by Bill Baber

At just past six on a Tuesday evening, Tommy Malloy was firmly entrenched on a stool at the Faraway Club, a dive on Clementine Street. While waiting for the bartender, he shook a smoke loose from a nearly full pack, cupped his hands and lit it with the practiced flip and roll of battered chrome Zippo.

The first shot of eighty proof eased down the track of his throat, arriving in his gut like a train pulling into the warmth of a lighted station on a cold winter night. Moments later, he lifted the second to his lips as if it were a fly fisherman’s back cast. With a sudden snap of his wrist, the liquid line began a languid journey that ended with gentle ripples in the serenity of a clear mountain stream.

He smoked another cigarette while idly watching an old fight on the television in the corner. It seemed he vaguely remembered seeing it before but maybe he had just read about it in the papers. The loud, drunken chatter all around him took the place of crowd noise on the muted TV. Every now and then, someone dropped a quarter in the juke box, playing some old blues sides like John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” or “Hey Bartender” by Floyd Dixon.

The third and fourth shots weren’t as good as the first two but that’s the way it was sometimes. He sipped from a cold, long necked bottle of beer for a while before beckoning the barkeep to refill his glass.

The fifth shot on this particular night was the one that would change Tommy’s life. It was a damn train again, only this time it was a hot, runaway freight that derailed in the desert north of Tonopah, throwing a hapless hobo to an untimely end.

Pushing two singles into the gutter, Tommy gathered his change, smokes and zipped his imitation leather jacket. The dying words of the hobo were, “Tommy, it’s time you started going to meetings.” And that’s exactly what he did.

Bill Baber recently moved to Tucson. His crime fiction has appeared at The Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Dead Guns Press, Thrills, Kills n’ Chaos, Powder Burn Flash, Darkest Before the Dawn and The Big Adios. His poetry has been featured in Slow Trains and The High Desert Journal. A collection of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published by Berberis Press at Lewis & Clark College in 2011.