Throught all of history, few things have been prized as greatly as a good pub. That rule is no less true in space, where the distance between bars might be measured in light years. The Claddagh was the best working man’s gin-joint in Brimstone; nowhere near as fancy as Roxy’s but a damn sight better than most. It was a roughneck bar where the unsavory gathered, where deals were made and plots were hatched.
HELL OF A BREAK THERE, DOC
The Claddagh Pub, Brimstone
Fitzsimmons barked, “Shut the fuck up Carl!”
As bartenders go, Fitz was a big bastard, well over seventeen stone and naught but a bit of that turned to fat by a few too many stouts. Truth be told he was a bit of an irish stereotype, a mix of red hair, pale skin and green eyes that were, at the present moment, burning with a fire. His fingers bunched around the bar towel in a big ham-sized fist.
Carl visibly stiffened at the sound of his name. The more he strained to make the handle ‘Slash’ take hold, the less traction it got. Fitz knew Carl back when he was a scrawny, snot-nosed delinquent stealing hubcaps off PTVs, or whuffing gasket sealant in the back alley with the other little street rats. Carl was older now, but sure as hell no wiser.
Nonetheless, Carl turned slowly away from Tommy, struggling to throw his best ‘I’m a badass’ glare. At a spindly eleven stones for a meter-six in height, the results were laughable. Add the scraggly hair and a beard that looked more like the fuzz that grew wild on a man’s ass, and Carl was more likely to be called ‘trash’ than ‘slash’. Death metal tats up and down his arms, along with the black leather vest covered with biker patches, finished off the whole ‘MC wannabe’ persona.
Fitz glared, the muscles tightening down his beefy right arm. He growled, “C’mon boyo. You take just one more step, givin’ me that look, in my pub.”
Now Carl was a lot of things, and none of them laudable, but he had that little light in the back of his brain that Mother Nature in her infinite wisdom granted to every lizard, rat and roach that crawled upon the earth or any other planet. It was the one lone bulb that signalled a creature, no matter how dim, when it was pissing up the food chain.
Sometimes that bulb gets ignored; thats when things die horribly.
In this instance, Carl nervously glanced to either side and saw nothing but Fitz’ regulars, most of whom were quietly hoping he was dumb enough to bluster just one more time. Few things were as entertaining on a Thursday night as a first-rate ass-whuppin. To their collective disappointment, Carl slinked out the front door without a word, the silence broken by laughter and a hail of napkins, french fries and beer cans tossed at his back on the way.
Fitz grinned. Notwithstanding the likes of Carl, he had a great bunch of customers. Had it come to blows, with Carl or anyone else, Fitz’d not face the fight alone.
“Hooligans, all of ye,” Fitz said with feigned grouse as he picked the bits of garbage up off the floor. The statement only drew more laughter.
With a pat on the shoulder Fitz muttered “Sorry about that, Tommy” as he walked past the pool table on the way to the bar. Tommy shrugged an ‘ain’t nothin’ back and turned to line up his next shot.
Fitz paused at the pass-thru, holding the hinged section of bar up as Megan slid by, a platter of food in one hand and three frothing mugs in the other. He gave her a big grin, the kind you can muster when you are boss and father all at once. Megan flashed her blue eyes, her mother’s eyes, dishing smart-ass comments left and right as she made he way between the tables.
She got that from her mother too, Fitz chuckled.
Having lapped through Fitz the Bouncer and Fitz the Dad, he cycled back to Fitz the Bartender and scanned the room, still thinking about a fight. He checked down the bar from left to right.
Jarlson was working his second beer; he’d be good for a fight if it came to it.
O’Donnolley was drinking Jack straight, he’d be wanting another in the next couple of minutes. Fitz figured he’d be most likely to bite off somebody’s ear in a good donnybrook.
Oksana was still in her welder’s coveralls and throwing down vodka, which meant some guy was likely gonna get hurt later tonight. Fitz winced at the thought of the havoc she’d cause if given truly good reason.
Doc was at the end of the bar, nursing a scotch and a corned beef sandwich.
Well, there’s Doc, Fitz thought. Some are born fighters, some are fixers.
Come to think of it though, Fitz noted, there probably wasn’t too many folks in here that Doc hasn’t stitched up at one point or another. If you’re not a scrapper, a ton of good karma might be more useful than bullets.
Fitz gave a quiet sigh, enjoying the sound and smell of a local pub. The bar was solid and Megan had the tables in hand, including the back table half screened-off from view. The business table.
Vane had been holding court back there quite a bit lately. Fitz had no idea what the pirate was up to, in fact he made it his business not to know, but the stream of visitors were hard to ignore. Yakov came and went, Bridger, Hoskins, most of the usuals. Petrovich was an oddity, the fabricator not one you would peg as being a part of Charles Vane’s social network, but it’s a big ‘verse. Draga, well now, Fitz gave a slow whistle, Draga could spend as much time in this bar as she likes, Fitz mulled for a long, dreamy moment, then glanced about nervously. Well, as long as Megan’s mother wasn’t around.
At precisely half past six MacGregor came through the front door, a study in graphite epoxy that spider-webbed across every front-facing centimeter of his clothing. Fitz waved him over to an empty stool, thumping a freshly-drawn Guinness down on the bar. MacGregor dropped onto the seat with equal thud.
“Yer a fine man Fitzsimmons, despite everything they say about you.” The wiry figure picked up the mug, raised it to Fitz with a smile and in his thick scottish brogue added “Slàinte, ya mick bastard.”
Fitz nodded and chuckled as he wiped the bar, the ritual a part of life in this pub for more years than he could remember. He grinned; MacGregor in a fight was reason to call paramedics. Maybe a Cutlass full.
Without any ado MacGregor began his circuit around the bar. “Doc, ya wanker, here’s at ya!” From the far end of the bar Doc looked up from a tablet, mouth stuffed full of a half-eaten sandwich. He waved for a moment before grabbing his scotch and returning the toast.
MacGregor made his way around his circle, offering his usual curses of endearment till he hit the bottom of the mug. In his usual fashion, he looked up at Fitz as the replacement hit the bar, then asked the usual question. “So Barkeep, what’s the news of the night?”
Fitz dutifully ran through matters great and small, a discussion that ranged from goings-on at the back table to finish on kicking Carl out of the bar.
“Ah well that explains it.” MacGreggor said, Guinness-froth on his moustache.
Fitz cocked an eyebrow, prompting MacGregor to elaborate.
“Ah the cuntybuggeryfucktoleybumshite is out in the alley throwing rocks at a poor rag of a dog.”
To the best Fitz knew, that rolling string of names was about the worst thing a Scot can call somebody. He turned, as did O’Donnolley, and looked out the window.
“Awww no.” Sure enough, that beat-to-hell mutt that has been laying up behind the dumpster was now backed against the wall. Carl blocked the alley entrance, throwing whatever rocks or bottles he could find.
Fitz felt his ire rise. Why you little piece of…
Motion caught Fitz’ eye as Doc stood up, shoved the uneaten half of his sandwich in a coat pocket and started for the door. Fitz sputtered, “Doc, you want me to wrap that—“ but he was waved off.
Doc stopped halfway past Tommy, turned back and said ‘’S’cuse me a sec.” and gently took the pool cue from Tommy’s hand. Tommy looked back at Fitz with a confused shrug as Doc walked out the door.
The bar pretty much fell silent as Doc crossed the street and without so much as a ‘how-do-you-fucking-do’ smashed Carl in the side of the melon with a Babe Ruth swing that sent teeth heading over the outfield wall. The crack — definitely wood, maybe bone — echoed through the bar. Everybody winced as Carl dropped like a sack of shit, face down in the garbage.
Doc looked down the ally, pulling the half-sandwich out of his pocket as he took a slow step forward. It was too far for Fitz to hear but the dog hunkered down and showed a half set of teeth. Doc stopped, took a slow knee, then set the sandwich on the ground and backed out.
It was dead quiet in the bar when Doc walked back in, handing the splintered half of a cue-stick back to Tommy. He plodded to his seat, fished a twenty out of his pocket and slapped it on the bar, muttering “for the stick.”
Fitz wasn’t sure what to think. He didn’t give a shit about the cue, he was dying to ask ‘who are you and what the hell did you do with Doc?’
On habit Fitz swept the bar with his eyes, noting the slack-jawed customers. The only one who didn’t gape was Charles Vane, watching from the back of the room. Vane looked at Doc intently, a dark smile crossing his face.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” MacGregor chuckled, breaking the silence as he lifted the mug to his lips. He paused, then burst out with a foam-splitting laugh, “Hell of a break you got there Doc.”