The Man Who Lived Up The Chimney
They bustled into the bar, the snow and wind howling through the open doorway too, making it hard to close the door behind them. The warmth seemed to hit them, a welcome relief from the arctic conditions that they had endured on their short walk from the hotel. In the centre of the room a large open plan fireplace poured fourth heat, as the fresh logs crackled and spit noisily amongst the ashes.
Tony crossed to the bar, taking off the thick coat he wore as he went. Tracy, too, removed her coat, and found a seat close, but not too close, to the fire.
The barman was friendly and actually insisted on shaking Tony's hand, a custom he had not encountered since leaving Germany several years earlier. He introduced himself, saying that he and his young wife were staying at the nearby hotel, and the barman introduced himself as Alfie.
"Honeymoon?" Asked Alfie.
"No, no. That was last year. No, we`re just on holiday."
"Well Canada can be a beautiful place to visit," ventured the barman. "But I reckon you could have chosen a better time of year."
"But this is how we always picture Canada back in England." Tracy said. "If it was hot and sunny it wouldn`t seem right."
Tony brought the drinks across to the table and they made themselves comfortable as the warmth soaked back into their bodies.
"I like the old black and white photos on the walls." Tracy said to the barman. "Do they all have a history?"
"Some more than others." Replied Alfie. "They`re all local sights though. Beautiful in the right weather conditions." He started to point several out, explaining where the place was in relation to the bar.
"And what`s that old shack there then?" Tracy asked.
A couple of the customers at the bar stopped talking and looked expectantly at Alfie at this point. He became somewhat sad, but pulled a chair up and sat down.
"Well that photo has more history in it than the majority of all the others put together." He started. "You see the way the mountains rise sharply on each side of the photo? The locals call that crag 'The Devils Chimney'."
"Who would want to live in such a place?" The girl asked.
"Well, not the Devil in this case I can assure you. Almost the opposite to be fair to the man. His name was Ben. We all came to know his as 'old Ben', though the children called him 'the man who lived up the chimney.' He has a story all of his own. If I`m going to tell it, I`ll need to get myself a drink." And he stood up.
"Here, I`ll get you one," offered Tony, but Alfie just smiled and turned towards the bar.
Tracy turned to her husband to say something, but he held up his hand to stop her, gently shaking his head. When Alfie returned, Tony could see why he had refused the offer of a drink - He had returned with a whole bottle of bourbon, 40 ounces as the Canadians call them.
"Well, where to start." Alfie mumbled. "Ben was a cop. By all accounts he was a good cop, and by that I mean honest. No easy achievement when you find out that he was brought up in New York, and that`s where he worked his beat. Every day he was dealing with death, beatings, rape - you name it. You think London is tough where you come from? New York is like another planet. But Ben was tough, and he never let it get to him."
The story paused as Alfie carefully, lovingly, broke the seal on the bottle and poured himself a very stiff measure.
"In some ways for Ben, things would have been better for him if life had always gone on like that. But Ben met Angie." The barman took a swift swallow as if the memory of the girl needed to be drowned in alcohol.
"She was cruel to him?" Tracy asked. "Did she corrupt him?"
Alfie looked her straight in the eyes before continuing. "Lady, you ain`t even close. Angie was beautiful. She was everything and more that a man like Ben, any man, could want. No, she didn`t corrupt him. She taught him how to love, to live. She showed him there was more to life than patrolling the streets you had been brought up on. You know, up until Ben met her, he had barely travelled fifty miles from the city centre in his life! He would have done anything for that girl. He told me once how she had had to persuade him on several occasions not to hang up his badge for her. He was in love."
Another huge swallow from the glass seemed to help the barmans voice, which seemed to have become choked in the telling of the story so far.
"I haven`t even begun to give their love any justice." He continued. "They used to make love for hours, not just sex like some people have you understand, but really give themselves to each other. He used to wash her hair, cook for her. They would stay awake all night sometimes just touching each other and whispering, telling how they felt."
"So what went wrong?" Tracy cut in. "If they loved each other that much, what went wrong?"
This time, two huge gulps were called for, and now the pain of telling the story was apparent on the old barmans face. "Ben told me this story so many times. So Many. She was married. Angie that is. They had to sneak about to see each other. What was worse was the fact that her husband treated her rough. He didn`t hit her or nothing like that, but he had no respect - even used to go with other women!"
"So why didn`t Ben just take her away from all of that? It must have killed him to watch it all happen."
"Because blood is supposed to be thicker than water, my dear!"
"What? I don`t...."
"Angie was married to his brother!" Alfie knocked back the remainder of the glass and filled it again. The story wasn`t over.
"Well, all good things come to an end they say. Well Angie certainly came to an end. Ben could never prove it of course, nor could the cops, but somebody sure put her lights out." Another swallow. "Though not before brutally raping and beating her."
Tracy gasped and put her hand over her mouth. When she turned to Tony she was surprised to see tears in his eyes. "What happened?" He whispered.
"Nothing. At least not for quite a while. Ben wasn`t allowed on the case of course. In fact he was even a suspect at one stage. Some of the force had know what had been going on, you know how these things get around. And then, one day, two years later, his brother Ian is found dead. Ben never told me the details of that one, and I never asked. He handed his badge in pretty soon after, and moved up here. Far as I know he never loved another person before or after Angie, and he lived a very lonely existence up in them hills, right in that shack he built with his own hands."
When Tracy turned she to Tony again, he was crying openly. "Where is Ben now?" He managed.
The barmans glass was empty again now, and as if bored with the pleasantries of drinking from it, he took a large pull from the bottle. "You missed old Ben by a matter of weeks son. He died. He now resides in the town cemetery.
"So, that`s the story of old Ben, God rest his soul. Now what brings you folks out here."
To Tracys utter surprise Tony said, "Well, to tell you the truth, I had come to kill a man. But I`ve never heard the full story of why my father was killed - killed before I was even a year old. Now that I have, I`m going to go the cemetery tomorrow and put some flowers on my uncles grave."