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. â€śHey, Harold,â€ť he called. â€śYou sleeping, buddy? Missing all the fun?â€ť The big man didnâ€™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. â€śWhat is-â€ś 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 Haroldâ€™s skull all the way to the handle. Blood ran down behind the manâ€™s ears and fell to the floor like a macabre, red rain.
â€śGus,â€ť Jack said, finally finding his voice. â€śCall the cops, man.â€ť
â€śCops?â€ť Gus didnâ€™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. â€śHoly shiâ€¦.â€ť he breathed.
By now Burt was on his feet and Bones and Nigel were aware that something was amiss. â€śHeâ€™s dead,â€ť Kyle said. â€śSomeoneâ€¦someone killed him.â€ť 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.
â€śKilled him?â€ť 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 phoneâ€™s receiver to his ear, but his face was grim. â€śLineâ€™s dead,â€ť 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, â€śNo Serviceâ€ť. â€śWhat are you talking about?â€ť he grumbled to his phone. â€śI just had full service.â€ť He tried again, but he could see in the corner of his screen that he had no signal. â€śI have no signal,â€ť he announced to everyone. â€śI canâ€™t get a call out.â€ť
As if being struck by the idea for the first time Jack and Burt took out their cell phones too. Neither had a signal. â€śIs it because the storm?â€ť Burt asked. He looked more nervous than usual.
â€śThe landline, maybe,â€ť Jack said nodding toward the phone on the wall that Gus has tried, â€śbut I donâ€™t think it would do this to the cells.â€ť
â€śSo what do we do?â€ť Kyle asked from his chair. The color was beginning to return to his face, but only as long as he kept his eyes off Haroldâ€™s body.
â€śOnly thing we can do,â€ť Jack said as he walked to the door and grabbed his coat off the rack. â€śIâ€™ll go find the police and bring them back here.â€ť
â€śExcuse me, but do you really think that would be a smart idea.â€ť Everyone turned to the Englishman at the end of the bar.
â€śWhat do you mean?â€ť Jack asked, his hand on the door handle, ready to brave the freezing cold to get help. â€śThis guyâ€™s been murdered, we need to get the cops.â€ť
â€śPrecisely,â€ť Nigel said. â€śThis manâ€™s been murdered and, unless Iâ€™m blind, I see only five men other than myself in the building, which means, that someone in this room is this manâ€™s murderer.â€ť
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.
â€śWould anyone have reason to kill this man?â€ť Nigel asked. Everyone shook their heads.
â€śI barely knew the guy,â€ť Burt said.
â€śI know his nameâ€™s Harold,â€ť Jack said. â€śThatâ€™s all I know. What about you?â€ť He turned to the Englishman. â€śWe donâ€™t even know your name, let alone if you had any connection with the guy.â€ť
â€śMy name is Nigel,â€ť he answered. â€śNigel 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.â€ť
â€śWhat kind of business?â€ť Burt asked suspiciously.
â€śI am an editor,â€ť he answered. â€śIâ€™m staying in town for a few days while meeting with a publisher.â€ť
â€śNo one would have any reason to hurt Harold,â€ť Gus said. â€śHe was a good man and never hurt nobody in his life.â€ť 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.
â€śThat's not the only question you should be asking.â€ť Kyle said after a deep breath. The green was starting to fade from his facing, his natural skin tone coming through.
â€śWhat do you mean?â€ť Gus asked.
â€śI mean, not only who would kill Harold; who could kill him?â€ť He stood and looked over the dead man. â€śThat guy has a screwdriver stabbed through his skull. Do you know how much force it would take to do that?â€ť
â€śHe's right.â€ť Jack nodded his head. â€śI doubt I'd be able to do something like that.â€ť
â€śMe neither,â€ť 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. â€śWhat do you know? Everyone blames me.â€ť He spit on the floor. â€śScrew you. You can all go to Hell; I didn't kill nobody.â€ť
â€śDid you know him?â€ť 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. â€śI didn't kill him, but if you don't shut your yap I might kill you.â€ť
â€śDid you hear that?â€ť Burt screeched and backed away. â€śHe just threatened to kill me. He's the guy who killed Harold.â€ť 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.
â€śWhoa, whoa, whoa! Calm down,â€ť Jack urged, his days as a bouncer in some roadhouse in Nebraska coming back to him. He was quite familiar with breaking up fights.
â€śHold it. Hold up.â€ť Kyle joined in.
â€śGet him back!â€ť Burt screamed. â€śHe's going to kill me! He killed him and now he's going to kill me! He's crazy! He's crazy!â€ť His back was to the bar, but he tried to back up further.
â€śBurt, shut up!â€ť Jack yelled at the man.
â€śYeah, youâ€™re not helping at all,â€ť Kyle added. He and Jack turned their attention back to the advancing biker. â€śLetâ€™s just hold off for a second and figure this out. Weâ€™re going to get nowhere like this.â€ť Bones stopped mere inches from the two men and sneered at them.
He thrust a thick finger at Burt. â€śGet that twerp to shut up and Iâ€™ll be calm,â€ť he bellowed.
Jack turned his full attention to Burt. â€śListen, man, calm down. Accusing and assuming is going to get us nowhere.â€ť Burt stopped his frantic screaming, but he was still breathing rapidly and his eyes showed the fear of God in them. â€śHave a drink, calm your nerves and letâ€™s figure this out. Can you do that?â€ť
Burt nodded his head with a quick, â€śYeah.â€ť
â€śHere.â€ť Gus set a glass of whiskey on the bar. â€śThis should help take the edge off.â€ť 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.
â€śAre we cool now?â€ť Jack looked from Burt to Bones.
â€śYes,â€ť Burt said. He looked to the towering man that had come close to beating him to a pulp. â€śIâ€™m sorry,â€ť he said.
â€śScrew you,â€ť 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.
â€śOkay, we got that settled, but we still have a dead man on our hands,â€ť Kyle said. His glance went to Haroldâ€™s body and he quickly looked away before getting sick. â€śAnd Jackâ€™s right. With no phones, someone has to go out there and get the police.â€ť
â€śAnd we have no way of knowing if the person leaving is the killer or if theyâ€™re leaving the killer here to deal with the rest of us,â€ť Nigel said.
â€śThe tea drinkerâ€™s right,â€ť Gus said. Then, to Nigel, â€śno offense. As of right now every one of us is a suspect. I would like to think I know all of yâ€™all good enough to trust you ainâ€™t a killer, but right now I canâ€™t say that.â€ť
â€śWell, what are we going to do then?â€ť Jack asked. â€śSit 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. â€śYou know, you've been very anxious to get out of this bar ever since this happened.â€ť
Jack's face hardened. â€śWhat are you saying?â€ť Kyle only shrugged. â€śYou 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!â€ť 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. â€śI can't believe you people,â€ť he said in a low growl.
â€śJack, come on,â€ť Kyle said in a cool, calming tone. â€śI'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.â€ť
â€śFour guys,â€ť Jack corrected. â€śBecause it wasn't me.â€ť He drew in a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair again. â€śYes, 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.â€ť
â€śWe know, Jack,â€ť Burt said then downed another shot of whiskey. â€śWe'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.â€ť
Jack's face lit up as if a sudden thought hit him. â€śFive people,â€ť he muttered. He turned to the bartender. â€śGus, is there any chance that there could be someone else here?â€ť
â€śWhat?â€ť Gus looked puzzled. â€śCourse not. I mean, where would they...â€ť He cut himself off and his face fell. â€śOh, Gus, you moron,â€ť he muttered to himself. â€śThere is someone else here.â€ť