Bender at the Bon Parisien (A Novel) (2 page)

BOOK: Bender at the Bon Parisien (A Novel)
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I
turned to Janie, unable to mask my giddiness.

“What
just happened?” She asked. “Are they open tonight?”

“No,
but I asked if we could go in.”

“He
said yes, didn’t he?”

“Yep.”

“Awesome,”
she said with a smile.

We
walked around the ‘closed’ sign, and our evening in the Bon Parisien was underway.
Excitement made me temporarily forget any person or ghost I may have imagined
earlier. However, we’d soon learn that many corners of Paris are home to
complicated, even enchanted, histories.

I
pulled aside the curtain and stepped beyond the doorway.

Chapter
II.

 

 

 

“The light switch is just
on your right,” the concierge called from behind.

I
reached into the darkness. “I found it, thanks.”

As
I turned up the dimmer, the windows reflected the cozy inside of the bar. Janie
ventured past me, smiling into the glorious room. She slid on to a barstool and
rested her feet on the crossbar, worn through the stain to raw wood.

I’ve
always been in love with bars. They are hives for conversation, albeit often
drunk and meandering ones. Low-hanging lights, the buzz of cheap neon signs,
and dusty bookshelves attract me. I’m not a regular anywhere specific at home,
but the Bon Parisien checked every box on my list.

“Well?
Make me a drink!” Janie urged, her smile shining at me.

I
moved behind the bar and started to take inventory. Just like the wallpaper in
the hallways upstairs, many of the labels on the bottles were peeling at the
corners.

“What
may I make you?” I asked, putting my hands on the bar. The dark wood was
covered in so many coats of varnish that I almost suspected it wasn’t ever an actual
tree.

“Surprise
me. We’re on vacation.”

I
found some gin. I set the bottle on the counter and flipped a nearby highball
into position next to it.

“Fancy,”
she noted.

I
smiled to myself.

“Be
careful, please,” came Paul’s voice from the doorway.

“Sorry.
Old habit.”

“It
looks like you are comfortable here. Please find me if you need anything.”

“Are
you sure that I can’t make you something?” I asked one last time.

“Thank
you very much. I’m working,” he kindly replied. Part of me thought that he
wouldn’t have accepted even if he were off the clock.

“Of
course,” I answered.

“I’ll
come back in shortly. Enjoy yourselves.” With that, the concierge exited the bar
and shifted the curtain closed behind him.

“Is
this ‘the dream’ or what?” I said.

Janie
laughed.

“Remember
reading a book as a child about some kids getting locked in a department store?”
I asked.

“Rings
a bell,” Janie nodded.

“I
think this is the equivalent.” I looked around. “Ice.”

Beneath
the bar, a dry and empty metal bin sat holding a metal ice scoop, but I saw
something else that distracted me. Hung ceremoniously in the dim underworld of
the bartender’s workspace, a rifle rested upon a pair of tarnished brass hooks.
Janie noticed the surprise in my eyes.

“What?”

“There’s
a gun under here.” I had never seen a gun in any of the bars where I had worked
before. I instinctively leaned in for a closer look.

“What
kind of gun?” Janie asked curiously.

“A
rifle.”

“Well
let’s see it.”

“Oh
God, no, honey. I’m not touching it!” I exclaimed.

“I
could take your picture while you’re holding it if you want,” she said.

“Are
you kidding, why would I do that?”

“I
don’t know. You’re a dude, and dudes like guns.”

“This
thing scares the crap out of me. What if it had been used to kill someone? I
don’t want my fingerprints all over that thing!”

“Fine,
have it your way,” she conceded.

“Do
you
want
your
picture with it?”

“No!
I’m not touching it,” she said with a giggle.

I
laughed. “Okay then.” I turned to search for ice again.

“I
guess that’s life as a bartender in the big city,” she said.

“Yeah,
I guess. I hope no one’s ever had to use it,” I answered.

“At
least tell me what it looks like while you’re making me a drink.”

I
glanced down one more time. “Well, it is pretty serious given our location.
It’s a shotgun. That would do an insane amount of damage in here. Why not
conceal a handgun back here?”

“Maybe
the bartender was a terrible shot?” Janie joked, referring to the lack of
accuracy needed to hit a target with buckshot.

I
spied a small refrigerator in a dark corner and went to it. “I’m just going to
pretend that gun isn’t there,” I said.

“Good
plan.”

The
interior of the fridge was packed with chilled beers. In the freezer area, I
found one ice cube tray that was only about half full. “Whoa. We’ll have to be
frugal with the ice.”

“Oh,
that’s okay. We’ll just have one here before we head out for dinner,” Janie
answered.

I
dropped three cubes into her glass, took another two for myself, then refilled
the tray and put it back for the next tourist bartender.

“Gin
and tonic?” I asked Janie.

“Are
you serious?”

“What?”

“That
night with the accordion? I’ll never drink a gin and tonic again.”

I
laughed. Months earlier, we’d been out with friends. Janie drank many gin and
tonics, and the night ended in our apartment as she sang loudly in the bathtub.
I sat on the toilet seat, playing along on a toy accordion.

“Besides,”
she continued, “we are in the heart of Paris, locked in our own little bar,
fully stocked with tons of booze we’ve never heard of, and you want to make a
simple little gin and tonic?”

“Okay,”
I answered, smiling. “What do you suggest?”

“I
don’t know. You’re the pro. If you ask me, we should invent something.”

“Really?”
I asked, intrigued.

“Totally.
Then, we can always drink it and remember tonight.”

“Okay,”
I thought aloud as I looked over the liquor. “I love whiskey.”

“I
know. I like it alright, but there’s got to be more to it than that.”

“Here’s
something with a picture of an apple on it. I don’t recognize the wording in
French on the label though.”

“I
like apple things,” Janie said.

I
unscrewed the top of the bottle and sniffed. It was apple alright, and it
stung. I poured a small amount over the whiskey in the glasses I’d prepared.

“Add
bitters,” Janie suggested.

“Really?
Why?”

“I
don’t know. I’ve just heard of bartenders using them before.”

“Do
you even know what bitters are?” I asked.

“No.
Do you?”

I
laughed. “I actually don’t. They add pretty rich flavor, but I don’t know the
spices or flavors involved. So you got me. But we have some back here.”

The
drink’s light amber hue was stained with dark wispy clouds as I added a few
drops of bitters. Janie took her drink from me and swirled the ice in the
glass. She sniffed it and nodded approval.

“Well,
here we go, baby,” she said.

“Cheers,
honey.”

After
a small taste, she nodded again. “It’s really not bad. Nice job.”

“Yeah,
I like it. What should we call it?”

“I’ll
leave it up to you. You are the one who mixed it.”

“How
about an
Esprit de la Nuit.

“Spirit
of the night? I like it.” She took another drink. “Is it really already quarter
to eight?”

“What?
No,” I answered, looking at my watch. “It’s not even six thirty yet.”

“Okay,
that’s what I thought. Just got confused by the clock behind you.”

“I
noticed that. It’s nice. Too bad it’s broken,” I answered as I turned to the
timepiece. The clock, suspended at 7:45, was ornate and looked slightly newer
than most of the décor. The design on the face was unique, with silver and gold
carvings of the sun and moon. I’d never seen one like it and imagined that it
should go on a rich person’s mantle.

“All
the trinkets behind you,” Janie said, forgetting about the clock, “looks like a
pawn shop back there.”

“You’re
right. Nothing matches. The plaques, the pictures.”

I
looked around a little more. An old black-and-white checkered flannel shirt was
tucked away beneath the bar. It was out of character with the style of the
place. But I kept an extra shirt stashed behind the bar when I was a bartender,
so I can’t say that I was surprised. An old pair of lace-up construction boots
also sat beneath the bar. These made less sense to me, but everything in the
room was a little eclectic.

“What
about that record player?” Janie asked as she glanced toward the end of the bar
over my far shoulder.

I
shifted my gaze. Cobwebs marred the view through the dingy clear lid. I imagined
for just one moment that it didn’t even need a record to play, that if the
needle dropped on nothing, sounds of the bar’s past would suddenly come alive.

“I
wonder if it plays,” I said almost to myself.

“Do
you think this place had regulars?”

“Sure,
don’t you think?”

“Probably
a bunch of old folks,” she guessed with a shrug. “I think I’m probably going to
write a lot about this place when we get back.”

“Seems
perfect for that.”

“Did
you see the piano over there?”

I
looked up. Sure enough, a dusty upright grand lurked in the shadows.

“Yeah,
cool,” was all I mustered.

“You
should play it.”

“I
might give it a whirl.” I wasn’t very good.

“I
know you want to,” she coaxed before looking back at the shelves behind the bar.
“Who do you think that is?”

Glancing
over my shoulder, I noticed a bronze bust holding court over the room. The
character frowned, adding ice to his glassy stare. About the size of my fist,
it looked like a bookend without a matching second half.

“I
don’t know, but he seems to think he’s someone,” I joked, noting his
expression.

“Maybe
a king?”

“I’m
not sure. Wouldn’t royalty have some sort of crown?”

“Who
knows? Weren’t they all weird people?”

“I
think I’m going to get an artist to make a bust of me.”

Janie
smiled. “Why?”

“Don’t
you think that it would be cool? Maybe I’ll give it to you for your birthday.”

She
laughed. “Great. Just what I always wanted.”

“I
think I’d do the same look on my face as this guy,” I said, motioning to the
small statue.

“He’s
more sophisticated than you,” she shrugged.

“A
guy like that does what he wants.”

“He
does look proud of himself,” she added. “Hey, may I come back there?”

“Of
course. I don’t work here,” I joked.

“I’ve
never been behind an actual bar before.”

“How
is that possible?”

“I’m
not actually sure.” Her interest was evident as she made her way around slowly,
relishing the moment.

“So
what do you think?”

“It’s
excellent,” she said as she looked around and placed both hands on the counter
as if she were surveying an imaginary party.

“Do
you feel powerful?”

She
laughed and turned to me. I went in for a kiss. She patted my back the way she
does during a kiss that isn’t supposed to last long.

“Pretty
cool night, Mister Pete,” was all she mustered before pulling away from me.

“Sure
is,” I whispered.

“I
got you something!” she exploded suddenly.

“What?”
I said with surprise. “No you haven’t.”

“No,
I did,” she said smiling.

“What
is it?”

“Just
a little token to remember tonight. Do you want it now, or later?”

“Yes,
now please. What is it?”

“I
shouldn’t have said anything. It would be so much better if I’d waited to give
it to you later.”

“Well
it’s too late now,” I laughed. “What is it?”

“It’s
this little guy!” Janie exclaimed as she pulled a figure out from behind her
back. Carved from stone, I recognized it as a rendering of Rodin’s sculpture of
Balzac. Only a few inches high, he stood naked and defiant.

“Balzac?”
I asked.

“Yep.
A little Balzac.”

“Where
did you get him? I don’t remember seeing him at a souvenir shop.”

“I
took him from the shelf right here,” she answered, pointing between the
bottles.

“Oh,
c’mon. Don’t steal him.”

“No
one will miss him. It’ll be fine.”

“Are
you sure this is a good idea?”

“C’mon,
Pete. I’m sure someone left him in here by accident in the first place.”

“I
don’t know,” I said, looking him over.

BOOK: Bender at the Bon Parisien (A Novel)
13.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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