My regulars murmured to each other as the game progressed. We rarely had anywhere near this much energy in the bar. I kept Tommy supplied with fresh beer, and before long he had the teddy bear down to a single remaining cup. Several other patrons were already jostling and queuing up to take his place.
“If your opponent makes the last cup, you get two shots for rebuttal,” Tommy announced to the surrounding patrons. “You get your ball back for each shot you make, but after two misses, you lose. If you clear your opponent’s cups in rebuttal, it’s sudden death mode – one cup each.” Tommy’s second shot landed in the teddy bear’s final cup with a splash, and several patrons cheered mildly. The bear missed both his rebuttal shots and dejectedly gulped down the remainder of his vodka and honey.
Tommy intercepted the bear as he waddled away across the floor. “Good game, bro,” he said, holding his hand down towards the top of the bear’s head. After a moment, the teddy bear reached up and shook the proffered hand. It seemed less glum as it ordered another drink from me.
The next hour was one of the busiest I have ever seen at Flotsam. As I poured and shook out drinks for those standing in line for pong, I watched the grin on Tommy’s face grow as he defeated challenger after challenger. A second table quickly opened up to accommodate the rush of interest. Ten minutes later, Tommy had wiped down the old chalkboard on one of the walls and had a tournament organized. There was one tense moment when several warty amphibian mercenaries almost came to blows with a battle droid that refused to disable its automatic targeting software, but Tommy cleverly solved the issue by setting up a separate bracket system for electronic patrons.
Three hours later, my arms were sore from shaking and muddling and Tommy was draped over a bar stool. Most of the patrons had happily filed out of the bar, chatting excitedly in various tongues about the new game. A plastic crown was perched precariously on Tommy’s head and a half-full can of beer was resting on the bar in front of his head. I took the opportunity to duck around from behind the bar and clean up the scattered red cups.
“Fun night?” I asked when Tommy finally raised his head from the counter.
Tommy nodded groggily. “I was on fire, man,” he said wonderingly. “I’ve never played so well in my life. Even against those blobs that could bend their arms any way they wanted. Seriously, best night of my life.”
I smiled. “It sounds like you accomplished your goal,” I said.
Tommy gave me an utterly confused look. “You were looking forward to this night because you wanted it to be the best thing in your life,” I explained. “From the sound of things, it was a pretty good night.”
After a moment of consideration, Tommy nodded to himself. “You know, I think you’re right,” he said, the realization doing a much better job of sobering him up than any number of cups of coffee. He reached up and straightened his baseball cap. “I actually feel way better than I did earlier today.” He turned to look over his shoulder at the door. “I think it might be time for me to head out. Can you call a cab or something?”
“No cab necessary,” I replied. “Once you step out that door, you’ll be right where you need to be.” I tucked his beer can away under the bar.
Tommy stood up from the stool, but paused before he strode towards the door. Bittersweet realization bloomed on his face. “I’m not going to ever come back to this place, will I?” he asked, glancing around at the few remaining patrons still nursing their drinks.
I shrugged one shoulder in a well-practiced motion. “If we don’t see you again in here, it means that you’re on the right track,” I replied, dodging the question with the ease of years of practice. “Flotsam is always there for those who need it.”
I saw the young man’s lips twitch upward, as if the evasive answer was nothing more than what he had expected. “Until the next pong tournament then,” he said, stepping out through the door. For an instant, I saw another bar on the other side of the open door, this one filled with similarly attired men swinging bottles in their hands and singing. A single bar drifted through the door as Tommy left, only to be cut off as the door closed. I knew if I rushed to it now and opened it wide, I would see nothing.
Picking up my rag, I started wiping down some of the empty glassware. One lone ping-pong ball drifted slowly towards me on the counter, carried by a spreading puddle of gently fizzing beer. I picked it up and casually tossed it over my shoulder, towards the other end of the bar. I didn’t have to turn around to know that it had landed perfectly in the last remaining red solo cup.
Ah, just another evening in Flotsam. And that one wasn’t even the wildest. In fact, it was pretty tame compared to that time when the priest- but that’s a tale for another time.