It was just the kind of bar he was looking for. The sign above the door hung askew. Two drunks lay on the cracked and broken sidewalk. A cold wind pushed fitfully at Fick's thin jacket. Trash lay piled in odd corners. He stepped over one of the drunks and went inside.
The room lay cloaked in shadow. Fick stood for a moment, savoring the rancid mix of waterfront mixed with stench of cheap beer and vomit. It reminded him of his favorite dive in Kiel, when he ran a couple girls back in the thirties.
“Looking for someone?” The speaker slouched on a stool at the end of the bar.
“Ja, needz visky.”
The man stood up and moved behind the bar. “What'd he say?” His question was directed toward a bright green and red parrot occupying a large cage hanging over one end of the bar.
“Give him a boilermaker, Sidney.” rasped the parrot.
Fick stared at the parrot for a long moment, then shrugged and took a stool. A shot glass and mug appeared in front of him. The whiskey burned as it went down. He gasped and sipped the brew. The beer was even worse than the whiskey, but it was cool and obviously heavy on the alcohol. He wiped his mouth. “Zankz. Chust ze zing fer zirzty man.”
Sidney shook his head. “Run that by again.”
Before Fick could reply the parrot chimed in. “He said thanks.”
With a bored lift of one shoulder the bartender sauntered back to his position at the end of the bar. He filled a cup from a coffee carafe and began working at a crossword puzzle.
Silence settled over the room. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light Fick noted several hunched figures at tables in the back. None moved or spoke. Occasionally Sidney would mutter something and make a few marks on the puzzle. The parrot seemed to be imitating a statue.
Thus passed an hour or more. Fick was long used to nursing a drink for as long as possible, having always been somewhat light on funds, even in his days as a pimp. Finally, as he finished the last of the beer, the bartender stood up. “Want another?”
Fick replied in his best Germlish. Again the words seemed to make no sense to the barkeep.
“Just a beer,” said the parrot.
A fresh beer appeared before Fick. He studied the parrot. Birds, generally, were of little interest to the former SS thug. Except to eat. This one, however, piqued his curiosity. He turned and asked Sidney what the bird's name was and how he'd come to live over the bar.
“I don't know what language you're speaking, friend. I thought I'd heard them all.”
The parrot made an exasperated sound. “Same old questions, Sid.” He turned a malignant eye on Fick. “Call me Ishmael.”
“Izzmaal,” murmured Fick. The name meant nothing to him. Literature wasn't a topic of discussion in his circles.
“As to how I came to live here, it's none of your business.”
Fick nodded and turned back to his beer. Whatever curiosity he had died as the result of a short attention span, product of too many shots and beers.
Conversation expired. Sidney returned to his puzzle. Someone in the back cut a fart, eliciting bored laughter. Fick worked on the alleged barley-based brew.
As he neared the bottom of his drink the door creaked open and a squat figure lurched in. With a maniacal laugh and a torrent of squeaks the thing waddled to the bar and laboriously clambered on to a stool. A skeletal fist thumped the bar, accompanied by more painful squeaking.
Sidney slowly approached. His caution was due to the anomalous appearance of the creature. It appeared to be clad in a heap of burlap bags. Well worn bags. Tatters and strings stood out in all directions. A partly burned leather helmet sat atop what was probably a head. Bulbous eyes stared madly from scorched goggles.
“Any idea what he's saying?” asked the bartender.
Fick nodded. Itchie Crotchie's Germlish was barely understandable, laced as it was with pungent Asian expletives, some of which Fick thought he understood. “Visky. Gif visky. Bik visky.”
Before Sidney could respond, the parrot explained. “Whiskey. A large glass. Better put it in a mug. Make it the cheap stuff.”
“Okay.” Sid retrieved an unmarked jug from under the bar and poured a chipped mug full. Itchie clasped it with both hands and slurped noisily.
“Who's paying?” asked Sidney.
Fick stared meaningfully at Itchie, to no avail. The little shit just sat there, slugging back booze and mumbling to himself. With a sigh, Fick opened his wallet and extracted a sheaf of bills. Sidney sorted through the pile until he found a few twenty dollar bills. “I'll let you know when these run out.”
“Ja,” agreed Fick. Before he could ask for more beer the parrot spoke up. “Give the jerk another boilermaker. He's gonna need it.”
Fick frowned at the bird. Questions faded as Sid placed another shot and beer on the bar. Fick tossed back the whiskey. It didn't burn nearly as bad this time. A couple sips into the beer he remembered the bird's warning. As he began mumbling a question the door slammed back against the wall admitting a swirl of chill air and a large black helmet with legs.
Even the parrot was struck dumb. Sid eased off his stool and reached for the sawed-off shotgun he kept under the bar. Itchie gibbered some nonsense between slurps, lost to anything other than the strange shapes that slithered and slid between the few nodes of life in his diseased brain.
Fick swung slowly on his stool. Helmet Legs shoved the door shut and stomped toward the bar.
“How they hangin', Fick?”
“Mein Gott! Dark Helmet!” Fick lapsed into confused mumbling.
“Beer, barkeep!” cried DH. He turned around, displaying a well-known beer company logo. “I'm your new sales rep! A round for the house.”
Itchie got a fresh mug. The shapes in back roused for free beer then lapsed into their customary inertia. Fick had another boilermaker lined up behind the beer he was still working on. Even the parrot got a saucer of beer. DH settled in behind a tall, frosty mug of something Fick suspected was a lot better than what he had. The thought vanished down into the sticky muck. He was used to subsisting on the dregs.
Curiosity, that stranger to Fick's life, bloomed again, like a bad weed. “I thot du vas vorkingk vor ein Emperor.” He was fairly certain DH would understand the Germlish.
“The Emperor is dead,” said the parrot.
“Nein!” wailed Fick. “Nein!” He lapsed into a Germlish monologue familiar to all barflies. Sidney looked at Dark Helmet, then at the parrot. “What's he going on about now?”
“Nothing that makes sense,” explained DH. “He's drunk.”
“Who's this Emperor?” asked Sidney.
“Nobody important,” said the parrot. “An evil overlord who imagined himself a cut above the rest.”
“That's baloney.” Sidney laughed and shook his head. “Okay. Don't tell me.”
The parrot sipped the last of his beer. “Doesn't matter anyway, Sid. The Emperor is dead.”
Dark Helmet nodded. His helmet clanked on the bar. “True. He's dead.” Lifting his mug, DH saluted the parrot. “I could use a . . . bird like you. The pay is good.”
“Thanks. No. This place suits me.”
Itchie emitted a low moan and toppled off his stool. A sodden thump announced his arrival on the stained wood floor.
“Another one bites the dust,” muttered DH. He slid to the floor and slipped out the door. No one except the parrot noticed him leave. Fick staggered out before the ambulance arrived, still mumbling a confused line of nonsense.
When Itchie had been hauled away Sidney anxiously surveyed the room.
“The helmet clod is gone,” said the parrot. “So is that kraut drunk.”
“Damn! Helmet guy didn't pay for the round.”
“That ain't all, Sidney. Those twenties you got from the kraut are counterfeit.”
Sid collected glasses and mopped at the counter. He waxed philosophical. “Don't matter. When Benny hears about it they won't last long. It's not like they'll be hard to find.”
The parrot shuddered. “Benny's not a nice . . . ah . . . whatever he is.”
“Dragons are like that.” Sidney sighed and went back to his crossword.