I Met Him At A Bar
rating: +15+x

Finding Paradise

I met him at a bar.

“He’s got a massive debt here. Kick him out.” My boss's voice repeated as I stepped out from behind the practically empty bar. It was nearly one in the morning, and the only two people there aside from me and my boss were him, clad in an air of moodiness. I gulped as I approached, looking first at the worn boots, then up at the jeans, and lastly followed by the black leather jacket.

“Write an IOU.” He simply spoke in a grumble, setting his glass down next to the three others he had finished. I cleared my throat, trying to fight past the scent of alcohol.

“You know uh, you owe us for more than just this. You’ve come by multiple times without paying…”

The drinker gave a small chuckle, turning to finally look at me. “I’m aware… I’ve fallen on tough times.”

“I understand sir, but we can’t continue to serve you anymore. You need to pay us back.”

“You want me to pay you back, huh?” He questioned, raising an eyebrow. “Well, I have a deal to offer you. And it’s just for you…”

Given the way he stared and the way he smirked, I gave an anxious nod. “Can I hear this deal first? I won’t just- just take an offer without knowing the details?”

“I’m looking for someone important… If I find them, then I can clean up my act and pay you all back. Sound good?”

“I’d… I’d have to ask my boss about that?”

“Go right ahead. Otherwise, I’m a broke old man.” He chuckled to me, shaking his head whilst reaching for the glass he had been drinking from prior.

With the suggestion of the deal, I turned and began to go back around the bar. The boss was busy going over paperwork as we prepared to close up the shop. Once I came into the corner of their vision, they sighed and turned to speak to me, curious about my success. Unfortunately for them, I shook my head a little.

“He needs help finding someone before he can pay us back… for now it’s another IOU.”

“What? You’re kidding me! Tell the damn guy that he’s banned until he brings us the five hundred dollars he owes…” My boss complained, pointing to the drinker at the bar.

As torn as I was about it, I had no choice but to walk over and deliver the bad news. Even before I spoke, the man turned to properly face me, showing off his full attire. Surprisingly, he had some kind of badge on his jacket, catching my eye with the bronze glint.

“I’m going to have to ask you to go… It’s my boss’s orders. Until you pay us five hundred for the drinks you’ve accumulated, you aren’t allowed back.”

“So it goes… Got a name?” He questioned during the moment he took to get up, straightening up his jacket. His question caught me a bit off-guard, though he did at least have a nametag over his badge which gave me a name to call him by.

“People just call me Jo, sir… Y-You’re… Delorcas?”

“Detective Delorcas, yes. You could call me Sam, though.” They nodded back to me, flashing the badge. However, it didn’t seem like he was done yet. “Other than you kicking me out though… how’s about that deal?”

Again, he caught me by surprise with the mention. I had almost discarded the idea of helping the destitute man, though after he had tried to get to know me more, I felt much more inclined. At the time, bartending sucked as a job for me. Whether I left for a while or not, at least I would be coming back with the payment to make up all of Sam’s drinks. Maybe it would be enough to excuse everything.

“Do you know how long that trip is going to be? You’ll have the money, right?”

Sam chuckled. “Less than a week. I’ll have it after. Promise, Jo.”

To solidify it, he even offered his hand to me for a shake. A week sounded long though, and it was time I could be working. I would probably be out of the job if I left, but there was also the possibility of me being rehired when we had the payment. All the possibilities and I hadn’t even asked Sam all the questions I had swirling in my head. I must’ve been staring at his hand for a full minute before grabbing it for a firm and warm shake. He was much taller than me, dwarfing and almost entirely covering my hand with his own during the shake.

“There we go… come along. I have to gather some shit from my apartment first.” He said in a pretty casual way, letting go of my hand. The stench of alcohol on his breath instead acted as my trail to him.

Again I hesitated. My boss was occupied with paperwork at the empty bar, unaware of where I was about to go. Before they could notice, I hurried out the door and onto the streets of Level 11. Given the time of day, it was a lot less busy and far easier to spot Sam shuffling down the street. It didn’t take me long to catch up with the pace he was going at. I looked across him as he seemed transfixed with heading to his apartment, keeping his hands in his pockets.

He glanced at me, a smile growing across the stubble of his face as he noticed me again. “Didn’t think you’d keep your word. Maybe it’s just the alcohol making me doubt.” He dismissed with a handwave, carrying on.

The both of us continued to walk along the sidewalk through town, passing by a few people who gave Sam and me looks of suspicion like wherever we were going wasn’t somewhere for us. I didn’t live around wherever we were headed, so I had put my full trust in Sam that we weren’t going to get ourselves killed by something. It wasn’t a fear I had grown accustomed to, since I’d only really stayed on Level 11 since first arriving here. Regardless, I put on a brave face and carried on.

I began to realize how stupid this idea was now. I was following some stranger without any knowledge of where we were going, let alone what he had planned. I tried collecting my words to at least tell him something, but none of my words came out. A little squeak eventually grabbed his attention. Sam looked over to me, giving a half-chuckle.

“Something up? You look nervous.” He asked me.

To his surprise, I nodded to him, managing to get something out. “I am. You aren’t gonna kill me, are you…?”

“I’m an ex-police detective, kid. The last thing my brain is telling me to do is kill you.” Sam responded with a little chuckle, taking his hand out from his pocket as we came to a stop in front of a smaller residential complex.

“I get that, but I just… I’ve not really been told who we’re looking for or why?”

“Right… I probably should’ve explained it more. It’s about my partner, she and I got into an argument and… she left in the night. They left a letter for me to figure out where they left to, at least.”

It seemed a little more understandable to me now, at least. With the simple mention of that, I could figure out why he had been coming to the bar so much. The poor guy must’ve missed her dearly, especially if he lacked the money to pay our shop back because of them. I analyzed his appearance a little more as we made our way up the stairs, seeing if there were more indicators of his general mood and state. Aside from his slightly rugged face and the smell of alcohol on him, there wasn’t much I could infer. Perhaps it was rude for me to pry so much into who he was.

During the time I thought and watched Sam, we had made our way up one or two floors of a pretty drab and under-maintained apartment complex. The lights were pretty dated, creating a fluorescent buzz in the dim amber that soaked the cracked and stained tile floor. I held my breath to avoid smelling the gross musk that permeated the whole building, though once we approached one of the apartment doors I let out an exhale. Sam went up to unlock what was presumably his apartment, opening the door for me first. I nearly overlooked how suspicious it was before entering.

Despite smelling a lot better than the halls, everything looked just as dirty and slightly vacant. Sam closed the door behind us and passed by me to lead ahead, walking into a little living room area with just a couch, table, and television. It seemed like an awfully depressing way to live, though. I looked from the door with a bit of hesitance before Sam waved me over to sit, picking up a letter from the table in front of him.

“You can come sit, don’t be shy Jo.” He called as I began to timidly approach, taking a seat with him on the couch.

With that, Sam simply held out the letter for me to take. I was careful not to rip it when I did eventually take it. After all, the paper was a bit stained and seemed like it was fragile. Once it was in my hands, I took a bit of time to understand the handwriting on it. Thankfully I did manage to understand what the pretty brief note said.

Dear Samuel,
I can’t stand being around you after all the arguing. Living like this is hurting us more than bringing us together. I feel like you don’t love me, don’t care about me, don’t understand me. If you really care, you’ll know where I’ve run off to.
-Madeline, your dearest.

I carefully handed the small note back to Sam, sighing. “Where did she go, then? Do you know?”

“I have just a few ideas…” He responded, hanging his head slightly after looking over the letter left for him. “A few are dangerous alone. I’d rather have the help, you know?”

“Well… I mean, I’m just a bartender. I’m fine with coming along, though I don’t know how much of a help I’ll be. I mean–hell–you’re a police officer!”

“Detective.” He corrected, pocketing the note. “But I can only do so much alone. Uh, maybe you can use your experience to prove to your boss that I at least tried to make the money back?” He suggested although he looked confused.

“I guess, but I expected it to be a lot more simple…” I admitted, trying to think of something to say that didn’t make me feel so awkward about it. Thankfully, Sam nodded a bit in understanding.

“I’ll make you another deal then… Head home, do whatever you want… but tomorrow, if you’re really dedicated to helping an old guy out, meet me at The Hub. Make sure you pack some gear, too. Find me around noon.”

I gave a nod back at his proposition, getting up from the couch slowly. “At noon in The Hub… understood. Guess that’s my signal to go?”

“Aye. I hope to see you tomorrow…” He nodded, watching me from where he sat when I began to walk away.

It seemed like he was ready to simply let me go. Of course, I took the opportunity mostly to let myself think through my options. It didn’t feel like I had a lot to lose in trying, and Sam did look pretty distraught by it all, almost like his life had been ruined by what had happened. If he was drinking so much, it was probably taking some kind of toll on him.

Nonetheless, I left the apartment building Sam lived in, thinking over his offer all the while I tried figuring out my way back to my own apartment building. It seemed like a simple task, with the only sacrifice being maybe about a week of my time. Sam looked like he knew what he was doing, too. There I decided: I would go ahead and help.

* * *

After taking nearly half an hour to find my way home from the unfamiliar parts of the city, I began to search around my place for any useful “gear” as Sam suggested. I considered it almost like a camping trip, much like how others I knew packed for journeys to other levels. Whilst I didn’t exactly have camping supplies like a tent or bag, I at least had canned food to bring along.

I searched around my small apartment in the early hours of the night, grabbing a spare bookbag I had. In it, I stuffed what must’ve been a dozen cans of random food from my cabinets, three bottles of almond water, a book, and a blanket for warmth. And of course, lastly, I packed a knife. It was just one I had randomly grabbed from the kitchen since I felt as though if the situation arose, it would be of use as a tool.

By the end of my frantic late-night packing, I carried the bag over to my bedside. By now, it must’ve been nearly four in the morning, but it was just enough time for me to lay down and sleep to regain some energy. When I awoke, surely I would be on time to get this adventure over in no time.

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