This little watering hole a few miles outside of town wasn’t much of anything, but Roy liked that it looked just sinister enough to discourage anybody besides the locals from pulling off the highway: it was their own version of a gentleman’s club. For Roy, it was also his winding down place, where he routinely stopped on the way home from work. His wife gave him grief about it sometimes, but she’d long be in bed and asleep when he pulled into the driveway later on; she might moan a little when he flipped on the nightstand lamp.
Tonight’s job had run late. It was Roy’s turn to take the emergency calls, mop up the messes people left in the wake of a bad decision—typically a series of bad decisions. Now it was a hair past midnight, but there was still some time before last call. This time it had been a privileged family on the opposite end of town, a bungled attempt to install an appliance. The man had fouled his InSinkErator beyond repair, and imagining he could install the new one himself, instead not only somehow ruptured the cold water feed but also damaged an electric outlet under his kitchen sink: he had damn near electrocuted himself. Roy imagined it might not have been such a bad thing for that one to come out of the gene pool.
Inside Carl’s Cavern was dark and comfortable. A little light shone over the billiards table, where nobody was playing, and behind the bar more light glowed from the neon signage that hung in every establishment like this one. Clint Black crooned a ‘90s country standard over the sound system, not too loudly at this late hour. Roy pulled up a stool at the precise instant Billy closed the tap after filling a pint glass with the frothy goodness people came for; he plunked down a small cardboard coaster with scalloped edges—‘Budweiser,’ it read in its familiar red and blue typeface—and placed the pint on top of it. “Long day?”
“I swear, my house is built on the misfortune of rich sumbitches who thank they know how to fix thangs. Dumbass decided he could install a new dis-POS-all, make the wife happy, prove his manhood. Because, how hard could it be?”
The two men exploded in laughter; Billy mopped the bar with a rag, which then disappeared in a bus tub behind the counter. And then Billy himself disappeared to the opposite end of the bar to close out the tab for a pair who were leaving. Roy decided he might shoot some pool; he cupped his pint in one hand and slid off the stool. At the billiards table he gathered up the balls in the rack and then chose a que stick, chalked up its tip and leaned down to survey his first shot, taking care to avoid his pint glass. He imagined the man with the new InSinkErator was not much good at pool. He sent up a little prayer of thanksgiving for that man and all the others like him who made it so easy for Roy to live in relative luxury himself, a thing he imagined his elite clientele could not guess about him. He aimed to keep it that way.