The Tale of Robert Elm (Part I)

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The lights of the Seattle skyline suddenly ignite as the city comes alive with the sounds and sights of night. In a run-down bar, a lone man sits beneath the hum of a fluorescent overhead light as he holds his whiskey in shaky hands.

The man is an enigma. He appears at The Spade habitually at 10 PM and leaves just before dawn, ordering the same refreshment each time, a tall glass of Irish whiskey. Never speaking words far from "The usual..." or the occasional grunt or whisper, he is a shadow to everyone. To the passerby, this man is just a nobody. He is merely a bum who went down on his luck and turned to the bottle like many before him. To those who know however, the man's name is Robert Elm, and he has a story to tell.

The night was fraught with frigid rain and sleet. The typically lively Spade was deserted, except for Robert. He sat in his usual spot. Back left table, facing the wall, hunched over with his beverage in total silence say for the hum of the light and the drumming of the bartender's fingers on the metal cash register.

Over the years that Elm had drifted in as the sun dipped below the horizon, the bartender had grown curious of his motives. Though he told his customers the same old "lost his job... wants to unwind" excuse, in his heart he knew there was something off kilter about the whiskey-loving shadow. Tonight would be different; the bartender bit his lip, took a deep breath, and approached his loyal customer.

The barkeep placed his hand on the table and inquired in the friendliest of tones, "How ya' doin'?" Robert jolted upright as if he had heard a gunshot. He slowly lifted his head and peered deep into the bartender's face with his wide gray eyes. He possessed an unsettling and powerful stare that pierced the air in a way the bartender had never seen before.

His mouth slowly slid open as he grumbled, "Fine... and you?" The bartender was stunned. He had expected the old geezer's usual response of a few quiet mumbles, but was greeted by a question that was startlingly normal.

"I'm... I'm just fine..." the bartender said. "So, Mister... I've been meanin' to ask ya..." Elm's slowly graying eyebrows perked with anticipation. "Why do you come here all the time?"

The drunkard chuckled and asked in return, "Why do you care what an old man like me does with his time?"

"Because," the bartender said with a look of confusion, "You have come to my bar at the same time of the night every night for the past twelve years and I am just now hearing you speak... I think that's reason enough for me to ask." The old man burst into laughter that lasted nearly a full minute.

Finally his outburst died off and he asked, "You wanted to know... Why I wasn't talking?"

"Yes!" yelled the bartender. "It's been a riddle I've been trying to figure out for years!"

Robert sat his drink on the table and said, "Well, well, new friend... honestly... I was waiting for you to ask me that question, and now that we have that elephant out of the room, have a seat across from me." The bartender obliged, took a seat across from his new acquaintance and, with a look of sheer amazement on his face, he asked:

"So, let me get this straight. You never said a word to anyone in this bar for twelve years because you were waiting for someone to come to you?"

"Yep..." The shade replied as the bartender gave a short laugh and continued.

"Well, sir, what have you been waiting for so long to tell someone?"

Robert Elm looked the bartender square in the eye and said, "My story of course." The bartender gave a quizzical expression as the drinker went on, never breaking his gaze. "The story of why I ended up here, the story of how I narrowly escaped death itself, and since, well... Since I don't see anyone else here, you, sir, are going to be the first one in a long time to hear my tale. You're in for a treat!" The old man cracked a crooked smile.

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