Magpie Jack’s looked very much the part of a small mountain bar in a small mountain town. The décor had not been changed in at least ten years, but it may have been longer than that. At certain times, mostly during the winter and some weekends, the staff would still allow smoking-of various substances-inside and those scents were prevalent, along with those of beer and grease from the kitchen. There was a group of regulars who looked as though they had occupied the same barstools since the sixties, and, in the case of Grizz, who was also partial owner of the bar, at least a decade, but maybe even longer than that.
It was a quiet Tuesday night when Lankin, accompanied by Tarot and Whisper, walked in. Only Grizz, and his closest circle of old-timers occupied the establishment. Aside from being Marrakech’s bar, it was also one of the main restaurants and social gathering spots. Although law dictated those underage should leave by nine at night, everyone knew who was of age and not, and, therefore, who got served. In a small mountain town with no law enforcement outside of the county sheriff in Colorado’s High Country, often the rules were bent to the point of near breaks.
There were glances directed at Tarot, which was far from surprising. Everyone knew who his dad was. Lankin pointed for his young companions to go sit near the pool tables as he walked toward the bar. Frank was bartending. Without even asking, a glass of red wine was poured and pushed in front of him.
“Haven’t seen you in awhile, Lankin,” Frank said politely. “How’ve you been?”
“As of this moment, incredibly well,” he replied, taking a sip of wine. His eyes scanned the bar, taking note of the unpaid tabs. There was one that held his attention. “You can take that tab down, Franklin, you know.”
“Not until it’s paid, that’s the rule. You don’t like it, talk to Grizz or Jack.”
“Oh, Grizz,” Lankin called lazily over his shoulder. “I’m going to pay a dead man’s tab because of your rule.”
“That’s fine. By the way, your next glass and whatever the kids are getting is on me.”
“Thank you, Grizz,” Lankin said, taking a look at the tab that once belonged to Donavan. “Fifty dollars…” his gaze focused on Frank. “I’m amazed Donnie was able to come in here and drink again owing you all that much.”
“The son of a bitch came in here, already three sheets to the wind, swearing he had money.”
“So you served him?”
“Sure, why not? I was on my own and it was a slow night,” Frank said.
“So he paid up then?”
“No!” Frank snapped, his fist slamming down on the bar. “The fucker drinks another twenty’s worth of booze, and that’s all he’s got in his pocket!”
“Maybe you should’ve asked for the money up front, Franklin,” Lankin mused. Over by the pool tables, Tarot paused from the game he had started with Whisper.
“Coulda, woulda, shoulda,” Frank muttered. “As you can imagine, I was pretty pissed. The bastard had pulled one over on me.”
“Of course,” Lankin said casually. “Is that when you started spiking Donnie’s drinks with antifreeze?”
Frank’s face hardened into a sneer. His fists clenched and unclenched. Without even trying to be subtle, he reached under the bar and grabbed what often called the drunk-be-good-stick, which was part of an old pool cue. Frank began to smack the stick against the palm of him hand. Lankin’s head tilted to the side, inquisitively. His eyes narrowed slightly, and a rather predatory smirk began to cross his lips.
“What are you accusing me of, Lankin?” He hissed.
“Nothing. I’m merely asking you a question; when did you start feeding Donnie antifreeze?”
“You the fucking sheriff now? A new credential for the great Lazarus Lankin?”
“You’re getting rather defensive, Franklin. An innocent man certainly wouldn’t be whipping out the drunk-be-good-stick at the mention of feeding Donnie Tabor antifreeze, now would he?”
The drunk-be-good-stick was slammed down on the bar, knocking over Lankin’s glass of wine. Frank rattled it against the bar two more times, causing everyone in Magpie Jack’s to focus upon the exchange. Lankin seemed unconcerned about Frank’s attempt at intimidation.
“You spilled my wine, Franklin,” he remarked off-handedly.
“And I’d like another glass, on the house, of course,” Lankin said, his tone both cold and exceedingly polite. “And while you’re pouring, you can tell us all why you decided to poison Donavan Tabor and be so damned sloppy about it.”
“Fuck your wine!” Frank shouted. “And so what if I put antifreeze in Donnie’s next few drinks? I was doing everyone a favor. Even you know that.”
“You killed a man over fifty dollars,” Lankin said softly. “And because he pulled a fast one on you.” His gaze intensified as he leaned forward. “Really, Franklin, are you that fucking petty?”
Frank raised the drunk-be-good-stick over his head. The look in his eyes was that of someone with very little left to lose. Lankin held his gaze, a smirk, which might be like that of a mountain lion before it pounced, was painted upon his lips.
“You don’t want to, Franklin,” he said calmly. Then, his gaze shifted. “And neither do you.”
During the exchange, Tarot had snuck behind the bar, his own pool cue in hand. He had brought it up, ready to strike Frank without a second thought. Lankin reproaching him caused him to lower his impromptu weapon instantly.
“But, Lankin…” he started.
“Tarot, listen to him,” Whisper said from the pool tables.
Frank turned to Tarot with every intention of hitting someone with the drunk-be-stick. In a flash, he found himself being pulled across the bar and all but thrown into a barstool. The drunk-be-good-stick was in the hand of Lankin, and it was held against Frank’s Adam’s apple as though it was an afterthought.
“I believe I said you didn’t want to, Franklin,” Lankin growled. “Of course, I might have said it to you in Latin or Swahili. That happens on occasion.” He then turned his attention to Tarot. “Jimmy, go call dispatch and have them send someone up here yesterday and tell them it’s because I fucking say so.”
“Okay, Lankin,” there were understandable tears forming in Tarot’s eyes as he went to make to the call.
“I should fucking kill you!” Frank spat.
“I think one person a summer’s more than enough, Franklin,” Lankin said coldly. “Be grateful I’m giving you to the sheriff.”
It was then that Grizz approached them both. Frank smirked, thinking he might be saved. Into his early eighties, Grizz was another bear of a man who had worked in mines and been a lumberjack. Despite his age, he’d lost none of his vitality. As he walked up, Lankin began to calculate the possibility of confrontation, knowing the other few old-timer’s reactions would hang directly on Grizz’s action.
The old man stepped behind the bar and picked up Lankin’s spilled glass. He filled it to the top. With a bitter smile, he handed Lankin the glass, which was accepted with a similar smile and the inclination of the head.
“You spilled Lazarus’ wine, Frank,” Grizz said.
“You killed a man in my bar!” Grizz roared.
“I was helping,” Frank said weakly.
“Bullshit!” Grizz snapped. “Everybody knew Donnie was drowning and with a drowning man, you throw him a rope.” He paused long enough to pour himself a shot of whiskey and press it to his lips. “But instead, you handed him a brick.”