Karl and I worked at the Bistro du Pape on Esplanade. He worked the service bar and I was a waiter. It was a posh joint, where we spent every Thursday through Saturday serving expensive meals to Montreal’s French-speaking elite, including television news people. Karl could keep a low profile back there, pouring glasses of Chablis and Merlot.
After work, we’d hit Bar G.P. on Gilford, in front of Laurier Métro. It was a dirty room with a pool table, a few video lottery machines, and Mom-Carole the owner: a middle-aged woman with dyed blonde hair. The beer was cheap and the place never got too busy.
We’d get drunk playing pool. “Tabarnak,” Karl would say after losing again. “What’s with the fucking English and their billiards?”
“It’s in our blood,” I’d say, racking up for another game.
We made an odd pair: Me six-foot-two, fair-haired, clean-shaven, and Karl with dark hair and a beard, a full foot shorter. Whenever we chatted with women in the bar, they hardly spoke to him. “Why do they only talk to you?” he’d say. “Osties de salopes.”
Hammered by the end of the night, Karl and I would have a smoke outside then say Salut. I’d watch him stumble off into the night. All we had in common was pool, booze, and working at the bistro. I guess that was enough.
It was on a crazy-busy Saturday night in the summer that Réjeanne, the head-waitress, cornered me in the waiter station. “You spend a lot of time with Karl, don’t you?” she said.
“Attention avec lui,” she said. “He killed his parents.”
“Yeah,” she said. “But you didn’t hear it from me.”
Karl and I got to Bar G.P. later than usual that night. We decided to make up for lost time by ordering four pitchers of beer instead of one, drinking the first two quickly. Then we got on the pool table. I won the first game and the second. We drank.
“Last call!” shouted Mom-Carole.
We drained our glasses and ordered one more pitcher. By the time closing time rolled around, we were the only ones left—and we were tanked. Into our final game, I scratched on the eight-ball, giving Karl the win. “Yeah!” he said. “About time too, câlisse.”
“Hey man, is it true you killed your folks?”
Karl looked at me, then went over to our table and finished his beer. He poured the last of our pitcher into his glass and took a pull. “Who told you that?” he said.
“Just heard,” I said.
He looked out the window overlooking the alley. “You have to understand,” he said. “I had no choice.”
“How old were you?”
“Fourteen,” he said. “I did my time.”
“Fuck. How did it happen?”
He finished his beer. “Tabarnak,” he said. “I don’t feel like going into all the details with you. I’ve been through enough, okay? I don’t know you. I don’t owe you nothing.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I shot them. Okay? They were doing things to me. I wanted it to stop.”
I didn’t say anything.
Carole came over. “You two can have another pitcher while I clean up,” she said.
“No, merci,” I said.
I walked outside. The night air felt good. After smoking a cigarette, Karl came out. “You sure you don’t want to come back in?” he said.
“Nah,” I said. “I’m good.”
He turned to go. “Okay,” he said. “See you next week.”
He walked off.
When I returned to the bistro for my Thursday shift, Karl had quit. “Probably for the best,” said Réjeanne, as she stocked up the service bar. “One of the media people who come in here would have recognized him at some point. We were giving him a chance. But he didn’t give any reason for leaving. Do you know why?”
“No,” I said.
But I knew why Karl had walked away: because I did.
Because I could.
Adam Kelly Morton is a Montreal-based husband, father (four kids, all under-six), acting teacher, board gamer, filmmaker, and writer. He has been published in Spadina Literary Review, Black Dog Review, Fictive Dream, The Fiction Pool, Open Pen London, Talking Soup, Pulp Metal Magazine, and Untethered, among others. He has an upcoming piece in A Wild and Precious Life, an addiction anthology to be published this year in London, UK. He is the editor-in-chief of the Bloody Key Society Periodical literary magazine.