The Man With The Newspaper

Yawning slightly, I emerged from my brief sojourn to the back with a spray bottle filled with cleaning solution and some towels. I didn’t know the kind of cleaning liquid, the label had peeled off a while ago and this was just the bottle I always used. Checking my watch, I glanced at the time: 12:50. I looked out over the almost empty bar with a sigh.

The bar was in an older building on the older side of town. The walls had dark, oak planks jutting neatly up the wall about three feet before cutting off and merging with the dark green and musty wallpaper. The tables were an old brown made of polished wood, slightly lighter than the wood along the wall, but still a dark shade. The whole bar was always dim and darkened, fitting the image of a dramatic mafia film. This was especially true when it rained. I had worked here for the extra cash and the lack of unruly college kids, the night time bar atmosphere wasn’t exactly the most appealing to younger patrons. Usually, the nighttime bar was occupied by older, gruff looking men who had paid their toll to this life and looked for an outlet. During the day, the bar would mostly be empty except for the occasional couple, usually younger, going out for lunch at a place that wasn’t fast food. To say the job was easy work was an understatement.

I walked behind the bar and raised my pointer finger up and motioned it in a circle, calling for a wrap up of whoever was left.

“Last call,” I called out to the almost empty bar, in a cartoon my words probably would have echoed back.

The bar was more empty than I remembered from when I had gone to the back. At first, I had thought it was empty, but at a closer glance, I noticed a man with a newspaper, the newspaper held between his two hands and resting on the bar counter, obstructing the view of his face. I walked past the sink behind the bar up to the man with the newspaper so I was standing across from him on the opposite side of the counter. After a few moments of me standing across from the man with the newspaper, he slowly lowered it onto the counter and gazed up.

His glare was icy and eyes cold, complementing the sharp features of his face. The man with the newspaper was younger than I had expected, early 20’s I’d assume. I wasn’t really used to seeing people younger than myself in the bar, especially at night. He was wearing an old fedora shaped hat and had on a dark grey blazer over a white collared shirt. His hair was brownish black and the curls seemed to bounce with every turn of his head or movement of his body. The man with the newspaper slid the paper to the side of him on the counter and grabbed the drink next to him, swirling it about. The newspaper, headlined with the year 1952, was strange to be reading in the twenty-first century.

“Last call, sir,” I said motioning for his drink.

The man with the newspaper stopped swirling the drink and set it on the counter.

“Be my guest, I don’t drink” He said, lifting his hands up in the air as if to surrender.

His voice wasn’t gruff or stubbly like most avid drinkers, it had class and clear spoken purpose. The man with the newspaper leaned his head onto his hand and looked up at me as if bored, the slight smirk from his lips curling up a bit. Not drinking truly made me wonder his purpose in a bar, this bar of all places.

“Ok then,” I said offhandedly, holding my hands up as if to surrender back, “This place closes in another ten minutes, dude, so uh… wrap up whatever you’re doing.”

“Fine by me,” The man with the newspaper responded, “Danny.”

I froze in my steps, he knew my name, not just my name, my nickname. Not even my manager called me Danny. I turned on my heel, I wasn’t about to let this little pipsqueak hustle me. I was staring daggers back at him, he continued to smirk with his head resting on his hand, his icy eyes staring back.

“Who are you?” I asked, brows furrowing further.

“Not important,” He said back, gaining more confidence, “what’s important is who you are.”

He cleared his throat, “Daniel Delgatto, or “Danny”, born just outside Austin Texas to a single mother. Moved to Chicago with your mother and three siblings when you were young, seven I believe, and lived here since. Went to college on a scholarship and got an English major, useless in hindsight for your line of profession, so you work here. Alexander- Mr. Acolyte has treated you well, offering you a well paying position here. Really values you, he does.”

He shrugged a bit and spun around in the bar chair, “But that’s not important, at least not anymore, I’m not here for you. You’ve got plenty of time,” he said with his hands in the air, an excited smile spreading across his face.

“Do you happen to know where Alexander- oh I’m sorry, pardon me again, Mr. Acolyte is? I have a date to keep with him,” The man with the newspaper said, leaning forward on the counter and looking up.

His smile had a missing front tooth and sharper than usual canines. He had eyes that poked out a bit from darkened sockets underneath and a smile that never seemed to fade. He licked his lips waiting for my response.

“Do you, like, know Mr. Acolyte or…? Old friends? Friend of a friend?” I asked, my daggers going to a look of confusion, the man with the newspaper had a funny way of talking.

For whatever reason, the guy didn’t seem threatening like I assumed before when he listed off my personal information, just a bit socially inept if that makes sense? He spoke as if he were stating well known facts, never stuttering. He seemed soft, young and naive almost, yet presentable and forthcoming. He felt like a radio announcer almost, speaking fast and putting emphasis on certain words. He looked up again lightly scratching his hands back and forth on his neck, fast like a dog.

“Old friends, old friends…” He thought for a second, “no, no. I don’t believe I have had the pleasure of acquainting myself with Mr. Acolyte as of yet, at least not formerly,” He responded, looking up to the ceiling as if thinking, “but that is of no concern to me, you can always get to know someone.”

His responses puzzled me, instead of being mad, I was further intrigued by this mysterious and, how do I put this, eccentric man, the man with the newspaper.

“So, uh… why do you want to see him. You got a vendetta or something?” I added with a small nervous laugh at the end.

“No, not a vendetta, just a date I need to keep,” He said, taking his focus away from the ceiling,

“Do you know where he is?” He added looking me in the eyes yet again with his icy stare.

“Well... he’s gone, been gone actually. Got diagnosed with terminal cancer a while ago, he didn’t tell me what kind,” I nervously laughed, “He’s been at his home in Southern California for a couple months now,” I added.

The man with the newspaper furrowed his brow and a look of confusion crossed his face.

“It appears I have come to the wrong place, my dates mixed up no doubt,” He laughed, smile returning.

“So long for now,” He said, smiling wider than ever as he picked up the newspaper, rolling it into a tube as he went.

The man strutted and spun as he grabbed his trenchcoat from the hook by the door and put it over his arm. In the time I had spoken to him, he managed to answer none of my questions, in fact, I think I was more confused than before, still am to be honest even looking back. As he opened the door, the dinging bell knocked me out of my confused trance.

“Hold on dude, who the hell are you?” I asked the man with the newspaper.

The man with the newspaper stopped in his tracks mid door open, like a cartoon character, and turned around, a smirk coming across his lips.

“Where are my manners, second time tonight. You can call me Death, and I’m sure we’ll meet again, as old friends no doubt. Don’t worry, won’t be for a while,” He answered, tipping his hat at me then strutting out the door, trench coat in hand.

“What the hell,” I muttered.

I ran around the bar and out the door and stood on the stoop, the little bell dinging behind me. I looked out onto the street; he was gone, the man with the newspaper was gone. I stood in the middle of the road for a good couple minutes, puzzled and confused, I mean, what kind of a name is “Death.” The streetlight above me flickered as it always had, the street was silent and deserted apart from the tumbleweed like trash floating down the street in the wind. One raindrop, then two, then ten pattered down around me in the street, the rain scheduled for tonight seeping in through wet clouds. I let out a sigh as I walked back into the bar.

The eccentric man with the newspaper haunted my thoughts through closing and the car ride home, his image burned into my memory. I wouldn’t have thought much of that man, the man with the newspaper, or at least not as much if it wasn’t for the phone call I received the following morning from Mrs. Acolyte. Mr. Acolyte had passed away from terminal cancer the previous night.

-by SatelliteSkinn

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