orsus - latin, beginning
NIGHT FELL UPON the southern city of Atlanta like a candle that had been freshly put out.
The sting of hard liquor and the aroma of sweat aroused Nikki’s nostrils as she slowly swung the dirty rag around the used mug she was cleaning, trying not to let the overpowering sense of loneliness dampen her spirit as a bartender.
Nicoletta “Nikki” Bishop was used to two things as a bartender — exceptionally low tips, and an almost always full bar around her for her to manage. This was one of those rare times when she was too astonished by the lack of customers in the room to even realize that a brand new potential tip giver had entered the room.
She pulled on the bottom of her work uniform— which was a white button-up shirt tucked into a knee-length jet black skirt that did very little for her short stature, a small bow tie draped around her neck, and a pair of matching black loafers that made her feet ache until the day’s end — trying to appear as professional as possible as the ragged man who had just entered sat down directly in front of the beer tap, his knuckles red and his eyes a deep bloodshot crimson. Nikki tried to ignore the strange sensation that passed through her gut when she looked at him, yet the feeling became overwhelming after a few seconds, and soon she was struggling in her own timidity from an unknown cause to even get a proper sentence out.
“Hello, sir,” she said, trying to ignore the lump that had formed in the back of her throat. “How may I assist you today?” She cleared her throat, trying to give him the best smile that she could muster.
The man raised a bushy eyebrow, of which looked like it hadn’t been waxed ever. A pale hand reached forward, towards Nikki, which caused her to stifle her breathing until she realized that he was simply reaching for a drink coaster. “One glass of Bourbon, please,” he leaned in closer towards her, attempting to read her nametag, “Nicoletta.”
“It’s Nikki,” she replied harsher than intended, trying not to let her obvious annoyance from the man’s brash actions show. “And we only serve Bourbon in shots.” She tried her hardest to suppress the shudder that desperately wanted to roll down her back as she listened to the man say Bourbon instead of Whiskey, which is what most of her customers usually asked for. After all, it was the south — there was no need for extravagant formalities.
“Ah,” the man popped one of the knuckles of his fingers and Nikki did her best not to flinch at the loud sound that resonated throughout the empty bar. “Then two shots of Bourbon.”
She nodded slowly, hastily reached for the last open container of bourbon that she knew the location of, taking the lid off and watching the deep brown liquid fall lopsided into the shot glass. “Here you go, sir.” She placed the shot glass on the coaster that he had taken out, trying to alleviate some of her stress through short breaths and unsteady inhalations that caused her hands to shake. She placed her hands in the pockets of her skirt, trying to act as casual as possible around the strange customer.
“Thank you, Nikki,” he gave her a cheeky grin, and she tried her best not to shudder at his crude behavior. He wrapped his large, dirt-infested hand around the shot glass, holding the glass up to his lips and taking a single swig of the russet liquor.
After a few seconds of awkward pause, Nikki let out an exasperated sigh, looking around for any other customers that she could serve.
There was only one other table there, and it was an elderly couple that had already ate and paid for their food and were simply waiting around until an appropriate time came around for them to leave.
How ironic, Nikki couldn’t help but think. They’re waiting around for death in the same manner.
She pondered the odds for a few seconds, trying to figure out how long it would take before the local gang-affiliated, inner city riff raff files into the bar to empty the booze stash the way they always did quarter to midnight.
“So,” he clasped his hands together on the counter, and Nikki resisted the urge to take out a moist towelette and wipe down the counter in that very moment, “what do you for a living?”
She couldn’t help but laugh slightly. Had he really asked such a ridiculous question that it could be answered with a simple swivel of his large head? She chose not to comment on it, and instead take the professional approach. After all, rude bartenders didn’t make nearly as much tips as pleasant ones did.
Nikki shrugged. “I’m a bartender, same old, same old.”
He leaned in closer. “Yeah, I know that.” He reached for her hand and she couldn’t stop herself from jerking back. “But what else do you do? Surely you don’t live off of just bartending tips, do you?”
She furrowed her large eyebrows together, and she tried not to make the raising of her nasolabial folds in resentment obvious. “My personal life is a bit of a sore subject, and I choose not to talk about it with my customers. If you have a problem with that, feel free to leave at any time. After you leave the tip.” Venom dripped from her lips like honey dripping from a honey dipper, and she instantly regretted her word choice.
“Yes,” he sighed, “I do apologize for my behavior.” He motioned towards his head. “Everything’s a bit jumbled up in here. Ever since the bright light came and freed me, I haven’t known exactly what to do with myself.”
Nikki didn’t know whether to call the police or not. The man sounded like an absolute lunatic — like a schizophrenic experiencing delirium.
What was the bright light? And what was his “freedom” that he seemed so earnest about? Was he a prison inmate or was he from the psychiatric ward? Nikki couldn’t help but wonder.
Thoughts circulated in her head like the AC unit above her recycled air, and she couldn’t help but feel herself become slightly warier the more the man talked. Maybe she was just being paranoid, or maybe it was her unreal sixth sense, but either way, Nikki could feel the strange vibe radiating off the raggedy man the more time he spent in the bar stood directly in front of her.
The man cleared his throat, placing down the empty shot glass with a loud enough slam for the few customers at the other side of the large room to turn their collective heads. “Where is the bathroom?”
Nikki pointed to her left. “It’s that way, to the right of the kitchen.”
The man gave her a small smile as he stood up from his chair, walking in the direction that she had instructed. Nikki let out a relieved sigh as the man walked away, feeling like an object as heavy as an anvil had finally been lifted from her chest. She didn’t know why, but the strange man gave off a dark vibe so strange that she felt her stomach clench the closer to the man she got.
There’s something wrong with that man, she thought to herself as she checked her pocket watch, looking at the time.
Seconds drifted by into minutes as Nikki sat at the empty bar, waiting for the peculiar man to return. She ran a finger over her unwaxed eyebrow, patiently standing by the bar and staring at the unnamed man’s empty shot glass.
After a few minutes of quietly waiting for the man to return, she stepped away from the bar and walked towards the vicinity of the bathroom. Inhaling sharply, she pulled on the handle of the lone bathroom, expecting for it to be locked — and most to her surprise, it was empty.
She let out a small gasp, trying not to let her own rage boil over in her veins. Her gaze moved from the leaking sink handle to the ajar window, and she began to feel her own amazement at the customer that had just entered, drank two shots that he didn’t pay for, and left without a single notice. He was odd from the second she had first met him, but now he was beginning to beckon upon irritating.
How was she supposed to explain to her boss that some strange customer came into the restaurant, talked like a psychopath, drank a single shot of Whiskey, and left through the bathroom window?
She was beyond infuriated, but she was also borderline curious. How did he manage to sneak out of the window without the alarm going off? Was he some sort of master hacker that had managed to trick the system? No, he was wearing torn clothes and looked like a homeless man with his untouched, lengthy beard and his unclipped hair? What about his azure eyes that seemed to scream excitement, and adventure?
No, she thought to herself, as she made her way back over to bar. He’s just a freak who got lucky. And I’m the one that’s going to be paying for his lack of paying with my job, so I have no sympathy.
The lone sound of the bell ringing caused Nikki to shoot up from her intimate gazing at the floor, and she watched a group of multiple men, who all bore the same jacket and almost looked like they were in a biker gang, walk into the bar.
She suppressed a pent-up sigh that had been lingering on her tense chest for a while.
It’s going to be a busy night, she told herself, trying to fix her messy hair in a quick enough time to keep her customers from leaving due to a lack of service.
• • •
LIGHT FLICKERED THROUGH the shutters in her bedroom in a way that evoked an immediate sigh the second the sunlight hit her exhausted face.
Nikki let out a loud groan as she rolled to the other side of the bed, rubbing her eye. She leaned over the side of her stiff comforter, pressing the snooze button on her alarm. It was almost noon on a Sunday morning, and she had never felt more weary after ten full hours of sleep than she did now. It was no secret that her customers from last night were low tippers, but Nikki didn’t expect to only be given three dollars for the five entire hours that she spent attending their table. Five. It baffled Nikki how she could be such an appealing waitress who actively schmoozed her clientele and still only get less than five dollars as a tip.
What was wrong with these people? She couldn’t stop herself from asking after closing up the restaurant at almost two am.
Now, hours later, she laid in bed, fatigue numbing her want to move as she laid stagnant in her uncomfortable, used bed. It was no secret that she had financial issues —in fact, it was one of the reasons she chose not to go to college as a teenager, even though she was perfectly eligible to. Years later, now that she was a woman on the brink of twenty-three, working as a bartender as well as a part-time waitress, she wasn’t sure if her younger self had made the right decision.
She let out a low frequency moan as she slowly lifted the covers off her body, walking towards her antique heirloom dresser and pulling out a fresh pair of clothes. Nikki stepped into her bathroom and closed and locked the door, preparing to take a shower.
After half an hour of intense sauna heat and the intensive desire to forget the night before her, Nikki finally stepped out of the shower, and changed into her new clothes. She examined herself in the mirror for a few seconds, running her fingers over her deep under eye bags and the small scar that was ever-so apparent on her left cheek — which she typically covered with cream foundation in hopes that nobody would notice.
She pulled on her hair, tying it into a high ponytail. After almost fifteen minutes, her dental hygiene was in check, the skin on her cheek had been concealed through the rigorous application of makeup, her lips were popping with a vermillion shade of lipstick, and eyeliner was in a wing shape from her inner corner to her outer corner.
Nikki had never been one to wear excessive amounts of makeup, but the more time she spent working as a bartender, the more she felt the need to cover up her natural flaws in order to make herself more presentable to her customers. After all, studies have shown that the waitress wearing crimson lipstick was more likely to get a high tip over the ones who didn’t.
It had been almost an entire hour since she first woke up, and the bartender finally felt that she was in adequate condition to leave her cheap, downtown apartment. She pulled on the strap of her mud brown satchel, walking down the hallway of her apartment complex — which wore the most hideously ugly tangerine carpet that she had ever seen — and taking a sharp turn to her left as she approached the lobby.
She gave the clerk a small wave as she pushed open the heavy glass door, and she breathed in the strong scent of decaying agriculture and booming industry the further down the freshly-paved street she walked. It was no secret that Atlanta had gradually became more industrial in the past few years — one could even go as far as to say decades — but being in the inner city side of Atlanta, the aroma of air pollution and the covering of thick smog was something that had given her grief over the years.
If I had just gone to college then I could have a degree in some tech field now, she thought to herself, as she dodged a car that was belching out exhaust like there was no tomorrow. Then I could be working some high end job now and not have to worry about all of the danger of the smog or my risk of getting mugged.
After a few minutes of walking she made her way to the corner farmers market, where she traded her three dollar tip from her shift prior for two apricots and a bruised carmine-colored Honeycrisp apple. She managed to cross the crosswalk before a speeding car flew through the intersection, and against her better judgement, walked through another empty intersection even though the cars had the right of way at the time.
Then, finally, she managed to make her way to her desired location: the location newspaper shop. It was of little shock to anyone that newspaper companies had been going out of business everywhere in the world, especially the United States, but the little newspaper shop on the corner was the one place that seemed to still have enough local customers to stay in business for a few more years — or at least, Nikki hoped so.
She pushed open the door, stepping inside.
The familiar brisk air greeted her toffee skin and she let out a relaxed sigh, letting the tension built up in her shoulders disperse. She greeted the clerk and made her way to one of the back rooms, where she was surprised to find somebody else in her usual room — where she typically talked to Joann, the chief writing associate of the entire business, who she viewed as a secondary mother figure ever since her teenage years.
“Hello,” Joann said to Nikki, as Nikki quietly made her way into the room, her eyes landing on the dirty blonde standing in front of her. “This is Sariyah — she came to me just a few minutes ago asking for my help with something.”
The blonde smiled at Nikki, and Nikki mustered up all of her strength and her shoved all of her irritability in order to smile back at the attention-stealing girl. “Hello, I’m Sariyah.”
Nikki suppressed a laugh. “So I’ve heard.” She sat down in the plush gray chair behind her, watching her mother figure and the blonde stranger converse for a few more seconds before both turning back towards her.
“So Sariyah here was asking me if I’ve heard anything about some new guy in town,” Joann told Nikki, hastily organizing a stack of papers and glancing around her disorganized desk as if she was looking for something. “Some strange looking man apparently.”
“He’s an irresistibly good looking man,” Sariyah replied calmly, “but he’s also very manipulative. He’s been in a bad place the past few years and hasn’t been able to dig himself out of it.”
Nikki raised an eyebrow as she reached for one of the freshly made oatmeal cookies to the left of her chair. “What does he look like?”
“Kind of rugged,” the blonde replied. “He has a long beard, pretty pasty skin, and his hair screams a trip to a hair salon.”
Nikki almost froze. The oatmeal raisin cookie in her hand dropped the floor and shattered into a thousand crumbs, and Sariyah immediately bent down in order to pick up the mess that Nikki had made. “Did this man by any chance visit a bar last night?”
The blonde nodded slowly, gathering all the crumbs into one pile and dumping them into the trashcan alongside Joann’s desk. “Some empty bar, apparently. I heard that it was going to go out of business soon.”
Nikki resisted the urge to roll her chocolate brown eyes. The bar wasn’t going out of business any time soon — in fact, this was the best that the establishment had been doing in years, as she had been told.
“I have to go,” Nikki murmured, bolting up from her seat and pushing open the door. “I need to look at something.”
“Alright, well, goodbye then,” Joann called after. “It was nice talking to you.” Nikki resisted the urge to roll her eyes at Joann’s sarcasm.
“Be sure to check your mailbox, Nicoletta,” the blonde girl hollered after her, and Nikki froze in place.
I never told her my name, she thought to herself, hastily walking out of the building and down the street —the same way that she had come. How did she know my name?
It wasn’t a question that she should’ve have asked for an answer to.