The ambient lighting of the lounge cast the patrons and their drinks alike in a cobalt hue, and reflections off the myriad of glasses and decor flecked white light within the blue. It gave the impression of being underwater. I sat at a dark, wooden high top table, alone, absentmindedly staring into ice cubes in what was the sixth bourbon and cola of the evening. A parade of scantily-clad servers pranced up and down the gaps between the tables, trays balanced perfectly in hand. I paid them no mind. Instead, my mind wandered to, of all things, my occupation. In my line of work, we operate on a per-contract basis, and having not had any sent my way in a couple of weeks, I'd spent most of my time drinking enough to need a liver transplant in my next life. Consulting, they called it. Like it mattered what ridiculous euphemism they decided to slap on it. Funny, that. It all ended the same way, much the same way that polishing a pile of shit doesn't change what it is.
My watch rose up to meet my eyes, almost from muscle memory. Ten forty-five. Right on schedule, I thought. Six more by midnight and I will be good and well on my way to being taxied home for a fifth night in a row. Part of me wondered why I drove a car that cost me as much as it did if I spent half my time on the road being taxied drunkenly around the city, and the other part of me then reminded the first that I like paying for one nice car and not several, plus legal fees. I don't get paid enough to keep a fucking attorney on retainer, I reminded myself.
I stuffed a cigarette between my lips. Just as I lit the tip, my phone announced itself with a faint electronic chime. My shoulders dropped after seeing the name on the screen, and I exhaled deeply.
We've got a new file in if you're up for it.
Send it my way, said my fingers.
I hastily gulped the remainder of the drink in front of me and tucked a few bills under the now-empty glass and stood from the table, getting another eyeful of the ambiance of the aptly named Blue Room. As I walked through the doors and around the building I began to feel a little light-headed. Unsure if that was from the drinking or the having been seated for too long, I brushed it off. A little farther from the building, the smell of petroleum began to assault my nostrils. For whatever reason, I always liked the smell - sweet, spicy and a little rough around the edges.
My attention snapped back to the parking lot when a noise struck me as out of place. Yelling. I couldn't pinpoint the location, but I unzipped my jacket just in case whatever that noise was decided to introduce itself. When I reached my car, the parking lot was quiet again, save for the noise of the occasional accelerating vehicle on the roadway on the other side of the building. I lowered myself into the black Audi coupe and began to check the mirrors when I located the now-renewed source of the disturbance. Flipping my rear-view up revealed a man striking a woman with what looked like his fist. They were alone. Caucasian. Both probably intoxicated. Not sure whose car they were by, neither had keys in hand. She wasn't returning any aggression. Sucks to be her, I thought.
The engine purred to life in front of me and I took one last look through the mirror, the guilty bystander by association that I was. When I watched the man strike the woman a second time and she didn't get up quickly, I cursed my conscience under my breath.
Damn my sense of civic responsibility. Really ironic, given my line of work, to have a sense of justice or equity, but we don't get to pick and choose our prejudices from a catalog.
I killed the engine and stepped out of the car, closing the door with a flick of the wrist. A couple more steps toward the couple revealed my initial assessment was correct. He was unarmed and probably not too dangerous. About six inches shorter than me, average height, average build. Joe Somebody, probably worked nine-to-five and went to the gym once a week or so. If he decided to press the issue with me, he'd regret it.
"Hey!" I yelled. After that I had to bite my lip from laughing. The outside perspective of this situation was not lost on me, irony and all. My mother always told me my sense of humor was going to get me in trouble, and my exes always told me it was going to get me killed. Here's to hoping, I guess.
Joe Somebody turned when he heard me, and I could see signs of visible intoxication. Bloodshot eyes. Off-balance gait. Slow reaction time. Was probably a lightweight, by the look of him. Pussy.
"Hey yourself. Mind your own fuckin' business, man," he replied.
"Leave the girl alone and I leave you alone. That's the deal."
I turned my head to look at her. She was also a brunette, hair just below the ears, spiky. Tall, considering she was rather thin. Her face wore an obvious mark of what I assumed to be his fist. Her black dress was scuffed from the pavement.
"How about this for a deal, buddy," he said. "Fuck off or I'll make you fuck off."
I sighed. Can't say I didn't warn him.
Before he knew what was what, I closed the distance between us with a single step and delivered a hook to the side of his head, jaw clicking against itself from the force. Given he was less than sober and well-trained by Hollywood, he hit the asphalt in a mess of flailing limbs. I pushed the ball of my boot into the side of his neck as he pithily tried to hit me in the thigh.
"Hey, friend," I quipped, "guess what makes it hard to hit women? A broken fucking neck!"
I shifted more weight onto my right foot and he yelped, squirming underneath me, his hands desperately trying to move my foot off him.
"Okay, so it probably makes you feel more like a man at night when you can hit some poor broad that day. But see, I like women. And now the joke's on you, buddy. Get up," I commanded, removing my boot from his throat.
He stumbled to his feet, coughing. My friend here then did the one thing I would have bet money he wouldn't have done, and charged me. Like I wasn't prepared. He ran at me with his right arm curled back like he was going to throw a hook of his own at me, so I sidestepped him and hooked his arm with my own, throwing him shoulder-first into the car door to what was my left. I then introduced the sole of my boot to the side of his head, probably a little harder than necessary, and denting the car door in the process. His head snapped back from the impact and he slouched over himself, unconscious.
"Oh my god!" said the woman behind me. "Was that necessary?"
I snickered. "He's fine. He'll wake up in an hour or so, but he'll remember he's been in a fight. You okay?"
"I, ah..." She seemed taken aback by my newly sunny demeanor. "Yeah, I am. Thanks."
"I hope that wasn't your car, because if it was, I'm sorry."
"No, thank God." Her drawl became much more evident with that last sentence. Southern girl. Couldn't pinpoint from where just based on the accent, though.
"Good. Who's your friend?"
"Some creep I met back in the Room," she replied, running a hand through her hair. "I told him to get lost more than once, he didn't feel like taking the hint. So I walked out, and he did too. And here we are."
"Sorry to hear that. Clifford Kendall, by the way."
"Chelsea Berkman. I wish we met under better circumstances, Clifford."
"Call me Cliff," I said, smirking. "It's what my friends call me."
"Okay, Cliff. Does that make us friends?"
She sized me up. I was unsure if she was amused or intimidated. Regardless, she was probably a bit tipsy and could use some ibuprofen. Her eyes met mine again.
"Mind if I give you a ride home? You're probably not in the best state to drive right now."
"Ah, no. I've had enough fun with strange men for one night. Think I'll call a cab. But thank you."
Shit, I thought. I stuffed my hands into my pant pockets as she walked away, taking one last glance at her figure – which looked much better not crumpled into a dirty heap on the pavement, I must say. Another long look at my car left me wondering what I was doing standing in a parking lot, having rather obviously forgotten something.
Oh, right. I have a contract to start reading up on. Since I've all but left already, may as well get to that, right?