I’m examining each of my three main characters from the perspective of the other two. That’s six pieces of Flash Workshop Fiction with Elby, Baxter, and Marshall Garvin. This is #1 of 6.
She thought of him in a different way after Uncle Marsh pointed him out as Baxter, the suspicious guy. The whole town had their eye on him. After Elby had made the rounds among the girlfriends she had collected during school breaks over the years, she knew the town network lived and breathed almost nothing but Baxter.
On an impulse that Baxter might be inside, she walked to the bar in downtown, a place she had never been before. She didn’t even know the name of the place. It just said “Bar” over the door. She felt daring walking in unescorted, hesitant, afraid. The air smelled of cigarette smoke and spilled beer. When her eyes adjusted, she saw Baxter slide off a barstool and come to her.
“Seems everyone knows you except for me,” she said. Her anger flared more than she wanted. She had met him at Kip’s last night, two strangers who had a wonderful time listening to bluegrass music and drinking martinis. She had even kissed him in the back alleyway. But he never told her who he was.
He put his hand on her elbow to escort her to the seat beside him at the bar, and she pulled away from him. But she still sat beside him. She wanted to talk. No. She wanted a confession.
“I’m sorry if I have somehow offended you,” he said. His eyes looked sheathed in plastic in the barlight. She wondered how drunk he was. She’d scanned the bar in front of him as she sat. He had three shot glasses, one full of a golden liquid. Tequila, she guessed. “But I’m a stranger here and no one really knows me,” he said.
He leaned closer after he spoke. She thought he might keep coming like an out-of-balance drunk, but he stopped sharply and smiled, his black mustache changing from a parentheses into a dash. She lowered her head and her voice. “Everyone knows who you are. Everyone is watching you. The topic of conversation in this town is the long-lost son returns to Pagosa and begins looking for the long-lost Baxter treasure. And you didn’t even tell me.”
His eyes drifted away from her to the floor and he grinned, then chuckled. “I didn’t think anyone was paying attention.”
She tapped her finger on the bar wondering whether to believe him. The bartender took it as an order, and she sent him away for water, no ice. She squared to the bar and looked at the bottles of liquor. “Where are you from, anyway?”
Baxter turned to the bar as well, resting his elbows on the wood. “Texas.”
She waited for more, but he offered nothing. “What did you do?”
His impenetrable front infuriated her. She wanted to hurt him. Pierce his shell with something sharp. “Ever kill anyone?”
Baxter tensed, shuddered even, slammed his third drink down, shivered. “Yeah,” he finally growled. “But I don’t talk about it.”
His abrupt honesty took her back. When the bartender arrived with her water, she ordered two shots of what Baxter had been drinking. When they arrived, she slid one to him.
“Military?” she asked, trying to hold her hands steady. She could forgive him if it had been military.
Baxter flashed an angry face. “I’m not going to take your drink, and I’m not going to talk about it.” He got up, threw two twenties on the bar, and turned to go.
“Where are you going?” she asked with more volume than she had intended. Everyone in the bar looked toward them. She sounded desperate. Almost begging. She wanted to know more. She felt she deserved to know more than just the gossip.
He wheeled and glared at her for a microsecond, then quickly constructed a half-smile on his right side. He took a couple steps toward her and once again she worried he would lose his balance and fall into her. But he stopped crisply and put his hands on his hips. “If you must know, I’m going home to hydrate and take a nap. So I’ll be sharp when I have dinner with the retired geology professor who, I believe, is your uncle.”
He stood a fraction of an inch too close to her and she felt the burn in her face. “Why are you having dinner with Uncle Marsh?” she asked suddenly worried that this man would hurt her uncle.
He grinned, both sides of his face this time. “He graciously agreed to answer some questions I have about rocks,” he said. His eyes grew darker. “I do not plan to murder him, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m not that kind of killer.”
Elby’s cheeks felt like putty she couldn’t control. He could easily slap or hit her. Probably hard enough to knock her to the floor, maybe even unconscious. She’d found his button. And pushed it too hard. Even so, she almost blurted a question, asking if he’d ever murdered a girl in a bar in front of witnesses, but she restrained herself.
Baxter relaxed and rocked back. “The old man might even invite you. So I’m just giving you fair warning. Decide at your own risk.” He half-grinned again, nodded, then turned and walked out.
Elby’s eyes went wide. She took a long, deep breath and noticed everyone looking at her. She grabbed the shot of tequila she had ordered, saluted it to them, and drained it.