Double Shot of Jack
Written December 2001
Synopsis: A bartender consoles a brooding, broken man.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. No infringement is intended.
Call me crazy, but I like listening to people’s problems. No, I’m not a shrink. I’m a bartender. Yes, a bartender, in the outskirts of Washington, D.C. at a bar that caters to all sorts: government officials, bums off the street, middle class workers. Mostly it’s the regular customers who frequent Malone’s Pub (like I said, we’re in the outskirts, and we’re just a small establishment), but occasionally we get a new visitor. And everyone has a story to tell. They always appreciate a good ear, and I’m always there to listen and offer advice. Mostly it’s about women, and being a female myself, the guys love to hear my perspective. So while I don’t have a degree in psychology, I can recognize a lonely heart from a mile away. Maybe that’s what drew me to him in the first place.
I hadn’t seen him around before. He was dressed like a g-man: dark suit and sand-colored trench coat. His hair was light grey, and his skin was wrinkled with age. Pretty handsome, even if he was old enough to be my father. He sat at the end of the bar, alone. Yeah, probably a government worker. FBI or CIA or something. Maybe military, from the Pentagon. He had that air about him.
I headed his way. “Hey there, stranger. What can I get ya?”
“Whiskey, double shot, on the rocks.”
I raised my eyebrows at that. “Would you like to spend your evening with Jack or Jim?”
He frowned at me; evidently, he wasn’t a frequent drinker. “I’m sorry?”
“Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. We’ve got ’em both.”
“Oh. Jack Daniels will be fine.”
“Sure thing.” I went off to get his drink. This guy was definitely on the fast track to nowhere. A double shot of Jack? He obviously had plans to get wasted. Nobody ordered that particular drink without a reason. Maybe he lost his job or caught his wife in bed with another man. (His wedding band was one of the first things I noticed.) After fixing his drink, I sat it in front of him. “Anything else?”
He politely shook his head, so I headed to the other end of the bar. It was getting pretty late, and most of the regulars had cleared out, leaving me with only a few customers. I chatted with one or two of them, but my eyes kept wandering to the man in the trench coat. I don’t think he had taken a sip of his whiskey; he just stared at the slowly melting ice, lost in thought. I saw him light up a cigarette, one of those brown ones from Europe that smell God-awful. I waited until he finished it before moseying back in that direction.
“So you got a name?”
He seemed surprised that I was talking to him. “Paul,” he answered. He had one of those deep, throaty voices. Probably from smoking too much. “You?”
“Jo.” I gave him a smile. “Are you sure I can’t get you anything?”
He shook his head, this time actually taking a sip of his drink.
“Okay, then, how about an ear? You talk, I’ll listen.”
He chuckled and smiled fleetingly. “Talk about what?”
“Why you’re in Malone’s, drinking whiskey, looking so lost.”
“Do I look lost?”
I leaned across the counter and regarded him from a new angle. “Yep, you still look lost, even from this side.” He looked amused. “Okay, let me guess. Your wife is leaving you, and despite your attempts at making her stay, she feels it would be better if you spent some time apart.” Okay, so maybe I’m a little bold, but it works.
Paul laughed. He had really white teeth, and I half-wondered if they were dentures. “And what gave you that idea?”
“The double shot of Jack was the first clue. You’ve been here an hour, but you’ve hardly drank it, meaning you’re deep in thought. At first I thought you may have lost your job, but then I noticed how you kept looking at your ring. I figured you may not have lost your job but maybe you lost your wife.”
I thought for a minute that he was angry, the way he was looking at me, but then he broke out into a grin. “Did anyone ever tell you that you’re incredibly perceptive for your age?”
“All the time.”
He ducked his head and gave a slight nod. “Well, you’re half right.”
“I am?” Even I was surprised at that.
“Yes, only she’s not my wife, she’s my business partner.” He sighed. “We’ve run a company together for the past ten years, but we’ve known each other for seventeen years. And over that time, we developed a more…intimate relationship. Recently, she was asked to head up another section of our company. The headquarters are in Toronto, so she would have to relocate.”
“Well, that’s not bad,” I mentioned. “Eleven hours or so.”
“From here, yes, but our headquarters are in Paris.”
I winced sympathetically. “I guess visiting on the weekends is out of the question.” He kept staring into his glass. “Did she say yes?”
“When she first told me, I was furious. I guess I should be happy for her; she’s been beside me all this time, she deserves to head up her own division. But if she goes, I know I’ll never see her again. So I told her not to go. We argued, I got mad and left.”
“You didn’t leave her when she was crying, did you?”
He seemed amused by that, though I wasn’t sure why. “No. Madeline would never cry.”
I paused for a moment. “You never answered my question. Did she accept the job in Toronto?”
His blue eyes were suddenly filled with such sorrow that I regretted even asking the question. “I honestly don’t know.”
Part of me wanted to leave him in his misery–I understood how it felt to lose a loved one, and I knew that sometimes the best thing was to be alone. But the rest of me, the curious side of me, wanted to know everything about him, his work, the woman. Naturally, the curious side won out. “You said over the years, your relationship grew more intimate. What did you mean by that?”
“It means…I fell in love with her.”
I smiled softly. It was such a simple but moving statement. “Did you tell her that?”
“No? Why not?”
“Our line of work isn’t fond of fraternization.”
Right. The government job. I decided not to ask about his work; if my hunch was correct, he couldn’t tell me anyway. “So the woman you love left you for another job.”
“I hope not. That sounds pretty pathetic, doesn’t it?”
We both smiled at that, and the lull in conversation gave me the opportunity to ask the question that had been burning in my mind. “Why do you love her? Madeline, I mean.”
Paul took a breath, thinking it over. “She’s probably the most intelligent person I know. She is very insightful, and I know that our organization wouldn’t be as successful if anybody else was in her place. She’s very wise.”
“The perfect business partner.”
“She’s very good at what she does, that’s for sure.” He took another sip of his whiskey, but he frowned at it, like he was wondering what he was doing drinking it.
“What about on a personal level?”
“When she’s around other people, she tends to act more detached. But when she’s with me, it’s different. More honest. I trust her with my life.” He paused for a moment. “Oh! And she makes an excellent quiche Lorraine.”
I laughed out loud. “She sounds very unique.” I smiled again. “You know, Paul, you’re the first person who, when asked why he loves a woman, hasn’t told me how beautiful she is.”
“Oh, she’s very beautiful,” he responded, “but that’s not why I love her.”
I stifled an ‘awwww.’ That was probably the sweetest thing I’d ever heard a guy say about a woman. At least in here. “Did she ever tell you how she felt about you?”
“She didn’t need to.”
“Maybe she did. If she loved you like you love her, she wouldn’t have taken the job in Canada. What if her decision hung on those three words that you’re so reluctant to say?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what if she went because she thought you didn’t love her?”
“That’s ridiculous. Madeline knows how I feel.”
“Not necessarily. You said you’ve been with her–what, seventeen years? And you’ve never said anything, so she’s spent the last seventeen years with someone who may or may not love her.” I was surprised at the words coming out of my mouth. “Give her a reason to stay. Tell her how you feel.”
The look on his face broke my heart; evidently, he had never considered the possibility of what I had just said. I didn’t mean to hurt him, but I do that sometimes. Me and my big mouth. I was just making it up; I don’t know anything about him or her or their situation.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I–”
“No.” He gave me a small smile, closing his hand around the glass. “Everything you’ve said is true.” He reached in his back pocket for his wallet. “How much?”
“Well, the advice is free, but regardless of how much of your whiskey you drink, it’s still five-fifty.”
He placed a twenty dollar bill on the counter. “Keep the change.”
I gave him a small smile before heading to the cash register. Largest tip I’d made all night, but I felt a little strange taking it. After all, I just broke the poor man’s heart! I was supposed to be helping him.
For the next half hour, I spent most of my time at the other end of the bar, away from Paul. He nursed his whiskey lazily and remained motionless for a while, sighing on occasion.
I was about to announce last call when I noticed the front door swing open. Not too many people came in when we’re about to close except regulars begging for a beer. This was not a regular; I had never seen her before.
She looked a little lost and entered Malone’s hesitantly. I watched her look around until her eyes rested on Paul, and she started walking toward him. I held my breath for a moment; this must have been Madeline. She didn’t go to Toronto after all! I don’t think I’d ever been so happy to see someone I didn’t know.
She was indeed beautiful but not at all like I had pictured her. She had dark hair (I was thinking blonde actually) that was in a French roll (very short), and her facial features were soft (I pictured them to be more chiseled). She was pretty tall (medium-sized was my original thought), and she carried herself like royalty. Very sophisticated.
Paul must have heard me gasp because he looked at me then followed my gaze to the woman. He was surprised, immediately rising to his feet. I grabbed a few glasses and began to dry them with a towel (they weren’t even wet), just so I could hear what they were saying.
Paul stared at her in disbelief as she approached, stopping directly in front of him. “Madeline, what are you doing here? What happened to Canada?”
She tilted her head and sighed. “Paul…I’m not going to Canada.”
“No.” She brushed her fingers across his cheek, and he took his hand and kissed her palm. “It’s not what I want.”
I had to strain to hear what he said because he whispered, but I think it was, “What do you want?”
Madeline didn’t say anything, but I think the look she was giving him told him everything he needed to know. He kissed her lips softly, and my heart melted. He grabbed his coat, which hung on the back of the chair, and wrapped his fingers in hers as they walked out of Malone’s together.
The remainder of his drink sat on the counter long after he had left. As I was closing up the bar, I kept looking at the half-full glass. What if everything had proceeded differently, if he hadn’t come in here for a drink? How did she find him anyway? I wonder if he ever told her he loved her.
My manager poked his head around the corner. “Jo! Hurry up, let’s go.”
“Coming.” I poured the rest of the whiskey down the drain and sat the glass in the sink. Funny how things work out in the end.