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THE BACKUP BARTENDER PREFERS TO KEEP HIS THOUGHTS TO HIMSELF • by David Macpherson

At our joint, O. Onions, we survive mostly with two bartenders. This is for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that Phil and I prefer to have the most tip money possible. The other reason is that, though the money is good, it’s hard to get anyone to work behind the stick here. After the Flipswitch, when some folks got some gifts, this joint became a hangout for local reanimators and that freaked out potential employees. I don’t know what the deal is, I mean we don’t allow reanimated cadavers into the establishment, but still, people don’t want to work here. O. Onions is just a place where folks who can bring back the dead can have a cool one, or a fine cocktail. (To be fair, if you want a cocktail, I would get it from Phil — I am all right, but he has  the knack.) There is nothing creepy about the place, but you tell that to a booze slinger looking for a few side shifts.

It was only a few months back we got a good back-up bartender, a fella named Danny. He works weekends and when Phil and I need a day. The hours are uneven, but Danny is happy to do it. The funny thing is, this guy is amazing. He can do all those Cocktail bottle flip things and he can speak mixology, but he’s just pleased as peaches to be working here on the sly.

One Sunday, he was cashing out and I was taking over. Like most Sundays, it was a near-empty bar. Only Tommy was at his stool, drinking his screwdrivers like he does. Tommy was one of the more annoying regulars, but that’s bar life for you. With the place so dead, I just had to ask, “Danny, this is too easy a gig, for too few hours… why are you here? You on the run?”

Danny laughed and said, “Maybe, Liam. I was running toward a joint like this. I was running to the quiet.”

I looked toward the jukebox; it was blaring Steely Dan. There was nothing quiet about it.

“Different kind of quiet, Liam. Down the highway, there’s a joint for mindreaders. This place gets reanimators, because they got to be around folk who understand, mindreaders are the same way, and boy howdy, do they drink. I guess the more they drink, the less they can read other thoughts. Lushes, every one of ‘em. But they tipped and I was working weekends.

“Let me tell you, mindreaders like big blue drinks with fruit and paper umbrellas. It was madness. Each drink was a monument to some unearthly color. And they all tasted the same in the end, like Kool-Aid.  But the rabble was happy and the money was nice.

“Course the thing about working a bar made up of mindreaders, was all the mindreaders. Couldn’t be annoyed at anyone for not tipping. Couldn’t think about how stupid the conversation at the back table was. Think about that this one dude doesn’t have a chance with that gal, though try he might — forget it, they will read you and give you hell. And heaven help you if a woman comes in a tight dress, because everyone in the joint will know your opinion on the way it fits her. Exhausting.

“This is why I can do all that mixology nonsense. I figured if I was focusing on making a cocktail with foam and bacon-infused zambuca, I would be too distracted to think of anything other than making the drink. It worked. I lasted longer than most bartenders. You’ve never seen such turnover, Liam. But I had my mix creations and that kept me sane and unreadable.

“But then I got word from my people that my grandmother died. I wasn’t close to her, but still, it was a sad day and I figured I could get rid of my grief by working, so I took an open shift at the joint. It was going fine until this one guy, who worked as political advisor to the mayor or something, got into me and said, “Danny, will you stop thinking about a little old lady and get me a beer already.”

“That was it. I couldn’t believe it. My mind opened and I thought everything I was keeping back. That one is rude. That one is fat. That one has bad breath and tips for hell. That they were all posers and useless drags. Liam, it was funny. Everyone in the bar turned their heads as one and looked at me. Which is when I thought they should all get stuffed, and left for good.”

I whistled. “Why didn’t you go to a regular bar, one without any Flipswitch folk in it?”

Danny said, “Are you kidding? This place is perfectly normal. And I don’t have to worry about anything but making drinks.”

At this point, Tommy shouted from his place at the bar, “Are you ladies going to stop trading recipes for tuna casseroles and get me a drink already?”

Danny said, “I got this.” He went over to Tommy and stared at him, no doubt thinking terrible things.

Tommy moved back in his seat, unsure of why Danny was just looking at him. “What?”

Danny smiled, “Nothing, Tommy. Nothing at all. You want another screwdriver?” Tommy nodded, relieved the staring match was over. Danny walked past me to get the orange juice and said, “Yeah, I love this place. The quiet is perfect.”


David Macpherson lives in Central Massachusetts with his wife Heather and son George.


This story is sponsored by
Clarion West — Apply now and prepare for your professional writing career with Paul Park, Kij Johnson, Ian McDonald, Hiromi Goto, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Crowley, June 22 – August 1 in Seattle.


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THE BACKUP BARTENDER PREFERS TO KEEP HIS THOUGHTS TO HIMSELF • by David Macpherson, 3.9 out of 5 based on 27 ratings
Posted on February 20, 2014 in Science Fiction, Stories
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  • http://www.derekmcmillan.com/ Derek McMillan

    I enjoyed reading this. I can appreciate how irritating mind-readers could be. I recall a sci fi short story in which the population of earth were made into mind-readers and the human race became extinct because mind-reading made marriage impossible :)

  • Walter Giersbach

    Whoa, Dave. I want to find a bar like O. Onions. You got this one down pat. four stars, my man.

  • Rohini Gupta

    Fascinating concept – a bar full of mind readers. Well written and I enjoyed reading it.

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