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Wednesday, 12 November 2008 00:00

Jack's Place - Intro

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It was before the Great War. All the tall buildings were still standing, the sun was so bright you couldn't look at it, and there was green and blue everywhere; the sky, the trees, the ocean. God, it was beautiful. I was a bartender back then, if you can believe it. "Ol' Happy Jack" they used to call me. And it was true. For a long time, things were good.

I remember the night everything changed. It wasn't so clear at first, but deep down I knew something "different" was about to happen. When those three showed up out of the blue, well, I just should have known the clock was ticking...

The wind gusted, and the heavy oak door to Jack's Place nflew open, startling everyone in the bar, except the bartender himself. Jack was an older man, graying where his hair remained, but still able-bodied. His mouth was almost completely hidden beneath a thick, salt and pepper mustache. The kind worn by Wyatt Earp in the old gunslinger days.

He observed three newcomers as they stumbled in from the elements, but didn't pause as he wiped down the top of an antique, mahogany bar. A storm had descended upon Boston with a fury during the evening rush, and those unfortunate enough to be caught pedestrian were scurrying to safety and comfort.

The first one inside was Colin—a clean-shaved, good looking young man with what could only be salon styled blond hair. He was clutching a mess of soaking wet papers and a briefcase that wouldn't stay shut. His two companions, a man and woman in their mid-thirties named Tom and Amy, were close behind with similar handfuls.

When the clamorous wind and rain was finally muted by the closed door, the deep, sorrowful rumble of Johnny Cash could be heard playing on a 40's style, round top jukebox.

The bar's three most recent patrons looked quite out of place; their expensive designer business attire clashed with more modest surroundings. The trio picked a table and set down the soggy documents. Once their hands were free, they unwrapped themselves from their rain-soaked leather and taffeta trench coats, and hung them next to the native flannel and oilcloth.

Jack straightened as the irate owner of the defective briefcase walked briskly to the bar and leaned slightly towards him.

“Hey, my man,” Colin spoke politely, but didn't look Jack in the eyes. & ldquo;I don't suppose I could bother you for a couple of dry towels?”

Jack nodded and lifted a small stack of neatly folded, white washcloths from next to the sink, and placed them on the bar. Thinking Colin looked familiar, Jack was about to start up a conversation, but without a thank you, he snatched them up and returned to his companions, and they began meticulously dab-drying and sorting the papers into piles.

Their activities received the occasional curious glance, but were otherwise ignored by everyone except Jack. He kept his eyes trained on their table, squinting and studying them as he resumed his efforts to bring the bar to a polished shine.

“I can't believe this damn week,” said Colin. “Like we needed any more crappy luck.”

& ldquo;Don't sweat it, Boss," Tom returned. "That's what copies are for." He was older and less handsome than Colin, but a taller, more imposing figure. He skillfully combed out the moisture from his black hair and neatly trimmed short mustache and goatee.

“Yes, but collecting them is going to waste another day.” Colin crumpled a ruined document in disgust, and threw it at the table where it bounced onto the floor. “We're short on time as it is.”

Tom picked it up, and shoved it in his pants pocket.

“What if I help Tom tomorrow?” Amy began. “Just one day, we could cover twice as much ground, and be back in time to help you with the—”

“No,” Colin interrupted, grabbing her hand. “ I need you with me at the office tomorrow. We're going to get a lot of calls after today's ass-handing, and I need to be able to focus if we're going to find a way back into this damn case.”

Jack nodded to himself as he eavesdropped on their conversation. I knew you looked familiar, he thought. He recognized them now as part of the prosecution team in the high profile South Shore Strangler case that was all over the news.

Amy—an attractive, slender brunette—pouted and looked apologetically over to Tom, who just smiled and shrugged.

Colin noticed the exchange and rolled his eyes. “I promise Amy, as soon as this trial is over, you guys can take a vacation and do whatever pointless, nasty things you do together as much as you want.”

“Pointless and nasty?” Tom chuckled. “What, so now you don't like women?”

“My career requires total focus right now,” Colin replied. “I can't afford that kind of distraction.”

“You're wasting your youth, buddy.” Tom shook his head. “Okay, I realize you're shooting for legendary status at city hall right now, but are you going to wait until you need the little blue pill before you let yourself enjoy the benefits?”

“There's more to life than booty, buddy.” Colin held his hands up at Amy, who had raised her eyebrows. “No offense.”

“Geesh, how could I take offense to being called &# 39;pointless, nasty booty'?” Amy said in mock indignation.

Colin closed his eyes and took a dramatically exhausted breath. “Whatever. I'm going to hit the head. One of you order drinks. I'll have a martini.” He pulled his wallet out and slapped a gold card on the table.

“How do you want it?” Tom asked.

“Doesn't matter,” Colin didn't look back. “They probably only make it one way here anyways.”

Tom flinched and glanced at the bar. Jack pretended not to hear. Tom seated himself in front of Jack and waited. Colin was out of earshot before he apologized. “Sorry about my friend. He's really a good guy, it's just been a rough week.”

“I can imagine,” said Jack. His bass-filled, gravelly voice was used to much louder conversations. “You guys really took it in the tush today after your own witness decided to lose it.”

Tom choked on whatever words he was about to say next, and coughed.

“News sometimes makes it to old TVs too,” Jack said as he aimed a thumb up at a dusty screen, silently playing a black and white football game. “What can I get for you?”

“Um... right. Well, I'll take two of whatever you have on draft, and a martini.”

“How'd you like that?”

“I uh...” Tom scratched behind his ear. “However you normally make them here is fine.”

“Everyone likes them different,” Jack placed a spotless martini glass on the bar. “I think I know his type though.”

As Jack prepared the drink, he stepped aside to give Tom a clear view of the museum of trinkets that covered the wall behind him. Many were keepsakes and heirlooms from Jack's own family, like a polished, silver-handled flintlock pistol, and a beautiful Indian chief's headdress adorned with eagle feathers, artfully set opposite a black cowboy hat and lariat. He grinned at Tom's thoughtful expression when he looked at the more trivial items, like a pinwheel missing one of its curls, and what appeared to be a broken broom handle with an ominous red stain on the sharp edge. Jack had seen it enough times times that he knew which look would cross a person's face when their eyes passed over a certain part of the wall, and he could almost always guess which item someone was looking at.

When Tom looked down, his lips puckered for a whistle. The bar top itself was an exhibit of world currency, with both paper and coin money from across the globe arrayed beneath a hard, resin coating in painstakingly accurate regional placement. “This is wonderful.” Tom brushed a hand across the coins of the Orient in admiration. “Who did this?”

“First owner. Long, long time ago.” Jack set three drinks on the bar. “That's seven dollars even.”

Tom's eyes opened wide. “That's it? Awesome.” He handed over Colin's gold card.

Jack fumbled with his card machine, causing some error beeps. Eventually he stopped trying to get it to work, and started scratching his chin.

“I didn't realize it would be so inexpensive. I can use cash instead, if you like.” Tom offered.

“No, no,” he said, waving Tom off. “I better learn how to use this thing in case this happens again. Sorry, been a while since we've gotten anyone in here but the cash-paying regulars.”

Jack resumed his efforts, and after a minute, the machine whirred a receipt up for him to tear off. Tom double checked it, then tucked it in his wallet.

Amy snuck up behind Tom, wrapped her arm around his shoulder, and kissed him on the cheek. “What's up big guy?”

“Not much.” He wiggled a finger at the wall. “Take a look at all this stuff.& rdquo;

Amy perused the scenery. “Wow, this is beautiful.”

Tom gulped back a mouthful of chilled beer. “Oh yeah, I needed that. Thanks, uh...”

“Jack. It's my place.”

“Thanks, Jack. So you said your TV gets the news, any chance I could catch the evening edition?”

“Sure, Patriots aren't playing today anyways.”

Jack reached up and twisted a circular channel knob on the front, turning up the volume. Right on time, a reporter was talking about the day's court fiasco under the heading “SOUTH SHORE STRANGLER TO BE ACQUITTED?”

A little black and white Colin could be seen pushing his way through a hungry mob of flashing cameras, angrily responding to every question being thrown at him. There was one that the news station seemed to be focusing on as they replayed it a number of times. In response to a possible mistrial and acquittal, Colin replied, “I think Judge Hayes is smart enough to realize the defense is desperate to find a loophole, because they know Derek Mansfield is guilty of murdering those five residents of Boston's South Shore. They aren't even trying to put together a real case anymore! If by some disgusting perversion of our legal system, he is acquitted because of today's events, I fully applaud any civilian vigilante efforts to bring him to justice, because the law will have proven its utter futility.”

“Oh, Colin.” Tom swayed in his seat, as though on the verge of passing out. “It sounds even worse on TV.& rdquo;

“He's going to catch hell for this one.” Amy, visibly less troubled, cheerfully tipped her beer to her lips.

“I really like your friend!” Jack grinned, and thumped the bar with a heavy hand. “He reminds me of ol' Renley Dumont.”

“Who?” Tom and Amy said together.

“Renley Dumont. He was a prosecutor here in Boston that became pretty popular in the early seventies, partly thanks to his saying stuff like that.” Jack pointed at the TV as they replayed the worst part yet again. “Really fun to watch, and he sure went after the bad guys, just like Colin.”

“How did he keep from getting in trouble?” Asked Tom.

& ldquo;Didn't. They put a bullet in him.& rdquo;

Tom's jaw slackened.

“They?” Amy made herself comfortable on her stool. She set her elbows on the bar, and rested her chin on entwined fingers.

“Never caught the guy.” Jack gazed over at a vacant corner of the bar as he continued. “As it turns out, Renley had a dark side, darker than most. He didn't have quite the record Colin is working on. He lost just as many cases as he won. But the crooks he didn't send to prison had a habit of turning up dead. Let's just say Renley's nightlife was... not dismissible.”

“Why I haven't heard of this before?” asked Tom. “Something like that should have made national news.”

“So you'd think,” said Jack. “But his story is mostly buried and forgotten now. As it stands, only a handful of people outside of myself know what really happened to Renley Dumont.”

“I thought you said you didn't know who shot him.” Amy said.

“I said they never caught the guy.” Jack winked at her. He then grabbed a nearby broom and began to sweep his area.

Tom waited for a few moments, but when Jack made no signs of continuing, he pursued. “Oh come on, you can't leave it like that!”

“Really,” Amy added. “I won't be able to sleep now until I know who shot him.”

“You might have more trouble sleeping if I did tell you, sweetheart.” Jack leaned over the bar close to them, and spoke quietly. “You sure you want to hear this story?”

“After that set up, I have to hear it.” Tom gripped the edge of the bar, like a kid on a roller coaster about to make the first wild descent.

Jack considered it for a moment, but came to a decision quickly. Well, here we go again.

“Okay, just so long as you know, this is one of those stories that can change a person. The world can become a different place. But I meant what I said about Colin reminding me of Renley. I see that same look in his eye. Maybe if I tell you this story, you can help make sure your friend doesn't walk down that road.”

Tom and Amy nodded solemnly. They hadn't noticed, but the other patrons of Jack's Place had become quiet, and there was no longer music playing from the jukebox.

Jack set down his broom, and scanned back and forth across the wall of treasures. Finally, he reached his arm out and chose a torn red bow tie to hold for a moment between his thumb and forefinger. Well, sure haven't thought about you in a while, Renley... “It was 1973, right here in Boston.” Jack turned back to his audience. “I was twenty years old. A killer the papers had been calling the Wolf was stalking the streets at night, and putting the fear of God into the hearts of criminals throughout the city...”

 

 

 

 

 

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