Grand Opening

The grand opening of Ducante’s started as all previous nights at the bar had: with the prompt start of Happy Hour at exactly 5pm. That was when the bar opened. Or at least, that was the new sign which had been hung on the outer wall of the building proclaimed. ‘5pm to close,’ it said in it’s purposefully vague way. The sign and it’s ambiguity were two of three new things that came to the bar the night of the Grand Opening; the third, of course, were crowds upon crowds of people.

The interior of the dim bar was positively packed, wall to wall, with people who demanded drinks and finger food. Despite the low lights and dark wood, the whole of the space seemed to glow from the energy put off by the crowd. Everyone was excited, even though the Big Band music was still low and the night was still young. The excitement was making the night, but the owner and host, one Gregory Ducante, was making the bar. He was positively jovial. It was usual, of course, for business owners to be excited on the day of their opening. But most of that enthusiasm came with a well measured dose of nerves, whereas Mr. Ducante circulated the crowd as if he was born for it. He shook hands at the door, mixed the occasional drink at the bar. Mingled from wall to wall before starting the whole process over again.

The entirety of his hospitality seemed very sincere and very fitting for the Golden-Age vibe he was channeling in his latest establishment. At least, that was what Heather Bergman was planning to write in her review for the Molten Standard. She had always imagined that she had quite the poetic flair, no matter what the agents she queried said, and she intended to put it to good use. Even if she was working in small town America.

Heather Bergman had arrived precisely at 5.15pm (being casually late was another thing which she considered a forte) with her notebook in hand. She was thrilled at the prospect of a bar opening. It made it that much easier to imagine that she was in a big city, as opposed to just in Molten. And she had been positively charmed by one Gregory Ducante.

Where Ms. Bergman’s opinion was concerned, almost everything at the bar had been positively charming. The bouncer at the door, who kept sneaking glances into the bar, had asked for ID as she approached. This happened so infrequently these days that sent a thrill up her spine. Once she reached the bar, she found the bartenders to be adequately trained and then some: upon asking for a signature cocktail, they had nodded and efficiently made her one of the best Manhattans she had ever had outside of Manhattan. It wasn’t long into that drink that Mr. Ducante had come over to say hello himself; he had even offered to answer a few questions about his endeavors, both past and present, which Ms. Bergman gleefully copied down.

Yes, everything in the bar was simply marvelous. Or at least, almost marvelous. As Ms. Bergman sipped on her second Manhattan and someone turned the volume up on the sound system a few notches, she began to notice the things that were not so perfect. One of the bartenders, a young man with sandy brown hair, looked exceedingly nervous. But then, wasn’t he wearing a name tag that proclaimed him head bartender?

“I’d be nervous on a busy night like this, too.” Heather whispered, taking a deep sip of cherry-peppered whiskey.

And that woman behind the bar. Gregory Ducante had mentioned her during their brief interview – Melissa, or Miranda. Something. She helped him with his openings. But, then, why did she look so forlorn? The girl kept smoothing her dirty blonde hair and gazing out at the door. Maybe there was some restriction on how many people could be in this old bar that they simply hadn’t told anyone about.

“Yes, yes,” came Mr. Ducante’s voice from somewhere to Ms. Bergman’s right. “It has been a simply marvelous turn out. I blame it on my positively bewitching staff.”

Heather turned her head just in time to see Mr. Ducante clap the stern-looking bouncer from the door on the shoulder. He had evidently come in for his break, to grab a drink, for after a bob of his head to whoever had been offering commendations, he wandered up to the bar. Heather Bergman did not see what the man ordered, to know what the staff might think of as the best drink in the house, because at the same moment, the nervous looking bartender dropped one of the silver rimmed glasses to the floor.

The tinkling shatter of the glass shards was inevitably heard by no one but those sitting at the bar proper. As the dusty haired bartender murmured, “Sorry. Sorry. Yeah, I heard you. I’ll grab your drink,” Heather Bergman clicked her tongue and her pen simultaneously as she moved to make a note in her nearly full notebook.

“Jason,” hissed the blonde behind the bar as she cracked a top on a beer and slid it to the bouncer. “You don’t have to do this. You can leave – I know your family isn’t happy that you’re working here, you don’t want to – ”

“I want a job and I want to make money, Maya,” the bouncer snapped, snatching his beer off the mahogany bar top.

“Look, I know what they think about people like Ducante, and – ”

“Why, Ms. Bergman!” came a smooth voice from her other side.

Heather’s ears had perked in the direction of the two bar workers – perhaps she had even been staring as she stressed and strained to hear what they were saying. She had begun the night thinking that the piece would be a lovely review: but was there a darker side to Ducante’s? If there was… that was front page. But at the voice from her side, Ms. Bergman jumped, and whatever was left of their conversation was lost to her.

“Oh, Mr. Ducante. I’m sorry, I must have been lost in the ambiance.” She smiled in what she hoped was a coy way as she sipped out of the too-skinny cocktail straw.

He shook his head, a brilliantly toothy grin plastered on his mouth. “It’s such a pleasure that you’re still here. Why don’t I give you that tour that I promised…?” Mr. Ducante offered, grabbing her elbow to lead her off the bar stool. “We’ll grab you another cocktail while we’re at it,” he added, snapping his fingers in the direction of the nervous looking bartender, who was just handing over a particularly well-garnished bloody mary.

“Oh… oh, yes,” said Ms. Bergman, allowing herself to be led as she smiled into the chocolate brown eyes of Mr. Ducante. “That would be lovely.”

It wasn’t until the tour ended outside the door of the bar and Heather Bergman was on her way home two cocktails later that she realized she had left her nearly-full notebook behind.

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