupello,” she’d
said to me as wisps of smoke drifted from her long, thin cigar.
I recalled the back door
of that van opening, and the mob thugs reaching for me as I tried to run. And
then the cold metal of the gun touching the skin behind my ear.
Now I stood there in the
Limbus Lounge and stared at my captor. My gaze grew increasingly severe.
“What’s the matter?”
“You set me up.”
“Set you up for what?”
I glared at her and
reached down for the paring knife below the counter. “That was you in the van.”
Raven stood suddenly.
She whistled, sharp and piercing, and then pointed at me. “Send him out with
the other one.”
“You fucking set me up,”
I shouted at her, and then turned my attention to David. “She probably set you
up too. She’s the reason we’re dead.”
“You need to shut your mouth,
Tom,” she said with a snarl of hatred. She dropped her cigar and tried to reach
across the bar, her long nails grasping unsuccessfully at me like the talons of
a swooping hawk barely missing a mouse. “Get out of my bar.” She reached again,
and this time I swiped at her with the knife. I caught a corner of her palm,
and instead of blood there was a jet of flame that exited her wound. She
clasped her other hand over it, extinguishing the hellfire escaping from within
“Get the door back
open,” said one of the bouncers to his doppelganger. He was behind the bar,
coming my way. I tried to plan an escape.
I planned to leap over
the bar, push Raven aside, and then head towards the entrance, but David
decided this was his chance to secure his job as the new bartender of the
Limbus Lounge. He grasped me in a headlock. His meaty arm squeezed at my
throat, immediately causing me to become dizzy. I tried to stab at him, but the
bouncer had closed the gap between us. He crushed my hand in his, and the knife
fell to the floor.
“Get him the fuck out of
here,” said Raven as she continued to clasp her wounded hand.
The bouncer in front of
me said to David, “Hold him up.”
David did as he was
told, and the bouncer punched me so hard I felt my ribs break. He hit me again
on the other side of my chest, doing just as much damage there.
I heard the sucking
sound of the door to hell pulling in air as the second bouncer finished
unlatching the locks. My fate was assured. I couldn’t break free of David’s
grasp, and even if I could, I was too wounded to fight any of them.
Raven held the martini
David had made for her, and grinned wickedly at me as she said, “I gave you a
chance, Tommy, but you fucked it up. Just like you’ve been doing your whole
life. You fucked it up.” She took a sip, scowled, and then set David’s martini
back on the bar.
“Time to go,” said the
bouncer in front of me. “Take this piece of shit and throw him out with the
Raven sat down at the
bar, sneering at me as David dragged me backwards, towards hell.
“Idiot,” said Raven, and
then reached for the second martini waiting for her to try at the bar. She
sipped my drink. Her scowl softened.
I heard my devils
eagerly calling me from behind. I felt the air being pulled past my cheeks as
we got closer to my infernal prison.
Raven looked down into
the martini, and then at me. She lifted it to her lips, and took in a nice,
long whiff of the delicate gin.
She commanded sudden and
David and the bouncer
“I think I’d rather send
him out the way he came.”
“Why?” asked the
Raven got up from her
seat and walked down the bar to get closer to us. “Don’t question me, meathead.
Do as you’re told.”
“I say we toss him,”
said David, still trying to make sure to secure his job.
“And I say shut the fuck
up, newbie, and do what you’re told. Let him go.”
I crumpled to the floor
when David released me. It felt like there were swords in my chest stabbing at
“Come on,” said the
bouncer as he started to drag me across the wet rubber matt behind the bar.
“Stand him up,” said
Raven once we reached the black stairs that led to the entrance.
The bouncer lifted me
from the floor, and it felt like all the bones in my chest rattled against one
another. I cried out in pain.
“Listen here, shit for
brains,” said Raven as she put her hand on my cheek. I could feel the intense
heat emanating from the wound I’d caused on her hand. “You’re going to spend an
awful long time out there in that toilet bowl of existence, swirling round and
round in limbo. But one of these days you’re going to find your way back here.
On that day, you’d damn well better be ready to make me another one of your
martinis. And who knows, if David hasn’t learned to make a better one, maybe
I’ll give you a second chance.”
And with that, I was
tossed out through the entrance to find myself in a dark alley with a gun
pressed to the back of my head, just under my ear.
“Don’t kill him,” said a
sultry female’s voice from the front of the van. “He’s too good a bartender to
My chest no longer hurt.
I was as I had been in the moment before I was murdered. Yet I felt no relief.
My mind was spinning as
I tried to comprehend what I’d just lived through, but my experience at Limbus
Lounge was fading from memory as fast as a dream. Soon, I’d forget everything
about Raven and her bar, but I’d be left with a nagging question that would
haunt the rest of my days.
Is life Limbo?