As the door shut behind her, Alexis closed her eyes until she'd adjusted to the relative darkness inside. The Pink Pony hosted only a few customers—early-birds, desperate and lonely, or simply unemployed, with nowhere else to spend their time. She felt their eyes on her, watching as she moved toward the bar where Sam stood, plunging glasses into a sink. He was watching her too but she did not feel his stare on her like she did the others. Their stares carried an almost measurable weight, assaulting her as if each one of them were in a line, poking her shoulders, and other parts of her body, as she walked by. Her skin crawled, and she sensed her body on the verge of shifting to prepare for a fight. She stopped twice before reaching the bar, giving serious consideration to turning and walking out, fearful that she couldn't go all night feeling this apprehensive and self-conscious.
"Don't worry," Sam said as he dipped a glass into the bar sink and placed it onto a folded towel. "They'll stop staring by the end of the night."
"Yeah, this could take some getting used to." Sam looked at her as if the words "I quit" were written across her forehead.
"Well, you'll have to get used to it quick." Sam turned the cup over and dropped three ice cubes into it. "Gotta be observant in a place like this. You gotta be aware of your surroundings all the time."
"I'm observant enough," Lexi said, surprised at the cynicism she heard in her own voice.
"How 'bout a little test then, just to see how observant you really are." Sam stared at her as he tipped a bottle of bourbon over the tumbler. "Don't look around. Look at me and tell me how many customers are in the bar right now."
Lexi pictured the bar in her mind. The only thing she had to go on was the brief glance she made after the door closed and she opened her eyes, but that was enough. She only needed one look, and once her eyes adjusted to the dark, she could see every dark corner of the bar as if she were outside in broad daylight.
"First, there's the guy in the white button up shirt and tie sitting at the small round table by the bathrooms. He's nursing a drink, probably vodka, because he finished work an hour ago but doesn't want to go home yet. He probably comes here every night for an hour or so as he works up the nerve to go home. Wife's probably got his balls hanging out with the laundry. That's why he drinks vodka. He doesn't want his wife to smell the alcohol on his breath and know he stops here before going home. Good so far?"
"Go on," Sam said. "You must've seen more than just one person here."
"Sure," she said, her confidence resounding in her voice to the point she feared it would come across as arrogance. Regardless of how it looked, she was sure Sam would be impressed at her observations. "Then there's the old man hunched over a coffee mug. He's a regular too. Probably comes here every night because he's got nothing else to do. He probably sneaks a flask of whiskey in with him and spikes his coffee with it. You probably know about it, but feel sorry for him. He wears an old green Army jacket with nothing underneath. He's probably a Vietnam vet, retired and living on a fixed income. You probably give him his coffee for free too."
"That's George, and you're right. He doesn't really have anywhere else to go." Sam pulled a large round tray from under the bar and placed the tumbler of bourbon on it. "Anybody else?"
"Yes, there's one more," she said. "The first two don't bring in much business but they're harmless. The third customer is different. He's sitting so close to the stage, he could probably lean forward and lick the brass pole—and he's probably thinking about doing it too. He's probably packing since he's wearing a jacket in the middle of summer. He keeps his hair combed although it doesn't look like he gives equal time to washing it. Looks like he's the kind of customer that'll stay here all night until you have to throw him out, or he happens to follow some kind of trouble out the door. He's a real grease ball but he pays cash for his drinks." How'd I do?"
Sam pushed the tray across the bar top to her. "You did pretty well, Paulina. Probably better then I would've done. Now, go give grease ball his drink."
Alexis sat the drink down on the table in front of the man with the greasy hair.
"Thanks, baby," the man stared at her breasts, looking away only long enough to pull a five dollar bill from his wallet. "You new here? What's your name? You don't want me calling you baby all night, do you?"
"Name's Paulina," she said as she reached for the bill. "And, if we're going to have a discussion here, I'd prefer you search a little higher and look me in the eye."
The man pulled the bill away before she could take it from his hand. "How bad do want it, baby." He shook the bill just out of her reach.
Alexis smiled at him, and threw her hand out to grab the bill but he jerked it away. She noticed half his right index finger was missing and wondered what kind of stupid thing he did to lose it.
"Come on, baby," he said, a disgusting grin growing from the corners of his mouth, revealing stained teeth. "Talk to me. You gonna dance for me later? How much do you want my money?"
"I don't want it bad enough to dance for you." She tried desperately to keep her emotions under control, fighting against the urge to knee him in the groin for making such a suggestion. "But I bet if Sam over there breaks his shotgun out from behind the bar, he could get you to dance." She didn't know if he actually had a shotgun behind the counter. She just figured most bartenders would have something stashed away to protect themselves.
The man stopped fooling around and gave her the money, although his smile remained, his crooked, cigarette-stained teeth a reminder of what kind of people she would be dealing with for the rest of the night. She took it, turned away from him, and walked deliberately slow, trying to resist the urge to run at full speed back to the bar.
"What an ass," she said to Sam as she slid the empty glass off the tray into the stainless steel sink. "What's with that guy?"
"I guess you've been formerly introduced to Lefty," Sam chuckled under his breath as he grabbed the glass and plunged it up and down over a cleaning brush.
"Lefty?" Lexi was surprised people still used nicknames like that. "What is he, in the mob, or something? Is it because of his finger?"
"Yes and no, he's a wannabe mobster, and yes, he got the nickname because he lost half his trigger finger in a failed robbery."
"How, exactly, do you lose half your trigger finger in a robbery attempt?"
"Rumor has it that he was trying to rob a local convenience store with a fake gun. The store clerk pulled a shotgun from behind the counter, and in his haste to get out of the store, he got his hand caught in an automatic door."
"How could he lose half his finger in a door? Don't those things have some kind of override?" Alexis was beginning to feel like walking back to his table and laughing in his face, but she kind of felt sorry for him at the same time.
"Well, that's the funny part. According to the rumor, his fake gun was caught on the other side of the door, and instead of just letting go of it, he tried to forced it through the crack, losing part of his finger in the process." Sam made a slicing motion across his finger with his other hand as a low chuckle escaped him. "The police arrested him at the hospital. They had to go retrieve the end of his finger from the crime scene to process him, but by the time they were finished with it, the doctors said they couldn't sew it back on."Alexis had to bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud. She suddenly didn't see him as quite the threat anymore.