by Grant Riley
There was a collective groan as soon as the bar went black. It wasn't a groan of fear or surprise, but more of a "Great! Not only are we stuck in a bar in a blizzard, but now we're stuck in a bar in a blizzard in the dark!"
"Well, ain't that just great," Kyle voiced.
"Don't get your panties in a bunch," Gus said. "They'll come back on."
"You got any flashlights or anything?" Burt asked. He sounded nervous, but then again Burt always sounded nervous.
"Whassa matter? Afraid of the dark?" The bartender chuckled. There was a shuffling of feet behind the counter and a loud thud indicated that Gus had run into something. "Son of a..." he groaned in aggravation.
"You alright?" Jack asked toward the spot he thought Gus was.
"Yeah, yeah," Gus said. "Just looking for more of those matches I just threw you. Can't see a friggin thing in this-" He cut off mid-sentence as the electricity fired back up and bathed the bar in light. "Yeah," Gus said as he looked at the lights with satisfaction. "See? Told you they'd come back on."
"Never doubted you." Jack smiled and tipped his drink to the bartender and then back to his mouth.
"I'm not afraid of the dark," Burt said defiantly. His brows were screwed up in anger and shame.
"He was just kidding," Kyle DeVille said. "Besides, I think it freaked us all out a little. Except maybe this guy." He nodded his head back at Bones.
The tattooed biker froze mid-shot to give Kyle a murderous look. His knuckles were white on the pool cue and Jack thought he was going to smash the wooden pole over his former classmate's head. He turned back to the table and took his shot.
"Doesn't look like Harold cared," Jack said with a laugh. The hairy giant sat with his head lying on his folded, beefy arms. “Hey, Harold,” he called. “You sleeping, buddy? Missing all the fun?” The big man didn’t stir. Jack raised his bottle back to his lips, but stopped short. The longer he looked at the sleeping man the more something didn't look right. He put the bottle down and stood up.
Harold was five seats away so Jack couldn't get the best look from where he was. He stubbed his cigarette out after one last drag and took two steps toward Harold. That's when he noticed the weird dripping sound. It wasn't coming from the bar's sink, that was behind him and Jack could clearly tell this was coming from the way he was facing. "Hey...uh...Harold?"
Gus had taken notice of Jack's behavior and paused in his work of wiping down the counter. "What's the matter, Jack?" The former hippie didn't answer him. Burt and Kyle now watched Jack's investigation with curious silence.
Drip, drip, drip...
Jack took another step and tilted his head down to get a view of the bottom of Harold's stool.
Drip, drip, drip...
A dark puddle pooled at Harold's feet that Jack knew was too dark to be a spilled drink. His stomach dropped and his own beer threatened to make its return. Another two steps and Jack's blood ran cold and his knees threatened to give out.
"Jack? You okay?" Kyle asked. He could see the wobble to Jack's step and how pale he'd become. He followed Jack's gaze to Harold, but from his table he couldn't see anything suspicious. He stood up and took a few steps toward to get a better view. “What is-“ He stopped short as he saw what had caused Jack to freeze up.
Harold lay slumped over with his head resting on his arms like he were sleeping, but beneath the wild stack of hair at the back of his neck Jack and Kyle could see the handle of a screwdriver. The tool had been driven straight into Harold’s skull all the way to the handle. Blood ran down behind the man’s ears and fell to the floor like a macabre, red rain.
“Gus,” Jack said, finally finding his voice. “Call the cops, man.”
“Cops?” Gus didn’t see the screwdriver until he walked over to see what was going on. His eyes almost popped from his head and he put a hand to his mouth when he finally saw it. “Holy shi….” he breathed.
By now Burt was on his feet and Bones and Nigel were aware that something was amiss. “He’s dead,” Kyle said. “Someone…someone killed him.” The bar seemed to tilt to and fro as the implications of what he said took effect on him. He pulled a chair away from a table and caught himself as his legs gave out underneath him.
“Killed him?” Burt rushed over to get a better look. It took him a minute to distinguish the screwdriver from the mess of hair covering the dead man's back. "Holy cow." He ran a hand through his stringy hair. "Holy cow. Gus, call the police. We need the police, Gus."
Gus already had the phone’s receiver to his ear, but his face was grim. “Line’s dead,” he said.
Kyle pulled out his cell phone and punched in 911. He felt sick to his stomach, but forced it aside so he could talk. He hit the Send button and was greeted with a message saying, “No Service”. “What are you talking about?” he grumbled to his phone. “I just had full service.” He tried again, but he could see in the corner of his screen that he had no signal. “I have no signal,” he announced to everyone. “I can’t get a call out.”
As if being struck by the idea for the first time Jack and Burt took out their cell phones too. Neither had a signal. “Is it because the storm?” Burt asked. He looked more nervous than usual.
“The landline, maybe,” Jack said nodding toward the phone on the wall that Gus has tried, “but I don’t think it would do this to the cells.”
“So what do we do?” Kyle asked from his chair. The color was beginning to return to his face, but only as long as he kept his eyes off Harold’s body.
“Only thing we can do,” Jack said as he walked to the door and grabbed his coat off the rack. “I’ll go find the police and bring them back here.”
“Excuse me, but do you really think that would be a smart idea.” Everyone turned to the Englishman at the end of the bar.
“What do you mean?” Jack asked, his hand on the door handle, ready to brave the freezing cold to get help. “This guy’s been murdered, we need to get the cops.”
“Precisely,” Nigel said. “This man’s been murdered and, unless I’m blind, I see only five men other than myself in the building, which means, that someone in this room is this man’s murderer.”
The silence was deafening as this fact sank into the men in the room. The shock of Harold's murder quickly changed to paranoia and fear. Suspicious glances flew around the bar, each man wondering if the person next to them were a killer and worrying that they might be next.
“Would anyone have reason to kill this man?” Nigel asked. Everyone shook their heads.
“I barely knew the guy,” Burt said.
“I know his name’s Harold,” Jack said. “That’s all I know. What about you?” He turned to the Englishman. “We don’t even know your name, let alone if you had any connection with the guy.”
“My name is Nigel,” he answered. “Nigel White and I have no connection with this name or any of the rest of you. I am in this town merely on business and came in for a drink.”
“What kind of business?” Burt asked suspiciously.
“I am an editor,” he answered. “I’m staying in town for a few days while meeting with a publisher.”
“No one would have any reason to hurt Harold,” Gus said. “He was a good man and never hurt nobody in his life.” He chewed on the corner of his bottom lip. It was how he dealt with emotions that might be considered weak and, in his own opinion, feminine. Harold had never been a very open, talkative man, but he'd been a regular at bar for so long he'd almost become like family to Gus. As he looked at Harold's slumped form he felt like he'd just lost a brother.
“That's not the only question you should be asking.” Kyle said after a deep breath. The green was starting to fade from his facing, his natural skin tone coming through.
“What do you mean?” Gus asked.
“I mean, not only who would kill Harold; who could kill him?” He stood and looked over the dead man. “That guy has a screwdriver stabbed through his skull. Do you know how much force it would take to do that?”
“He's right.” Jack nodded his head. “I doubt I'd be able to do something like that.”
“Me neither,” Burt agreed. The air grew thick with tension as the men ran through their options as to who among them was a killer. Jack and Kyle could possibly have done it; they were both a medium, sort of athletic build and could be stronger than they appeared. Burt and the Englishman were obviously too wiry and frail to be able to pull off such a feat. Gus could've done it, he'd grown up on a farm and had become an ox of a man, but the years had not been kind to him and his arthritic joints. There was one obvious solution to this puzzle. All eyes went to Bones at the pool table.
Bones met every eye with a look of angry contempt. “What do you know? Everyone blames me.” He spit on the floor. “Screw you. You can all go to Hell; I didn't kill nobody.”
“Did you know him?” Kyle asked, standing from his chair and backing away from the pool table. The huge biker didn't answer him.
"What about it, Bones?" Jack asked. "Did you know Harold? Have a grudge against him?"
"I knew him," Bones growled. "Barely. Doesn't mean I killed him."
"Please!" Burt scoffed. "You're the only one here that could've killed him. He has a freaking screwdriver stabbed through his skull!"
Bones thrust the pool cue in his hand toward Burt. “I didn't kill him, but if you don't shut your yap I might kill you.”
“Did you hear that?” Burt screeched and backed away. “He just threatened to kill me. He's the guy who killed Harold.” Bones growled like a wild animal and took a step toward the small, mousy man. Jack, Kyle, and the Englishman stepped between the two man, their hands held out to stop the advancing bull.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Calm down,” Jack urged, his days as a bouncer in some roadhouse in Nebraska coming back to him. He was quite familiar with breaking up fights.
“Hold it. Hold up.” Kyle joined in.
“Get him back!” Burt screamed. “He's going to kill me! He killed him and now he's going to kill me! He's crazy! He's crazy!” His back was to the bar, but he tried to back up further.
“Burt, shut up!” Jack yelled at the man.
“Yeah, you’re not helping at all,” Kyle added. He and Jack turned their attention back to the advancing biker. “Let’s just hold off for a second and figure this out. We’re going to get nowhere like this.” Bones stopped mere inches from the two men and sneered at them.
He thrust a thick finger at Burt. “Get that twerp to shut up and I’ll be calm,” he bellowed.
Jack turned his full attention to Burt. “Listen, man, calm down. Accusing and assuming is going to get us nowhere.” Burt stopped his frantic screaming, but he was still breathing rapidly and his eyes showed the fear of God in them. “Have a drink, calm your nerves and let’s figure this out. Can you do that?”
Burt nodded his head with a quick, “Yeah.”
“Here.” Gus set a glass of whiskey on the bar. “This should help take the edge off.” Burt reached back without looking and took the glass. He emptied it with one quick swig and shuddered as the foul liquid burned its way into his stomach.
“Are we cool now?” Jack looked from Burt to Bones.
“Yes,” Burt said. He looked to the towering man that had come close to beating him to a pulp. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Screw you,” Bones scoffed and stepped back over to the pool table. He leaned his bulk against the table causing it to creak under the weight and crossed his massive arms.
“Okay, we got that settled, but we still have a dead man on our hands,” Kyle said. His glance went to Harold’s body and he quickly looked away before getting sick. “And Jack’s right. With no phones, someone has to go out there and get the police.”
“And we have no way of knowing if the person leaving is the killer or if they’re leaving the killer here to deal with the rest of us,” Nigel said.
“The tea drinker’s right,” Gus said. Then, to Nigel, “no offense. As of right now every one of us is a suspect. I would like to think I know all of y’all good enough to trust you ain’t a killer, but right now I can’t say that.”
“Well, what are we going to do then?” Jack asked. “Sit here and drink while someone has been killed?"
"It's only till the phones come back," Gus said.
Jack ran his hands through his hair. He couldn't believe how stubborn these men were being. Action needed to be taken and now. "Okay, fine. How about this: two of us will go get the cops."
"And who do you think should go?" Burt asked.
"I've already volunteered so I'll go and whoever else wants to. Burt, you're more than welcome."
The wiry man put his hands up in defense. "And what if you're the killer? You think I'm gonna risk my life out there in blinding blizzard alone with a killer? I don't think so."
Kyle raised an eyebrow at Jack. “You know, you've been very anxious to get out of this bar ever since this happened.”
Jack's face hardened. “What are you saying?” Kyle only shrugged. “You saying that I killed Harold? I already told you I didn't; I had no reason to. I'm just trying to get the freaking police here to check this out!” His voice rang with frustration. He looked around at the other men at the bar and could see that still none of them were convinced of his innocence. “I can't believe you people,” he said in a low growl.
“Jack, come on,” Kyle said in a cool, calming tone. “I've known you since High School. I don't think you would do something like this, but you have to see it our way. Right now we have nothing to go out except the fact that we have a dead body and only five guys that could've done it.”
“Four guys,” Jack corrected. “Because it wasn't me.” He drew in a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair again. “Yes, I know why nobody trusts me. I don't trust any of you either. I'm just trying to get some help in sorting this out.”
“We know, Jack,” Burt said then downed another shot of whiskey. “We're all just a little freaked out of our minds right now and when there's only five people in the situation trust gets spread a little thin.”
Jack's face lit up as if a sudden thought hit him. “Five people,” he muttered. He turned to the bartender. “Gus, is there any chance that there could be someone else here?”
“What?” Gus looked puzzled. “Course not. I mean, where would they...” He cut himself off and his face fell. “Oh, Gus, you moron,” he muttered to himself. “There is someone else here.”