The Royal Oak had been quiet all night. George wondered how much longer he could keep the place afloat. It hadn’t been completely dead. A few punters had kept the pulse ticking all evening. Alf and his missus had been in for an hour, turned up a couple of minutes after seven-thirty and left not a minute after eight-thirty. They had the same routine every night, pint of Ringwood for Alf, white wine spritzer for the missus. A couple of lads had stuck a pile of coins on the pool table and steadily fed it all evening whilst taking it in turns to get the beers in between games. There was also a young couple that had sat in the corner most of the evening gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes barely saying a word to each other – probably a first date. Who said romance was dead. The lad had bought the drinks all evening. George wasn’t convinced either of them was old enough to drink but he was hardly in a position to turn away the custom.
People claimed the smoking ban was killing off the pub business. George could see that it had contributed but he wasn’t going to grumble about it, he’d never been a fan of smoking having watched his old mum die of emphysema after chugging through 20 a day most her whole adult life. No, George laid more blame at the doors of Simon Cowell, Ant and Dec and that fruity looking Lloyd Webber prick. What hope did he have of attracting the hard of thinking out of their armchairs and into his pub when he was competing with naked fat people dancing and celebrities being mildly tortured – put like that it held a certain appeal, he had to admit.
A couple of minutes before last orders the door opened. Rather than getting excited at the prospect of getting another seven quid in the till from selling the two men that walked through it a couple of pints, George’s heart sank. The sight of Neil Andrews and Gary Jacobs always had the same effect.
‘Hello George, usual please,’ Andrews called as he approached the bar.
‘Tonight lads? But you don’t usually come in until Sunday,’ George said, nerves clear in his voice.
‘Well we’re here tonight,’ Andrews said, picking up a glass from the bar top and dropping it to the floor. ‘Oops,’ he said, as he and Jacobs stepped sideways slightly to avoid the splinters of glass as they flew.
The action on the pool table came to a halt and one of the two lads picked up the three remaining one pound coins and made to put them in his pocket.
‘You can leave those there lads,’ Jacobs said without turning around.
For a moment the lads looked like they were considering spinning their pool cues and rushing Andrews and Jacobs with the fat ends. It looked easy in the movies, the reality was they were frightened and out of shape – from too much time on their arses watching movies. They placed their cues on the worn green felt and left without taking their eyes off of Jacobs. George thought he heard running before the door fully closed.
‘Four-hundred George,’ Andrews said.
‘Neil, Gary, it’s Thursday night lads. I haven’t taken four-hundred quid all week yet. I wasn’t expecting you until Sunday,’ George pleaded.
Gary Jacobs walked over to the pool table and picked up one of the cues. There was still a clammy warmth to it from an evening’s use. He swung the cue, bringing it down violently against the side of the playing surface. It snapped and splintered and he ran the splintered end across the felt , tearing through it.
‘Four-hundred!’ Andrews repeated with increased menace.
‘I’m sorry, really I am, but I just don’t have it,’ George’s voice trembled. ‘I can have it for you Sunday, after the weekend trade I promise.’
Jacobs picked up the second pool cue and gave it the same treatment as the previous one. George ducked low behind his bar as both halves flew past him and shattered the bottles in the optics behind him. Glass and liquor stung into the back of his neck and soaked through his shirt.
The room boomed and Gary Jacobs’ chest opened in a bloody hole as George rose from behind the bar and pulled the trigger of his shotgun. Neil Andrews watched as his friend’s head bounced off of a table and his eyes went blank.
George re-trained his shotgun on Andrews. The nerves were catching, George could see his shakes echo through the outstretched weapon. Andrews was trembling and ranting incoherently as he saw the final moments of his life coming into focus.
‘I never wanted it to come to this Neil. It was ruining me but I was happy to pay you boys once a month. I saw enough bloodshed in the forces. But I don’t have the money until after the weekend,’ George said. ‘Why couldn’t you have just waited until Sunday?’
Andrews didn’t appear to be listening. His incoherent noise turned to sobs and tears started to fall down his face, joining spittle that flew from his mouth as he struggled to breathe.
‘Why today?’ George screamed. ‘Why?’
Andrews focused briefly and answered through broken sobs. ‘The missus wants me home over the weekend. It’s the Britain’s Got Talent final and she’s doing a party.’
George shook his head and pulled the trigger.
Bio: Aidan Thorn is a 33 year old writer from Southampton, England. His short fiction has appeared in Radgepacket Vol 6, Gloves Off – the Near to the Knuckle Anthology and online at Thrillers, Killers ‘N’ Chillers and Near to the Knuckle. He is currently working on various longer projects, including his second novel ‘Rock Idles’. More on Aidan’s writing can be found here http://aidanthornwriter.weebly.com/