Fiddler's Inn was a comfortable one-room bar that would have been at home on any dust-choked Texas farm-to-market road, although it didn't take long to spot anachronistic elements that betrayed its north Seattle location: various yippie signifiers like the faded assortment of old Earth Day and Hempfest posters, dream catchers, and dozens of copies of organic foods newsletters on a little table just inside the front door.
It was a few minutes after ten when I arrived, and while I'm sure my eyes betrayed my bleariness and my hands my benzedrine buzz, I had at least mangled my clothes and hair into coherence. I scanned the room to see if anyone looked back at me with an expectant eye, but if anyone did I missed it; I looked for a place to sit but came up empty. The place was just at capacity, leaving me in that awkward position of being the first person to stand friendlessly at the bar, sipping his beer and looking aimlessly around the room.
I ordered an IPA recommended by the bartender. Beer snobbery is laughable, sure, but anti-snobbery has its limits as well; I had learned enough about beer to know when I felt in the mood for something dark, light or in between, and I had come to appreciate the IPA not only for its high alcohol content but for its hoppy punch that helped bring my cognitive senses back from the sticky sap of sleep in which they'd been mired only twenty minutes earlier.
"We might have a folding chair or something in the back," the bartender offered.
"That's all right. Maybe you could bring another handful of people to stand so I wouldn't be the only one," I said, scooting out of the way so the lone waitress could get past me.
"I was at a cousin's funeral a couple of years back and they ran out of seats," he said, working the taps while he talked. "Being a gentleman, I let everyone sit before me, and then had to stand in the back. Same thing, it wouldn't have been so bad if there had been more people standing, but there was just me and the guy doing the eulogy. Finally I said hell with it and went outside to smoke." He worked the ten-seat bar in workman-like fashion, his long ropy arms grabbing empties and doling out fresh pints. "My mother told me that it's a sin to disrespect the dead but I don't believe that to be the case. Now that they've found the ultimate rest why would they begrudge a little temporary respite to the legs of the living?"
"I'm with you," I said. "It's not like you spray-painted something rude on the casket." He laughed at this, as did two women sitting at the end of the bar nearest me.
"Well, I know my Bible, and there's no commandment against walking out of somebody's funeral. Maybe if they were your mother, that would be frowned upon," the closest one said. They were both brunettes, with semi-tangled expanses of shoulder-length hair. You didn't need three guesses to know what they both did for a living, which explained why the bartender quietly moved down the bar when the first one spoke to me.
"I'm not all that well versed, but I think you're right," I said. I leaned down toward them. "But just for the record, I don't want to see you ladies wasting your time. I can move if you want." The closest one laughed--the other one followed her lead--and said "Honey, if we were working you wouldn't have a chance of getting away. We're meeting somebody later so we're just killing time same as you."
"Good to know when you're a target," I said, taking in what remained of my beer. I felt the alcohol kicking in, taking up residence in the crevices of my brain where it all-too-frequently hung out. I knew I needed to keep my bearings; whomever I met from Jesse's would be affiliated with the men who were following me, the people who had Gwen and her boyfriend killed. I would need what few wits God had granted me that I had not yet burned away.
But it's always better to wait with someone than alone, so when the stool next to Candi and Angel (they actually told me their real names--Candace and Rebecca--but they asked that I refer to them by their professional monikers and I obliged) opened up I sat and bought them a round, interested to know how hooking in Seattle differed from anywhere else in the country I had seen.
It didn't, save for the hiking. The girls were avid hikers and even used this to their advantage, agreeing to go on hikes with johns to screw in the great outdoors. Apparently they had even taped some porn out near Snoqualmie Falls (a place I'd heard of but never seen), double-teaming some Viagra-charged real estate man who financed the project.
"It's good to have hobbies," I said. "I should get outside more."
Angel raised her glass to the empty air. "So little sunshine in this world, especially in this city, you take it when you can." She took a long drink, which Candi and I did not join. Angel was a Toasting Drunk, a peculiar species, and the first time I'd ever seen the role played by a woman. To the Toasting Drunk, every line of conversation, if said in a noble and semi-stentorian manner, was an occasion to follow said line with a long pull. The genus drunk is composed of a thousand species, each one surviving using a different rationalization. The Toaster, the Bad Day Haver, the Tolerator, the Chronically Thirsty, all of these ultimately lead to the same place: you can see the destination by going into any ramshackle bar designed to keep out the light that opens at 11 a.m., the inside filled with age and sadness, whiskey and silence.
For my part, I was a true-blue North American Soak, with a perverse pride in my addiction. I didn't need to play games with my intake like Angel or change my drink each time like Candi, pretending that I was getting drunk only as an accidental by-product of trying to find the tastiest beverage. Like others who had read too closely the biographies of my favorite artists, I assumed that drunkenness was part of artistic and intellectual nobility, and late at night on a full-on tear I could hear my brain formulating thoughts that left me thinking "You should write that down." Which is what Candi had just said to me in response to some pronouncement I had made, but for the life of me I had no idea what we had been talking about. I looked around in a bit of a panic, realizing that I had gotten drunk enough to completely distract me from my task here. It was a little after eleven o'clock, and on a weeknight the place had already started to empty out. Nobody looked at all interested in me.
Dropping Kay during my phone call with Jesse's was a mistake, I realized. It would have been easy enough if they had any kind of contact with her to just see if she had talked to anyone recently, and she would have said no. Well, I thought, it was a dumb idea to begin with. What I need to do is see if I can get on a day-labor and get a job inside, although that seemed onerous and might never pay off. Or I could break in. Somehow I needed to find a way inside that place. It was all I had. "Ladies," I said by way of excusing myself, tipping an imaginary hat as I rocked backwards off my stool and stumbled in the direction of the bathroom. I had yet to figure out what made men either so comically chivalrous or horrendously crude when drunk. Since I was guilty of the same crime, I never thought about it very hard; self-knowledge is important, sure, but like grief it comes in stages.
The bathroom was down a hallway through the kitchen, one of those restaurant setups where you re-think ordering off the menu, since you can see just how close some drunk's unwashed hands are to the salad bowls as he passes through. I caught a glimpse of a young guy in grimy whites dunking an order of fries into grease, and headed toward the door marked with an "M" carved into it with a penknife. I couldn't figure whether it was expediency or some over-arching theme (gangland? Zorro?) that compelled them to mark the doors that way.
Thankfully it was unoccupied. I'm no fan of the dive bar trough in the men's room, but when I'm carrying a full tank which is seeking egress by any means possible, I'll take it over having to wait. But I enjoyed the privacy and locked door, and not hearing anyone outside took the opportunity to smoke a puff off my dugout and splash some cold water on my face. So I was back to square one with Jesse's, but that would be tomorrow's problem. I had found a cheery little bar, and since Candi and Angel were meeting a john later, I would leave when they did and be home and in bed on this side of one a.m. Tomorrow it would be another run in the morning to kickstart the heart and brain, and get to work figuring out how to get inside Jesse's. Maybe a call to my old friend Trubull was in order.
I'm not sure why, but I would later find it funny that Trubull was the last thing I would think before the blunt object hit the base of my neck and I crumpled to the floor into the warm, still lake of unconsciousness.