“I haven’t seen Bob lately,” Ray’s dad says, looking around the bar as he climbs up on a bar stool. “Have you seen him, Raymond?”
“Nope,” Ray says. He’s still trying to figure out if he should ask his mum if she’s noticed Dad talking to himself (or Bob), but it’s true that he hasn’t seen Bob, so honesty is definitely the best policy today. What he’s worried about is - aside from the way this tap isn’t drawing the way it’s supposed to. He has a sneaking suspicion the problem is in the basement - other people noticing this new friendship of Dad’s.
“So, Damian, where’s he from? Where’s he live?” asks Bruce, who’s at the other end of the bar. If Bruce and Ray’s dad were in high school and were girls, they’d probably be called frenemies. They’re both former meat cutters, they worked at the same packing house, they know all the same people and each thinks the other’s an asshole. It’s possible people who don’t know either of them think they’re both assholes but for two bits Ray would tell Bruce to take a hike.
Well, two bits and a guarantee that all the other meat packers would still drink here.
“He’s from somewhere up north,” Damian says. “And he’s dead.”
There’s a pause. Ray realizes he’s not the only one who needs a moment to think about that.
“Well, I guess that’s why he’s not been around,” Bruce says, because of course he does.
“Well you couldn’t expect a living Mountie to be spending time in a bar in Chicago, now could you?” Ray’s dad says, offended by the asshole nature of Bruce’s comment. Ray doesn’t even try to be fair in this fight.
“So you’re saying this place has a ghost?” Bruce says.
Ray looks over, sees his dad’s face in the mirror, rolling his eyes.
“Of course he’s not a ghost! He’s just dead.”
“Dad, did Mum tell you she wanted you home by nine?” Ray asks, looking at the clock over the bar and hoping he’s reading it right. His dad looks up at the same clock and then looks at Ray, confused.
“No, she never. She say why?” he asks. Ray thinks fast.
“She’s not trying to plan a surprise party for me, is she, Dad? Dad, you gotta make sure she -”
“All right, Raymond, I’ll handle it,” Damian says, a fatherly smile on his face that he beams at the rest of the bar, the little shit still needs his old man. Ray decides maturity means taking one for the team without shouting something like you are going to pay for this and keeps quiet.
His dad ambles out and Ray gives up on the tap. He tells Mikey to watch the bar, and to pound the hammer on the floor if Ray needs to come upstairs, and he heads down.
There’s a locked door at the top of the stairs and at the bottom and that’s how it was when Ray got the keys and how he keeps it now. Former cops got no arguments with one more lock on one more door. He closes the door at top and locks it behind him before clamping his fingers around the second key and heads downstairs.
He’s down here every day to check on things, and everyday someone sweeps and mops around the kegs, so Ray’s not expecting to see anything when he opens the door. Oh, sure, there were rats when he started but he had the exterminators in and the holes are cemented and most of the crevice like spaces are gone. The kegs are raised and you can slide a broom and mop under there.
So it’s a surprise when he unlocks the door at the bottom of the stairs and walks in, turning on the light and seeing that he’s in some sort of cabin with a wind howling outside and a fire in the fireplace.
“Close the door, young man, you’ll let in the cold,” an old man by the fire says without turning around.
And then he turns around, and the thought that there could be two Mountie ghosts haunting Ray’s bar is probably beyond belief, even in taking into account that there’s apparently already one Mountie ghost haunting Ray’s bar, so adding in another probably shouldn’t be a problem.
“Holy shit, you’re Bob,” Ray says, and Bob looks offended.
“I don’t see that that sort of language is called for, son,” he says, and comes over. He takes off his hat and his coat and hangs them up on the pegs by the door.
“I’ve got a moose hock and some Gorgonzola, if you’re hungry,” Bob says and goes back to the fire. Ray turns around, sees the open door and the stairs.
It’s been since two months after the divorce that he had one of the painkillers, the strong ones.
“You’re dead,” Ray says, turning back around. Bob looks up from the wooden thing he’s whittling, because of course he’s whittling.
“Never be afraid to state the obvious, son,” he says.
“I don’t usually have to be reminded of that,” Ray says. “Thing is, Bob, we have this thing where -”
“Who does?” Bob asks.
Ray looks around.
“We. The living. Chicago. Take your pick of the many things you don’t get to be ‘we’ about. We got this thing where we don’t talk to dead people, which is actually in response to the thing where dead people don’t talk to us. It’s a thing,” Ray says, but there’s a problem in that Bob’s not lost in all the things, which Ray has been counting on. It works on his parents, so he’s a little confused, because Bob isn’t. Confused, that is.
“But we’re talking, son,” Bob says, just like that annoying guy in math class (and he’s in every math class, you know you’ve met him) who says that Latin thing, the one he says, and then looks around and adds, “Q.E.D.,” as if that clears anything up. “You can’t say we’re not talking when patently we are.”
“I can patently say this is the strangest day of my life,” Ray says, and he hears the hammer against the floor above him.
“You’re a pain in the ass,” he says to Bob and turns, leaves, shuts the door behind him, and heads up when he remembers he never did check the taps. Hell.
He heads back down, his arguments lined up, but when he opens the door, it’s the bar basement he expects. That shocks the shit out of him because one thing worse than a weird thing happening is a weird thing not happening and then you have to decide if it did happen or are you just going crazy.