The Ladies of Horror
She Was Lovely
by Lori Safranek
The man occupying the next bar stool nudged Charlie and pointed at the tiny television over the bar. The news was talking about a skeleton found a few months ago in the city’s north side. No clues to its identity were found.
“Never have understood those artist reconstructions.” He slurred the last word as he finished the sentence with a slug from his cocktail. “They’re a waste of time. You know they don’t look like the poor bitch whose skull it is.”
The drunk chuckled and shook his head. Charlie glanced at him and sighed. He hated bar chit-chat.
“Is that right?” he muttered, trying to be polite but not encouraging.
“Oh, yeah,” the drunk waved the hand with his glass in it wildly. “You wait, when they identify the woman, she won’t look nothing like that drawing. Count on it.”
He upended the rest of the drink into his mouth and swallowed it, slamming the glass on the bar and motioning to the bartender for a refill.
He leaned closer to Charlie.
“I pay attention, mister,” he said, lowering his voice. “I follow the news. They find a skeleton, they get the artist to draw something like that . . . “ he waved his arm at the TV again. “. . . And if–and that’s a fucking big IF–they identify the body, it NEVER looks like the sketch. The sketch usually looks more like something out of high school art class.”
He laughed loudly and looked with surprise at his new drink that the bartender had placed in front of him. The short, squat glass was filled with clear ice cubes and an amber liquid that caught the neon lights of the dive bar. He smiled and took a sip, smacking his lips. He wore a tired looking gray suit and a white shirt that had seen better days. His tie, if he’d worn one, was gone and his hair was tumbled and oily. Hard day at the office, Charlie guessed.
Charlie knew he should ignore the drunk but he couldn’t resist.
“So you follow the crime news, eh?”
The man turned toward him and nodded. “Indeed I do. It’s fascinating, if you ask me.”
“I don’t know, man, it’s kind of depressing,” he said.
The other man laughed. “Depressing? Hey, if it’s not you they find in a shallow grave out in the boondocks, why be depressed? Huh?”
Charlie looked at him. The man was smiling and he nudged Charlie. “Huh? Better him than me, right?”
Charlie smiled. “I guess so.”
He turned back to his beer. He’d come in here to kill time until he’d meet his wife for dinner. He should have known, after the day he’d had, he would end up next to a friendly drunk, Charlie’s least favorite bar person. He should finish up his beer and move on.
The drunk slurped some more alcohol. Charlie could tell he wasn’t done talking.
“The cops go about it all wrong, man,” the drunk said. He nodded exaggeratedly, pointing again at the television, which was now showing a game show and had nothing to do with cops or murder.
“Is that right?” Charlie said.
“Yeah, they put up that stupid sketch, everyone’s trying to remember who that woman is, the woman in the sketch,” the drunk said. “But see, they can’t remember, because that’s not her! Shit, she’s nothing like that! And it’s hilarious! Fucking cops think they’re so smart.”
“That’s kind of harsh, man,” he said. “That’s someone’s family.”
The drunk looked in his eyes and blinked a couple times.
“Someone’s family? Oh, the woman? Yeah, that’s too bad, I know,” he said. “But then again, she’s been dead a while. Now it’s just bones.”
Charlie shook his head and decided to order another beer. He still had a half-hour to kill.
Charlie couldn’t stop himself from asking.
“So, what do you think she really looked like, since you’ve been following the case?”
The drunk smiled crookedly. “Oh, I know exactly what she looked like,” he picked up his cocktail and studied the ice for a minute. His face softened. “She was lovely. When she was alive, before she died.”
Charlie let the words sink in.
“You mean, you think she was lovely. Or do you know who she was?”
The drunk snorted a laugh and set his glass down. He reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a photograph.
He slid the photo face down toward Charlie. He leaned closer to his new confidante.
“Wait until I leave, my friend, and then you’ll know what she looked like, too,” he said.
He dropped a twenty on the bar, clapped Charlie on the shoulder like a long-time friend and staggered out the door.
Charlie stared at the photo without touching it, reading the words “Number three” written in blue ink on the back. Charlie never followed the news. He did know, however, that the artist’s sketch he’d just seen was one of a series of dead women found in the same area, all killed the same way.
He reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet to retrieve a ten-dollar bill. He dropped it next to the drunk’s twenty. Then he rose from his bar stool, backed away from the bar and left.
The bartender was pleased with the generous tips and swept the photograph into the trashcan next to the sink.
Fiction © Copyright Lori Safranek
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
About Author Lori Safranek:
Lori Safranek has a degree in journalism and was a newspaper reporter in her home state of Nebraska. Now she writes horror stories and has been published in horror anthologies by publishers such as Sirens Call Publications, Angelic Knight Publications, James Ward Kirk Publications and Scarlett Galleon Publications. She also self-published Freakshow: The Complete Freaked Out Series.