SECRETS AND HIGH SPIRITS
Some spirits can be imbibed. Others will haunt a place. Some places have both kind.
“No fucking way!” The words sprang from Teag’s lips in shock before he could restrain them.
His agitation didn’t stem from the former juice bar’s sorry state, but Leo taking the comment as such was understandable. Leo Henderson, Teag’s sort-of friend and self-appointed real estate agent, had called out of the blue and insisted they look at this particular commercial property immediately. The list price was unbelievably low, and Teag understood why, barely three steps in.
The front entrance being boarded up, they entered through the back only to stumble into the remains of a long-ago aborted remodeling effort. Someone at some point had ripped open a couple of inner walls, exposing their innards of pipes and ducts. Chunks of drywall piled in, on and around a lone toilet, and a thick layer of dirt covered everything. To round off the effect, an aroma of neglect and dead mice filled the air. If the alien skeleton with its exploded rib cage from the beginning of the first Alien movie was a commercial property in Hollywood, it would’ve been this one.
“It’s all cosmetic. The building has good bones.” Leo rushed to the carcass’s defense, but Teag’s attention was elsewhere—on the tower of muscle standing in the middle of the chaos farther in, lit by a lone electric lantern.
Teag couldn’t even recall the man’s name—they’d met only once before, after all—but recognized the brute immediately from his shaved head, the way his dark T-shirt strained to contain him, and the colorful ink on his arms. Meathead was Teag’s verdict.
“I don’t like this place. Let’s go,” Teag whispered, turning to Leo.
Unfortunately, Leo protested, imploring Teag to give the place a chance, etcetera. To make things worse, he was blocking the only route of escape.
Predictably, the hubbub drew Meathead’s attention. Recognition manifested in his expression at once. “You again,” he uttered in a rumbling baritone that seemed to fill the space. Teag groaned, and Leo let out an ugh sound as he finally caught up, but it was too late to make a break for it. Meathead was bulldozing his way in their direction. “I don’t think we were formally introduced last time. Bruce Morton,” he said when he stopped.
Teag wished he was the kind of man who could disregard a proffered hand, but good manners were too deeply ingrained in him. The best he could do was keep the handshake brief. Though it was still long enough to realize the man’s palm was as firmly padded as the rest of him. “Teag Connell,” he replied grudgingly.
Leo recovered from his initial surprise faster than a speeding bullet. “Leo Henderson, Keystone Properties. Nice to meet you again,” he burbled cheerily. If it wasn’t for Teag’s look of murder, Leo would’ve probably handed over his business card.
Meathead, though, scarcely spared a glance to Leo, while skewering Teag with unnervingly intent dark eyes. “Still shopping for a bar?”
Teag jerked his shoulder. The left one. Despite his best attempt at civility, everything about the guy made him bristle. “You too, I take it.”
“Considering it. Since my boss is selling the place out from under me. After I’ve been running it for him for years.” There was unmistakable bitterness to Bruce’s comment.
They’d met originally when Leo dragged Teag along to look at a West Hollywood bar for sale. Bruce had been behind the bar and took offense at learning the facts from them. Unpleasantries had been exchanged. The mere recollection made Teag’s pulse thicken and fists clench. Evidently, Bruce the Meathead was holding a grudge too. Well, fuck it.
“It’s all yours. We were just leaving,” Teag announced and pivoted for the door without a formal farewell.
“Wait!” Meathead placed a meaty paw on Teag’s bicep. “We’re getting off on the wrong foot again. Let’s start over.”
Not fucking likely. Teag kept his thoughts to himself but glared pointedly at the fingers circling his arm, then raised his eyes level with Bruce’s. More or less level—Meathead had a few inches on him. Bruce got the hint and released him. “No need. My feet are perfectly fine as they are. I’ll leave you to sort yours out at your leisure.” And to Leo, “C’mon, let’s go.” Teag underscored his words with a sharp glance at his companion and marched outside.
Leo dutifully followed, and a minute later, they were sitting on the soft leather seats of his BMW. “I had no idea someone else was showing the property as well,” he apologized.
Teag shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I don’t have the budget for the kind of renovation this place needs.” He should’ve known the asking price was too good to be true and saved them both a wasted trip.
“Good location,” Leo persisted.
“Yeah,” Teag agreed. Roughly halfway between Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, the place could’ve attracted a diverse clientele. Alas. “There’s no point in owning the building if I can’t actually turn it into a bar.”
“Have you considered leasing a space instead of buying?”
“And be at the mercy of some asshole landlord? No, thanks.”
Leo sighed. “Your budget limits your choices, you know.”
“I know, and thanks for trying, but you didn’t have to. I’ve told you, I’m not ready yet.” He’d been saving his money, and at his current rate, he’d have enough by the time he became eligible for his AARP card. Considering he was still in his twenties, it was not a sunny prospect.
“I know what, let’s stop at Starbucks and talk over our options over a couple of lattes.”
Teag’s hackles sprang to attention at the sound of our, but he slapped the lid on his pique and made a show of looking at the dashboard clock. “Sorry, can’t. Martin’s expecting me in early. Just drop me off at my sister’s.”
“I could drop you at work,” Leo suggested with a glint of puppy lust in his eyes. “And pick you up after your shift.”
“Not tonight,” Teag replied curtly. Fending off Leo’s advances was trying his already short patience. He didn’t dislike the guy, but Leo didn’t inspire in him any sort of passion either. Poor Leo was as exciting as a bowl of oatmeal.
Leo had a nettlesome tendency not to take soft rejections to heart. It no doubt served him well in his chosen profession. “Rain check?” he asked with unflagging cheer.
“Sure,” Teag agreed, mostly out of guilt. He didn’t have the heart to be outright rude with the guy. Unlike that tattooed moron, Leo was a nice person, attractive, and probably considerate in the sack. “So…sold anything interesting lately?” Teag asked by way of a topic changer. For the rest of the drive to Eagle Rock, they talked real estate. Well, mostly Leo talked. Teag made encouraging noises and wished he’d had the good sense to have ridden his Vespa to the viewing instead of accepting the ride from Leo.
Copyright © 2015 Lou Harper
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication