Max Gribley wiped down the countertop of the bar in wide, swooping circles.
The troublesome smudge near the corner seat caught his eye.
Max applied some focused elbow grease to the spot, and then, in a brilliant stroke of desperation, grabbed the bottle of Barkeeper's Friend from under the sink. Nothing could survive this elixir. Max liberally applied the magical goop onto the splot and scrubbed until his fingers throbbed.
But the smudge wouldn't budge.
"Whatever," said Max. "I'm sure Old Sparky won't mind."
Old Sparky was a regular at Big Dipper's Pizzeria.
Max tended the small bar here Wednesdays to Sundays. "Bar" was a generous term - and Max hardly considered himself a bartender. He was an aspiring novelist. This was just his day -- night -- job until he finished his manuscript, now on its sixth iteration in as many years.
Further, Big Dipper's bar wasn't known for its cocktails. As barkeep, Max mostly slung soda and beer to Big Dipper's pizza-loving fiends (the pizza here was pretty damn good, if Max could say so himself). The bar also had some house wine - white and red, no further details were provided or available to either Max or the customers.
That didn't stop Old Sparky. He ordered the white. Usually two glasses, but he'd rarely finish the second before the inevitable interruption.
The whole thing was kind of funny to Max. Maybe he should write a story about it.
The guy comes in to the Big Dipper, by himself, once a week or so, then sits alone at the bar, drinking white wine, eating a deep dish pizza, and reading a book. Always reading the same massive book, too. Max figured it was The Count of Monte Cristo or something else French literature. Or maybe Russian. There's just something about a person reading alone in a crowded place, thought Max. Are they supremely confident? Are they just a weirdo? Are they trying to get on some "Hot Guys Reading" social media feed? Are they just begging for attention?
Well, Ol' Sparky certainly got the latter. The guy would barely eat two bites of his first slice of pizza (the deep dish usually took an hour to cook) before someone would sidle up next to him, looking for a chat. Their pickup line was both predictable and inevitable:
"What's that you're reading?"
Without fail, Ol' Sparky would wink at Max, then strike up a chat with his guest. Then, before long, Sparky and his companion would leave the Dip together. Then Max wouldn't see Old Sparky for a few days.
Max decided he'd ask Old Sparky about it. Tonight. For research, for his novel. Maybe Ol' Sparky could be a minor character or something.
This was a good idea, thought Max. Half the reason I'm working here is to be amongst the people, observing, learning, etcetera. "I don't even know Sparky's name," muttered Max.
Luckily, tonight was an Old Sparky night. Max had his white wine ready before he sat down.
"Thank you, Max," said Old Sparky.
Max smiled back at him, and then resumed pouring six pitchers of soda for the Little League team. Another funny thing, thought Max, I can't even really describe what Old Sparky looks like, if he was old or young, or attractive or ugly. Max's face flushed. Certainly a novelist should be able to describe someone's appearance. This would be another thing Max would resolve tonight.
With the baseball team properly sugared up, Max turned back to his companion at the bar.
"Hey, what's that you're reading there?"
Old Sparky grinned at him. Max felt a deep chill cool his bones.
"Though you'd never ask," said Old Sparky.
The man spun the book towards Max.
Max saw it was a list of names. And his own, Max Gribley, was listed at the bottom.
"You're... Him," stuttered Max. "The Devil. The Grim..."
Old Sparky took Max's hand.
"I have many names, Max. Old Sparky will suffice. Come on, let's go for a walk together. We can each bring along a slice of pizza for the road. I want to hear more about your novel."