Dark. Night. Moon up there somewhere. Temperature in the low twenties and the raw wind numbed my nose. We stumbled across the ice-rutted parking area in the industrial heart of a suburb somewhere on the northern fringe of the city. Box trucks, vans. Shiny automobiles. Harsh floods bolted high on the concrete walls of the narrow parking space sent needle-sharp shadows caroming off dingy windshields. Behind me a faulty compressor rattled in its cage against the concrete block wall. The wind moaned low.
I slowed and scanned the area, noting two small huddled clusters of figures. Male or female it was impossible to tell. They were plotting or sharing a joint. The lone point of color was a garish red orange sign, OPEN, over a glass door. Behind the door, a raucous crowd sampled beer from Bent Brewstillery, ate Jimmy John sandwiches, told each other jokes and lies.
I pushed my way through the tables, heading to the bar. Behind a tall iron-barred barrier, two-story fermenting tanks stood silent sentry duty. Overhead, set against the ribbed ceiling, big televisions sprayed silent electrons of colorful light from sports competitions that the crowd mostly seemed to ignore.
The trim bartender in a tight t-shirt raised her plucked eyebrows at me. I pointed at the menu and gestured for a small glass of beer. We were checking out an event hosted by a microbrewery. The server poured a glass of rich amber fluid and took my money. My companion and I eeled through the press to the middle of the room where we found a table and two empty chairs. The crowd, a mixed range of ages, got louder and bigger. In another time the atmosphere would have been thick with cigarette smoke. People shifted and surged around the room. I glanced around again slowly, wondering how many were carrying.
A large bearded fellow in a dark woven stocking cap aslaunch on his forehead picked up a wand and cleared his throat into the sound system. He looked like he could handle himself. He looked like he could be competently employed at any of a dozen downtown bars as door minder or bouncer. He muttered an expletive and welcomed the crowd. The beer was excellent. Applause rattled the pile of old board games. Another Noir at the Bar evening of dark readings by local crime writers about nasty, violent crimes, was about to begin. There were a few minor celebrities from the local crime scene in the audience.
Kristi Belcamino, mob organizer of the evening in a long dark gown took the mike. She stared malevolently at us until the restive crowd subsided. Her reading was followed by Kent Gowran, Dan O’Shea, Jeff Shelby and Frank Wheeler, Jr. Later, a short indie film was projected on the painted block wall. We escaped with our lives into the windy winter night.