Alexis walked into the cool darkness of the Pink Pony Bar and Grill, swiveling her head left and right, looking for a bathroom. The walls and windows had all been painted over in black or dark purple, and a small stage extended from the back wall with a long catwalk in the center. Three men sitting together seemed to be the only customers in the place. They all stared at her as if dazzled by the sunlight streaming in behind her through the open door. This was not looking much like a respectable bar and grill. A lone bartender stood behind the bar, washing glasses and whistling to himself. He looked up as the door closed behind her. Alexis saw a small sign marked "Bathrooms" at the far left of the building, and made a beeline to the alcove under the sign.
"No free bathrooms," the bartender yelled, as she entered the alcove. "Bathroom use is with purchase only."
Alexis yelled back at him as she opened the door under the sign with the word 'Mares' she assumed was for women, "I'll be buying lunch."
The bartender was still washing glasses when Alexis took a seat at the bar. The three customers that were sitting together had left. Now, she sat alone, the only customer in the darkened building. The bartender was still whistling to himself, and Alexis realized, he was wearing earphones. The earphone wires trailed down to an old cassette player with a clip attached to the string of his apron. She waved her hand until the bartender looked up from the sink.
"Can I get a menu?" Alexis yelled to him, since he did not appear to pause, or even turn down his music.
The bartender simply looked up at the wall behind him and pointed at a chalkboard. She looked up at the chalkboard and found only three things written on it by hand: Hot dog, Chicken Fingers, Wings, no prices and no specials listed. After mulling over her choices for less than a minute, she waved at the bartender again. This time the bartender turned off his cassette player.
"I'd like an order of Chicken Fingers ... and a Coke, please."
"Chicken fingers, coming up." The bartender yelled back as he walked through a set of double saloon-style doors to the kitchen.
Alexis watched through the small window as the bartender moved back and forth across the opening. She did not hear chopping or frying. Instead, she heard only the opening of something that sounded like a microwave door. She began to wonder if he was ever going to come back to the bar and make her drink. Alexis heard the microwave beep, and a moment later, the bartender emerged through the double doors with a small plate in his hand, three large breaded chicken fillets stacked on top of it.
"Do you have any dipping sauces?" Alexis asked, as the bartender set the plate onto the bar top.
"We got ketchup and barbeque sauce."
Alexis decided to forgo the dipping sauce, as she picked the crumbles off the chicken and waited for the bartender to bring her drink.
"First time in Montgomery? The bartender asked, as he put the drink in front of her.
"How did you know?" Alexis said, feeling a little self-conscious, looking at her own clothes for some obvious sign that expressed, "not from around here."
The bartender smiled as he watched her look herself over. "We don't get many pretty young ladies in the Pink Pony, especially in the middle of the day."
"Doesn't look like you get much of anybody here during the day," Alexis scanned the empty bar.
"Well, it picks up in here at night," the bartender said. "It gets so busy at night I can barely handle it."
"Do you run the place yourself at night?" Alexis pushed her plate and empty glass away. She couldn't see this old bartender handling any real business alone at night. He barely seemed to be able to handle one order in the middle of the day.
"With the dancer, the cook, a couple of servers, and bouncers, we can handle just about anything here," the bartender took her glass, dipping it in the small bar sink. "But right now I've got a cook and a server out sick."
"I know how hard that can be," Alexis told him. "I worked as a waitress while going through college."
The bartender stepped back from the sink and looked at her, bringing his wet hand to his face, leaving a white soapsuds beard over the dark stubble of his goatee. "How'd you like to work here, as a server?"
"What makes you think I'm looking for work?" Alexis wondered if the wear of her travels was that obvious. And, the thought of staying in Montgomery did not cross her mind until now. True, she was in a place she was not familiar with, but staying, for just awhile anyway, would make it difficult for Leonidas, or her own parents—who were obviously in cahoots with his plan—to find her if they came looking.
The bartender looked at her, waiting for an answer. When she did not give one he added, "The job pays cash, if you really do have experience like you said."
Alexis thought about the offer. She had not planned on this, but it would provide a great way to hide in plain sight. Not that she was afraid of Leonidas, or her parents, but she wanted to be alone, without someone running behind her, chasing her down and dragging her back to Ellijay.
"When do I start?"
"How's tonight sound," the bartender dropped his rag and moved to the register. "I'll just have to do some paperwork first." He pulled an application and a notepad out of a drawer under the register.
The bartender held the application in his hand for a moment, looking at Alexis like he was waiting for some reaction from her.
"Look, this can be strictly under the table if you prefer," he slid the application back into the drawer. "I can't pay you any benefits. The job's temporary... for now, anyway." He hesitated again, looking at her. Then added, "But, it does pay cash every night. Still interested?"
"No paperwork? Cash? Sounds even better."
The bartender picked a pen up off the counter and aimed it at his pad, "I'll need your name."
Alexis was dumbfounded. She suddenly realized she would be giving up anonymity if she gave him her name. She opened her mouth, hoping the right words would come out, but all she managed was, "uh ... my name?"
"Yeah, a name. Is that too much to ask?" The bartender stepped back from the bar and studied her again. "I gotta call you something."
"Paulina. Paulina Grey." It was not a complete lie, but the first thing she thought. Paulina was her middle name, and she did just arrive on the Greyhound bus, so it made sense to her.
He wrote her name on his pad, and said, "That wasn't so bad, was it? Hard part's over."
"So, what's your name?" Alexis asked, convincing herself that he bought her partial lie. "What can I call you?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," the bartender said. "Never properly introduced myself. The name's, Sam."
"Sam? The bartender?" Alexis felt her eyebrows pinch together before she could control her reaction. "How fitting."
"I know, right? but it's the truth. My name is Samuel Green. I'm a bartender. Probably couldn't be more cliché unless I played piano."
Alexis stared at Sam for a moment, holding her breath until her eyes welled up, and she could stand it no more. She burst out in laughter at Sam's statement, finally understanding how the bus driver must have felt when she realized she was not in Atlanta. Sam was soon laughing right along with her, slapping at the counter top and holding his gut. With tears streaming down her cheeks, and her stomach sore from laughing, she stopped while Sam lifted a finger to signal he had something more to say.
"And, you know what," he added, snickering and snorting as he spoke. "I actually do play the piano."
At this, they both broke out laughing again, and Alexis thought, maybe Montgomery's not such a bad place to be.
Their laughter died down and silence overtook the room. Alexis suddenly realized she had no where to stay.
She asked Sam, "Is there a hotel nearby, or someplace I can stay for the night?"
"Nearest hotel is about five miles up the road, but there's a truck stop about four blocks from here."
"Is that it?"
"Well." Sam scratched his chin and looked up, as if recalling some fleeting thought. "I know a guy just about two minutes from here on foot, owns a kind of campground. He rents out some old trailers."
"That sounds great," Alexis eased off her stool and leaned into the bar top.
"How do I get there?"
"Just turn left out the door and look for the sign that says 'Forest Lake RV Park and Campground' then look for his office at the front of the lot."
"Thanks," Alexis turned and headed for the door.
"Ask for Viron at the campground," Sam yelled as she pushed through the front door. "And, your shift starts at six tonight."Alexis saw the sign for the RV Park almost as soon as she left the parking lot of the Pink Pony but before she talked to Viron, she needed to call her Grandfather.
I suppose this is a point where my writing style becomes more "telling." I know that all the experts say to show, not tell, but I feel some understanding of Lexi's thoughts and reasoning was required here. In future excerpts, I hope one will find a more "showing" style.