Title: Does the Devil Smoke Marlboro Lights?
Fandom: The Usual Suspects
Word Count: 2415
Summary: A New York barkeep remembers an encounter with a famous figure. Forget shooting him in the back. How do you look the Devil in the eye?
Author's Note: What I believe to be the one and only work of nonslash The Usual Suspects fanfiction on the Internet (if I'm wrong, I would LOVE to be linked to others). A word of caution: I can't imagine why you'd be reading this unless you'd seen the movie, but, on the off chance, THIS CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS about the identity of one Keyser Söze. You have been warned!
Also, the smidgeon of Turkish within has been –as all non-English in all of my fics inevitably is – B.P.I.M.'d (Badly Pirated by Internet Means). On the off chance that anyone reading knows Turkish and wants to correct me, please feel free.
Here. Sit down. It's raining hard out there, and you look like you could use a drink. What is your pleasure?
Ah. I thought so.
Of course you're here to ask about him. Word gets around. I . . . My name?
My name hardly matters. It seems unlikely that you could pronounce it, anyway, for I was not born here and my name is not an American name. But I am an American. More to the point, I am a New Yorker.
For twenty years I have tended bar, first in one man's place, then in another, and now – finally—in my own. New York has become my home, the darkness of her streets what I thrive on. All her sorrows have passed through my door. All her stories have unfolded before me. I have come to know her people, to taste her poisons, to know at a glance what a man is and has done.
The men who drink in my place are not what you call "good" men. They are thieves and forgers, burglars and grifters and dealers. The devil's own, some say. I hear their tales and dole out their slow poison, and I watch and I listen and I never forget.
Once – some say – even the Devil himself passed through my place, and stopped long enough to drink and to lie. Some say the Devil has sat at that very table there.
But for all the lies I hear, I have never told one myself. I do not lie, and I will tell you truly – I have never seen the Devil.
But I will tell you the story, all the same.
It was raining in New York that night, as well. It had been for several days – heavy, battering curtains of cold rain that soaked the whole city without washing it. Few people had braved that rain to drink during the days. Even fewer braved it at night.
And so I found myself alone that night in my bar, polishing glasses and sweeping the floors and listening to the beat of rain on the sidewalks and the front windows.
It was nearly nine when the first one came in, sidled up to the bar and ordered Jack and Coke. He was a short, balding man with a sullen, keep-back stare and the hands of a mechanic. You can tell a world about a man by his hands. I knew by this man's hands that he was a man who worked for his own pleasure, but not for his living. No, that he made by another means – I could tell that by his stare.
I slid the drink across the bar and he took it, nodded, and moved to the table in the back corner. I was secretly pleased by that. It is a table I can observe without moving from behind the bar, and I could tell from the way he watched the door that more people would join him soon. There was a story in the way he sat, as there always is. The both of us waited for it to begin.
The next two men entered together, watching warily like dogs in a pack. The shorter man was blonde, his hair tousled, his eyes the eyes of a wolf in a cage. Those were mad eyes, full of barely-held violence, pale and cold as winter ice.
The other was tall, dark, clean-shaven and neatly dressed; I could not tell from his looks if he was Puerto Rican or Jewish or Asian or some strange mixture of all three. Though he wore an air of lazy indifference his eyes were always watching, observing, wondering. He was a smart man beneath his slow exterior.
The man at the corner table barely raised his eyebrows in salute as the two came in, and they sauntered over to join him. They sat without coming to the bar.
So. There was another coming, and they would wait to drink until he arrived. That made the story more interesting. I watched the rain hammer down outside and waited for the next to come in.
He was not long in coming, and when he entered he brought with him a blast of cold, wet air from the street that swept through the bar. The door bells jangled in protest as he entered, dressed in a low-slung fedora and a long black coat. He lit a cigarette with a gold lighter as he entered.
The men at the corner table shifted, nodded, their eyes suddenly respectful. This man was a leader, someone worthy of their respect; someone who had led them. All this I could tell, long before they spoke. Before the man removed his coat and the fedora and cast them over the back of the last empty chair at the corner table.
I started, but said nothing as he offered a round of drinks. I studied his face, certain I had made no mistake.
It was a weathered, nondescript face, the face of a man in a crowd – not someone you would remember.
But I remembered.
His dark hair met in a widow's peak above brown eyes that spoke volumes and revealed nothing at the same time. As he approached the bar, I flicked my eyes to his right hand. He toyed casually with the gold lighter before tucking it into his pocket and ordering the drinks for the table.
I did not speak as I mixed the drinks, opened beers, filled glasses. I did not speak as I turned back to him, sliding four drinks across the counter. Not until he reached for the glasses with both hands did I speak.
He paused, eyes suddenly hooded as they met mine. I wrestled with my curiosity for a moment, thought of not saying anything. But my weakness is not drink, but tales, and I thirsted to know his – strange and full of lies though it might be.
"You've been in here before." I said finally. "With a man named Keaton." I glanced at his right arm, at the face of the gold watch he wore. "But your arm was crippled, then."
Those dark eyes flickered with something unreadable. "I don't think so. You're thinking of somebody else." He slid the drinks toward himself and retreated to the corner table.
"I'm not." I replied to his retreating back. He gave no sign of hearing me, and so I turned to wiping down the already-clean bar.
From time to time I glanced at them, tried to read the faces of these men who so obviously belonged here. This was their world, this realm of dark streets and smoky bars and of quick, wary glances at their surroundings. These were men who knew what it was to fight the law, to take their chances, to be always just beyond the place where laws can reach.
After a while the dark one – Fenster, I heard them call him – raised his glass. He looked around and said solemnly . . . .
I don't quite know. It sounded like, "Here'zakizasoza. Manwiddaplan."
"Here, here." The blonde with the mad eyes also raised his glass. "To Verbal."
"Now there's somethin' I'll friggin' drink to." The short one agreed.
The one with the gold watch nodded as if accepting some award and caught my eyes. He stared at me for a long, long time. Then he hoisted his glass. "Here's to Keaton and Edie. Wherever they are."
The four of them drank, solemnly. His eyes never left mine. It was as if he dared me to look away, to back down. But I did not survive all these years behind the bar by backing down. It was he who finally looked away.
They drank for a long time together – speaking little, watching the door, sharing the unspoken, unshaken language of men who trust only each other. The hours passed in near-silence, broken only by the sound of rain and a few murmured half-conversations. They spoke of jobs undertaken, of near-misses, of time in the joint.
I will not tell you all they said; no barkeep lives long who shares his customer's every secret. But – as midnight drew near, with no sign of the rain stopping – they finally spoke for the last time.
"Y'know Keaton was right." The short one remarked. "Feels pretty good bein' a dead man."
"Nokiddin'." Fenster tipped back the last of a beer and rose. "We'll be seeinyaguys aroun'."
The blonde one rose, as well. He half-grinned at the short one. "Watch your back, Hockney."
"Ah, McManus. Didn't know you cared." Hockney smirked and raised his glass. "Watch yours."
As the two men headed for the door, Hockney seemed to change his mind about something. He swallowed the last of his drink and rose quickly, pulling his coat on. The other two turned, waiting.
Hockney nodded at the man with the gold watch. "Look . . . I . . . ." A long pause before he shrugged.
And whatever finished that thought, they all four shared it: for, though it went unsaid, they all knew what was meant. The man with the gold watch nodded.
"Yeah. See you guys around."
The three nodded, turned and slipped out the front door without glancing back. I watched through the front windows as they pulled their collars up and lit cigarettes. They stood there in the rainy darkness, saying nothing – not wanting to leave each other just yet. Whether it was an ending or a beginning out there was more than I could say.
The man with the gold watch stood after another long moment. He pulled a pack of Marlboro Lights from his coat pocket and placed one in his mouth. Then he shrugged into his coat, donned the fedora, and approached the counter once again.
He eyed me for a long moment, as if he were weighing my life in his mind. Then he cleared his throat. "How much we owe ya for the drinks?"
I told him. Then I leaned forward.
"I will warn you." I said. "The police, they've been down this way. They are looking for Keaton. And for a cripple with a gold watch."
He raised an eyebrow and made an elaborate motion of lighting his cigarette. "Why tell me?"
"They say this man, this cripple, is a con man. And some say that he is more."
His strange, cool eyes met mine. "What do you say?"
"I say life is a case of foxes and hounds. And the hounds hold enough cards on their side." I put my palms on the bar.
"What are you?" He smiled, and this time the smile almost reached his eyes, "The patron saint of criminals?"
"No. Just one who has seen enough to know that not all cops are good men, and not all criminals are bad ones." I flicked my gaze to the three men on the sidewalk outside. "Keaton, this cripple, and three others attacked and stopped the New York's Finest Taxi. That is why the police are looking for them. This city will not be safe for them now, not for a long time." I looked back at him once again.
A long, quiet moment passed. He nodded, finally, and pulled a bill from his coat so quickly I did not see it happen. "Well, I won't be around to warn them." He set the bill on the counter with a deliberate motion. "But thanks."
I put my fingers down on top of the bill and stared him in the eye. He stared back, quietly, calmly. "Tell me," I said finally. "Who is Keyser Söze?"
A blink – as close as this man would ever come to looking startled. "Keyser Söze is a myth. A spook story. He's smoke and mirrors, nothing more."
I smiled. "Where there is smoke, there is fire, they say. And no mirror reflects what is not really there."
There was a long silence. The man with the gold watch tipped his fedora down over his eyes and took the cigarette from his lips, in a way I had not seen since leaving Turkey years ago. "Keyser Söze is . . ." A pause. "Is dead."
"Ah." I tilted my head. "Then shall there be no more stories of him?"
"There'll always be stories." He replied.
"But perhaps no more true ones?"
This time the smile did reach his eyes. He leaned forward. "What makes you so sure," He grinned, "That the stories were true in the first place?" Then he nodded to me. "Take care, old man."
I watched him cross to the door. The bells clanged dissonantly and he slipped outside into the curtain of bleak rain. His cigarette flared one brief, orange protest against the night, and then he was gone.
I looked down at the bill on the counter – a fifty. He had been generous.
But then, I suppose he could afford to be.
"Iyi şanslar, Söze." I muttered as I slipped the bill into my pocket.
Good luck, Verbal.
The police returned, of course. A place like mine will always be the first place they look. They told me what they knew of Keyser Söze. They described a man with a gold watch, a long coat, a black fedora. They told me some of the things they believed this Söze to have done – murder. Drug trafficking. Arson.
One of them told me this man – this Söze – is the devil himself.
I stared at him, wiping a glass thoughtfully. Then, finally, I spoke.
"I've never seen the Devil."
They left after a time, after they told me to call them if I ever saw a man matching Söze's description. I did not tell them I would. I told you, I never lie.
Many stories of Söze are whispered in these streets. Many men call him the Devil. I can tell by your face you have heard some of these stories. So you tell me:
Was what the police told me true? Are the stories they whisper about him true? Or is he – as a man once told me – merely a myth, a spook story, smoke and mirrors?
I tell you all I know: he wears a gold watch and a black fedora. His smile is slow and it almost never reaches his eyes. He can kill men and revive them unharmed. This I know. But I did not lie – I have never seen the Devil.
Any barkeep can tell you the Devil never tips.