The bar was blue with smoke and dark enough you couldn’t see the faces more than a couple of stools away. After another day of angry clients and unreasonable bosses, it was exactly what Fred needed — a crowd full of anonymity.
A place where he didn’t have to drink alone with his loneliness.
He tipped his glass to the ceiling, dripped the last drop of whisky onto his tongue. He brought the single rocks down on the mahogany, hard.
“Give me another, Artie.” There was no response. “Artie?”
Fred looked up from his glass and focused on the spot where Artie always stood, but the barkeep wasn’t there. Instead, Fred’s eyes slide all the way to the back wall of the bar, and two paintings he’d never noticed before.
One was a simple country landscape — barn, lake, cows.
But the other …
Well, it sent chills up Fred’s spine, but he wasn’t sure why. Something about the young woman’s eyes seemed familiar, almost possessive.
“Sorry,” Artie said, popping up from below the bar. “Sink was clogged.” He set a small plunger on the the counter top. “What can I get you?”
“Are those new?” Fred asked, forgetting about his whisky. He pointed to the paintings.
Artie looked over a shoulder. “Those? Nah, I’ve had those since before you were born.”
Fred had been coming to the corner tavern for over twenty years, since just after his mother died. Artie had always lent an ear, dispensed fatherly advice. The man had to be eighty, but he could easily pass for his sixties.
“Really?” Fred said. “All these years, and I never noticed them.” He hunched forward a bit. “You know anything about that one?” He pointed to picture of the woman.
“Not really.” Artie pointed to the landscape. “I really wanted that one, but the artist who came through here said I could have them both for free if I hung the other one up facing the bar like that.” He shrugged. “Who was I to turn down free?”
Fred studied the woman. So familiar …
“Oh yeah,” Artie said. “Guy who gave ’em to me said her name was Agnes. For whatever that’s worth.”
Fred took a sharp breath, and his heart raced. “Better give me another whisky, Artie.” He pushed the glass forward.
“I’ll always watch over you.” Those had been Agnes’ dying words when Fred sat in the hospital holding her hand in those final seconds.
He took another look at his mother hanging there over Artie’s bar.
“Better make it a triple,” Fred said.