I don't think I've re-posted this before. If I have, then read it again. I won't tell anyone.
“What can I get you?”
Startled, Amy looked to find the bartender waiting for her answer.
“I’ll have a rum and coke.”
As the bartender left, Amy went back to her thoughts. He soon returned with her drink. Paid in cash, he soon returned to the end of the bar.
Amy looked at herself in the mirror behind the bar. Examining her hair, she could only think of how she badly needed to go have something done. It needed trimming, had long lost the original style and she was beginning to wonder if it was time to start adding some color. The occasional gray hair was starting to become too common.
“Damn” was her reaction to her face. Attractive, she knew the makeup was hiding the start of the smile lines and blotches, which were her reward for spending too much time in the sun during college. They were fun times, but the cost was now demanded by her age. At the far end of her thirties, she was now facing some things she found disturbing.
Sipping her drink, she thought of the last fifteen years. She wanted to be a journalist, so she pursued the career. At first, the constant push for stories was a challenge. She found the work satisfying, until the constant exposure to the underbelly of society left her jaded. Reporting was a continuous battle between facts and slander. She knew more about the movers and shakers than she could reveal. They were generally reprobates and she despised many.
Looking around the club, she found few patrons and nobody else at the bar. It was quiet and she wondered what inspired her to stop. Maybe the disgust had finally reached her limit. The current mayoral race was a mud-slinging extravaganza and this club was the first one that looked safe on her way home. Covering the speech of one candidate was her assignment and she knew she couldn’t report what a low life she became in her effort for success. The carnage of destroyed careers was her infamous legacy. Backstabbing and unethical leverage was her method to the top. An expert with her methods, she was hated by most that really knew her.
Her thoughts wandered to her ex-husband. “What a loser” crossed her mind. His needy whining and jealousy finally brought the end. “What did I see in that asshole?” was her final thought before she pushed him from her mind and thought of her book.
It was a work of fiction; a composite of her experiences with political figures condensed into one character. About halfway through, she needed to be working on it, but lost the inspiration. She had to deal with politicians almost daily. Writing about them lost its appeal over a year ago. Her effort to break away from reporting was slipping away and she knew it. Her current mindset only made it worse. She really didn’t care much any longer.
She barely noticed the man that approached and sat two seats down from the bar.
The bartender spoke first: “Evening Craig.”
The deep voice that responded had a slight twang, which she determined was from Texas. Turning, she watched him sit down and answer: “Evening, Sam.”
Sam? The tag on the bartender’s shirt spelled Paul. Intrigued, she sat quietly and listened.
“It looks like we’re getting low, Sam.”
“I have another bottle under the counter.”
Amy looked over and watched the bartender pour two fingers of Maker’s Mark into a glass, place a cube of ice and replace the almost empty bottle back under the counter.
“I appreciate you keeping the good stuff handy, Sam.”
“It’s the least I can do. You helped me out.”
Sam only nodded, took a small sip and started examining his hands.
Amy glanced at his hands for a moment and turned away. She didn’t want to look too curious, or instigate a conversation she didn’t want.
His hands were deeply veined, obviously very strong and the knuckles scarred on both hands. Risking another glance, she realized he was still looking at his hands and not paying attention. Taking a few moments longer to investigate, she realized she was fascinated by the man.
She again turned away and digested what she observed. He was probably in his late fifties, dressed casually in gray slacks and a pull over shirt; around five feet nine, with a stocky build. His light brown hair was gray at the temples; the back of his neck was crossed with lines from the sun and there was an ugly, three inch scar on the side of his neck.
Craig spoke: “Have you seen Ann?”
“I saw her yesterday at the supermarket.”
“How’s she doing?”
“Good. She had John with her. He’s growing like a weed.”
“Was that prick with her?”
“No, and I didn’t ask. She was in a good mood, so I figure she finally dumped him.”
“That’s good…for her, and him.”
They were quiet for a few moments, before Craig spoke again: “I appreciate you keeping an eye on them, Sam.”
Amy, now curious, tried to put the pieces together. Who was Ann? An ex-wife? A girl-friend? Who?
As she sat and pondered, Craig spoke again: “I’ll be right back. I drank too much coffee at dinner.”
As he rose, Amy looked again to further her investigation. She could tell he was trim, had a good build and carried himself with confidence. Her mind worked through the different typical things she knew about people. She determined he was either military, in athletics, or both. The thought only made her more curious.
Looking at Paul, Amy asked: “Why does he call you Sam?”
“He calls all bartenders Sam. That’s some kind of rule.”
Not willing to allow the opportunity pass, Amy asked: “Is Ann his ex-wife?”
Paul smiled and replied: “No, she’s his daughter and John is his grandson.”
“They’re not on good terms?”
“No. It’s a long story and you probably should ask him.”
“Have you known him long?”
“Ten years. He’s been a good friend and helped me out.”
“Sorta. He helped me with some unwelcome business partners. They wanted a piece of the bar, and Sam convinced them it wasn’t a good idea.”
The comment caused Amy to sort through her preconceived character analysis and wonder more about Craig. Before she could ask any more questions, Craig returned to his seat, finished off his bourbon and tapped the bar. Speaking, he said: “And bring one for the lady. Hers is empty and nobody should drink alone without a drink.”
A little surprise, but interested, Amy rose, reached out her hand and spoke: “If you’re going to buy me a drink, the least I can do is introduce myself. I’m Amy Johnson.”
Taking her hand, he squeezed it enough, but not too much. Replying, he asked: “The reporter?”
A little unnerved that anyone would recognize her name, she replied: “That’s me. Do you read my reports?”
“Sometimes; you write about the garbage downtown.”
Defensive, Amy replied: “Some are good people”
Craig quickly commented: “Not near enough.”
Continuing, he said: “I’m Craig Smith; pleased to meet you.”
Before she realized, Amy sat next to Craig, instead of the seat she had occupied. Not wanting to appear forward, she quietly sat as Paul brought her a drink. Feeling self-conscious, she hoped Craig wouldn’t get the wrong idea.
Craig was first to speak: “You’re not downtown enjoying the hoopla?”
“I stayed long enough to get a story. The rest is rubbing elbows with people that tarnish your reputation.”
Craig laughed and replied: “You don’t think much of them either?”
Smiling, Amy could only comment a short “No.”
Craig continued: “If you listened to them, they’re saving the world.”
Amy only smiled
“The damndest thing is there’s good money to be made off the bastards.”
Amy waited for Craig to continue.
“They pay well to keep the unwashed masses from entering their kingdom.”
Now intrigued, Amy asked: “Are you in law enforcement?”
Craig laughed and replied: “Nope. Never was, but I was in security.”
Amy was confused, so she waited.
“I spent twenty years in the Marines. After that, I was in private security.”
“Not sure of his age, Amy asked: “Where you in Vietnam?”
“Do I look that old?”
A little uncomfortable with his reply, she said: “I wasn’t sure.”
“I joined the Marines in 1974. Vietnam was over by that time, although I was there when we evacuated Siagon. “
Craig continued: “It was the damndest thing to see. The North Vietnamese and Cong were steadily advancing through the city, while we evacuated people from the embassy. Helicopters were landing every few minutes and people were trying to climb the walls for a ride.”
Amy used the explanation to further examine Craig. His deep blue eyes had a thousand yard stare as he recounted the event. The lines in his face deepened and his forehead was furrowed with his concentration.
“We stayed as long as we could. When they were close enough where we couldn’t get altitude, we left, so they wouldn’t shoot down our choppers. It was chaos below. People were trying to escape with no place to go.”
Amy waited as Craig paused to take a sip from his drink.
“When we reached the carriers, there were so many choppers on the deck, they were pushing them into the sea, so we’d have room. Civilians were everywhere; including in boats. We helped a few, but we were out of room. We left and they continued sailing away from the coast. I sometimes wonder what happened to them.”
Amy was now completely absorbed in the conversation. Not wanting to miss any information, she asked: “Is that where you got the scar?”
Craig gently rubbed his scar before replying: “No, that came a long time afterwards; about ten years ago in some shit-hole country in North Africa. “
“Were you still in the Marines?”
“Nope; I’d retired and went to work for a private security firm.”
“In the United States?”
“Nope; I was working for an Arab businessman. We were to keep him safe, while he visited some of his customers.”
“What kind of business?”
“I never asked, or cared. The money was good and questions only led to being fired.”
“How did it happen?”
“Long story short: A young, impressionable man decided our client needed to die. While we were leaving a building, he ran up and started firing at our client. I pushed him behind a column and the crazy bastard caught me in the neck with a round. It’s a good thing he wasn’t a good shot.”
“Did they arrest him?”
“No. He wasn’t a good shot, but I was. Call me the judge, jury and executioner.”
“So, then what happened?”
“We left. No questions were asked and nobody tried to detain us. Money buys freedom in third world countries.”
“Do you still work for them?”
The question brought a chuckle from Craig and a reply: “Hell no. The businessman decided his son needed to be in the family business, so he moved up in the food chain and I was assigned to take care of his son. The little shit didn’t have a clue and hated my guts. The old man soon solved the problem by “retiring” me. He placed a substantial amount of money in an account in my name and I officially retired.”
Amy could only sit for the next few minutes and digest their conversation. An idea was forming in her mind and she was trying to put the pieces together. As they sat and sipped their drinks, it finally congealed and she realized an opportunity was presented.
“Can I ask you something?”
Craig looked at Amy and replied: “Sure.”
“You can say no, but hear me out before you do.”
“I’ve been writing a book for years. It’s about a fictional politician and I’ve hit a dead end.”
“So, what’s that have to do with me?”
“I just decided I need to write about something besides my work and you’ve given me an opportunity I’d like to pursue.”
Craig only looked at her and waited for her to continue.
“I want to write about you, but not as a biography. I want it to be fiction, but I need enough information to make it believable.”
“So, what’s in it for me?”
Amy felt a little panic. What could she offer him?
“Maybe nothing; there’s no guarantee the book will sell.”
Craig laughed: “I don’t need money. I have more than enough.”
Amy, now really confused, asked: “So, what do you want?”
Craig, now serious, replied: “I want to be able to read it before you put it on the market. If you’re going to place my life in print, I want the final word…even if it’s fiction”
“Are you going to tell me about your family?”
Craig’s face saddened and he replied: “Everything. That’s the sad part. That should sell the book by itself.”
Amy was unsure of how to continue. She’s just asked an almost complete stranger to tell his entire life, so she could present it to the world. She didn’t know what to say, but Craig helped with her indecision: “So, how are we going to get together? We have to meet somewhere.”
“How about here for now? I can arrange my schedule.”
“That works. I’m here every evening from about eight to ten. Other than that, I can be found at the park between six and seven every morning taking my morning run.”
“Every day; rain or shine.”
“I used to run.”
“Meet me tomorrow by the playground. We can run as we talk.”
Craig rose, left a big tip on the bar and left without speaking. Amy just stared as he left the club.
Finishing her drink, she wondered what she’d just got herself into. She’d soon find out and was excited, but wondering what she did with her running clothes. She’d buy some more. Tomorrow was the start of her path to success.
In Case You've Wondered
My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.
If you're here for the stories, I started another blog: scratchingforchange.blogspot.com
One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.
I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.