[personal profile] rattlecatcher
So I'm doing the GWYO 7 days/7 stories challenge, but perhaps not seven stories. Maybe just one, in seven days.

What's below is a preface (written yesterday), followed by Part 1.


Preface: This Juncture and No Other

For reasons that do not need exploring at this juncture (and he points, pointedly, pointing with an index and pinkie finger when he says this, so pay attention: the reasons are unimportant), Ray Kowalski is now the owner of a bar called Brew South.

He hates the name, but he also hates the money it would cost to remove and replace the sign. The regulars hate the sign, too, especially as it’s the sort of thing that attracts people who think it’s a good name, but they also hate the thought of the money it would cost to remove it, since that money’s gotta come from somewhere.

Ray was one of the youngest detectives in the Chicago PD, and - here’s your irony, hipsters - the golden bullet he caught came from the oldest criminal in Chicago. “If only he’d been wearing his glasses,” they used to say, “Lou Skagnetti would be a free man and Kowalski would have been a dead cop.”

Ray’s fine now, thanks for asking.

On tap is Schlitz, Pabst, and True Blue, which is the beer Ray makes in a small vat in the back. It tastes like crap but Ray got the loan to buy the bar because he didn’t realize that a “brew pub” wasn’t just a yuppie hipster crispy-shirt word for a bar, but, according to the laws of Illinois, means “an establishment selling beer brewed on the premises and often including a restaurant.”

There is no restaurant.

There are sandwiches: Ham, cheese, and ham-and-cheese. Mustard is yellow, mayonnaise is whatever was cheapest at the Jewel down the street. There’s also a bar mix that’s mostly pretzels. Take or leave it, and the locals take it.

Most of the regulars had to be coaxed in, their first visit. “Brew South?” they said. “Pass.”

“Come on,” someone would say, “It’s Damian Kowalski’s kid runs it.”

“Kowalski? The cop?”

“Was a cop,” they’d be told.

Really, it’s the same conversation every single goddamned time.

It does okay. Ray’s not going to get rich, but most of his pension stays in the bank for when he really needs it. Probably when his dad’s generation dies, because that’s his book of business right there, a lot of old meat packers and truck drivers, their wives, sometimes their kids.

Mostly not, or at least, mostly not after the first time, because the kids always come in once because of the name, and they think finally, some gentrification, hopefully they’ll get that Jewel down at the end of the block soon and then they come inside and feel like they’ve been baited and switched and they’re now stuck in a wino joint until Dad gets engrossed in the game.

Come on, Cubs.

Ray’s got wine, by the way. Some of it’s vintage now because no one actually orders it. That’s fine, he’s only got two cases, red and white.

Sometimes he gets younger people in that didn’t come in with their dads (and okay, let’s go back a paragraph for a moment. Why in the name of Wrigley Field did any of you idiots think your dad had suddenly become cool?), and they find it’s not as welcoming a place, most of them, because they’re having the time of their life for a round of True Blue and Pabst, and then they go, and if you think Ray doesn’t know what Yelp is, he’d suggest you go fuck yourself, except you should take a hint from your exes: 1-star, wouldn’t fuck again.

It may not surprise you to find out Ray is divorced. Almost every decision he’s made since buying this place has been the opposite of what Stella would do. So maybe it could make more money, but maybe it makes enough, did you ever think of that, Stella?

She hated the name of the beer he brewed almost as much as she hated the beer. And that’s funny, because Stella doesn’t like hops any more than anyone else, but if she’s drinking, it’s IPA and shit like that. Hell. Ray got married in his uniform, and Stella hated that he’d been a cop.

What the fuck had he been thinking?

But Stella’s in his past and right now there’s no one in his future, no one but the regulars and the drunks. His dad’s mostly in the former category, but he’s always at the end of the bar away from the cash register. He doesn’t want Ray to think he’s crowding him or nothing. He likes Brew South (well, okay, not the name, but you know how much they want to remove that sign? Holy Mary, that’s a lot of money that could be spent on something worthwhile!), it reminds him of the places his old man uses to drink in, and when he’s on his third, the faces at the bar mellow into his memories, and he toasts the fella in the mirror. Sometimes, the fella toasts back, sitting next to Damian with a big smile.

“You got a good son, there,” the fella says, and Damian says, “Yep, I sure do.”

“Sure do what, Dad?” Ray says, but by the time Damian answers Ray’s gotta draw one for Mitch down at the other end.


He’s open six days, one other bartender, and two waitresses, both of whom pick up hours at other places where they got a chance of earning a little more coin. They’re the daughters of the regulars, Erin, who works nights when her ma can watch the baby, and Laurel, who’s studying to be an actress. After she calmed down she got better.

Mikey was before Laurel, and Ray hopes he comes back once he gets his head together. He’s not from here and he’s too nice a guy for the kind of chicks his dick seems to like. He’s out living in a suburb now.

It’s just before five, maybe ten til? - when the Bookman comes in.

Ray has just finished cleaning the blenders, a task that last night’s crew didn’t get to, owing to Erin needing to leave early because of her new boyfriend. Ray’s trying to negotiate how to respond, considering he’s pretty happy Erin’s not telling him some malarkey about it being the baby.

And now this.

Ray wonders if he’s going to ask for wine, but there’s only a couple of reasons a guy like the Bookman comes into a place like Brew South. Either he’s meeting someone here, and boy is that a mistake, because HELLO, a former cop is going to be able to recognize a the capos of the major families. Or he’s come to see Ray, a move that will bring no joy to anyone, least of all -

“Stanley Kowalski, long time,” the guy says as if summer’s over and they’ve both showing up in the school uniform, one of them shiny new and the other in a hand-me-down. As if the Bookman is still known as Vecchio, the youngest boy with only one little sister coming after him, the kid who wanted to become a police officer when he grew up. Even the nuns didn’t believe that would happen, considering how long the Vecchios had been allied with the Langoustino family. But to Ray Vecchio, it was a surprise and a crushing blow to find out he wouldn’t be a member of the CPD. Still, he got over it, and now no one calls him Ray, they call him the Bookman.

“That was a side splitter in school,” Ray says about the Stanley Kowalski crack. It doesn’t help that yes, Stanley’s his first name.

“Wonder if I might ask a favor,” the Bookman says, looking at a barstool and rubbing a hand over it before trusting his pants to it. He tosses down a ten. “Gimme something that won’t kill me.”

Ray gives hims club soda and a lime wedge, and puts nine in change down on the bar. The Bookman, of course, will leave it as a tip, but this is how the game is played. Ray subscribes to the once a cop always a cop rule, but he has a lifetime subscription to this is how you get along in Chicago.

“For old times’ sake,” the Bookman says, hoisting the glass in a toast. “I need you to remove that sign.”

The bar is officially Ray’s. As in, that’s the name. Or Ray’s Brewpub, LLC, if you want to be technical. And, as has been already mentioned, Ray hates that sign. Also it’s been mentioned before, it’s going to cost more than Ray wants to pay to remove it. But if you want to know the truth, if Ray could win valuable cash prizes taking it down, and if the removal tripled his business, Ray would not take it down at the Bookman’s request, and that’s mostly because he doesn’t want it known that he did something for the Bookman or for the Langoustino Family and also maybe mostly in a small way because he’d rather do something for the Langoustino Family than ever do anything for the Bookman.

“Yeah?” Ray says in a maybe it’s a question, maybe it’s a go fuck yourself fashion. It’s what he’s known for, he hopes.

“Sign’s gotta come down, Stanley.”

“Sign’s gotta stay right where it is.”

“Come on, no one even calls this place Brew South.”

“It’s a landmark,” Ray says. He’ll hire some welders to come in and he’ll pay double what it would cost to remove it to make sure the sign stays here long after the aliens come and destroy the planet. Brew South and the Statue of Liberty, free floating out in the galaxy.

But what’s the Bookman’s interest, he wonders.

“You opening a bar somewhere, Bookman?” he asks. The Bookman opens his arms in a come on, we’re all family here way that makes Ray think about how no one knows the difference between voltage and current and how Ray could teach people using the Bookman and a car battery.

“What’s with the name, Kowalski?” the Bookman says, “come on, call me Ray.”

Ray thinks about baring his teeth instead, then thinks about the guys standing outside the window, making sure no one comes in during this entirely innocent and private conversation.

“How about you call me Not Interested and call yourself Just Leaving,” he says, and turns away to start drying already dry rocks glasses, because that’s the international bartender signal that this conversation is over.

“You know I’m only going to send in someone else,” the Bookman says.

“And you know I’m going to call the 2-7,” Ray says, “let someone know what we talked about.”

“Tell them hi, willya?” the Bookman says. “I’m ready for the basketball tournament for Saint Immaculata’s.”

The door closes and Ray looks around. The Bookman is gone, and his henchmen are gone from outside the window.

Ray calls the 2-7, leaves a voicemail for Huey with all the details he can remember.

It’s not quite a defanged threat. The Langoustino Family doesn’t own the copshop. But the Bookman, having been cleared of charges after the death of both Louis Gardino and Irene Zuko, isn’t automatically going to raise hackles in the department. Meanwhile, Ray Kowalski might have only been with the 2-7 eight months before getting shot: he’s still a brother in blue.

After the call, it’s still quiet in the bar. Ray’s probably going to have a light night. Nothing like having a capo’s goons outside your door to make people stay away.

So, what’s the Bookman want with that sign, anyway? Or why does he want it down, huh?

Ray ponders these questions late into the night. It gives him something to do.

The Bookman doesn’t send anyone, or at least he doesn’t send any thugs, no one came in that looked threatening or tried to drive out customers.

The kid with the laptop could have driven people out, but Ray told him to wear headphones, and that solved the problem. The kid was becoming one of the regulars. He was in college, but he wasn’t studying obnoxious. He didn’t claim his old man used to be a union man or anything like that, he just said he liked the place, and he’d say it while ordering a Pabst, and he’d nod at the taste, like it was exactly what he was looking for, no more, no less.

So one day this guy comes into the bar.

It’s gotta be the start of a joke, except he’s not some guy. This guy has never been some guy.

He could have been this priest walks into a bar, and all the girls would have called him a Father What-a-Waste. Or he could have been this architect walks into a bar, or this cowboy walks into a bar, or you know what, even better, and Ray decides this is where it starts:

So one day this park ranger comes into the bar.

It’s possibly been raining, and the clouds part when he walks in. Ray’s fairly certain he’s squinting when he looks over. And his hip’s bothering him, that’s a sign, but the point is, Ray looks over, this park ranger comes through the door, and there’s this shininess to him that is straight out of a painting, a pre-Raphaelite beauty, the way the light hits him.

Ray likes art. Your opinion in this matter can go sit in the corner, because the point is, there is a man in the bar who doesn’t look like anyone else in the bar, and he stands out as not belonging, like when you have a jigsaw puzzle of a New England autumn and you’ve got one piece in there that’s clearly from Battle at Sea.

(Ray’s mum likes jigsaw puzzles, and Ray has spent more than one Sunday afternoon watching the game with his dad while staring at five thousand pieces of blue-gray water and salt-water rimed wood.)

This guy clearly doesn’t come into a bar around here.

The only thing that makes the park ranger human is that, like Ray, he’s having trouble seeing. His problem is going from light to dark, though, while Ray’s problem is the sudden light and the angelic beauty.

There’s only a couple of people there, more if you count the guy his dad sometimes talks to when it’s the third beer. Damian Kowalski, cheap date. Every bar that has a freeloader should be so lucky.

(Not that Ray’s dad’s a freeloader, except he is, he just gets dispensation. After all it was meatpacking that paid for Ray to go to college for a year and then to the police academy, so until he drinks nine thousand dollars worth of Schlitz wholesale, Ray’s not saying a word.)

“You need something?” Ray calls out. It’s not the friendliest of greetings but what doesn’t need explaining at this juncture is that Ray isn’t the friendliest of guys. (And Ray, walking into a bar, is definitely this guy.)

“I’m looking for a man,” the park ranger says.

“Who isn’t, honey?” calls out Lorita, resident bar fly. Swear to god, Ray’s pretty certain it’s a check-off box on the loan documents, drunks in residence at time of sale will remain at discretion of new owner.

“Good afternoon, madam,” the park ranger says back to Lorita, and if he hadn’t already taken off the park ranger hat when he came in, Ray is positive he’d have taken it off to her.

“You got a name?” Ray asks, as he comes nearer to the bar. Ray’s been slicing limes, so he’s not moving until he’s done with the knife. Sure it’s small: Ray walked a beat in a decent neighborhood when he was a year on the force, and guess where he saw paring knives being used by the citizens of Chicago against the citizens of Chicago?

“Benton Fraser,” the park ranger says.

Ray shakes his head, puts the lime wedges in the garnish caddy and washes his hands.

“Never heard of him. Got a description?”

“Ah,” says the park ranger, and he stares down at the bar for a second. “I’m sorry, I assumed you were asking my name.”

Ray looks at him.

“You’re Benton Fraser,” he says.


Benton Fraser looks back.

You know what? This guy looks like a Benton Fraser. Ray has never heard the name Benton and this guy? He’s the picture in the dictionary.

“Glad we got that sorted out,” Ray says. “Who are you looking for?”

“I’m assuming you,” Benton Fraser says, and then he winces.

Uh oh, Ray thinks. Last time he saw a wince like that it was accompanied by a bullet. But before he can respond, Benton Fraser goes on.

“Are you Stanley Kowalski?”

There’s only one person in the world who calls Ray that. Ray tries to see the dirt on Benton Fraser, now that he knows it’s there.

“So you work for the Bookman,” Ray says, and Benton Fraser tilts his head and tugs at his collar.

“I don’t know as I’d use that phrasing,” he says, and then he winces and goes pink again.

What the hell is going on, Ray would like to know.

“I go by Ray,” he says, which is the politest way he has ever responded to being called Stanley.

“Only two people I know who call me that. One’s my mum and the other’s an asshole. Guess which one’s working for the Langoustinos?”

“It’s funny you should put it that way,” Benton Fraser says. “He does seem to command respect among a certain society of gentlemen. But I don’t know that I would characterize Ray Vecchio as ‘working’ for the Langoustino family.”

Ray closes the caddy, which he hasn’t done yet, and looks around the bar. Everything is quiet now that Lorita has stopped trying to get Benton Fraser’s attention (at some point, Ray is going to have to settle on something to call the park ranger besides park ranger or Benton Fraser, like Ranger Fraser or Ranger Benton or United States Forest Service Ranger Benton Fraser, the man Rossetti, Hunt and Millais Forgot to Paint), though at the other end of the bar, his dad is looking around, confused.

“What’s going on, Dad?” Ray asks.

His dad starts to say something and then stops, like he just remembered something. He gestures with a shrug, c’mere, and Ray goes, if only to get a little perspective on the current craziness.

“So, what’s going on, Dad?” he asks again, leaning closer so no one hears.

His dad leans closer, too.

“The guy I was talking to just ducked out. He said it was best if no one knew he was here. You see which way he went?”

“I didn’t even see you were talking to someone, Dad,” Ray says.

Damian does a double take, and then smiles, tapping his nose with one finger and sitting back.

“No, I’m serious,” Ray says, and then ah, forget it, because he’s trying not to think about how his dad has, in the past few months, started talking to invisible people. Looks like he’s going to have to ask his mum about it on Sunday.

“So the Bookman sent you to talk to me,” Ray says to Benton Fraser.

“Ray Vecchio sent me.”

“Same thing,” Ray says. Benton Fraser does a neck crack and stares at Ray in a manner he’s not certain he cares for but knows isn’t actionable under the criminal statutes.

“All right, Stanley,” he says, and Ray just looks at him.

“I take it I’m supposed to back off? How about you go tell Ray Vecchio that Stanley Kowalski says to go suck fat Marlon Brando’s skinny dick.”


Ah jeez, Ray only sees these moments after they happen, even as he reminds himself, every day his dad comes in, he reminds himself to never get so hot under the collar that Marlon Brando gets insulted.

“I - I should probably come back at another time,” Benton Fraser says and Ray is staring at an ass that is walking away, and once more there’s the da Vinci halo as the door opens and closes again.

“Sorry, Dad,” he says on auto-pilot.

Date: 2017-06-12 03:45 am (UTC)
dine: (ds juncture)
From: [personal profile] dine
ohhh, yesss!



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