Payback: A Short Joe Beck Thriller
by Alastair Brown
Joe Beck met her over an empty lowball glass of five-dollar bourbon in a bar in Trinidad, Colorado. It was a small, smoky sort of place that occupied a red-brick and bare-concrete building situated on Main Street in the middle of town. Frequented by hardened time-tested regulars, it sold beers pretty cheaply but charged a bit extra for the spirits, wines and liquors. It wasn't busy or empty, just ticking over as it always did. A few men were sitting on high top stools drinking beers from brown glass bottles at the bar and another couple of guys were lounging back in the hard mahogany wooden booths by the right wall chatting and smoking.
Beck was one of the guys perched at the bar. He was wearing dark boots, black pants and a gun-gray v-neck t-shirt. It sucked tight to his skin and did nothing to cover his rock-like muscular physique underneath.
Killing some time between gigs, he was drinking bourbon from a lowball glass while casually looking at a story on the front of a discarded copy of The Chronicle News, a regional newspaper serving the area, that had been left there by whoever had occupied the seat before him.
The story was a cover feature about Colorado's rising drug problem, highlighting the case of a local twelve-year-old boy who accidentally overdosed on heroin, drugs they speculated came from a distribution network in the south of the state.
Beck pictured the boy lying face-down, dead, on his bedroom floor and took his last sip of bourbon as she appeared.
She stepped through from an open doorway that led to the back at approximately three minutes past six, presumably a few minutes late for the start of her shift. She was slim and petite. Tanned and brunette. Maybe twenty-nine or thirty and vixen-like. She was wearing a tight pair of black hot pants that sucked to her ass and hips, and a low cut tight black vest top that immediately pulled your eyes to her chest. A small crystal crucifix hung from a silver necklace around her neck and dazzled against the canyon-like cleavage between her breasts. Her hair was long and silky and straightened. It hung down over her shoulders and shone in the bar’s dull orange light. She had the looks, the assets, and the confidence. She was a complete bombshell who had it all, except one thing.
Her left eye was black. It was ringed by a deep purple bruise that no amount of makeup could cover. It looked swollen and sore-looking, and puffy and tender, like she had not long been on the receiving end of a hard right hook.
Stepping into the bar, a few of the men at the counter glanced up from their beers while a couple of other guys sitting in the booths saw her and whistled. She ignored them but for a sly smile, instead noticing Joe Beck, the dark-haired and ruggedly handsome big guy sitting across the counter, and his empty his glass. She smiled and moved over, leaned forward over the bar to flash her cleavage and fluttered her eyes. It was a technique that tended to work with most guys, one that was tried and trusted with the regulars and a sure-fire way to make a few extra bucks in tips.
"What can I get ya, honey?" she asked him.
Beck flicked his eyes from his glass to her chest and, then, up to her face and paused a beat.
"The name of the guy."
She pulled a face.
He gestured his finger in a circular motion around his left eye. "The one who did that to you."
She tutted and pulled another face. "Oh, that doesn't matter. Now, tell me, what you drinking?"
"Nothing until you tell me his name."
A man who had been sitting in one of the booths came to the end of the bar. He was old and white-haired, dressed in camel pants and a white linen shirt that was undone at the first two buttons, and was wearing glasses over big green ogling eyes. He had a lecherous smile on his face. He was holding an empty pint glass in his right hand and a twenty-dollar bill in his left. “Can I get a refill?”
The brunette barmaid flicked her eyes up at him and smiled. “Sure,” she said and moved over to serve him.
As she stepped away, a young black male bartender who had originally served Beck his bourbon walked through to the bar from the back, having gone out with a couple of black bags of trash. He saw Beck's empty glass and gestured to get him another.
Beck nodded. He pulled his wallet from his pants and drew a ten from the bill slot and laid it down on the counter.
The guy took it along with Beck's empty glass. He rang the ten through the till and filled the glass with two shots of bourbon, this time from a different bottle than before. “We're out of Jack but try this,” he said and laid the glass down on the counter in front of Beck along with five bucks of change.
Beck pocketed his change and lifted his glass. “What is it?”
The guy shook his head. “Try it.”
The brunette barmaid finished serving the other guy his beer and leaned back against the counter on the other side of the bar and looked at the black guy.
He glanced down at his watch, a black Casio on his right wrist, frowned and shook his head.
He sighed and looked at her. His eyes scanned her face and settled on her left eye. He shook his head for a second time, this time, though, for a different reason.
She frowned and looked away. It was a resigned face, a look that said she couldn't.
He pulled a face and walked off through the open doorway to the back.
Beck took a sip of the bourbon. It tasted deep and full and spicy. It was one he hadn't tried before but liked. It looked like it came from a russet-colored bottle, something called Bulleit, going by the label on the front. He smiled and raised his glass, looked at it and nodded his admiration and took another sip.
The brunette barmaid looked his way.
"It's a good one, that."
Beck nodded and said, "Yeah," and took another sip. "It's the first I've tried it."
"Oh yeah? What do you usually drink?"
"Jack, Jim, and the occasional Scotch. But mostly Jack," he replied and took another sip.
She smiled. "Yeah. Well, now, you can add Bulleit to that list."
Beck smiled back and nodded his agreement.
He shook his head. “Sometimes beer.”
“Can I get you one?”
She laughed. “Nice try.”
He nodded and took a sip. "What's your name?"
“Joe,” he answered and took another drink. “You from around here?"
She nodded. "Yeah. You?"
He shook his head and took another sip. "Nah. Just passing through."
She nodded, slowly.
He took another drink.
"What brings you to Southern Colorado?"
"On my way to Albuquerque. For work."
She flicked her eyes across his upper body. "What do you do for work?"
"Oh right," she replied and looked him the question.
"I solve problems. Find people. Deal with tight situations, like the one you're obviously in."
She looked away, dismissive.
"Who is he?"
She didn't answer.
Beck took another sip of bourbon. "Brother, father, boyfriend, husband, lover?"
She looked at him.
He said nothing. He just held his drink and looked her in the eye and waited. It was intense few seconds, but there was nowhere else to look, nowhere to divert her gaze. The bar was clean and nobody else’s drink was anywhere near finished.
She sighed. "Ex-boyfriend."
Beck nodded slowly and took a sip. "What made him an ex?"
"I found somebody else. A real sweet guy who treats me right, who treats me like I deserve."
Beck nodded. "Good for you. He still with you?”
She shook her head. “It was too much. My ex got involved. He couldn’t handle it. He walked away.”
"Yeah. Scotty still thinks I'm his. He can't accept that I'm not with him."
"Scotty?” Beck asked, rhetorically, sounding like he was pondering who the guy was. “He the ex?"
"It doesn't matter. I've said too much already."
Beck necked the rest of his bourbon. He sat his empty glass down and looked at her, a frankness in his eyes. "He always treat you like that?"
"Like a walking punch bag."
She paused, then nodded, sadly. "Yeah. I guess. He’s done it a couple of times now."
Beck nodded, slowly.
She looked at his empty glass.
"Can I get you another?"
"Sure. Double bourbon. Neat. That Bulleit shit."
She turned around and grabbed the bottle of Bulleit from the shelf behind the bar and topped up his glass, filling it to the rim. It was more than a double measure, that’s for damn sure, easily a septuple or even an octuple.
He drew his wallet from his pocket and moved to pull some cash from the bill slot.
She shook her head and waved him off.
"Forget about it. This one's on the house."
“Oh, so, now you’re buying me one,” he said and smiled, realizing he was getting somewhere.
She smiled back, turned around and put the bottle back up on the shelf.
Beck and the rest of the men at the bar stole an admiring glance at her perfect ass.
"So, tell me," she said. "What could you with a situation like mine?"
He took his first drink of his next glass of Bulleit. It was every bit as good as his first. "Make it disappear. Permanently."
"Permanently? What's that mean?"
"Whatever you want it to," he replied and took another drink.
She nodded slowly, like she was processing a thousand clashing thoughts in her mind. "As in..."
Beck looked her in the eye and shook his head, subtly. It was a gesture that told her not to finish what she was about to say.
She nodded, slowly. "Right."
He took another drink.
She looked back at him, cogs turning in her mind. "What does permanent usually cost?"
The old guy beside Beck stood up from his barstool and walked toward the men’s room. Beck waited until he was out of listening range before answering.
"Who the target is. Who the client is. What they want done. How long it might take. How easy it might be. And whether or not I like you."
"And do you?"
He took a drink and smiled. "Yeah."
He pulled a face and took another, bigger drink, finishing his second over-filled glass and his third drink of the evening. "For you, nothing."
"Nothing?" she asked, surprised.
Beck nodded. "Nothing. You look like you need some help and I ain't got much else going on tonight."
She nodded, slowly, then looked down and grimaced. It was as if the reality of what she was asking had just hit her. "Actually, you know, maybe it’s best not to...I don't know."
"What's not to know? Look in the mirror. Look at what the asshole did to you."
She did. She turned around and looked at her reflection on the glass behind the bottle shelves, brought her hand to her eye and winced in pain.
"I mean, you said it yourself, this isn't the first time. And it won’t be the last."
She nodded, sadly, still staring at her reflection.
"But we can make it the last.”
“How?” she asked, still looking at her beaten eye in the mirror.
“Leave that to me. You just pour me another glass of Bulleit, neat, and tell me his full name."
After a long pause, she nodded, slowly. Grabbed the bottle of Bulleit from the shelf and turned around and poured Beck his fourth drink. It was another free pour filling his glass to the rim.
He drew his wallet as a courtesy, knowing fine well this one would be on the house, too.
She waved him away and put the bottle back up on the shelf.
Beck stuffed his wallet back into his pants and took a drink, just about finishing his glass of bourbon in one.
She turned around and leaned in close over the bar, the side of her head near to his. He got a whiff of her spicy perfume and felt her silky smooth hair brushing on his skin. "It’s Riggs. Scotty Riggs," she whispered, then leaned back.
Beck looked her in the eye and nodded, slowly. It was a nod that confirmed this Scotty Riggs, whoever he was, was a marked man. He necked the rest of his bourbon and thanked her. Laid a twenty-dollar tip by his glass, stood up and left the bar.
Copyright © Alastair Brown, 2020
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Payback: A Short Joe Beck Thriller is held copyright © by Alastair Brown as at its respective creation date. All rights reserved. It, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any form without permission. Anyone who displays, reproduces, copies, creates derivative works, or sells textual, photographic, video, audiovisual programs or other content related to this creative work/publication for commercial or non-commercial purposes without permission violates intellectual property laws and is liable for infringement of intellectual property rights.
Payback: A Short Joe Beck Thriller is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual business establishments, actual events, or actual locales is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products, brands, establishments, and institutions referenced within this creative work/publication.