(The theme was late for this week, so I decided to be a smartass :) )
A blast of cold air caught the attention of patrons near the door as the man entered. He stood tall at 6’3”, a hulking frame wrapped in black leather and jeans. A few patrons glanced up from their libations, but their gazes quickly snapped back down. This was the kind of place where the curious didn’t last too long. A jukebox thumped weakly on a wall in the back as the man stepped towards the bar, his boots thumping in time with the forgotten country-western number.
The man approached the bar, pulling out a rickety stool and mounting it in a smooth motion that bespoke practice. The bartender, wiping a dirty glass mug with a dirtier rag, raised an eyebrow in the dim light.
“Beer,” the stranger said, his voice gravelly and deep.
The bartender shrugged and stepped away for a moment, returning with a pale yellow swill in a water-spotted glass. The man took a sip, a sneer crossing his face as the failed pilsner hit his taste buds, then eyed the bartender as he set the mug back down on the bar. The bartender looked back at him, not wanting to back down in his own place, but a hint of fear was clearly visible in his eyes.
The man leaned forward and spoke in a quieter voice. “I’m lookin’ for something.”
“Lotsa folk are looking for something around here. Some of ‘em even found it.” The bartender shrugged. “Makes no business to me.”
“But you know this something,” the stranger asserted. “I have it on good word that you are a man that can find these kinds of things.”
The bartender quirked an eyebrow, his hands ceasing their incessant wiping. “And what kind of thing would that be?”
The stranger leaned forward. “I’m lookin’ for a theme.”
The bartender twitched in surprise, the glass in his hands falling to the ground with a loud crash. The few curious souls in the run-down tavern cast a wayward glance over, and the bartender continued speaking in a much quieter tone. “Don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no theme, sir. And even if I did…”
“Bullshit,” the man interrupted. “You know exactly where I can find a theme, and I intend to have one before I leave here.”
The bartender was visibly trembling now, looking around at the other patrons for support, but they all stared intently into their beverages. With a visible tremble in his hand, the bartender bent over and began to clean up the shattered glass. He addressed his comments to the floor as he spoke, out of view of the rest of the bar. “Now, I don’t know what you heard, but I got out of that business a long time ago.”
“Not my problem,” the gravelly voice argued from above.
“Now, now, that don’t mean I don’t have anything for ya.” The bartender stood, eyeing the man across the thin wooden bar top. “Happens to be I might know of someone who can point you in the right direction, if given the proper motivation.”
“Motivation, eh?” The stranger smirked as he slid a few folded bills across the bar. The bartender looked furtively about before palming the cash, and slid a piece of paper back towards the stranger. As he started to pull his hand back, the stranger’s came down atop his. The bar creaked as the man applied pressure, trapping the bartender’s hand with a painful grip. “I swear, if you’re screwing with me I’m gonna come right back here and rip your lyin’ tongue outta your head.”
The bartender shrugged. “As I said, I’ve been outta the game for a while. This is all I know now.” The bartender looked down, sweat beading on his forehead. “Can I have my hand back now?” The stranger held on for another second, glaring a threat at the bartender, before releasing the hand from the bar. The bartender shook some blood back into his fingers as he eyed the stranger. “Now kindly finish your beer and go.”
The man picked up the mug, draining the contents in a single pull, and stood up. Tossing another few dollars on the bar, the man headed for the door. As he stepped back into the cold, he glanced down at the scribbled drawing the bartender had handed him, and a smile crept slowly across his face.