The Last Chance

by Joshua J. Mark
As soon as Alex Pritt woke up that morning he knew the film was gone. He knew it instantly, all at once, even before he scrambled out of bed, hugging his nightmare head with both hands and squinting in the bright October sunlight streaming through the window of his apartment. He dug through his camera bag by the door fiercely and then sank down on the floor, his face in his hands.

"Oh God," he whispered. "Oh God."

He was finished. Done. Roscoe had said so. Pritt could hear the words now singing through his mind, behind his eyes. He was just leaving Roscoe's office yesterday when Dean had stopped him.

"And Pritt," he'd said. "No drinking."

Alex had paused, his hand on the doorknob. "Of course not," he'd said. "I never drink when I'm working."

Dean sat back in his chair and said, "I've known you a long time, Pritt. Remember that. So, ok, you don't drink on a shoot. But I've known you to drink after. When the show ends tonight, your night ends. Go home. After you've put that roll of film in my hands you can shoot yourself for all I care - but not before."

"Sure, Dean." He'd opened the door.

"Alex," Dean stopped him. "I'm not kidding. We've known each other a long time, ok. But I've got a publication to get out here. You've screwed up for the last time -"

"That wasn't my fault, Dean," Alex said, moving back into the office. "It was a madhouse at that concert, man. You know that."

"I know I had to pay three times the amount I cared to for that freelancer because you broke your camera. You broke the camera because you were drunk."

"I wasn't. I -"

"Alex," Dean said. "Listen. It's only cause I know you know Vickie Holt I'm letting you have this assignment. Don't screw it up. That's all I'm saying. If you don't have the first drink you can't have the fifteenth. Remember that."

"Sure, Dean."

But he hadn't remembered that. He'd met Bren Wilson, the college intern who'd be assisting him, and they'd gone to the show. It was Vickie Holt's farewell performance. She was Country's hottest star who was retiring at thirty-three, a millionaire two times over, to settle down and start a family. She and Alex were friends from high school.

The show had been as spectacular as promised and Alex had snapped some of the best pictures he'd ever done. Vickie had even let him and Bren into the dressing room, into the tour bus. He'd gone everywhere she went. Bren carried his bags for him and asked him questions and listened to him, to the voice of experience, of genius.

"I can't believe I'm really working with you, Mr. Pritt."

"It's Alex."

"Alex. I mean, man, you are a legend."

"Thank you," he'd smiled.

She was a slim, provocative woman of twenty-two, lovely, blonde hair and tight jeans. Alex was flattered she thought so highly of him. He wanted to take her back to his place and bang her until she squealed.

He remembered that. He remembered wanting her. He remembered her closeness and the smell of her fresh, clean hair. The show had ended. She suggested they go somewhere for a drink and Alex, his senses floating on the waves of her perfume, her smile, the adulation in her eyes, said, "Sure. Why not?" And the night dwindled into a blur.

Alex stared down at his camera bag. He'd given the film to Bren, maybe. But why? Why would he have done that? Why wasn't it in his bag?

"Cause you got drunk," he spat. "Damn it!"

He squinted up at the clock on the wall. Ten o'clock. He got to his feet, walked to the kitchen and downed three aspirin. He made coffee, feeling tense and jittery inside. He took the Bourbon off the shelf and hesitated over the coffee mug.

"Jesus," he said, putting the bottle back. "The hell's the matter with you? That's what got you into this mess."

He took a sip of coffee.

Dean's gonna fire me. That's what's gonna happen. And no one else'll pick me up. Not after this. Jesus. Maybe if I knew where we went. Did I give it to someone? I kinda remember holding it. I'm not sure though. I wonder if we went to the Last Chance? If we went to the Chance maybe Bird saw me give it to someone. But why in hell would you give someone the film, for Christ's sakes? And why would you take a chick like Bren to that hole?

"Oh, shit," he shook his head and looked again at the Bourbon bottle quietly resting on the shelf. "What the hell." He opened it quickly and poured a generous shot into his coffee. He drank and sighed slowly. There. Much better. Much, much better. Sweet.

He lighted a cigarette and the phone rang.

"Yeah."

"Hey, how you feeling?" Bren's voice bright.

"Hey, Bren. Doing ok. How you?"

"Great. Man, last night was a blast. You were so cool, man."

"Glad you had a good time," Alex said. Wish I was there.

"Look," she said. "You need help developing the rolls? I'd like to help."

Alex stared down at the cigarette burning in his hand. He felt suddenly like crying. "I'm not sure," he said. "I've gotta see Dean Roscoe at four. Sometime before then."

"Well, when? I'd really like to help. I mean, if that's ok and all. I don't want to get in your way or anything. It's just -"

"Jesus," Alex sighed.

"What? Hey, are you ok? Is something wrong?"

"Bren," Alex said. "I -"

"Is it something I did? Did I do something wrong?"

"No, no. Nothing like that. Don't think anything like that. You were great. Great." He sighed. If he could only remember. Where had they gone? "I'm just still waking up is all. Wild night, huh?"

"Oh, it was like a dream. Meeting Vickie and then the Sante Fe."

The Sante Fe. Yes! He remembered. They'd gone to the Sante Fe after the show for a few Coronas.

"Yeah," he said, brightening. "Great place." The Sante Fe. They opened at eleven thirty. If Tony was on he'd let Alex look around. Bren was talking but he hadn't heard her.

"I'm sorry. What?"

"I said your friend Bird is a great looking guy. I mean, that guy could be a movie star."

Bird. So they had gone to the Last Chance. If he gave the film to anyone it was Bird.

"Yeah," he said. "He's a great guy. I've known him for, like, a hundred years."

"So, what do you say? Can I help? I'd really like to."

"Sure, sure. No problem. How about one? My place."

"I'll be there."

Alex gave her directions and hung up. It was ten forty five. He'd go to the Chance first. Probably wasn't that drunk at the Sante Fe. And Bird's on today `cause Leon's vacationing. He remembered that. Ok. This could be all right.

He showered, shaved and dressed. Then he called Dean Roscoe. Marlene patched him through.

"Pritt. Where's the film?"

"And a good morning to you, too, Dean."

"Where's the film?"

"How about four o'clock?"

There was a pause on the line and then Dean spoke. "Fine. That's fine. Tell you the truth I was all ready to hear there was a problem."

"No problem at all. Bren's coming over at one and help me develop the rolls. She was a great help last night. Great girl."

"Glad to hear it."

"Yeah," Alex said. "So - four."

"Four. Hey, good job, Alex. I can't wait to see the product."

"Me too."

He hung up, grabbed his camera bag, and left. Vickie Holt's band was long gone, he was sure, but the star herself might still be relaxing at the Sheraton. He remembered that. The band was going on before her. He felt sure, now, that he would find the film; but if he didn't he'd better have something - like a few shots of the star reclining on her hotel sofa.

He pulled up in front of the hotel and ran in. Flashing his press pass at the front desk he asked, "Vickie Holt up yet? I've got an appointment."

"You got an appointment, you're out of luck," the clerk said. "She's up and two hours gone."

"No."

"Fraid so. Sorry."

Alex nodded and, sighing, walked out to his car. He felt a lump in his throat which he couldn't seem to swallow down and his stomach was tight and angry. What if he couldn't find it? What if - "Stop it," he whispered. "Stop."

A drink. That's what he needed. A shot. Just to calm his nerves. No. Not until you've got that film in Roscoe's hands. Then you can drink. Then you can shoot yourself for all he cares, remember? Take Bren out to dinner after. That'll work. Get to know her better. Damn, she's sweet.

Alex was getting a hard-on thinking about her. He stepped up to the phone booth near his car to call her and realized he didn't know her number. He didn't know why he wanted to call her suddenly. What am I doing? I gotta find that film. Bren'll come later. Find that film.

He ran his tongue around his gums. His teeth felt like dry, white stones baking on a desert highway. He shook and felt something tugging at his jaw. Just one drink wouldn't hurt. That shot in his coffee had done him good. Set him up right. It was almost twelve. Bird would set him up right. He hopped in his car and headed for the Last Chance.

The bar/restaurant wasn't open yet when he got there but he rapped on the window anyway. He knew someone would be in there setting up. Ron Burdick, known as Bird, opened the door and nodded at him. He was a tall man with dark hair and a bright smile.

"Alex," he said. "Didn't think you'd be looking so good today. You were pretty well oiled last night."

Alex walked past him and Bird shut the door and locked it.

"Sorry about last night," Bird said, striding toward the bar. "But I had to cut you off. You were getting a little rowdy."

Alex didn't remember that at all. "Sure," he said. "I understand. No problem."

He sat down on a stool and cleared his throat. He stared at all the bottles on the shelves across from him. Bird followed his stare and looked down at the bar.

"Bird? Did I -? Did you, uh, find some rolls of film here last night?"

"Nope," Bird said, standing tall behind the bar, looking into Alex's face.

Alex felt all the hope drain from him. Down from the top of his head, down his face, his arms, chest, down his legs, his toes, a tangible thing moving fast, down into the floor of the bar, down and down and down. He dropped his face into his hands and shook his head.

Bird looked down at him for a minute and then said, "I didn't find rolls of film. I didn't cut you off last night either. Though I should have."

Alex looked up at him. "What do you mean?"

"I told you I cut you off just now to see if you remembered the night. You don't, do you?"

"I - of course I do. I-" Alex felt the heat rise up in his cheeks. "I -"

Bird stared at him, arms crossed. Alex sighed and slumped against the bar.

"No," he said. "I don't. I don't remember a damned thing after the show. I don't even remember being here."

"I thought not," Bird said. He reached into his jacket pocket, took out three small, black canisters of film, and put them down before Alex on the bar. Alex stared at them then looked up at Bird.

"What the hell is this? What are you doing?"

"I took the film off you," Bird said.

"What the hell?" Alex stood up. "What the hell you do that for? Jesus Christ, Bird! It's not fucking funny."

"No, it's not," the tall man said, leaning back and crossing his arms again. "Not funny at all. You were knee-walking drunk last night, man. And it's not the first time. You were waving that film all over the place, yelling about how you had the exclusive pics of Vickie Holt's farewell concert and how you did her back in high school and she gave great head. Shit like that."

"I didn't."

"You sure did, my man."

Alex ran his hand over his face and shook his head. "Was Bren with me the whole time?"

"No," Bird said. He came around the bar and began setting chairs down on the floor. The room was dark and silent save for the short rap when the chair legs hit the wood of the floor. Bird paused and looked at Alex. "That all you can think of? That's all that bothers you about last night? Whether some chick was around to see you making an ass of yourself? That's all that bothers you?"

"No, not all. It's just -"

"She left around midnight," Bird said, returning to the chairs. "Wanted you to go home with her. She was a little drunk. Little flirty. You said you had to stay. Told her she was too tempting a treat. You didn't trust yourself to behave like a gentleman, you said, or some shit like that. She thought you were too cool. That's what she kept saying. How cool you were. What a real gentleman."

Alex nodded. He remembered that now. So cool. Right.

"I called her a cab," Bird said. "And once she was gone it was like someone pushed your `Asshole ON' button. Like I said, I should've cut you off."

"Yeah," Alex said. He looked down at the floor. He sighed, reached out, held a canister of film in his right fist.

Bird put the last of the chairs on the floor, walked over behind the bar, and began filling small, brown bowls with chips and pretzels.

"I'm sorry," Alex said, looking down at the film on the polished bar. "I - Jesus." He blew out a long sigh. "It won't happen again, Bird. Really."

"I know it won't," Bird said, putting down two bowls of chips. He placed his hands on the bar and looked at Alex. "At least it won't in here. You're cut off."

"What? Bird, hey, come on."

"Come on nothing. You come in here you can have water, coke, or ginger ale. That's it."

Alex shot up and glared into the other man's face. "What the hell's gotten into you? So I got a little drunk, so what? I was having fun. That's what people do in bars. You're a bartender. You should've maybe seen that once or twice."

"They don't get drunk like you get drunk, Alex."

"You're cutting me off after one night?"

"No," Bird said. "It's not one night. It's lots of nights. Should've done it long ago but you're a regular. I've known you a long time. And you're a hell of a nice guy and a hell of a talent and you've got a hell of a problem drinking. So I'm not serving you anymore juice."

Alex glared at him and wanted to hit him. He wanted to feel the man's face under his fists.

"Alex," Bird said, gently. "Do yourself a favor. Get some help."

"Fuck you, man," Alex said. "Who the hell do you think you are? Get some help. I don't have a problem, man. You've got the problem. I don't know what's made you such a tight-ass all of a sudden but -" Alex pocketed the film and turned away toward the door. "Fuck this. Fuck this and fuck you. I don't need this shit hole to drink in anyway. There's plenty of bars better than this around." He turned back a moment and said, "And I bet the bartenders there don't steal the customers fucking film either."

He marched to the door and yanked on it - but it was locked. He unlocked it angrily, pulled it open, and walked out. The October sun made the street seem sharp and brittle. Alex shielded his eyes and strode angrily to his car.

"What an asshole. What an asshole! Thinks he's fucking Dear Abby all of a sudden. Thinks he knows it all. He doesn't know jack shit."

Alex drove swiftly though the brittle streets of Sanford. His rage was like a tangible thing inside him, beneath his skin, shaking him, hurting inside like a hot soup he'd swallowed too fast. His hands shook as he fumbled a cigarette to his lips and lighted it.

A drink. That's what he needed. A drink. Not a fucking lecture on proper bar behavior. No. Gotta get home. I've got the film. Gotta get the dark room ready. Bren'll be there soon.

He stopped at the red light on Market and stared out down the street ahead of him. He felt the rage now jumping about inside his chest. His breath was coming in quick, short rasps and his teeth gritted and felt like old chalk in a dusty corner.

Fuck this. Who am I kidding? I can't work like this. I can hardly drive the fucking car.

The light went green and he drove straight, then around the block and parked in back of the Sante Fe. He got out and walked quickly in the back door. Tony was behind the bar.

"Hey, Mister Pritt," Tony said. "How's it hanging today?"

"Hey, Tony. Set me up, will ya?" Alex slapped a five on the bar.

"Will do," Tony said. He poured a mug of beer from the tap and set it before Alex. Then he poured him a shot of Bourbon and set it down next to the beer. It made a small tap on the bar and the amber liquor jiggled in the brightly polished shot glass.

"There's your poison," Tony said, smiling. He took the five away to the register.

Alex picked up the shot with shaking fingers and tossed it down his throat. He grabbed the mug and drank it quickly, then landed it hard on the bar. He sighed. The medicine was instantly at work. He felt his mind soften, his stomach relax with a quiet, comfortable glow. His teeth were there in his mouth but he suddenly had no need to take special notice of them. He smiled and slowly shook his head.

"Let's try that again, Tony," Alex said, slapping a twenty down on the bar.

"Hit the spot, hey, Mister Pritt?"

"You don't know, man. You just don't know."

Tony snatched the glasses up and walked away. Alex sat down easily on the stool and lit a cigarette. He looked around the room now, noticing the other people quietly having lunch. He checked his watch. It was almost one but he'd leave after this drink. It wasn't far to his place. Maybe he'd be a little late but so what? No biggie. Hell, he had to be in shape to work. And after what that scene with Bird had done to him he needed a drink or two just to calm down.

"Fucking Bird," he whispered, shaking his head. He laughed.

Tony put the beer and shot down in front of him and hurried off with the twenty. Alex picked up the shot and smiled. Down the bar he noticed a cute red head stirring her straw slowly in a half-empty glass of bright pink daiquiri. Little early in the day to be putting that amount away so fast, Alex thought.

“My kind of girl,” he whispered to the Bourbon, and took the shot then followed it with the beer. He signaled Tony and then moved down the bar toward the woman with her daiquiri.

“Hey, how’s it going,” he said. “Anyone ever tell you that you could pass for a country star?”

The woman smiled at him slightly, shook her head, looked back into the mirror behind the bar.

“Seriously,” Alex said to her. “This isn’t a line. I’m A.J. Pritt, photographer. Here’s my card.”
Joshua J. Mark is a freelance writer who has lived in Greece and Germany and presently lives in upstate New York, USA, with his family. His published works include `The Artifice of Eternity' through Diddle Dog, `Hemingway's Birthday' through Espresso Fiction and `The Cottage' through Writer's Journal, as well as other stories through print and online. Mark is also a site moderator for and has been published in Ancient History Encyclopedia, where he writes primarily on Mesopotamia, Greece and Egypt; Suite 101, writing on Ancient Philosophy and Ancient History; and inspirational non-fiction through Angels on the Earth and Pure Inspirational Thoughts.com. His poem `The Hamster' appears in Asinine Poetry and he is also a songwriter registered with BMI. Mark holds advanced degrees in both English and Philosophy. He is a part-time teacher of philosophy and writing at Marist College where he is a recipient of the Faculty of the Year Award.

© 2011, Joshua J. Mark