Chapter 1: In which our protagonist is introduced, while she is not on good terms with the world
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby
Farnham is a place without a past and without a future. At least that’s what I thought. Now I know it has a past. And whether or not it has a future, I do.
My adventure began on a Sunday morning, late on a Sunday morning. I woke up because I rolled on my back and it hurt. I got up and it still hurt. I went into the shower and tried to beat the pain out of it, with hot water, some rubbing, a long-handled brush. Nothing worked.
It had been because of last night. I’d been doing one of my three jobs, helping to hold down the bar at McNaughten’s. Saturday’s always a busy night in the sports bar, and we were slinging out the drinks as fast as we could. Too fast. I could practically smell people getting drunk enough to start a fight. And they would. And they did.
It’s not surprising. Farnham’s two main businesses are servicing truckers and the cogeneration plant. That means a lot of men in town, a lot of men without women, a lot of men looking for a fight. The locals and the more frequent truckers know better than to start a fight. But the transients, the ones who haven’t come this way before and don’t care much to come back, they’re always rarin’ for a fight.
When a fight breaks out, the night manager calls Mac, and we bartenders wade in and try to break up the fight before anyone gets hurt. Some of the bartenders simply force their way in and use brute force to break up the fights. Me, I’m the shortest, lightest, and least muscular of the bartenders. I am always the last to go into a fight. But that’s not because I’m scared. I have a nice, trusty baton I keep handy, and when I swing that thing, it hits and injures a joint, and that’s one less person fighting, period. No, I’m last because I take a moment to study the fight, to pick out who’s keeping it going. You see, even in the most general fights, the majority of the guys would stop if they knew the other guys would stop. It’s the ones committed to fighting that keep it going. And I aim to pick them off as quickly as possible once I get into that fight.
That does mean wading into the middle of the fight. I’ve been lucky, by and large, and rarely get tagged. But last night I was trying to take out one of the leading fighters, while fending off an attack from another, when a third hooligan decided to whack me in the back with a bar stool. In the movies, the bar stool breaks, and the guy who’s taken the hit either staggers and falls, or he just turns right around and takes a swing at the fellow who just hit him. Well, our bar stools don’t break that easily. And I didn’t pull a movie stunt. All I did was go down in a flash, losing my baton in the process. It was not elegant. Neither was the screech of pain I let out as I fell.
You do not want to be on the open floor during a bar fight. You are too inviting a target, and risk being stepped on by accident. I had barely been able to use my hands to catch myself falling, so I didn’t smash my face in the floor, at least. Once I had a thought to spare, I started rolling until I got under a table. Anything but being on an open floor. And, lucky me, my baton was there, which was very good news for me, and very, very bad news for everyone else.
Suffice it to say the fight ended shortly thereafter, and I’d just happened to break only one arm, the right arm of the guy who’d tagged me with the stool. That isn’t what ended the fight, though: that was Mac showing up, which puts the fear of the law into anyone with any sense. Once I’d got off my adrenaline high, I went back behind the bar and almost immediately had to lie down from the pain.
Doc Helen showed up right after. Doc has a policy with bar fights: unless a customer is in danger of serious permanent damage, she attends to the staff first. I was the only real casualty among the staff, so she got Marge the waitress to ice my back, and told Nick the night manager (yeah, skip the “Nick at Night” jokes, please) that I was out for the evening. She took me home herself, stuck me in bed, gave me a painkiller instead of another drink, and went home herself. Not too difficult, as we share a house. I live on the west side, she lives on the east side.
Once I’d showered and dressed, I walked into the kitchen and made myself breakfast. I was most of the way through it when Doc came in. We share the kitchen and living room, so this was no intrusion on her part. She got out some bourbon, poured herself a shot, poured me a shot, and we both drank it down.
“How you feeling?” she asked me.
I would have shrugged, but that hurt. “Tell me there’s a comfortable position I can lie down in.”
She shook her head. “Pull up the back of your shirt. Let me see.” I did, she looked, and commented, “You got tagged pretty well. Good thing it missed your spine. A lot of bruising, but the icing kept it down. You should be back to normal in another twenty or thirty years.”
I let my blouse drop back into place. “Gee, thanks for the good news.” Doc looked a bit hurt at that, so I quickly added, “Sorry, Helen, the pain’s making me sour.”
She cocked an eyebrow at that. “Sanderson, you must be in pain all the time, then.” And then she realized she’d said too much, and added apologetically, “I guess I don’t have as good an excuse for that one.”
“Remind me to resent you for it when I feel better,” I said, as I shifted in the chair and caused the pain to flare up. “Many patients this morning?”
‘The usual.” She went and poured herself another shot, drank it down. “Should be cleared up by mid-afternoon, I’d say.” She thought a bit and asked, “When’s your next shift at McNaughten’s?”
“Tuesday,” I replied.
“You’ll be fine by then. Your back won’t be any stiffer than your temperament.”
I grimaced at that one. “Got to work this afternoon, though.”
Doc looked at me in surprise, then curled her lips to go with her frown. “Don’t overdo it. I’d say skip the whole thing today, but you won’t listen.”
I laughed at that. “Got to pay the rent. I have a landlord I hate to disappoint.”
Rather than answer that, Doc just turned around and left the kitchen to go back to her side of the house. There were patients waiting, after all. And she wasn’t going to argue with me about my landlord, not when she was my landlord.
I took my time finishing breakfast, made it big enough to be “brunch,” and went back to my bedroom to try to find a comfortable position in which to rest. But I remembered to set the alarm. My second job started at two, and I wanted to get up half an hour before to change clothes. After all, I had a role to perform. I was “Madame Fortuna,” and I was damn well going to look the part. A fortune teller can’t look like just anyone, you know.