Short Story: An Unspoken Game Among Men

December was, as per the norm in much of the Northeast, damnably cold. A gust of wind often carried snow even in a cloudless city sky. The flakes cascaded from the heavens coming to a gentle rest upon my brim. I was feeling particularly dapper donning my favorite charcoal suit and accompanying fedora. Not a trilby, but a fedora. I say this to eliminate the confusion one might have about the two. To the initiated there is little difference, but for worldly gentleman it is drastic. For me, it is a matter of the bill size and its role in the relationship to the fairer gender. The larger bill a more appropriate defense against the element, but more importantly better at subterfuge when it came to the opposite sex’s attempts to get a clear view of your face. The sense of mystery enticed them in and elevated me beyond expectations.

The night started out as many after work Friday nights often do and my night was just beginning as pushed open the door into the bar. There were a few people seated staring blankly into their phones or at the muted televisions. The standard after work crowd. The kind of crowd that had just endured a long day of nothing important, but somehow still tired. The smell of cigarettes caressed my nostrils as I took my place at the bar. Sounds of banter and chatter filled my ears as I contemplated what to order to begin my weekly binge. The bartender, a short, curvaceous brunette with a chest you could set a drink on, asked with inviting eyes what I’d like.

“What can I get a hardworking gentleman to drink?” She asked. I couldn’t help but stare at her, lusting, before returning my gaze to the labeled booze behind her. I refocused my efforts on quenching my thirst as I scanned the shelf. Suddenly, a 12-year scotch caught my eye. A gentleman’s choice indeed. Not too expensive, but not a well drink either.

“Give me the 12 year and make the first one neat. Hold tight with any garnishments for the time being. I like the first one to be pure, virgin if you will.” I said poorly veiling my innuendo, but I was merely practicing my penchant for earning the ear of desirable acquaintances. A lab rat for my attempts at flattery and due to her predicament, she had no alternative but to listen to my lines. I’d tip her well of course for enduring my trial run of terribly crafted repartee.

She smiled and poured a tumbler of the amber finery. I told her to start my tab as I planned to be nested at the stool for the long haul. I fell in love with the scenery. A menagerie of young professionals, hopeful interns and the occasional CEO who had become known through his own self-importance in a singular area. Perhaps it was envy that guided my thinking, but his minions trolled in his path begging for the figurative scraps. The bevy of personalities enlightening the room and revealing numerous prospects for my eye.

An hour had passed as I sat taking in my surroundings. My second libation had arrived from the same hazel eyed brunette. This time on the rocks. To me the perfect evening of drinking was a step by step approach to creating a sophisticated drink. Keep the same base of alcohol but add piece by piece the parts to make it whole. A side car, an olive or an umbrella it did not matter, but one step at a time. Quality was a product of careful approach and drinks were not to be of lower quality.

Taking a sip of the second 12-year, it was then I saw the woman I elected to pursue that evening. Her dress was conservative to anyone who lacked imagination. Blue and high cut it hid her skin, but not her curves. It differed greatly from the bartenders, but it was not a fair comparison to make. The bartender was dressed appropriately for her chosen profession to yield the highest amount in tips. The woman in blue was office proper. The shoulder straps hugged her olive skin, and a stripe of faint discoloration skated down the sides. Instinctively, my gaze moved following her curves to her waist. Designed not doubt to attract attention, the dress hugged her feminine form in all the right ways and in all the right places. I couldn’t just rush over to confront her however. Surrounded by her friends and other pursing gentlemen, it would take some extra work to see this through to the end. But there was no harm in getting the ball rolling.

“Bartender? Please send a dirty martini to the woman in blue over there. If she asks there is no need to say who the drink his from, but assure her of its safety.”

I set my plan into motion earlier than anticipated. The clock had just struck 8 o’clock which was a bit early for my usually calculated approach, but a gamble for such an exquisite woman I deemed it acceptable. Naturally, I understood that a woman of higher caliber hardly would take notice of a drink. She’d accept it of course, but drinks were in not in short supply for a woman of her presumed station.

I returned my sights to the bar. The bartender shook up the martini. I chose gin in this case as I gambled as to whether or not vodka was her drink. Gin provided a distinctive flavor to the cocktail that vodka could not without the proper accompanying ingredients. Vodka’s burn could not be construed as a flavor, but gin was different. Hints of juniper and pepper mixed well with the brine. The martini was meant to be seen as an understanding of the refined and allowed me to gauge her more closely without getting to close for her comfort.

I watched with eager eyes as the bartender personally delivered the martini. For a moment, the two conversed and even laughed. I had to applaud the bartender for taking initiative on my behalf. A beautiful woman developing report with another over a gift from me, even without mentioning my name, would pay dividends later.

“The lady accepted the drink sir.” The bartender said. “She wasn’t overly impressed with the fact you bought her a drink. A gal like her is not one to be easily moved by simple overtures. Don’t worry though I see it that a lot.”

That notion she would not be easily swayed hardly surprised me. The input from the bartender wasn’t necessary and I imagined just a hint of jealously was the driving factor behind it. The bartender certainly could not be singled out for her feelings as the men circling the woman in blue hawked around seeking out the man who put himself at the front of the line. The laws of attraction made it so a woman under any circumstance a woman would undercut a perceived rival, provided of course she was not already betrothed, but often even that was hardly a deterrent. Amateur night had begun with a simple friendly gesture. Now drinks of all kinds poured in from all directions. Any true connoisseur of the art would have waited out the storm. The other were simply buying her friends a moment of gratification without the intent and perhaps that was their aim, but it was not mine tonight.

As the minutes ticked by and the night aged, the crowd whittled away and either consciously or not, the woman’s group ventured closer to the bar. I began to become less collected whether due to the vicinity of the woman or from the copious amount of 12 years I’d consumed. I feared to look at the bill, but that moment was drawing near perhaps only an hour or two then suddenly my plan was turned asunder.

“Why only the one martini?” A sultry voice whispered behind me raising the hairs on my neck to full mast.

The woman in blue had made her way to me without further delay and I had been caught lost in my own imagination. The 12 year often had its way with my cognition, but a man should not let it get the best of him in a public situation and yet here I sat staring at the woman I had pegged for mine hours earlier. She broke the plane of personal space and sat crossed legged at the nearest stool her heels ever so slightly caressing my dress shoes.

“It was merely a polite gesture.” I said trying to keep my chivalrous stature the difficulty of which had increased tenfold as she discreetly brushed my thigh. “I guessed at the lady’s choice of cocktail. Happy hours are call for many different drinks. I just hope it was to your liking.”

She smiled much to my excitement. I tried not to mince my words but again the 12 year owned my tongue. I assumed I was slurring my speech a tad but her facial expressions wouldn’t confirm it.

“The gin was delightful I will admit. Normally, a guy plays it a bit safer than that since it does have a unique set of flavors. I scanned the room for a man that defies the mere notion of playing it safe. You played the situation with a sense of thrill, not danger which is good. It was the fedora that got me though. I just had to see who was under that brim.”

Validation for mysterious play calling wasn’t needed, but was welcomed. I knew how I approached the situation better than most, but stifled my inner sense cockiness to tell her. She was as I had hoped she would be. Confident yet approachable to right man with the precise mindset.

“Tell me. What is your name?” I asked hoping to accelerate beyond pleasantries and into a more intimate theater. Names were not meant to be given lightly as in doing so invited the other through the gateway into greater conversation.

“Annette. Annette is my name and you, what may I call you?” She asked nearly completing the seduction me with her words. I had a treasure trove of names I’d prefer to use other than my own if the situation warranted such a thing, but honesty was a weakness of a true gentleman in the face of a true lady.

“Most know me as William. There are other choicer names I’ve been given, but those are not for casual conversation.” I replied humorously. Whilst we laughed I peered back at her through catching a glimpse of her eyes. They were two emeralds or green diamonds if there was such a thing. No precious stone could properly describe, but judging by the intoxicating effect they had maybe absinthe was a better adjective. Yes, they were like two tumblers of absinthe that were dragging me further in.

We conversed for a while about our likes and peeves. I mentioned my affinity for Hemingway, baseball and nights in the city. She sewed tales about her weekends at the beach and the special place to had in her heart for a white Christmas. I laughed at her jokes and she at mine. We were in the real thick of it.

“My days on the stage were the happiest moments of my life I’ll admit. I no longer command the center stage, but it opened doors for that I never thought possible and introduced me to so many wonderful people.” She said with a sigh clearly missing the limelight.

She regaled me with more of the same stories, but none were beyond my interests. I marveled at Annette’s tales of the stage. She had been in many. I did not recognize her, but costumed and in makeup I could see why I wouldn’t. Avoiding the theater for better did not pay any dividends now.

“Let me by a gentleman a drink?” She asked. The unorthodox nature that oft joined the reversal of roles was inviting to the adventuresome man. Such a request was enough for me to agree, but as it happened the bartender alerted us to the fact that she no longer had the 12 year and asked if the local swill would do. I concurred reluctantly as it went against the purpose of my calculated system, but the deal was done and I took a sip. It provided a bigger mistake than I could ever imagine. The swill was indeed that, swill. I stammered for a moment before, what as I vaguely remembered, crashing to the floor.

I awoke with what felt like the weight of a thousand stones heaped atop my skull. The headache was more than palpable and at first I blamed the 12 year since it had been the source of many next morning ailments, but the true cause was yet unknown. It not only inhibited my thought, but my body as well as I struggled to move. I resigned myself to the fact I was immobile for reasons that had yet to be relived. I tried to discover the hour, but to no avail. The room was as black as a raven’s back until a light switched on forcing my eyes into a squint. Annette stood in the doorway a silhouette of her negligee outlined her perfect form.

“I’m sorry William, but I must be brief with you. No doubt you are wondering what time it is and where we are.” She said. I tried to nod, but soon realized my head and been tied down as were my hands, feet and chest. I was bound to the bed and gagged. Finally, it dawned on me that through it all I had been setup. If I could have spoken and I’d have applauded her for going the extra mile to out duel me.

“You are in the hotel above the bar, but what room I dare not say. No doubt if you manage to leave this place you’ll know, but I shall be long departed by that time. Again, time is not of value to you at the moment.” She said devilishly as the realization that I had been drugged and God knows what else.

I could only watch as she got dressed her naked form a taunting reminder of what never was to be. A siren was in my midst, but I was far from the ocean. Her song was silent, but just has enticing. She had her pick at the bar last night and chose the most dangerous of game. Her movements more calculated than most. It was all I could do to determine how she had decided upon me as her victim. Then it dawned on me. The 12 year opened her to his world just ever so slightly and the rest was a calculated risk versus reward approach. She had bested me with nothing more than a woman’s intuition.

I listened as she rustled about in silence packing her things and most likely stealing mine. Thankfully it wasn’t much aside from my wallet that were of any real value. I couldn’t recall the evening beyond the final drink so if I did not pay my tab then my wallet would be full. I had envisioned a full evening and settled on a single bar because of her. A man can be prepared, but nothing can prepare a man for a woman. It was my dad’s motto, but it worked in nearly all occasions.

“William sweetie, I’m going to ask that you forget our little rendezvous.” She said as she approached the bed. “It isn’t anything personal. You seem like a sweet guy, but this is what I do for a living. Your seeing perhaps the most intimate part of my existence outside of skin to skin contact. You should really feel honored.”

Honored? I thought to myself. I was tied to a bed and my belongings were in the process of being hawked from me. The money was problematic, but temporary. The worst offense being she felt the need to take my fedora as well. The hat defined my existence and the cover I needed to stealthily navigate the inner workings on the city without notice. Rarely did I acknowledge an affront to my manhood, but stealing a hat of such quality went too far. She could never understand the intrinsic value it held.

“Thanks for the lovely evening. Dare I ask you please leave my hat? It is for the sake of dignity.” I said in the most sarcastic tone I could muster with such an awful headache. But as I said it I thought I heard the door crack open. Annette appeared to not notice as she leaned him and pecked a kiss on my forehead.

She pulled back her hair into as ponytail as she stood up. A devious grin penetrated the darkened room. All sympathy I harbored dissipated in an instant. I struggled against my restraints as she turned to walk out of the room.

“Goodbye dear William.” She said, but the figure behind had finally crept upon her.

“What are you doing here? I said you’d get your cut!” Annette yelled at the unknown figure and without warning I heard a crack as Annette was struck. Her unconscious body landing on the edge of the bed. I braced for my turn as the figured emerged from the darkened corridor.

It was the bartender from the night before. Although I was confined due to my situation, I could tell she was certainly more casually dressed as she stood with a bloodied ball bat. Annette slumped to floor beside the bed. I awaited my turn to be bludgeoned.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you unless you open that mouth of yours. You drank all of my 12 year and forgot to pay last night. I told her to let you pay, but she wouldn’t listen. Darlene just always had to have it her way. Well, as you can see I tired of her games.”

The bartender struck the woman, whom I had come to now know was named Darlene, across the back. Darlene groaned with each strike but did not move. The brutal nature of the attack almost me empathize with her current plight as I too was immobile and in pain. The bartender sorted through my belongings and then checked Darlene’s raising my money high into the air in a symbol of victory. She came over and removed my gag.

“Please don’t take my hat.” Were somehow the only words I could utter despite my current quandary. It dawned on me that hat meant more to me than I could ever comprehend. I had begged on two separate occasions for it to be spared separation.

“I’ll take my share and we call it even?” The bartender said pocketing my money and tossing the fedora on the coffee table. She untied me and as I tried to stand I fell to the floor. She walked out without looking back. I struggled to regain my strength. The drugs Darlene had used were toxic indeed. My legs felt like gelatin and even if I wanted to pursue the bartender I couldn’t. I was relegated to the floor.

After what felt like an eternity I tried to stand this time successfully. I leaned over to check Darlene’s pulse. It was weakened by the blow but not lost. Shamefully, for a moment I debated about finishing the bartenders work, but chose to let God play it out. I flicked on the rest of the lights and saw her laying in a pool of her own blood much more than I would have guessed was spilled. In a final act of what one might call chivalry, I moved her more comfortably onto the bed and dressed her wounds. My headache would be nothing by comparison when she awoke from her concussed state.

As I got dressed to go, I noticed that her blue dress hung on the closet door. The memories of the night before climbed out from the darkest recesses of my memory. The attraction the dress caused and the events that followed were enough. I decided to take the dress as a reminder. A reminder of the woman who bested me in a game I dare not play again.

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