Chapter 4 Brother, my cup is empty
It was early. Downtown Austin was quiet and heating up slow.
A red Dodge pickup pulled in outside an Irish pub on 204 East Sixth Street. The sign on the side was a picture of two merry Irishmen, leaning on each other, and it read ‘The Gingerman’.
It was a grand old building: three stories tall with a couple of red birch trees sticking out of the sidewalk out front. White stone in long columns looked like they had come straight off of Mount Olympus. Tall brown doors. The floors above were apartments with tall thin windows that made for high ceilings but not a lot else. It was penned in by an Italian restaurant called ‘Gino’s’ on the right and a science centre for kids on the left.
Porter deliberately parked too close to a red striped Mini Cooper. He got out and went inside.
He passed through the tiled entrance, passing framed adverts for Paddy’s Irish whiskey and Cork Distilleries, harkening back to some grand Irish renaissance in the fifties. It was kitsch and it made him sick. He stopped to put his keys back in his pocket, and lifted his eyes to the Notre Dame sign with the fighting Irish leprechaun. It was hanging from an antique cabinet Patrick had decided to put in the entrance. Porter shook his head and went into the pub proper.
The smell of dried cork and wood soaked in whiskey hit him as soon as he got inside. Real wood, real old wood. It was a classic Irish pub: small round wooden tables with small round wooden stools, that were as uncomfortable as they looked, dotted very little floor space.
There were some square tables in the corner, which had chairs with backs and cushions, for when this place pretended to be a restaurant. This usually involved Patrick grilling something that had once been alive.
The walls were a warm orange and, of course, were covered with classic Guinness adverts and memorabilia of all sorts: anything vaguely Irish. Leprechauns and whiskey were a key theme. There was space for one flag that had a silhouette of a steer’s head on it and the word ‘Texas’.
There were old black and white portraits of Irish writers and musicians. There were shelves decorated with little kitsch porcelain figures and old clocks, dusty books, violins, ships anchors and mini ship wheels.
The bar was long and mahogany and was so shiny it glowed in the Texas morning cast off. It curved around the entire length of the pub but was sectioned off into little mini bars, catering to different drinks. Porter took a seat on the end, at the elbow of the bar, and grazed with his eyes. More Guinness signs. A four leaf clover was drawn on a chalk specials board. A flat screen TV hung at a jaunty angle in the corner. It showed a snooker game.
“Top’o the mornin’ to yah. What can I do’ya fer?” A man with strawberry blond hair wearing a polo shirt said from behind the bar.
“Ay and begora, dey I look like your feckin’ secretary?”
Porter looked down from the TV and lengthened his face in response. The man was smiling, but chewing on a ‘fuck you’ grin. He was a little taller than average height, clean-shaven, with a strong jaw and chin, and a wide forehead strafed with worry lines. His hair was short and curly. He looked like Porter but younger by a few seconds.
Porter smiled at the man who dropped the attitude and leant on the bar; he dropped the accent too. “No calls.”
Porter shrugged, still smiling that shit-eating grin. “I don’t need to bust your chops,” the red-haired man continued. “Looks like someone beat me to it. What happened? I thought you could fight. Didn’t you do that tae kung do fu or something? Aiki-ju-sudoku? Did you sleep in your truck again? You look like dried bird shit on a catamaran.” He chuckled to himself as he began pulling a pint of Guinness on an old-fashioned tap that looked like the long arm of a one-armed bandit.
“It was boxing and you know because you did it too”
“I don’t remember. Then why didn’t you fight back?
“Can’t afford a lawyer.”
The red-headed man laughed and put the full pint of Guinness on the bar with a heavy plonk.
“Always was one who loved punishment. You need to find yourself a woman; that’s for the true masochists.” He folded his arms and nodded at the pint of black liquid on the bar. “Don’t all those private eyes, in the dime store novels, have offices? Ones with mousey little brunette secretaries that secretly fall madly in love with them?”
Porter smirked and said, “You’re cheaper.”
Porter took a pull on the Guinness and set it back down as Patrick went on.
“What good is a PI who keeps getting caught spying on people? Your problem is you like watching people too much, not talking to them or being around them, oh no. Just watching.”
Porter sighed. “What do you think?” Patrick went on. “I had the pump heads cleaned.”
“Still tastes like cigarette butts and dishwater.”
“Well, fuck me sideways, no way I’m paying Sean Murphy for this. He can fuck off back to O’Hennesey’s, useless fucker.”
“You got the remote?”
“Yeah sure, lemme look for it. I know it was around here somewhere.” Patrick ducked behind the bar and ferreted around amidst sticky bar mats and Twizzlers.
There was a mirror behind the bar. Porter took the time to look at his lip, pulling it down with a finger and looking at the blood on his gums. He did look like shit. His face was pale and looked wet and sickly. His wide forehead looked slick but had less pronounced worry lines than his brother’s. His jowls looked sloppy and his laughter lines were deep-set, like scoring on fresh dough. The two of them were born minutes apart, but Porter had taken the mantle of firstborn and everything had gone downhill from there.
Their father had left Patrick the bar, but due to a falling out, Porter had been written out of the will. Their mother had died when they were still boys. All that aside, Pat let Porter rent the apartment above the bar for a brotherly sum. Porter could work his little PI business on the side and Pat had the apartment on the top floor.
Patrick came up with the remote and Porter stopped looking at himself. Pat caught him and shook his head. “Sure, you’re gorgeous,” he said in his fake Irish accent. Porter changed the channel to the news. They caught the end of a story about some fat guy driving his car on the wrong side of the freeway. Porter padded himself down, took out a pack of Camels and put them on the bar. He took one out and slipped it under the growing welt on his lip.
Patrick shook his finger at Porter. “Tut tut tut, no smoking.”
“Since when?” Porter said, snatching the cigarette out of his own mouth.
“It’s the law now, bucko!”
“There’s no one in here.”
“I’m in here and, if I wanted my lungs the color of Guinness, I’d go down and drown myself in the stuff.”
The news cut in with a breaking story. A black anchorwoman furrowed her brow with faux concern and lowered her voice.
“We’ve been leaked a heartbreaking story of a boy who returned home after four years of being missing.
“We don’t have much. Inside sources say ‘Johnny Bartlett’ was abducted when he was just thirteen years of age. Held against his will in Spain, he finally escaped and was found by police.” The video cut from the anchor to stock footage of the boy coming off the plane in San Antonio. People were taking pictures and asking silent questions of the boy in the dark glasses who spoke only in whispers, with his hood up and his cap pulled down low. “Bartlett was discovered by Linares police. Officials in the US embassy confirmed his identity with the aid of his sister and issued his citizenship, allowing him to return to the US.” It cut back to the anchor, shuffling papers. “There’s as of yet no news on his abductors, but I’m sure the family is just happy to have their missing child back, regardless of how late he may be for dinner.” With that catchy line and a quick reassuring smile, she moved on to financial news and then the weather. “Sounds like a load of shite to me” Patrick said as he changed the channel back to snooker.