The House Painter (Revised)

Written in the Spring of 2020

Word Count: 823

The bustling noise of the Saturday night crowd wasn't the only element of the bar that soothed Gage Rogers. Momentous catches were mounted on the walls along with antique signs and posters. Framed clippings of newspaper headlines were also overhead, boasting of politics, vacation spots, and local events that must have held some sentimental value to the owner. Gangs of men who crowded the pool tables and held close their beers. The balls struck against each other while elsewhere alcohol spilled into burnished glasses- these sounds joined the rest of the composition. Gage's other senses were overtaken by the bottle of whiskey pressed to his lips: its strong, fiery taste, it's sickening smell, and the burning sensation as it trickled down his throat. It was his element.

The only thing that he found peculiar was a beautiful woman that sat near the end of the bar. He could've sworn she'd glanced in his direction a few times. The woman had dark brown hair of an almost matte finish, which framed her face nicely. From a distance, he could see her makeup was subtle, but at the same time, he could tell from the sharp edges of her brow that she was an expert at dressing herself. Her hands were covered in short, silk gloves. Dainty fingers traced the rim of her glass, which was half full of red wine. She was drinking it slowly as if either savoring the taste or buying time.

For some reason, she reminded Gage of his wife, Lorraine. The thought of her made him unconsciously thumb over the phantom pressure of a ring around his fourth finger. Gage had taken off his wedding band before leaving the house. The man's marriage was draining him; it made him feel lighter when he took it off. Gage scowled at his left hand. He hated to be reminded of the painful realities of his life while he drank.

The most confusing part was that there wasn't a single thing about the woman's physical appearance that was similar to his spouse's. In addition, the former seemed about thirty, if he had to guess- a decade younger than Lorraine. Even so, she had that same aura that he'd felt radiate off his wife; but he couldn't place exactly what the quality was. Gage looked away from the mysterious woman and downed another generous gulp of his whiskey.

With a bit of liquid courage, Gage sat up from his stool and made his way to the woman. He gestured to the seat next to her, "Is this taken?"

She gazed up at him with a raised brow and curious eyes. She shook her head and looked away. "No, you may sit."

So he did. Gage sought the depths of his mind to think of a witty ice breaker; however, he had long since been out of the dating game and could not think of a decent one. Fortunately, he didn't have to- the woman spoke first.

"I suppose some company is better than drinking alone, wouldn't you agree?"

He nodded in agreement, taking another swig of his whiskey. "My name's Gage. You?"

"Ruth," she replied.

"And what do you owe this night to, Ruth?"

She raised her glass and gazed thoughtfully into the distance as if intrigued by a speck on the wall. She drank in a way that somehow didn't leave a lipstick stain on the glass.

"Celebrating an epiphany," Ruth laconically spoke. "How about you?"

"Mostly to forget," Gage answered. "Some to think."

"Thinking while you're drunk can lead you to trouble, you know."

He laughed at that. "No doubt."

The woman smiled gracefully and cocked her head to the side. "Unless, of course, you're the type of person who looks for it." She turned towards him, "Are you?"

"Can't say I'm not," Gage said, tipping back another swig of his whiskey. "Trouble is what makes the world interesting."

Ruth smirked and eyed Gage thoughtfully. The man watched curiously as she stood up from her stool leaned over to his ear. She whispered with a whimsical, layered voice, like a demon clothed in an angel's ethereal robes. Those few words captivated him. In no time, the two had left through the back exit into the dark and secluded alley behind the bar. Ruth, who had brought her wine glass with her, downed the rest in two gulps. In a few quick movements, she grabbed the edge of her dress and snaked it up her leg.

Before Gage's sullied mind could process what was happening, the woman grabbed a pistol from the garter on her thigh and raised it between his eyes. The last things he heard before three bullets landed in his head were the muffled shots that fired through the gun's silencer. His blood splattered onto the wall like modern art. When his body hit the floor, the hitwoman was already gone- gun holstered and a wine glass in her hand.