a Tough Luck Lounge Story
by Lois Crockett
It's a given that whenever anybody comes into a bar and hands you, the bartender, a C-note off the bat, chances are it's counterfeit. Or they want to buy something off you really bad, like information or just some of your precious time,. Off-shift, if you get what I mean.
Let me begin by stating I'm Stacey Jennifer Longacre, bartender and drunk-wrangler extraordinare at Spark's Ocean Bar & Grille in Pompano Beach, Florida. I've been working jobs like this since I was 16 and could get away with lying about being 18 so I've learned a little along the way. These days I'm thirty, dirty (just a little bit), and flirty. I usually covered days but this time I pulled a night shift, covering for one of the girls who begged off in favor of a heavy date. I also happen to be single, thin in all the right places and stand about five-four. I have hazel eyes and long streaky light brown or dark blonde hair depending on how much time I've been at the beach.
So when a tall, skinny string bean of a guy in a gray sharkskin suit handed me the $100 bill, I arched an eyebrow, left the bill on the rail and asked him what he'd like. He ordered a 7-and-7, the lowest common denominator of mixed drinks. I treated him to a good pour of Seagram's 7 and a splash of 7-Up, just in case the $100 bill was real and asked if he wanted me to take the price of the drink out of that. He shook his head no and handed me a twenty. I still left the hundred on the rail, thinking about it but not picking it up. He straightened his light blue tie and took a sip of his cocktail. He was clean shaven, smelled like the inside of a barbershop and his short brown hair was slicked back with hair gel and sprayed to a cement-like finish. Silver threads laced his temples and gave him a distinguished look.
Meanwhile, a raucous couple made their way in with an entrance of which any red-carpet movie star would have been proud. The man was short, only about 5'7", stocky and wore a black western shirt piped in white with white mother-of-pearl buttons and a white string tie. He had on distressed black jeans and a pair of black cowboy boots that looked like they'd seen a year or two of some serious shit-kicking out on the range. A cheap black straw cowboy hat topped off the look and dangling off his arm was a frowsy blonde cougar.
He strode into the bar like he owned the place, and sparked up a big fat stogie the size of a well-hung horse with a flaming $100 bill. The cougar grabbed the bill from him and put out the fire by dousing the bill in a nearby beer.
"Hey, Mac! What the hell are you doing?"
"Aw Dixie, honey, we’re rollin' in it since we hit the Lotto and all," he said in a basso profundo voice. All heads in the bar turned in his direction.
Most of our regulars were baseball cap and t-shirt fellows. A few tourist girls, usually underage - migrated to our local spot from the local hotels and escaped the protective embrace of Mama and Papa - would grace the place from time to time.
Mac called out, "A round on the house! And this is on us, cash on the barrelhead with plenty for you if you chop-chop suey." He roared with laughter at his bad joke and jostled the woman named Dixie. Drinks emptied all over the bar.
Dixie wore a very bad, teased-out bronze and blonde streaked Farrah wig, and a leopard shirt with a hefty jewel-encrusted black patent-leather belt worthy of any WWF champion. She shimmied a pair of big plastic boob riding her chest as he jostled her. He laughed. Her ample behind was barely encased in black spandex pants as she wriggled under Mac's tight squeeze to break free and almost tripped over her stiletto heeled gold sandals.
"Whoa, honey!" Mac called to me, "Get the little lady a little something to steady her up."
I looked expectantly at him.
She batted a wad of false eyelashes ringed in too much black eyeliner and coated in about a tube and a half of mascara. "Can you make a champagne cocktail?" She asked with a kittenish moue.
I looked at Mac. "Scotch and soda," he said. "Easy on the soda, girl."
I looked back at Dixie.
"Damn," I said, "we're fresh out of champagne and no delivery until tomorrow. How about a white wine spritzer?"
She nodded absently and shrugged. "Whatever."
The makeup was settling in nicely into the deep furrows on either side of her mouth and the carmine lipstick was bleeding just a bit into her upper lip. Charcoal eye shadow was creasing into the laugh lines of her eyes. Her fringed lashes looked more spidery than lush.
I was on shift with Little Ricky, a short ex-Marine with a chip on his shoulder about the size of the granite cornerstone of the First National Bank and Trust. He gave me a knowing look and tilted his head in the direction of the hundred-dollar bill on the rail. The gentleman's drink was empty.
I quickly fixed drinks for Dixie and Mac, started their tab and ducked over to my tall gent in the gray suit. He sure smelled better than Mac with that stogie and Dixie, who wore way too much Obsession for her own good. And mine.
"What'll it be sir?" I asked.
"Can you make a Wallbanger?"
"Sure - now, your name wouldn't happen to be Harvey, would it?"
"As a matter of fact, yes. One Harvey Wallbanger, please."
The way I was raised, it's impolite at a bar to ask people's last names or where they're from so I just said simply, "One Wallbanger, Mr. Harvey, coming right up." I figured Harvey could be a first name or a last name; either way, I'd be right, polite, and angling for that hundred-dollar tip
I grabbed a highball glass, packed in some ice, dual-poured house vodka and Galliano about three quarters full, topped with OJ - ours is fresh-squeezed every day, and finished with a flourish of an orange slice and maraschino cherry. Setting a fresh cocktail napkin in front and clearing the remains of the empty drink, I set the Wallbanger down with the utmost of grace and panache as he motioned to the change from the twenty on the bar to cover the price of the drink.
He nodded towards the hundred. "That's for you to keep my whistle wet."
I put the bill in the back pocket of my jeans and nodded. "No problem, sir. Next one's on me." Little Ricky was going to get more than his share tonight, so I got mine, I figured.
In a small bar like ours where drinks are flowing freely, especially if someone new is buying, people tend to get real friendly and pleasant-like.
The shift was going so well it was like hosting a party but you didn't have to foot the bill for, attended by people you really liked.
Dixie and Mac had a few more drinks and then Dixie started singing "We're in the Money." Her voice wasn't bad.
Mac joined in, and made it clear to everyone within earshot that they'd hit the Lotto that night and were rolling in it Big Time. After Mac treated the house to a couple of rounds, a few started buying him and Dixie back, buzzing around for a chance to rub elbows with a couple of newly-minted millionaires.
"Millionaires?" I heard Mac say from his end of the bar where Ricky was tending them. "Pishaw, son, we're four-hundred million dollar-naires! We hit the Para-ball Lotto!" I thought he meant Powerball but that stogie messed him up a little.
Dixie yelled "Whooo-eeee!" And almost fell off her barstool, kicking a golden high-heeled stiletto sandal in the air. She used her free hand to keep her wig from tumbling off her head.
Harvey Wallbanger arched an eyebrow. He was drinking pretty good and even bought me a couple drinks, so I was feeling pretty good too. Drinking on the job usually makes me tired about mid-shift, so I tend not to do it so much, but everyone was high off the win and I was no exception.
People floated all around Dixie and Mac, creating a sea of people and a plethora of drink orders on Ricky's side of the bar.
Harvey stood his ground and showed no particular interest in the three-ring circus swirling around Dixie and Mac.
It was just a matter of time until Dixie, Mac and Harvey Wallbanger made one another's acquaintance. Mac sidled up to Harvey, the only patron in the place dressed in a suit and reasonably well-groomed. He asked, "So how are you doing tonight sir?"
Harvey nodded okay but said nothing and straightened his tie.
Undaunted, Mac put a thick fingered hand on the man's shoulder. "Hey, fella, it occurs to me we haven't bought you a drink yet. Bartender, set this good ol' boy up on me again, willya?"
I nodded and proceeded to prepare another Wallbanger.
"What are you drinking, sir?" Harvey asked.
"Scotch n' soda, with more scotch than soda if the bartender's of a mind," he said, signaling me for another drink.
"Hold up there, bartender," Harvey said. "These are getting a little sweet. Make me one of those too."
"Johnny Walker Black," Mac said. "Call brand. The good stuff."
I was happy to oblige, and rang up the drinks on Mac's tab.
"So... congratulations," Harvey said with the utmost restraint. He drained his drink in one swallow and nodded to me. I set up another.
"Thank you sir. Thank you very much," Mac replied in a horrible Elvis imitation. He patted his left breast pocket with his right hand. "Got that little baby stowed away right here. Safe 'n sound, next to my heart." Mac drained his drink too so I set up another for him right away. So far, the two gents were neck-and-neck on a barroom roll.
"Can we see the winning ticket?" Harvey asked. "Just a peek you know."
"Well, sure as shootin','" Mac said, and pulled the ticket out of his pocket.
I couldn't resist, so I sidled as close to the rail as I dared. The most money I'd ever seen was Mom's nest egg of ten grand in a bankbook. I never saw the money itself, just the bankbook. Ed, my no-account brother, siphoned every penny from her just before she died. I was left with the empty bankbook as my legacy. A four hundred million dollar lottery ticket was not to be believed.
Harvey and Mac held the ticket together. I got a good look too but kept my mouth shut.
Mac put the ticket back in his pocket and slipped closer to Harvey. "You look like an upstanding man," he started. "This win is amazing and all, but I have just one little problem."
Dixie was holding court at the other end of the bar, bending low and giving Little Ricky a show, shimmying to show off her pendulous plastic breasts. I wondered if he was going to tip her. From time to time she stood up on the barstool and I knew she'd be hoofing it on the bar when something good came on the jukebox.
Harvey looked questioningly at Mac. "With four hundred million, I don't think there's a problem in the world you couldn't solve."
"Actually, there is one," Mac said. "My bitchin' ex wife and her damn brats. Hell, half of 'em ain't even mine and I've got a warrant on child support in Texas for 'em. I cash this ticket and I'm toast. Me and Dixie would have to split just two hundred million if that no-account bitch had her way, and on the Grand Highway of Life that's just not on my roadmap. So I need a little help."
Harvey leaned closer to Mac, who lowered his voice confidingly. "I need someone to help me cash this ticket. Hell, I'll give you a quarter of the proceeds. That's a cool one hundred mil, just to say we're partners."
"I'd have to hold the ticket," Harvey said.
"Hold your horses there, pardner," Mac replied. "The way I figure, you get a hundred mil, Dixie and me get three hundred mil and maybe the bitch'll get a mil or so out of my end. I'll paternity test those kids to figure out who's who and tie that bitch up in court until she's an eighty-year-old lady with lawyers and shit. When I'm through, lawyers'll get all the damned money. " Mac gave a sly wink and Harvey nodded.
"Here's an idea," Harvey offered. What if I gave you some money for the ticket and we hang together tonight until we can get to Tallahassee in the morning to cash it?"
Mac thought about this. "Well, it's a helluva lot of money."
Harvey nodded. "Say, twenty grand?" Harvey said.
"Coo-coo-ca-cho!" Mac exclaimed. "That's a lot of lettuce. You got that on you? The banks are all closed!"
"I'm a real-estate broker and I just made a quick deal tonight. That's why I'm here. Just a drink to celebrate some good fortune, my man." Harvey put his hand companionably on Mac's shoulder. "The money's out in my car."
They dickered awhile, with one saying, “You come with me" and the other replying, "No, you go get it." Finally, Mac won and Harvey went out to a late-model shiny black Mercury Marquis parked just in front of the bar. He came back a minute later with a black leather briefcase.
"Step into my office," Mac said and escorted Harvey to one of the enclosed pay phone booths in the back of the bar.
I felt a twinge of angst, knowing these "private office meetings" in bar phone booths seldom go well. But I shrugged and handled my end of the bar, figuring if there was a rumpus Little Ricky could handle it. We'd just clear away the debris after hours.
After about five minutes, they emerged smiling, shaking hands, and promising to meet here at the bar the next morning. Mac had the shiny black leather briefcase and Harvey was patting his left hand breast pocket.
"No worries, friend; its safe and sound until tomorrow." Harvey paid up, took his change and left the bar. I patted the back pocket holding the hundred-dollar tip.
Mac handed me a hundred dollar bill after Harvey rode off in his Marquis. "Tuck that in your pocket, honey. You're a good girl; you know when keep your mouth shut." I put the money in the right front pocket of my jeans.
Dixie was now dancing on top of the bar. Mac helped her down before she stripped off her Merry Widow black and red lacy camisole for all the world to see. He paid his tab with a generous donation to Little Ricky, and patted Dixie affectionately on her rump as she stumbled toward the exit. "Coo-coo-ca-choo baby! We did it! I still got the real sucker tucked in my underwear."
Dixie nodded, then yawned. "Yeah baby, a real steal of a deal. Let's go home. I wanna sleep."
"No sleeping for you tonight, honey," Mac leered at her. "I'm gonna bounce you all around the world."
Dixie shrugged and tripped on a golden stiletto. Mac steadied her, puffing contentedly on his stogie as he guided her through the double doors. A moment later, they were gone.
Eventually, with the VIP's gone, the crowd mellowed, thinned out, and we were able to lock the doors with no further incident.
"Exciting tonight, huh?" Little Ricky asked as we were cashing out the tills.
"Yeppers," I said, patting my pockets and tucking my regular tips into the left front pocket of my jeans. I grabbed my bag and Ricky walked me out to the Mir, my white '87 T-bird, for the long two-tenths of a mile ride home. I was happy to have the car, given my present financial status: loaded.
I stumbled into the bungalow, tired but happy and, Tigger slippers underbed, I dreamed of dancing through dollars upon dollars upon dollars strewn upon the floor of my pink bungalow in the Compound; a Key-West style village of six bungalows, two apartments of three each and a main house in the center.
The next morning, I woke up and headed straight for the bank. As I arrived , I saw three or four cop cars parked in front with lights winking and, standing beside one of them was my sometime friend and nemesis, Detective Dan Gowan.
Mac and Dixie were sitting in t``he back of one of the cop cars, screaming at the top of their lungs, "Inside! We've got to get back inside! The safety deposit box. We'll show you!"
"So, what happened?" I asked Gowan.
"Well, why am I not surprised you're here, right in the middle of everything." Gowan asked.
"Me?" I gave him a wide-eyed look. "I'm just here to deposit my tips. I worked last night. You know, earn a penny, save a penny."
Gowan nodded. He shuffled his large feet in his rubber-soled brown shoes and stood on one leg, then another. It's a habit bartenders, cops and other people who stand for a living acquire to take the pressure off their feet.
"They opened a safety deposit box and then tried to open an account with a bunch of bogus bills."
My eyes got wider. "But they were in the bar last night. They said they won the big Lotto."
"Yeah, that's what they claim too. It's all a big misunderstanding. It's always a big misunderstanding. Well, we'll take them in and straighten it out. You serve 'em last night?"
"Yeppers, that's all I did. Tended the bar."
"You see anything happen?"
"Nope," I said, deadpan. "It was busy."
Gowan shrugged then turned and headed towards the cop car. He gave the cop instructions, then got into his brown sedan and drove off.
I went into the bank and carefully deposited my tips. Then I took the hundred from the right front pocket of my jeans and asked the teller to check it. It was fine. The bill in my back pocket, not so much. Bogus. Fugazi. Counterfeit. As bad as bad paper could get. She held the phony bill against the real bill and showed me the difference. Hell, the bad bill felt greasy and papery while the good bill felt like, well, money in the bank. I added the good bill to my stash in the account and turned in the bad bill to the bank. I had to fill out a form for them but, being a bartender, it's just easy enough to say the bill was left on the bar rail and I wasn't sure who had left it. I headed to work, whistling.
You see, I saw the ticket. It was dated that day, sure enough, but at 10:10 p.m. and the Powerball Lotto is drawn at 9 p.m. Dixie and Mac had palmed off a phony ticket on Harvey Wallbanger, who then stuck them with twenty thousand of counterfeit money.
I didn't think I'd see Harvey Wallbanger any time soon, and hoped to hell he had the pleasure of driving up to Tallahassee with that bum ticket. Dixie and Mac? It would all get straightened out once they made bail and opened that safety deposit box. I wished them luck.
3/4 ounce vodka
1 1/2 ounces orange juice
1/4 ounce Galliano
Orange slice & maraschino cherry for garnish