On The House

It was going to be a very, very slow night. Tuesdays usually were. Throw in the hellacious thunderstorm outside, and not even a desperate alcoholic would wander in. I had just decided to close the bar up early when the mother of all lightening bolts hit just outside the window, nearly blinding me. After I rubbed the white circles from my eyes, I was startled to discover a man standing three feet in front of me. He placed a copy of that fat New York telephone directory on the bar and asked me for a beer.

“Where the hell did you come from and why ain’t you wet?” I demanded as I placed a Budweiser draft in front of him, then added, “That’ll be $2.00.”

He smiled. “’When,’ you mean,” he replied, “and I don’t have any money from this area. But it doesn’t matter,“ he glanced down at one of them big city watches with all kinds of dials and buttons, “because in exactly 1 minute and nine seconds you’re going to say ‘It’s on the house.’”

Thunderstorms always bring out the crackpots. “Why would I say that?”

He chugged half the beer and glanced at his watch again. “Because, in exactly 58 seconds, I’m going to save your life.”

I inched closer to the baseball bat that I keep behind the bar. “You sure about that, mister?”

He walked to the back corner, where he was practically swallowed up by the shadows. “Because I’m a temporal police officer, and a criminal from the 24th century fled to this time. He needs money. Unfortunately for you, he doesn’t know how to use your century’s projectile weapons. He stole a hair-trigger pistol. You’ll see soon enough.”

Just then, a shirtless maniac came crashing through the door. He was soggy as hell and shaking like a leaf. After he did the drunk-dance up to the bar, he slurred, “Give me all your money, quick,” and yanked some pawnshop gun out of his pocket. He might have been more confused than I was.

“Take it easy…” I started, but my voice was lost in the sound and light from the muzzle of his pistol.

By the time I remembered where I was, I wasn’t there anymore. Instead, I was against the old-fashioned cash register my boss kept around for that “old-time feel.” My ears were ringing, my back hurt, but somehow, I wasn’t dead. Across the bar, the cop guy downed the last bit of his beer, and the would-be assassin was lying on the floor tied up with some kind of glowing neon rope. The New York phone book was against my shirt. A column of white smoke spun up from a big-ass hole in the front of it.

“Sorry I had to let him shoot,” he said as he plunked the bottle onto the bar. “The DA needed enough evidence to put him away for a long time. What do I owe you for the beer?”

From far away, I heard my voice say, “Uh, it’s…it’s on the house”

He smiled again, pressed a button on his fancy watch, and both of them disappeared in a flash of light. I stood there for ten minutes before making up my mind. I grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels, walked over to the door, locked it, and sat down in a corner booth with every intention of emptying the thing before going home.

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