Jed chugged back the ale and slammed the thick mug down on the marble bar. The sound did nothing to startle the multitude of patrons within Saddle’s Sasspire, but it did gain the attention of the fine young woman who had been standing near the jukebox. Jed picked her out of the crowd earlier, when he noticed the bright cerulean blouse she wore. The color stuck out to him, reminded him of something from his past, but he couldn’t remember what. Her blouse was simply a trigger to get him to start wondering what it was he was supposed to be remembering.
Unfortunately, Jed’s memory had been a little foggy after his second ale. Now that he had just finished his fifth, he found it tough to think at all.
The woman with the blue blouse made her way to him, her thick black hair streaming off her shoulders like liquid shadow. She wore a tight black pencil skirt, something most of the ladies wore in this part of Aberfield. The pencil skirt was dress code in most of the office buildings in the financial district. But here in the slums, she stood out like a tiger on a horses rump.
“Had enough to drink?” she asked, leaning against the bar, her eyes making visual contact with Jed’s. She looked a bit blurry through the ale, but still just as pretty as when he was sober.
“I’ve never had enough to drink,” he mumbled.
“It wasn’t meant to be funny.” Jed pushed his mug toward the bartender. “Another.”
The tall, thin man finished drying out a mug with his rag and shook his head. “No more for you tonight.”
“You kidding me?” Jed asked, pointing at the bartender, his finger swaying left and right.
“No. Policy,” he answered, pointing behind him to the black and red sign taped to the glass mirror:
DRINKS LIMITED TO EIGHT PER CUSTOMER PER SITTING
“That’s a load of hogwash,” Jed muttered. “I’ve only had five.”
“You’ve had eight,” the bartender corrected. “Have to follow rules.”
“Rules. This damn world and its rules. Can’t a guy drink until he can’t drink no more?”
“Not here,” the bartender answered.
“It was a rhetorical question.”
The woman in the blue blouse touched Jed’s chin lightly with her delicate fingertips and turned his head so he was looking into her face. “I hear you do jobs...for money.”
He let out a quick laugh, like the crack of a whip. “Doesn’t everyone do jobs for money?”
“Clever. You know what I mean though.”
“Do I?” Jed slid off the barstool and stood to his feet. He waited a few moments for the floor to stop moving and then started to make his way toward the entrance.
“Where does a man like you find himself on a night like this?” she asked loudly.
Jed stopped just short of the dining room, a thick wall of cigar smoke filling the cluster of round tables and wooden chairs. “Every night I find myself in the same place. Hell.” He stared at the wood flooring for a moment, waiting again for it to stop moving. The woman came up behind him. She didn’t reach out for him or put a hand on his shoulder or take his hand. She simply stood behind him, her hands folded behind her back, and whispered in his ear.
“Your wife is dead.”
He turned toward her. “You best go back to your music machine, lady. I have no policy against hitting women. Especially women who have no issue coming into a place like this.”
“I’m stating a fact. Your wife is dead. You have nothing now, except your fermented liver and a trigger finger that can’t get enough.”
“I don’t do those kind of jobs anymore.”
“Maybe you should. Might make you feel better about your wife dying.”
“Yeah, well, my trigger finger felt better when I blew holes through the man who took her life.”
“You’re lying. You don’t feel better. That’s why you’re in here every night, wallowing in your sorrow, drinking the bartender under the counter.”
“Oh, lady, I didn’t say I felt better. I said my trigger finger felt better. So good, in fact, that it decided it didn’t need to work anymore. It’s retired now. No more shooting. No more killing. Nothing. Now, get your pretty little ass back to the music machine and get the hell away from me.”
The woman took his hand in hers, and before he could protest, his vision filled with darkness. At first he thought she had caused him to go blind, but then images began to materialize upon the dark backdrop – images of a red army, its numbers filling the desert. They were attacking something big, a blurred object off to the side of his vision. He waited a few moments, and the blurred object came into focus: a cylindrical tower with spiraling stairs that wrapped around the outside, moving up and up and up until it disappeared into the dark clouds.
His vision filled with the bar scene again, and he fell flat on his rear end. Some of the patrons laughed, but nobody really paid him much mind. The woman reached her hand down toward him and helped him to his feet.
“You’re a Sayer,” he whispered. “I thought your kind were extinct.”
She shook her head. “No. I’m not like them. I don’t have multiple visions. Only one. That one.”
“Why did you show it to me?”
“I’m in charge of the well-being of the tower you saw. The Princeton. And I’m going to need your help defending it.”