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It may or may not surprise you to learn that people bleed on the bartender. I have unwillingly absorbed confessions on everything from marital infidelity and incest to embezzlement and income tax evasion, from gimlet-eyed penitents across the upper Midwest. Sometimes they are bragging about misdeeds but more often than not they are only bending my ear to purge their conscience. I am physiologically incapable of keeping a secret for any length of time so if you have something shameful to confess I recommend finding a priest.

There is no holy sacrament or attorney client privilege in effect when you cleanse yourself across my bar so you always run the risk of becoming a character in the dramatic retelling. I would never betray a humiliating secret told to me in confidence by a gentle soul, without masking the identity of the confessor but assholes are always fair game. Since the doors of the tavern are thrown open to the general public there is rarely an asshole shortage.

One of the bars that I hid behind for a while was a watering hole for corporate lawyers and stockbrokers, to the exclusion of nearly every other profession save the occasional hooker. Happy Hour at that scene was like an out and out competition to see who had the most flexible ethical framework and the usual winners appeared to have none whatsoever. These soulless freaks had even despoiled the congenial custom of buying a round of drinks so that it eventually resembled an arrogant taunt. I am hesitant to generalize about specific livelihoods but if Hell fire rained down on that room to eradicate the lowest ninety-percent on a scale of moral rectitude, the prostitutes would have been the only ones left standing.

They weren't all icky people but I grew fond of only about two dozen from two thousand over the course of three years. The rest of them might just as well have had targets painted on their backs and my greatest source of amusement was shooting arrows at their bloated, self-important intrigue. I would overhear the stockbrokers murmuring about a secret deal and I'd walk straight across the room and blurt it out to one of the lawyers. While the lawyer was slipping me twenty bucks for the scoop I'd overhear one of his colleagues mumbling about pending litigation and simply repeat the process in reverse.

Another bartender might have given the hookers the bum's rush but I developed an affection for many of the working girls and turned a blind eye to their trade. Unlike the rest of my clientele, they were at least sincere and guileless in their desire to screw people out of their money. The prostitutes at that bar were usually a notch or two above the girls who walked the street so, as far as I was concerned, they were good for business.

It was common for the happily married stockbrokers and attorneys to skulk off to a hotel room with one of the ladies but the deed was usually done in shamed silence toward the end of a bout of serious drinking.

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Jasmine wasn't like the other girls and when she showed up for the happy hour rush she caused a bidding war among the suited wolves. It was obvious that she was a hooker because she smoked Newports and rubbed her tits on everything that moved but she looked more like a Vogue model than a slattern for hire. Jasmine was clean enough to eat off of and I'm certain that the going price was above five hundred dollars by the time she finally picked a victim.

The winner was the slimiest stockbroker in the bar and instead of sneaking off to the hotel room as was usually the case, he proudly escorted his conquest to the elevator, basking in the congratulatory hoots and wolf calls of his less fortunate colleagues. He crept back to the bar about fifteen minutes later as pale as a sheet, trembling as he ordered a double scotch without ice.

"Hey, Jimmy, you look like you've seen a ghost, pal. When you left with Jasmine I figured I'd lost you for the duration, what the hell happened?"

"I don't want to talk about it. Make the scotch a triple."

"What do you mean you don't want to talk about it? She's the most gorgeous working girl who's ever set foot in this joint. Half of the damned bar wanted to dip into her bloomers and you don't want to brag a little?"

"Listen, man, Jasmine is a dude. She had a lip-lock on the lobster before I reached down and found out that she had one her own."

"You've got to be kidding me! That's one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen in my life. Are you sure?"

"Am I sure? Am I sure? I know a dick when I see one."

Jimmy noticed his volume was increasing to elicit nervous looks from the lady on the next stool so he toggled it back to a shamed whisper.

"She took it out and showed it to me. It's twice as big as mine."

I think after that he said something like, "If you tell anybody about this you're a dead man," but I was far too busy telling everybody to hear him. Whispering secrets and keeping the confidence of slippery people is a scoundrel's game and I'll have no part of it.

"Hey everybody, Jimmy says Jasmine's got a package and it's bigger than his."

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I must have bartender written across my forehead or something because people tend to pour out their souls to me even when I'm off duty. The most startling confession I've ever been burdened with visited me when I wasn't even standing behind a bar. I had never met the man before so I don't know what made him think that I wouldn't go straight to the police but I'm pretty sure that he was admitting to murder.

I was shooting pool in a working man's tavern and the guy was hanging out around my usual table in the dark corner of the bar. Every time that there was a lull in the action on the pool table he engaged me in conversation and I did nothing to discourage him. He was a rough looking character but so were half of my buddies in the bar so I didn't hold that against him.

The man spoke with an urgency that led me to believe that he had something he wanted to get off of his chest. Every time I missed a shot on the pool table or waited for my opponent to rack the balls he would pick up right where he had left off, as though he was steering our sporadic conversation toward a definite conclusion. I'd seen it a thousand times as a bartender, the confessor speaks in a circuitous spiral around the real issue without ever losing sight of it, hoping to be drawn out by a sympathetic ear.

The guy began tipping his hand overtly when I mentioned my long-standing grudge against one of the bouncers. Every time the aggressive doorman passed by the pool tables to collect debris he would grab active beverages to pump up liquor sales.

"If that asshole grabs another one of my half empty beers I'm gonna call him out. Somebody's gonna get tired of his badass routine one of these days and take that prick down."

The bouncer was twice my size and I was obviously talking out of my ass but my companion in the dark corner took my words at face value.

"Have you ever been mad enough to kill somebody?"

"Well, I was thinking more along the lines of making him buy me another beer but I suppose that killing him would provide some satisfaction, yeah."

There was a weight in his tone that raised the small hairs on the back of my neck and I was greatly relieved to be called back for duty on the pool table. I managed to stay active for a couple of games straight and so avoided the foreboding conversation in the corner but when I returned to protect my beverage from the over-zealous bouncer, the penitent grabbed my ear and became heavier still.

"Sometimes people deserve to die, don't you think?"

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I noticed for the first time that the brooding tough guy at my table was a little bit teary eyed and it made me even more uneasy. I tried to lighten up the conversation to no avail.

"Aw, there are plenty of nasty people in the world but killing's too good their kind."

"What if somebody's messing with your wife and kids? What if there was no way to stop him without ending his miserable life?"

I was now certain that this was a conversation that I didn't want to be involved in any longer. Ordinarily closing time came too early for me but that night the clock seemed to be moving backwards.

"Well, killing your enemies always seemed kind of counter-productive if you ask me, sort of gives them the easy way out. I think prison is worse than dying so if they're really nasty you should make them rot in jail."

The man pounded his fist on the table hard enough to scare the cigarette butts out of the ashtray and wobble the beer bottles so I knew that we were no longer talking about a hypothetical situation.

"That bastard would have hired a lawyer and nothing would have come of it. I'm glad that I..."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute, pal! I ain't a priest and for all you know I might be a cop so we'd better just stop right there."

"I really need to tell somebody about this. It's eating a hole in my gut. I just wanted to teach the guy a lesson, I never meant to actually..."

"Hey, hey, hey, there you go again! I've really gotta get going now, you know, to beat the bar rush. You ought to go to talk to the bartender; he's just standing over there not doing much of anything. I hear that bartenders are, like, sworn to secrecy or something."

"Really?"


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