The bar doors, flung open to allow a whir of sawdust and paint fumes to exit the long-vacant building, had drawn mixed reviews from the local population of the town. Some spoke jovially about the positive impact new business would have on the community. Others questioned curiously what exactly this place would be – and when would it be open to the public? Still others grumbled, casting dark looks at the traffic cones that stole an entire three parking spaces from the street front. Construction was always met with mixed reviews, least of all from the construction workers.
The workers in this particular establishment were of course happy to be paid. They were less happy to be working in a building built with no windows on the first floor: the large doors only did so much to ventilate. The respirators they needed to wear itched, and their goggles left angry red marks on their faces at the end of the day. None the less, the building they were refurbishing was soon to be a bar, and the best part about working in a bar was when the owner would pass out beer at lunch.
For Grant Thompson, the daily appearance of the owner was as mixed a bag as the construction site itself, of which he was the foreman. Gregory Ducante, dressed in his finely made clothes, could not make it more clear that he was not one of the construction workers. Thompson thought that it was somehow condescending that Ducante expected to just be accepted as One Of The Boys. Yeah, he brought the beer. But did he have to stand there, sipping that strange burgundy liquor and watching as they went back to work? Thompson much preferred the hours when Gregory Ducante holed himself away in the upstairs office, working on paperwork for what he described as his ‘other ventures.’
Thompson did not particularly like or dislike this man, this current employer. In a more typical situation, he might have found a moment to degrade the poor gent to his workers. A mild joke here, a playful jab there. But this particular man. Well, he did not seem to be someone that one could easily bring down with a well placed line. Something about his small frame – a frame that Thomspon could have easily over powered – and calm, composed demeanor seemed to radiate confidence. This particular confidence was not easily shaken; though it did easily shake.
Specifically, it shook Thompson. Each day as he watched Ducante casually lean against one of the piles of new floor boards, cracking jokes to his beer drinking crew (which would always be met with pleasant, amicable laughter), Thompson felt his own confidence shake. He thought about the silver-haired property owner before he got to work, after he got home. When his wife suggested they splurge for a fancy dinner, all Thompson could do was grit his teeth as he thought about wearing the sort of shiny loafers that Ducante somehow found acceptable for general lounging in a construction area. Soon, Thompson was not sleeping well. Seeing the beer that Ducante always brought out for the crew turned his stomach.
He thought about saying as much to someone, anyone, but he knew it would sound crazy. How could he explain that the man paying him well over the standing asking price for a remodel filled him with this much rage? Grant Thompson just felt sure, so incredibly sure, that there was something off about this particular property owner. That was the thought that consumed him as he traveled to work each day, as he barked orders to the men under his watch.
It was the thought that was consuming him on one particular Thursday, exactly two weeks after the traffic cones began blocking off the three street parking spots, when a shipment of carefully bronzed scones arrived. It was this thought that consumed him as he traipsed up the recently reconstructed and polished stairs that led to Gregory Ducante’s office.
“Sir?” Thompson said in his gruff voice as he rapped gently on the door.
“Come in, Mr. Thompson,” called Ducante easily. The office was not particularly large, but it was certainly sumptuous. Ducante had laid a thick, slate colored shag carpet over the dark wood. A heavy antique desk sat against one wall. Ducante, who had covered the beautiful wooden find in all sorts of paperwork, looked up as Thompson came in. An unnerving, toothy grin fell over his features. One slender hand – the type of hand that had never seen a real days work, Thompson thought bitterly – raised a glass of that strange burgundy liquid to greet his guest. “What can I help you with this afternoon?”
“Shipment of sconces in for you,” Thompson said levelly. “Signed for it myself. Just need to know where my boys are supposed to be putting them.”
“Ah, the sconces, the sconces…” Ducante said, taking a long drought from his cup as his free hand rifled through a pile of papers slightly to his left. He let out a satisfied ‘hmmm’ as he extracted a thin vellum sheet covered in lines, arrows, and directions from the pile. “This should suffice in showing you where they go, I imagine?”
Thompson nodded as he accepted the blue prints. “This should, yeah.” He squinted his light blue eyes as he looked down at the page. “But sir, with the placement like this – and without the fluorescence – well, your bar is going to be nearly pitch black.”
“Nearly being the key word in that sentence, I believe,” Ducante replied easily.
Thompson glanced up from the papers, forcing a nervous smile. “I… right. I’m sorry.”
Ducante shook his free hand vaguely. “No need, no need. The concern is greatly appreciated. I own several bars, Mr. Thompson, and I have found that near darkness is the quickest way to implore people to indulge.”
Grant Thompson choked out a chuckle. “Well, uh. Yeah, I suppose. Say, uh, if you own so many bars… how is it that you can be here every day? Supervising, and uh, you know?”
The corner of the bar owner’s mouth twitched. “This investment is one of my particular favorites,” he said, taking another swig of his drink.
Feeling rather brave, and bolstered by the way the conversation was going, Thompson added, “What is that stuff you’re always drinking? Is it some signature of your business?”
Ducante swirled the contents of the glass thoughtfully, cutting his chocolate brown eyes towards his foreman. “This?” He set it on the table, leaning forward. “Do you really want to know?”
For no reason that he could explain, Grant Thompson felt a shiver run down his spine that had rarely been felt in his 6’1, 250 pound frame. “I…”
“Here,” the bar owner was continuing, “I’ll do you one better. Try it for yourself, won’t you?” Wiggling his fingers thoughtfully, he selected a decanter from the shelf above the hurricane medley of paperwork strewn across the desk. As if from no where, he had produced an extra glass and poured a finger of the strange, burgundy liquor into it.
Suddenly, Thompson’s mouth felt quite dry. He took a shuffled step forward to take the glass that was offered. The liquid smelled astringent, metallic, and sweet, all at the same time.
“Well, don’t look so upset. Top shelf whiskey, a very unique import. Not to be snubbed,” Ducante explained with an arched eyebrow. “Well? Bottoms up.”
And with that, the bar owner downed the rest of his glass. Thompson obediently followed; for what he claimed was to shelf, the whiskey was hardly what Thompson would expect to pay any type of good money for. It burned all the way down his throat, and the taste it left in his mouth was somehow disgustingly familiar and foreign all at the same time.
Ducante offered a reassuring smile, which Thompson tried to return. He handed back the glass and made it out of the office door, down the shiny, refurbished stairs. He made it all the way to the front doors, flung open to mixed reviews from the public. He was just at the traffic cones that blocked off the parking when his stomach rejected the expensive beverage. It was then that Thompson thought, ever so briefly, that the excessive trappings of Gregory Ducante were perhaps not something that warranted his time after all.