The men had finished their drinks thirty minutes earlier but the older of the two wasn’t ready to go home—or ready to go anywhere else, for that matter. The man who first coined the phrase, “crying in your beer,” must have had Duane Williams in mind when he came up with it.
It was Tito Maldonado’s first visit to the tavern and he had spent the better part of the evening listening to Duane’s sob story and trying to cheer him up. Now, five minutes before the bar closed for the night, he had to admit defeat. Cheerfulness had not been attained.
“Like I said, it wasn’t the end of the world,” Tito repeated.
Duane ignored the remark and, with real tears in his eyes, whimpered, “They trusted me and I let them down . . . I had it in my hands . . . and the worst part came later, when people said I dropped it on purpose and that I was paid to do it.”
He looked Tito in the eyes.
“You don’t believe that, do you?” he asked, as if he was a condemned man begging to be pardoned for a crime he hadn’t committed.
“No,” Tito answered, more out of empathy than from sincerity. “I don’t think you did it on purpose. And besides, it’s only a game.”
In an flash, the tears in Duane’s eyes were replaced with fire.
“A what?” he shouted “A what?”
“A game,” Tito shouted back in the tone of voice he usually reserved for deaf people. “Football . . . it’s a game . . . it’s just a game!”
Duane stood up, clenched his fists and growled, “What the hell are you talking about? It wasn’t football!”
Tito slipped off his stool and took two steps backwards towards the nearest exit.
“Okay, okay!” he stammered. “So, I was wrong. It wasn’t football. . .”
Duane took a long, slow, deep breath, looked towards the bartender and said, “’G’night, Ted. See you tomorrow.”
Without another word, he turned and walked out the front door.
A bewildered Tito turned towards Ted.
“What happened to Duane? If it wasn’t a football, what did he drop?”
“Thirty years ago, when he was a waiter at the Four Seasons in New York, he knocked a bottle of vintage wine off a table. He tried to catch it before it hit the floor but it slipped through his hands. It was worth $100,000.”
“And he’s been haunted by it ever since?”
“That’s what he says. They fired him and, to be honest, I wouldn’t hire him, either.”
“Why? Because you’re afraid he’ll drop a bottle of beer?”
“No. Because no one he talks to ever comes back.”
Tito turned and headed towards the door.
“You got that right,” he said.