“I never knew what it was about Johnny that caught old man Doherty’s eye. Doherty was the manager; at least that was what it said on the org chart. Really, he only ever showed up when the new shipments came in from the factory. He always took a box of euphoria™ out of inventory, and told us to make it disappear over the next month. Spillage, breakage, you know. ‘Spoils of war,’ he called it, whatever that was supposed to mean.
“Most of the time I worked there, we only ever saw Doherty on shipment day. Then, all of a sudden, he started showing up nights, sitting with Johnny. I don’t know if Johnny even knew that Doherty worked at the bar, since he’d be buying Doherty rounds every once in a while. I got the evil eye every time I tried to hang around when they were together, so I don’t know much about what they would talk about. But I know that one time when I was cleaning up after one of the usual troublemakers at the next table, I heard Johnny telling Doherty about the story he was writing.
“I was under the table, picking up cartridge shards when I noticed that Johnny didn’t have his usual Red Zinger on the table. He was shooting something else, something that looked like Sunbeam or Buttercup. It was yellow, whatever it was, and that meant that it was full of sociability™. For a guy like Johnny, that much ’s’ might as well have been a truth serum.
“But I didn’t think much of it. None of my business what the customers want to feel, right? We’re all grown ups here and all the stuff does is amplify whatever we naturally have to begin with; at least that’s what they say. What do I know?”
“Of course, I should have known something was wrong. A few weeks later, Johnny didn’t come into the bar. No one thought too much of it — he’d missed a night or two before, it was no big deal. But when he’d stayed away for almost a month, it was pretty clear that something was wrong. I asked around, but no one seemed to know anything about it. Then one night, it’s my day off and I’m at one of the liquor bars down in green sector. And who do I see walking by but Johnny Burling. I swear, I almost didn’t recognize him; he looked terrible.
“I flagged him down, and offered to buy him a drink. He seemed sort of suspicious, but he took my pint and sat down.
‘So, I guess everyone down at the bar has heard about what happened,’ he said, sounding miserable. I just shook my head and told him that no one knew anything. As far as we all knew, he just disappeared off the face of the earth.
‘But Doherty…’ he said, a strange look on his face, like he was scared or something.
‘Doherty never said anything to anyone,’ I told him. ‘He’s hardly ever around and no one really talks to him. He’s the boss — you don’t just have a chat with the boss.’ I smiled at Johnny, wondering what the hell was going on. He would hardly even look at me, and I didn’t know what to say. So after we’d sat there for what seemed like forever, I just asked him if he was going to tell me what happened or not.
“And he did.”
Steve Holden says
Some how I missed this story and just got a chance to read it. Very nice short story that puts some of your other stories into perspective. Thanks!