While sitting there, I decided it was lunchtime. Cold pizza and soda filled my stomach while I was hanging out watching the front door. Several people went in and out, but what got my attention was a brand-new BMW parking behind Jack’s pickup. Out walked two men, both large in size, football-big and looking mean, as you’d expect enforcers to appear. The one on the driver’s side flashed a large gun in a shoulder holster under his coat. I jotted down the license plate number, guessing these were bad men. I wanted to get a closer look and the only way was to walk into the bar. It wasn’t something I would enjoy, but must be done. I needed to change my getup a little bit, so I got out and removed my jacket and sweatshirt, tossing them on the passenger seat. From my trunk I grabbed a full-length one-piece insulated coverall I wore when doing maintenance on the Mustang in the wintertime. I added a gray hat adorned with a bald-eagle head over an American Flag design. Both were dirty, making me look like an ordinary working stiff. Since no one knew me I would be another patron staggering in asking for a beer on a lunch break.
The snow was turning to slush, the temperatures were rising and so I crossed in between the traffic, entering through the front door. The outside was old and dingy, the building probably built in the forties, but the inside wasn’t a total dive. Laid out like you’d expect: the bar with stools taking up the left side with tables and booths covering the right. Being in Denver, of course the walls were covered with Bronco’s memorabilia highlighting their best players throughout the years. It was dark inside, but bright enough to see Jack in the back booth with the two big men, talking. They stared at me and I took a seat at the bar. The place was mostly empty, with two people sitting on stools and a couple in a booth on the other side, ignoring each other. The bartender came over, seeming to size me up. I gave him a happy smile and ordered a draft, putting a five-dollar bill on the counter. He rang up the order and left a whole fifty cents in change. I saluted him with the mug and drank down half. It tasted watered-down, a lighter-than-lite beer.
“Wow, $4.50 for a beer?” I stated to the bartender.
“Ambiance,” was all he said.
Looking around, I didn’t see a lot of ambiance. There were only three televisions in the place, an old tube TV behind the bar and a couple of newer large flat screen LCDs behind me, a small number for a sports establishment of this size, and of inferior quality judging by the lousy picture. One was at the end where Jack was sitting, so I turned to watch. They had on ESPN Classic, which showed older sports events considered classics by the program manager. This one happened to be the Broncos against Cleveland in the AFC Championship back in the eighties, a game simply known as “The Drive.”
“Go Broncos!” I said out loud so those around heard me. “Man. Elway was something, wasn’t he?”
Getting up, I moved down the bar, finding a seat next to one of the other patrons to get a better view of the TV and of Jack in the booth. The man turned around and eyed me, then checked out the screen. He showed a half grin, the potent aroma of beer on his breath. He was certainly swimming in the booze and had probably been drinking since the place opened. I wondered how many $4.50 beers he’d had. Might have received a volume discount.
“Hell of a game,” he said with a slight slur. “I poked the old lady good that night I was so pumped we’d won.”
“Easy to get it hard after an impressive performance,” I answered, though the sight of him and his wife wouldn’t do much for my virility.
“Don’t think I’ve seen you in here before,” he asked.
“First time. I was on my lunch break and decided I required a cold one before returning to the grind.”
“You work on cars?” he stated.
“Yep, I’m into the grease and grime,” I answered. “I love getting the motor purring like my lady. Stroke them both right and they howl.”
He laughed out loud like I was speaking his language. I watched the game but was keeping an eye on Jack and his two friends. Their conversation appeared civil and businesslike. I saw the exchange of a couple of folders, and the two men got up from the table. They walked by, looking my way, and I sensed the man next to me turn away, not wanting to look at them, genuine fear on his face. I showed them my happy smile, holding my mug in salute, and they were out the door soon, driving past the glass doorway.
“Wow, those guys were huge,” I said softly. “Might have played for the Broncos?”
“Best not to talk about them. Only leads to trouble,” was all he said, turning on his seat and remaining silent.
Jack peered into the envelope and seemed satisfied by the contents. He pulled out his cell phone and appeared to be typing out a text message. I needed to run to the restroom and found the sign down from me. I strolled by, probing eyes upon me. After I returned, I took my seat again and ordered another draft. Good thing I was working a case, as their alcohol prices would break the bank.
I downed the beer quickly this time and decided I should head on out. Before I got up, Jack stood and left for the door. On my way out, I slapped the back of the man at the bar as if we were best friends and strolled out slowly. Exiting, I saw Jack climb into a new Mercedes, a female behind the wheel. They were kissing before the car was put in gear, the tires spinning loudly, leaving a tread trail down the road and nearly causing a two-vehicle accident in their wake. The plate was covered with snow and ice, so I couldn’t register any letters or numbers. I stood cursing myself for letting them get away. The do-nothing detective had done something, and it cost me. One beer too many.
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