The Ghost Light – Chapter Two

Chapter Two – Jar Of Hearts

I finished up yesterday in a good mood. My little visitor in the first hour of the shift had left me with a warm consolatory glow for the whole day. The more hours that passed since she slipped off to the sound of dead air the more I convinced myself my ravaged mind had filled in gaps and amplified details that didn’t exist. I’m not saying I fantasized a conversation with a nineteen year old girl. This isn’t a midlife crisis. I’m just sure it wasn’t as uncanny to the casual observer as it felt to me.

I didn’t let it register to the outside world that she’d been or gone. I went straight back to the two Surfer Dudes, Brunhilde and the Family Sheffield like it never happened. We all had a decent afternoon. The Deutsche Birthday Girl tipped big when she left with her entourage. The Family Sheffield knew well enough to take their kid away before the bar got too busy and the Wannabe Surfer-Farians dropped over 70 Euros between them before hitting on some girls who’d found their way to Wiseman’s mid-afternoon. They were last seen heading off for a beach party at sunset. Martha arrived right when I needed her. She was armed with a flat bread wrap from Diegos’ delicious grill and chatter about her kids. She asked a couple of times what had me in such a good mood. I blamed the gods of the shuffle function smiling upon us with tune after tune and a full cash register. She took over towards the end of the night. It was a textbook decent evening. Still, after I locked the shutters down on the back bar and walked her back to her apartment I felt a curiosity overcome me I seldom felt on a regular evening.

As I walked back past Bar Street I paid attention to the casualties, the cop offs and the strike outs. They’re always there around 2am. Kids who don’t know when the party is over. I usually just check to make sure I don’t step in anything unsavoury. Last night though. I was scanning their faces. I was checking up. Making sure She wasn’t among them. I should’ve had faith. She was imbued with ‘The Light’. It is (As The Bee Gees so rightly pointed out) a certain kind of light. The difference between ‘The Masses’ and ‘The Ones’. The Fireflies. The Graceful. Jeff Bridges tells us Nietzsche has a name for them. I ain’t him and this ain’t The Fisher King. I walked home thinking about my little visitor. Or more to the point, thinking about who she reminded me of. 20 years ago I knew a girl you’d have pegged her for in a heartbeat. Trace Elements. The fierce warrior princess barmaid of The Head. A pub I’d worked in for the bulk of the 1990’s.

Trace was my best mate. She kept me alive after I broke up with my first big love. She told me when I was being a dick or a bully or a miserable prick. She also told me when I was being a wimp and when I wasn’t. That’s a very important skill. She empowered me when I was at a low ebb and danced with me when I had cause to celebrate. We’d held each others hair back when we’d had too much to drink and we’d cried on each others shoulders when the world poked us in the eye. Then we’d gone our separate ways over night. She headed off to another town after breaking up with her boyfriend (also one of my inner circle of friends) and I hit the road. 20 years passed and we had never spoken again. It was a trick of the light for sure, but yesterday I’d felt like we were hanging out again. Bullshitting about music and who’s round it was. I knew it wasn’t really her. Even still. I’d enjoyed the moment as if it were.

So Thursday rolls into Friday. I open the bar again just like the day before. I pick up the dustpan and brush. I hit random on the iPod. As I start to sweep up, one hit wonder Christina Perri strikes a light piano chord and begins her decade old TV soundtrack hit Jar Of Hearts. It’s nothing more than a pop song. I’m impervious to this stuff. And yet a minute and a half in I feel a sharp pain. In my head, in my heart. This is ridiculous. This song has a tear rolling down my cheek. What has gotten into me? I carry on regardless. Unchain loungers, place tables and umbrellas. Creedence Clearwater Revival sweep in to my rescue with Lodi and I’m good again. What was that? Never mind.

“If I had a dollar for every song I’d sung and every time I’d had to play while people sat there drunk, you know I’d catch the next train, back to where I live”

The bar is set up and I’m holding 42 ounces of coffee without another hitch when Diego comes bimbling up the beach. I love this Dude but he’s in bad shape. Stood next to him it looks like I look after myself. And I’m sweating rum and olive oil most of the time.

Diego must be as wide as he is tall. He’s got a heart of gold and the voice of (if not an angel) an altar boy. He’s got some fried breakfast goodies for the pair of us. He worked late last night. That’s why I walked his Mrs home. So he’s got time this morning for some records, a burrito and a beer. By the time he’s reached the bar I’ve set us both up and cued Bob and Earl for him.

“You mooooove it to the left, and you go for yourself”

After that ’50/50 is it House Of Pain?’ trumpet intro, the fat man slides into the empty bar like he’s Michael Jackson in Moonwalker about to do Smooth Criminal. Fucker makes me laugh. He tips his straw hat down his arm and pulls off a flustered version of the move. I’ll take it.

“Don’t move it too fast, just make it last”

I push his beer forward. Exhausted he flops into a seat sweating like he just climbed out of the water. “Mornin’ Deigo”, “Estevie! My Friend. How is today?” I gesture to the clear blue sky and the open horizon. “It’s a beauty Diego my friend. It’s a beauty.”

We clink glasses and both take a first long sip of cold frothy beer. I feel like John Mills in Ice Cold In Alex despite only having been at work 30 minutes. Diego looks like a man at peace with the world. We sit in silence for a moment. Quite a long moment as it happens. It’s the sort of thing might make some people uncomfortable. I’m cool with it. Diego is too, until he slaps the bartop. “Estevie, when will you take up a woman?” I was expecting breakfast. Not the inquisitions of a rotund Spaniard. “What? Like up the mountain?” I gestured to the center of the island. “No. Come on. This is no good.”

I really would have preferred breakfast. I can see it there in his little bag. I’m hungry and he’s deviating from our routine. “Diego. I’m hungry.” He yields and puts a foil wrapped treat of undisclosed deliciousness in my hand. “Estevie. You are a good guy. Why is it such a thing for you?” I roll my eyes. “How many times are we going to have this conversation? I’m happy like this. I’ve done that. I’ve been in love. I’ve had the house, the living in each others pockets, the sharing of everything. And! I’ve seen the world. Twice over. I’m here now. Taking it easy.” Diego chased his first bite with a mouthful of beer. “You say you are happy?” I gesture again to the sky, the sea, the bar. “I am”  Diego slaps the counter “My Wife is a smart woman”, It’s a curve ball but I’ll go with it. “I know that”, “She worries about you.” He’s not wrong. I know that too.

Oh My Dog! This burrito is delicious. I melt into the juicy peppers with the first bite. “Besides, It’s you I love. This food Man. It’s amazing” Diego laughs. “My Tito tells me yesterday he met an English Lady who looked like you.” I rub my stubble with one hand and my belly with the other. “Was she a witch?” Diego points at my face “He could see your eyes in her he said”. “Dude, Tito is eleven years old. What does he know of seeing someone in another’s eyes?” Tito and Maddy are Diego and Martha’s children. 11 and 14. He’s a cheeky high speed enthusiast of everything, she’s at the stage where she’s starting to look condescendingly at adults when they suggest pretty much anything at all. They’re both great kids really. Diego and Martha are quite rightly very proud of them.

As The Harlem Shuffle makes way for Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile jangling through Over Everything I can see today’s first real customers swaggering out of the surf. A couple in black swimwear who are (I’d guess) on honeymoon or a first holiday away. Diego takes his cue. He necks the last of his beer and shakes my hand. “Until we meet again Estevie” I salute with my free hand “To breakfast!” Diego retorts “Desayuno”, “Frühstück”, “Proino Gevma”, “Prima Colazione”, “Kahvalti”, “Get the fuck out of here!”

I wave my friend goodbye while wolfing the last of the tasty foil wrapped treat down. I meet my new customers while I’m still chewing and they’re still dripping wet from the sea. From there the day goes by beautifully.

I’ve had a decent days take by the time the sun is low on the western horizon. The sky looks like a studio backdrop. I’ve still got 30 or so paying customers hanging out in their swimwear by the time the first of the evening crowd arrive. We’re about to move the music up a tiny notch. Leonard Cohen is crooning through Dance Me To The End Of Love and mobile phone videos are being shot by every other person in the place as people sway and selfie in front of the purple and orange fretted sky.

Now I don’t want to frighten the horses. We’ve got a mood here I want to maintain. But it is Friday night in a beach resort. While we’re not doing throbbing techno or the Macarena, I must make some concessions to the facts. If we wanna party, we’ve got to dance. The Incredible Bongo Band is my first secret weapon. Their take on Iron Butterfly’s In a Gadda Da Vida has people laughing at it’s cheesyness and bopping. They’re making “Bow-Chicka-Wow-Wow” faces at one another and ordering cocktails within a minute. The Incredible Bongo Band slip into some post ironic 70’s softcore funk from Manfred Hubler. Another cover. The Vampyros Lesbos workout of There’s No Satisfaction. Chase that with Wee Willie Walker covering The Beatles and I’m printing money. It’s important you don’t keep things too retro though. So a Kayne and Shirley Bassey interlude is followed by Mary J. Blige, Plan B and the Camila Cabello hit Havana from a couple of years back is enough to keep everyone feeling included.

This is me doing my thing. I’m fucking good at this. Stevie Wonder bridges generations with Don’t You Worry About A Thing right after that and Martha and I are bopping along when I see Little Miss Can’t Be Her back on the same stall she vacated yesterday afternoon. I nod in her direction and take the next punters money. I’m pleased to see her, but I’m also going to let Martha get to her first I think. I’m pouring rum slow and thin over chunks of ice for a guy in an amazing shirt when I see Martha make eye contact with her. I have never given much of a damn about a customer coming into the bar before but the return of this one has got me, if not on edge, then a little preoccupied.

As I go through the motions with Wonder Shirt and his entourage I’m keeping an eye on Martha. This doesn’t look like a standard order take. Martha is very quickly deep in conversation. Her body language entirely pointed towards out new guest. Wonder Shirt gives way to a group of women who have clearly struggled to get up the beach in their heels and so now they are all carrying their shoes. They’re laughing and snapping pictures of one another as they reach the bar. Well done Ladies, you made the effort and you made the journey. You will be rewarded with a good time tonight.

Stevie Wonder tinkles out and James Brown howls that primal noise before commanding the ensemble to Get Up Offa That Thing. They’re an obedient lot. We’ve got moves both funky and creaky mashing together (Just as The Godfather intended) going on all around. The Barefooters head off into the melee with their shoes in one hand and their drinks in the other. Martha is still chatting with Little Miss Can’t Be Her. It’s not unusual for Martha to touch people when she’s chatting with them. She’s very tactile. She will stroke you hand when she wants your full attention or boop your nose when she tells a joke. Right now she’s holding hands across the bar and tilting her head as she talks with our young friend. I’m serving all the drinks and running low on glasses and Martha is still chatting with her.

Something tells me not to ‘Boss it’ here though. I don’t want to interrupt the two of them, but I don’t want to keep cash customers waiting either. I swoop into Martha’s personal space by the ice machine to grab a scoop. I register on her radar at last. She steps back and I fill up on cubes for the bucket. I try to stay in the zone but Little Miss has magnets for eyes. I can’t help but look at her as I throw myself into the frame. She nods. I nod. In the back of my mind I wonder why it even matters to me that I try and ‘act’ anything at all in front of her. Why does it even register? What impression am I trying to give and why should I care? Martha is suddenly aware the bar is ‘Hella’ busy. She strokes Little Miss’s hand and says “I should do some work” I swing back round to the punters I’m serving.

Martha appears along side me and we’re back in business serving the funky people with tall cool ones. As we’re working through the backlog I cast an eye to the end of the bar and see my young visitor is chatting with some Bro’s who have recently arrived on my premises. They’ve got her outnumbered three to one. She’s whip smart. I’m sure she can handle that. Yet somehow, the space invasion they’re surrounding her with seems impolite to my barman senses. She doesn’t seem phased at all, but it registers with me. I tap Martha’s elbow after a hot minute and nod towards Little Miss Can’t Be Her. She understands instinctively my concern. Martha serves the punter she’s with, then heads over to check in on her. I decide as there’s a gap in service I can do a sweep for empties.

I’m cool knowing Martha is right there in the bar holding things down while I wander out into the sand and the peripheries of my seating, picking up discarded bottles and cans and empty glasses. I have been having a real good day. And yet, there’s something bugging me. It’s not just the presence of a girl young enough to be from a different generation who reminds me so strongly of a friend from another life. I can smell trouble. I have always been able to.

Well, not always…

I’ve been able to sense a change in the emotional weather of a room ‘like a ringing bell’ ever since that fateful day in 1994 that I got the crap beaten out of me in a pub toilet at the age of 19. That day I didn’t see it coming. I took the hits, I opened up the wounds and I healed with the scars. It really set me on a 25 year adventure. If chapter one was a fucking good hiding in a pub toilet. There’s a multiverse of stories to tell from there that span the globe and are shot through with comedy, farce, romance, crime and some Busby Berkeley standard musical numbers.

I’ve seen a million faces and I’ve rocked them all.  OK. That ALL spread out from there. My Buddy Magic Alex says he saw the change pretty quick. I used to be mellow and quiet around ambiguous behaviour before I took my kicking. After it there was a switch in me. A moment where Steve says ‘No!’

I’d shut shit down or I’d clear my crew out moments before it went violent or antisocial. He used to say I was like a compass and trouble was the magnet. That sense though. The Barman’s feel for the mood. I’ve had it ever since. And right now as I walk around my bar full of happy dancing holiday makers I smell trouble blowing in off the waves. There is nothing untoward obvious to the eye. Martha can’t see it. Wonder Shirt can’t hear it. The Barefooters don’t have a clue it’s on the wind. I sense it’s coming from the 3 Bromigos. I must make sure I get this right.

So I keep gathering glasses. Stacking bottles in my basket and nodding at punters as I make my way around the arc of light emanating from the lights of the bar. We look like a crescent moon reflected in the ocean from half a mile away. Even when there’s a full moon it throws some folks. But we’re surrounded by darkness. it gets a little ‘Lord Of The Flies’ only 10-15 meters from the light falling on the sand. Especially if you head off in the wrong direction. Away from town. Up the beach.

Wiseman’s though? A paragon of virtue. Have a good time. All The Time. That’s us. The Bar I worked in as a kid had a credo. A kind of Green Lantern Oath about not fucking with your fellow punter. Wiseman’s is less erudite. The rule here is ‘If Steve says No, you go.’ I’m watching over my shoulder from the Barefooter’s encampment when I spot the behaviour I was looking for. There’s a reach across from Bromigo number three. He’s got a shaved head. We’ll call him Curley. As Martha sets the three of them and Little Miss Can’t Be Her up with a quartet of mile high pilsners I watch Curley perform a shitty sleight of hand. He’s dropped something in the young lady’s beer. I turn on my heels and head straight for them. I’m about to pull a spinal chord from the base of a skull. As I head up the sand I see Her stroke Curley’s ass with an idle hand. Poor girl, I think to myself doesn’t have a clue. Then I notice her slip his wallet out of his back pocket like a thief in a Bazaar. It’s so deftly done I stop in my tracks. Is she robbing him? Does she know them better than I have assumed?

I put the breaks on the hate train for just a moment and reassess. She tucks the wallet into her shoulder bag and hands the beers around the group. That’s when I see something really special. The uncanny switcheroo I learned from Trace Elements in an idle afternoon kicking our heels in The Head a lifetime ago. The Kansas City Shuffle. She uses a loud laugh and joke with Martha to swap her drink with Curley’s. Leaning back into Breaking Brad’s chest as she does he ripples with the physical contact. I’m calling him that because he’s go that sort of little beard Aaron Paul had in that show and these guys are passing drugs between them. On her command, the conversation turns to goading and there’s some sort of ‘chug it’ type chant going on in the small huddle at the end of the bar.

By the time I’m close enough to hear them. Curley and his Bros are halfway down their drinks. Little Miss Can’t Be Her has finished hers. She stands on the rung of her stall and celebrates with a ringing belch. Bromigo number three steps up to the plate. “Shall we take this party someplace else?” spouts he who shall be known as Lurch, on account of him being a lanky motherfucker. Little Miss shakes her head. “No way. I’m staying right here. Thanks for the drink boys.” They look put out. I step in. “You heard the lady Lads. Run along now. They’re doing fishbowls for a tenner on Bar Street. Down at Dino’s. Tell them Wiseman sent you.” Lurch is the first to pipe up. “Who are you Mate? Her old man?”

I look this twenty two year old basketball scouts dream up and down and suddenly feel my age. “I’ll tell you who I am. I’m the owner of this bar. I’m the custodian of this party and I’m telling you guys you need to get out of my sight.”. Breaking Brad pips in. His voice is comically high pitched which makes me smirk while I was trying to come off tough. “Why us? We ain’t done nothing wrong? We’re just buying your drinks and hanging out like everyone else.” I shake my head. Little Miss puts her finger up to stop me saying anything. “I saw you slip the baggie of pills to him” She points at Brad then Curley. I’d missed that. Turns out she was on the case before me. “I didn’t see which beer the pill went in but I’m guessing… Roofies?” All three take a step back. They all look as guilty as each other. “I played along because none of you seem too bright.” I can see Lurch and Breaking Brad straining their brains doing the hard math on the fact she necked the beer anyway. I put my hand firmly on Curley’s slightly swaying shoulder, steadying him momentarily. I reach into his cargo shorts and remove the baggie with three more pills inside. Martha is watching from behind the bar. I can see she has her phone in her hand already. “So, I already asked nicely. Now I’m telling you. Fuck off out my pub before I call the police”

Lurch looks like he wants to twat me. I’m so tempted to punch him in the balls I’m excited to see if I’m going to just do it or not like a betting man with an inside tip. As if on cue, Curley staggers to the left. I pat Brad on the cheeks instead. “You need to get him up the sand before he’s a dead weight” It’s an undeserved piece of advice I offer before scanning the rest of my surroundings. Martha has pulled every puzzle piece from her vantage point and she spits the words “Rapist scum” at them as she empties the dregs of Breaking Brad’s beer over his face. “Get out!” I poke Curley hard in the chest and he staggers backwards a half dozen steps. I’m feeling less threatened and bolder by the moment as I step up to Lurch. There’s about 25 people witness to this stand off at this point. Lurch and Breaking Brad break eye contact and high tail it out of there. Brad is pulling at Curley as he staggers increasingly unstable out of our arc of light and into the dark. I can see Martha calling it in to the islands constabulary as I turn back from watching them go. It would appear Little Miss has slipped the lifted wallet across the bar to her so the ID can help pin these pricks.

I’m as proud of her as I am furious that these scumbags tried this shit in my place. I head back behind the bar to the guitar giggle tickle wooo wooos of The Gossip performing Heavy Cross. Let’s try and salvage the rest of this night.


14 thoughts on “The Ghost Light – Chapter Two

  1. The ‘ooooooo’ sound I made when I got the email [New post] The Ghost Light – Chapter Two. I had to make time, a coffee and a seat in the sun to demolish this in one sitting. And it didn’t disappoint.

    Thanks ‘Estevie’. 👍

    Liked by 3 people

  2. There’s a laundry list of things to like about your story. Character development (Diego and Martha), nicknames (I’m guessing bartenders have to build these kind of tags for customers so they will remember them,) the playlist (I youtubed at least a few in between reading,) the setting and how you describe the half-crescent, and Little Miss, who I know is Wiseman and Traces’ daughter (seems I remember they had at least one night of sex?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi. Sorry Chapter 3 has stalled. Things got really real here with COVID and family getting very sick and business being threatened with closure, natural disasters, Fire, Brimstone, dogs and cats living together. There was no time to write. Little Miss got a name. Martha revealed a secret and Wiseman got a little mixed up in some local trouble but I don’t know when the story can continue… I should never had started publishing until the whole thing was finished. I started the first book with the ending already in the bag. This one feels like it was started in another life.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Steve, so sorry to hear about family and COVID — and all the rest. It really has turned things upside down and shook. Glad you are hanging in there despite it all. See you, Wiseman, Little Miss, and the rest of the crew when I see you.

        Liked by 1 person

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