There was a werewolf behind the bar.

Celeste Ingram knew it. He had to be a werewolf! Why else would he look like a shaved yeti?

When he bothered glancing up from polishing the counter, she could see that he also had an eyepatch.

“High school is four blocks down from here,” he said without looking up. He had the kind of English accent that put her in mind of someone swinging from the main mast with a cutlass in their teeth or a parrot on their shoulder. The eyepatch only reinforced her mental picture.

Celeste shook off the image and looked around. She was the only other person here, and therefore probably the one he was talking to. Unless he really liked talking to his bar rag.

He assumed she was a lost high schooler. Not the impression she wanted to give.

The bar had a homey, neighborhood pub kind of vibe. Like it was the sort of place where the bartender would know you by name, have your favorite drink at the ready the moment you sat down and ask you about your job, your mother and if your daughter’s wedding went off without a hitch.

A layer of grime covered everything. But it was respectable grime, not dirt. The kind that sets up like concrete when a place has been around an extremely long time. Though the windows were clean, the ancient film coating them filtered the noonday sun to a soft twilight glow. The neon sign hanging in the window on the right advertised that the bar was called Lucky’s.

Pendant lights with shabby green shades created pools of illumination over high maple and brass tables that smelled faintly of lemon cleaner and wood polish. A battered pool table sat in one corner of the room.

The mirrored wall behind the bar made the room look bigger than it was. Shelves of alcohol, lit from below, glowed in pastel hues, like potions from a movie wizard’s workshop. The werewolf had mounted a television over the shelves. The sound was off, but it was broadcasting sportsball of some kind.

A scarred dartboard hung in a cabinet at the end of the counter.

“Are you Lucky?” She tried to pull his attention from his cleaning.

He looked up again. “You still here, kid?”

“I’m looking for work, actually,” Celeste drawled, pointing to herself. “Celeste Ingram. Nice to meet you.”

Lucky paused, then went back to his task. “Try the McDonalds two blocks over.”

Not promising, but she thought she had a way to change his mind. She tucked her hands in the pockets of her worn out jeans and leaned against the doorframe. “Full moon’s next week. You need someone to work that night, or do you just shut the bar down?”

He went very still; not still like a rabbit trying to hide from a hawk, but still like a cat deciding if it is going to pounce on a mouse. Every hair stood up on the back of Celeste’s neck.

“Why would you say that?” He asked slowly, his voice sounded like a gravel truck downshifting on a hillside.

“I used to work at a roadhouse owned by a couple of weres back home. Mostly I filled in on full moon nights.” She was a little proud that her voice remained nonchalant even though her knees felt like jelly. She hadn’t moved from the doorway, in case she needed to bail.

He really looked up at her this time. His eye was brown with a gold ring around the edge. “How old are you? Sixteen?”

“Twenty two,” Celeste snapped. “But I’ve been bartending since I was eighteen.”

He blinked at her. Then his eye narrowed. “I believe that,” he said at last. “You sound like you’re from Alabama.”

“Arkansas, actually.”

“There are werewolf bars in Arkansas?” He tossed the rag down and leaned on the counter.

“Ozark mountains,” Celeste said. “Plenty of nice, private woodland for a werewolf to live in peace and quiet if they want.”

“Huh.” He made a thoughtful rumbling sound as his jaw worked from side to side. Then he nodded to himself and opened the little half-door to let her behind the bar. “Okay Arkansas, show me what you got.”

Celeste hid her grin as she wove between tables, crossed behind him and studied the displayed bottles. “What do you want?”

“How about a Bee’s Knees?”

Triumph caused little bubbles of happiness to fizz in her veins. The euphoria made her feel bolder than she might have felt otherwise. She knew how to make this one.

“Wow, you’re really reaching back into the past there, Gatsby,” she snarked at him. “Do you happen to have honey syrup, or do you expect me to make some?”

His grumpy frown lifted at the corners, as if he was fighting back a smile at being sassed by a kid. He pointed to a bottle full of amber liquid on one of the mirrored shelves. “If you want to work here, you have to make classic drinks for old werewolves. The Bee’s Knees was popular during prohibition.”

She grabbed the syrup as well as a bottle of gin, then opened the cooler and pulled out a lemon. “Where I’m from, moonshine was more popular during that era. Still is in some parts.”

Finally, she retrieved a shaker from the sink. While she worked, the werewolf continued to talk about the pub.

“This tavern dates back to the founding of New Orange City, when it was a little port town known as New Amsterdam,” he told her. “Some of my patrons were here then. They like things like rum punch. You’d have to learn to make that.”

“Any tiki bar owner could tell you how to make rum punch.” Celeste scoffed. “Were you here way back in ye olden times?”

He chuckled at that. “How old do you think I am, kid?”

“Supernatural folk don’t age like human kind,” Celeste grinned over her shoulder while she measured out the gin.

“Fair point,” he said.

“Not going to answer?”

“You’re a nosy kid.”

“I’m a reporter,” Celeste said.

Lucky crossed his arms. “Then why are you here, begging for work?”

“I’m kind of new to the area, and I haven’t made any contacts with the local papers.”

“Well, if walking into a place and demanding a job is your usual practice, I can see why.” He sounded bemused.

“Cute.” She peeled a strip of rind away from the lemon with a zesting tool. Then she sliced the lemon in half and squeezed the juice into the shaker.

“New to the area, huh?” Lucky prodded.

“I was trying to get as far away from home as I could with a bus ticket. It was New Orange or Yerba Buena. The coin came up tails, so here I am.”

His jaw dropped. “You came here because a quarter told you to?”

It was a penny. And she had to borrow it from the ticket man, but she didn’t want him to know how much she really needed a job.

“No,” she scoffed. “I don’t have much luck with coin flips. So I did the opposite of what the coin said to do.” She measured out the syrup and alcohol. Then put the lid on the shaker and did as the name suggested.

She poured the drink into a glass and popped the ribbon of lemon peel into it for garnish. With a flourish, she held her hands out in front of her. “Ta-da!”

Lucky sipped the drink, eye tilted upward. The thoughtful growl returned. “What’s your story?”

“I don’t have a story,” she said.

“Everyone has a past,” he crossed behind her to put the empty glass in the sink. “In my experience, boring people don’t hide theirs. The important thing here is whether yours would cause problems for me if I give you a job. So why were you trying to get away from home?”

“Perceptive.” She wanted to deflect. But his expression told her that if she didn’t give him something of her history, that he wouldn’t be giving her a job. “I’ve been around bars my whole life. Grew up on a farm and was mostly raised by my grandparents.”

“No parents?” He asked.

“No mom,” Celeste said. “Dad . . . would be why I have been around bars my whole life.”

“And these are werewolf bars? Would Dad be a werewolf?”

“Dad would be an actual human disaster, not a werewolf,” she cut him off. “And until I turned eighteen, the bars I was in were normal, human bars where I was not allowed to drink. But I was expected to keep him out of fights and drag him home when he got falling-down drunk.”

“How did you end up working in a werewolf roadhouse, then?” His expression was skeptical.

“The owners were family friends. The arrangement helped them out, and let me earn a little spending money.”

“Nice story,” Lucky crossed his arms. “But I don’t buy it. That’s a lot of trouble for a teenage kid with no special skills to handle.”

Celeste sank in on herself. There was nothing for it. She would have to give up her biggest secret. With a sigh, she pointed her right index finger into the palm of a cupped left hand. A tiny bolt of lightning shot from her pointed finger and ground itself into the other hand.

Lucky jumped. “You’re a-“

“Don’t say it!” She interrupted him, holding up her smoking index finger. “I know we’re called wand wavers. But that’s a stupid name. I don’t use a wand.”

“I’ve never met -“

“Didn’t expect you would have,” Celeste said. “There’s a high price that comes with using magic. Most of my kind can’t afford it. We spend like the bill will never come. And when it does, it’s usually fatal.”

He turned his assessing gaze back on her. She was aware how down-on-her-luck she looked in worn out canvas sneakers, a thrift-store Colossus of Liberty t-shirt and jeans so holey they could have started their own religion.

“What is it that magic asks of you?”

“Using magic brings bad karma. All my life I’ve been paying for the magic my ancestors used and just trying to get by without adding to the debt. It’s easier here where no one knows me.” Where no relatvies expected her to figuratively light herself on fire to keep them comfortable.

“Why this bar?”

She pointed to the sign in the window. “Lucky’s. I could use some luck. Seemed like a good omen.”

He laughed outright at that. “Should I be concerned about collateral damage?”

“No,” she said. “The bad luck is confined to the family lineage. Anyway, I do want to be a journalist but I haven’t been to college. My experience is limited to my high school paper and some freelance gigs I pulled in from the weekly courier back home.

“I rolled into town on a greyhound bus yesterday with nothing but what I could fit into a backpack. I’m staying in a hostel until I can find a place, but everything here is more expensive than I thought it would be.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” he huffed. “You would be better off if you get back on that bus and find a cheaper city to live in. Maybe somewhere in Florida where the bars are plentiful and the homeless don’t freeze to death in the winter.”

She grimaced. Her plan had been to charm him into giving her a job. But it looks like she’d done the job a little too well if he was trying to talk her out of living here. Time to throw out her pride and admit that she was out of options.

“Look, I need money now, and I’m good at this.” She waved to indicate the bar. “If you give me a chance, you won’t be sorry. Competent help is hard to come by. Especially in a supernatural bar. You can’t just hire anyone.”

Lucky puffed out his cheeks while he digested this.

“Okay!” He let the air out explosively. “I’ll give you a shot. Why not?” He sounded like he was talking to himself, more than her. “Pay is cash under the table. We’ll settle up at the end of the night. If you survive.

“I keep all my tips.” Celeste stood a little taller. Her knees suddenly didn’t feel like jello anymore.

“You won’t get tips, because you’re a human. And werewolves won’t leave your kind a tip.” He waved her words away.

“You underestimate the pity tip,” Celeste made her eyes look big and sad. She blinked at him a time or two.

He stared at her in horror. “Stop that!  It’s creepy!”

She laughed. “It works. You’ll see! And I’ll keep my tips.”

He suddenly looked as if he had been tasting something bitter. “Don’t put the cart before the horse, kid. You still have to survive working here for one shift. I don’t know if you realize this, but city weres are different than the guys who live out in Toad Suck, or wherever you’re from. They won’t be nice to you just because you’re a kid with a face like a haunted doll.”

“I’m from Dogpatch, actually,” Celeste said. “Toad Suck is down near Conway.”

The werewolf’s left eye twitched. ”There’s actually a . . . Never mind.” He shook himself. “Just survive the next shift, and then we’ll talk.”

–To be continued in part 2–