Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Chester and Finnigan: A Friendly Haunting

Two things happened to me this past few days that made me start a massive rewrite to episode 5 of Inn Space, and I recieved an email challenge to write a small short story. I looked at both of these and decided that I would use the challenge to write a little background story for a character, named Chester, that I'm going to introduce in the Inn Space fiction. The writing challenge was sent to me from Gem from her blog L'esprit de l'escalier and the writing contest is called Frantic Friday Flash. I didn't enter the contest this time, but thinking about how the contest worked, I thought it would be a good way to present my character's back story. The writing challenge is based on a random word which must be contained within the story, and the entry must be 350 words or less. I thought this challenge would give me a chance to grease my wheels for when I do submit a story for this challenge.

The word for this entry was 'sleeve', and the following story is based on a real person who left quite an impact on my life, although I have changed his name. I hope you enjoy the story, and look for Chester's appearances in future episodes of Inn Space:

Chester and Finnigan
A Friendly Haunting

It was my first bar shift. I had been working for the hotel for about eight months already, but I have finally turned legal age to work in the bar. The money is better working in the bar, but that wasn't why I was excited. I'm legal now. No more damn Cafe waitering for me. No more slinging hash, cleaning up after babies that the parents have ignored at the table. No more listening to the chronic-complaining-nit-pickers that complain about the food they recieved to try to get a free meal, and saying that the food was so much better last time. Or having to hear that over-used-eraser-phrase, "And we always eat here." Of course they always eat here, because if they bitch loud enough to the wrong server at the right time, the management will buy thier meal. But no more of that, it's bar all the way now.

I was early for my first shift. Not by much, but still early. I signed out my float at the desk, loaded my hip changer with quarters, dimes and nickels. I ran through the whole bar wiping and setting tables with ashtrays and tent cards for specials. I had taken the bar menu home weeks earlier, and was sure I had prices and items committed to memory. I didn't think I could be any better prepared. Robert, my bartender, was also ready to open the bar. He hadn't said much to me, but he made himself busy stocking beer shelves, mixing juices, checking liquor stocks, and cutting fruit for garnish. But we were ready to open now, and now he just stood over the till looking at the clock. 10:28 am. it read, and that meant that there was still two minutes before we could open the doors. Two minutes that felt like an eternity. Nothing to do. Nothings to say. Just wait.

I wasn't the only person that was anxious for the bar to open either. You could hear the rattling of the front doors from customers checking to see if it was open yet. Robert seemed to take it in stride, but I was near bursting at the seams. The clock was just not moving fast enough. He just stood there, over the till, quietly waiting. Finally, he turned looked directly at me and said "Open her up." He had a slight smile on his face. I think that he knew how anxious I was to get rolling. Off I went to open the doors.

There was only one person at the entrance when I opened the door. He was a tall, thin gray-haired man about sixty years of age. "Good Morning," I said with my bright over excited smile. Paying me no never mind, he darted right past me and sat at a table against the center of the far wall of the bar. I walked toward him, tray in hand, and I noticed that he had already, and carefully placed a two quarters and two dimes in a neat row on the table. "Good Morning," I repeated in case he just didn't hear me the first time, "What'll it be today." I asked eventhough I could tell what he wanted by the exact change on the table.

"Two pints," he said and mumbled something which sounded like "No, I've got it," but I couldn't be sure exactly what he had said. By the stern look on his face, I thought better of asking him what he said and just turned and went to the bar for his order.

Nearly running to the bar, excited about my first order, I placed my tray on the bar and said to Robert, "Draw two, please."

Robert immediately grabbed two chilled mugs, turned on the draught tap, and said, "Seventy cents," which I quickly flung from my hip changer almost gunslinger fast.

As quickly as I got to the bar, I returned to my customer's table with my draught trophies, and placed both mugs in front of the gentleman. "I don't want those," he said sharply. "I want two pints of draught in sleeves, Boy, and bring me a chess board. Finnigan and I want to have a game. You tell Cupcake up there to quit fucking around and pour my beer properly. He knows that the handles on those mugs can knock over the chessmen."

"Cupcake?" I asked, really wanting to know what that nickname was about.

"Yes Cupcake, your bartender, don't you know nothin' Boy. That's what Finnigan calls him 'cause he's always sweet on the girls. Sweet as a damn cupcake."

"Well, it is my first day," I responded wanting to hear more, but he just started to mumble again. I picked up the two mugs of beer and returned to the bar. I noticed that Robert was already pouring two pints of beer in sleeves, and not only had a smile on his face, but was in near giggles. I now knew, that between Robert and my customer, I was in the middle of some practical 'get the new guy' joke.

Robert took the two pints I brought back, and handed me the two sleeves and still had that smirk on his face, but I really wasn't sure why. I turned and started walking toward my customer and noticed that he seemed to be pointing and talking to the empty chair across the table from him. I slowed my return to the table to observe what I thought the customer was doing, and I then remembered that he had asked for a chess board. I kept watching him, as I went to get it, but he noticed my slower approach to the table and hollered, "Hurry it up, Boy! We're getting thirsty!"

"We?" I thought to myself. I then realized that he is not just talking to himself, he's got an imaginary friend. "My first customer, and I have to get a weird one," I thought almost aloud, but I bit my tongue for fear that I may drop a smart ass comment in his direction.  I felt that I needed to play this out a bit more. "Here's your two sleeves and your chessboard, sir. That'll be seventy cents please."

"Money's on the table Velvet Head. Just pick it up. I ain't handin' it to you."

"Very well, and thank you,' I said as politely as possible.

As I reached for the neatly place change, I thought "Velvet Head?' but I didn't realize that I had actually said it loud enough for him to hear me (I really do need to keep my outside voice in check).

"Yes, Velvet Head. Finnigan thinks that your short hair looks like black velvet."

A little surprised  but now finding the whole thing quite funny, I turned to the empty seat and said, "And thank you too, Finnigan. My girlfriend says it feels like velvet too." From that moment, my customer's whole demeanour and attitude changed. He looked up and smiled at me and then introduced himself as Chester. He said that he had been coming to this bar for quite a while and was mostly treated poorly or completely ignored. He said that I was the first polite waiter he has had in a while, most just leave him alone. I thanked him again and excused myself for more customers were coming in.

I took orders from other customers, dropped off their drinks and collected their money, but I kept a keen eye on Chester while I served the other customers. He had set up his chess board, and started to play. He would make a move, have a sip from his beer, and make a smart-ass comment towards Finnigan's empty chair. He would get up out of his seat, sit back down in Finnigan's chair, and then make a chess move. His actions, and even his speech seemed to change as if he was talking as Finnigan. He would then take a sip of the beer that he had placed in front of Finnigan's chair, and then point to where Chester was sitting and say something like, "Take that you prick, you won't win this one now will ya!". Then he would get up again and sit back down in his own chair and start the process over.

I had noticed that Robert's smiling-at-me-phase had ended, and now it was more like he was curious about me. I was at the bar getting a round for a couple of tables when I finally asked Robert what the deal was with Chester. Before Robert answered my question, he had asked what I had said to Chester, because he seemed a little tame today. I told him what I had done at the table, and even mentioned that I acknowledged Finnigan by thanking him too. "Strange," Robert said. "Usually, he just gets ruder with a new server. He never introduces himself to them."

"Yes, he did seem to get a little friendlier after. He even told me your nickname was Cupcake."

"That old fart. He's got most of the customers, and all of the staff calling me that." Robert continued to tell me that Chester was a prominent lawyer in town until about eight years ago. Finnigan was his law partner with the firm. Chester was taking his wife, his two children and Finnigan on a camping trip to British Columbia to see the Kakwa Falls. It was raining, and on a narrow gravel road, a logging truck started to lose its load as it was trying to pass Chester's Motor home RV. Chester was driving, and everyone else was near the back of the RV sitting around the table. The logging truck rolled. The truck and the unbalanced load completely crushed the rear of Chester's RV. Chester's entire family, and his friend and partner were killed instantly in the accident.  Chester has always blamed himself for the accident. A few months after the accident, Chester gave up his law firm and started to come into the bar every morning. And, yes he brought Finnigan with him, but we just thought he had gone a little crazy at first. Now it just seems that it is his way of atoning for the accident. "You might want to check his table again Velvet Head, I think he wants another round." Robert said laughing.

"Okay, Cupcake," I said smartly, knowing now that my new nickname is going to stick. I approached Chester's table and noticed that both of the sleeves were empty, and he had again placed money neatly on the table, but instead of two quaters, and two dimes in a row he now had two pairs of quarters and dimes placed in front of himself, and another set neatly placed in front of Finnigan's chair as if Finnigan was also going to buy a round. Chester was also agitated when I approached the table.

"No, you're not buying! I told you I was buying this round," Chester said heatedly to the empty chair. "Thank's Velvet Head, we'll have another round, but take my money not Finnigan's."

I went and got two more sleeves, brought them over, and took only Chester's money leaving Finnigan's exactly were it was.

I continued to serve other tables and bantered with Cupcake a bit to try to get to know my co-worker better. About a half and hour later, I heard a loud slam of a beer glass on a table and turned to see Chester rise up from his seat and storm out of the bar. I went over to the table to clean it, and noticed that Chester's own beer had been finished, but Finnigan's beer was left untouched. The money that was neatly placed in-front of Finnigan, was now neatly placed in-front of Chester's chair. From the position of the men on the chess board, it was Check Mate in favour of Finnigan. "Sad," I thought aloud thinking that Chester was still punishing himself after all of these years.

I worked the bar for a couple of years after that first day-shift. After training for a couple of weeks on days, I was moved to evening waiter. That was where the real money was to be made, but I still did work a couple of day-shifts a week. Any day-shift that I would work, Chester was always my first customer, always checked the door before the bar opened, and always took the same seat, and have the exact change neatly placed. Chester would always have the same argument about who was to pay for the second round of beer. Chester always lost the chess game to Finnigan, and Finnigan would never touch his second beer, pissing Chester off until Chester would storm out of the bar. But I got to know Chester, and I got to like Chester (Velvet Head nickname aside---and it stuck). I quit working the bar after a couple of years to work at a new night club that opened up. Shortly after starting there, I heard that Chester had passed away quietly in his sleep one night. I knew that I would miss that daily routine of his and Finnigan's.

Five years later....

I had been working in the new club since I left the bar. Things had gone very well for me there, and I was quickly promoted to Club Manager. One morning as I was doing the bank deposits for club, there was a detour in the road due to construction that led me past my old hotel. After I finished the banking, I thought I'd go into the bar. I heard that they had renovated, and I was curious to see what they had done. As I walked in, I noticed all the upgrading. There was new themed lighting for the stage, which had also been expanded to accommodate larger bands. A few tables were removed to allow for a larger dance floor, but most noticeable was the change of the bar itself. It had been expanded to allow for seating at the bar, before it was only a service bar for the wait staff. I went right up and sat down at the bar. The bartender asked me what I would like and I asked for a pint of draught. "Could you put it in a sleeve, please?" I added.

The bartender placed it in front of me and said, "That'll be Three seventy-five, please".

I passed him a five dollar bill, and told him to keep the difference. I asked the bartender if Robert still worked here, but the bartender didn't know a Robert. Then I thought, "How about Cupcake, does he still work here?" The bartender said that he had moved away about a year ago. I looked around the bar and noticed a large plaque behind the bar. The plaque was a picture of Chester and Finnigan from sometime when they practised law together. The plaque also had a ledge that had two etched pint sleeves with their names on it. On the very front of the plaque was a brass engraving that said 'Friends Forever'. I asked the bartender if he knew when that plaque was put up. "That thing, oh, about four or five years ago. Way before I started here. I can't stand the thing. It creeps me out."

"Why?" I asked.

"Every night, when we close, that plaque looks exactly as you see it now. Every morning when I open the bar, and unlock the back bar gate, the glass you see marked Chester is dirty, and looks like it just had a beer drank from it 'cause it's even wet inside. It even smells like beer. The glass that is marked Finnigan is completely full of beer, but looks like it hasn't been drank from, and the beer is still cold. There is even a head on the beer when I open the gate. It's impossible to get that way, even if someone wanted to do it as a prank, because the whole plaque gets locked up behind the drop down gate. It's just too weird. Really gives me the willies."

"That's only because Chester still hasn't forgiven himself for the accident."


"Long story."

Have a Happy and Safe Halloween


Anonymous said...

Wow! Frank. That's a great story. True to life, huh? You can't invent a better storyline than that. Hey, if you can write something like this on the fly, 350 words of flash should be a walk in the park.

Though, I'm not sure I know what sleeve is in terms of a mug of beer. Can you explain?

You should try to get this published. It's a fine piece of non-fiction.

I'm so glad I stopped in on Foxxfyrre this morning!

FoxxFyrre said...

Thanks Gem
It was a pleasure to do, it brought back some old memories for me. Sleeve is bar jargon for the type of glass that i now have posted. I tired to have the pics ready for this post but blogger didn't seem to want me to post them. Had to give up and try again this morning.

Bucky said...

Frank great story I think I remember you saying someting like that before. Either way it was awesome. Really touching. You can't make that kind of stuff up

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