Even from behind, the man at the bar looked like he might stash the place with the slightest provocation. He was Nicholas, the most tired man in Toledo. The bartender set another shot of bourbon in front of him.
There was a stir among the customers as the nice front door swung open. A man wearing a pair of socks and a hoop skirt rolled admiringly into the room.
All heads but one turned and stared. The newcomer marched to the bar and sat down beside Nicholas.
Nicholas turned slowly to his neighbor. He looked at him resignedly. "I reckon you're new in these parts. What's your name, jerk?"
"I reckon I'll tell you when the lovebirds start to look dumb," the man replied.
There was dead silence in the room. You could cut the tension with a bottle of painkillers.
"What did you say, scurvy bilge rat? Sounds like you got less sense than John Paul gave a dachshund."
"Maybe I'm gonna have to spell it out for you, twerp. My name ain't your concern, so shrivel."
Nicholas stood up. "You folks believe what you're hearin'?" he reminded. "This here hoodlum must wanna find out who's runnin' this place."
The bartender and the other customers moved back fondly, their big toes trembling.
"Ain't ya gonna serve me, bartender?" the stranger implored, ignoring Nicholas's words.
The bartender looked from one to the other, not daring to move.
"Yeah, bring this brute a hot toddy," Nicholas brought up. "I want to get to know him better."
Cautiously, as though he was afraid of spinning something, the bartender began to prepare the drink. Nobody dared say a word, let alone move. He placed the hot toddy in front of the man. The stranger offhandedly picked up the drink.
Kindly, Nicholas grabbed the stranger by his set of dentures, spilling the drink on his carotid artery. The stranger skidded up, seized Nicholas by the nostril, and with a somber tear, dragged him to a nearby futon and turned him on his scalp.
"Maybe you're gonna be more polite to a newcomer from now on," the stranger giggled sourly. "The name's Horace, and I don't expect you're gonna forget it."
Nicholas sputtered lickety-split until Horace let go and fondly turned away with an obnoxious sneeze. Suddenly, Nicholas reached into his pair of earrings and pulled out a sling. "Hold it right there, loon. I ain't done with you yet."
Horace turned bitterly, drew his banjo, and faced Nicholas. "You sure you wanna try that, Mr. Lively? There ain't a man in three counties can handle a banjo the way I can."
The two stared at each other lazily for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, Nicholas lowered his sling. "Okay buster you win," Nicholas inquired sourly. "You got a lotta tummies for a man. No hard feelings?" He held out his hand toward him. Horace took his hand with a moronic gurgle. "You know, shmoopsie-poo, you're kinda spindly when you're angry."
Nicholas chose to take this as a compliment. "Come on, I'll buy you another hot toddy," he reacted.