Objective: Describe a character in the form of a story from the perspective of another character.

Ralph and The Riverfish

It takes a special something to be known by everyone while having them know nothing about you. Whatever that something is, bartender Ralph has it in spades.

Nobody really knows where he came from but from the day he walked into town he seemed to know the place like the back of his hand. Everyone knows everyone in Solhaven so new arrivals who don’t announce themselves are usually met with distrust and suspicion.

The day he walked into my shop, I sized him up with that same suspicion and all the while he spoke to me like we were old friends. A couple years older than me and half a foot taller, he had the build of a guy who’d done some heavy lifting in his life. His hair’s got grey specks these days but back then, it was a thick brown mane tied back in a ponytail with some thick stubble coating the edges of his face. No matter what we spoke about he always kept this big smile on him like he’d found his place in life. That sureness of self quickly chipped away at those walls I’d put up and despite myself, I began to like him before I’d even realized it.

He asked me about my business and I asked him about his. Mine was simple enough but when he told me he was going to be the new owner of the Riverfish tavern, my caution shot back quick sharp.

You see, Patch Grayson was the owner of the Riverfish and a real bad bastard. He’d owned the Riverfish since before I’d even bought my little shop. Everyone had learned from the get-go that Patch would never sell and he didn’t appreciate the offers he got one bit.

A few folk had tried to buy it from him over the years, seeing what a shithole it had become under his leadership. One of those people tried to get pushy with Patch about it and ended up with a knife between their ribs. Not many folk drank there anymore unless they had shady dealings to make over a few dirty beers. Folk could only speculate on how much involvement Patch had in them but those shady dealings were the one thing keeping the Riverfish running these days.

I told Ralph the exact same thing, with eyes open wide and sweat on my brow but it didn’t mean a thing to Ralph. He just gave me a wink as he paid for his cigarettes, thanked me for my service and went off about his business. The most curious thing…

So curious, in fact that I spoke to a few of the neighbours about it later that day as they stopped by for their own goods. It turned out Ralph had told a bunch of them the exact same thing. We didn’t know what to make of it but most of us thought Ralph would be lucky if he got to leave the Riverfish alive. It’d be a damn miracle if he was planning to force Patch to sell up like the last bunch. He was a big guy, sure, but big doesn’t stop a knife and it certainly doesn’t stop the knives of every lowlife skulking around the Riverfish.

Not that that mattered though, I don’t know why but I didn’t see Ralph as that kind of guy. Then again, who can judge someone they just met? Either way, I decided not to pay any more mind to it. People come and go pretty often in Solhaven and those who stay get used to expecting the worst.

Closing time came and I started heading home. I don’t know why but I took a longer route home, passing the Riverfish. It still looked banged up to shit. A couple of drunks sat outside bickering away, both slurring threats and insults but neither with the sobriety to stand or strike. By the sounds of it, a fight was breaking out inside too: The usual crowd, no doubt. No change after all.
I stepped up my pace a little just in case gunfire started up, you could never tell with Patch’s place. Once I was round the corner, I let out a deep breath that I didn’t remember holding in the first place.

I spent the rest of the walk wondering to myself what I’d been thinking passing that place; nothing changes in this town. I got in my front door, changed for bed and poured myself a drink before lying down with a book, putting the Riverfish clean out of my mind. Sleep took me sometime shortly after my third whiskey.

Morning arrived to the sound of a banging on my door. My shop was shut for the weekend so I wasn’t best pleased at a wakeup call. I threw on some clothes and opened the door to find Annie Mires from next door waiting for me.

“Annie,” I hollered, squinting as I see the sun on the horizon, barely dawning. “What damn time do you-”
“Hal, you gotta come see this!” She had the strangest expression on her as she grabbed my hand and started to drag me down the street, not caring for my foul mood or the fact I had no shoes on.

Outside the Riverfish people were frozen all over the street, mesmerized with what they were seeing. The old sign for the Riverfish was smashed on the ground and Ralph was stood up on a ladder banging a new sign up with a hammer. A few of the smashed windows were already fixed up and a big pile of broken tables and chairs were dumped round the side of the building.

“The banging started a few hours ago.” Annie said, letting go of my hand as I stepped ahead for a closer look. “Gerry on night watch said Old Patch left Solhaven late last night through the gate, not a scratch on him.”

Annie had a good heart but she had a damn scary way of hijacking the gossip around town.

A few days later the Riverfish reopened with Ralph’s big smile waiting for us all behind the fanciest looking bar I’d ever seen. A few of the older folk who’d been around when the Riverfish was first built swore they’d never seen the place look better. We drank the place dry – or tried to at least – as we danced the night away, our own little welcoming party for Ralph who was now an official member of our dainty little town.

It’s been a few years since then and Ralph still hasn’t told us how he got Old Patch to sell. I don’t think he ever will but I like to try my luck now and then. No matter how much I ask, it’s the same every time. He just gives me a wink as I pay for my beer, thanks me for my service and goes about his business.

We rarely learn more about who Ralph is or where he’s from. Some folk wouldn’t trust someone that mysterious but there’s not a soul in our town who gives a damn. Ralph’s one of us now and these days, the Riverfish is the busiest tavern in Solhaven.

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