Dale Carina’s Red Range Rover Sport pulled into the Backwater Shopping Centre strip mall. The L-shaped mall’s physical appearance left plenty of room for doubt that it had ever seen better days, despite the gentrification of the last word in its title. The parking lines were faded and scattered tufts of grass sprouted from a multitude of pavement cracks. Only four of ten stores were operating. A convenience store situated at the far, long end of the plaza, was most likely the main source of leasing revenue keeping the mall afloat. In the vacant store next to it, a sign announcing Coming Soon: Vic’s Vapes, had been heralding its own arrival for over two years.
The remaining stores were a nail salon, tattoo parlor and, squatting in the dark corner of the mall, Harley’s Bar and. Repeated visits from, and fines levied by, the Florida Board of Health had directly led to the demise of the missing last word: Grill. Legend had it that some twenty years ago, the owner, a frustrated Harley Denton, walked out of his establishment one fine summer’s evening with a 12-gauge shotgun. After striding about twenty feet into the parking lot, he turned and obliterated the last word of the sign. With a sense of closure, he announced loudly “Goddamned grill’s closed!” to the people in his vicinity who were busy coping with sudden-onset tinnitus.
Dale put on his windbreaker and trundled out of his car with a sports duffel bag in hand. As he headed toward Harley’s, he tried to pull up his extra-comfort loose-fit jeans with his free hand, but his stomach would have none of it and pushed the pants back down. He swung the door open and entered. God, I love this shit hole, he thought as the door shut behind him, plunging him into darkness that only served to heighten the aromas of mold, mildew and stale everything. Sure, there were a few small neon signs advertising one beer or another, but somehow any light that came off of those partially dead and flickering bulbs wasn’t capable of illuminating an area greater than a pair of fireflies could.
It wasn’t that Dale loved the cesspool ambience unto itself; it was that it made it the perfect place for him to conduct the more strategic parts of his business. A key element being that dark and dingy atmosphere. Even if you walked in on a cloudy day or at night, your eyes needed time to adapt – enough time for anyone to slip out the back exit without notice. Another factor was that the meager clientele it pulled in were either engaged in their own deals or lacked full awareness of their surroundings via habitual drug and drink. But best of all, he could smoke. Smoking was allowed here by virtue of Harley’s being a stand-alone bar thanks to the summary execution of food-service by the aforementioned Mr. Denton. To bolster this, both the bartender and the waitress chain-smoked. The pair looked to be in their early 60’s but it was a sure bet that they were much younger. Even the oppressive visual pall that surrounded them could no longer assist in hiding the ravages of time, sun, booze and smoke. The third person at the bar was a rail of a man who was looking at the shot of whiskey on the counter and the cigarette trembling in his hand as if he wasn’t sure which one he was supposed to be nursing.
Dale ambled to the far end of the room and sat at the table nearest the exit and the bathroom, making it doubly advantageous. The dry husk that passed as a waitress approached him. She had given up standard server lines like “What can I getcha, sugar?” or “What’ll it be, handsome?” ages ago when she realized customers who came here were neither sweet, nor handsome, nor tipped for that matter. So, she took the approach of least effort which was to stand and wait for a count of five. If nothing came out of a customer’s mouth she’d return to her perch on the stool near the bartender.
The Devil and the Wolf is a satirically humorous urban fantasy novel by Richard Pastore. Find out more on his website.