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The Black Hand, and Nothing To It

The glass was almost empty now, nothing but the crispy bits of ice chips floating in the final puddle at the bottom. Donal Mannion picked it up and licked out the last bits, then gestured to the bartender. “Another, Johnny, when you can.”

“Walker Red is it, Donal?”

“Exactly. And be generous with your pour.”

Mannion frequented The Black Hand, a small bar three blocks from his flat. Three or four nights each week found him at the bar, bantering with whoever might be near him, teasing the girls who ran drinks to the handful of tables near the back, and trading stories with Johnny the Bartender and Leo the Cook, and anyone within listening distance.

While The Black Hand was Mannion’s local, it was not his only resting place. There was Clover and Gold, four blocks over, with its Wednesday drink specials, and The Irish Coup, a bar with a horse racing theme that Mannion found amusing and was only a fifteen minute walk. In each place he knew the bartenders by name and the servers by reputation.

Johnny of The Black Hand returned with the scotch. “Anything new for you. Donal?”

“Not a bit, Johnny. All these days run together like red pants in a white wash, so that everything comes out pink. Not my favorite shade.”

“Ah, but change is the order of things, Donal. Nothing lasts forever. Not even the pink.”

Mannion chuckled to himself. “Maybe so, my friend. But in the meantime we make do, don’t we?” He paused to take his first sip of the new drink. The cold, smoky richness of good scotch wrapped his throat, a comforter made of liquid rather than cloth.

“You know, it didn’t always seem this way.”

“Sorry, Donal, I’ve got to tend to these folks,” and Johnny the Bartender hastened to the far side of the bar, ostensibly to greet some newcomers but in truth relieved to be away from the stories, which never varied, and the self-pity, which never waned.

“No,” said Donal, now to himself alone, “It wasn’t always this way.”…….

“Damn it, Mannion, this report is five days late and tells me nothing. We need analysis, not speculation, and certainly not fantasy. This may as well have been written in crayon. What the hell am I supposed to do with this?”

“You can jam it up your arse, Davis. Or boil it into a stew and serve it to your dogs.”

“I’m done with it all, Mannion. Done with your laziness, and your lip. A last warning, this is”

“Save it, Champ. I’m done with it all, too.” The clutter on Davis’s desk went flying as Donal Mannion swept it with his forearm. Pictures, papers and books flew to the floor, and Mannion heard the tinkling of broken glass. “Done with it all,” shouted one last time, as he stormed out of his last office, out of his last job …….

Ten years ago,’ he thought to himself. ‘And here I am. Still drawing a breath and a pension. Could be worse, I suppose.’

He nursed his drink in relative silence. As it drew once more to the bottom of the glass, he looked through the wide front window of The Black Hand and saw a young couple looking inside, deliberating whether a drink in such a place might be worth their time. The two held hands, and at one point the girl looked up at her man and laughed, a gentle and genuine burst of glee. Her man smiled back at her, the two shook their heads and walked on. Donal Mannion sat where he was, and watched them head to someplace else.

He did not do so. Instead, he gestured once more to the bartender.

“Johnny.” He waved his empty glass. “Another, if you please. And be generous with your pour.”


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