Rick Lodeau broke away from the conversation that he'd been having with Kelly Twist and he ambled over to the newcomer, pausing to grab a napkin on his way. He placed the napkin before the man and said, "What'll ya have, chief?"
The man turned his attention to the bartender and the first thing that came to Lodeau's mind was Serve him one or two and get his ass outta here.
The man looked like shit. And that might have been a generous assessment. He swam in his clothes and his face was unshaven and his mouth was pursed in what looked like a permanent grimace and his blondish-brown hair was disheveled and hanging over his right eye. Ordinarily, Rick would have found the hair to be funny--it looked a bit like the man was wearing it the way the kids did--but...not in this instance. The man's eyes were the worst, though. Faded blue and bloodshot and set back in their sockets, they conveyed, with but a single glance, that he was tenuously attached to reality, if at all. His eyes looked steadily enough at Lodeau, but the man seemed not to even recognize that he was interacting with a fellow human being. In Rick's opinion, the man looked as if he could be watching an old game show rerun, what with the level of emotion that issued forth.
"I work for the gas company," said the man. He propped his elbows up on the bar and folded his hands in front of him. "I work for the gas company and I supply heat to people."
Rick nodded and shifted his weight onto his back leg. He had a bad feeling about the guy. "That's great," he said, stretching a grin across his teeth. "Maybe you can do something about my bill, then? Damn thing gets higher and higher each month."
The man stared at the bartender and Rick opened his mouth to tell the man to order something or please leave, but the man moved his lips into an approximation of a smile and said, "If I had a nickle for every time someone said that to me.... Gimme a Bud, please."
"Okay," said Rick, glad to have some form of communication with the man. "Draft or bottle?"
"Whatever," said the man. "Whatever. Does it really even matter?"
Rick shrugged. "Your coin, buddy," and he walked over to the tap and started drawing the man a drink. It is a relatively short exercise, filling a stein with beer, but it seemed, this time, to take forever. Rick felt the man's eyes boring into his back; though he studied the man in the bar's mirror and the man never looked in the bartender's direction--he had, in fact, resumed his surveillance of the street--Rick could not shake that watched feeling. He filled the stein and set it in front of the man on the napkin. "Tab or pay as you go?"
The man pulled a wrinkled five dollar bill from his wallet and tossed it to Rick. "I'll pay as I go, thank you." He sipped at the head on the beer and then pulled a pack of Reds from his breast pocket and fired up a smoke. "Keep the change."
"You got it," said Rick, moving back down the counter towards Kelly. "Lemme know if you need anything else." The man seemed not to have heard, but he flapped a hand over his shoulder, indicating that all was well, as he watched the slow movement on the street.
"Odd fellow, huh?" said Kelly quietly, stubbing out her Virgina Slim and immediately lighting another. "Never seen him here, before."
Rick nodded. "Me neither. And I don't know if odd is the word I would use to describe the guy."
Kelly arched her eyebrows as she sipped at her vodka-tonic. "Well, what would you say?"
Rick picked up a glass and absently dried it. He shrugged. "I don't know. I'm not really good at words and stuff, as you know--" Kelly nodded "--but, to me, it seems like he's the kinda guy you read about in the newspaper, after he, like, kills and eats 15 people. Just...weird. Just a weird dude."
Kelly snickered softly and spun the straw in her drink. Ice clinked. "Like you're the poster-boy for normalcy?"
"Hey," said Rick, feigning hurt, "at least I don't eat people."
"Yet," said Kelly.
"Yet," agreed Rick.
At the barstool near the window, Harold Sides heard their soft conversation and let it wash over and through him. He didn't care what they thought about him. They were unimportant. Completely, utterly, unimportant. As he looked out the dirty bar window at the cars passing and the people walking, Sides thought that today, indeed, would be a good day to put his Plan into action. Today would be a good day, indeed, to commence the carnage. He was ready. The voices had told him so.
He smiled and smoked and drank.