Chapter 55

                Despite the strange new self-directed training regimen and monthly tests, slowly the Lander seniors began to fall into habit with their new schedule, as they did every year. September’s exam passed without significant incident, pitting them together in teams to hunt down a few Sims representing high-damage criminal Supers, and the air turned chilly as October made its arrival known. While people were bundling up outdoors, inside the newly opened Six Shooter coats were tossed aside and forgotten, as the constant crush of bodies and ample alcohol left everyone warmer than the inside of a toaster.

                Roy looked out on the sea of partying college students happily from his position at the side-bar. Roger had offered to move he and Chad to the main area, as they were now among his more senior staff, but the duo had elected to continue running their own smaller section by themselves. Between Chad’s efficiency and Roy’s charm, they were able to churn through nearly as many customers as the bigger spaces, and they didn’t have to worry about any of the newer kids getting in their way. Roy had been seriously concerned that an explosion going off inside the club would have kept people away, even after it re-opened. He, Chad, and Alice would be fine, there were always other service jobs out there to fill, but Roger was a good man who didn’t deserve to have his livelihood fall apart.

                That concern turned out to be utterly unfounded. If anything, Six Shooter was busier than it had ever been before. These were the students who’d come back to Lander after the Sons of Progress attack, though. Anyone who scared easily, or rationally, was long-gone from the college, which meant this group was the sort to spit in the eye of people trying to drive them away. It was a sentiment that Roy appreciated so much that he even poured the drinks a little heavier, at least for the beginning of the night.

                “Holy crap, these new girls are way better than I was when I started.” Alice plopped into an empty seat, setting down an empty bottle of well whiskey, which Chad immediately took away and replaced with a full one. The shots were evidently flowing freely tonight.

                “Really? Our new bartenders aren’t as impressive,” Roy replied. While the customers had returned in droves, the wait staff had effectively been cut in half since Six Shooter’s closing. This was less a casualty of the fire and explosion than it was a far more predictable, insidious enemy to a college town’s bar workers: graduation. Just as they all hoped to be gone next year, so too had their predecessors graduated college and moved on. Granted, many of them were still bartending, just in different towns, but they left holes in the roster than needed to be filled.

                “Aside from Chad, have you ever met a bartender you considered impressive?” Alice asked.

                “He even complains about me,” Chad threw in. “Despite the fact that my pours are near-perfect.”

                “It’s not about perfection, it’s about style,” Roy shot back. He filled a glass with water and a few ice cubes, setting it down before Alice who promptly drained the thing half-dry.

                “Thanks.” Alice took a breath, then polished off the rest of her water in one go. It was a hectic night, all the more so because she was trying to watch over the new shot girls just as Angela had watched over her. Well, not exactly the same way. Alice’s method involved a lot less cursing and threats.

                Roy did a quick round of checking in with the people sitting at his and Chad’s bar, making sure everyone was topped off and having fun. His job was more the latter, Chad was as precise in tracking his customers need for new drinks as he was at everything else he did. While Roy was scoping things out, though, he noticed a woman staring at him from across the dance floor. That in itself wasn’t something Roy considered remarkable, he’d come a long way in a lot of areas but his ego still had a mind of its own.

                What did strike him as strange was that he was almost certain he’d seen her glancing over several times already. That was a bit peculiar. As a bartender, he was the easiest person in the entire building to come talk to; all she had to do was order a beer. Even that he might have dismissed, if not for the fact that there was something familiar about her. The black dress and wavy brown hair didn’t ring any bells, and it was hard to get a good look at her face from across a crowded bar, but all the same something in Roy’s gut told him he’d seen that girl before. Once upon a time, it was the sort of feeling he’d dismiss as coincidental, or at most curious. After everything his group had gone through, however, Roy now found such sentiments to be cause for caution.

                “Hey Alice.” Roy kept his tone the same as before, impossible to hear over the racket of voices and loud country music. He did angle himself slightly away from where he’d last seen the girl, so that his mouth was impossible to read. “There’s a gal who keeps eyeing me over near the east bathrooms. Brown hair and a black dress that doesn’t fit the theme here. When you’re doing the rounds, can you take a peek and see if she looks familiar to you?”

                “Since when do you need my help scooping up women at a bar?” Alice’s joking smile faded as she caught sight of the serious look in Roy’s eyes. “Something up?”

                “Probably not. Got an admirer who seems familiar but I can’t place. Odds are it’s just a girl I chatted up who didn’t stick out in my mind. All the same…”

                “Yeah, I understand.” Alice picked up her tray of Jell-O shots, slipped the full bottle of whiskey into her left holster, and walked back out into the sea of drinking partiers.

                Roy tried to watch her go, but the hole she left was quickly filled by thirsty patrons, and a little paranoia was no excuse for not doing his job. He popped the tops of beers and poured well-cocktails methodically, smiling and making chit-chat while barely hearing the words anyone spoke. He’d lost sight of both Alice and the mystery girl, despite combing the bar with his eyes at every opportunity. Finally, the familiar blonde figure of Alice Adair appeared from the ocean of bodies, making her way back over to the bar.

                Before he could even ask, Alice shook her head. “Nothing. I thought I saw someone who fit your description for a second, but then I got swarmed by a group wanting shots, and by the time I was able to look again she was gone. Did a full sweep around the place, no other sightings.”

                “Thanks anyway,” Roy replied. “It’s probably nothing. Just a shy lady who couldn’t muster up the courage to come talk to the walking Adonis that is Roy Daniels.” Beneath the bravado, Roy truly hoped the words were true, despite the bitter taste of doubt they left on his tongue.