It was another dead Thursday night at the smoke-filled hole-in-the-wall bar, Rusty’s. The bartender set out to look busy, vigorously scrubbing the bar top, waiting for the regulars to drag in. There was a wet musk scent in the air. Besides the homeless man in the back booth, there was not a soul in the joint. Most of the people rolled in closer to midnight after their late shifts and were gone within an hour. Startled by the bell on the door, the bartender failed to see someone settle into the chair nearest him.
Perhaps he was daydreaming again, but it was rather early for this particular customer to be here tonight. The regular appeared across from him as if he had been there all evening. He never saw the man come or go, ever. The customer did not give out his name and it was rare for the man to talk. He was just the ‘silent patron’ over the past three months since he started coming in on Thursdays. At least he tipped well, paid in cash, and always ordered vodka on the rocks, top shelf stuff. The bartender started making the drink, without having to ask.
“Evening,” A deep stern voice flowed from the lips of the regular. He was a broad shouldered man and wore a hooded sweatshirt and baseball cap, the brim low, hiding the expression on his face. “Slow night?”
“It’s Thursday.” Tony the bartender replied, relieved that the man at the bar was willing to talk for a change. “Here you go, one Goose on the rocks. Besides, you’ve been here every Thursday, it’s always slow.”
The bartender slid the glass toward his customer who met him halfway. There was a slight pause, as Tony could not help but stare at the man’s left hand as it glided the drink away. He was missing his ring finger and curiosity was itching at the back of Tony’s mind once more. Tonight he decided to investigate the story behind the man’s missing digit.
“I just have to ask, how did you lose your finger?” He gave the mysterious customer a conversational grin. “Was it work related? I get some good stories from a lot of the guys about how their wedding bands saved their lives and cost them their fingers.”
“No.” The man took a sip from his drink and gently placed it back down. “I refuse to let it grow back… That’s the only reason why it’s still missing.”
“What?” A sickening weight of dread came over Tony as he realized something was not natural in the man’s tone of voice. The other servers were right; something was very creepy about the Thursday night regular with the missing finger. This had to be a sick joke. He wasn’t serious, right? “You what?”
“I refuse to let it grow back.” Holding up his left hand, he raised his head, covering his expression except for one gleaming green eye that stared menacingly at Tony where the finger had once been. “When I find her again, I’ll allow it to come back. I know she is still out there. She is alive, but just out of my reach. I feel her even after all these centuries.”
“What are you?” Paling, Tony’s life drained from him. His instincts screaming, he reasoned against them. This was not your typical drunk off the streets, or was he? He finally stuttered his decision. “Y-You must be d-drunk.”
“I am nothing for you to be afraid of.” Tony could now see the strong jaw line and grave expression the stranger had on his face as he spoke. Finishing his vodka, the green-eyed man slid the glass back to him, beckoning for another. “The others make you work tonight because they can’t stand being in the same room as me. Shocked you’re still alive, in fact. You are the only human in the entire lot of bartenders that works here. Normally they would have taken advantage, but then again, there is a good reason as to why they haven’t yet.”
“What are you talking about?” Tony’s body moved automatically, bartending on its own. Shaking, he refilled the glass and reluctantly slid it back to his now frightening customer. “Cut it out, you’re go-going to spook me away too, you know?”
“Forgive me.” His grin revealed wolf-like fangs as he scoffed to himself. “Call me Cedric. I am no enemy to you, just looking for someone to talk to, that’s all. I have spent a lot of time alone with only my thoughts for company. Sometimes it’s nice to talk with another person, instead of being trapped in one’s own thoughts…”
“Ced-Cedric,” stammering, Tony was ready to melt where he stood, but something about Cedric made his curiosity override the fear clawing at him. A cold sweat sent chills across his back, his hands gripping the edge of the cooler of beer, afraid of his own questions, “How do you know about the other bartenders? What on earth did you say to spook them?”
“They are all female, yes?” He paused mid-sip while staring into the bartender’s eyes, realizing he’d failed to explain the significance in this fact. “Female vampires have an easier time than the males in regards to hiding that they are not human. They can control their bloodlust much better and tend to inherit and master illusion-based traits more often. Anyhow, they could smell my blood and knew something was not right. It’s like mice serving drinks to a hungry cat, or worse, a starving lion.”
“Vampires?” Feeling silly for letting himself get so worked up over a fairytale, Tony began to rationalize the story. Nodding, he gave Cedric a dismissive smile, “That’s cute, yes; women are like vampires.”
“You don’t believe me? Well, I suppose not in today’s world.” Cedric took a sip of his drink again. “Let me tell you a story, then, perhaps we can be friends? I do miss having someone to talk to...”
“I don’t know, Cedric. You’re a little out of my league at this rate.” Praying he had not offended him, Tony topped off Cedric’s glass, eyeing the missing finger once more. “You can call me Tony.”
“Well, Tony, I’ll make it a Thursday ritual to tell you my story. I have nothing else to do while I wait. It’s been far too long since I last indulged in another’s company.” Cedric let out a heavy sigh. His eyes grew dull as if looking far into the past as he spoke on, “My best friend, he passed away not too long ago. The old dog lived far too long for his kind, but I was glad to have someone like that to help me during those hard times. Good friends are hard to come by, especially in my case. He was all I had after I lost my girl…”
“So sorry to hear that,” Tony watched as Cedric’s green eyes became vacant for several minutes; the weight of pain and sorrow was unmistakable in his gaze. “It’s never good to lose a close friend, or your girl.”
“Where to start?” The shine returned to Cedric’s eyes as he finished another glass of vodka and nodded for his refill. “How about the first night I saw her? It’s only appropriate. Like the poet said so many years ago; ‘whoever loved that loved not at first sight’...”
“Yes, tell me about this girl of yours.” Tony eagerly refilled the glass, waiting to hear what kind of story this was going to be…