"A guy died in the bar one night. He fell stiff as a board, right behind where you're sitting...heart attack
, I guess."
"Did anyone try to help...you know, CPR or anything?"
"No, it was spooky how everyone just stood there and watched him go."
"The Gophers were playing the Badgers in a night game at the dome and the place was lousy with football fans. The guy was waiting to be seated in the restaurant, standing over there by the host stand. His arm went rigid and knocked the clipboard out of the host's hand and into the wall with a thwack. Everyone stopped what he or she was doing when the clipboard hit the wall and turned in time to see him expire. We knew he was dead before he hit the floor."
"What do you mean you knew he was dead?"
"Everybody knew. There had to be a hundred souls in that room, and not one stepped in to break his fall. The ones who were closest to him stepped back as though they were avoiding a falling tree." I cleaned the dirty glasses and ashtrays as I spoke.
"His death was tangible."
The bar and restaurant staff learned to dread the nights that there was a game at the dome because the stadium was so close and the football fans were the wrong kind of busy. The Minnesota
Gophers play the Wisconsin
Badgers frequently enough that we came to call it "The Rodent Roundup," almost reverent in our level of loathing. It was a hurricane of bad karma
The sports fans were known to bring dead critters to the games to throw on the field at half time to intimidate their opponents. It started with dead badgers and gophers, of course but soon grew to include a variety of mammals with no real relationship to the combatants or their mascots.
Disturbing as it was to realize that one of our patrons might be packing a rotting badger carcass, there was a more dreadful foreboding that night. It was close to Halloween and a shadowy kind of amateur pagan chaos was in the air.
Before the sports fans arrived en masse, I had only one customer at the bar. I didn't bother bonding with him because I knew that we were going to be in the reeds at any moment. I'd hand him his Gibson, he'd look at his watch and ask me if anybody had called for him on the phone. We repeated this exchange three or four times before the guy broke step and asked a new question.
"Have you ever heard of the Eastern Onion?" Slightly slurred by the Gibsons.
"Yeah, I think it's a Thai restaurant over on Hennepin...four and a quarter for the drink." No time to chat, pal.
He shoved a twenty at me to cover the drink and his tone became more insistent, "No, no, it's a messenger service, like Western Union, get it? You know, singing telegrams, people in costumes, that kind of thing." He looked at his watch again then back at me in time to catch me making my escape to the cash register. He increased his volume to accommodate our distance but overshot the mark in his drunken state and nearly screamed, "HE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HERE AT 6:00!"
The sports fans descended on us and the Gibson guy was lost in the crowd.
They arrive at about the same time and when one of them dies they leave in a hurry. That's not to say they didn't stay for the freakshow; the doors thrown open to the street, the paramedics' heroic but futile efforts, the removal of the body. They weren't about to let it dampen Game Day, though, so at the end of the show they were gone as they arrived, as one. I was surprised that none of them felt the tug of the bar to drink and brood and talk about the death of their fellow, rather than going to the game. It was a devastating blow to the evening's receipts but a mercy to the oppressed staff.
One sports fan remained after the storm. The Gibson guy, who preceded the tumult, was left, much worse for the effects of the freakshow and the gin. I was actively ignoring him when the waitress at the end of the bar held up her hand and pointed at her palm in the universal "look behind you" gesture.
Bartenders learn young to watch for weapons and the guy who just walked in the back door of the bar was packing a doozey. I saw the blade first, at least two feet long, curved like a scimitar, attached to a knotted wooden shaft about five feet long. The man wore a hooded black robe that obscured both his face and his feet. The robe, draped to the floor, made it appear as though he was floating across the room directly toward the man at the bar.
I stood petrified, incapable of reaching for the telephone to call 911. When I opened my mouth to yell a warning to the guy at the bar about his imminent beheading, my vocal chords were paralyzed as well.
In my trance, I'm certain I was the last to realize that the assailant was dressed as the grim reaper as a Halloween prank, hired by the Gibson guy to go to the game and loom over the proceedings.
The waitress, a veteran of much stranger scenes than this, shrugged and told the reaper that he was about twenty minutes late.