“You’re probably going to be the first one here every morning, so don’t lose those,” Maggie announced as she placed a set of keys on the bar.
Maggie McGee’s, the bar that shared her name, reminded her of a church at this ungodly hour. It was reverentially quiet. The ancient wood was the same color as the pews in St. Patrick’s, the church she attended every Sunday. The sun shone in through the stained glass shamrocks in the front window and made the hardwood floor appear green.
“Welcome to the team, lad” she said with a thick brogue that made it impossible to forget that she was as Irish as they came. “Don’t make me regret trusting you with those keys. My boyfriend is a big, scary detective, who will make your life a living hell if you do.”
She smiled, but Tex Bourbon did not.
Luckily, Hurricane Bruno had made landfall at precisely the right time. Not only had the detective saved him from making one of the worst mistakes in his life (he still considered his short lived time as the front man for the Astro Cowboys to be his ultimate error), but he had also taken him under his wing and arranged for this job.
Sure, working in a bar wasn’t what Tex had in mind when he’d moved to the big city in hopes of becoming a star, but it was a means to pay off the staggering debt that hung over him like a storm cloud.
“Thank you again for this chance,” Tex said politely. “And please thank Detective Bruno, too.”
Maggie smiled. “You’re welcome. Remember, this isn’t just about being a bar back. I meant it when I said you could be the entertainment a couple of nights a week. Just take this wee bit of advice: forgot about the space age country music, and learn a few U2 and Dropkick Murphys songs.”
Tex laughed. He had no intention of reviving any of the songs he’d written for the Astro Cowboys. No, those days were long behind him. It was time to reinvent Tex Bourbon, even if that meant clearing tables, stocking beer, and unloading trucks in an Irish bar.
“Message received,” he assured her. “Loud and clear.”
“Great,” Maggie responded with a warm smile. “The whole point of hiring you was to give me more free time. So, I’m going to have the man I just promoted to the newly created position of assistant manager train you how to do his old job. Listen to everything he says because there’s no one wiser.”
The old man who slowly walked towards them had long white hair, a badly misshapen nose, and the warmest smile.
Of course, this was not the first time they’d met. That had been on Christmas Eve when the old man had been dressed as Santa Claus, and Tex had been serenading a small group while dressed as an elf.
“Champ is happy to see you again, Tex,” the new arrival said as he extended his hand. “Champ likes the looks of you. Champ is very good at reading people. Welcome to the team.”
Tex smiled and shook his hand. They hadn’t had much of a chance to interact on Christmas Eve, but Bruno had warned him about Champ’s odd manner of speaking. He’d also given him some background about his past as an amateur boxer and homeless person. Then the great detective had sung Champ’s praises by revealing the integral role he’d played in closing a puzzling murder that had ended up not being a murder after all.
“Same here,” Tex replied with a smile and firm handshake. “I’m looking forward to working together.”
“I’ll leave you boys to it then,” Maggie informed them as she made a bee line for the door. “I’ll see you tonight after I figure out what to do with all this free time.”
She waved and then disappeared out the door. The men sized up each other before Champ finally broke the silence.
“Champ has only one question before we start. Champ needs to know if you play chess.”
Tex smiled. This place was new, weird, and completely out of his comfort zone. He had a strong sense he was going to love it here.
TO BE CONTINUED…