“Hey, Johnny, go in the back and get some more ice, the cooler is getting low,” chanted the scratchy-voiced proprietor of Little Nemo’s bar, noticing his best waiter hard at work washing dishes on the opposite side of the counter.

“Yes sir, Mr. Mills,” Johnny responded, throwing the dish towel over his shoulder and walking away from the bar toward the back of the building, where the cold room housed all of the establishment’s stock of beverages and ice.

Tom Mills, a 67-year-old, graying barhop, had tried everything over the years to secure a steady stream of business. He brought in pool tables, dart boards, and one of the finest cooks in town, but still, the customer base he so desperately sought did not come. Most people told him it was because he offered little or no drink specials, but even after he did, the only clientele he could attract were bikers passing through, retired factory workers, or other bums from the street corner. It seemed like the young adults of Springwood were few and far between, despite the new karaoke machine and big-screen TV’s. Tom knew the town had fallen on hard times since the factory closed, but did that mean that all of the town’s youth would have to leave in one mass exodus? He couldn't quite figure it all out, but as long as his usual customers came in, he could make ends meet and keep the place afloat.

Wiping off the counter, Tom noticed two men enter wearing polo shirts and khaki dress pants, complete with black, shiny dress shoes and what appeared to be small employee badges of some sort hanging from their jackets. Taking one look at them, he could tell they were high class, possibly CEO’s. Definitely the type of people I want in here, he thought with a smile as the two men bellied up to the bar.

“What can I get ya?” he asked politely, greeting them as they each took their seats side-by-side on wooden bar stools.

“Um, I’ll have a bottle of ultra,” the taller, lankier man said.

“Same here,” added the shorter, stockier man. “Low carb is fine.”

“Coming right up.”

Smiling, Tom walked over to his cooler, slid the door open, and pulled out two fresh bottles of low-carb, ultra beer for his newest customers. Both bottles seemed to ‘wssh’ simultaneously as he popped their tops, sending the caps spiraling to the floor with a clang. Then, after waiting for the suds to settle, he put each one down on a coaster in front of them.

“That’ll be two-fifty,” Tom informed them.

“Start a tab,” the taller man on the left stated, handing him his bank card.

“Oh, well alright, Mister...uhhh...” Tom mumbled, looking down at the card and walking toward his cash register. “Oh, excuse me, Dr. Graham.”

“Well, what do you think so far, Lloyd?” Dr. Graham asked, turning to his compadre Dr. Halverson as he took the first sip of beer.

Lloyd, licking his lips, let the first mouthful of beer settle in his stomach before he replied. “I think we’re making real progress, Greg. Ty and Manny are coming along great. Maria and Suzette are certainly two of a kind. And it could only be a matter of time before Tex and Simon come around, too.”

“I agree,” Greg concurred. “I think we have most of them forgetting about the fears that plagued them in the past, and concentrating more on their futures.”


“But what?”

“It’s that Murphy girl that worries me,” Lloyd continued. “She’s going to be the real challenge.”

“Don’t worry about her,” Greg responded, looking away from Lloyd and up at the bar, where various bottles of liquor were lined up across the counter, stretching from one end to the other. “We took the important first step today. If we keep her calm with a strict regimen of medication, she’ll soon forget all about the past and concentrate on getting her life back on track like the rest of them. She’ll have no idea what’s going on. She’ll be fine, trust me.”

Sitting nearby at a table, a man set down the newspaper he was reading and coldly stared up at the two doctors, who had their backs to him. Stoically beading his pale blue eyes toward them, he puffed a small cloud of smoke out of his Philly blunt cigar and listened intently as a dark shadow cast on his face from the black fedora atop his head.

Hearing the name Murphy, the Man in Black immediately tuned his ears in. He couldn’t quite figure out why, but somehow he knew that the Murphy girl was very important in his investigation. Turning his eyes first toward the bar, then toward the pool tables, he had to be careful no one was watching him . Luckily, he observed the place to be mostly empty as he tapped the ash off of the end of the cigar. On the far side, there were two bikers shooting pool and playing the jukebox, but not much else. An occasional clang was heard as they broke a rack and sent the balls rolling in every direction off of the rims, but they were definitely not paying any attention to him.

Behind the pool table, there were two elderly gentlemen watching the news on the big screen TV. However, he couldn’t hear the volume of the TV over the jukebox, which had AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” blaring loudly, so he skipped them, figuring if he couldn’t hear the commotion, they sure wouldn’t be able to, either.

“Back in black, hit the sack, been too long, I’m glad to be back.
Yes, I, let loose, from the noose…That's kept me hanging about.
I've been looking at the sky…'Cause it's gettin' me high…Forget the hearse 'cause I’ll never die...”

At the very back of the bar, a woman who appeared to be in her mid-forties was buying cigarettes from a vending machine, and a young waiter emerged from the cold room carrying four big bags of ice, two under each arm. Their eyes made contact for a second, but the Man in Black quickly looked away as the boy dumped it into a smaller icebox right under the counter, making a loud crashing noise as each bag quickly filled it up.

Putting his attention back on the bar, a red glow caught the man’s eyes as he tried not to stare at the doctors. A bright red neon “Budweiser” sign lit up that side of the bar, with a rack of pretzels and chips hung neatly beneath it. Down from there, a small slate chalkboard sporting “Today’s Specials” was smeared in white chalk and written over and over again, barely legible. The Man in Black really didn’t care what the menu said, but the mirror to the left of it was what concerned him. All the doctors had to do was take one quick look into that mirror, and they would clearly see him back there staring in their direction. So, for every couple of seconds, he would look away, or put the newspaper up in his face again, just to throw them off if they did happen to notice him.

“Well, I’m ba-ha-ha-hack, ba-ha-ha-hack. Well, I’m back in black. Yes, I’m back in black...”

It worked for a while, because he was able to pick up much of their conversation. Words like “her mother” and “hypnocil” were clearly audible from where he sat, while the rest was drowned out by the jukebox. Crouching back in his chair, the man wrote the word “hypnocil” down on a napkin and tucked it away in his pocket. He was just about to get up and head out the door when the taller doctor’s cell phone rang, forcing him to get up from the counter to answer it.

“Graham here,” the doctor answered with the music blaring directly in his ear. “Oh really? Wait a minute, I can’t hear you, this damn jukebox is too loud. Hold on a second…Hey, barkeep, could you please turn that down?!”

A moment later, Tom Mills personally walked over to the juke and turned the volume down two notches, menacingly glaring at his waiter Johnny, whom he blamed every time a customer wasn’t satisfied.

“Thank you,” Dr. Graham acknowledged, waving at Tom as he went back behind the bar.

“Anyways, what were you saying Calvin?”

Sighing, he continued his conversation with his orderly.

“Oh, I forgot all about that. No, it’s okay. It’s probably better for her to get acquainted with the others as soon as possible anyhow. I gotta go. We’ll be there in a half-hour, alright? Bye.”

Shutting his flip-phone, Dr. Graham tapped Lloyd on the shoulder and whispered something into his ear, but before the Man in Black could make out what it was, they settled their tab and rushed out the door in a hurry.

The man followed them with his eyes the whole way out, then turned his attention back to the bar, pulling his napkin note back out of his front pocket. Lighting up another stogie, the man stared at the word “hypnocil” intently, almost cracking a smile as the orange flame finally caught on the end of the cigar.

The time has come to get some answers, he smirked, quickly downing a shot of whiskey. And I finally know where to get them.

Proceed To Chapter 5
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