Subtle Forms of Manipulation

Detective Peter O'Brien sat at the far end of the bar staring at a glass of Scotch and soda. He heard the voices of his unit barking in his ears. He heard his family crying in his head. He remembered the interventions and finally the rehabilitation. He remembered feeling weak and powerless when he confessed to being an alcoholic.

O'Brien could smell the Scotch and soda as he watched the glass sweat with pure nectar. It was the drink of the gods, and he wanted to taste it. He wanted to sip it down before anyone saw him. The alcohol was well within his reach and there wasn't a soul who knew him standing around. His hand would shake and his knees trembled. He wanted so much to reach out and touch the drink. The bar tender brought his change and moved the drink closer to him.

He knew that both of his hands were free as his eyes were just locked on that beautiful drink. He noticed every little bubble pop as he watched the condensation run down the outside of the glass and soak the napkin beneath it. He slowly looked around the bar and only saw a handful of patrons sitting around nursing drinks. He saw two men playing pool and a waitress with a cowboy hat serving ice cold beers in tall glasses.

It had to be a sign, he thought to himself. One drink, what harm could it do? Maybe two, but he felt sure he could control that and stop at two. Perhaps three would be his limit, and then he'd go home and forget about drinking for the rest of his life. Since he was going to stop drinking for the rest of his life, the limit should be five, or six.

The detective's mouth went dry as he tried to compensate by licking his lips. He thought about the other police officers at rehab talking about their repeated failures. They talked about how they thought they could handle just one drink, and then they crashed. O'Brien was tougher, he thought. He was experienced and had a strong will. He wouldn't fail, he couldn't fail. His unit was counting on him staying around. He couldn't let them down.

O'Brien knew that somewhere deep down inside him, he could handle a drink. He never truly believed he can go on with his life in the state of sobriety. If he planned to drink after weeks out of rehab, why not now. He stumbled into the bar solely to check on an abandoned vehicle. At first he wanted to call in uniforms to handle it, but he had to face the music so he decided to enter alone. He saw the neon signs flashing and the drinks pouring. It had to be a sign. It was fate.

The detective walked in and made his way to the back end of the bar. That was where he planted himself as he battled the two demons on his shoulders. One telling him to just have one, and the other telling him to splurge. There were no good and bad, just evil and eviler.

The waitress with the cowboy hat walked over and leaned against the bar sideways so she could get a good look at the detective.

“If you're saying a prayer before you drink, say one for me,” she said.

The detective's face looked broken, empty. He nodded abstractedly, his watery eyes washing over the waitress and then became fixed on the tray filled with drinks that the bar tender handed her.

“Drink up,” she said as she walked away carrying her tray.

O'Brien looked at the counter and saw a row of flavored vodkas that appeared to be dancing. He closed and opened his eyes and they were still again.

The detective made himself reach forward as he touched the glass. The moisture felt so good on his fingers. It was inviting and he felt invited, welcomed.

“Hey,” said the bar tender. “Are you feeling okay?”

O'Brien nodded and smiled.

He knew that he promised his friends that he wouldn't touch another drink. He also thought that what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. He just had to have that one drink. With his shaking right hand he clasped the glass, raised it slowly so that the shaking wouldn't spill the alcohol spirits. O'Brien was sniffing the Scotch as it moved closer. He smiled as the Scotch and melting ice touched the top part of his lips.

That was it. He savored the first sip. It was like a weight being lifted off of his shoulder. His face was calm and serene. The shaking stopped and his breathing was no longer laboring.

From over his left shoulder someone yelled loudly, “ what the fuck, Pete?”

O'Brien spat out the drink and almost choked on a piece of ice as the glass hit the floor. He turned to his left side and saw Laura Kimber standing there with her hands on her hips, obviously not happy to see him.

“You promised the entire unit.”

“I'm an addict.”

“You kicked that, Pete,” she said. “Now you're just being weak!”

O'Brien's shoulders sagged and his face grimaced as the Scotch and soda was still attacking his taste buds. They were reminding him of the good old days. The Good old days?

While drunk he almost fell into the seaside and drowned. Instead he missed the water by four feet and hit a pile of river rocks cracking his skull. He also remembered tying one on as he crashed into an oak tree that came crumbling down. It took out six parked cars and crushed his cruiser flat. Captain Roque almost fired him that night. Instead they elected to help him. The interventions started, and then the stint at rehab.

“I'm weak Laura,” he said as he stood up. “I'm weak.”

“You gotta hit rock bottom Pete, before you can climb out of this hole. I'll be here for you if you want me too. But if you don't want my help, tell me so that I can walk out that door and leave you here in your pleasure, selfishness and your addiction.”

“Plus death,” added the waitress in the cowboy hat.

Kimber nodded.

“Lets get out of here, Laura.”

She smiled.

© 2016 Frank Atanacio

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Comments 34 comments

always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 months ago from Southern Illinois

Frank, your detailed writing was so vivid, I could see O'Brien sweating at the bar. When I worked at a rehab unit for recovering alcoholics, I heard this story, and you wrote their story. When Laura put her hands on her hips, she came into view for me. This is what I call a brilliantly written story.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

thank you so much always exploring :)

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 5 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Wonderfully done. I feel the depths of despair. Our human condition is one that is lived.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

thank you Eric for stopping by..:) have a good week :)

Genna East profile image

Genna East 5 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

I never acquired a taste for Scotch or the hard liquors - unless the taste is thoroughly disguised like a Pina Colada. But if I were one of these detectives, I might develop one and not be able to escape those demons of addiction. Alcohol abuse is not unusual for police officers/detectives. I can't help but feel sorry for them --the pain, degradation and cruelty they witness almost on a daily basis is unimaginable. I always enjoy your stories, Frank; I'm addicted to your flash fiction works of art -- I DO have good taste in writers. :-)

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

Thank you Genna East for the wonderful comment..bless you

MsDora profile image

MsDora 5 months ago from The Caribbean

Kimber to the rescue! Tthanks for sharing O'Brien's struggle so ordinary people could know that it is possible to struggle and overcome, if for no other reason than respect for a friend--and also respect for a promise made to a friend. I really like this story.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

Msdora thank you for recognizing what they go through.. bless you

billybuc profile image

billybuc 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

I've been at that bar with that same drink. Luckily I had a Laura who didn't walk out on me. Thanks for the reminder, my friend.

Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 5 months ago

Oh my gosh Frank, I could almost taste the Scotch and I don't even drink. What a fantastic writer you are.

Blessings and hugs my friend

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

Billybuc.. Haven't we all been at that bar? LOL thanks for stopping by..:)

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

Shyron thank you for being kind..:)

mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 5 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Frank, that could not have been written better. Your poured the Scotch and brought everyone of us to the barstool next to O'Brien.

Missy Smith profile image

Missy Smith 5 months ago from Florida

So much attention to detail in this one. It truly tells and lets the reader feel how an alcoholic must feel when faced with their demon.

I find it amazing every time I read one of your stories, Frank, that you can relate to every situation in such a real way as if you have lived these characters' lives. You are truly talented in this way.

I love that Kimber was the one to reach out her helping hand. I think she is the one I am drawn to the most when I read your detective stories.

I keep thinking about how unbelievably detailed this one was though. I mean, you put us in the scene of the story; that's really exciting when I'm reading. The details are always the most important part of the story for me, and you have aced the details as always. :) ~Missy

Dana Tate profile image

Dana Tate 5 months ago from LOS ANGELES

You paint a very vivid picture here. I could imagine the frost on the glass and my mouth watered at the thought of that first sip of liquid courage. I'm glad Kimber, came just in time.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

Mckbirds.. thank you for reading...

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

Missy, good to see you and thanks for commenting on my subtle.. Dana Tate it's always good to see you too bless you both

Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 5 months ago from southern USA


I don't know how it is possible, but your flashes are getting better and better. This could be a prequel to Ruby's Watering Hole flash. The waitress knew just how it could end ...or does!

You made us all feel the disease so well there sitting at that bar, making our mouths parched for that elixir.

Superb writing once again. You are sure to have my vote for the best flash fiction writer for this year's Hubbie Awards, although Ruby is raising the bar ...pun not intended : )

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

raising the bar.. hmmm.. LOL thanks for the kind comment.. Ruby has come a long way baby...:) thanks for reading my O'Brien flash Faith.....

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 5 months ago from USA

I agree with Faith Reaper. Your flash fiction is getting even better, with its vivid details. This one really describes the internal struggle this addict faces. I didn't know there was a Letterpile niche site; must have missed that announcement. Congratulations for having your hub selected. They need to select more. You are a fantastic creative writer. Sharing this.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 5 months ago from Queensland Australia

It's been a long time since I drank a Scotch and soda, Frank, but your description of how O'Brien saw and experienced that glass of alcohol was superb. I had never picked up that he was an alcoholic before. Great job.

Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 5 months ago from Georgia

I like the taste of wine myself, so I can't imagine being so in love with the taste of hard liquor. But addiction is addiction, no matter the fixation. However, you very adeptly took me there with your vivid descriptives in all the senses: smell, sight, hearing, even touch, but most of all, taste. I really like the line "...there were no good or bad, just evil and eviler." That seemed to sum up the detective's entire dilemma. As always expected - superb. Take care. Cyndi

word55 profile image

word55 5 months ago from Chicago

Hey, hey such a detailed scene. That's great writing Frank. They can use you in Hollywood USA. It's sad to know that cops drink like that though. Blessings my brother.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

Thank you so much Flourish.. I didn't know about this site either... I thought I was snipped..:)

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

Jodah, thank you for supporting O'Brien and the other Kimber characters through the past years.. bless you...:)

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

wow Cyndi10, good to see you, hope all is well, yeah I liked that line too.. took me a while to put it in, but I did..:) Bless you

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

Words thank you for sharing your words..:)

PeggyWds 5 months ago

Wow...the detail in this story was great. Good that Kimber arrived just in the nick of time. Sounds like it might still go either way with regard to his addiction since he came that close to drinking once again.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton Author

thank you Peggywds.. for reading my short flash :)

Deb Hirt 4 months ago

Weakness is correct, but what caused that addiction? Was it all those years that he couldn't help some, or does it go even deeper?

manatita44 profile image

manatita44 4 months ago from london

Ha ha. You played that one a little bro. Talk about the suspense! Wow! Good old Laura. Just in time!

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 4 months ago from Shelton Author

thanks so much Deb, and manatita for stopping by :)

cam8510 profile image

cam8510 4 months ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016.

Wow, Frank, you hit that squarely. Pete stumbled into that place where drank the fun right out of drinking and forgot the joy of sobriety. Best of luck to him because Laura can't be there every time. Strong writing.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 4 months ago from Shelton Author

thanks for stopping by Cam.. heading to your page to return the favor.. :)

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