Manhattan Roulette

At the far end of the bar, Marcus and Rav sat shooting the shit over bourbon and cheap pints. The place was empty save them and the bartender. Late-afternoon light came heavily diluted through windows shellacked with grime, leaving the sticky counters and graffitied walls mercifully underexposed. No one but neighborhood regulars ever drank there. Marcus and Rav were not regulars, or even from the neighborhood – which probably accounted for the bartender’s open glowering as he folded rags several feet away. Oblivious and snug in their private conversational world, the two men talked.

“You ever hear of that old speakeasy in the city, operated throughout Prohibition and the thirties, where they played a type of ‘Russian Roulette’ – but with whiskey?” Marcus asked.

“Nope. Where was that?” Rav said.

“In North Beach, or maybe the Tenderloin, I can’t remember… Jimmy told me about it. You know he’s into historical shit. Small, rowdy establishment… known for this crazy deadly game.

“Oh yeah? How’d it work?”

“Apparently there were six bottles of unlabeled rye behind the bar. You’d ask the bartender for a ‘manhattan’, and he’d grab one of the six bottles at random, which he’d use to mix your drink. One of the six bottles contained rat poison. The bartender didn’t know which – it was the manager who’d make ‘em fresh every day.”

“A one-in-six chance of being poisoned. Yeah, definitely my idea of a good time. Why the fuck would anyone do that?”

“Think – people were getting wasted anyway. Wasted people make bad decisions. Plus, factor in those with counterphobic leanings…”

“Huh?”

“People who, instead of fleeing them, actively chase the sources of their fears. To overcome their anxiety…y’know. Thrillseekers. Can’t you imagine dudes getting into a bragfest which escalates to the point that they’re forced to play?”

“Sure, okay. People are morons.”

“And gamblers. Those who wanna cheat death. Probably a couple wishing to succumb to it, too.”

“Haa. Did you really just use the word ‘succumb’? Well. All this talk about manhattans is making me want one. Sounds damn delicious right about now.”

“Agreed!”

Rav called the scowling bartender over and ordered two cocktails. They sipped on the strong, tart, ruby-colored drinks in silence for a couple minutes. Then Marcus stood up.

“Gotta take a piss. Be right back.”

Rav took another sip, and gazed into the glow of his smartphone.

“He’s wrong y’know.”

“What?”

“Your friend. On several major details. That ‘speakeasy’ – still exists. You’re sittin in it.” The bartender nodded slightly at Rav.

“No way.”

“It’s true. And the game he was talking about. Rules have changed some. Now you don’t hafta know that you’re playing.”

“Uuhm? Well. ‘Scuze me a second.” Rav went back and rapped on the bathroom door. “Dude. You done in there? The bartender’s kinda freaking me out.”

There was no answer.

“Marcus?”

~ by kingzoko on August 26, 2013.

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