Last Call at the Yellow Bird
Last Call at the Yellow Bird
by Lauren Underberg
Business never used to be slow on a Tuesday night, crowds staying well over curfew, waiting to rise with the rest of the city at daylight. As the days grew longer and the sun more unforgiving, it seemed that spring had drawn to a close, and so the dancers went back home to their second lives.
These nights, there were rarely “problems” at the bar, and the old docksmen weren’t any harm once they stumbled past the door, dribbling spilled baijiu on their way out. One of three waiters had shown up in the past week, a mild-mannered boy clearly too young to be working at such an establishment. Uncle probably made an exception, and Irene had a feeling it had to do with the unusually pearly white plates being bused back to the kitchen, coupled with the boy’s shifty gaze. She let him go home early ever since the crowds had begun to dwindle over the weekend, and she was ready to close the restaurant tonight at ten-thirty, the earliest since Typhoon Ellen had cast the island in total darkness, nearly six years ago.
That is, if it wasn’t for the triad.
“Aiyah, Fanfan, there’s no reason to shout.”
“Oh, you say that when you’re being cheated by an egg-headed ninny in a suit! Gimme the dice.”
“It’s your turn to drink.”
The scrawniest of the three grabbed an empty shot glass, downing the tepid air in a menacing wince before slamming it back down.
Irene knew them by their orders: Brian Lam (gin and tonic), low voice and dreamy eyes, or so she’d overheard the girls at the bar say. He frequented the least, often away renegotiating contracts overseas, but when he did appear it was always in a different tailored suit with the same faded pair of cufflinks. She remembered that once, a British officer had gotten in without a warrant, barking in sharp consonants at one of the guys who drew in and lost the most crowds with his deck of cards. Brian drew him aside, exchanging what appeared to be strained pleasantries, and within seconds the officer gave his sincerest apologies and was promptly led away by one of the hosts, never to be mentioned again.
Irene only knew Fanfan (a beer was enough to get him tipsy, three and he’d be passed out) by his nickname, but that was all that people seemed to call him. He wasn’t exactly what she’d call trouble, but she also found herself with less and less pity for his laments each time they sat at the bar. Uncle said he was the best shot on the island; rumor had it he’d killed a man three cabs away, coming in from the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.
The game resumed as Fanfan shook the dice. “Three twos!”
Brian sighed, glancing into his own cup. “Five threes—”
“Bu xing!” Fanfan cried.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Brian said, fingers pressing to his temple as Fanfan pouted.
“Aw, are someone’s pockets getting too heavy? Maybe if you spared a few hundred dollars, you’d be better able to sit back on your—”
“Gentlemen, please,” the third said, glancing up from his drink with a grin. “There’s a lady present.”
Kit—the newest in town, a hot cup of oolong every night from the first he walked in. Pain in the ass.
Irene turned her back, repolishing the crystal.
“Yes—our apologies,” Brian quickly said, folding his napkin on the counter. “We’ll be taking our leave shortly.”
“Coward! A real backstabber finishes the job!” Fanfan howled.
“Alright, alright,” Kit said, shaking the cup. “One more round.”
Brian sighed. “Don’t encourage him.”
“Like you did?” Kit shot him a look, and Brian fell silent, watching him tilt the cup back to examine its interior. “Four fours.”
Fanfan groaned, beating his forehead against the counter.
Brian frowned. “I think you’re bluffing.”
Kit twirled the cup between his fingers, holding the other’s.
A cryptic expression seemed to stretch itself across Brian’s face as he reached into his pocket, fanning out the bills he’d collected that night. Fanfan peeked between his fingers, while the other placed them in the center of the counter.
“Bu xing,” Brian said.
Kit slid the cup down the counter, coming to a halt between the other two players. They peered in. Irene paused, listening as the song on the jukebox drew to an end.
“Ging zau!” Fanfan cried, snatching the bills from the counter and falling out of his seat.
Kit smiled over his shoulder. “A gin and tonic, please—plus some ice.”
“Not possible!” (Players shout it when they suspect someone of bluffing in Chui Niu, a popular Chinese drinking game.)
“Cheers!” (Used in reference to when someone has to drink as a penalty, either during a toast or drinking game.)
About the Writer...
Lauren Underberg is a junior in the Creative Writing department at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Their work appears in the department’s student-run literary magazine, Cadence. They have been referred to as a long-distance runner on multiple occasions, which basically means they’ll never write a short short story in their life.
About the Artist.... Bria McClary is a 12th Grader at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. At the school, Bria is a visual arts major who dedicates their life to her artistry. They create art, generally in paints, and many kinds of mixed medias like cloths, collage, embroidery, inks, and charcoal because of the looseness the materials creates and the freedom in creating such pieces. Bria also has been apart of NAHS—National Arts Honors Society throughout her junior and Senior year at Douglas Anderson. Entering and winning multiple silver keys and a gold key art portfolio along with multiple scholarships from Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.