we cover the waterfront
and that's why we're so late, so late
comin' home, comin' down
- john lee hooker, 'i cover the waterfront'
Out of olives.
Meldrick pasted his best grin on his face and shoved the bottle, empty but for lashings of murky brine, back under the bar. He slapped around frantically for a bit and came up with small, see-through cocktail onions, two of which he fished out of the vinegar and hurriedly dropped into the martini glass sitting on the bartop.
"There y'go, miss," he said, pushing the stemmed glass on the square napkin across the bar at her, since she didn't seem about to take it herself. "That's one of our special, ex-clusive Waterfront Martinis, right there. Now, I don't make these for any ol' body...just women of class, breeding, beauty--" he leaned an elbow on the bar, smiling ingratiatingly, "--such as y'self."
The dark-haired woman picked up her glass, leaving the napkin, and moved to a table in the corner. Meldrick sighed, using the damp paper square to wipe half-heartedly at the counter. Sometimes it seemed like he just couldn't win...at women, at life, at anything....
The door jingled its opening and the vaguely chilled night air blew in, bringing a loud, excited Mikey and an apple-cheeked, bundled-up Tim with it. "Hey, Meldrick," Tim said breathlessly, trying to simultaneously unwind what seemed to be six feet of scarf from around his neck and take off his enormous coat.
"'Bout time you got here, Bayliss," Meldrick grumbled, reaching over to pull the tail ends of the scarf from Tim's cold-stupid fingers and hanging it on a nail behind the counter. He wasn't really upset; it was just habit for the three of them to bitch and whine when the next person on-shift arrived, even if business had been pretty slow and there was nothing to complain about.
Mike plonked himself on one of the barstools, bringing that familiar salt-and-leather smell with him as he grinned at Meldrick, grinned all over that narrow Irish face of his. "Wanna work for my money there, partner?"
Meldrick, arms folded, tilted his head back at a slant and regarded Mike from half-closed eyes. "You only drink the cheap stuff anyway, Mikey. Jim Beam ain't exactly eighteen-year-old Scotch when it comes to the price range, y'know? It don't demand as much effort from your friendly local barkeep."
Having finally gotten his overthings off and hung up, Bayliss came around the back of the bar, looking pinkened and alert. "Eighteen-year-old Scotch? We have that?"
Still eyeballing Mike, Lewis nodded before turning to address Tim. "What kinda bar you think we're running here? Of course we got it! It's expensive stuff, stuff that we can't expect our regular clientele like the murder poh-leece or the down-and-out bar rats to be able to appreciate!"
"What's it called?" Tim quietly filled up a glass with Jim Beam for Mike while Meldrick looked personally offended. There was a brief pause as Meldrick racked his brain to come up with the name of the liquor and keep from seeming totally irrational. Then: "Glenliddich." Meldrick was pleased with himself.
"You mean Glenfiddich," Mike interjected before throwing back the bourbon, with a nod of thanks for Bayliss.
"No, Kellerman, I mean Glenliddich. Who's the bartender here, me or you?"
Mike held up his hands and shook his head, seeming half-drunk already. "All right, okay, don't get your lemons in a twist. So can I have some?"
"Some of this wonder whiskey you're going on and on about."
"Meldrick," Tim interrupted, "I'm just gonna nip into the back and have something to eat. I'm starving--Frank and I have been working forever on the paperwork for the Robey case, and we only just--"
"Yeah, go on, go ahead." Meldrick waved his hand as Tim darted into the kitchen. "You're too damn skinny anyway, Bayliss! What you need is some good home cooking."
"What, you mean like all your tons of girlfriends make for you?" Mike got a good long glare for that before Meldrick answered. "No, and don't bring up my love life, thank you! I'm talking about my grandmom's cooking. She could make the best honey biscuits you ever tasted in your life." Meldrick smiled slightly to himself as he tipped the bottle over Mike's glass, filling it about halfway with Scotch and pouring a glass for himself as well. He caught Mike's pointed look and shrugged defensively. "What? I'm off as soon as Bayliss finishes eating."
"Yeah?" Mike scratched the side of his neck, nonchalantly, and said, "Wanna come back to the boat with me?"
Meldrick picked up his drink, thoughts of his grandmoms and her prize-winning cornbread stuffing dissolving into the amber whirlpool of liquor as he swirled the glass around. He squinted at Mike, who was making a show of cracking his knuckles and shifting on his stool. Riding with Mike day in and day out in that stuffy little Cavalier had taught Meldrick that when Mike said something chancy, something he wasn't sure how his partner would respond to, it was always followed by knuckle-cracking and twisting around in his seat like his butt was on fire.
"Why would I wanna do that, Kellerman?" he jibed, trying to gauge the depth of the invitation. "What exactly is there to do on your floating mansion that I would give up the bright lights and sights of Bawlmer for?"
A smile lit Mike's face, relentlessly forcing those dimples to show themselves. How many times, Meldrick mused, had lil' Mikey gotten his way by flashing those dimples? Probably about as many times as Meldrick Lewis had sweet-talked and smooth-talked people into getting his way.
"So you'll come," Mike crowed, breaking into his partner's musings. "Great! We'll grab a case of beer, order a pizza, watch TV--"
"Quality time," Meldrick said, amused and a little disoriented by how pleased Mike was.
"Yeah." Those eyelashes went into overdrive as Bayliss came back from the kitchen, wolfing down the last few bites of what seemed to be a turkey sandwich with tons of mayonnaise. Mike stood up, snugging his jacket around him, and held up his glass to Meldrick. Suddenly remembering the Glenliddich he was still holding, Meldrick grinned and clinked glasses with Mikey before they drained them. Quality time.
/ / /
Tim sighed as he swabbed down the counter for the umpteenth time. Business wasn't just slow tonight, it was...dead. He smiled a bit to himself as he rearranged the glasses, wondering when this shift was going to end, when he'd get to go home and collapse thankfully into his waiting, rumpled-up bed....
Ahhhh--the heartening sound of a familiar, much-welcomed voice. "Kay," Tim grinned, setting down a napkin before her on the bar. "What'll it be, Sarge?"
Kay Howard settled herself on the stool, hooking her heels into the rungs while she considered. "Mmmm...gin and tonic."
"You betcha. Olive?"
Kay was delighted. "You remembered! Yeah, sure, why not. Live it up, huh?"
Tim was just setting the glass down and popping a couple of olives into it when Judy slid up to the bar, scootching her glass along it with an annoyed shove. "Olives!" she spat. "Lewis pretended there weren't any left! I had to have onions in my martini!"
"Onions?" Kay made a face as she stirred her drink.
"Jeez, Judy...he must've just not seen them. Here, have another--on the house, okay?" Judy tossed her hair, accepted her drink and went back to her table, seeming mollified.
"Are you guys hiding ingredients on each other still?" Kay inquired, fishing out an olive with her straw and popping it into her mouth.
"No...I think Meldrick just wasn't looking very hard. There was a new bottle of olives right behind this empty one." Tim held up an oliveless bottle, sloshing the liquid around before setting it down on the bar. "And we never hid stuff on each other! That was just Munch, and he was only hiding the tip jar because he thought Kellerman was stealing from it."
"Why would he think that?" Kay knew Munch was big on conspiracy theories, but Kellerman dipping into the quarter jar? That was a little trivial compared to his usual blown-up paranoias. Tim shrugged, blinking sleepily at her. "Dunno. I think Mike was making a joke about it, and Meldrick--well, you know Meldrick--"
"Yeah, he was kinda going along with it, and the two of them made a really big deal of the whole thing and I think they managed to convince Munch that Mike actually presented some kind of danger to the tip jar."
Kay stretched, rotating her arms to try and ease the desk-weary ache in her shoulders. She shook her head and drained the rest of her drink, an indulgent smile lifting one corner of her mouth. "Sounds like Munch, all right."
"Yeah." Tim leaned his elbows on the bar and propped his chin up in his hands, regarding Kay with drowsy intent. "Hey, Sarge?"
He paused, bottom lip twitching unsurely, then took a breath and continued doggedly. "You and Munch...."
"What about me and Munch, Bayliss?" Kay's voice was still jovial, but her dark eyes made a shift into unsettlingly falconish territory. Tim swallowed at the reminder that off-hours, tumbling red hair and milky freckled skin aside, Kay was a woman who was not to be trifled with. "Uh..." he demurred, "uh...you don't get along with Meldrick, do you?" The words tumbled out quickly and Kay's forehead creased in a frown.
"Munch gets along with Meldrick fine. And I get along with Meldrick fine--it's Meldrick who doesn't get along with me!" She pushed a heavy mass of hair from her face as if it were responsible for Lewis not respecting her rank--which, in a way, Tim supposed, it was.
"Well...Meldrick'll come around, Kay. He just needs time to adjust to new things."
"I'm his superior, huh? He doesn't have the luxury of waiting till he feels like respecting me."
"Yeaaaaah...." Tim shifted uncomfortably. He suddenly didn't want to talk about this anymore. "How'bout I get you another?" Kay reached for the peanut bowl, nodding. Tim turned to get a glass and felt his elbow bump something slick and solid, then registered what it was (olive jar!) a nanosecond before it hit the floor and promptly cracked open.
"Christ!" Kay stood up on her stool and peered over the bar at the pool of dull grey brine that was slowly spreading over the floor. "You okay? Did the glass get you?"
"No, no--it only broke into a couple of pieces, it's thick glass. I'd better go get a mop--" Tim's shoes slipped in the cold spill and he nearly went skidding onto his behind, just barely managing to catch the edge of the bar and keep himself from hitting the ground. "Ooooh--my back!!" he meeped, sounding lost from somewhere behind the counter. Kay grabbed his arm and helped haul him up; Tim clung to the bar and smiled sheepishly at her as he caught his breath.
"Hush Puppies," he murmured, by way of an explanation for his klutziness. "They're really goddamn slippery."
Kay bit back a smile, wondering how many pairs of those soft-soled brown shoes Bayliss had, and sat back on her stool. "Be careful," she admonished gently as he slowly stood straight and cautiously made his way around the puddle, disappearing into the back, presumably to fetch a mop.
Picking up her glass to stir the ice around a bit and drink some of the water it had melted into, Kay discovered that Bayliss had popped in a second olive, which was chilling among the frozen bits. God bless 'im, she thought with amused fondness as she speared the waiting morsel with her straw.
/ / /
Munch tinkered with the taps, tunelessly humming some Lou Reed and thoroughly enjoying the isolation of The Waterfront in the dark hour before closing. This was normally when the flotsam and jetsam scraped themselves off the tables, anted up enough to cover their bar tabs, and sludged off into the soupy, tarry Baltimore night, all tanked up and fortified to face another day slogging through their boring, meaningless, repetitive jobs. Closing time, last call, all ashore who's going ashore.
In fact, Munch himself wasn't even supposed to be here. He'd stopped in to pick up something for dinner and found Bayliss slumped all over the counter, whining to high heaven about his back and how tired he was. In fact, for the few minutes that it took to wait for a club sandwich and potato salad, Bayliss had kvetched so much that John got totally exasperated and told him to shut up and go home.
"But who'll close up?" Tim had complained, eyeing Munch hopefully.
"What am I, invisible here? I'll close up, Tim! I am capable of handling it by now, thanks so much for your confidence in me."
Which was why he was here on his night off. Which happened to be the slowest night in the whole of Baltimore's public house history, apparently.
Which meant he had the bar all to himself.
A quick dip into the tip jar for a short stack of quarters, and Munch did a few spastic dance steps over to the jukebox. He pursed his mouth and perused the selections, finally plugging in his coins and punching in numbers with birdlike jabs, and Louis Armstrong promptly blared to life with "A Kiss to Build a Dream On."
John Munch took a twirl around the dance floor, enjoying the brassy blare of the trumpet and the shiny black of his Florsheims, a-tap-tap-tapping along the worn, stained old wood. Sure, he lacked a partner of the fair persuasion, a boutonniere in his lapel, top hat, tails--but it was fun. Sweet, simple, fun. Something he sorely needed after a zipping ride on the Sniper Express, last stop Redball Central. Just a few moments dervishing to the music, with nothing more to worry about than tripping over his own flying feet....
"Satchmo would be proud, John."
Skidding quickly to a stop against a table, Munch caught his breath and leveled his best "one word and you're dead" look at the utterly composed Frank Pembleton, who stood just inside the door, hat in his hand, as sanguine and dapper after the remains of a seventy-hour case as if he'd just showered and shaved and sprung from the head of Zeus.
"Kind of late to be stopping off for a drink, isn't it, Frank?" Munch straightened his clothes and skittered quickly behind the bar, feeling heartened by his role as bartender and proprietor. "Shouldn't you be heading home to your munificent and fruitful better half?"
Frank dropped his fedora on the counter, straddling a stool with a fluid, one-handed pull. "Well," he drawled, "now that the immediate danger to the city and our lives in particular is gone, Mary is wasting no time in telling me over and o-ver that although she's carrying our child, I shouldn't be so...over-protective." He rolled the word over his tongue as though it tasted bad and he was longing to spit it out.
Grinning slightly, Munch finished pulling a pint and gave the glass of beer to Frank, who sipped it mournfully as the song died down, leaving the bar in intimate silence. "It's your first baby, Frank," Munch pointed out. "Next time around--"
"--it'll be old news, history, been there, done that. First babies always sent their parents into tailspins of anxiety--it's what keeps the human race from dying out or eating their young. If first-time parents weren't constantly worrying about whether the fetus is hot, cold, hungry, happy, Libra, ambidextrous, Beatles fan or Elvis fan, then they'd neglect the poor thing and it'd die upon delivery. If they didn't worry, women would just drop litters and hope some of them survived."
Frank opened and closed his mouth a few times, tasting the beer and chewing over Munch's dialogue. He harrumphed, obviously not wanting to delve any deeper--either that, or not wanting any more of Munch's advice--then said: "Didn't know you were a Louis Armstrong fan."
Munch displayed another skittish grin. "Yeah, sure! In fact, he always sort of struck me as being like a sort of kindly uncle of yours. You two have a lot in common, y'know."
"That's insulting on so many levels...."
"No, really, you do!"
Finishing off the beer, Frank stood and firmly tugged his hat down onto his brow. "I don't play the trumpet," he declared, sweeping his scarf around his throat, a rather unsettling crimson.
"I was thinking more about the philosophy behind 'What a Wonderful World,'" Munch commented, dropping the empty glass behind the counter. "You do still think it's a wonderful world, right, Frank?" He ran the song in his head, finding the right pitch, and warbled, "I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow, they'll learn much more than I'll ever know...."
A genuine, surprised smile warmed Frank's face, brightening even those tired, deep eyes for a moment. He tugged his coat closed around him and opened the door.
He stepped outside into the muggy, chilly night air of Baltimore, lit up in a pale wash by the silvery full moon, and listened to the sounds of the city moving and alive around him. He took in the lights on the water, savoured the cut of the brine sweeping in off the harbour; the dark sacred night.
Maybe Munch was on to something, after all.
stories // parodies // sacrelicious