Authors' note: Cassie, Joe and The Bucket of Suds all belong to Joe Ostrander from his excellent story Alternative Endings.
Sometimes, when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated.
Carl entered the Bucket of Suds, and sat down heavily at the bar. Joe approached with a cautious "Hey, buddy."
"He's gone." Kolchak stared at the bottles behind the bar without seeing them.
"Will he be alright?" he looked pleadingly.
"Hard to say." he studied the man in seersucker. "Chances are, yes."
Carl tipped his hat to the back of his head and ran his hand over his mouth, deep in thought. "I can't take loosing any more brothers, Joe."
Joe held his tongue in sympathetic silence.
"Hiya Joe!" called a woman as she took a booth.
"Hiya sweetie! The usual?"
Joe turned back, and placed a double whiskey – his best– in front of Kolchak. "He couldn't stay."
"Didn't want him to stay. I work alone." Kolchak spoke with finality.
"Then what's the problem?"
No answer. Joe skillfully mixed a grasshopper, and Kolchak nursed his whiskey, staring ahead of him, unseeing. "Never felt anything like that before... It was... like watching myself commit suicide... in slow motion..."
Joe watched him, appraising. "You'll recover. With time."
"With time," Kolchak repeated quietly. He looked up as if seeing Joe for the first time. "Who are you?" Carl asked through narrow eyes.
"A friendly neighborhood barkeep." he smiled, and walked down the bar with the drink on a tray.
The dark red haired woman who had called to Joe was seated in the booth and accepted the grasshopper from him. "That fellow's not from the neighborhood, Joe. What's his story?"
"Poor guy just lost his brother."
"Ohhh." she said, her bright green eyes suddenly full of concern for another human in pain. "How terrible!"
Joe moved off to serve another pair that had just entered. She watched the man sitting hunched at the bar silently for a full ten minutes before she took her drink and went down to him at the end of the bar. "Hi." she said. "My name's Cassie. Joe told me about your loss, I'm so sorry. I hope you don't think I'm forward, but you look so lonely over here. Do you want to talk?"