As usual, Carter set a blistering pace. In less than thirty minutes he’d introduced himself to over one hundred patrons of the bar, inviting each one over to the table for a birthday drink. Each bartender got a brief visit and a generous tip. He ascended the bandstand and made the acquaintance of each member of Fleetwood Macaroni. His rapid circumnavigation of the establishment complete, he sat down with a contented sigh. No congressional candidate stumped harder than Carter when a good time was at stake.
The sunburned customers crowding the establishment still irritated Rudy. The tequila trickling through his brain hadn’t done its job yet. He hadn’t stopped thinking. That was what they were all here for. Right? To stop thinking for a while.
So he tried. He tried not to think about the anglers in the photographs on the wall. He tried not to think about the mounted game fish. He tried not to think about the track lighting that dumped luminous cones of radiance onto the bandstand and dance floor. All except for one. He got up and worked his way around happy patrons to the spot the missing shower of light should be cascading onto. He stood directly under it, considering the single dark bulb above him. It was unforgivable. If he was running the place the bulb would never have burned out. He’d have made quite sure of it. If Max was here—.
And like that, he was back in the world of the thinking. If Max was here. But Max was not here. Max would never be here again.
Across the bar Carter waved, trying to get his attention. Rudy avoided him. He knew what Carter’s signal indicated. Time for another round. Of course. Everyone in the place was having another round. All of them, in their ridiculous cargo shorts and their stupid t-shirts. With their idiotic chatter about things that would never matter to anyone with a brain. He watched them and listened to the drivel and felt it rising inside him. Hate. Not for them. For himself. Because he knew the difference and he’d chosen to be here anyway.
Carter raised two shot glasses of what could only be tequila. Rudy started walking toward him, knowing that as much as he hated himself, he hated Carter most of all.
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