Excerpt: Midnight

Brandon shuffled through the doors of the bar. Back when he’d first moved to Boston, it had been a sleazy pool hall. Of course, that had been back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The whole neighborhood had been pretty sleazy, he remembered almost fondly, with ratty stores and ratty restaurants and actual rats the size of raccoons. There had been a closed-down nightclub—vacant for years by the time he arrived—whose reputation had been so foul that the name itself became a byword for sexually transmitted infections.

Then had come gentrification. Dumpy apartment buildings had been gutted, the brownstone facades given a facelift while the interiors merged into one of the swankiest hotels in Boston. Restaurants that had been the cheapest eats in town disappeared, their places taken by eateries even Brandon had only take people to when he could charge it to an expense account. The nightclub’s last vestiges had been forgotten by all but a few old guards, like Brandon. Everyone else who might remember had either returned to Long Island and New Jersey or migrated out to the suburbs like everyone else with a stable life partner and the two point five children, white picket fence thing.

A few small mementos remained. The Citgo sign, long since divorced from any literal gas station, blinked out its message over the square to summon students home from whatever misadventures had drawn them out. Fenway Park still stood sentinel over near Lansdowne Street, for good or ill. And a very tiny handful of old establishments still held on, able to adapt with the times.

Pendragon’s was one of those places. It wasn’t a student bar, and a good thing, too. They’d never have survived any of the crackdowns on underage drinking over the years. It wasn’t a sports bar, although a guy could catch a game there if he wanted to watch in convivial company. It wasn’t a meat market either. He’d met guys there, once or twice, but it wasn’t a pick-up joint. It was just a comfortable place to get together with friends, have a few drinks, maybe play a little bit of darts if the spirit so moved. It was a bar, no more and no less.

“Brandon! Hey!” A blindingly white smile dazzled him from behind the bar as Miriam looked up from the pint she was pulling. “Howdy, stranger! It’s good to see you!” She shoved a mass of dark hair behind one ear, snagging a few strands on a broken nail without seeming to notice.

He forced his muscles to relax. It had been a while since he’d been here. It had been at least six weeks since he’d left the condo for anything but work. “Yeah, well, you know. Been busy.” He forced a smile, knowing it was weak. “You know how it is.”

One perfectly groomed eyebrow ascended the vault of her forehead. She probably knew more about “how it is” than he’d have liked, but she didn’t say anything, and he loved her all the more for it. “Let me get you a beer. It’s new this week, the first time this brewery’s distributed this far out. You’ll love it.”

He shrugged and nodded his assent. Miriam had excellent taste in beer as a general rule. She knew what he liked, even when he disappeared for weeks at a time. He trusted her; she wouldn’t ever steer him wrong.

She turned around to go grab a glass as a figure settled in on either side of him. Somehow, even though he hadn’t expected it, Brandon found himself relaxing a little more. The world couldn’t have turned out two better guys than Greg and Tony. He wouldn’t even have been here tonight if they hadn’t insisted. “You know,” Greg told him in his quiet, deep voice, “I thought you weren’t going to show.” His mouth twisted into a teasing little grin, barely visible in the wilds of his bushy beard.

Brandon sighed. “Come on, Greg. I said I’d be here.”

Tony shook his sandy-haired head and took gentle hold of Brandon’s briefcase. “You said that last week, dude.” He eased the strap over Brandon’s shoulder and helped him put it on the floor. “And the week before that.”

“The Richter case was going to trial,” Brandon replied. It wasn’t a lie. “I had work to do.”

“Yeah, sure. Okay. I’m pretty sure that you had associates who could have done at least half of it for you, buddy.” Greg leaned in and nudged Brandon with his shoulder to show that there were no hard feelings. Brandon fought not to collapse into his friend’s touch. He couldn’t be this pathetic. When had he turned into such a pushover that even a little shoulder bump had him ready to burst into tears? “It’s okay that you weren’t up to it yet, dude, but be honest with yourself.”

Brandon sighed and leaned his head back as far as it would go. “How am I going to be able to pull off a court case if I’m that goddamn transparent?” he groaned.

Miriam returned and pressed a pint of something cold and vaguely damp into his hand. “Buddy, I’ve seen you in court. It’s a whole different ball game than you when you’re with your friends.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Trust me. You’ll be fine. You’re transparent to us because we know you. And we knew you back when you were just a dumb history major who danced on tables after too much tequila.”

He couldn’t help but laugh at that, even as he blushed up to the tips of his ears. “How much tequila is it going to take for you all to forget that ever happened?”

Tony clapped him on the back. “Not all the tequila in Mexico, my friend. There are pictures to prove it. You were a pretty good dancer back in the day, I have to admit. That tie choking off your rhythm or do you still have moves?”

Brandon’s unoccupied hand instinctively went to his tie, loosening it. “I never had moves, dude. And even if I did,” he added, holding up his beer to forestall the objections he could see coming on both of their faces, “they surgically remove your moves in law school. It’s a requirement. They have to make room for tort law somehow.” He put his hands to his chest in an affectation of innocence. “I don’t make the rules.”

“Aw, come on,” Greg objected, a hint of pink coming into his cheeks. “You were great. Everyone loved to see you dance, dude. You could’ve put yourself through law school that way if you’d wanted to.”

“Not anymore. Lawyers don’t dance, Greg. We plod from case to case and occasionally watch baseball alone in our condos. Or we would. If we had televisions.” He grimaced and took a sip of his beer. It really was good stuff, he had to admit. Miriam hadn’t failed him yet.

“You haven’t bought a new one yet?” Tony blurted. “Dude, it’s been six weeks. What the hell do you do with yourself in there without a TV?” Greg reached around Brandon to smack Tony on the back of his head. “Ow! It was a legitimate question!”

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