Powder Burn Flash # 362 - M. G. Allen
Three Steves, One Dead
Steve Draven, a quiet man, didn’t start conversations with strangers even at his neighborhood bar. This guy was a talker. He saddled into a stool and just started oozing small talk. Luckily, Steve Draven could fake friendliness just enough as to not seem like a dick.
After a few minutes of unremarkable banter, the guy asked him his name. He told him: Steve Draven.
“Weeeell,” he said, bemused. “It’s always great to meet another Steve. I’m Steve Paulson!”
Two Steves at a bar. How cute, how sickeningly cute like the guy’s inane chatter.
“What are the odds?”
“Strange odds.” said Steve Paulson, taking a slow thoughtful pull from his beer. “Is Steve that common of a name? I could see maybe two guys named John meeting like this but…Steve? This has to be a very unique coincidence.”
Steve Paulson went on to prattle about all the Steves he knew when laughter erupted from the end of the bar.
It was the guy on the laptop, a younger guy wearing a jogging getup He smiled widely raising his hand like a school kid.
“Add one more to the Steve Club.” He said. “I’m Steve Winslow.”
“You’re shittin’ me!” said Draven.
“’Fraid not. I’ve been a Steve all my life!”
Steve Paulson whooped with disbelief. Steve Draven snapped his fingers at him and asked for identification.
Steve Winslow felt around the waistband of his pants and quickly said, “My wallet is out in the car. I just popped in here to use the Wi-Fi. They all know me.”
“I trust him,” said Steve Paulson.
When the bartender returned from the back with fresh glasses, Draven explained the situation and asked her to verify the guy’s name.
“I don’t know his name.” she said and added, “My last boyfriend was named Steve. He died in a car accident last Thursday.”
“Sorry to hear that,” said Steve Paulson.
Draven felt a sink of fear.
“Damn, guys, what if this is a bad omen?” blurted Draven, after the bartender disappeared into the back. “Her boyfriend died, just last week. Doesn’t that seem like some kind of omen?”
“I try not to think about omens. But coincidences…those I can get a handle on. Just drink your beer, man.”
“There are three of us,” said Winslow. “That’s the funny thing. The number three has always had a kind of magical significance, especially in religion, like the Holy Trinity. Many other religions regard the number three as magical.”
“Everything happens in threes,” added Draven eerily. “Even death.”
“Hey. Whoa,” said Paulson. “Freaky things happen sometimes. This is merely a case of three guys at a bar named Steve.”
“And one dead Steve,” said Draven standing up, sliding his stool back. He tossed a few bills on the bar. “Too freaky for my tastes.”
He walked out.
* * *
Draven couldn’t get the episode out of his mind. Growing up, his older brother always told him he was quick to jump to conclusions, sometimes calling him outright paranoid. Draven considered it an asset. Suspicion kept his senses alert. It helped him stay on task at work even though it cost him social points. He was used to being misunderstood.
Paranoia was in high gear now. He started carrying his gun again. Just in case.
He minded his speed when he drove. Died in a car wreck. He had always scoffed at those flaky Shirley MacLaine types. But this time he knew something ominous was at work.
Three Steves. That magical number.
Three plus death.
Thursday was just two days away. On his way home from work he cruised by the bar. No Steves. The next day, Wednesday, he peeked in and saw the jogger/laptop dude perched at the end of the bar.
Draven was pretty sure the guy had been lying. He couldn’t prove his name was Steve. There was a certain strange, aloof air about Winslow, like a brainy trickster messing with two simpletons for kicks.
Draven waited outside.
When Winslow exited with his laptop case around his shoulder, Draven trotted up to him.
“How about letting me see that ID now?”
“What? You’re still obsessing over that?”
“Yes. This is serious. One of us could die, man!”
“You’re insane! Leave me alone.”
Draven whipped out the gun, jabbed it into Winslow’s side and began pushing him towards the parking lot.
“Be a good boy. Get your wallet then you can go about your merry way, all right?”
The hanging laptop case momentarily dislodged the gun from his side, long enough for him to whip around and grab the barrel. Draven’s compulsive nature struck again as he squeezed the trigger, sending a hot bullet into his own chest.
Winslow let the fat man fall to the ground. He was fazed for only a minute. He whipped out his wallet which was secured in the waist band of his jogging pants.
He held his driver’s license out over Draven’s face.
“Happy now? See it? Steve Winslow!”
But Draven’s dead eyes couldn’t register it.
BIO: Matthew Gregory Allen (M.G.Allen) has a story, "A Man Exploding," appearing in the fall issue of Mysterical E. He took a long hiatus from writing to teach ESL in Asia. He plans to return to the US next April and get cracking on querying his novel around. For now, he's pounding out short fiction.