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Whiskey´s supposed to burn when it goes down. It doesn´t. Not if you´ve done it enough. Not when your throat is rotten with it. Not when sometimes it´s all you know. The first sip maybe, but that´s only the first of many, and hey, it´s in his blood. It´s part of his bloodline to tolerate alcohol. Firewater is not new, it´s old, and it´s true, and it´s something he does well.
But this time it burns, cause it´s the first time in a long time that he´s done it. It´s the first time since he got out of prison and he´d vowed to never touch it again. Because he never wanted to see Rita´s face like that again, crestfallen and bitter and scared and worried. Because he never wanted his kids to be scared of him, and sometimes he gets angry when he´s drunk. Because he wanted to have learned his lesson, and he wanted some kind of proof that he had.
But old habits die hard, because they´re comfortable and they´re old for a reason. He´s been drinking since he was old enough to hurt, old enough to notice that when he was drunk the hurt went away for a while. He´s liked that acidic whiskey burn as it traverses down his throat since he was 16 because he´d always heard that it hurts worse before it gets better, so that means after it stops burning maybe he´ll feel better.
Prison had been hard, and he´d spent every single day in there for the past three years wishing he were home again. Home with his kids and his wife and his life. It turned out that was harder though. Coming home to his ramshackle trailer that´s little more than a mousetrap. Looking down at his son´s face and seeing the mistrust. Looking at his wife and seeing questions that she won´t ask and he can´t answer filtering through the dark depths of her eyes.
Why did you do it, Raphael? (Because we need money.) Why do you keep doing it? (Because it´s never enough.) Didn´t you know what would happen? (Yes, but I thought it might not) You need to stop doing this to us. (I don´t think I can.) How can you put us through this again? (I don´t mean to.) Please. Please don´t do it again. (I don´t want to, please believe that.) Don´t you love me? (More than anything.) Don´t you see what you´re doing? (Yes, and God, I want to stop.) Don´t you care about our children? (Of course I do. How can you ask that?) What have I done wrong? (Nothing, baby, don´t blame yourself) Why won´t you let me help you? (Because you see enough pain already)
So he sits here and he drinks. He drinks, and he smokes, and his eyes burn and his throat burns, and it´s a little better. It´s a little better because he doesn´t have to look at them right now. He doesn´t have to live in reality at this moment in time. He can sit there, with the dregs of society, and just be. He can join them, show his true colors. He can hide in a cloud of smoke and look through bleary vision, and see the shapes of the ruined wreckage of his life and maybe not feel it anymore.
Another, he slurs, waving his hand, indicating his downed whiskey glass.
The bartender frowns. Raph, haven´t you had enough?
Raphael´s frown deepens. Hey, long as I wanna line your fuckin´ pockets, why don´t you line my fucking stomach, okay?
The bartender walks over to him. Raphael, I understand it´s tough for you right now, but you have a tab of $350 and I can´t let you buy any more without paying, he hisses, leaning close enough for only Raphael to hear. I should have cut you off at $200.
His hand rises to wipe at his brow, his fingers playing over his lips as he tried to rack his brain. I´ve wracked up $350 today?
The bar tender frowns. No, Raph. You drank that much, you´d be in a body bag right about now. You went in to the slammer with a tab of $330.
Oh, Raphael says, sighing and slamming his hand down on the bar. Come on man, just two more. You owe me.
I owe you?
Raphael nods. Somebody does. Somebody fuckin´ owes me!
I´ll get the next few rounds, sir, a thin man says to their left. Two of the same, please?
Raphael turns his gaze to the pale white man. I ain´t no fag, if that´s what
The man laughs. Course not.
Raphael looks down into the dark amber of the whiskey now before him and thinks he shouldn´t accept it. He shouldn´t accept it but he will. Thanks.
The thin white man stands and steps closer to Raphael, sitting on the stool next to him despite Raphael´s look of reproach. May I ask?
I thought I told you I wasn´t a fag.
The man laughs again and Raphael gets a cold shiver sweeping through his spine. I can´t help but notice, you don´t seem to be a happy man.
Raphael laughs, upending his glass and swallowing the liquid down that no longer burns again. Perceptive.
Lady problems? Money?
Raphael slits his eyes and regards the man suspiciously. Nothing I´m gonna talk to you about, so why don´t you fuck off?
The man smiles, reaching in his pocket and digging out a pen. My superior is in the business of alleviating monetary problems for the disenfranchised Raph is it?
Raphael frowned, looking at the scratchy penmanship when the man handed it to him. Raphael.
Raphael, the man says, rolling the name slowly off his tongue. Beautiful name.
Raphael stares a moment longer at the napkin before reaching out his hand to give it back. I´m not interested.
The man shakes his head, holding out his hands. You take your time, Raphael, he says, standing up and looking at him appraisingly. I think you´ll be perfect for his tastes.
Raphael feels the muscles in his arms jump, his fists clenching. Now, listen
The man laughs, backing away. Just go talk to them. They´ll work out the terms. There´s big money in it for your family.
Raphael looks at the card again, frowning to himself. How big?
I don´t handle the specificities, Raphael, the man says with a wide smile as he picks up his coat. Think about it. Opportunity of a lifetime.
Raphael stares at the napkin, the letters swimming before his eyes until they´re blurred and make no sense. When the bartender comes over with another whiskey he looks up at him and hands him the napkin. You ever heard of this guy?
The bartender shakes his head. Can´t say I have.
Raphael takes it back, frowning at it. Fucking scam artist.
When he left the bar though, he stuffed the napkin into his pocket.