Pushing the door of The Shaker open, Charlie was greeted by hot air and cigarette smoke. The Shaker was an Irish pub-like place, full of old, authentic dark wood furniture and low lighting. It was the kind of place full of old timey guys drinking whiskey and smoking cigars, trading war stories.
Charlie caught sight of Amy, heavy tray in hand, as the blonde weaved between tables, setting down beer bottles and picking up dirty glasses. She gave her a short wave, which Amy acknowledged with a cheerful wink
Working behind the bar, the familiarity of routine brought with it a sense of security, and she almost forgot about her mysterious injuries;until Amy sat across her on the bar, surveying her with a curious look.
'Ok, what happened?' Amy asked, raising an eyebrow at her. Charlie finished pouring out a measure of whiskey, and gave her a noncommittal shrug.
'What do you mean?' Charlie said, sliding the glass over to a waiting customer. Amy hunched herself over the bar, lowering her voice.
'Don't give me that. You think I haven't noticed?' Charlie shot her an innocent smile. 'Flinching and wincing... Makeup can only cover up so much, you know.' She continued. Knowing Amy wouldn't drop the subject until she got some kind of answer, Charlie brushed her bruised cheek casually.
'This? Nothing... Just a stupid little accident.'
'And your arm?...'
Charlie avoided Amy's gaze as she thought up a response. Even if she wanted to tell Amy the truth she couldn't, because Charlie had no idea what the truth was. One of their regulars, Jack, caught her eye and waved his empty beer bottle at her.
'Like I said...a stupid accident.' She pulled out a beer and handed it to Amy. 'Jack needs a refill.'
'Fine... But this isn’t over...’ Amy took the bottle reluctantly and left.
'She's just worried about you.'
Charlie turned to face the man sitting across from her, two stools to her right. His dirty blonde hair and stubble were just scruffy enough to give him that deliberately unkempt charm girls seemed to love these days.
'Can you be arrested for eavesdropping?' She asked, cocking her head. He pretended to think about it for a few seconds before answering.
'Only if you decide to press charges...'
'I'll think about it...' She laughed. 'Can I get you anything?'
'Ginger ale, thanks.'
'Surprise me.' She searched around for a can and a glass. 'I'm Nathan, by the way. Nathan Hunter.'
She placed his drink in front of him and he snapped the can open. As he poured it out, he seemed to be about to speak when the sound of shouting and chairs falling caught both their attention. It looked like Jack and Billy were at it again. 'Excuse me; I gotta go kick some ass.' Nathan shot her an easy smile as she rolled her eyes. She reached the two men just as Jack threw a punch aimed at Billy's head. Charlie grabbed his wrist mid-punch, pushing his shoulder with her other hand and pinning Jack's arm behind his back. It was a move she practiced frequently around here.
'Are you fighting Jack? Cause it looks like you're fighting.'
'He started it...' Jack muttered, unresisting.
'Seriously? What are you, ten?' Both men remained silent. 'Fine, you wanna act like children, then I'll treat you like children. From now on, Billy stays on that side of the bar.' She said, indicating a far corner in the opposite side of the room, and then pointed at Jack. 'You stay here. If I catch either of you mingling in each other’s sections, so help me God, I will ban you both for life.'
'You can't do that,' Billy said, not sounding too sure.
'Try me, buddy.' Billy muttered something that Charlie didn't quite hear as he grabbed his bottle and walked away, sloshing his beer all over the floor. Jack watched him, tempted to follow. She grabbed his arm to get his attention. 'I mean it, Jack.'
'Whatever...' Sulking, he shrugged her hand off and walked away. He'd get over it soon enough.
'Nicely done.' Amy said, bending over to pick up a toppled beer bottle. 'Although perhaps a little too pre-school.'
'I'm running out of options with those two... And thanks for the help...' Charlie mumbled in response.
'Breaking up fights is your department, remember?' Amy shot back with an amused smile and walked away. Charlie was about to go back to the bar when a wrinkled newspaper on the floor caught her eye. She picked it up and the black and white photograph staring back at her froze her to the spot. She stood there, staring at the serious face, gripping the newspaper so hard her knuckles were pale. It was the face of the man she had killed in her dream.
She scanned the article, and it confirmed her fears. Senator Nielsen was not only dead, but he’d been assassinated. It was impossible. She felt her headache return, and hot tears sting the back of her eyes. She found it hard to breathe as the loud, hot atmosphere of the bar wrapped heavily around her, like a thick blanket on a hot summer's night. She barely registered dropping the paper. She just had to leave this place, get some air. Pushing past tables, she rushed to the door, stumbling awkwardly into the cold night air. Her headache was making her dizzy and she had to steady herself against the wall as she made her way around The Shaker. All she could think about was the dead man's face covered in blood, and she was sure this time, she really was going to throw up.
Resting the back of her head against the wall, Charlie closed her eyes and let the gentle breeze brush her face, in an attempt to push away the nausea.
'Get down!' She heard a voice shout.
Charlie turned towards the noise just in time to see a tall man standing a few feet away, aiming a gun straight at her head.