22 February 2024

Bad Influence

The Norseman's Bar is the oldest in Laskin, South Dakota. That doesn't mean the building is old or impressive. The original Norseman's was a sod house, and when that finally collapsed, its replacement was a board shanty, which burned in the dirty 30s, and up went the cinderblock building. But it's always been in the same place, same name. As well as a lot of the same names sitting in the same place, being served by the same people year after year. Norwegian Lutherans don't like change. As Detective Jonasson once said, "The main similarity between the Norseman's and the Lutheran church is that everybody knows their pew and keeps to it."
— Eve Fisher, "Bad Influence."

In case you haven't heard, Murder, Neat: A Sleuthsayers Anthology dropped on Tuesday, February 13th, and the above is from my story: "Bad Influence."

Now I have a long history with bars, beginning with parents who loved to go to Tahoe and Las Vegas to gamble (back in the days when big goombahs watched 24/7 to make sure no one stole any money or messed with the kids whose parents were busy losing at slots or cards). And later, I too have pulled all- nighters with friends, ending up with a last beer in a dive bar at 7AM. (Too old for that now. Shudder just thinking about it.) And I've been living in South Dakota for over 30 years now, and I have been a number of different bars all across the state, because... where else are you gonna go?

Here's the deal: South Dakota has 436 towns, 350 have a population of under a thousand, and over 100 of those have a population of less than 100 – and they all have a bar. And in those small towns, the bar is often the only place to get something to eat. Beer, whiskey, burgers, fries and chislic are the staples.

Beef chislic at a restaurant in South Dakota. Wikipedia

If you're lucky, they might have a grilled chicken sandwich, but I wouldn't count on it. Some places do have a special on Saturday nights: one place has prime rib, another (don't ask me how) really good Indonesian food, another hot roast beef sandwiches to die for. But by and large, no. Just the standards.

But really, what else are you going to do in a small town where the reception is poor, there is no cable, during the long Dakota winter nights, or the even longer summer late afternoons? Granted, you're going to pretty much talk about the same stuff you did last night, last week, last year… But there's something about the rehearsal of dreams, grudges, stories, and suspicions over a cold beer and hot fries that warms the soul. And can trigger the occasional fight, where everyone invites themselves to watch, until their cojones freeze, their beer runs out, and/or the cop(s) show up, and they have to go back inside. It's even better when a Poker Run comes to town, or there's a street dance. More opportunities for mayhem, mischief, and multiple arrests.

One thing that is certain is that the people serving and the people drinking remain pretty much the same. Sometimes a waitress or a bartender gets fed up and moves on to the next small town bar. Sometimes a waitress or a bartender is let go, and rumors of sexual assault, embezzlement or other misconduct fly. But here's the thing: they'll always get hired again. You'll see them down the road, at the next bar, the next town. South Dakota, especially rural South Dakota, just doesn't have enough of an employment pool to find new blood.

So what happens when old blood, bad reputations, an ex-con, and a Poker Run all combine on a long hot summer night in Laskin, South Dakota? Well, you'll just have to read "Bad Influence."


Murder, Neat on Kindle and in paperback, is now available at Amazon HERE.

A great, great read, all the way through!


  1. Reading this, Eve, I keep thinking of Prairie Home Companion. Next door in Minnesota, I associate bars with hot toddies, hot buttered rum, and eiswein. Don't hear a lot of calls for a cold, frosty when it's 40° below. Ya gotta be tough to live there.

  2. Growing up in South Dakota, your story brought back memories. I remember regularly driving by the Dew Drop Inn. It had one of those white signs out front that the proprietor pushed black letters onto advertising the daily special. The sign, as I recall, always announced venison chislik.

  3. And what can I ask is chislic? And will it appear in your story?

  4. Thanks, Leigh. Yeah, you gotta be tough up here.
    And Mark... chislic is mandatory.
    Janice, chislic is cubes of meat - generally beef, but sometimes they have venison, or even lamb, deep fried and salted. It is ubiquitous, and hugely popular.

  5. I was going to ask the same thing as Janice! Seriously, I had no idea South Dakota was like this, and thoroughly enjoyed the 'tour'.

  6. Great intro to your story, Eve, as well as to drinking in South Dakota. Like some of your other responders, I've never had chislic either. While drinking in LA you can get every food imaginable, but not that one.

  7. Dare I ask if there are any vegetables in South Dakota? Seriously, Eve, you and I are kindred spirits in so many ways—and then I read one of your Laskin stories or hear you talk about life in South Dakota. Thanks for reassuring us that Garrison Keillor didn't make up Lutherans out of whole cloth for his own purposes.

  8. Thanks, Melodie and Lawrence - if you're ever in a SD rural bar, now you know what to order.
    Liz - the main vegetables are pickles. And corn. And Keillor made up very little - he didn't have to. Just be observant.


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