Stale Cigarettes – Jennifer Brewer

The mirror behind him, spotted and hazy, held the room of half empty tables, a few regulars, and deep shadows. Smoke danced through the dimly lit room. The bartender wiped down the bar covered in nicks and dips. He poured drinks as he moved up the bar. An old Wurlitzer 1700 jukebox blue and red shone like a prize at the center of the room. The record player swirled, picking up the next record. Paula Abdul shared her woes of an encounter with a cold-hearted snake. A small TV hung in the corner, spelling out the news.

A man with a crooked nose hunched over his glass at the end of the bar. He nodded every few seconds and then snorted. He lifted a glass. Ice clinked the sides as he clumsily shook his hand. The bartender grabbed the lower shelf whiskey and poured. The man nodded and sipped.

The front door opened with a jingle. In walked a man, no more than five foot five. His belly waved as he stomped off boots covered in mud. He offered a half toothless grin to the bartender and waddled to sit beside the man with the crooked nose at the end of the bar.

“Hi there, Jerry, can’t believe it’s been a year,” said the man with half his teeth.

“Yes, and twenty-five more before that. How you hold’n up Jacob?”

“What can I get you?” said the bartender.

“Whatever you have on tap,” said Jacob. The bartender pulled the tab and golden liquid poured from the spout. White, bubbly froth swished its way to the top of the glass. He dropped it down right in front of him, splattering the bar. Unfazed, he slapped the towel down on the bar and swished it away.

“Oh, it’s been a rough year, Jerr. I remember when we thought that money would last us forever. Stupid kids, that’s what we were.”

“We had a time of it though. I loved that cherry red Viper. I raced that car everywhere. And the women… I sure do miss the women.”

Jacob chuckled. “You always were good with the ladies. I still have my farm and that’s good’nuff for me. Got to travel a little. My truck’s still running steady, too.”

“That’s good. Never could understand why they wanted to pay us so much to take those paintings.” Jerry shrugged, then snorted. “We sure duped them.”

“Yeah, we did.” Jacob’s lumpy body shook and jiggled. A big half toothless grin spread wide between puffy flushed cheeks. He looked up to the TV. “There it is. The news report on the heist.” His plump fingers slapped the table. “Bartender, can you turn the sound on?”

“Yep. Don’t know why they keep on about it every year. Guess it gives us an excuse to get together.” He snorted into his glass as he sipped. “That old lady’s still whining. She didn’t lose her job, did she? Pretty sure she hired us anyway. Never saw her face, but that voice of hers is close.” He shrugged.

Jacob shook his head. “Nope, never did see it myself.” He slid the empty mug across the bar. It moved hand to hand with a steady cadence. “Hey Jerr, we need to talk.”

Jerry paused, his glass frozen mid-air. “Bout what, Jacob? You know what happened the last time you brought it up. I know you don’t want to lose the rest of those teeth in your mouth.” He gulped down the last of his drink, then slammed it on the bar. His arms bulged tight. His crooked nose scrunched as he hardened his hand into a fist.

Jacob slid lower in his seat and hunched his shoulders. Then sat straight and puffed up his chest. “Listen. Just listen, Jerry. Please… I’m not up for breaking that nose again. Damned if it didn’t make you look better.”

He snorted. A mouth full of straight tar stained teeth flashed.

“I… it just weighs, Jerry. Twenty-five damn years and it still weighs heavy. Every time a cop car flashes through the neighborhood I want to run. I’m tired.”

The bartender sauntered over. “Hear that boys’? That guy says he knows who did it. After all this time, that would like a miracle or someth’n,” he said. He poured another whiskey, turned and helped a lady two chairs down.

Jacob grabbed Jerry’s arm. “Do you think… you think they got us after all this time?”

Jerry shook his head. He placed a cigarette between dry cracked lips, flicked the match and watched the fire flare up, then pulled it to the tip of the cigarette. Smoke curled out of his mouth, then filled the space in front of him. “I think if they had any evidence to catch us, they would have done it twenty-five years ago.”

“But Jerr, they have that new DNA checking now. Maybe… what if—”

Jerry punched him on the shoulder.

Jacob grabbed his shoulder and rubbed. His eyes wide. “Whad’ya do that for?”

“Look.” He jumped up. His lean frame moved to the beats on the jukebox. A toe reached out and his knees wobbled, and then he spun in a circle. Bent over, rested hands to knees, he wheezed, “We’re free of it, man.”

“What are you on about?”

“They think we’re dead.”

“I… how is that possible?” He scratched his head.

Jerry sucked hard on the cigarette hanging loosely from his lips. A cloud poured out. “Hot damn, partner. It’s finally over.” He grabbed Jacob’s hand, shook it hard. “It’s been a pleasure Jacob.” He headed for the exit.

Jacob looked at the bartender, Eyes wide, a half toothless grin on his face. “Pour me a whiskey, bartender.” His body crumbled. The sigh escaped his lips as his body deflated. He shook his head and chuckled. “I’ll be damned.”

Smoke rolled through the room, swam around bodies, and danced over the waves of music before it slid through the crack in the door as it shut.

Jennifer Brewer is a writer of literary and genre short fiction and is published by Ariel Chart and Adelaide Literary Magazine. Her short story, “Into the Dark” is self-published on Amazon Kindle. She is currently working on a genre fiction novel. Follow her on Twitter: @JennJBrewer and/or visit her website: https://jenniferbrewer.work/

Image via Pixabay

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