Like the phone company, I served everybody from kings and queens to the scum of the earth and they were all my friends. I made my home in Amsterdam that year, the Mecca of every party-till-you-drop extremist in the world. My name is Nick and I'm a bartender at a leather bar with a back room and a serviceable clientele. Septembers in Amsterdam meant saying good-bye to the tourists and hello to all the locals who snubbed you during the summer.
Amsterdam often played host to some traveler or another; there was always the promise of adventure somewhere in the city. If it didn't happen in the bars or on the dance floors, then it most certainly occurred in the intimate darkness of the heavily populated back rooms.
Well, it would be closing time soon and I was ready to fall in love. At the end of the bar, the handsome stranger lay with his head pressed against the countertop. I walked to the end of the bar and shook him awake. A few hours ago, he had been the hot stud who had promised to wait for me to finish my shift before he would whisk me off to paradise. Apparently, he had left for paradise without me, passed out from too many beers and hash joints. He told me that he wanted to be ready for me when the time came. Well, the time had come and he most certainly was not ready.
I wasn't about to let this little setback keep me from having a good time.
I'm not totally unfamiliar with guys passing out on me, especially on lazy nights like tonight. Of course that didn't mean that I had to like it. With great reluctance, he staggered into my arms and allowed me to push him through the door and into the cruel Amsterdam alleyways with a thousand other rejected suitors.
Maybe I was a little cynical that night, like every night. Being a bartender, I tended to hear every story and got to play out every scenario. Everybody thought their story was unique and that their solutions, when they had one, were equally unique. The truth of the matter is that it's all one big story shattered into a million fragments of equal proportions. I ought to know, because my story was just like everyone else's, only more important to me.
My ex, Glenn and I had become friends then deceived ourselves into thinking that we could be lovers. I had left a bad relationship and fallen head over heels into his arms and into another life of lies and promises. The purchase of The Nest had been his idea and I agreed that I would be responsible for its operation. We tricked around a lot on each other, but it was an understanding that the whole town knew about. I was happy to be in a relationship of any kind that didn't feel claustrophobic. The relationship became more of amicable roommates than the passionate affair it had started out as. But I digress.
I quickly filled the freezers and checked the dark corners of the bar for stragglers. I made up the bank deposit and hoped tomorrow would be a better day. I did a spot check on the on the outdoor sign, making sure that all the lights were out. I double-checked to be sure that the door locks were secure.
Eventually I turned the collar of my leather jacket up over my neck to brace myself against the September chill. I walked briskly across the alley and headed across the busy thoroughfare to the other side of town, where the more established bars were keeping hours past the legal time.
The part of town hosting the gay community's leather district was as tourist-ridden as it was dirty and seedy. I made my way past the junkies and the independent hookers. I waved at the real working girls always dolled up in their lacy finery, showcased behind glass windows. The ladies were subject to city, state, and federal protection, and regular health checkups were part of their work. I loved the civilized way of the Dutch people.
Tonight the street wasn't very busy and a light rain had started to put the finishing touches on the early morning. A few stragglers sauntered down the street in search of shelter and love in the arms of any proper stranger. A few of Amsterdam's complacent police force walked casually up and down the narrow streets, avoiding trouble and looking for none.
While I pushed through the door of The Eagle bar, my heart dropped. As quiet as my place had been, this bar was quieter. Mark, the bartender, waved to me and called out my name. It was too late to slip out now. As a barman, I could understand how Mark felt when he had to work a room of just four or five people--happy to see a familiar face to dish the daily dirt.