Here's my first entry to the I Write the Songs Contest for 2012. My beta was the lovely Thyra10, who has submitted her own entry Norwegian Wood, which you all should have read by now (and if you haven't, check it out, it's a great story of redemption and possibilities).
This story is based on the song Trigger Happy by Lloyd Cole. Hope you all enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to the characters in the SVM novels by Charlaine Harris, nor the words or music of Lloyd Cole.
It was far too late by the time Eric remembered what he'd promised. It had been a long day, another long hot day in the middle of summer, but Eric had been immune to the heat as he'd been indoors, working, under the protective spell of the air-conditioning.
Sookie had not been. Sookie had complained again, that morning, that the air-conditioning at home was still broken and that it was almost impossible to get Hunter to take a nap for her.
Eric's response, when the issue had been floated again that morning, was to promise, again, that he would call someone. He'd assured Sookie that he would call the number he'd been given, the cousin of a regular customer, and ask him to come and take a look.
Sookie had pursed her lips and managed not to ask, this time, whether the person he intended to call actually knew anything about fixing air-conditioning units. Eric had been glad about that, because he honestly didn't know and wasn't looking forward to swearing to something that might come back to bite him on the ass. All he knew was that the guy was happy to do it for a few dollars and a couple of cases of beer from the stockroom, and really, with the way things were going at the moment, that was about all Eric could afford.
But now it was nearly midnight. And Eric hadn't called. And he knew he would be facing the same line of questioning the next morning as the heat and humidity started to roll over the city once again. Or worse. Worse would be the disappointed look Sookie would get when he confessed to the fact that he hadn't carried out that one simple task.
She couldn't really blame him, could she? Not when he was spending so much time at the damn bar. Somehow that time didn't equate to more money rolling into the place though. If anything the money was rolling on out of it. The men's bathroom had plumbing 'issues' he'd been informed earlier in the evening by Clancy. He needed to get a plumber, a real plumber and not just Detective Bellefleur's cousin, the guy he'd been assured would do a cheap but adequate job with the air-con at home. If he didn't get the toilet fixed then he could kiss away the rest of the week's takings.
Eric sat at the desk, the same desk that had sat in this same office when this had been his father's bar and he felt trapped. It wasn't the first time he'd felt this way. He didn't want the bar, not really. He'd wanted something bigger for his life. Something better than owning a neighbourhood bar where people came to get cheap drinks and argue with each other, to soak up the free air-con and the bar snacks, and then go on home to bed while he cleaned up after them.
He could have been an engineer, or an architect. Someone who made something that people admired. Although maybe that would have required better grades than he'd ever had. Maybe he might have had better grades if there'd been a reason to get them? But he always knew that one day the bar would be his, and that it would break his dad's heart if he refused to take it on.
His dad didn't have so many good days now. Not really. Most of the time now he called Eric by his uncle's name and asked him what time their mother wanted them home for dinner, and did he know where the BB gun had gone? Most of the time Eric could have just sold the damn bar to the first person who came along with a checkbook and a notion that owning a bar would be fun, and he could have been free. Free of the fucking albatross this place was. Free to move on and finally…fuck. He didn't know.
It was the only thing he'd ever really done. If he walked away now he'd probably be working in someone else's bar by the end of the year, doing the real shitty shifts and making minimum wage. Or he'd be stocking shelves in a supermarket, or pumping gas or any one of a thousand jobs that he would have had to fight a thousand other guys to get. That was just the way the world was these days. And those guys, they'd look at him like he was mentally deficient; he gave up his own business for this? For nothing? For pain and misery and lining someone else's pocket?
Because if nothing else, the bar was something. It was his. And there was always hope for Hunter.
If he ever got around putting together a college fund for him, that is. And he would. One day. When things got better.
That had been his dad's mantra. Things would get better. It was Eric's mantra too now. And they had to, because the only way to go when you were this far in the shit was up, right?
He looked at the stack of bills piled on the corner of his desk, and then looked away quickly. No, things would get better. They had to. He couldn't spend another, what? Twenty years? Thirty years?, living hand to mouth like this, worrying about whether this week they were going to break even or close up.
But he'd have to get rid of a waitress. He'd been putting it off for a while, hoping that people would start drinking again now it was summer. But they hadn't, and, more to the point, new people weren't coming in to drink either. He didn't get the college kids visiting home for the summer, or the kids about to leave for college trying out their fake IDs. He didn't the get the tourists. He got Jane Bodehouse, sure, but on her own she wasn't enough to keep the bar afloat.
Wasn't alcoholism meant to be hereditary? Why the hell wasn't her son in here with her?
Eric didn't know, and really, even one more barfly wasn't going to make much difference at this point in time. He needed something to draw people in. He couldn't compete on price, hell; he had to charge more than some of the other bars around just to cover the price of the beer. There was no atmosphere and the décor hadn't changed in twenty years. There was…nothing. And there was no money to do anything anyway.
He sat forward in his chair and leaned his elbows on the desk. He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to stave off the headache that was threatening to burst into life in his skull. He didn't have time for that now. He needed a plumber, he needed one less waitress. He needed…well, the air-conditioning at home was going to have to wait for tomorrow.
He'd definitely do it tomorrow. And then Sookie would stop looking disappointed and he would know that he'd managed one thing for his family this week. Just one damn thing; that was all he wanted.
An hour later and Eric wasn't any closer to finding a plumber who could come and fix the men's room toilet that night. He'd had to settle for one who could come the next day. Call-out rates were a bitch. And it meant he'd have to come in on a day the bar was closed to let the plumber in, but it was better than waiting until Monday. Maybe if he'd had any brains he would have learned a trade himself. Plumbing, electrical work, anything. Those were the guys who made all the money, and a recession didn't bite them because Christ knows, toilets still blocked up no matter how much the economy had tanked.
Eric went to survey the damage in the men's room and found Felipe mopping up the worst of it. Yeah, it'd wait until morning. Had to. "Good work, Felipe" he said to the kid, and Felipe ducked his head down and didn't say anything in reply.
Eric walked back to his office. If anyone was getting laid off, it should, by rights, be Felipe. Officially he was there to bus the tables but unofficially he'd turned into everyone's go-to person for all the shitty jobs. But he was a luxury they couldn't really afford. Eric had only hired him out of a misplaced sense of, well, he wasn't really sure what. He'd felt bad for the kid, that was certain. He was running with those kids who always hung around in the alley out the back of the bar, not much removed from a pack of wild dogs at times. They didn't seem to do anything more dangerous or illegal than a hundred other kids stationed around here, but there was an air of menace to their activities, like the balance could tip at any moment. Eric felt most of the blame for that lay squarely with the nominal leader, that Victor Madden kid. After all, mostly they weren't doing much more than he'd done himself at that age. But something dangerous was simmering just below the surface in Victor.
Eric didn't even really know why he cared that much. Once all he would have done was shoo them away from the back of the bar so they didn't make a mess he'd have to clean up. Once he would have told them to stay the fuck away from his property or he'd call all their parents, or the cops. Once he would have brandished the baseball bat he kept in his office and threatened them with worse than their parents would do, worse than the cops would do, and Eric would feel as righteous about defending his property as anyone could. It wasn't like Detective Bellefleur would do much to him, he sat on that barstool every night and there had to be some payback for that, didn't there?
But for some reason he cared these days. Maybe it was because he was a father himself now. Maybe it was because he was paying that mortgage so Hunter didn't have to grow up around here, hang out with the same kinds of kids in an alley behind a bar. Maybe he was just getting old.
So he'd offered Felipe the job. Quiet Felipe, the one who just stood at the back of the group of boys and joined in the taunting in a desultory way, like it was expected of him, but his heart wasn't really in it.
Eric left Felipe in the men's room and was about to walk back to his office when Clancy hustled toward him, shuffling his feet. "Eric" he said. "Chow needs you. Gotta haul some drunk guy's ass outta here. He's getting handsy with Arlene. But he don't wanna go."
Eric sighed. They never did. They always thought one more was a good idea, and hadn't they spent enough money tonight that they deserved special privileges? "Yeah" he said to Clancy. "I'm on it."
Clancy didn't say anything to that; he just turned around quickly and shuffled back to the bar. When Eric's dad was running the place, getting the drunks out of here had been part of Clancy's job, but now he was just too damn old. Sometimes he couldn't even stand behind the bar for more than an hour or so, and Felicia had to step in to help Chow out if it got busy. But Eric didn't have it in him to fire him. What else did Clancy have in his life? He wasn't much better than Eric himself, he'd spent so long here he was part of the furniture. And, granted, there weren't many of the barstools that were drawing a wage, but that didn't mean the place wouldn't be empty if Clancy wasn't here every night.
And so Eric kept him on. He'd come to realize over the years that it wasn't just a bar he'd inherited, wasn't just the building or the furniture or the fucking useless plumbing, it was the people in the bar that his father had entrusted to his care.
Sometimes though, well, a lot of the time, Eric wished he had simply said 'no thanks' and walked away from it all. Left Clancy and the others to be someone else's problem, someone else's burden. He had his own family, and they were home, asleep, hoping they'd get working air-conditioning again soon.
The guy wasn't too much of a problem it turned out. He just needed to be hustled to the front door before he made too much of a fool of himself. "But I'm not done yet!" he insisted. "I wanna buy another drink for my sweetie." He smiled at the waitress, Arlene, and she simpered back, although as they pushed the drunk away, her face changed to a look of pure disgust pretty quickly. Eric hoped she'd at least made some tips out of the guy.
If he was really honest, Arlene was the waitress who should go. Sure, she'd been there the longest, but she was unreliable and made the scheduling tricky as her shifts had to center around her childcare arrangements. But it was the kids, and the fact that Arlene was the only one supporting them, that was precisely the reason Eric kept her on. Who'd send a single mother on her own out into the street? So that left him with the waitresses without dependants to choose from; Felicia, Indira and Dawn. Although, he had a feeling that Indira was helping her parents out. Was that better or worse than having kids? Fuck, Eric didn't know.
Eric realized it wasn't a decision he was going to make tonight, although a glance around the bar at the remaining customers told him things hadn't been that great. Not for a Saturday night.
He nodded to Chow, who went to take his place behind the bar with Clancy, and walked out the back again, smoothing his shirt as he walked. It was the same green polo shirt all the staff wore with the name of the bar printed on the right side of the chest. O'Kelly's. Eric never knew why his dad picked that, other than that he thought an Irish name made the bar sound 'more authentic'. Eric didn't really understand why making it seem as though it belonged in a different continent really gave the customers a better drinking experience, but it was his dad's gimmick and he'd stuck with it. God knows, he could change the name to anything he liked and the old-timers around here would still call it O'Kelly's until they were carried out of their dingy little apartments on a stretcher. Or taken off to a nursing home , like his dad, all the while shouting and cursing and telling everyone who'd listen that his son was trying to get rid of him.
Eric still hated the memory of that day. He wished Pam had come back for it, but Pam had made her own life now in a new city. She'd been good about the bar, about Eric buying out her half slowly, year after year, but now that she wanted to buy a house with her new girlfriend Miriam, Eric doubted she'd be quite so forgiving of the debt he owed her.
He wished she'd come back. He'd spent so many years trying to ignore her, but now he wanted, more than anything, to talk to her. He wondered how she felt about being tied to a bar half-way across the country, a bar she would never really be welcome in, half-owner or not. The people around here weren't known for their tolerance of, well, difference. In any shape or form. And Pam was nothing but different, her sexuality seen as a choice she'd made to affront the God they remembered mostly on Sundays and holidays and whenever someone didn't agree with them.
Eric wished he could have protected her from that. Felt he'd failed as her big brother. And Pam's absence from his life was proof of that, wasn't it?
Eric sat back in his office and stared at the bills again. He felt lethargic, and not just because he'd been working for twelve hours already. He'd felt this way for a while now, like he was sinking and he didn't have the energy to fight it. Summertime blues, Sookie had called it, blaming it on the heat and the fact he was working so much.
Eric wasn't so sure. He felt like he'd been dragging this weight around for a while, but now it was so heavy he just couldn't ignore it anymore.
What he wanted, more than anything right at that moment, was to go home and crawl into his own bed and see Sookie again. Maybe even make love to her, although not much of that had been happening recently. But right then, imagining her arms holding him as he sank into her warmth and forgot about everything else, he knew being with Sookie was the cure for this, whatever-it-was, that was ailing him. That Sookie's infectious optimism would prove catching, and get rid of the big dose of 'I don't give a shit' he seemed to have caught sometime in the Fall.
But he knew if he did go home, Sookie would be asleep, most likely with Hunter tucked up in bed with her. In the place that Eric used to inhabit. And Eric would find himself going down the hall to sleep in Hunter's narrow bed and wake up cramped and grouchy.
It wasn't that Eric was jealous of Hunter; at least, he hoped he wasn't. Sookie was a good mom, and while he'd always known that would be the case, she loved Hunter with a ferocity he hadn't even known she'd possessed until it manifested after Hunter's birth.
No, it was just that sometimes…sometimes…he felt excluded from their special, private world. The jokes and the songs and the games. There was no other way it could be, he simply wasn't there enough, and Sookie was at home with Hunter all the time. They'd decided that it wasn't worth her finding a job only to pay over all her wages to someone else for watching Hunter. So she'd given up her job as a hostess at Merlotte's Diner and now her days were filled with nothing but Hunter. And she loved it. Loved it so much that now she wanted another baby. She kept saying that Hunter was three and growing into a little boy who didn't need his mommy so much, and she wanted another baby to hold in her arms and rock and sing to. Someone who didn't want anything else than to be held and loved.
And Eric did too. At least he said he did. But maybe those nights when he didn't make love to Sookie told a different story, even he could see that. And he knew Sookie could too. She could read him like a book, most of the time. She might not know the depths, but she could see the surface and that told her enough. Eric was scared. Scared of being excluded forever and of working so damn much to support a family who'd be nothing more than strangers to him.
He wondered if his own father had felt that way. He couldn't remember seeing him much growing up, but his dad had loomed large in his imagination. He'd been in the army, he'd seen the world, and he came home with interesting stories about the bar and the people who drank in it. He'd made it seem, if not quite magical, at least special.
Most nights Eric came home with a sore back and an even sorer temper. And then he felt unwelcome in his own house, the one he was working so hard to keep. These days Sookie mostly existed behind a barrier of bright chatter, lists of errands, updates on what Hunter had said or done, as though if she just kept talking to him, eventually she'd get through. Hunter climbed on him and demanded piggybacks, wrestling, a story read, more cartoons, more cookies, more anything really. More than Eric could give, anyway.
There had to be a way out of this mess. Eric just hadn't found it yet.
The bar closed and Eric helped stack chairs and wipe surfaces. The cleaners would come in later in the morning, although they came less often these days. That had been his dad's point of pride, if nothing else his bar was going to be clean. But cleaners, like everyone else, expected to be paid.
The waitresses counted up their tips and said goodnight. Arlene reminded him that she couldn't do Tuesday because Coby had a dental appointment in the afternoon, but that she'd be happy to pick up extra shifts later in the week to cover the cost of that. She smiled as she said it, but Eric was certain she was fearful of just how much that was going to set her back. He didn't blame her one iota.
Those dentists, they were rolling in it. Shame he couldn't get some of those guys in here, drinking heavily and tipping well.
Clancy showed them all the dental work he'd had done on the cheap downtown, opening his mouth wide to show the silver tipped molars. They all ignored the missing teeth he was also sporting. Pulling them out was cheaper than having them fixed, after all.
Chow finished wiping down the bar and said goodnight to everyone. He was going on to another club, one of the ones that actually made some money Eric suspected. Eric also suspected that Chow was likely to get a better offer soon and then he'd be back tending bar himself rather than paying someone else to do it. Still, that might solve the problem of which waitress to fire.
Dawn gave him a big smile when she said goodnight. Dawn was nothing if not…friendly. She flirted shamelessly with Eric, and Eric didn't know why. Sure he'd never exactly been short of women and in his early days of running the bar it had been both the place he worked and the place he socialised, or picked up women anyway. But he'd learned the hard way not to touch the waitresses, and he'd soon tired of the desperate women who came in here trying to crawl their way into his bed.
And then he'd met Sookie, and they lost any appeal they might have once held for him.
Ten years he'd been doing this, on his own. He'd been helping out his dad for another four years before that, starting when he'd still been under-age. It was a long time, no wonder he was weary of it all. If he could just get his head above water long enough then maybe he could hire a manager and hand over some of the day to day drudgery. Step back in a way his dad never had.
This bar had been his dad's dream and his pride and joy, the thing he had to show for his life. And Eric had been the beneficiary of that dream. His dad had wanted it kept in the family, been so proud that his son was taking over the bar he'd bought with his savings back when Eric was just a baby. Pleased as punch that he had more to offer Eric than his own dad had ever given him.
So Eric couldn't just walk away from it, could he? It was the only thing he really had from his dad, and he didn't want to leave it in the hands of strangers. Although he wasn't sure he wanted Hunter to be sitting here, in thirty years' time. He might be tied to the bar, but he was going to take it with him.
Eric took the takings back into his office to count. Sure enough, they were down. Again. He counted one more time to be sure, and then put the bag into the safe ready for Monday morning when he'd take it to the bank. It had been his Dad's rule that the bar was closed on Sundays, and Eric kept following it even though he knew people still wanted a drink after church. Maybe more than they normally did. Nothing like having your sins rubbed in your face to make you need a pick-me-up, was there?
Eric wondered how he was going to clear some of those bills. He thought about giving that guy Mickey another call, but knew it was the stupidest idea he'd ever had. Going to Mickey in the first place had just been plain idiotic, but Eric was desperate. He'd approached his dad's buddy Franklin Mott first, and Franklin had said he couldn't help, but his associate Mickey probably could.
Mickey had turned up, looked around the bar with barely contained avarice, and commented on how nice it must be to own your own bar where all your friends could drink for free. Eric had given him several whiskeys, from the good bottle, and Mickey had handed over five thousand dollars. In cash. With the proviso Eric pay it back at such an exorbitant rate of interest he might as well be paying Mickey in blood.
And if he didn't pay up, Mickey was taking the bar. That was the unspoken part of the arrangement, but Eric didn't think you had to be that smart to see that was the deal. At the time, the price had seemed OK. Now, it seemed like just another iron band squeezing his chest.
The air-conditioning was off now and it was hot in the office. Hot and airless. Eric was having difficulty breathing. He thought about Sookie. He thought about Hunter. He tried not to think about the myriad of unpleasant things hovering like ghouls in the dark corners of the room.
Felipe was the last to leave. "G'night, boss" he called out to Eric, as he walked toward the door at the back of the bar. "Night" Eric called back. He heard the click of the door locking behind Felipe.
He stretched his arms up, trying to rid himself of the knot in his shoulders. He didn't want to take that home with him. And then he heard footsteps, just two, and not enough that he could do anything more than stare at the door just in time for that kid, Victor, to appear in it. Carrying a gun.
"Hi, Eric" he said.
Eric felt like his brain was racing, but maybe that was just his heart, because the only thought he could articulate was fuck. And that wasn't much of a plan.
"And you're here to rob me" Eric said. It wasn't a question. It was obvious what Victor's intentions were.
"Yep" Victor said anyway. Maybe he was new to playing the villain, or maybe he'd just watched too many movies. Victor stepped further into the room, keeping the gun aimed straight at Eric. "My boy, he let me in."
Eric felt sick at the thought of Felipe being in on this, but guessed it wasn't as simple as it appeared. Really, who knew what pressure Felipe was under? And what Victor had over him?
"So give it to me" Victor said. "What you got. Hand it over." He placed a large, black sports bag on the desk. His chin was tilted up, his look defiant. He looked like Hunter when he demanded another cookie, like he was only taking what was his right.
"How old are you?" Eric asked.
"Hah. Age don't mean nuthin' when I gots the gun, does it?" Victor spat out. He seemed drunk on his own power. His power over Eric.
But it was just a gun. A gun held by a boy. A boy whose hand was shaking, just a tiny bit, with the effort of keeping his arm in that position. A boy who wanted to prove he was really a man.
"It's loaded" Victor said. "And the first bullet, it's got your name on it. Unless, that is, you do exactly what I say. Empty the safe." Victor smiled broadly, and the effect was chilling. He might be a boy, look like a boy, act like a boy, but there was something in that boy which was dark and spiteful.
"I can't" Eric said. "It's on a time-lock."
"No, it ain't."
"Doesn't matter. For all you know, I've pushed the panic button under my desk anyway."
Victor pulled a face, like Eric had disappointed him somehow. "No you ain'ts. My boy, he cased this place. He done a good job. I told him if he did what I said, he'd be part of my crew. This is his test, man. He passed. Now you gotta pass too. Open the mother-fucking safe."
Eric didn't want to pass Victor's test. He just wanted Victor to go away, leave him to his thoughts. Stop making his life so much more difficult than it already was. Fuck him.
"No" Eric said again. "Just get the hell out, Victor."
"Oh, you think you can order me around? Think you're the big boss here, and we gotta do what you say. Yes boss, no boss, whatever you fucking want, boss. No, I'm the boss now. I've got the gun." To prove his point, Victor took a step closer to Eric, and gave him a look of pure contempt. Eric realized he thought he'd won, that he thought he'd walked all over Eric and he was coming out of here the clear winner.
The gun was loaded, sure, but it was going to blow up in more than Eric's face if Victor pulled the trigger. Did he really think he could get away with it?
"Your arm's shaking" Eric pointed out.
"Quit stalling, bitch" Victor said, scathingly.
But Eric wanted to keep stalling. Stalling seemed like a great idea about now while he tried to get his thoughts to clear. The headache from earlier in the night was pressing against his temples like a vice and the air in the office was hot and close. He could smell Victor, his cologne, his sweat. He wondered just how nervous Victor was, and whether that made him more or less lethal. Surely he'd want a way out too?
"If you walk away, I won't do anything" Eric said. "You can leave now and it'll be like it never happened."
"Yeah, you'd like that, wouldn't you?" Victor sneered. "Like to pretend that you're fucking invincible. It ain't so, and you know it."
Eric thought about the baseball bat, propped in the corner. Wondered how many times Victor had seen him holding it in the alley. Wondered if this was payback. Wondered what chance he had of getting it in his hand before Victor pulled the trigger.
Zilch. He was stuck here, behind the desk, with Victor's gun pointing right at his face.
"So, quit fucking stalling and open that safe" Victor said. "I gots places I need to be."
"Me too" Eric said, feeling the truth of it. He was supposed to be home now. With Sookie and Hunter. Watching out for them. Not here, with a boy holding a gun.
"Aw. Quit playing the sympathy card, and gets to it."
"Why? So you can go out and spend it all on fucking drugs, or worse?" Eric felt angry now. Angry that Victor just thought he could walk in here and take it all away from him, everything he'd worked for. Everything his father had worked for. What did Victor know about working hard? He'd never come in here and asked for a job, not like Felipe had. He just thought the world owed him something.
"Shut the fuck up" Victor said. "You think you're so goddamned special, Eric? Think that because your daddy left you this place that you gets to rule over everyone? What do you know about work when you got everything fucking handed to you on a platter? The golden-boy who can do no fucking wrong, while the rest of us, we ain't got jack shit. We ain't got jobs, 'cos there is no jobs to be had. You had it so easy and you don't even know it. Now you're all old and you think there be no room in this world for the likes of me, and you just want to trample me down like I'm nuthin'. Well I'm here to show you I'm somethin'. Somethin' you gotta be fucking scared of. So, old man, things is gonna change, that's for fucking sure."
Eric suddenly felt old. Much older than his 34 years. He was weary of the struggle and this night had pushed him beyond his limits. It was tempting, oh so tempting, to open the safe, hand it all to Victor and walk out. Wait for Mickey to turn up to claim his debt. No more bar, no more staffing issues, and delivery mix-ups. No more cleaning up other people's piss and vomit. No more struggling. For a little while, anyway. And then it would be nothing but struggling. No income, no nothing. He'd be Victor, desperately looking for a way to get a leg-up.
"Why here?" Eric asked. "Why this bar, when I know who you are?"
Victor shrugged. He didn't seem to have an answer to that. Instead he said. "My mom, she always liked your dad." Eric could remember Victor's mother. She'd been a couple of years ahead of him at school, until she'd left to have a baby. There'd been a lot of girls like that.
Victor continued. "She said he was good about her being under-age. Even gave her liquor sometimes. He liked her real well, you catch me? Maybe we're brothers. Maybe half of this is all mine anyways."
Eric laughed. It was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard. "Well, it'd be a third, at most" Eric said, as Victor scowled at him. "I got a sister."
"Oh yeah" Victor said, casually. "The dyke."
Eric wanted to hurt him. Wanted to push Victor down and beat the shit out of him until Victor just lay there in a bloodied heap. And though he had a good foot in height on Victor, and a fair amount of weight, it wasn't the sensible option. Even in his still slightly clouded state, Eric knew that much. Victor was holding a gun, and there was no telling just how trigger happy he was, this angry little man who had come into the bar looking for trouble.
But wouldn't it be a great story? The story of the bar-owner who fought off one of those punks who think they rule the fucking world. And then they'd talk about him in the bar, as they had talked about his dad, and his war stories. He'd be lauded as a hero. And, who knew? It might bring in more custom. His picture in the local paper; Eric Northman, foiled a robbery single-handedly.
Maybe it was just the opening he was looking for.
But if it went wrong, if he ended up lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood, discovered by the cleaners the next morning, then it would just be a few lines in the paper. Bar owner found dead, victim of a robbery. And Sookie and Hunter would be left with nothing; no Eric, no bar, only the paltry amount of his life insurance to see them through. Sookie would have to go back to work, probably she'd meet someone else, and, eventually, they'd be OK. Without him. He'd be dead.
Eric didn't want to die. And he realized something, Victor needed him. Victor couldn't open the safe on his own. As long as he kept Victor talking he was safe.
"I get it" Eric said.
"Get what?" Victor asked. He sounded genuinely confused.
"You" Eric said. "Get that from your point of view all this…" he made a sweeping gesture with his arm,"…seems like a golden ticket. But it's not. It's a struggle, every day."
"Oh. Boo fucking hoo" Victor said. "You just got it handed to you, what do you know about struggling?"
"More than you know. You think it's hard, being your age? No one listening to you? No one taking you seriously? You try having a bunch of other people listening to your every word, counting on you, on your every fucking decision. Their livelihoods, their lives, those are all in your hands. You should be enjoying yourself now, not out robbing bars. You got your whole life ahead of you; don't throw it all away for a handful of cash that you'll blow before the end of the week. "
Victor curled his lip. "How'm I supposed to do that? I got nothing. I got nothing to lose. This is it, man. I'm taking what's yours, and you better deal."
"Why should I? Because I'm older and that means I owe you something? Not my fault you were born when you were. We all got problems."
"Because I got the gun and I want it. Plain and simple. But you don't seem to be getting it, do you Eric? You think that if you sit there and fucking talk me out of it, I'll leave. Well, I ain't leaving. Not without that" he nodded at the safe. "Open it." He waved the gun again. Eric watched his arm. Was it shaking more or less?
He thought of Sookie, and of Hunter. He thought of all the things he'd say to them if they were here. He thought of his dad, who'd worked for so long to make this a business worth handing over. He thought of Pam, who'd moved away and never looked back. He thought of Victor, and the choice he'd made to come here tonight. He wondered what demons he had at his back.
"I'm waiting" Victor said. "But I won't wait forever. Get the fucking safe open, Eric, and give me my fucking money."
Eric had a moment of pure indecision, followed by a clarity he hadn't felt in months. There was only one way this could end and that knowledge left him feeling powerful, as though all the other problems that had been dragging him down had been lifted away as well.
Eric looked at Victor, looked at the gun still pointed at his face, and he took a deep breath.
And then he stood up.
If you liked that and want to read more from me, I have another entry, Undressed, featuring a very different Eric, a train-ride and possibly the world's worst proposal. I also had a story included as a promo for IWTS called Hole in the River which has Hunter as a narrator, and (possibly) a taniwha, which is a supernatural creature from New Zealand.
Big thanks to Northwoman for hosting the contest and thanks to you guys for reading!