Chapter 2 - Victor Wilde

It made much more sense to visit the Roundup in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday. It would be very likely that he'd be sharing it with very few patrons. After all, no one who isn't a drunk or a loser starts drinking at eleven in the afternoon. Nick was definitely one of those two options.

He could feel his skin crawling. His body was screaming for relief from this waking nightmare of a morning. He still couldn't believe that his mother was gone and if he didn't get a drink in him soon he would start to. He had no safety blanket anymore. He was completely alone now in this merciless world... he didn't know if he was ready.

He took the turn into the parking lot much too sharp and hopped the curb with a loud thump. He didn't care. It's not like that wasn't the most hopped curb in town, the one next to the bar. That wasn't his only driving error either. He didn't stop soon enough when he pulled into his space and bounced off of cement guard block and had to throw it into reverse to back off of it. These small and insignificant mistakes did nothing but fan the flames of his nervous wreck bonfire.

He threw the door open and had to quickly grab it before it hit the passenger door of the car parked next to his. A cold shock of adrenalin ground his teeth as it happened, for that car didn't look like an old beat up pickup truck. It was a black sedan. Like a lincoln or a Cadillac. It could belong to someone important he thought... but then he remembered that the ruin that was his life couldn't realistically be made much worse than it already was anyways. In a show of defiance as he headed towards the door, he kicked the rear tire of that shiny sedan.

The Roundup wasn't a fancy sort of establishment. Let's call it what it is, a dive bar. The solid wood door looked like it had been installed a hundred years ago. Corroded with rot and scratches from countless drunken spats. It still had weight to it. As he pulled it open he started to wish it was too heavy to move as he was hit by an engulfing wave of an unidentifiable stench. Some mixture of old beer, rotten milk, and stomach acid. Did they not clean this place at all? Industrial disinfectant couldn't be all that expensive.

No manner of foul smell or malicious intent was going to keep him from his purpose. He felt like a junkie fiending for a fix, despite only drinking on rare occasions. He stared at his feet as he briskly made his way up to the nearest stool, then he noticed someone a few stools over from that the he wished he hadn't...

"Ey Vick, ain't you got someplace to be?"

"Mind your own fucking business..."

The barkeep was on an old polar bear, assumedly much smaller than he must've been in the prime of his youth. His eyes resembled knots in a tree more than eyelids, and the only jowl that Nick could see revealed a row of his teeth despite his mouth being closed as far as he could tell. It was difficult to see if he was upset by this remark as his face had too many wrinkles to show any extreme emotion.

"I been teachin' you lessons since you was up to my knee, an' you ain't never learned a single one of em'... how old're you now Vicky? When you gonna' grow up?"

The man didn't say anything. He didn't move from the spot that he was in, with his left arm propping up his head on the bar. He was stirring a lowball glass filled with brown liquor and ice. What it was really didn't matter. Nick couldn't see his face, it was pointed at the television set in the corner of the bar by an isolated booth. He didn't need to see his shit eating face to know exactly who it was.

"Oh hell..." The barkeep spotted Nick there and he knew who both of them were, and that this was not going to be pretty. He nervously turned away from them and pretended to polish some glasses.

Nick sat three chairs away from him and tapped the bar to get the bear's attention. The barkeep glanced at Nick, and then "Vick" before coming over to Nick.

"What'll ya have kid?"

He didn't say what he wanted, he only pointed at "Vick's" glass.

"You sure about that?"

Nick didn't say a word. He gave a single nod and then turned his gaze over to Vick who still hadn't noticed he was there. After a few minutes, that bear returned with a lowball glass filled with ice and brown liquor. He set it in front of him on top of a small handful of napkins and went back to his business.

Nick finished it faster than he'd intended. The sting and warmth hadn't even left his throat before he was tapping on that bar for another. The old barkeep looked a little worried. He was sitting on the edge of a volcano just waiting for it to erupt. He silently made Nick another drink and set it in front of him with one more fresh napkin.

He tried to finish this one as fast as the last, but the burning was too much for him this time. He had to slow down. It was quiet except for the dull hum of the television in the corner tuned to some sort of soccer game no one cared about... except maybe "Vick."

"Listen, kid." The old bear had finally broken the silence. "I gotta tell ya I'm sorry for your loss. Sylvia was the sweetest little thing I ever met, an' I was married for thirty-five years." He had a slow and raspy chuckle that lasted only a moment until he sombered up very quickly. "God rest 'er soul of course." He must've been referring to his late wife, and cover up for his comment about his mother in case she was watching from beyond the grave.

Nick waited a moment before slowly opening his mouth to respond, but "Vick" beat him to it.

"At least we finally agree on something... I met your wife, she was a hag. Sylvia... she was something else." He hadn't turned around. He must've been assuming that the old bartender was talking to him.

"She was definitely something else..."

He whipped around in his seat faster than the old stool could handle, and it made a pained creaking noise. "...Nicky?"

"She was around."

That man in that stool three seats over was his father, Victor...

Nick's words visually wounded him, but Nick showed no remorse. He ought to know by now that it was absolutely true and the only reason he's feeling bad about it is that it's right here in front of him. He hadn't laid eyes on this scumbag for the better half of two decades.

"God... you look just like me at your age..." Victor was on the verge of tears, wearing a broken smile filled with regret. His face was twisted with beautiful memories that had since become his most painful.

"I hate to agree with tha' bastard, but he's got a point kid... damn near look like a time travelin' Vicky from nineteen eighty-seven." The old bear chuckled like an old steam engine again, and once it winded down he started coughing.

"Yea." Nick's face said something very different. His memories hadn't been beautiful once, and they hadn't grown any prettier over time. "I guess I can't say you never gave me anything right?"

There was a clear and present aggression in Nick's voice, this was not a touching moment. It wasn't overlooked by his father or the bartender.

"Look, kid, just relax alright?" The old bear tried to mediate the situation in an attempt to steer it away from violence in his bar.

"You want me to relax?" Nick's body language gave away his itching desire for a fight. "Then pour me another scotch!"

He picked up the low ball glass, shook the ice in it, and slammed it back down on the bar. The bartender didn't deserve that. Nick was seeing red.

His father didn't intervene, nor did he look at the old bartender. He was locked in a staring match with Nick while the bear poured Nick another drink. It would be his third scotch in the last fifteen minutes...

"I didn't leave because I don't love you, Nick..."

"So you do love me... just not very much?"

The bear had stopped pouring Nick's drink. Neither of them noticed. He seemed to just be listening.

"You know what Nick?" Victor sat back down with a defeated sigh. "Why don't you just say what you want to say?"

His father seemed to have resigned himself back to his drink. He knew the extent of the damage he'd done, and as greatly as he wished to make amends it was beyond his reach. He picked up the glass but didn't take a drink. He just dangled it there in his hand. He was waiting for Nick to tell him off, to tell him to rot in hell, or that he didn't need anybody... because that's what he would say.

The old bear turned only a little so that he could see Nick's face.

"Yea... ok." Nick clenched his jaw and his fists. He glared hard at the floor beneath him, then just as quickly he raised it back up and made eye contact with his estranged father. "...My-"

He choked on it. It was yet another truth that he wasn't yet ready to believe.

"My life would've been a whole lot better if you'd been a part of it."

With a small thump, made much louder by a deafeningly silent room, his father dropped his glass on the bar. The stream of liquid started steadily dripping off of the counter... it was the only sound in the room.

Nick couldn't see his face, but he didn't need to. His point had been driven home without a doubt. Without another word, he headed for the door. The bear turned around, his eyes quickly darted between them. In quiet desperation, he reached towards Nick but this time, he couldn't say anything.

As Nick placed his hand on the big rotten knob he hesitated. In this painful moment, his mind decided to momentarily distract him with the question of why the knob was always his stopping point in these situations.

"Maybe I wouldn't have been such a loser..." It was an afterthought.