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The Blind Pig

a short story by Tom Mabe

As has happened to many young and burgeoning cities before and after it, Seattle
once burned to the ground. In 1889, on a warm June day, a glue pot in a downtown
cabinet maker’s shop was accidentally knocked over, starting a fire. The fire grew quickly
in the dusty and wood-chip strewn shop, engulfing a nearby paint store before spreading
to the surrounding buildings, feeding on the mostly timber construction of Douglas fir
and cedar hewed from the Cascade Mountains. The fire burned smoky and hot all
afternoon and when the day turned to night, a soft orange glow, like a sunset, could be
seen from as far away as Tacoma, 30 miles south. When at last the final ember was
extinguished sometime the following morning, nearly 30 city blocks were destroyed and,
thankfully, so said residents of the time, countless rats and other vermin were dispatched.
At once, atop the smoldering ruins, construction began on a bigger and sturdier,
and most importantly, more fire-resistant city of brick and stone. New buildings went up
with zeal and keen city officials wisely required that all new structures be one and two
levels higher than the previous street level - the better to ensure toilets wouldn’t back-up
during high tide on Elliot Bay. The handful of buildings that survived the fire for a time
carried on their trade as the streets enclosed above, but eventually they were forced to
move their ground floor businesses to the second floor, abandoning the now hidden lower
level to vagabonds, prostitution and repopulated rats.
Today, one of the few remnants of that time is the occasional square of downtown
sidewalk with small glass blocks embedded in the cement, literal skylights to the ruined
city below. Another, less known remnant, is the Blind Pig Tavern. It occupied one of the
below ground rooms for a period as a speakeasy during prohibition years. Then, after
women got the vote and the Suffragettes vacated their campaign office, the Blind Pig
moved up from the basement and took over the street level store to distribute alcohol
legitimately. In headier times the Pig was the place to go if you were Irish, broke your
back making a living and wanted a good glass of whiskey to end the day. Now, it is
dilapidated, seedy and the place to go only when there is no where else to go. It is all but
forgotten, except by a small contingent of old-timer regulars.
It can be said that, aside from its survival of the Great Seattle Fire, there are but
two remarkable features about the Blind Pig Tavern: the big oak bar and the two
tournament quality pool tables in the back of the room. The big oak bar is perhaps the
most striking, as it cannot be ignored: dark-stained and ornate, it juts out from the far wall
like the prow of a vast ship that has run aground, dividing the interior space nearly in
half. The requisite array of bar stools, beer taps, hard liquor bottles and dusty upside-
down hanging wine and cognac glasses adorn the perimeter.
Jimmy, the owner of the Pig, sat on a stool behind the big oak bar with a grim
expression on his face: like an embittered captain of a once great ship, now rusting and
barnacle laden and about to ram an iceberg, yet foolishly steaming ahead. Judging by the
sparse number of patrons on a Friday afternoon, the ship has already hit the iceberg and
begun taking on water. Two hardened-looking guys with blackened hands sat at one end
of the bar talking in harsh whispers over beer. A very large man reading a tattered bible
sat alone at a table, his rear-end wrapping over and around the thin wafer of a chair seat
as if it were a large pile of sourdough resting atop a bread maker’s scale. A fourth man,

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with stringy unwashed hair hanging loosely off his forehead, was seated on a crooked
stool, muttering, only a few spots down from where Jimmy sat.
Jimmy looked up as the front door opened and sent a glare of late afternoon sun
into the bar. Two men and a woman entered. They were clean-cut, preppy types and
Jimmy grunted at their sight. They were young and they looked like they wanted to play
pool.
One of the men came up to order some drinks, bringing the girl with him. She
reminded Jimmy of the girl that ran off with his boy, J.J. Her breasts pulled tightly against
her shirt and there was too much black shit around her eyes. She smiled a lot and her
perfume made him think of teenage sex. He looked to the man and waited.
The man, with a scrub of stubble along his cheeks and chin, and thick, but trim,
eyebrows, asked for whiskey and two glasses, with ice. The man’s hands were
ridiculously clean to Jimmy’s eye; the skin looked smooth and seemed to gleam even in
the dim light of the bar, each nail ended in a perfect edge. Young professionals, thought
Jimmy, and remembered a time when a group like this stayed the hell away from a joint
like the Pig. Now they came looking for some local color, hoping to go back to work the
next day with a story to tell. Jimmy got the man a bottle of Jameson’s and two shot
glasses. He didn’t bother explaining about the lack of ice.
Nodding toward the back where the third person of the group was looking over
one of the pool tables, Jimmy said to leave some ID if any rounds were to be played. “If
you fuck up one my tables, I want somebody to pay for it.”
“Yeah, of course, no problem,” said the man as he dropped a credit card on the
flecked bar top. Jimmy caught that the man’s name was Ted. “We’re just looking to play a
few games. We won’t damage anything.”
Jimmy didn’t care what the man said; they all said the same thing when they came
in: they want to play some rounds and drink. And lately more and more of these types had
been showing up, wanting to see his tables. And laughing at his regulars.
“Hey, you got a menu or something? My mom used to make good corned beef. I
could go for some right about now.”
Jimmy looked him over, suspicious. He figured they were already screwing with
him. The man had a big smile that showed too many teeth. Looking around, and probably
noticing that where the kitchen once stood was darkened and empty, the man, Ted, said,
“That’s cool. I was told somewhere this place had good Irish food.”
Jimmy shook his head. “I shut the kitchen down a few years ago.” Then he sat
back down on his stool and picked up the paper.
The girl spoke then. “Can I get a dirty martini? With extra olives?”
Jimmy looked at her but didn’t move.
“Please,” she added, looking right at him and smiling.
Jimmy couldn’t remember the last girl that could hold his stare: his boy’s wife
most likely, though they weren’t married back then. The girls, the young ones anyway,
were the worst about it, he thought, and it made him shake his head in disgust. A hard-
liner and coarse, Jimmy looked as if he’d been through hell and back but forgot to take
his shit-kickers with him – his nose was mashed and hung slightly to one side and he had
a glass eye that filled the soft pocket of flesh where his left eye once nested. Staring at the
girl, he could feel a remnant of irritable muscle in his cheek popping around and knew

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the glass orb was jumping a bit with it. To the weak of mind, it made a person take an
involuntary step back, but this girl didn’t move, or look away, and it pissed him off.
Jimmy looked at the man instead and told him he wasn’t a bar monkey and didn’t
mix drinks like that. At this, the girl smiled knowingly, like she just got what she wanted,
then shrugged her shoulders and asked for a Killian’s Red. Jimmy got up and gave it to
her without saying anything more.
The man laid down some cash and turned away with the girl and liquor. Jimmy sat
down again on his cracked vinyl stool and sighed.
“Mother fuckers,” said the stringy haired regular seated nearby.
Jimmy laughed, it was a deep-throated laugh, and dry, like a diesel engine in idle.
“At least they can pay for their drinks, unlike you bastards.”
The regular had stupid eyes and couldn’t keep a job for more than a week, so he
went silent and stared again at his beer. Jimmy thought about his eye. How it was poked
out and his nose was busted when a big chunk of fir tree fell off a logging truck and
caught him across the face in ‘67. It took a while to recover but he got a real good glass
eye and claimed to have reset the nose himself. Then in ‘68, when a man could do
something with 15G’s in his pocket, he used the money the timber company gave him for
his mutilated eye and he bought the Blind Pig Tavern before a bunch of hippy
woodworkers could turn it into some kind of crafts gallery. Anybody willing to listen
knew one of Jimmy’s fondest memories growing up was hanging around the downtown
waterfront, waiting for his Pops to come out of the Pig smiling and smelling of corned
beef and whiskey after a shift stamping sheet metal for Boeing. He’d be damned if he
was going to stand aside as some sawdust-sniffing fringies buried his Pops’ drunken
memories under their hand-fashioned wares. Times were good for awhile, until his boy
J.J. fucked it all up.
Jimmy looked up from his paper and watched the two men play pool. The one
called Ted reminded him of J.J. He held his stick and lined up his shots in the same
manner, loose and casual, like he wasn’t worried about anything, then he would nail the
cue ball with confidence. The kid played the angles too, like J.J., over the easier straight
line shots. Jimmy liked that this guy seemed to take pride in the game.
The other boy, a red-headed fellow, looked troublesome. He had an overall floppy
appearance that tried to hide the fact that he had a softening physique. His sagging
button-down shirt was barely tucked in and his gray khaki’s hung loosely off his ass so
that Jimmy could see the top of the man’s undershorts. He had on a pair of scuffed and
worn brown loafers that looked a size too big for his feet. His hair was more ambitious. It
wasn’t long, finger length maybe, but it was thick, a deep red, and he brushed it up in a
kind of wavy coif that made Jimmy think of hot steam rising.
The guy was still wearing sunglasses too. The kind Jimmy imagined pro-athletes
liked to wear when kicking back. This guy wasn’t a pro though. He didn’t know how to
handle the stick, letting the tip come dangerously close to gouging the felt on his hits and
bumping the table as he moved. It was agonizing to watch him play and he wanted to slap
the sunglasses off the man’s face.
The girl sat off to the side drinking her Killian’s, occasionally holding the bottle
up and examining the label. Between sips her interest seemed to lie on the pool tables. No
doubt, Jimmy figured, she wondered why the tables were here, like a clean spot on the
cheek of a child just in from playing with mud.

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Jimmy bought the tables back in the ‘80’s after his boy left town. A few years
before that, on a rainy Sunday afternoon in the ‘70’s, Jimmy and his 11 yr. old boy,
Jimmy Jr., sat in front of the T.V. and watched a showing of “The Hustler” while sharing
a can of beer. Perhaps as a result of the beer or maybe because he’d never been invited to
watch anything with his father before, ‘J.J.’, as the senior Jimmy called the boy, felt an
amiable connection with his old man, and asked with mild enthusiasm about the game of
pool. Jimmy smiled and nodded his head, then took the boy under his wing and through
his tutelage, taught him how to play.
J.J. was like his old man, a real scrapper of kid, a fighter that got a kick out of
busting on schoolmates for lunch money and candy, and the pool playing seemed to calm
the boy down to the point where he became a bit of a prodigy, winning trophies and
tournaments and doing better in school because of it. The boy graduated high school - the
first of the Farrell clan to do so – and for a time, worked the kitchen at the Pig to save
some cash for school. Jimmy said the boy made the best corned beef too, the way his
Pops liked it, salty with big chunks of onion. Jimmy got to thinking and developed high
hopes for his kid: college, a well-paying job, games of pool. But the Protestant waitress
who worked the pub got in the way, and before Jimmy could fire the girl, his boy fell in
love and succumbed to her advice to quit the Pig, go to culinary school and give up
Catholicism so they could get married in her parent’s church like proper Christians. This
didn’t sit well with Jimmy, so he and J.J.’s mother, before the cancer took her, tried to talk
some sense into the boy: not to turn his back on his church for a piece of ass and that,
without the Catholics, there would be no Christians. But the kid wouldn’t listen to reason
and took off with his girl soon after, not looking back. Some 20 years later, Jimmy kept
hoping J.J. would show up one day at the Pig, ready to reconcile over a game of 8-ball.
From one of the Brunswicks there was an awkward knock, different from the
general clacking and clunking of balls, like someone pounded a fist against the slate top,
and though he had only the one good eye, Jimmy still had two good ears and the sound
brought him out of his thought. He stood up from behind the big oak bar, scraping the
stool on the dirtied linoleum floor, and glared at the red-headed boy. The boy looked over
and waved back at Jimmy like everything was OK.
“Hey boy! Don’t fuck around with my tables!” Jimmy hollered at him.
This made the other guy, Ted, say something to the red-headed boy that Jimmy
couldn’t hear and it made him take an involuntary glance under the bar where he kept a
blackened wooden bat his Pops had given him. Ted then started over to the bar.
As he approached, Jimmy watched him with his one good eye, the right one, and
spread his feet apart wide, for better balance. Ted was smiling his toothy smile again.
“He’s just pissed because he’s never been able to beat me,” Ted said when he got
close, pointing his thumb back toward his buddy. Then he started laughing, “He’s on a
three year losing streak with me.”
“You boys aren’t fucking up my Brunswicks, are you? Making cuts and gouges
in the felt?” Jimmy said, more statement than question. He had his arms crossed but let
them drop down and dangle loosely at his sides like a boxer might during a weigh-in. He
was maybe four inches shorter than the this guy, Ted, and twice his age but his body was
all scrap and iron with the build of a brawler: stout, barrel-chested frame with tense and
twitchy muscles, ready to leap and lay down a pummeling if he thought it necessary.

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“No. No,” Ted said quickly, shaking his head, still smiling. Then, “Kev’s a little
excitable, that’s all. He takes the losing personal but he won’t do anything to the tables.”
He tried to back this up by looking Jimmy in the eye, but faltered after a couple
seconds, letting his gaze wander to a point somewhere on the furrowed brick wall behind
Jimmy. After a moment, Ted looked back. Jimmy’s eye was still on him.
“Tell that chubby boy over there to watch what he does with the stick, huh? I
don’t want to have to toss you boys out.”
Ted nodded his assurance, and Jimmy studied him a moment longer, making sure
he wasn’t being fucked with, then glanced over to the two Brunswicks again where the
red-head was racking the balls for another game. For a moment Jimmy seemed to be
watching both boys at once, his clear right eye focused on the red-head while the hand-
painted, blue-iris, left eye scrutinized Ted standing in front of him. Satisfied then that his
message was clear, he relaxed and made a motion with his hand, “Another drink then?”
Ted said they were still working on the whiskey and went back to the table.
Jimmy felt he could use a drink and got himself a Killian’s and popped the cap off. His
belly had felt suddenly irritable and hot, like a smoky fire had been lit, and he meant to
snuff it out with the cold beer. He took a long swallow. It tasted good, smooth, and it
made him wonder why he didn’t drink more of it. He nodded at the bottle in his hand
with the idea to have another.
Not too long after finishing the second bottle of Killian’s he heard the red-head
boy yell out, “Dammit!”
Jimmy looked up in time to see one of the balls fly off the table, clack against the
ground, bounce up and roll to a stop somewhere back towards the toilets. The red-head
then flung his stick across the pool table, clattering it against the remaining balls. He
thumped his body against the table and banged his fists down on the felt top. “I give up! I
can’t play this game.”
Jimmy sat and stared for a moment, disbelieving the red-head’s idiocy. He sat
long enough that they had fetched the errant cue-ball and started another game. They
went to talking about something too, baseball maybe.
Without saying anything, he got off his stool and picked up the stub-ended bat
from under the bar. It was chipped and dented along the fat end and had long ago been
cut down to about ¾ the length of a normal bat. Jimmy held it low, near his waist with a
freckled, knobby fist. It felt good in his hand, heavy and solid.
He walked around the far end of the bar and headed for the Brunswicks. As
Jimmy neared, he could hear they were indeed talking about baseball and Ted ask the red-
head if anyone called him “Napalm” anymore.
“Only the poor bastard that follows me into the bathroom after a night of beer and
mez-i-can,” he replied.
Jimmy came up behind him then and the chubby boy turned. His mouth was open,
laughing at his own joke. Jimmy noticed he had the big, yellow-tinted teeth that red-
heads so often have. Looking at this, Jimmy swung his bat and felt the silent hum in his
hand as it connected.
A splotch of blood splashed against Jimmy’s cheek and brow, momentarily
blinding him. He sensed the red-head go down on one knee, clutching his face. Jimmy
wiped at his good eye with the back of his hand then brought the stub bat up for another
swing.

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Jimmy pictured the red-head like a rotted out Cedar as he struck the boy again.
The barrel of the bat hit like the sharpened head of an axe into the wooden flesh of a tree.
“I bought those tables for J.J.” Jimmy said.