“Shall I topper off for ya, sugar?” The bartender asks, leaning over the counter in her barely there work uniform.
“Yes ma’am.” She fills my mug from the tap. “Thanks Lacey.” I give her a wink and sideways grin (my patented move) and watch her cheeks flush red. Lacey’s had a thing for me since I first found this place two weeks ago.
I sweep peanut shells off the counter to the growing pile on the floor. The bar’s darkly lit, just enough to lend a hand to the alcohol’s effect of making everyone pretty. A honky-tonk local band plays a Garth Brooks cover straight from the nineties. They aren’t very good, but that’s what you get on a Wednesday night. The real talent is reserved for the weekends when the place is packed to the rafters.
There are dozens of watering holes in Amarillo but this one happens to be the largest and most popular. Believe it or not, if you don’t want to get noticed, you stay away from the small joints where you may be one of a handful of patrons. It’s the ones with the large crowds where it’s easiest to disappear.
A smokin’ brunette at the other end of the bar plays with her hair and smiles in an unmistakable invitation. I nod my head politely then turn my back on her.
Sorry honey, working tonight.
I scan the crowd of tight jeans and plaid, pearl buttoned shirts. Some folks shuffle on the floor to the music, others are crammed around tables talking lively. A couple take a pair of stools next to me. I strain to hear their conversation but it’s hard to hear over the band. The bar’s surprisingly busy for a Wednesday. The place is jumping, filled with the clanks of glasses and bottles and the ever present hum of conversation, occasionally punctuated with some drunk’s hooting laughter.
That jackass is here somewhere. He’s gotta be. One thing’s for sure, there ain’t gonna be another story on the news tonight ‘bout some discarded body in some back alley. I’ve narrowed his hunting ground down and been following his patterns. I’m certain. He’s here somewhere. And tonight- he dies.
I freeze. The familiar voice next to me is a very unwelcome sound. It’s a voice from the past, one that only brings pain. And anger. I choke down my rage and forcing a smile dripping with charm, I swivel my barstool around.
“Well if it ain’t my old pal Sam! What brings you to this- holy hell son!” I wasn’t expecting to see Sam in such a state. “What’ve you gotten yourself into?”
Sam looks mostly the same as when I saw him last, only older, and more weathered. The shocking thing is, he looks as though he’s had the tar kicked outta him. He’s filthy too. Like he’s been living on the streets. Behind him stand two others, in even worse shape. A gal with brown hair that has blood smeared on the side of her face and a redhead that’s standing next to her. I notice her eyes- the deepest green I’ve ever looked into.
“Collin, you have to know,” I reluctantly pull my eyes off the redhead. “You have to know I wouldn’t have come to you unless it was life or death.”
I throw my hands up. “Whatever it is Sam, my answer is the same. No.”
“Collin, you don’t under-”
“In fact I do partner, and I don’t want nothin’ to do with it. You can just take your Walker crap and get the hell outta here.” All said with a smile.
I turn my back on him and wait for him to leave. I can hear him sigh with frustration. I swear I can even hear the sound of his muscles tensing.
I hate this man. I hate everything about him and his life.
“Alright! Listen up you son of a-!”
I turn and look in amusement at the little redhead. Those emerald eyes spark with anger as she flashes me a snarl.
“You’re a part of this whether you like it or not!” She’s beginning to draw attention. Not good for trying to stay unseen while hunting a sadistic killer.
“Shhh, calm down honey pot.” I give her my trademark grin, and am disappointed when it has no effect.
“Honey pot! Why I outta-” she lunges, only to be grabbed and held back by the other gal.
I can’t help but chuckle, which only fuels her fury.
“Walkers have died, Collin.” Sam says subdued.
I stop laughing and stare into my mug.
“People die.” I shrug.
“Don’t act like you don’t care. Don’t act like this doesn’t affect you.” He leans in closer so as not to be overheard. “Veterans have died too. We’re all being targeted.”
I look him in the eyes to be sure he’s telling the truth.
“Even you aren’t safe.” He says gravely. I stare him down. If this is some Walker trick to get me to come back, I’ll be able to tell from his face. One thing I know about Sam is that whatever he is, he isn’t capable of lying. It’s not in his wheelhouse. The sanctimonious prick.
The band strikes up an old-fashioned foot stomping jig, breaking the tension.
“I believe you Sam.” I say before taking a swig from my mug. “Still don’t care.” I hear a gasp from one of the girls, probably that redhead.
“I’ve actually got something serious of my own going on right now, so if you’d kindly leave, I’d be much obliged.” I deliver my grin, though this time with an edge of nastiness.
Sam fishes in his pocket and sets a phone down on the bar. “At least, please, keep this on you.”
“Whatever.” I drop the phone into my jacket pocket.
Finally giving up, the three of them turn and head for the door. Just before leaving, that pretty firecracker turns back one last time. Only now her eyes aren’t angry. Now her eyes are weary, fearful, and filled with a sorrow so profound, I know it will haunt my dreams tonight.