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By Andii Valo

Horror / Adventure

Chapter 1

The first time Rick met Dean Osbourne was on a Thursday. It was the day before Halloween and Murphy’s bar was all but empty. Only four skinny kids in a corner booth saved the afternoon from being a complete bust but Rick had ID’d them before letting them at the beer. That was something he rarely needed to do since this particular joint tended to attract an older clientele. He hadn’t been surprised when they strolled in though, all shaggy hair, drainpipe jeans and black leather jackets. They reminded him of The Ramones when they were young. And skinny. They looked 18 but their IDs put them mid-20s, about the same age as Rick and who was he to argue with that?

They’d arrived in town yesterday and started hitting up the drinking establishments, looking for work of a musical nature. Bumfuck was a small place, everybody knew each other’s business and the grapevine was of the finest vintage. The whole town knew they were there, it was only a matter of time before they tried their luck at Murphy’s.

Rick was quick to point out the obvious; that there was no stage in the bar. No problem they said, they’d play in the corner. No PA? No problem, they had their own. No music licence? Who the hell checked shit like that anyway?

Rick couldn’t make decisions like illegally booking bands but their look and persistence intrigued him so he asked what kind of music they played, expecting something in a punk vein. He was vaguely disappointed when the answer came back as stoner rock, “kinda like Alabama Thunderpussy meets Clutch”. Rick didn’t know those bands, didn’t know anything about stoner rock for that matter. He was mostly into classic rock but big enough to admit hair metal as a guilty pleasure… after a few beers.

Their band was called Waxing Gibbous and Rick nearly laughed out loud when he learned that. He kept it together long enough to assure them he’d have a word with the bar’s owner and to come back later. But they didn’t leave and an hour later they were still drinking, intent on nailing down the promise.

This job was destroying Rick’s brain. He could physically feel the cells dying off minute by minute. This was the slowest of afternoons and he tried to stay engaged by polishing glasses, wiping off the bar and replenishing the bowls of candy laid out there. Old man Murphy thought it a good idea to embrace Halloween this year, hoping to maximise trade and Rick didn’t have the heart to point out their average client was five times the age of your average trick or treater. So they’d carved some pumpkins and put orange candles on the tables. It made the place look more homey than usual but so far business remained slack.

A howl of laughter drew his attention to the kids in the corner and he studied them for a while. They didn’t just look like a gang they acted like one as well; all private jokes, crazy grins and male-bonded intimacy. Play punches, shoulder bumps and affectionate insults were the order of the day. These were the cool kids, the smokers, the one’s who’d broken out of the mainstream, flipped the bird to normality and chosen their own path through life. They’d taken back control and in the immortal words of Skynyrd were free as a bird. Rick envied that.

Sure he played a little guitar but Rick was no musician. He was, however, a major creative talent waiting to be discovered. It hadn’t happened yet, the university degree hadn’t exactly kicked things along in the way he’d hoped but he was confident it would happen. All he needed was one killer idea…

In the meantime he was back in his hometown of Bumfuck, working dreary shifts at a forty-something bar and resenting every moment of it. Hell, maybe he should work on his guitar playing and join a band, get out on the road and live a little. Anything was better than this…

He was still watching the kids who called themselves Waxing Gibbous when the throaty roar of an engine set all the windows in the joint vibrating. A sleek black car was pulling up out front and Rick came close to creaming his pants. He loved muscle cars, though he couldn’t afford to run one and this was a thing of complete beauty. It was an old Chevy, V8 for sure and he was going outside to ogle her good and proper before this day was done.

A minute later the street door banged open to admit a tall, sturdily built guy. Waxing Gibbous turned to look at the newcomer and sized him up openly. Some people might have found that intimidating but not this dude. He stared right back at them.

“You got something to say?”

They turned back to their beer and he smirked. “That’s what I thought.”

Rick was doing some appraising of his own. It seemed like this was the day for cool kids in leather, though this one actually looked mid-20s. He was wearing a beat up brown coat, green Henley, work boots and jeans with holes in the knees. The fading and fraying suggested age and wear rather than any new-fangled fashion tragedy but Rick wasn’t judging. He didn’t come across like a musician though, something about the cropped, military style haircut perhaps. On the flipside he didn’t look much like a soldier either. Rick had become a pretty good judge of things like that over this past year.

The recent wet weather had swollen the wood in the frame and now the street door wouldn’t close without a struggle. The dude made a couple of attempts then turned and put his whole shoulder into it. Rick was impressed by that; most customers didn’t have the manners to even try and it was usually left hanging open for one of the bar staff to remedy.

As the dude shoved at the door Rick spotted something which made him tense up. This customer was packing for sure. Rick had always been observant and there was something off about the way that leather coat hung at the back. It was a free country though and it wasn’t illegal to bring guns into a bar. It might be illegal to book bands without the right kind of permit but Rick didn’t want to ponder the reverse logic of that one right now.

The guy got the door closed and walked across the room. Swaggered was a better word for it, actually. He had a loping, bow-legged gait which reminded Rick of a gunslinger in a Wild West flick. Rick liked cowboy movies; he’d be willing to bet this guy liked them too.

As he approached Rick noticed a few more things about him. He was limping slightly, favouring his right leg and there was bruising across his left cheek. Somebody had popped him pretty good and not long ago either. More noticeable was the short, ragged gash below his hairline. That was recent and whoever stitched him up had made one godawful job of it. They deserved to lose their medical license in Rick’s opinion. The dude grabbed a handful of candy from the nearest bowl and stuffed the whole lot into his mouth as he studied the line of beer pumps, frowning slightly. Rick noted his split, scuffed up knuckles and tried not to speculate on what that might mean.

“This foreign beer any good?”

He spoke round the mouthful of candy and Rick took a precautionary step backwards. He pasted on his professional smile.

“Sure, but I wouldn’t recommend Guinness on an empty stomach.”

“No chance of that.” The dude reached for the candy again. “This is better than trick or treat, you have to work for that shit.”

Rick followed his movements, waiting for the order.

“You’d like to try the Guinness?”

The dude shook his head. “I’ll take a Bud. Keep it patriotic, right?”

He definitely wasn’t local and Rick tied to place the accent as he poured the beer. There was a twang of something which might once have been Texas but he couldn’t pin it down. Maybe he travelled a lot, when he wasn’t fighting. Maybe he carried the piece because he fought a lot. Maybe he was an undercover cop or marshal but in a car like that? Not exactly incognito… The whole thing was massaging Rick’s curiosity but he wasn’t about to pry. There was protocol involved here.

The dude surveyed the bar as he waited. His eyes lingered on Waxing Gibbous before moving to the pumpkins in the windows. He shot Rick a lop-sided grin.

“Think you’ll get many trick or treaters here?”

Rick shook his head apologetically. “The owner’s idea. Don’t shoot the bar staff.”

The dude gave a low chuckle. “Hey, you know this is the first time in six hundred and sixty six years that Halloween falls on Friday the Thirteenth?”

Rick had to think about that one for a moment and when the penny dropped he laughed out loud.

“You read that online?”

“Nope. That’s an honest to god Dean Osbourne original.”

Rick was still smiling as he took the dude’s bill and gave him the change.

“You’re not from round here.”

“Just passing through.” Dean Osbourne took a few gulps of beer and wiped foam from his upper lip. “Lot of travelling in my line of work, you know?”

“Sure.” Rick didn’t need to ask questions. Most drinkers, a few glasses in, told him everything about themselves whether he wanted to hear it or not. Mostly he just grinned and tried to bear it but this time he actually wanted the guy to spill.

“Cool ride you’ve got there. Chevy, right?”

Dean looked up from his beer, surprised. “67 Impala. You like vintage cars?”

“Damned straight, I do.” Rick whistled softly. “328 four barrel, I bet she goes like shit off a shovel. Why’d you pass on the SS though? It’s got better lines.”

Dean grinned and jerked a thumb towards the car. “Because you can fit a body in that trunk.”

Rick laughed. He liked this guy. He looked like trouble but he was funny, affable and he drove an absolute monster. He was considerate as well.

“No offense, man but this place is like the grave. You mind if I put some music on?”

Rick shrugged. “It’s your money. Knock yourself out.”

Dean ambled over to the Wurlitzer which stood right next to the Waxing Gibbous booth. He took the longest time poring over the selection and when he returned it was to the strains of Led Zep’s Ramble On. Rick approved his choice whole heartedly.

“Good choice. Two’s a classic.”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “You think Travelling Riverside Blues is better than this? It’s bugged me for years.”

“Nothing wrong in a tie, is there?”

“I guess not.” Dean turned his head as another burst of laughter came from the kids in the booth.

“What’s their deal? Juvy break out?”

Rick snorted. “Travelling band, hustling for work.”

“They been here long?”

“Blew in yesterday but I doubt they’ll stick around. This place isn’t exactly rock ‘n’ roll central.”

“I got that.” Dean took a contemplative sip of beer. “Not many young faces round here. What do you do for fun?”

Rick felt a sharp and reflexive jolt of resentment. This wasn’t the life he wanted but what he wanted was so far out of reach it might as well have been on Mars. “It’s a short term gig, pays the bills while I write my Oscar winning screenplay.”

“Yeah?” Dean seemed genuinely interested. “What’s it about?”

Rick gnawed at his lip. The truth was he had about a hundred ideas but couldn’t commit to any of them. “I’m working on a few concepts. I’m thinking maybe some kind of horror western thing.”

“Gun slinging Civil War zombies?” Dean banged the bar with his fist. “Hell, yeah. I’d go watch that.”

“You like horror flicks?”

“Not really.” Dean finished his beer in two gulps and pushed the glass over for a refill. “They get too much of it wrong.”

“Such as?”

Dean shrugged. “Devil’s in the detail, man. You don’t want to know.”

While Rick was pulling him a second beer the street door opened to admit two women. They were regulars, worked at Bumfuck Print a couple of doors down and signalled the advance party for the 5pm rush. They were both pushing forty but made the most of themselves and that fact wasn’t lost on Dean. He was eyeing them with as much appreciation as they were giving him.

Rick watched their body language change as they approached; casual to flirtatious in the blink of an eye. The walks got slinkier, the lips got poutier and the volume of conversation increased exponentially, punctuated by giggles. Dean lounged against the bar, propped casually on one elbow and reached for the candy bowl.

“Trick or treat, ladies?”

His voice went about an octave deeper as he drawled out the line, full of suggestion and promise. They laughed and Dean kept them laughing while they bought drinks. He winked at Rick as he followed them to the seating area. “Three is so not a crowd.”

Rick watched them settle into the booth behind Waxing Gibbous and now he was openly envious. He wasn’t the ugliest dude on the planet but even in his wildest dreams he could never match that guy’s style. He’d made his own efforts with those women over the months; epic fail every time. Dean Osbourne was smoother than velvet, all devilish charm and charisma. The outlaw vibe, the cuts and bruises, the peripheral whiff of danger were just icing on the cake.

Rick tried to channel it. Dean was the most interesting thing to walk into Murphy’s Bar since he started working here. He could use a character like that in a story, if he could think of a story good enough to fit the character. Rick’s mind wandered, his erratic-at-best muse doing its usual number, ducking and weaving away just as he got close to nailing down a decent idea. But with trade picking up through happy hour he was too occupied to give it further thought.

Dean came back later to buy more drinks and Rick noticed how he’d switched from draft to a lower proof bottled beer. The conversation at his booth was animated, a third female had joined the party but the bar was too noisy to hear what was going down. The women seemed to be eating him up though, and Dean seemed to be loving it.

At 6pm Waxing Gibbous made their move, three pitchers the worse for wear and looking pissed. They wanted to know if he’d spoken to the boss yet. Rick told them Murphy wasn’t in tonight and he wasn’t calling at this hour. They could try their luck again tomorrow. They accused him of scamming them to boost trade which was partly true, but Rick wasn’t about to admit it. He told them to tell their story walking and that’s exactly what they did. eHeHHe had no idea if they’d come back but kind of hoped they wouldn’t. They were shitty drunks.

He got busy again and lost track of time. When he glanced at Dean’s booth again only the women occupied it, deflated and disappointed. When he looked out onto the street the Chevy was gone.

Rick cursed. He’d never even gotten a good look at her.

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