The Fat Tap (Preview)

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Being one of just a few children in the family had its perks. The biggest had to be holidays when all the parental and familial love got condensed down into a few select presents. School plays always had at least a few family members at them, trips to see family were great always, and never a moment without some guidance could be found in those few lives. Granted, it did lead to being somewhat sheltered when those young ones grew up and ventured out into the world, but it was still something that made being young far better than it was for most. Saul was one of those lucky few, and while he had avoided being as sheltered as his few cousins, he still wasn’t ready for reality when he finally got dumped out into it. The zebra was hardly prepared for how much of a challenge it was in a world dominated by anthros with fingers. Hoofed beasts were second class, and that meant that he had to fight for everything he had.

Fight he did too, and that got him to where he was. Fresh out of college with an enviable position in an illustrious company, the equine had taken great strides to make himself marketable, and to prove he knew what was what. The backing of his family had done a lot to help with this, as well as their support, but the equine had done the vast majority of the work by himself. This was the first thing that he had truly done on his own too, so Saul took great pride in his accomplishment. He needed that pride, as it was something that would keep him going and keep him striving for more. The zebra had rarely gotten to have that feeling when he was a foal, so for him to have it at this stage in his life made him that much stronger. It also made him a bit egotistical, as well as selfish. That was all a part of being the focus of so many for his life and having such an opportunity handed to him right out of college. He knew that was in his personality, but he didn’t care. Nothing like that would stop him, and in a cutthroat corporate environment like the one he was going into, he would need it.

Saul’s job was scheduled to start that particular day, so the zebra was ironing his shirts out early in the morning. The sun had barely crested the horizon when he had awoken, and from his small apartment high up in a skyscraper in the city, the zebra could already see the day beginning below him. It was the signs of a city waking up, and something he always loved to watch. The start of the hustle and bustle, the inklings of fights and noise which would really pick up as the organic environment below woke itself from its slumber. For now, though, it was nearly silent and still slept. This was the perfect time for Saul, during which he could sip his tea, iron his shirts, and just relax in the tranquil quiet that was the morning. His tall, thin build looked back at him faintly in the glass of his windows as he watched the city, showing off his fairly normal equine features. Nothing truly stood out about him, he was simply a good-looking zebra as far as zebras went in his mind, and that was the only opinion he ever really got. So that was the opinion he used, and the one which he was using that morning as well as he kept watching the sun rise.

A ringing shattered that silent peace and nearly made the equine drop his iron. Startled thoroughly, he took a moment to catch his breath before standing up the iron on its back and going off in search of his phone. He normally left it on his kitchen counter, but he had been out celebrating with his college friends the previous night, so he had no idea where he had put it. The ringing continued on, though, not caring for the zebra’s ignorance, and piercing the lack of noise in his apartment. The sensitive ears on the zebra swiveled and pitched up and down as he tried to find his phone, digging through the couch first, then tossing the bedsheets to the floor, and finally looking at the pile of clothes at the foot of his bed which had been haphazardly tossed there from the night prior. It was in that pile, of course, and on the belt of his previous attire. The equine retrieved it frantically, not even looking at the number on the screen before he clipped it to his hoof and brought the device to his ear. He tapped it gently on the side of his head once, and that answered the call; quite a design from a commonly un-innovative society. “Hello?”

“Mr. Okoro?” Came a heavily accented voice from the phone.

“Yes?” The zebra answered, his voice still a bit winded from his frantic search and the start his phone had given him.

“I’m afraid I have some tragic news. Your uncle, Themba, has passed away. He said t-“

“Uncle Tem?! When? How?!” Saul frantically replied, his voice raised and shaking as he heard that. He had always been so close to his uncle Themba, or Tem as most called him. To hear that the stout, jolly zebra had passed on was unfathomable to Saul, especially since Tem was the youngest of his uncles.

“It was a car accident. He died on impact, so there was no suffering. He asked that you be contacted first, and mentions you alone as his sole benefactor in his will.”

“Why? How…”

“I’m sorry for your loss Saul. We do need you to come by the hospital to identify the b-“

“What hospital?” Saul cut in, the female voice on the other end letting out a slightly annoyed sigh. The zebra had to bite his tongue hard not to say anything to that reaction, but then again he could feel emotions bubbling up in him that he hadn’t needed in a long time. “Just tell me… What hospital?”

“Our Lady of Hope…”

**********

The next several days were an utter blur for Saul. He hadn’t slept, he had barely eaten, he had just been running around doing as much planning and prep work and signing as he could manage on top of trying to grieve. He had never needed to arrange a funeral nor handle the legal proceedings of being in a will, but he had to do it all at once since he was the closest by far to where his uncle had passed on. His family had been there to support the zebra as much as they could, but they had lives like he did, and they all needed to keep those lives going. A few had come to stay with the distraught equine, but most of the actual work of getting his uncle cremated, the will handled, and his ashes spread out was handled by Saul. It was exhausting, it was soul-crushing, and it had never given him a chance to grieve. Sure, he had shed a few tears here and there at the funeral and when he was receiving his inheritance, but the zebra had never had a chance to really shed his tears and say goodbye to the one mentor he had ever truly known.

All that was done with, though and the only thing left for the zebra was to return to his empty apartment after dropping off his last relative at the airport and collect himself. He had held it together amazingly well even as he had seen his family off at the airport, but he had barely even the strength to climb the stairs up to his apartment. His mind was broken, his spirit was shattered, and every fiber of his being abhorred being awake and moving at that moment. The zebra just wanted to curl up and rest, but there would be none of that for him. He had to get himself up the stairs in front of him and right into his desk chair so that he could start doing the paperwork for his job, as well as the business he had inherited in the will. Two new jobs in the midst of all that had been happening to him… Saul had to wonder if there was some higher power out to kill him at that very moment.

The power would have to wait, though, as Saul reached the top of the stairs and all but stumbled down the short hall to his unit. He leaned against the door for a moment, sighing heavily and just using the thick slab of wood to hold up his lithe frame. He looked drunk to any passerby, but thankfully the hallway was devoid of life as he just leaned and fumbled with his keys. He didn’t want to be there; he didn’t want this reality to be a part of his life. All he wanted was a break from the sudden influx of despair and insanity which had grabbed him days ago and had yet to loosen its hold. Sure, things were going to be going easier now that the funeral was done and the last of the will paperwork had been signed, but Saul knew he was in no way out of the woods yet. He had needed to take grieving leave on his first day at a new job for example, and while his boss had been understanding, the zebra knew it would be months before he earned the older bear’s trust back again.

Then there was the elephant in the room for the zebra, which he was doing his best to avoid but knew he would need to address at some point. He had inherited a bar from his uncle in his passing, along with a very substantial portion of money and two houses. Both houses were immediately put up for rent to a couple of the zebra’s struggling family members, but the bar was another beast in and of itself. The will specifically stated that Saul was only allowed to have his inheritance if he took full ownership of the place and kept it open for at least a full year. The equine had yet to go through with even seeing the place, though, so that would be a little difficult. He had no idea what kind of bar his uncle could even own, let alone run in his state. Owning two houses had also come as a shock when he found the state of his uncle too, but then again when Saul thought about it, he knew that the older zebra had always been one of excess.

Tembra had always been one to overindulge, be it in food, drink, sex… He had never needed rehab or a program, but he had always been the tipsy, jolly, fat uncle that every single anthro had ever had. That was just a part of why Saul had loved the older zebra, and a small part at that. It was fun to be around as a kid, but even better as an adult, as Saul could use his uncle as an example of how to live life to the fullest. He had often gone and seen Tembra during his later years, frequenting the elder zebra’s bar and home. His visits had waned over the last couple of years, though, and that was something which Saul had to hate himself for. He hadn’t gotten to see his uncle, someone who had become essentially a surrogate father to him, in almost six months. He had seen that his uncle had been getting unhealthily large too, and had he just gone and seen him… There were so many things running through Saul’s mind as he stood leaning against his door trying to maintain his composure. He had to hang on to the good things, though, the memories of laughing with his equine uncle and the feeling of happiness and satisfaction he got from good advice or a good drink with the elder. That was all that he had left, and would have to make do going forward.

Knowing he had little time to dwell, Saul steeled himself and unlocked his apartment, stepping inside slowly and allowing the door to swing shut behind him. This was not something that he did often, as he didn’t like letting his neighbors know he was home by a loud bang of his door, but he was just too tired to care at that point. He barely spent any time showing that, though, and instead just tossed his coat aside and strode over to his computer. He had work to do there, and he needed to get it done if he had any hope of maintaining the sliver of sanity which was keeping him from curling up into a sobbing mess. His nerves were shot, his mind was addled, and yet work would just be his zen and his center for the time being. It always had been; something that his mind could focus on so that he could find a place of peace rather than a place of turmoil, but right now that was something that Saul needed more than ever.

Sliding himself into his large desk chair, the zebra just stretched out his arms for a moment and let out a long, heavy sigh. He then placed one hooved appendage over his face and left it there for a moment, trying to use the hard surface to block out his vision of his monitor. Saul had to admit that he was jealous of the furs which didn’t have hooves, as they could scratch itches and move with a dexterity which the equine could only dream of. Granted, there were advantages to being all hooved like Saul, but in the society in which he lived, there weren’t many. He just had to suck it up and deal with it, though, and with his family all having done the same, Saul knew enough tricks that he never was at too much of a loss for what to do with himself. He had even been lucky enough to get split-toed paws, which meant he could very broadly lift things without needing two hooves or a wrist. It was a small perk, but one he accepted nonetheless.

The zebra needed to work still, and he was stalling. He placed his paws onto his keyboards, which were a pair of hoof-shaped discs on his desk. These discs rotated to letters all around, and all that Saul had to do to type was to move the disc in the direction of the letter and click it down. The best way that he could describe it was the analog sticks on a controller of a video game console which he had seen anthros use before, but it was for typing. It was a purely equine invention and one which Saul had to do his best to use. He had never gotten used to it, though, and would often fumble along typing out what he needed. Thankfully most of his work involved just mouse work on the computer, but even that was somewhat tricky as it meant changing the mode of one of the keyboards from keyboard to mouse. The other at that point was simply for arrow keys or any other use like that, and Saul would more often than not move his hoof without thinking and mess something up. Practice made perfect, though, and dealing with all of the paperwork which he had been was invaluable practice. He was already getting better at the computer, and only could improve the more time he used it.

The job that he needed to do was simple, and something which Saul could accomplish in a few short minutes if he rushed and didn’t read. He wanted to show his boss that he would be careful, though, so he pulled up the contract he needed to read and did just that; read it. He didn’t skim it like he knew most would either, he read everything and made sure to highlight and annotate any parts of the item which weren’t fully up to snuff. The zebra had high standards and a knack for picking apart problems in a contract, and that was part of what had gotten him the job which he currently had. Sure, it did mean that his life was a bit more chaotic simply by virtue of being so astute, but he would take that small price for being careful. It also was an even smaller price to pay when matched with how often he would get something for free or get out of a contract he didn’t want to be in simply by finding himself a loophole. His uncle had taught him all of that of course, and doing it just made the zebra’s heart ache.

He needed to focus, though, so he wiped his dampening eyes with his upper arms, and then set to work reading. The paperwork in question was just a simple contract for an acquisition, so the zebra didn’t spend very much time on it. He had read the whole contract backward and forwards so many times during his time at school and during the training period before he had been hired that he figured that he could handle not being as thorough as he normally was. He did catch a few niggling errors in the parts where they usually were, as well as one blatant attempt at the company which was being bought to get a better deal than had been agreed on. This alone meant the whole thing was invalid, but Saul needed to do his job and catch all the errors so that he didn’t need to reread the whole thing twice. The problems were few, though, so he didn’t waste long just kicking the email back to management with the annotated problems and his few notes on what to do to solve them. That was all that he needed to do too; work was taking it easy on him as he recovered from losing such an important family member thankfully.

That done, Saul finally got to opening the email from the lawyer about the will. He had been over to sign the thing and to read it, but he had been too upset and tired to even comprehend what he was doing. He had just signed some paperwork and left in a stupor, something that he had never truly done before, and now that he was staring at the five emails in his inbox which were a result of his signature, it was something he vowed never to do again. He couldn’t even begin to think about what those emails held, but he did have a good guess just looking at the subject lines. Nothing that he wanted to deal with, that much he was sure of. Something about a labor dispute, wondering where pay was going to come from, and then three emails from lawyers of all sorts all demanding something or other be signed. Saul wanted nothing to do with it all but knew that unless he wanted to have no money from his uncle, he would have to deal with it.

He clicked on the least offensive one first and began to read into it. The email was brief and had a simple PDF attached which was the deed to the property which Saul had inherited. It also gave a few details about the place, such as location, time at which he could be in to pick up the physical copy of the deed, and a few other things along those lines. The zebra barely cared, though and rolled his hoof along to get to the bottom of the email so that he could mark it as read and move on. He would need to take care of that, but it would need to get marked down later in his phone; he had the time.

The second email was pretty much the same; just chronicling the details of employees and how his being the new boss meant that he would need to come by and talk to a different lawyer about health insurance and the group not being in a union and other things. The third was something about the inheritance, which Saul just saved for later as he was already getting bleary-eyed from reading all that he was about his uncle. This was not to say that he wasn’t paying attention, he just didn’t have the mental strength to deal with what was on the screen in front of him at that moment. He wasn’t even sure that he could handle the last two emails about the labor dispute currently happening at the bar, nor the one asking where new paychecks would be coming from. Saul had no idea how he was going to pay the workers there, nor what the dispute could even be about since he knew no one there.

That was when an idea struck him, one born of a mind which was too addled with grief and sorrow and the other emotions which came from a loss to think truly clearly. If he were to look back on his decision that night later on in his life, he would have wondered just what in the hell he was thinking. He wouldn’t have regretted it, though, as it was where the tale of Saul and his newly-acquired bar really begins to gain traction. The idea was a crazy one for the equine, and one that had he had any of his sanity about him, he would have never thought of it. He didn’t though right then, he was doing what he rarely did and thinking with his heart instead of his head. That had never steered him wrong persay, but one as smart as Saul never really let logic go. His mind was too taken by trying to hold itself together, to keep on the good face which the zebra had maintained for so long throughout everything that had happened; to not break down and cry.

His idea was simple; go to the bar and visit it for himself instead of trying to handle everything over the computer. Being the smarter, quieter type all of his life in spite of having such a loving and open family, Saul had never been outgoing in the least. He preferred the solitude of a book or behind a screen to the real world, which had always been somewhat unkind to his equine self. His brain kept him in the higher part of the class, and though he had never intentionally flaunted it, graduating valedictorian at every school he attended had never let him be with the less-intelligent, more normal furs all around him. Being a homosexual hadn’t helped those matters either, but it had never hindered him either. He was well known and well liked enough that he was never picked on persay, but he was always one who was given a bit of a wide berth all throughout his schooling career. All in all, it was just odd for him to suddenly touch that outgoing side of him which had been nearly never used his entire life.

He was going to do it, though, and before he could even think of talking himself out of the idea he had his coat on and was walking out of the door. He wasn’t even sure how he had gotten there, and gave himself the quick three-hoof to make sure he had everything: keys, wallet, and phone. All of it was there, and the zebra just shut his door and gave it a gentle nudge to lock it. Equines needed push-locks, meaning that the door locked itself from just being pushed on rather than having to turn anything. It was also unlocked by a RFID chip in a card which was permanently left inside the wallet, placed there by an anthro. Keys were not something which equines could handle, and that did make getting into doors a bit harder, but thankfully the landlord where Saul was staying had been kind enough to allow him to install the custom locks needed to accommodate his hooved appendages.

Saul barely thought of that, though, as he just nudged the door oncemore to be sure, and then started walking to the elevator in his building. He had memorized the address of the bar, a photographic memory, and knew it was just a short cab ride away. He wasn’t sure if he was going to have signal where he was, but he didn’t want to have to try and flag down a cab once he got down to the level of the sidewalk. Thinking quickly, he simply said aloud, “Phone.” Instantly, the device which was clipped to his ear chirped to life and gave two clicks into his ear signaling that it was ready. Hooves weren’t great for phones, so everything was far easier done by voice, and it was something which Saul had more than gotten used to. The zebra spoke clearly as he walked, having to slow down just a bit so the wind of his motion wouldn’t affect the mic near his ear. “Call me a cab.”

“Calling Easy Cab,” responded a gruff male voice, obviously chosen by the zebra over the sultry female one which normally came with the phone. A couple beeps and some ringing later, and Saul was speaking to a very strongly-accented anthro on the other end of the phone. The two exchanged pleasantries, then Saul requested a cab to meet him at his apartment. While he did that, he reached the elevator and gave the down button a nice push with the bottom of one of his hooves, having to be careful not to hit it too hard and break the button as he had countless times throughout his life. The dispatcher on the phone in his ear jovially acknowledged the request, then went silent for a moment before letting the zebra know that there was cab just two blocks away and it would be there momentarily. Saul thanked him and then stepped into the lift as the line clicked dead. Modern technology, even if it was a bit far behind for equines like himself, never failed to amaze Saul with all that it could do.

One quick ride later and the equine was in the lobby of his building, giving a nod to the portly security guard who always watched the place at night. The nod was returned by a very light grunt of acknowledgment, which made Saul sigh inwardly. He wasn’t the best at being social, but he did at least try to be polite whenever he could. He just wanted that effort returned sometimes, but even that looked to be too much to ask in modern society. Instead of worrying about it, though, the equine just strode over to the door with his hooves clicking on the tile below, which echoed throughout the large lobby. He barely noted the sound, though, and just made it to the door and gave it a shove. He could already see the cab through the glass exit, and gave it a light wave once he got the door opened. The driver waved back in response, and Saul had to grin at that. He was getting at least somewhere with someone that evening, and he had to hope that things would keep going that way.

Opening the door to the cab proved to be a bit of a task, but somehow he managed it after some fumbling and slid into the vehicle. The driver looked back at him the entire time and then gave his forehead a light smack once he realized why the equine had taken so long to get in. “Sorry about that buddy. I would have let you in, but I wasn’t even thinking. I’ll let you out when we get where yer headed though to make it up to ya though.”

“Oh, it’s alright. Not many of us zebras around here after all,” Saul replied with a light chuckle. The driver, clearly both playing up his kindness and just making conversation as a part of his job, laughed along with the zebra for a moment before calming down and speaking again.

“So where’re ya headed?”

“A bar over on Konrad, 13-”

“Oh, that bar… Alright then buddy, I know where that is. I have to say though; you look a bit scrawny to be headed there.” The driver wasted no time after getting his little quip in and put the car in drive. Saul was a bit confused as to what the bear in the front seat meant, and gave it a moment to sink in before inquiring. He didn’t want to distract his transporter while he was merging either, so once they were on the road and rolling, he went for his question.

“What makes you say that?”

“Every guy I’ve ever taken ov’r there is a bit… Rounder than you are foal. What, you never been?”

“No actually, I never have. I just inherited the place from my uncle…” Saul trailed off, and the driver instantly went from being just a little snarky and faking his kindness to genuine concern for Saul.

“Eesh, sorry about that bud. Hate to ask, but did he at least go quick?”

“Yeah, it was a car crash. Some drunk t-boned him and his driver at a free-way off ramp…” Saul again trailed off, as he could feel his eyes welling up again. He hadn’t really sat down and talked to anyone about what had happened with Tembra, and now here he was in a cab doing it. He knew that he should be able to hold it together better than he was, but something about just even saying what had happened before he had even come to terms with it himself was making coping utterly impossible. The zebra was at a loss for what to do, so he just went to looking out the window in silence as the bear offered his condolences, then looked in the rear-view mirror and saw just how upset his passenger was. There wasn’t any more talking after that, out of either one of them.

Upon arriving a few minutes later, the zebra began to fumble with the door again just as he had when he had gotten into the cab. His driver kept his word, though and was on his side of the cab opening the door before Saul even had a chance to get a part of his hoof under the handle inside. “Thanks.”

“I said I would after all foal. You owe me…” The driver paused, taking a peek inside his cab at the meter to see the readout. “$15.74 for the ride.” Saul nodded and reached to his belt for his wallet. He clipped his hoof into the clip of money and cards, and with a grace that could only come from years of practice, placed it between his hooves and pushed down on one of the four buttons on the top. Out came a small wad of cash, which was then offered up to the driver with a slightly-forced smile.

“Nab a twenty and keep it.”

“Wow, never seen a horse wallet… That’s kinda cool. Thanks a lot for the tip there boss, I’ll be on call till late tonight if you need a ride back.”

“Ok, I’ll ask for…”

“Rick.”

“Rick when I call then. Thanks for the lift,” Saul said as he clipped his wallet back onto his belt now that payment had been grabbed from it. The zebra then gave another forced smile to his driver and turned to look at the building which he had been let out in front of. The bear was already climbing back into his car at this point and gave an unnoticed wave to the equine as he drove off. Saul was too engrossed in looking at the building which he now owned to be paying attention to the bear in the cab. It was not at all what he had expected, though exactly what he expected when he thought about it. It catered to his uncle’s more private tastes, but to have them so publicly shown was odd and a bit discomforting for the zebra. He didn’t know what to think as he looked at the large, wooden structure with a neon sign on the front of it, and an obvious feel of a bar which had seen some serious use.

The building was three stories tall, though only the first two looked to be used by the bar. The third had windows with curtains and the lights shut off, giving away that someone more likely than not lived there. He could only imagine an employee of the place was brave enough to live above a bar, though he did know stranger beasts. The lettering right below those windows was blindingly bright, and spelled out in letters that looked to be bloated with fat “The Fat Tap”. They stuck out especially bright thanks to their red coloring and made Saul wish he was allowed to change at least that about the place immediately. He wasn’t allowed to touch a thing, though, and as such he just kept looking over the property which he now owned. The building was painted black, though it was faded and looked to need touching up in a few spots. Doors on the front, one going off to the side of the poorly-lit entrance and a double-set right beside those, both had seen heavy use from the pawprints and hoof-marks adorning their edges. The heavy traffic along the sidewalk and the several cars in the lot to the right of the place sealed off that it was a popular spot, though Saul couldn’t imagine why. The place looked like an utter dive, but looks from the outside could be deceiving. He also was the new owner, so he had to man up and just go inside to see what it was all about.

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