Just when you thought it was safe to go into a pub, out steps Nosferatu.
Danny had to chuckle when the guy walked toward his booth. No, he wasn’t old and bald and white and didn’t resemble some walking-dead vampire. The Hispanic carrying a wide smile and even wider belly approached with the attitude of a longtime friend. He seemed to be bobbing along toward Danny’s table rather than walking.
“What’s going on?” the man asked as he stood by Danny’s booth.
There wasn’t another soul that could be seen or heard in this restaurant.
“Busy day?” Danny asked as he took the small menu the guy handed him.
The server laughed with a low and muted chuckle. “You know it. Every day is Groundhog Day.”
“You don’t have a southern accent,” Danny said, stating the obvious.
“I don’t quite look southern either, do I? Born in Mexico. Raised in Arizona.”
Danny spotted the splint on three of the man’s fingers. “Get in a fight?”
His friendly face didn’t change. He just gave Danny a nod. “It happens. You thirsty?”
“Yes. And curious. What’s up with the girl in the middle of the road? Pink snowcoat and boots.”
“We send her to freak out people visiting for the first time.”
For a second Danny actually believed him since he said this in such a deadpan, matter-of-fact way.
“No. That’s Roxy. An odd duck in an odd family.”
“Funny,” Danny said giving him the menu. “Give me a Heineken.”
“Does mocking customers help business?”
The server just gave him a shrug. “Look—I’m guessing that you didn’t just wander into Solitary. You a reporter?”
“Not quite,” Danny said.
“We get a lot of those. It’s been less frequent but still. Lots come in here. Then there are the ghosthunters.”
“Do I look like one of those?”
The big guy just studied him for a moment. His cheeks looked like croissants.
“No,” the guy said with a laugh. “I look more like one than you do. You’ve got this hipster look about you. So definitely not law enforcement or anything like that.”
“Definitely,” Danny said.
“I bet you got something to do with media.”
Danny gave him a nod. “I bet you got some beer.”
The big fella laughed again and trotted away for a few moments. Danny checked his phone and then started typing a new note for himself.
PUB—Tuco in the house. Witty guy. Not from around here. Very relaxed. What’s his story?
The server came back carrying two beers, then stuffed himself on the other side of the booth and set the bottle in front of Danny.
“This isn’t a Heineken,” Danny said.
The guy just nodded. “You don’t want a Heineken. You know that Asheville has more breweries per capita than any other city in the US?”
“That’s nice,” Danny said. “But I actually did want a Heineken.”
“That’s a Gateway Kolsch. Brewery is French Broad. As in the French Broad river. I have their IPA. Awesome stuff. If you don’t like it the beer’s on me.”
There was no reason to be a jerk to this guy. Danny knew he’d love the beer even before his first sip. He enjoyed trying new things, especially ones that added color to his life (AKA his posts about them). It was just he absolutely hated someone telling him what to do or how to act or what to drink.
“You always sit with your customers and drink on the clock?”
Another low chuckle. “Customers are rare. Especially ones I don’t know. And I’m always on the clock. Or never. I own the place.”
“Is that a good or a bad thing?”
“Both. Mostly just bad. Name’s Vicente but everybody around here calls me Vincent. Or Veensaynt.”
Danny shook his hand. “I’m Danny.”
“I was going to call this place Vicente’s something, or somehow work my name into the title. But never bothered getting around it.”
“How long have you lived around here?”
“See–I told you you’re a reporter.”
Danny took another sip of his beer and shifted on the vinyl seat. “I write a blog. I’m an online personality.”
“A blog, huh? News blog or something like that?”
Vincent didn’t look like the sort to be a regular blog reader.
You racist pig.
He could hear a random voice of an Internet troll speaking in his ear.
So just ‘cause he’s Mexican means he doesn’t read blogs right? Just ‘cause your short and puny means you never get laid, right?
Danny knew the first rule was to avoid engaging the online trolls. Or the ones rambling in his head.
“It’s more of a pop culture sort of blog,” Danny said. “I kinda make fun of everything. Ever watch Seinfeld?”
“Of course. But only when they’re speaking Spanish. Otherwise I’m lost.”
Danny couldn’t help but laugh. “You have to put things in bubbles these days. In boxes. So people know Seinfeld, of course. He mocks everybody but he does it in a questioning, harmless way. It sounds harmless but it’s really a complete mockery of everything.”
“A professional mocker?” Vincent asked. “Does it pay well?”
“Probably better than owning Pub.”
Vincent raised his beer and tapped Danny’s bottle for a toast. “Clever. But not funny.”
“I wasn’t mocking. Just being honest.”
“So are you planning on writing some kind of piece on Solitary?”
Danny looked at the splint on the man’s hand again and wondered if and when he would ask about it. “I’m hoping to write several pieces on the town. We’ll see. Willing to help out?”
There wasn’t any kind of response on Vincent’s face. Not thinning eyes and suspicious glance that might have been expected. No ounce of resistance. Just a shrug and a nod.
“Yeah. Sure. I’ll tell you everything I’ve told others. I don’t have a lot to share. I wasn’t around when all that craziness went down.”
“Could you at least point me to some who were?”
“Yeah, sure. But you have to meet here with them. That a deal?”
Now it was Danny who tapped the guy’s bottle. “Hey—good businessman.”
“Nah. I did buy this place from the previous owner thinking that the town would become some kind of tourist spot of sorts. After all the publicity and such. But it’s just faded away mostly. Like a lot of the folks living around here.”
Go ahead and ask.
“Do you believe all the reports and rumors about what happened in the town several years ago?”
Another nonchalant shrug. Vincent might have held a lot of traits but urgency and energy weren’t two of them.
“Yeah. I guess. The pastor who died. Old man Kinner died too. Those weren’t rumors.”
“But the occult practices. The rituals. Reports of teenagers being sacrificed.”
“Pretty wild stuff, huh?” Vincent snorted and shook his head. “I still don’t know. I mean, I know the pastor and old guy were sick freaks. But I don’t believe in any of that other stuff. I think some around here did. They’re gone. The guy named Staunch—the businessman living around here involved with those guys—he’s still in some prison. People always ask the same sort of things, people like you. But I don’t know. I didn’t see any teenagers sacrificed. I have yet to see any demons haunting this place. There are lots of ghosts around here, but they’re just some of the people who’ve lived here a long time, people who are just walking shells trying to escape some of the shit they saw around here.”
“I imagine those are the kind who visit you quite frequently?”
“Yep. Thought I’d open some kind of bar-grill sort of establishment. Didn’t realize I’d be opening some kind of nursing home instead. You want another beer? ‘Cause I do.”
Not even an hour into this visit, Danny knew he already had an ally.
He was going to love to unpack the dirty laundry of this town. Then go all Seinfeld over it.