Counter-intuitive as it may sound, closing time was Al’s favorite time of the day . Though not for any of the obvious reasons.
Not because he was eager to finish work and head home, nor because he was looking forward to throw back a few beers with colleagues or friends after hours.
No, it was the silence.
Or rather the way the contrasting quiet enveloped the normally perpetually noisy bar like a soft blanket of solemnity when he finally locked the door of The Boatsman’s Ale House behind the last patron. For some reason the darkened and deserted locale conveyed a fuzzy feeling of comfort and tranquillity in him. The layout of the place was so familiar that he hardly needed to turn on any lights. The streetlights shining through the dirt-streaked windows from the outside combined with the softly humming neon sign over the bar provided ample illumination for him to safely navigate the premises and finish up his work for the night.
So Al took his time wiping down the tables and flipping the chairs while enjoying the calm solitude in an almost meditative state.
“It’s not like Jess is sitting at home eagerly waiting anyway,” he mumbled sarcastically to nobody in particular.
He had forgotten where she said that she was going that night – some random upscale party probably – but truth be told, he didn’t really care. Al wasn’t invited, and wouldn’t have attended even if he had been. In fact, many of her friends probably didn’t even know that she was married. She didn’t wear her wedding ring anymore because of ‘allergies’.
“Yeah right,” Al thought sardonically.
To say that they had drifted apart was the understatement of the century and, given his recent discovery, ever drifting back together was a highly unlikely prospect.
“Maybe I’m getting old,” he sighed.
It was a feeling that often assailed him as of late. The feeling of being an old man long past his prime and hopelessly stuck at a dead end, while Jessica seemed to retain all the energy and drive of a high school sophomore. Al just couldn’t keep up anymore. There was no denying that they lived very different lives, and had probably done so for a while before he realized it.
Just in that moment his depressing train of thoughts was derailed by an unexpected noise. The sound of somebody knocking softly on the front door.
He almost dropped a tray of dirty glasses from sheer surprise.
“What the fuck?” he thought to himself. “Who is dumb enough to knock on the door to a closed bar with all the lights out in the middle of the night? Like hell I’d open for anybody at this hour.”
Certain that he couldn’t be seen from the outside Al stood unmoving next to a table waiting for the knocker to give up and go away. Whomever it was would not be ignored however and kept at it with dogged persistency.
Al considered his options.
Calling the cops was of course the safest bet, but in this part of town they had a fairly long response time this late at night. Especially to incidents that weren’t emergencies. He could risk being stuck in the bar till early morning. And simply waiting for the person to get tired and go away seemed an equally long prospect, given the persistent nature of whomever was out there.
“Arh fuck it!”
He grabbed the revolver from under the desk, checked the cylinder (yep, fully loaded) and went to answer the door. The knocking finally stopped just as he grabbed the handle.
Gun in hand and ready for anything Al carefully inched the door open.
“Sorry, but we’re closed…” he started. But the next words froze in his throat.
A petite redheaded girl sporting one of those edgy asymmetric hairstyles with partly shaved areas and dressed in a black leather jacket decorated with a myriad of patches sat slumped next to the door in a widening pool of blood. She looked sickly pale and weak.
“Help,” she pleaded with an almost inaudible voice.
“Holy shit!” Al exclaimed and pocketed his revolver. “What happened here? Oh my god lass, you are bleeding bad. Come on! Let’s get you inside quickly.”
Al wasn’t a big man, but luckily the girl was unusually light, and he had no problem dragging her inside and locking the door behind them. He tried to handle her as gently as possible, but if she had been attacked by somebody, that somebody could still be out there. Getting them both inside was a priority, he decided.