Two major perks of tending a bar like Franklin’s Rusty Moose: good tips and no trouble. After more than twenty years serving drinks, Crash was glad to finally work for an establishment that didn’t rely on the latest pop songs and lines of new adults lining the block. Just a quiet bar with no questions asked, serving a specific purpose and a specific clientele.

He knew the score, of course, and played his role, but more than anything he maintained the Moose’s atmosphere; a grizzled dwarf acting as the public face for a bar filled with shadowrunners. Crash was here more nights than not—nothing half as entertaining as all this on the trid—and after a while the locals came to accept him as a fixture of the place. He knew how to read people and gave off the neutral aura that had served late night drink purveyors well ever since there were drinks to serve and customers to order them.

Sometimes a wet-behind-the-ears runner or Johnson came by, but those were the exceptions—the Moose wasn’t a place people just stopped in at. It wasn’t exclusive to runners by any means, but everyone understood that if word got out about anything or anyone going on inside, they’d have a real bad time for the rest of their brief life. Some people really enjoy their privacy.

He pressed a button under the bar for the second private room—a mechanical circuit, harder for enterprising troublemakers to hack—and the door opened for the three people headed inside. The Johnson and her guard had shown up early, and business was about to be struck. Crash hadn’t recognized any of them, but all were playing nice and that was fine by him. Hopefully another calm night of taking care of the front of house while back end business went on unacknowledged and unremarked.

He knew the owners got a small cut of the proceeds, probably rolled out by the local fixers who “suggested” the Moose as a safe, secure location for clandestine business. Reportedly the owner’s dad built the place from nothing a few decades back—no corp oversight or meddling anywhere near the sleepy street corner which housed the Moose. The pay was average, meaning not enough, but Crash always made up for it with tips.

Runners were always generous when they finished a job, failing at not flaunt their money at every occasion. “Fat and happy until the rent comes due,” a retired patron remarked once. “Life seems pretty rosy with fresh credsticks in your pocket.”

The old ork was spot on with his late hour proclamation; almost nobody in the world happier than a successful shadowrunner, and almost nobody as desperate as a failing one. Most of the bar’s quiet patrons, largely visiting by themselves or in quiet pairs, had lived those lessons and managed to keep breathing.

Trouble did come knocking at the Moose some months back, Crash remembered idly, washing a simple highball glass. There was murmur in the street that some major deals were going down—either being offered or being completed—and that meant a lot of money in the place. As popular as Seattle was with the multinational corporations, it was still at its heart a cash town, and paper UCAS money was in high demand for those wanting to stay off the radar.

Crash didn’t peg the kid for trouble when he first walked in, but certainly knew he didn’t belong. Shifty-eyed and jumpy, he looked around the room but obviously didn’t register the patrons before approaching the bar, taking a moment to steel himself.

“Give me all the money,” he hoarsely whispered, adrenaline turning his throat into an arid desert. He flashed the handle of a pistol in his waistband.

“Kid,” Chase shook his head, unimpressed, “just turn around and walk away. You don’t want this.” Several pairs of eyes turned toward the would-be robber who was looking to interrupt a quiet evening of drinking.

“You don’t get it, shorty,” the youth spat back, slamming his gun down on the bar, “I’m in charge here and I say give me the cash.”

More eyes turned toward the bar, several patrons rising from their seats, grim expressions on grimmer faces.

“I’m trying to do you a favor. You’re in a bad way and don’t know it yet.”

The audacious youth angrily fumbled for the gun on the bartop, but was stopped by two large regulars grabbing him bodily by the elbows, lifting him from the floor. With his feet kicking futilely in the air, the runners “escorted” the robber out the front door.

Chase palmed the small pistol and tossed it in a bin labeled “idiots.” Doubtlessly he’d make some good tips that evening, and the owners would disappear the firearm like they undoubtedly had so many others before.

With a smile he rang up order of tomato beef chow mein for another regular walking in off the drizzling street.

My father once told me the story of a San Francisco bar—Franklin’s—that was frequented by off-duty police and burly dockworkers. Letting the patrons cash their paychecks, it was known to have a lot of money on-hand every Friday. A youth walked in one day, flashed a gun to the bartender, and demanded the stockpile. Unable to be persuaded otherwise by the calm employee, the kid ended up being bodily removed from the bar by its patrons, with the implication that such removal didn’t go well for him. This story was directly inspired by that tale, first told to me maybe 30 years ago.

Header image of The Roost in New York City