The Dark Booth in the Back: A Shaffer Short Story

She tries to scream but my fingers squeeze too tightly around her neck. The bones of her throat, splintering. Her throttled gasps amuse me. Desperate and horrified. Pain sears across my cheek as she claws for her freedom.

A fighter, my favorite.

I push all my weight onto her, my hands an inescapable snare. Blood drips from the gash along my face and teases my tongue. Her face as I smile… I etch that fear into my mind. Her eyes begin to dim, the life seeping from them, her grip on my wrists going limp. I clamp down as hard as I can, resting my forehead on hers. The end is near. My teeth clench against each other. My forearms straining. These last moments are the ones I cherish most. The final glint of hope, slowly fading away…


The ice in my empty cocktail glass rattles as I slide away from my reverie.

“Are you even listening?” The tantalizing brunette from my fantasy stares at me in frustration.

No darling, I wasn’t.

A veil of smoke slithers through the speakeasy, twisting its way into the secluded booths. The restrained bassline of a cello gently dances in the air.


I sigh and tilt the glass back until the last drops of bourbon drip off the rim. Not her. I glance up and soak in those seductive eyes. They are appetizing but something’s missing… not her. With a finger, I signal for another drink.

“Perhaps another time darling.” I nod politely. The brunette scoffs and struts off defiantly. No… Not her.

The smooth burn of bourbon tingles along my lips as the room reveals itself to me. It’s a quiet night. A young couple fawns over each other in a booth against the far wall. Two? I’ve always wanted to try two? I examine them, their figures silhouetting against the opaque fog. The two shadows merge as the woman whispers into the man’s ear and she takes his hand, guiding him from the booth and out the door. What a shame… not them either.

At the bar, an older woman in a black sequined dress takes a long drag from a cigarette holder. She’s wealthy and… a widow? Yes, certainly a widow… She orders top shelf spirits and the guiltless freedom of inheritance and eligibility waft from her. Her eyes meet mine over the crest of a martini. She’s older than I’d prefer, but it’s a slow night.

I drift away.

The headlights of the car slice through the darkness of the winding driveway, as the pebbles quietly crunch underneath. Handcrafted stone and lavish gothic rooftops jut into the night sky, the precision of her estate, flawless. I place the tongs back neatly after I drop one ice cube into my glass, the caramel colored elixir following soon behind it. She waits patiently for hers.

“Dirty Gin Martini?”

She nods in approval. A woman of few words. I appreciate that.

My eyes tease her as the shaker clatters in my hands. She eagerly awaits it… She shouldn’t. There’s more in this shaker than gin, vermouth, and brine. Her leg rubs against the satin of my pants. I stab three olives with a garnish stick for her and propose a toast.

“To living each night as if it’s our last…”

I grin and she smiles back, raising her glass to me. Then she drinks…

“Would you care for another sir?” A waitress asks and the rhythm of the speakeasy’s cello hums once again in my ears. I glance past her to the widow at the bar. Three men stroll by and she addresses them by name, before returning her gaze to me. I see now… and I thought she could be the one.

“Yes darling. Another is needed.”

“Right away sir.”

I cross my legs and stretch my arms along the frame of the booth. She’s a lounge hound. A regular. And people notice regulars. No… unfortunately not her. The widow sighs at my rebuke and turns back to face the bar.

“Your drink sir.” The faintest scent of jasmine and rose perfume tip toes in as she approaches. She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, greeting me with tender chocolate eyes and olive skin. Freckles. I didn’t notice she had freckles earlier.

I thoroughly enjoy freckles.

An asphyxiated face is simply far more alluring with a spattering of beauty marks.

I take her hand as she turns to leave.

“Darling come here.” I pull her gently back toward the booth, her cheeks flush. A flirtatious smile bending on her lips.

“Why yes?”

I trace my finger along her palm, she doesn’t stop me.

“My booth is awfully lonely, I could certainly use some company.” My mind wanders as she responds.

An apartment. Messy. A tear streams from the corner of her eye, as her chest convulses one last time. Her lifeless face is still, painted masterfully with those exotic freckles. My breath is heavy. Nerves prickling the hair on the back of my neck. Her skin is so soft. Warm. But the apartment door opens and the man standing in the frame drops his mail in horror. He shouts and rushes to the kitchen to grab a knife…

“Lonely you say? Well we can’t have that, now can we?” The waitress grins charmingly and conceals her left hand with a subtle gesture. Such a travesty. Married. I don’t do married.

“Now that just wouldn’t be right darling.” I unveil her hidden hand and the twinkle of a diamond shines even through the smoke. She bends down and whispers into my ear.

“I won’t tell, if you don’t...”

The heat of her breath creeps down my neck. Intoxicating. Visions flash across my eyes. I can taste her.

But no… I don’t do married.

“Sorry love, I don’t share.” The words painfully ooze from my tongue, body trembling. I slug my bourbon, patience growing thin. “Pardon me.” I push out of the booth, empty glass in hand and make my way across the speakeasy. No… not her.

The smoke thins toward the stage.

The musician plucking his strings in a halo of fog.

A few sway in pairs to the dark melody. Letting the drawn chords and thumps against the cello’s wooden body, carry them away. None of them will do.

I lift the glass to my mouth, knowing its empty. Needing to feel the cool sensation of ice.

Where are you?

My eyes scour the room. Searching. Mind beginning to churn. Not her. Not her either.




I can feel the tension build in my jaw, the unnerving demand for haste eroding my poise.

Where are—?


In the darkest corner of the farthest booth, I see her.

Through the haze, amber hair spills down in loose spiraling curls. Her glass blue eyes pierce the dark, calling to me like the beacon of a lighthouse, guiding me through the mist.


“May I?” I gesture to the booth. Her eyes skirt mine, she’s nervous. Shy.

“Waiter.” I call to a striking chap in his early twenties. “Bourbon, on the rocks. And for the lady?”

She stammers.

“I’m not sure…” Her brow scrunches, sheepishly.

“Drink not your vice?”

“Regrettably so.” Her lashes bat with the innocence of youth, dark red lipstick shading her mouth. She clutches her handbag tightly in her lap, body tense. Yes… Her.

“She’ll have a gin martini. Dirty.” A sly smile unfolds, leaning a forearm on the table. The waiter is hypnotized by her as well, he doesn’t move. “Lad, the miss would like her drink…”

She blushes.

“Oh dear, yes. Certainly.” The frazzled waiter begins off but the woman stops him.

“Wait! You know, make that two bourbons.” She smiles gleefully as if it’s the most courageous act she’s ever committed. “On the rocks!”

“Well you certainly seem one for adventure tonight. Are you here alone?”

“Alone? If there’s music playing, you’re never alone!” She’s enamored with the bassist. Her foot tapping along with the beat, fingers fluttering. She turns red once again when I catch her.

I step away for a moment to grab the drinks from the waiter.

“My good man, the lovely lady said she’d prefer two ice cubes in her drink, rather than one.” She waves playfully from the booth. “Women… a particular sort, aren’t they?” I say with a smile. The waiter chuckles to himself.

“There you are sir.”

I glance back to the booth one last time. Yes… she’s it. I tuck the emptied vile back into my breast pocket.

“A toast?” I say upon returning.

She takes the glass but puts it down on the table.



“A dance of course!” She grins.

“You dance gorgeous?” I offer out a hand.

“Only with handsome strangers!”

If a dance is what she needs, a dance is what she’ll get. The moment is almost here, and I can already feel her between my hands.

The rhythm strolls.

Bass plucking along.

Our fingers clasp into one another, her fragile bones wrapped in my grip. When I step, she follows. The occasional coil of her brass hair brushing against my face as she spins. I twirl her under my arm, then snap her back to my chest, her leg wrapped around my waist. We dip. Her neck cranes back, smooth and slender, my hands running down her creamy skin. My mouth salivates. I pull her back up to me and lock into her eyes. She bites her lip and laughs.

I’ve got her.

The tassels of her dress bounce as she hurries back to the booth, giddy as a schoolgirl.

“I haven’t had that much fun in ages.” She playfully calls over her shoulder. “You’re quite the riot, aren’t you?!” She turns holding our drinks. “Now that deserves a toast.”

We raise our glasses.

“To living each night as if it’s our last…”

“But living each day knowing it’s not…”

We drink.

Farewell darling.

A radiator hums. The pulsing of a ceiling fan drones over and over. Every noise is amplified. Horns and engines of the streets echo against the dead of night, yet the apartment is quiet. The indistinct clamor of a radio mumbles nearby. A teapot whistling. I’m tired. My body aches. The springs of her bed groan as I wake.

Her amber hair running down her back is the first thing I see when my eyes open. She’s as still as can be. A pale goddess frozen in time. Oh darling, you were one of my best.

I relax my head back against the pillow and close my eyes, eager to relive the night. But where is the night? I drank so much my memory is hazy. Cab? Or did we walk? Where did it happen? Did it happen in the bed? Or did I move her here after? Wouldn’t be the first time. I scour my mind, but there’s nothing.

I can’t remember anything.

My eyes creak open once more but when I turn my head, my heart clenches. She’s gone!

I dart up in a panic but my body is slammed back into the mattress. I barely moved. My arms and legs can’t move either, ankles and wrists secured with tight knots to the bedposts. I flail uncontrollably. Muscles straining with all their force. Then I collapse. Out of breath, exhausted.

“Fret all you want, it’s no use.” She says, walking in carrying the teapot and two glasses.

“Care for some tea?” Steam swirls from the liquid as it pours into two glasses. One with two ice cubes, the other with only one. “Here love.” She begins to offer me a glass but stops. “Wait…” My stomach twists. She switches which glass has two ice cubes and offers me the other. “Wouldn’t want to mix that up, now would we?” A villainous smile scratches across her face.

The room begins to close in around me, panic consuming my being.

She stares at me aroused, leaning in to whisper.

"I like them awake." She lets her bottom lip run up the ridge of my ear, then faces me. The horror on my face, shining back through the reflection of her glistening eyes. I headbutt her and she stumbles back, blood coating a busted lip. She licks her lip clean and smiles wickedly.

“A fighter… My favorite.”

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