Tom Kaplan, Bar Back at the Round Up

Tom Kaplan was glad to be working, glad to be at the Round Up, and glad to have a place to be on a stormy night.

On this night he was particularly glad to be there because his older brother had come in with his pals from the ROTC; they came all the way from Pig’s Eye and the University of St. Thomas with money in their pockets and they were making him feel like a star.

Tom was busy, the room was crowded and he would have done anything to be finished with his duties so he could join his brother for a pint of beer, but he was having the best night of his life seeing his brother with his college friends, watching them sing songs and tell stories. He was determined to follow in his brother’s footsteps.

Tom was busy pouring drinks and clearing tables when the giant, Karl Thorrson, came into the room. Tom thought it was funny, the giant stood at the bar right where a little man who couldn’t have been more than three and half feet tall had been sitting minutes earlier.

He didn’t know who the giant was but his boss did, and Tom could tell that the huge man made him nervous. Tom couldn’t hear what they were talking about but they seemed to be arguing. Then big man ordered a round of Aquavit for the house.         

His employer, Mr. Holmes snapped his fingers and nodded his head at Tom, and Tom got busy pouring, he even had to go into the basement for extra bottles.

Tom served the drinks and poured one for himself, then he joined in with the room while the giant raised his glass and silently toasted everyone.

As soon as the moment was over the big man and his boss appeared to resume their quarrel. Then the giant’s hand shot out like lightning, he appeared to barely flick his boss on the shoulder with two of his fingers, it was enough to send Holmes flying backward into the wall.

Everybody saw it.

His brother and his brother’s friends came to their feet and began to push the giant out the door, it took all of them to do it. Tom got the feeling that if the big man had not let them, he would not have been moved.

Tom was determined not to be the only guy standing around doing nothing. He tabulated the man’s bill, grabbed the bowler that had fallen off his giant head and onto the floor, and went outside to make sure that the bill was paid.

It was the right thing to do.

When he got outside the big man was coming to his feet. Tom had a hard time believing that anyone or anything could have knocked him over, but apparently his brother’s friends had suceeded.

The heavy rain felt good to Tom especially after the adrenalin that had been surging through his body when he was watching the struggle inside.

He approached the gargantuan, returned his hat and presented the bill. The giant threw his head back and laughed.

Tom looked at his meaty face, at the lifeless black glass set in his eye socket, he saw the jagged lightning bolt inlaid there, then he saw the rainbows jumping off it as he was consumes by heat and light.

Joe Samuelson (A Round-Up Regular)

Joe Samuelson sat at the end of the bar near the place station where the waiter picked up drinks, to carry to the tables.

The Round Up was the third bar he stopped in on his walk home. At each place he had a pint and a shot, talked for a little bit with whoever would listen before moving on.

There were two more bars along the way  he would stop at before getting home, but with the rain pouring down like it was Noah’s flood, Joe decided to stay in place and enjoy the company of the strangers he counted among his friends.

He sat on his stool next to a little man, barely three feet tall, they talked a bit about the numbers game, and the man offered to take a bet for him. Joe had talked to him before, though he could not remember his name, and he declined to place any bets because he wasn’t a gambling man.

The bright-eyed dwarf turned away from him and moved into the shadows then.

There was a group from the ROTC singing in the room. One of them was the older brother of Tom the barback. The whole group of them were having a lively time drinking with their captain at the center of it all, encouraging them to have a good time.

It was a welcome change of mood, Joe thought, compared to the atmosphere of desperation and fear that had fallen over Lake Street in recent years.

He ordered another beer and hummed along with them.

Joe had his nose in his pint and his head in his hand when there was a sudden commotion at the door.

A dark-haired giant walked in, and with him a murmur swept the room touching everyone but the gang of boys in uniform.

The giant went to the bar and ordered a round of Aquavit for everyone.

Joe had no idea who the giant was, but Gary Holmes did, the man who owned the bar, and he approached the juggernaut with hesitation, trembling, but not showing any sign of deference to him as he helped Tom pour the round of shots.

Joe watched as they spoke in low tones for a minute.

They appeared to be having some kind of argument, Gary shaking his head telling the big-man something the giant did not want to hear.

He was threatening as he encroached on Gary’s space.

Gary’s voice grew louder. His trembling and shook. His face reddened, as his body surged with adrenaline.

There was shouting.

Gary stomped his foot and ordered the man to leave, pointing at the door, his arm outstretched.

The giant’s hand shout out with blinding speed, he tapped Gary on the chest with two fingers, sending him flying backward into the wall of liquor bottles.

And with that mayhem broke loose.

Captain Royce Bivens, University of Saint Thomas, ROTC

Royce Bivens was preparing for his senior year at the University of Saint Thomas. He was from an up and coming family in Pig’s Eye, Minnesota’s capitol city. His mother and father lived about a mile away from campus in a small home on Summit Avenue. His father owned a hardware store, and his mother was a parish leader at Saint Thomas Moore cathedral.

The Bivens were not a wealthy family, but they were squarely positioned in what would come to be known as the middle class. They parents were teetotlers, with a moral and ethical view of the world that was practically Calvinist despite their deeply Catholic roots; they were puritans.

Royce took pride in his training. Prior to his admission to Saint Thomas he had attended Cretin-Derham Hall, and participated in the Junior ROTC. He had dreamed of attending West Point, believing in his heart that he was better than his peers at everything their training called them to do; drills and marches, physical fitness and following orders.

He exemplified his duty.

Royce excelled at everything that entered the martial sphere of his studies, when it came to everything else he was a B student, at best. He consistently failed to understand his academic limitations, perhaps on account of the fact that he had a limited capacity for creative thinking.

Captain Royce Bivens was ardently disciplined, in his heart he believed that following orders, following procedures to the letter, was the signal mark of a good soldier.

He may have been right about that, and for his efforts he was promoted to Captain, but he was wrong about one very important thing: The ROTC program at the university was not training him to be a soldier, he was being groomed for leadership, for a commission in the Army, and command called for something more than the simple motivation to do as you are told.

Royce had been told this many times, such statements had appeared with regularity on his periodic evaluations, and he consistently failed to recognize their importance or how he could change in response to them.

On this night he had been convinced by some of the fellows from ROTC squad to take a trip down Lake Street this evening. They all wanted to see the night life and have a drink. Royce was reluctant, but he was loathe to set himself apart from the group. He thought about the constant critique of his character that his superiors were inclined to level at him and he decided that he should have some fun, join his friends, experience something of the world, do the unexpected.

Once Royce made up his mind he would not be deterred, and so when the rain began to fall in heavy sheets and some of the boys wanted to stay on campus. Royce decided to push them forward. He would have gone alone that night, and his boldness encouraged the squad to follow.

They crossed the Mississippi over the Marshall Avenue Bridge, entering Saint Anthony where Mashall became Lake Street, and they drove its length, stopping at a bar close to baseball field where the Miller’s played. The bar was called the Round-Up, and the brother of one of the boys in his squad worked there, and so they were being treated like family.

They were all gathered at the bar by the door, drinking beer and whiskey when a fight ensued.

They were laughing and talking about the girls they had seen on the corner, wondering out loud how much it would cost to spend an hour with one of them, blushing and guffawing at the thought of it when a sudden commotion started up. A group of men, including the Owner of the bar and Lieutenant Kaplan’s brother were pushing a man of gargantuan stature out the door.

Royce understood instinctively who was in the right, it was the owner of the establishment, and though it chilled him to the core to join the mayhem, he mastered his fear and together with his squad they helped push the man out of the door.

Without them they other men in the bar would not have succeeded.

He stood in the doorway and watched as the man stumbled and fell against a parked car, appearing to cut his jaw, though after a second look Royce thought he imagined it.

He watched the giant recover, and watched Tom Kaplan go outside in his rubber apron to return his hat to him. He watched as the gargantuan looked toward the sky and with maniacal laughter appeared to call the lightning down; he watched the rainbows dance in his glass eye, striking Tom Kaplan dead.

A wave of horror passed through the crowd, a midget brushed past Royce’s leg. The huge man began to run down the street, police following after him; then he saw something that surprised him. He saw Johnny Holiday, a guy that Royce had drummed out of the ROTC, and from the University, he saw Johnny following behind the huge man, ahead of the police, giving chase like had reason to.

Royce Bivens scratched his chin confused, Lieutenant Kaplan ran to his brother, sobbing and screaming. The rest of his crew was standing around in shock, looking to Royce, their Captain for a signal.

Royce Bivens went out to his friend who was sitting on his knees in the downpour, crying. He put his hand on his shoulder, and said to him: “Let’s go call your ma,” then there was another crack of lightening, the lights went out and the city went dark.