Red Shoe and Bulldog

He was drinking by himself when Long Murphy stopped at his table. “What’re ya having?” Long Murphy had arms and a jaw like an ape and a voice like a tin can.

Ryan chewed on his pink plastic sword while he considered this. “You buying?”

“Could be, ya tell me what you’re having.”

“Gimlet,” said Ryan, and held out his hand when Murphy turned toward the bar. “With an onion.”

“With an onion?

“Yeah. You buying?”

Long Murphy glared at him. “Yeah, I’m buying. Sit there and don’t move till I get back.”

Ryan didn’t have any plans but he resented being ordered around. The muscles in his jaw knotted but it was a free drink so he swallowed them smooth again. Long Murphy came back and put the drink down delicately. Long Murphy was a barman in his off hours and took it as a point of pride that he didn’t spill drinks.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it, you or your onion.” Long Murphy sat down across from him and started playing with a napkin, wadding it into his fist and smoothing it out again like a third-grader practicing a magic trick. Ryan sipped at his drink and watched him until he started reaching for the candle.

“Something on your mind, Murphy?”

“High King’s got a job for ya, Ryan. Says t’take it.” Long Murphy put his hands flat on the table and stood up. “Enjoy your drink. Don’t worry, you’ll get yours.” He threw the wadded-up napkin at Ryan’s tie. “See ya round.”

When he was gone Ryan opened the napkin under the tablecloth. Inside, his fingers told him, was a key, with a woman carved into the handle. He stroked her metal side and felt tiny hands wrap around his thumb.