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The Tavern

Where temptation reigns, and sinners imbibe.

I left the Army in June 1991, shortly after Robin & I were married. I had taken several local Civil Service exams, but while I awaited those results, had no immediate full time employment prospects or plan.

With no mortgage, no children, no outside obligations beyond to each other, Robin and I agreed that was the perfect time for me to pursue one of my childhood dreams;

A career as a writer.

We lived in a downstairs apartment on Watertown’s South Massey Street. Robin worked at the hospital. I wrote. Eventually, though, reality set in. “Freelance Fiction Writer” and “Starving Artist” quickly proved to be much the same thing.

By November I realized that if we were ever going to buy a house and start e family, I needed one thing; a real job. So, after writing for a mere five months, I donned a uniform once again and headed to Fort Benning, through my New York Army National Guard unit, as a Captain, to attend the The Infantry Officer’s Advanced Course.

During that time period I worked to develop and define my writing self. I focused primarily on writing poetry and short fiction. I managed to finish a number of poems and short stories during that time. This was one of them. I hope folks enjoy it.


“The Tavern”

Richard T. Monroe (1991)

A friendly local establishment

Where one might stop

For an ice cold draft beer

In a small town somewhere

Between Virtue and Sin


     It was the early half of a warm September afternoon.  Jacob Miller wandered slowly along an unfamiliar shop lined street, casually studying the varied signs and displays adorning the row of storefront windows stretched before him.

     He was dressed like a salesman, conveniently enough, for that’s what he was, a traveling salesman.  He’d been on the road for several days, having just concluded a successful trip by closing a deal with a promising new client.  He was of a mind to purchase a gift for his wife, when his trek along the storefronts led him to the window of a quaint looking tavern.

     A large, worn, wooden sign hung out over the entrance, declaring to the public in faded black letters, “Ye Olde Town Tavern”.  The windows were dark, and curtained besides.  Faintly from within, the murmured hubbub of a thirsty patronage seeped through the crack underneath the front door.

     Jacob stood for a moment, then continued his journey.  “It would certainly be a lovely afternoon for a tall, cold beer,” he thought.  But there was still the drive home ahead, and his wife would be there, waiting impatiently.

     On down the sidewalk, several doors beyond the old tavern, was a florist shop advertising long stemmed roses at a reasonable price.  Jacob walked up the stairs and stepped through the door.  The air inside was thick with the scent of gardens full of flowers.  Roses, carnations, iris, violets, baby’s breath, all mingled together in a thick, sweet cloud.

     The girl behind the counter looked up from an arrangement she was adorning with ribbon, adjusted her glasses, and smiled at Jacob.

     “What may I help you with today, Sir?” she inquired in a light, pleasant voice.

     “A half dozen roses please – red, if you have them, wrapped in a box.  They’re a gift for my wife.”

     Jacob stood at the counter, reaching for his wallet while the girl went to the cooler to choose a half dozen long stemmed beauties.

     She clipped and capped and arranged the flowers quickly, tying off the long green box with red ribbons around each end and draping a big red bow across the center.

     “That will be twenty dollars even. They’re on special, you know.”                                          

     Jacob handed her a fifty, the only bill remaining in his wallet.  She rang up twenty dollars on the register at the end of the counter.  Jacob heard the drawer pop open as he gathered his package under one arm.

     “Twenty – forty – and fifty.” The girl said as she counted the change and receipt into his outstretched hand.

     “Thank you, Sir.  I hope your wife enjoys the roses.”

     “Yes. Thank you. ” Replied Jacob.  “I’m  quite sure she will.”

      Jacob turned and pushed open the heavy door, still clutching his change in his one free hand.  He stepped down onto the sidewalk, resting the box full of roses gently on one end, while he slipped his remaining money back into his pocket.

     As he did so, he paused.  Instead of one twenty and a ten in his hand, he still had fifty dollars; for fastened together as if by some glue were two twenty dollar bills, in addition to the ten.  Jacob felt a quick sense of elation, then stopped and turned back towards the door.

     “I really ought to return the money.” Jacob thought to himself.  Then he looked up and glimpsed, once again, the sign hanging out in front of the tavern, swaying slowly in the afternoon air.  He shrugged his shoulders, then tucked his unexpected  windfall back into his wallet, deciding he must have been meant to have a beer after all.

     With his roses bundled back under his arm, and his windfall in his pocket, he made his way to the tavern door.

     Jacob’s eyes required several moments to adjust to the murky tavern interior.  A thick blue haze wreathed through the dimness, making it even more difficult for Jacob to discern any detail of the place at a glance.  He stood just inside the doorway, hesitating for a moment, considering that maybe he’d made some mistake.

Above the hum of murmuring voices, his ears distinguished the melody of a familiar tune being played on a juke box in some remote corner of the smoky room.  He relaxed just a little.  The music suited his mood, invoking faint memories of some almost forgotten campus pub.

     “Well,” Jacob thought, “At least this isn’t some biker bar overcrowded with leather jackets and Judas Priest logos.”

     He perceived a vacant stool directly before him, right at the bar.  Feeling already committed, Jacob accepted the silent invitation and took up a seat, leaning his box full of roses against the bar, next to his stool.

     It was difficult to tell just how big the place actually was.  He could make out rows of booths along either wall, but the varnished wooden bar stretched back and disappeared in the hazy smoke.  It seemed that he’d taken the only vacant seat in the place.  He was mildly surprised at the number of patrons who’d found time to enjoy a beer or a cocktail so early in the day.

     The man sitting next to him looked up and smiled, tipping his mug in friendly salutation, then draining its contents, his Adam’s apple working up and down until the last bit of foam disappeared past his lips.  He exhaled sharply, then belched with content, hailing the bartender for another beer.

Jacob watched as the dark haired Bartender poured off another mug from the tap in front of him.  He set it before the man and turned to Jacob, casually wiping the bar with a damp soiled cloth.

     “What’ll it be, Mr. Miller?” he asked, in a clear, friendly voice.  Jacob started – then remembered the nameplate affixed over his breast pocket.  He chuckled at himself for being so jumpy.

     “Just a beer.  One beer please.  I’ve got to be home in time for dinner.”  He smiled at the Bartender, who obliged him with a frosted mug full of lathered amber liquid.  Jacob reached for his wallet, but the Bartender had already disappeared down towards the far end of the bar.

     Jacob turned his attention back to the man sitting next to him.  His companion must have been seated for quite some time, judging by the far away twinkle in his eye and the rosy complexion of his nose and cheeks.

     “Pretty good crowd for a weekday afternoon.” Remarked Jacob.

      The man burst out in a short fit of laughter, as if Jacob had made some humorous comment.

     “A pretty good crowd, he says.” The man repeated to himself, wiping a dribble of spit from his lips.

     Jacob decided to try again, a bit confused by his companion’s reaction.

     “What I meant to say was that this is a pretty good crowd for two o’clock on a Friday afternoon.  Is business always this good?”

     The man laughed again, even louder this time.  “Business is good – oh, what a riot!  That’s a good one there, mister.  I thank you for the laugh.”

     Jacob couldn’t help feeling somewhat perturbed at perceiving himself to be the butt of some unexplained joke.  He drank half his beer, allowing his companion with the strange sense of humor a moment to recover.

     “Excuse me,” Jacob said, with a slight edge to his voice.  “If I’ve said something funny, I’d appreciate your kindness in letting me in on the joke.”  He then emptied his mug and set it on the bar with an emphatic thump.

     “There now, Mr. Miller.  No use getting all riled.  Excuse my poor manners, I’m forgettin’, you’re new here.  Allow me a moment and I’ll explain.”

     At that moment the Bartender reappeared behind the bar. 

   “Another beer, Mr. Miller?” He asked, not waiting for an answer as he refilled Jacob’s mug.

   The Bartender set the charged mug down in front of the salesman and leaned on the bar.  “You shouldn’t let old Man Johnson get under your collar.  We’re all friends here.  He’s just enjoying himself, if you know what I mean.”

     Jacob sighed as he eyed his full mug.  He’d only intended to have one beer, but there was a story developing here, and he intended to hear it out.  The Bartender remained leaning against the bar, as if waiting for Jacob to question him further.

     “What’s with the crowd?” Jacob asked.  “Is there some kind of celebration going on?”  The Bartender smiled.  Old Man Johnson broke out in yet another fit of laughter.

     “No. There’s no celebration to speak of Mr. Miller. Just the regular crowd.  Nice enough folks, as you’ll come to find.”

     Jacob frowned at the comment.  “I hate to be rude, but I’ve got to hit the road.  I’ve got a two hour drive and I promised my wife I’d be home early.  What do I owe you for the beer?”  He reached once again for his wallet.

    “Mr. Miller – Why don’t you just relax and enjoy your beer while I tell you a story.”

He then refilled Jacob’s glass once again,without prompting. “It’s still early yet, no sense in wasting such a fine mug of brew.”

     The invitation had a slight ring of command around its edges.  Not wanting trouble, and rather intrigued, Jacob accepted the offer by grasping the mug and bringing it to his lips.

     “You see, Mr. Miller – Jacob isn’t it?  We’re all friends here.  Things aren’t just exactly as they seem.  No need to worry.  We’ve taken care of everything, as you’ll shortly see.  It’s simply a matter of achieved market share.”

Jacob Miller took a sip from his beer while he shot the Bartender a quizzical look.

     The Bartender continued his pontification;

     “Take a look around you.  Quite a crowd for such a small town, as you’ve already noticed, and you haven’t seen the half of it yet.  But all things in due time.”

       “Just imagine, if you will, a gathering like this in every town, every village, not to mention the cities.  You can’t even find a seat in the taverns in New York!  Consider just how many people that is, how much space that requires, not to mention the workforce.  Why, it takes a whole legion just to wash glassware.  Then there’s the breweries and bartenders and maintenance personnel, and we haven’t even considered the administration yet – monstrously huge for such a far ranging enterprise.”

     “Where are you leading?”  Jacob asked with some annoyance.  “I’ll grant you that such a chain of establishments doing a steady business would require an overwhelmingly large staff, but just what is the point?”  Jacob began feeling slightly numbed by the beer.

     The Bartender continued, “Imagine, if you will, an ambitious entrepreneur, with expansive visions of a far reaching empire.  After exhaustive research and detailed studies he establishes a development plan and marketing strategy of enormous proportion.  He acquires large tracts of land and begins developing as he puts his marketing plan into motion.  At first, all goes well.  His enterprise flourishes – he’s filling new space just as quickly as it can be developed.  As time goes on, however, his marketing strategy is so successful that demand soon exceeds both the pace of development and available space.”

     Jacob smiled at the thought.  “An enterprise like that would be a businessman’s dream!  The only problem would be keeping prospective customers from getting frustrated at the wait and taking their business elsewhere.  That would be the challenge.”

     “Exactly,” said the Bartender.  “You’ve hit the nail on the head.  Now imagine further, another such enterprise, similar to the first in concept and scope.  The only difference is that the second wishes to limit its clientele to a more select group.  The second enterprise’s marketing strategy is just as ambitious, but once put into practice, it is apparent that available customers are less plentiful than originally hoped.”

     Intrigued by this point, Jacob finished his beer and accepted another.  He looked at his watch.  He’d have to call home soon to tell his wife he was going to be late.  He reached down and rested his hand momentarily on the long green box.

     “A good thing I bought my wife these roses!” He thought.

     He looked up and responded to the Bartender’s last point.  “It seems the second enterprise could benefit from the dilemma of the first.  If they shifted their marketing strategy towards attracting clients away from their competition, they could easily fill their original goals.”

     “But not without changing their image and lowering their standards,” the Bartender interjected.  “The whole concept, while wide ranging, was based on a strategy of selectivity and choice clientele.  The developer is completely unwilling to modify his original goals.”

     “Then he’s got two choices: subsidize space to his more open minded competition – or go belly up!”  Jacob belched for emphasis.  “Doesn’t seem like much of a businessman to me – more like a snob.”  Old Man Johnson snickered at the comment.  The Bartender ignored him.

     “Once again, Mr. Miller, you’ve analyzed the situation correctly.  To avoid going under, to avoid abandoning his original concept, the second developer can continue to operate by subsidizing large portions of his available vacant space to the first – at excellent prices, for the first needs space desperately.  So there you have it.”  The Bartender stopped as if he had finished.

     Jacob felt even more frustrated than before, though it affected him less, thanks to the fine beer.  “Have WHAT?” He asked, once again checking his watch.

     “Why, I’ve laid out for you the entire history leading to the establishment of this busy tavern.  Don’t you see?”

     “No, I don’t.  But thank you for the tale – how much do I owe you?  I have to get going.”  Jacob pulled out his wallet and laid a twenty on the bar.

     The Bartender reached down and picked up the bill.  “Jacob, my friend, where did you get this twenty dollar bill?”

    “No need to answer.  You stole it from the florist down the street.  An honest error on the part of that poor girl was all it took to make you a petty thief.  Just one more example of an overly successful marketing strategy.”

     The Bartender picked up the twenty and refilled Jacob’s mug.  “Let me be more plain.  The marketing strategy for sinners has been much more successful than the marketing strategy for saints.  As much as he dislikes doing so, the man upstairs negotiated a deal with the old salesman himself.  Your name has been added to the waiting list, my friend.  In the meantime, why not sit and enjoy another beer.”

     Jacob belched ,the smell of beer now strong on his breath. “But… I can’t go to Hell! My wife’s fixing dinner!  Besides that, I’m not even dead!”

    The Bartender smiled ever so slightly as he responded.  “Oh, we’ve taken care of all that.  Why don’t you look out the front window and see for yourself.”

     Jacob followed the Bartender’s gesture and turned to watch through the now parted curtain at the window he’d first seen from the street.  He watched a salesman with a long green box tied off with red ribbon at both ends fumble with his wallet as he stepped into the street.

Jacob saw the wallet drop from the man’s hand, and as he bent over to retrieve it, watched in horror as a delivery van sounded its horn and slammed on its brakes.

     Jacob grimaced as the salesman disappeared beneath the skidding truck. His newly purchased box of roses spilled its contents onto the street, while three rectangular strips of heavy green paper floated slowly to the pavement, and a small crimson stream stained the black pavement.

     Jacob swiveled back around on his stool and sighed. “Bartender, pour me up another beer.”

    He took off his jacket and loosened his tie.  “Might as well get comfortable.” He thought.  “Looks like I just might be here awhile.”

     The Bartender once again smiled  and nodded.

     “Welcome to The Tavern, my friend,” said the Bartender, deftly  pouring off and serving Jacob Miller a fresh mug of beer. 


If anyone is interested in reading more of my early work, please read “MegDella’s Flock”, “Bedroom Mirror” and “The Marmalade Cat”. 

My short story “We’re All Heroes Now”, as well as the poems “Ghost Lake” (Intro to “My Farewell to Colden”, and “Sweet Adrienne” (posted in “My Elegant Friend”), are also from that early era. If anyone is interested, they can be found by clicking on my table of contents.

Until Our trails Cross Again:

Thanks for Reading!