He didn’t ask whether Barker wanted company. He simply crossed the room and took the seat next to him, a sneer stretching beneath his disjointed nose. There were no more thoughts of solitude, no more wishes of being left alone. Barker wasn’t going to stop him.

   Not this man.

   ‘I am surprised to find you here,’ the man said, clicking his fingers dramatically. ‘I would have thought you’d be celebrating with the rest of them.’

   The bartender promptly jumped out from behind the bar and walked swiftly back into the murky room. The bald man ordered two more whiskeys and, as the bartender turned his back, removed a large Cuban cigar from his jacket pocket and proceeded to light it. The two men sat quietly as they waited, Barker inhaling from the cigarette, his visitor sucking loudly on his cigar.

   The bartender returned with their drinks, keeping his eyes pinned to the floor as he approached. As he set down the drinks, the bald man opened his legs, pointed his large belly towards the bartender and rolled the cigar smoke around in his mouth.

   ‘What’s your name, boy?’

   Barker had supposed the bartender to be in his early thirties. He had the air of a man who had lived the student life but, like so many graduates, had fallen on hard times. And yet, despite the bald man’s condescending tone, he offered little more than a smile in return whilst keeping his eyes firmly glued on the two drinks he was delivering.

   ‘Tom Richardson, Mr Haines.’

   ‘Do you like it here, Tom?’ Haines asked, slowly rubbing his fat thighs. ‘Do they pay well?’

   ‘It’s a good job, Mr Haines.’

   ‘Maybe you might like to work for me?’

   Tom didn’t answer. His eyes flickered with fear and, with an unusual briskness, he strode out of the room and into the fresher air. Haines sniggered to himself as the sound of Tom’s coughing drifted back through the door. He picked up his glass and, with his eyes still tinted with glee and sparkling with mischief, he raised it in a toast.

   ‘To your success.’



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© 2017 Nick R B Tingley