THE GOLDEN CLAIM-JUMPER
Cash Silver thought his name unfitting but today – with only a bankrupt bar in Colorado and three dead goldfish to call his own – the thought was stronger than ever before. Cash Silver seemed right for a six-foot-four cowboy with bronzed skin and sweet whiskey breath or for a toned California surfer who spent his days shirtless by the ocean, honey-tanned feet in the sand, but this Cash Silver was none of those things.
Bow-legged and much rounder than he was tall, Cash suffered from an overbite and an excessively large nose that curled very near to the bottom of his mouth. At sixteen, he had developed severe acne his father once said “would make him look like a red-headed Frank Sinatra, minus the whole singing bit.” Years later at the age of 47, the combination of pock marks and splotchy gray scars left behind from the puss-filled adventure that had been his teenage years hardly created any resemblance between Cash and the famous crooner. Instead, he looked like someone had taken a small ice-cream scooper and made away with parts of his face.
And in the zit-cream colored world of Cash Silver, women just did not exist. Of course there was Kath (there would always be Kath), the beautiful blonde waitress he had met in Las Vegas so many years ago. He (somewhat) knew what they shared that night had more to do with tequila and less to do with love but he thought about her when it rained because the gray skies were the exact shade of her eyes. She never kept her 4 a.m. promise to meet him in the lobby of their hotel for brunch and still hers was a face he would never forget. How could he? It was tattooed to the flabby inners of his left arm. “To help when you need it most,” she had whispered into his ear before the first needle prick. The pain was just short of unbearable but he would’ve endured five tattoos more if it meant she would remain whispering by his side.
“You’re damn near the worst bartender I’ve ever seen.”
“What?” Cash looked up, wiping the drool that had collected in a large pockmark by his lips. A broad-shouldered man with graying black hair sat before him, braided rope in one hand, an empty cup in the other, which he shook so the ice rattled like unlucky dice against the glass. Dark brown eyes flicked intently to the beer taps by the man’s seat then settled on the shelves of scotch just beyond; it was only fair he should want something more to drink, Cash knew. They were, after all, inside a bar and it was barely early evening on a Saturday in September, still half an hour from the time when the thick wooden doors of The Golden Claim-Jumper would creak to a final close.
“Johnnie Walker Black, neat,” said the man and something tugged at the rope in his hand. Cash leaned over the unpolished bar top and saw a large dog resting quietly by the man’s chair, at least 100 pounds of bright white fur came to a head with a square snout and wide eyes that glinted yellow and almost cat-like in the dim light.
“No dogs allowed,” Cash told the man who chuckled in response.
“Charlie’s a big baby,” he said as he gave Charlie a friendly pat. “Picked him up in Northern California wandering off a back road in Calistoga. The vet says he’s a pit bull wolf mix but I don’t believe it. He wouldn’t hurt a fly … although he might be happier if you gave him those goldfish.” The man tilted his head toward a tank at the end of the bar. Three orange fish floated lifelessly by the top of the water.
Cash couldn’t even keep goldfish alive, how did he ever expect to run a bar?
To be fair, he wasn’t too surprised The Golden Claim-Jumper would soon shut down; when he bought the failing Colorado landmark on a whim three years ago – selling his modest townhouse in Rhode Island and his sixteen-year-old Ford and leaving his job as fabric softener specialist at Uniq-cloth to get it done – the purchase never seemed like the best thing to do, it just seemed like a thing to do, so he did it.
“The dog can stay,” Cash conceded, if only because he didn’t want to see what would happen if the thing got loose. “But we’re closing early tonight. Last call is in twenty five minutes.”
“You got it, captain,” said the man, a strange smile crinkling the corners of his chestnut eyes. Cash reach out a hand to the scotch bottles behind him but the man put out an arm. “Wait …”
“Yes?” Cash asked, turning back to the man and his dog. The regular bartender had been let go yesterday so he was thankful for any excuse not to make a drink.
“Who is that?” The man pointed to the tattoo of Kath. In the emptiness of the bar, his question echoed throughout the tiny space, bouncing from wood-paneled walls to domed ceiling and across four empty tables in the center of the room. Once there had been laughter and the sloshing of drinks enough to fill the whole of The Golden Claim-Jumper but tonight there was only a wolf-dog and a man who wanted to know about Kath.
“She’s uh … her name is Kath.” What else could Cash say? To describe the woman of his dreams seemed unlikely, to give any explanation for why he still waited for her seemed impossible. It was a stroke of good fortune for Cash that the man had left before an answer could arrive; in the spot where he once sat was a twenty dollar bill and the musky scent of dog.
There was no logic to explain why Cash rushed out to find him. Maybe it was the way he asked about her, or the distant sadness in his eyes. Whatever the reason, something about him ignited in Cash Silver a heated curiosity that had for years been reduced to a sorry half-flickering flame.
On the street the air was dry and chilled, the barren scene a mingling of moonlit storefronts and lazy lamplight that brushed the sidewalks with its lackluster glow. The man and his dog were just one corner away, waiting for Cash to draw near.
“She’s my wife,” the man said when Cash was close enough to hear but dared not reply. He allowed the breath to fling from his chest, listened as his heart thumped recklessly to an unfamiliar beat. All the years spent wishing and wondering blurred to this final moment when the totality of his existence dissolved into a mess of street lamps and nothingness. Even if it wasn’t true, (and the man’s peppery liquor-laced scent told Cash it probably was not), there was truth to be had in the picture of a woman he forever carried who would never be his or in a life marred by failure and loss. He had no bar, he had no home, he had no car, he barely had flesh upon his face. And so Cash Silver walked away before the man could say another word, mentally changing his name to Robert Richmond because it sounded right, and then laughed into the darkness of a newfound world where he would finally be free.