Lawrence's Incredible Idea
written by: Jak Locke
May 17th 2024
Beads of condensation jerkily raced each other down a window's glass. The third drop from the left was winning, just like Lawrence knew it would; he always picked winners. He passed a quick sneer at his first choice, a remnant of a bead that was still wobbling even after the third drop had consumed most of it early on by the top edge of the pane.

Sal was at the other side of the bar, looking over receipts yet again. This time was no different than last month, a pitched anger to the rhythm of each slip of paper slammed against the bartop, the next with a touch more force than the last. Thirty-one piles of failure.

"Lowest yet," he growled.

Lawrence kept his eye on the window. "Ah, you say that every month."

Sal blinked. "And that doesn't worry you?"

"Why should it?" The third drop slid down another inch. "We make enough to keep the lights on and live. A slow season, that's all."

"Three seasons," Sal corrected. "Ten months straight, never getting better. And you can speak for yourself on living, I'm gonna have to sell a couple things to cover my rent this month."

"Huh," Lawrence said blandly. "Ten months, hah, dang. Time sure does go, doesn't it. And I always said your apartment was too big for one person, maybe you believe me?"

With a furious swipe of Sal's hand the receipts went flying. Lawrence jerked his head at the sound then quickly turned his attention back to the water race. Yes sir, he knew when to keep his mouth shut. Sal looked down at the disorganized mess as the last receipt fluttered to the floor. What a stupid thing to have done; now he'd be at least another hour organizing them again, though it wasn't as if there was any business there to distract him. Groaning, he squatted and started picking them up.

Here was one from the afternoon shift on the 16th, the day of the parade. Gladys down the road had run a two-for-one special for any time a band was playing in front of her bar. Lawrence, on the other hand, had opted to charge patrons to use the bathroom until the parade's end. Seven cash entries of five dollars, no tips.

Next to it was one from the 2nd with the words "Spray Day" scrawled hastily on it and a rather larger cleaning bill stapled behind that. "Do Shots With Ferrets Day", Lawrence had decided to call the event, not even bothering to try to be clever with it. That one actually brought a lot of people in, though the crowd lasted all of about five minutes thanks to the animal handler, one of Lawrence's friends of course, simply bringing in trap cages of wild ferrets and letting them loose. Four sales.

Here was the 19th, Board Game Night, where Lawrence spontaneously announced in the middle of the event that if you won, the board game you were playing on was now yours to keep. The night's ring covered exactly one of the ten games they had purchased new and promptly given away in the half hour that the event lasted, making it the first and last Board Game Night for them.

And so it went, each slip bringing another pang of cringing memory. Zero buy-in cash bingo night, opera karaoke, eight drink minimum night, digestive tract trivia, pizza and porn mags, one drink maximum night; the past four weeks' feral brainchildren all sprung fully malformed from Lawrence's ridiculous head.

The third drop had stalled. Lawrence glanced behind at Sal still groping around at the receipts. "I was thinking," he said.

Sal grimaced. Fantastic, he's thinking again. He would just ignore whatever it was.

"A water race!"

"A what?" Sal belted in spite of himself. Dammit, now he'd done it. He sighed and looked up, resigned.

Lawrence gestured to the window. "Now, hear me out. I've been watching these drops race for the last five minutes. I know you think it sounds awful but I tell you, it's thrilling! We get a pane of glass... no, wait, we get a pane of glass framed... or maybe four, yes, FOUR panes of glass, STAINED glass framed, then a few eye droppers and some water... no, some chamPAGNE! Champagne on stained glass, think of the class! The drops race each other to the bottom and then people could come in and pick a winner and get a free tab for--"

"Enough!" Sal bellowed, shaking the receipts in his hand. "You and your ideas, I swear! No more giveaways, they never ever work!"

Lawrence scowled and turned back to the drops, sulking. The fourth drop was beginning to gain on the third one now. "Aw, come on, go, go, go."

A water race, of all the stupid things. Why, that was even dumber than... and he stopped. The top receipt, one from two nights ago labeled "Syrup Pong". The number on it scratched an itch deep in his brain.

The cash ring was wrong.

He had been there, he had counted it himself at the end of the night, he remembered very clearly it had been $222, but before he could log it he'd noticed yet another puddle of maple syrup in the corner and went to mop it up before the ants found it. And now there in Lawrence's distinctive sloppy writing was the number "$122".

His mind raced. He remembered "No Tips Tuesday" from last week and flipped through the receipts, then quietly reached for the inventory folder and turned that day's page. Inventory showed 24 beers out, the receipts accounted for 10.

The next section in the folder was Purchases, less an organized inventory and more a collection of Lawrence's handwritten slips reporting what he had bought and how much he had paid for it from the bar's account. Sal flipped to a random one: "Blasto-tec laser tag set $300". Eyebrows arched, he tapped it into a search on his phone. There it was, the Blasto-tec gun and vest set: $119.99.

"Yeah!" Lawrence quietly hooted. "Back in the lead!"

Sal flipped through more and more paperwork, minute after minute, and they all added up to the same conclusion. He put the last paper down, and just stared at the back of Lawrence's head for a while.

After a time he muttered, "It's over."

"Hmm? Nah, not yet, there's still a few inches to go."

"No, not your stupid water race, the bar," Sal said blandly. "The bar is over. I've been looking at the records all afternoon, we're past a point of no return."

Lawrence's shoulders subtly sunk. "Oh." No one said anything for a moment, then "Welp, that's a real shame."

Sal gazed at the spot where Lawrence's head met his neck.

"Hmm." Lawrence thought for a while, then perked up. Oh God, here it was, the ideas again. Sal gritted his teeth and braced himself, but Lawrence's shoulders just bounced a bit as he chuckled. "Heh. Too bad we can't torch the place, huh? Actually get some money out of it."

Sal's lip twitched once. "What did you just say?"

Lawrence turned in his seat as if on a wheel, he didn't like that tone at all. "Ahh man, c'mon, I didn't mean that, it was like a joke."

Sal pushed the receipts inside the folder and shut it loudly, never breaking his gaze somewhere below Lawrence's eyes.

Lawrence didn't like this at all either and instead focused on some point an infinite distance away. He noticed his hands were gripping his knees so he moved them to the sides of his stool. That just felt weird, so back to his knees they went. His thoughts drifted to other bar owners he knew, acquaintances of friends who might have use for an idea man and bartender (and eventual equal partner?), and which bars had cameras above the register and which didn't.

"Okay," Sal said softly after some time, "you've always got 'em, so let's hear 'em. Now's the time for some real ideas."

Lawrence blinked. Sal was still staring somewhere around his throat. "Wait, really?" he managed. Actually being asked for ideas, this was an uncomfortably new approach. Lawrence slowly spun his head around the room, frantically looking for something, anything. "TV, umm, oh, movies! A movie night! Double feature, popcorn and candy with every second beer!"

Sal glanced at the television hanging on the wall. "And we'll watch it on what, that 15 inch wonder over there?"

"Well we rent a screen and a projector of course, and--"

"No, we don't."

There it was, that was more like what he was used to. "C'mon, you're not exactly giving me much to work with here."

Sal gestured around. "You're looking at what's left."

"The TV just won't cut it, but, hear me out, I got a guy who I can get that projector stuff from for a real special price, it'll be great, you just let me handle the pricing end like usual and--"

This wasn't it. "It's a loser," Sal interrupted, eyes narrowing. "Next."

"It's NOT a loser, you're just being... ahhh, why ask me if you're gonna be like this again? What's even the point?"

Lawrence stared off blankly at the shelves. Sal waited patiently. He didn't have to wait long.

"Oh, hey," Lawrence said, slightly rising. "Beer, ah, whiskey, a whiskey tasting! They buy in and get shots of unique stuff, ten dollars!"

This was it. "Ten, nothing. Forty."

Lawrence sighed and braced himself for the next half hour of bickering. "Forty's too much! Who's going to pay that?"

"Then what?"

"Twenty's as high as I'd dare go. Hear me out, it's got to be--"

"Okay then."

"It's got to be an affordable-- wait, what?"

"Sure, twenty."

"Wow," Lawrence breathed. "Really?"

"You had a great idea," Sal said. "Just gotta be set up right."

Lawrence stood slowly, mouth open. "Wow. Wow! Hey, wow!" he beamed. "Well, okay then! So I've got a supplier I can get with who's got some stuff he'll let me have for a special rate, you just let me handle the purchasing end and--"

"Actually," Sal interrupted, "We've already got some."

Lawrence's eyebrows lifted. "Wait, we do? What? Since when?"

"Way back, around the beginning," Sal said, his stare slowly drifting. "Kept it from the last guy's stock, back when I thought it'd be a different kind of bar. Don't even remember what all it is, that's how long."

"Oh, is that so?"

"Still in the storeroom, probably behind everything else. Go check it out, write up an inventory for me, then we'll figure out what makes sense for the tasting."

Lawrence clapped his hands and pointed at Sal. "Now we're talking!" He jogged over behind the bar to the storeroom door, mind already racing on bars and private buyers. As he grabbed a note pad from the shelf, he paused and turned to look at Sal. "You really think it's a great idea, huh?"

"It was an incredible idea," Sal said, grinning and looking more relaxed than Lawrence had seen him in a very long time.

Lawrence grinned back and then pushed open the storeroom door and walked inside. It slowly swung closed behind him. He'd been in here hundreds of times but never more than a few steps. Behind the wire shelves was a teetering small labyrinth of cardboard boxes, plastic crates, bulky bags and hastily tossed supplies. He sighed heavily and got to work picking through the clutter.

Finally, after almost an hour of lifting and shoving and balancing to progress a few feet per minute, opening bags and boxes all along the way only to find disappointment, he reached the back corner of the storeroom. A couple of filthy folded up canopies lay draped over something large. He lifted one up and there they were, eight cardboard boxes.

"I think I found them!" he called excitedly in the direction of the door.

He dragged the canopies onto the ground and pushed them aside, then hungrily pulled the first box open. Twenty-four gold-painted ornate caps shined at him through the dust and he involuntarily gasped. He pulled a bottle up and gazed into it in awe. Quick calculations ran through his head -- and this was just the first of eight boxes! He couldn't keep himself from laughing in overjoyed glee as he pulled out his note pad which was now quite damp with sweat.

He paused. 'An incredible idea', Sal had said. He let the pride of it all wash over him for a moment, with just a touch of guilt that he quickly shook off, then set back to his task of writing up two inventories. He yanked the second box open and was greeted by a small army of corked glass of many different colors. He reached over and grabbed an empty duffel bag from a few feet away, then called out "Go ahead and close up, I'll be at this all night!"

There was no response. Lawrence wasn't surprised with all the junk taking up the air in here. But it wouldn't do for Sal to be here while he spirited the majority away, so he started making his way slowly back to the storeroom door. The path back was definitely more clear than it had been the first time but still took some time and effort placing and replacing containers and poles.

And then finally he reached the door, covered in sweat. "Hey, Sal!" he called out as he fanned himself. He reached to pull the door handle and immediately screamed and recoiled from its searing heat.

In disbelief, he brought his hand close to the handle and pulled it back again; it was definitely hot. He whipped around, frantically looking for anything he could use. He grabbed a short pole and wedged it between the handle and the door, yanking it open to be greeted by a flaming beam from the ceiling that had crashed in front of the door.

The blaze surged inward. Lawrence scrambled backward in an instinctual panic and hooked his ankle on a pile of cables, sending him sprawling into the boxes of tequila and wine. He landed with a terrible crash and spray of glass, alcohol and blood as the inferno bloomed around him. In the glow of its dance, a few drops ran irregularly down the side of a broken bottle, one consuming another before they all evaporated.

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