The Stranger

The fellow walks into the Attic Bar & Restaurant, looks around, sees many empty tables, and approaches the bar. Wal-terr watches him closely.

“Good evening, signor, I’ll have a Campari soda.”

“What the hell’s that?”

“A fine digestive drunk prior to a substantial supper.”

“Never heard of it.”

“A professional bartender would know.”

“Not this American bartender. Few of my brethren in this part of the world are, in fact, professional.”

Silence. The stranger glances behind the bar. He points.

“On the bottom shelf, further down. Yes.”

Wal-terr holds up the bottle labeled Cinzano. The stranger lightly claps.

“With ice?” asks Wal-terr.

“And a good splash of club soda.”

Wal-terr mumbles and makes the drink.

“Anything else? Want to look at a menu?”

“No, grazie.”

“You’re not having a substantial supper?”


“You’re Italian?”


“Why the fancy clothes and headgear?”

“My uniform, you could say. It costs thousands, sir.”

“Aren’t you afraid of being robbed? This neighborhood isn’t the best. Are you someone important?”

“I was. Perhaps still am.”

“You lost?”

“I’m looking for someone. I figured he’d be here. Never seems to be anywhere else.”

“That description fits most of the people who come here.”

“The Sardine.”


“Why do you want him?”

“Is that your business?”

“The Sardine’s particular about the company he keeps. Are you his friend?”

“Never met him. We have a mutual acquaintance.”

“Nobody ever knows where to find him. He finds us.”

“That’s fine. I’ll wait.”

The stranger sipped his Campari soda and made a face.

“Something wrong?” asks Wal-terr.

“Tastes kind of stale.”

Wal-terr picks up the Cinzano bottle. It had dust from top to bottom.

“We haven’t used this stuff for years.”

“It’ll have to do.”

A few minutes pass. Frank Weathers and Joe T. enter and sit at the bar a few seats from the stranger.

“Who’s the guy in the robe and party hat?” Joe T. asks Wal-terr.

“That’s a mitre,” says Frank.

“What’s a mitre?”

[“Haven’t you heard of the mitric system?” asks the Pun Pal.]

“You’re looking at it, you idiot,” Wal-terr snaps.

“Why’s he wearing it?”

The stranger turns and raises his glass.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” he says. “To answer your question. A pope wears one.”

“He can’t be Pope Francis,” says Frank.

“I hope the hell not,” says the stranger.

“Is it Benedict, then?” asks Joe T.

“He says he’s Italian,” says Wal-terr. “And that he knows the Sardine.”

“I said no such thing. I never met him.”

“Why do you want to see him?” asks Frank.

“I see no reason to hide the fact. We have something, actually someone, in common.”

“The Sardine’s not religious,” says Joe T.

“What’s that matter?”

“You said you were a pope.”

“Not a very religious one.”

“That’s impossible,” Joe T. cries out.

“I was a pope when popes weren’t confined by society’s rules.

“Like that Borgia guy on television,” says Frank.

The stranger turns red and gets quiet. Wal-terr and Joe T. look at Frank. What had he said that was so offensive?

“I am not a fan of that particular pope or show.” The stranger finishes his Campari. “I should’ve expected this. Two cable series, at the same time, on that louse, Alexander VI.” He pauses. “I pre-dated that Borgia prick by thirty years. My family, the Riarios, put the kabash on Roderigo and Cesare.”


“You really don’t know who I am. A tragedy. Okay, a grave injustice. But I was the greatest pope during the Renaissance. Sixtus IV.”

“Don’t ring any bells,” says Frank.

“Ever hear of the Sistene Chapel?”

“Michelangelo built it,” says Joe T.

“My God, I’m surrounded by ignoramuses. He designed St Peter’s Basilica. My nephew Julius II hired him to paint the ceiling of the Chapel.”

Sixtus catches his mitre which starts to topple off his head.

“Why you want to see the Sardine?” asks Joe T.

“None of your damn business.” He pauses. “Give me another Campari. Hold the club soda. I think it’s flat.”

“Don’t worry, Joe, the Sardine’ll tell us,” says Frank.



Bob Castle, a.k.a A Sardine on Vacation has regularly published articles for Bright Lights Film Journal since 2000 and in 2020 his novel, The Hidden Life, was published.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Saturday, May 18, 2024 - 21:07