John shrugged as he wiped the top of the bar, "gee, Dad, I wanna be a working class owner of a working class bar in a working class neighborhood. Yep, that's what I wanna be."
"That's it? This is the 'Land of the Free,' boy. All you wanna be is a bartender?"
"No, Dad. Nope, what I really wanna be is the owner of a bar that is in the middle of some sort of fucked up crisis over some singing bum. That's what I want." He threw the cloth in the sink with a muttered curse. And then sighed. "And I want to do while having conversations with a man whose been dead for ten years."
John Kelly couldn't figure out why the hell he'd been having so many of these imaginary conversations with his father lately but they were starting to piss him off. Let the man rest in peace already, he thought. But the conversations continued. It was like his brain wouldn't let up and he was damned if he knew why.
He shook his head and rinsed the cloth before heading over to the first row of tables against the wall. Mary was gonna get her ass kicked when she showed up tomorrow. Cleaning the ashtrays out was one thing, but she was supposed to wipe off the tables too. And if she'd done it to this table he'd eat his hat. The damn thing looked like someone have thrown up on it and then tried to cover it with the paper placemat. Judging from the smell that rose when he scrubbed it with the damp rag he wasn't too far off.
"I gotta get me a better class of clientele," he muttered.
"You could have been President, boy. But now you're just some freaking janitor."
"Why don't you roll over in that casket of yours, Dad, and shut up."
He could almost hear his father's wheezing laughter as he continued to wipe down the tables, stacking the chairs on top of them.
Pulling a large bucket out from under the bar, he filled it with hot water and then poured Pine-sol in. His nose wrinkled at the harsh detergent, hating that fake woodsy smell, but glad of anything that seemed to pick up the majority of the scum off the floors in the bar. The linoleum had seen better days and would have to see a whole lot more of them before John could raise enough cash to get it replaced. It's not as if his customers noticed it. As long as it looked clean they didn't care that its brown tinge had more to do with age than coloring. Even the health inspectors were only looking for spotlessness not beauty.
The bar itself was just a large l-shaped room with a long bar along the left wall. The short part of the l stretched along the street and had a pool table, a small stage and dance floor. A few tables were scattered around, but none that would block the access to the kitchen. It was one of the reasons why John liked to start there when he was washing the floor. There were few obstacles and he came away with a feeling that his night was almost over. That sense of accomplishment was always what he needed after a long night.
It had been a crazy couple of months. First that weird bum and his singing and then that stupid reporter and his article... John wasn't sure which one of his customers had called the newspaper, but, damn, when he found out that person was permanently banned from the bar. The writer hadn't even stopped by for a 'performance.' He'd obviously just been trying to come up with a quickie local story before deadline - he'd just shown up at the bar, asked a few questions of whoever was there at the time and taken off. Leaving John to carry the load.
"That stupid Church bimbo didn't help either."
"Shut up, Dad," John mumbled, though he wholeheartedly agreed. Helen Wilson was somewhat of a local legend for her holier-than-thou and parsimonious ways. He doubted she'd even known about the guy and his singing until the reporter stopped by. I mean, come on, that hobo had been around the neighborhood for years bumming change and she'd never made a fuss. John'd even seen the stingy bitch give the guy some change every once in a while.
He snorted. She'd probably given him an earful about God and stuff too, while she was at it.
Anyway, the Thursday after the article was printed, she, and a bunch of Ladies' Auxiliary members, had descended on the bar. They sat there, sermonizing about the evils of alcoholism (as they sipped their gin and tonics), and going on about how this neighborhood "just wasn't the safe place it was in their day" and muttering about how this "singer of the Devil's songs was going to murder them in their beds." John should be so lucky.
She wasn't the only one to show up. The bar had been packed with curiosity-seekers. Most everyone had been there… except the one they'd all come to see. The singing hobo was a no-show.
There was a bit of a drop-off the following week - it was to be expected, after all - and that pathetic churchwoman's antics did little to help. This time she'd called in her choir biddies and they proceeded to sing each and every pop song on the karaoke system. She'd obviously read the story carefully and decided that if he wasn't a pop lover she'd scare him away with that. Choir biddies of the world unite! You have nothing to fear except for an eighty-year old grandmother singing 'Oops, I did it again' off-key.
When the guy didn't show again, Helen'd proclaimed loudly that it was due to her Lord's good works (and the embarrassment of pop music lovers everywhere).
Others, unfortunately, blamed him. There were editorials declaiming his 'obvious attempt to drum up customers' and angry shouts from the Lower Income Support Society who felt that he'd been using the poor, unfortunate man for his own ends and then had cast him out in the streets. Who the hell were they trying to kid? That guy would probably have been long dead if he hadn't been nice enough to let him in out of the cold. There'd been two street people deaths over the winter… no one talked about that, but he was apparently some heartless fiend who thrust people out to live in a snowdrift…
"'Charity is its own reward.' See? That's why I told you: never give out charity to people. They'll screw you every time."
"Dad, why don't you rest, so I can get some peace?" John stretched, listening to his back crackle like a bowl of Rice Krispies, and sighed as he glanced at the clock. Almost 4:30 a.m. Yet another 16 hour day. God! He'd have to get some more help around here. Mary was great and all but she'd have to do more around here than waving a cloth over the tables and chatting up the customers.
He chucked the dirty water out the back door into the alleyway and then filled the bucket again as he prepared to attack the remainder of the bar.
At least some folks had come to his rescue. In a feeble attempt to cover his ass, the reporter had hit the streets looking for the 'mystery singer.' Hard to do when he'd never seen the singer in the first place, John thought, but the guy had managed to unearth a couple of street people who knew the singer. They said that he, the singer, had read the story and that was the last they saw of him. Obviously he wasn't thrilled about being a mini-celeb and had moved on. At least that was the way the press was playing it now. John didn't care. All he knew is that it hade been a couple of chaotic months and things were slowly starting to get back to normal.
Though if he could just stop that church bitch from showing up and singing things would be perfect. Seems she'd taken a shine to the karaoke idea and came by every week to butcher songs and pester people's eardrums. Maybe if he cancelled karaoke and just put some video games up on the stage. A nice pinball machine or something…
Soon the whole place smelled like a forest on crack and all that was left to do was take the trash out to the dumpster in the back. Grabbing a garbage bag in each hand he elbowed the back door open, kicking a brick in the crack to keep the door from shutting after him. He walked over to the dumpster and threw first one, then the other, bag in. The noise they made sounded like thunder in the quiet alleyway, but it was something he was used to. Probably why he didn't hear the shallow moans until after he'd deposited his last load of bags.
John hesitated. It was, after all, late at night and the neighborhood wasn't the best. The last thing he wanted was to get himself involved in some drug deal gone bad. But as the next low groan sounded he found that his humanity won out and he peered around the unlit alley. It didn't take long for him to find the source of the sound: squished in behind the dumpster, shivering violently despite being wrapped in a grubby coverlet, was the city's missing singing hobo.
Just his dumb frigging luck.