She walked into the bar as the fire burned in the night beyond, and for a moment, the flames framed her. The guys drinking in a row in front of me, the usual losers who hang around Salou until the rum takes them, turned as one and fell into a grumbling quiet. They’d lost interest in the burning bar on the far side of the road a while back, and were back to the serious business of drinking.
I’d seen her around over the last few weeks; on the beach, in the nightclubs further down the strip; she was a sapphire girl in a tin-plate town. She walked across, her long yellow hair was mussed and dirty and soot lay in streaks across her face. She clutched a purse tightly to her chest and I saw her dress was torn. I set the glass I was cleaning onto the shelf behind and tried to soften the ice pick pounding of my starving heart.
She sat on one of the steel-legged stools at the bar, between a drunken ex-football star and Joe, with his Bart Simpson yellow eyes and whisky stink. I leaned forward. ‘Welcome to Madria’s,’ I said.
Her blue eyes were sore, as though she’d cried for a long time, but you could say that about anybody in my place at 3 in the morning. ‘Could I have a glass of vodka please,’ she asked with a smoke torn voice, ‘and some ice, perhaps.’
‘Sure thing,’ I said, turning to fix the drink. The fire lit up the whole inside of the joint and the row of faces at the bar looked like an ID parade in Hell. Sirens howled outside on the Salou road and men yelled as they worked a fire hose on the place. Joe flickered into life, ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘Grady’s is on fire.’
‘We know,’ said the football star, ‘it’s been burning for ages.’ He sighed, turned his rum-beaten face to the fire stamped glass. ‘I liked it in there too; it was classy, not like this shithole.’
I caught his eyes and grinned. ‘Whatever you say, man.’
The girl spoke up. ‘Could I have that vodka, please?’
I slid her drink across and she opened the purse. There were banknotes stuffed inside, more money than I’d ever seen. ‘Here,’ she pushed a hundred into my fist, ‘have a drink on me.’
Ordinarily I don’t drink in the bar, but this time, I don’t know, it felt right. ‘OK,’ I said, poured a Teacher’s whisky. ‘Your health,’ I drank it down. ‘Poor old Grady, ‘I said, ‘he’ll cry into his beer tonight.’
‘He won’t,’ she said.
I caught something in the bitter music of her voice. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I guess he won’t.’
She smiled a somewhat broken smile. Then I heard the door slam open and a man’s voice roared, ‘Bitch!’ and there was Grady, 250 pounds of smoke blackened, bleeding Irish fury.
I reached for the cricket bat beneath the bar.
Grady ran towards the girl, and the night screamed behind him as another fire truck pulled up outside.
The lady reached into her purse and pulled a handgun. Joe screamed. The Football player fell off his stool. The gun looked heavy, dead, and black in her tiny fist and she fired, twice. Grady fell, momentum carrying him forward like a charging rhino into the jukebox. The machine rattled into life, Roy Orbison, In Dreams.
The gunshots hung in the smoky air like the final word of God; the girl turned, finished her drink and glanced at me. ‘Sorry about the mess.’ She set down the glass. ‘Thanks for the drink.’
‘Anytime,’ I said, as she stepped over the remains of Grady, pulled open the door and melted into night and flames.
Joe lifted himself from the floor, his saggy yellow hands shook. ‘Hell, I need a drink,’ he said.
‘Yeah,’ I said, watching the fire, ‘me too.’