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A Drop in the Bucket

A Tale of the Nightshade Lounge

by Paul Krueger

As a bartender at Chicagos Nightshade Lounge, Bailey Chens primary

responsibilities were to dispense alcoholic beverages in a cheerful, professional manner

and to maintain an orderly, inviting atmosphere in which guests could enjoy themselves.

Her secondary responsibilities were to patrol the streets of Chicago at night, root

out the demons lurking there, and then use alcohol-fueled magic to punch them until they


At the moment, she was elbow-deep in the secondary ones.

She was rocking telekinetic powers, courtesy of the old fashioned shed downed

before going on patrol, but the tremens she fought was proving tough to get a bead on.

The creature was a skinless, boneless monstrosity the size of a Saint Bernard, and it ably

twisted away from any projectiles she sent its way.

On your back! someone shouted. Instinctively, Bailey sidestepped as a bolt of

lightning arced past her, making her hair stand on end and wracking the tremenss body

with power. It screeched, its single yellow, bloodshot eye bulging with pain. Then the

entire creature burst in an ugly cloud of acrid black ichor.

In the lightnings wake stood her coworker, Bucket: a short young man with a

patch-encrusted leather jacket and a spiky blue mohawk. Residual electricity cascaded

across his myriad facial piercings as he grinned and waved.

Happy as she was to see him, she frowned a little. I had that one.

Course you did, Bucket said brightly. But I thought itd be fun to fight

demons with you.

Six months ago, Bailey wouldve dubbed the contents of that that sentence, as

well as its speaker, utterly bonkers. But a lot had changed since she started working the

bar life. So she just sighed and said, Well, I guess my hours almost up anyway. Walk

me back to the Nightshade?

Buckets many piercings jangled as he nodded in agreement.

Though it was late March, winter clung to Chicago with icy nails. The ground was

more visible than not, but stubborn patches of snow still refused to melt, week after week.

It was warm enough during the day, but at night breath became visible again, and the air

still froze the inside of her nose into an iron maiden. But the whiskey in her veins kept

her warm, and she walked with a bounce in her step.

Of course, she was nothing compared to the coiled spring that was Bucket. He

was a veteran of countless mosh pits, and it showed in his big, jerky gestures and his gait

that straddled the line between a walk and a hop. The evening chill didnt slow him down

at all. When she pointed this out, he beamed and said, Canadians dont get cold.

She rolled her eyes, smiling. With Bucket, it always came back to Canada this

and Canada that.

Okay, he said. First drink you ever had: when was it, and what?

Oh, wow . . . Bailey said, trailing off as she sifted through her memories. Back

in high school, shed been about as uncool as it got: straight As, for the most part, and

never a missed day of school in her life. She was never even marked tardy. But shed

occasionally experimented on weekends . . . when the right set of parents were out of

I was thirteen, and it was a beer J. P. Tomczak swiped from his mom, she said.

There was me, Zane, and some friends we dont really hang out with anymore. I had,

like, two sips, and I think I acted drunk for the rest of the night. She hung her head in

residual embarrassment.

Bucket snorted, fogging up his septum piercing. Figures youd be a total dork

about it.

You shouldve seen the double takes I got when I took my first sip. Even Zane

(now her boyfriend, then just a friend), who knew her better than anyone, had gaped at

her slack-jawed as shed tilted back the can of watery lager and suffered through that

splash of bitter on her tongue. Everyone thought of me as, I dont know, some kind of

mom. They really thought I didnt have it in me to drink a beer.

But you thought you did, eh?

Bailey flushed. Well, no. I might have been trying to prove something at the

time. Eager to shift the spotlight, she continued: What about you? Bucket was an

oddball punk from Montreal. If anyone was going to have a good story about drinking, it

would be him.

But he shrugged and said, I was straight-edge until nineteen, man.

She blinked. What?

Oh, yeah, Bucket said. And I totally wasnt cool about it, either. He adopted a

sneering expression that looked distinctly out of place on his always-happy face. Why

would you pollute your body like that? You only get one, you know.
Bailey laughed in disbelief. This didnt jibe with the Bucket she knew at all.

Thats probably how everyone thought Id be. She coughed. . . . not that theres

anything wrong with being responsible.

A shrug rolled through his narrow, spike-studded shoulders. I thought I was the

shit, you know? Everyone just had to come around to the way I saw things, and theyd

get it, too.

Despite the lightness of his tone, Bailey squirmed with discomfort as she

recognized a shred of herself in his words. What changed for you?

Well, Bucket said, his whole face lighting up, I was seeing this girl, eh? And

somehow, shes patient enough to deal with me, even though were both legal to drink by

now. And Im on this whole thing about booze, when she rolls her eyes and says,

Bucket, have you even tried it?

I say, Of course not. I dont hate myself like that. So she rolls her eyes again

and says, Im making you a damn mimosa, and youre going to love it. And she comes

back a few minutes later with a glass and says, Drink your milk.

So I drink it . . . and I love it. Of course I love it. Its a mimosa. Theyre candy.

But I cant let her know that, eh? So I tell her its trash, but she can see right through my

bullshit, and she says maybe we shouldnt text for a while. He sighed. It was probably

good we broke up, cause she was a real bad kisser. But . . . still, you know?

Bailey nodded. She did.

Ahead, the familiar facade of the Nightshade Lounge loomed, a green-and-gold

sign above its handsome wooden double doors. Thundering music boomed from inside.

There it is, Bucket sighed. The office.

Bailey didnt respond for a long time; she just looked at those double doors,

snatches of thought chasing one another around her brain. Hey, she said after a

moment, what was the second drink you ever had?

God, that . . . said Bucket. Id just moved to the States. I turned twenty-one,

and my roomies told me I was getting an American birthday. So that was how I had my

second . . . and third . . . and sixth . . .

She smiled knowingly. Her twenty-first had been much the same. How was it

that time?

Buckets smile was thin and mischievous. It was people who gave a shit about

me, wanting to share something cool. Not the kind of thing I could always take for


Bailey swallowed. Sorry about earlier.

Bucket smiled wider. An American? Apologizing?

She flipped him off.

He cackled. Thats more like it. All right, lets go in now. Im cold.

Bailey raised an eyebrow. You said Canadians dont get cold.

Bucket threw the door open. I say a lot of things, man.

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