The dream was the same last night. It was closing time
and Crazy Joe walked in and sat on a stool at the middle of the bar. He ordinarily took one of the seats in the dark corner at the end, in front of the chessboard
and he never came in this close to closing time.
In the dream I give him the bum's rush. "Hey Joe, you're late. I'm closing up the lemonade stand right now."
Joe spent most of his life in a state institution of one kind or another and he understood the discipline of rules and regulations like 'last call' and 'closing time'. During his childhood and adolescence they called them reformatories or hospitals but for most of the last twenty years they were prisons and jails.
His last hitch inside was a sentence at Stillwater for doing something unspeakable to another inmate at some local lockup in Brainerd. Joe was released after serving every last day of his five-year sentence, given a room at the Francis Drake Hotel and 125 dollars in walking around money. He walked around the corner and into my bar about an hour after his release, saw the chessboard on the bar and settled in for the duration.
Chess is a popular game in prison for obvious reasons. It has fallen out of fashion on the outside because people are too busy but these cats have nothing but time. They call it "cheese" and regard a proficiency at it with some reverence. When Joe saw the board on the bar he knew that he had found a home.
Joe was a creepy guy but if I 86'd everybody who was creepy there'd be nobody left to diminish. He had ragged, dirty blonde hair to his shoulders and he never removed the dark sunglasses. His ever-present headphones were tethered to a radio he kept in a duffel bag that always rested on his lap. He didn't bother anybody overtly and he always had money to pay for a drink.
I was a little bit relieved when he finally got himself thrown out of the bar for good. I liked Joe, in a way, but his manner was quietly menacing and he had a deadening effect on the two stools on either side of him.
Joe arranged to meet another ex-con in the bar for a chess match, which Joe lost. They were playing for twenty dollars and when it came time to pay, Joe picked up his chair and threw it at his opponent instead. It took five Minneapolis cops to tear them apart and send them off in different directions but not before they tipped over every table and spilled every drink in the place. When the cop asked if we wanted to press charges we declined. They provided the only excitement the bar had ever known, and they hadn't caused any real damage. Crazy Joe was told he was no longer welcome in the bar.
I began having the dreams, nightmares, I suppose, shortly thereafter. Joe walks in the bar near closing time and takes a stool near the middle of the bar. I tell him that he's late and that I'm closing the bar. Joe doesn't speak a word in my sleep. He stands and places his duffel bag on the bar in front of me. The bag is unzipped and there is a pistol inside. I think, for a moment, that I could grab it before he does but I stand frozen, staring at the gun. Joe picks up the pistol, levels it at my head and pulls the trigger.
In the loud crack of the pistol I hear the word "Checkmate". The nightmare always wakes me with a start. I've never been able to fall back to sleep afterward.