Kenyan Nights Ch 1

Colonel Earl Meyer saw an ambush was being set up, he could see the men setting up down the alley, preparing the killing ground, but he wasn’t the target, at least he didn’t think he was. He had only been in town since this morning, infact this was his first foray out of his hotel, no one knew he was in the city, and most telling of all the ambushers were being so blatant about their intent that he found it hard to believe they would be so brazen with him just watching.
He noticed the ambush when he had ordered his second cup of tea. The waiter had shooed away one of the thousands of street urchins that begged along the Prince ???/ road every day and that had made the Colonel look up. The movement on the side street, the alley, had caught his attention. Two men, both with Kalishnikovs, had gone into a doorway. Seeing two men with assault weapons on the streets of Efforti is not rare. Seeing a third man enter the doorway they had disappeared into then lead the two men to the other side of the street and point out a better killing position was. Someone important was going to be coming down the road soon, and they were going to get a very unhealthy surprise.
The city was a hive of activity. People milled around and moved back and forth as if they were compelled by some hidden energy, electric arcs, in the form of people splitting off into all directions with no rhyme or reason. He knew that they had their own reasons, the day to day survival in a country like Efforti is always a tough existence. Even just finding enough food for one person among the overwhelming poverty is a chore, much less for a family. Based on the number of children he saw on the street there were a lot of families, maybe too many.
One of the men with the kalishnikovs wasn’t sure he was in the right place. He tried to move, but the third man, the supposed leader yelled at him to return to where he had been.
There were several options open to him. The best one was to sit where he was, continue to watch the parliament building and the president’s house that was across the street. He had had three cups of tea in the last hour and a half and eventually he would need to get up and reposition himself to a new café, lest the waiter get suspicious, but for the moment the paper back book in his hand was doing a good job of camouflaging his surveillance.
The last hour and half had yielded very little in terms of actionable intelligence. He had seen a squad of army soldiers in black uniforms march by and harass a few passer’s by as they made their way down the street and out of sight. When he had asked him, the waiter had said that the “black uniforms” were the “President’s Guard.” They might be a mote better than the castoff’s that usually made up army soldiers in the small country that was nesteld between Ethiopia and Kenya, but compared to one good US Army Airborne soldier they were a nothing. They were less than nothing really.
A ratty, black, pick-up truck, what he would have called a “technical” if it had a gun mounted in the back, pulled up to the gate of the presidential mansion and was given a waved hand pass by the black uniformed guard who was manning the central gate. It wasn’t much of a gate. The fence was adobe and mud, the gate nothing more than a wooden beam that was painted red and white. For a while the Colonel had suspected that there was a pair of strong wooden doors behind the walls of the fence that could bolster the gate security in case of an attack, but he had been surreptitiously scanning the gate for long enough to note that there were no hinges built into them and no obvious other accoutrements that might indicate a big swinging gate. It was one feature of the palace that he filed away in his mind.
Other things were filed as well. The fact that at about eleven the parliament seemed to clear out and made vacant for over thirty minutes, presumably for lunch. The fact that every vehicle, including the limo, was sweeped all around and underneath by the guard before it was waved through. That during that sweep a weapon was held on the vehicle by the second guard. The fact that the two gaurds who were supposed to be walk around the parliament always stopped to talk to the two guards who walked around the palace. Everything related to the security of the two buildings was catalouged and filed away in the mind of Colonel Meyer who had spent lifetime or more doing this professionally for the United States Military.
A gaggle of men walked up to the palace. They looked like business men. Wealthy ones if their better than rags dress could be counted as evidence. They spoke to the guards and a phone call was placed. Unlike with the cars, the second guard didn’t hold a weapon on the crowd. It would have been easy picking for this group of six or so men to overwhelm the little guard shack and make their way into the palace. This was filed away.
He looked over at the ambush again. Nothing much moving. There was a young boy on the far side of the street who also seemed to be interested in the ambush site. One of the parliament “walk around” guards noticed the boy and went over to talk to him. The boy pointed at the ambush, he was promptly smacked across the top of the head and yelled at. A pointed finger told the boy which way he should go and a threat of another smack was given. The boy ran away. The guard didn’t investigate further than just looking at alley way where the ambush was set up and walking the other way. Was it a government sanctioned ambush?
The boy came scuttling by and the Colonel stopped him with a look and a short wave. He came over tentatively.
“Speak English?” The Colonel asked.
He nodded. The Colonel wasn’t sure he meant it though.
“Who are they waiting for?”
“Car man,” the little guy said.
“What car man?”
“Long Black Car Man. ”
“A limousine?”
He shrugged.
“Who would have a limousine in this dump?” he asked mostly himself. It came out loud enough that the kid shrugged again.
He gave the kid a dollar and sent him on his way. The dollar would probably feed him and his family for a month, providing he still lived with a family. The information now catalogued with everything else he was seeing and hearing.
Another black, pick-up arrived at the palace. The same routine took place. The little crowd of questioning men were shuffled out of the way and were almost completely forgotten by the guard.
What would it take, the colonel wondered. Six men? Seven? Maybe just five if they were the right five. He would have liked to have eight, two teams of four with him overseeing the operation, but nine people would certainly be seen as a force that the guards would have to pay attention to. So, five men it would have to be. Five to get into that palace and cause some damage, probably get to the president and grab him. Then what? Who would ask for him back? Who would pay for him? How would they get him to acquiesce to their demands? If there was one thing that the Colonel had learned in the last ten years of working in Africa was that as soon as you killed one asshole, another popped up, sometimes two, faster than you could blink an eye.
Still, a front on attack was possible, but not reasonable. More worrisome was the thought of the five other operators he thought he might get. A quick calculation in his head told the Colonel that he had over stated his capabilities by thinking he could get five, much less the eight he really wanted. With the budget he was working under he had a hard time believing he could get three. Then there was the cost of outfitting them and the problem of importing the men and material. Logistics had always been his strong point. He was a master of finding solutions to sticky problems, but the difficulties that were popping up over this mission were some of the stickiest he had ever encountered.
The waiter looked at him. For a moment the Colonel wondered if the time for him to find a new spot had come, but instead the waiter just pointed at the tea cup in front of the Colonel.
“Yes,” the Colonel nodded. “One more, Thanks.”
The waiter bowed himself into the back of the restaurant to get the tea. He knew he should move, not because of the waiter’s look, the one that had made him wonder if he should move, he was probably overjoyed that a white man was sitting at his table and he would probably be paid in dollars. No, the reason he should move was obvious. It was the right thing to do. Eventually the guards would notice the white man at the café too and their interest wouldn’t be in the dollars, well . . . not overtly.
The tea came. Chai is what they called it in the US. He drank it and winced.
The reason he wasn’t moving was also obvious, at least it was to the Colonel every time he moved his leg. It was his knees. He told himself that it was too many jumps out of airplanes and helicopters with the Airborne Offiver, too much time living under a ruck sack as a Green Beret, too many long nights pulling security on a knee as a Ranger Platoon Leader. Just too much hard living. That’s what he tried to make himself believe.
But somewhere deep down in the recesses of his mind he knew that it was more than that. His father, his grandfather, his mother, even his grandmother all had had arthritis, in his father’s case it had been debilitating. Had he admitted to himself that it was that that was causing his pain, he would concede that it was getting worse each year, that on the track it was following he might not be able to walk in another year or year and a half. He was still able to disguise it, grunt through it, grin and bare it, but it was coming. It felt like a tide flowing in and was just as indomitable and just as unrelenting.
The chai was gone, the guards looked like they were asleep and he hadn’t seen the walkers in about thirty minutes. Even the street seemed less crowded and jumbled. It was mid afternoon, in Central and South America or Spain it would have been time for a siesta. Here in East Africa he knew it was Khat. The leaves that all the men chewed like chaw and that made them slightly depressed. It would stay like this for another hour or more then it would bustle again, just as bad as before.
This was the worst time for him to remain at the café. With so little cover if any of the guards happened to look over he’d be spotted for certain. Better to be spotted on the move than spotted sitting at a café. He grunted as he got up. The pain as he stood was deep in his knees, like a heavy gauge nail digging into his bone. Once he was up it wasn’t as bad, he could fake his way through walking and if he had to he thought he might be able to trot. Running or kneeling were out of the question. He held onto the back of the chair as he pulled out a few dollars and dropped them on the table.
It was as he started for the corner that he saw the limousine. It was a late eighties Mercedes limousine, dusty like everything else in the country, that had seen a lot of wear and tear and had a slight crack growing along its front windshield glass, but was probably still among the best vehicles in the country. It was driving toward the from far down the main street about to pass the palace. Through the windshield the colonel could see the driver looking at the alley preparing to turn that way. The Colonel stepped into the street with his arms above his head. The driver slowed and stopped near him.
The window came down and the driver leaned over the passenger seat to speak to him.
“What?”
“You going down that alley?”
“What business is it of yours?” He sounded Kenyan, he didn’t have the slight upward lilt to his words that were a part of the local dialect.
“None, except there seem to be three guys with machine guns who are expecting you down that alley.”
This made him flinch and a second later the back window came down and another man’s head came out to talk to the Colonel.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I just saw three guys AK’s set up in that alley. A boy saw them and told me it was meant for you.”
“How would he know?”
The colonel looked up and back down the street. Still no walking guards but there was a good chance they could show up again. “How bout you let me in, we don’t drive down that street, and we talk about this without so many people watching.”
He looked like he wanted to protest, and asked quickly “How do I know you aren’t an enemy trying to get close to me?”
“I would have shot you already,” the colonel said. “Come on, let me in.”
He seemed to see the wisdom and moved over and the door opened.
The inside of the Mercedes was a dingy and broken in as the outside and as soon as the Colonel shut the door the car started moving back into the blizzard of cars and people that was beginning to pick up again.
“Not that way,” he said at the driver who started to follow his original path.
He looked back at his employer. The man nodded and the driver drove straight on down the street, bypassing the ambush in the alley.
“Do you take the same route a lot?”
The man seemed to think then he nodded. “We probably go that way too often.”
“Where do you go?”
“I’m on my way to visit my representive at the parliament,” the man sat back and relaxed a little. “I’m trying to get some of my business out of the country.”
The Colonel nodded. Things made sense now. Here was a successful Kenyan who had businesses in Efforti that were caught in the birth of the new country a year ago.
Prior to the rise of President Shelley, Efforti had been a province of Kenya. Now, Efforti was its own country and few people on either side of the border liked the change. Here was one man who obviously didn’t and was trying to find ways to deal with the new political situation and not willing just to abandon his businesses. The Colonel had seen it often since he had been in so many disintegrating countries. He turned to face his new friend and find out what kind of resources he might now be able to take advantage of.

Sunset Perfect Ch 8

“She’s what?”

“She’s like a roadie I think,” Ross said to Penny.

Penelope had agreed to a date with him after that meeting on the dance floor, and The Burning Pear had been the only place he could take her that wasn’t the typical dance club or too trendy bar. This, this bar with his roommate who played the piano and attracted so many art house weirdos and musicians and followers seemed like a better place to go than a over-filled, loud, over-priced, snobby bar. At least, Ross thought, I can talk to her here.

She was looking at the girl at the bar, the one that kept trying to get Ross to give up information on Duff. She had stopped him on the street that first time. Then she had tried to follow them to their apartment, but Ross had seen her and told her to bug off. He thought she had given up after that. Then two weeks later he had seen her sitting at the coffee bar right outside their place and realized that she had followed them again and he hadn’t noticed.

“She’s actually more of a stalker,” Ross continued. “She won’t leave Duffy alone.”

“She doesn’t look like a stalker.”

“She’s crazy,” Ross went on. “She’s followed us home a couple of times. I found her lurking outside the apartment. Fucking loser.”

“Did you talk to her?”

“She said she’s a musician and she wants to talk to Duff about his music, but it’s all a scam. She’s just trying to make money off of him or something.”

“Why?”

“Why what? To get more money naturally.”

“No, why do you think that?”

“Cause that’s what everyone wants.” Ross waved at the waitress who worked her way over to the table. “You want another glass of wine?” He motioned at Penny’s glass.

Penny nodded and went back to watching the girl at the bar. She was pretty, not at all what she would expected a stalker to look like. Still, she barely knew Ross, and sometimes he seemed like a jerk. He came off as arrogant. But these times were offset by how sweet he could be. On the dance floor when she had first met him he had been sweet. It had been such a strange thing to find at the club that she had literally been swept of her feet for those first few moments. Then at the bar, he had slowly become annoying. Arrogant like all the other men who hit on her. It got to a point where she was going to walk away. But, then the sweetness had come back. He’d asked about her family and her friends and her job and without realizing it she had been talking to him more than she had talked to any other guy in the past year or more.

This evening, the sweetness had been there when he picked her up, but now he was back to arrogance. He was being just a plain know-it-all jerk when it came to the girl at the bar. She knew he was protective of his friend Duffy from their time in the Marines. He intonated that something was a bit off with Duffy.  There was nothing definite, but he could hear it in the things that Ross hadn’t said about his friend Duffy. She thought it was sweet that he took care of his friend, particularly if he was injured somehow or had had some sort of mental breakdown. But the way he made an enemy of everyone he didn’t like was not something she liked.

Penny looked at the woman again. She wasn’t a stalker. Her eyes were too caring, too soft. Penny was an agent for a talent representation agency. She made her career out of determining what people saw when they looked at someone. Want an magazine ad that asks the reader to trust the company? Use a man with crows feet around the eyes and a severe nose. If he has grey hair and glasses it’s even better. Want a television commercial and you want guys to pay attention? Use a spokes model with big eyes.  A majority of guys in the United States are suckers for women with big eyes. But even as she manipulated audiences, Penny knew the tell tale signs to look for to determine what people were actually like.

When Penny looked at the woman at the bar, she saw a woman who she could ultimately trust. Her hands were lose and she didn’t fidget with her drinks. She looked at Duffy not with pity or with lust, but rather with hope and expectancy. She may have been a true fan of the music, but she wasn’t as bad as Ross had made her out to be, that much she knew.

“Why does the waitress keep bringing him drinks?”

“Ha, that’s something I started.”

“He’s not even drinking any of them?”

“That’s the thing,” Ross went on and pointed near the bar. “Katie, that waitress over there. She came to me one night and said that people were constantly talking to Duff, and they were getting upset that he wasn’t responding.”

“He doesn’t talk at all?”

“Like I told you, he’s got some,” Ross paused in thought. “I guess you could call them trust issues. He doesn’t talk to anyone but me.”

“Ever?”

“Nope, no one. He doesn’t like talking to other people. So Katie asks what should she tell theses people. I told her that he only talks when he been drinking. That’s mostly true. Well she goes off and tells everyone who asks that Duff will only talk if he gets a drink. So, naturally, people start buying him drinks.”

“But he doesn’t drink them,” Penny pointed to all the drinks on the side rail next to Duff at the piano.

“Right, so Katie comes back and asks me why I told her that about Duff only talking when he drinks. And I told her that he talks all the time when he drinks with me. And I mention that it’s always the same drink. So now it’s kinda a game. They’re trying to pick the right drink. It’s like Bingo I guess.”

“Will he talk do you suppose if they pick the right drink?”

“They’ll never pick his drink.”

“But if they do?”

“I suppose,” Ross considered. “I don’t know. But they’ll never pick his drink.”

“Why? What is it?”

“I’m not gonna order it,” Penny said. “I just want to know. I promise not to order one for him.”

Ross seemed to mull it over in his mind. “You promise not to order him one?”

“Promise.”

“Chivas over crushed ice.”

“Chivas? You mean like the whiskey my father drinks.”

“First, it’s not whiskey, it’s scotch. It’s not a bad one, and it’s the only one Duff will drink. And what’s worse, he’ll only drink it over crushed ice. I’ve tried other variations, just crushed ice. It’s kinda a quirk, you know. He’s a quirky guy and this is one of his quirks.”

Penny made a mental note and went back to watching the crowd around Duff.

“So you work as a trainer? A personal trainer? Which gym?”

Ross pulled his stare away from the girl at the bar. “Well, it’s not at a gym, it’s in the park.”

“Central Park?”

“Yep. And it’s not really personal training. I mean I don’t have a license or anything. It’s just me and a bunch of guys from the military and we all got together to start this workout business. We have a Navy SEAL, and a Army Ranger and a Special Forces Officer. It’s just a bunch of us who want to keep working out like we did in the military, but now instead of leading troops we lead people who want that type of military workout experience.”

“But that’s not full time?”

“Naw, I work with my brother. He works at a joint that does special effects for movies and commercials and stuff. I’m learning how to do it from him. I’m hoping to make it a full time gig this summer.”

“Does Duffy do it? The workouts with you guys. You said he was in the Marine’s with you.”

“Duff? No. He could. I mean the guy was a bigger fanatic than I was about working out before we got back from the war. But now he’s lost interest I guess.”

“Do you know why?” Penny had been dying to ask this question for most of the evening. “Why is Duffy like this? Why doesn’t he talk to anyone but you? Why does he come here and play? Couldn’t he be doing more?”

“You think it was something that happened during the war? Is that what you’re asking? Is it PTSD or something? I don’t think so. He was fine till we came home. Something with his wife I think. Last I heard he was going home to see her, next thing I know I find him here playing the piano.”

“Wait, I thought he lives with you.”

“He does,” Ross went on. “But I found him here. I heard from Katie and the manager that he just showed up here one night and started playing. Just kept playing and playing and playing. They kept asking him who he was and if everything was okay with him, but course he didn’t speak to them. He just kept playing. Naturally they thought maybe he was somebody who was touched in the head and had wandered off from their home or apartment nearby so they hung up a bunch of fliers with his picture asking if anyone knew this guy.”

“And you saw the flier.”

“Yep,” Ross said. “I saw the flier and realized it was ole Duffy right away. He came home with me and the rest is history.”

“Where did he stay before you came along? I mean that must have taken several days or weeks for them to put up a flier and for you to see it.”

“Katie put him in a spare little room in the hotel. They figured it was the least they could do. He started bringing in more people almost immediately, then he got really popular. This here is a resurgence kind of thing. It’s still not as popular as it was a few months back.”

Penny went back to watching the crowd and the girl at the bar. Ross too watched her. Every now and then she turned and saw Ross. Ross would give her a squirrely look and she would completely ignore him. To Penny’s eye that seemed to make Ross more perturbed. They chatted a bit more, but eventually it became time to leave.

“Give me a second to go use the restroom?” Penny asked.

“Sure,” Ross said. “I’ll wait over here. I want to go talk to that groupie again.”

“You should leave her alone,” Penny said. “Really, I think you should leave her alone. It’s like bees. If you leave them alone they go away on their own naturally. Leave her alone, will ya? For me?” She gave him a slight peck on the cheek for emphasis.

“For another kiss I’ll buy her a goddamned car and a house.” Ross said.

Penny patted him on the shoulder and went off to the lady’s room. She borrowed a pen and paper from one of the waitresses she saw on the way. If anyone had asked her why she cared so much about the girl at the bar she doubted she could have told them anything that made sense. She liked the girl, it was as simple as that. Maybe, Penny thought, she had a thing for underdogs and she felt that the girl was an underdog what with Ross working against her. It wasn’t Ross’s fault she knew. He was just hypersensitive for his hurt buddy. It was Ross being sweet again.

When she left the bathroom, she saw that Ross was outside the bar waiting. Smiling, she walked next to the girl as she made her way toward the exit. She slipped a note to the girl as she moved by her and made her way out to the lobby to find Ross.

Sunset Perfect Ch 7

Paul Harris stared up at the ceiling in the pitch black room, his eyes wide open despite the early hour. It was four o’clock and he couldn’t sleep. Three sleepless nights. This was no different that Saturday night, Sunday night, nor last night. He had known he was going to have problems sleeping each night. His thoughts were a jumble all day, at night, when they turned in, it was worse. Still, no matter what he did his thoughts never moved far from Betsy.

Last night he had been worried about her. He thought of her last message to him, the one that had come that last night he and Ross and McIntyre and Grant had gone  out. Just a quick text that he had read as he sat on the bus ride back to his home, to his Maryanne, his wife and three kids, Noah, John, and Daniel. After he had read it he had sat, stunned for the entire bus ride having no idea what to do.

Out of the blue he told me that if he ever found out I was cheating on him he would leave me dead in a ditch. And that I should consider this my only warning.

He texted back of course but there was no response. Not only that but the icons showed that the text wasn’t even delivered. Had she blocked his number? Should he call? It was almost one in the morning. Calling would certainly be a red flag for her, especially if her husband was already suspicious of her.  She would be afraid to call or write for fear that he would find out more. He had called anyway. He got her voicemail message. He left a quick message, “Call me,” he said.

The words dead in a ditch were stark. What kind of jackass said that to his wife and mother of his children? He had gotten off the bus and walked back to his apartment like a zombie, barely knowing where he was going, his body on autopilot while his mind raged. He had tried calling again. He knew it was a mistake but he couldn’t stop himself.

Having served as a Weapons Sergeant in the Special Forces for six years, Harris was both a man of action and of thought. Where other soldiers were used to rush in, Green Berets were trained to be covert and determine the best strategy for victory, not just see the tactics. But this text had he reeling. All he could think to do was race over to Betsy’s house and protect her. Screw Maryanne, to hell with the kids and his desire for them not to grow up as a product of a broken home, his love for Betsy trumped all that didn’t it?

He hadn’t slept that night at all. Different responses and idea zipped through his mind. None of them had stayed around long nor had any of them gone further than the planning phase. He could drive over there and beat the fuck out of Jeremy, Betsy’s husband. But that would expose her and him as having a relationship. It would blow up both of their families, something neither of them wanted. For the four years they had been meeting for coffee dates, lunch dates, afternoon escapes into a cheap hotel room, that had been their guiding principle, that their families came first. Neither of them might be happy with their spouses, but for the sake of their children they would keep their love quiet.

He thought that he could find and track Jeremy, and then find an excuse to beat the shit out of him. Still, that wouldn’t help Betsy. That wouldn’t deflect the suspicion. That might make Harris feel better about

All night Harris had stayed up and thought about that. Was she okay? How much had he found out? Had the emails and voice mails that he left gotten through or caused her greater exposure. He regretted calling now, but what did she expect. She couldn’t expect him not to call her when she left a message saying that her husband had just threatened her.

That next morning, Maryanne had sensed his anxiety. She walked around on eggshells getting the kids ready for church and gently prodding him to come along. He had let himself be minded and herded and kept on wondering what to do. By Monday afternoon, after three abortive attempts to drive down to Long Island and stakeout her house, after over twenty non-answered texts and two more calls also unanswered and unreturned, Harris had hit a stasis point that usually came when he wanted something he couldn’t have; he was angry. Angry at his life, angry at Betsy for not returning his calls, Angry at Jeremy for being her jackass husband, Angry at himself for not doing more, angry at the world for not allowing him to meet Betsy before he married Maryanne and before she had married Jeremy.

That was the mood he was in now. Anger. It was four in the morning and he could feel the lump of anger, which he knew was probably more likely hunger, sitting in his gut. Maryanne slept heavily next to him. He check his clock again, the fifth time in five minutes and saw it was still just a quarter after four.

He got up, dressed quickly and quietly, and got out the door by four thirty. Two subways, and a three block job and he was at the park by five. He was at the workout site early, but already Grant was there, sitting in his big truck, watching for the clients before they showed up. Harris walked up to the truck and jumped in after Grant unlocked the door.

“You’re not on the schedule today, I am.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep,” Harris said. “I wanted to get a workout in so I thought I would come.”

“Fuck, you could have let me know. I could have slept in.”

Harris shrugged. He didn’t care if Grant was pissed or not or if Grant slept in or not. Way down the list on his priorities of caring. But in the back of his mind, he knew that Grant was right, and he could feel the start of guilt and regret for being selfish, for putting his problems with Betsy first in his mind.

“I didn’t know  I was going to be coming out till about half hour or so ago, so you would have already been on your way anyway.” It was a little lie, but it would make Grant feel a bit better, Harris hoped.

Grant didn’t say anything. He looked upset, but he had looked upset before Harris had said anything. Grant being upset was common.

“Got any ideas about what you’re going to do?” Harris hoped by talking Grant might snap out of his being upset to what he was used to, Grant being disgruntled.

It didn’t work. Grant just kept staring out the window at the park.

“Bad night?”

Again, Grant didn’t reply.

Grant was in a mood, but he could sense it was more than just being about not being called. Maryanne liked to call him a sour-puss in front of the kids, and it was an apt description. If Grant wasn’t upset, then Grant probably wasn’t alive.

“I was thinking of splitting them up and running them based on ability.”

Still nothing.

Grant looked out the front windshield at the clients all coming out onto the field in the North Meadow. They had all been doing this enough to know what to do without waiting for an instructor to tell them. They parked on 97th, off to the right, with two wheels on the grass. They walked to the area between the two softball fields, and lined up most experienced to least experienced with only ten people in the front line. If they had more than ten, which they usually did, they made another rank. There were twenty-five this morning. They laid out their exercise mats and placed their water bottles on the grass next to the mats. After that, they stretched and warmed up till the instructors showed up.

Harris looked at the dashboard clock. Five-twenty-nine.

“I’ll take the fast group.” Harris got out of the truck and started out toward the group.

“Fuck Grant,” Harris thought to himself. Harris hated when Grant got holier than thou. Was it okay for him to be pissed about not being told Harris was coming? Sure. But just to sit their silently like that. Deliberately not speaking. That was bullshit.

They were all four the owners of the business, but there were times when Grant seemed to think he was the boss. Fuck, he wasn’t even the highest ranking person in the group. Harris had been a Captain. McIntyre a Sergeant First Class, Ross a Staff Sergeant and Grant had been nothing more than a Chief Petty Officer. But there were times when he acted like he could do whatever the fuck he wanted and everyone else had to toe the line.

The one thing it had done for him, sitting with Grant, is that now he was in a much better frame of mind. One of the reasons he had wanted to come out and lead a group in a run was that it usually made him feel better, it put him in a better frame of mind. He had been worried that since Betsy had been a client when he met her, hell this was the place where they began, he had been worried there would be too many memories. But now, as he approached the group of clients waiting to workout, he knew he had made the right decision. Seeing a pissed off Grant, getting to go for a run, this is what he needed to get Betsy how of his head.

 

Sunset Perfect Ch 6

Jeff walked south to Battery Park and allowed his thoughts to wander as he looked out over the water of the river. It was only after his eyes were pulled down toward the pylons that held the pier of the Harbor House over the river that he thought about the charge he had seen on his credit card for the last few months before Juan became bedridden. Restoration at Pier 12. When Jeff had seen it the first time he thought it must be a clothing store or a bar that Juan may have gone to with his friends. But then he saw it was the same charge each month, $315.00.

After the third month Jeff decided this was one of the things he would rather not know about. Maybe a club where Juan needed to go every now and then to let off steam and they made the members pay a monthly due? It sounded weak to Jeff even as he had thought it, but he didn’t want to confront Juan about it. What if the answer he got wasn’t an answer he wanted to hear. He could forgive Juan his peccadillo’s couldn’t he?

The fourth month he was curious but let it go again. The fifth and six month the charges came in and he realized that with Juan in bed he should probably cancel the membership. Now that Juan was gone, he would really have to cancel the membership. He had been meaning to call and find out what the place was and cancel the membership for the past three weeks.

Jeff gave a heavy sigh and decided that there was no time like the present. And instead of a call he would go find this place and cancel it in person. Hell, if it was a club for gay men, maybe he could find someone to help him forget Juan, if only for a few hours.

He used his smart phone to find the address for Restoration at Pier 12 and was surprised to find it was an address north of Yonkers, just on the other side of the Tappen Zee Bridge. That made him falter for just a second. This wouldn’t be just a thirty minute jaunt. This would take the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon.

“What the fuck else do you have to do?” he spoke aloud and let his voice carry.

Using his phone again and hailed a car and it showed up at the corner of Washington and Battery in less than five minutes. It took over an hour and a half to get there, the whole time Jeff stared out of the backseat windows of the little black sedan and wondered about all the people he saw walking, riding, driving and going by. What people did they have in their lives? Had anyone of them recently lost a close loved one? Certainly there had to be someone in the same predicament that he was in?

Jeff let that idea float around in his mind for a moment and eventually he evolved into the idea of a support group. Did he need a support group? He had heard of those out there? Grief counseling groups or something? Shouldn’t be hard to find one of those. But would it really be worth the time and effort? Eventually the wounds would heal and losing Juan wouldn’t hurt so much, right? Wasn’t that the natural way things worked?

“Are you alright, sir?” The voice was heavily accented. The driver. Probably from Nigeria.

Jeff looked up.

“I’m fine.”

“Are you in trouble? Do you need to get out?”

Jeff smiled as he wiped the tears off of his cheek. The driver was probably worried he was driving a crazy person to Yonkers.

“No, I’m fine,” Jeff reassured him. “I’m just thinking about someone. I’ll be fine.”

He felt like a fool though and for the rest of the ride Jeff left thoughts of Juan out of his head and tried to just relax into the ride. He focused on his breathing the way that nurse in the hospital had taught him, square breathing. He breathed in, held it, breathed out, held it. Soon he felt back to normal and by the time they pulled to the curb at Green Street and West Main in Tarrytown, Jeff felt as though he was back to normal.

The possibly Nigerian driver smiled and was thankful for Jeff’s business as he waved goodbye, but Jeff could tell he was also happy to have the crazy, crying, gentleman out of his car. Jeff shook his head in embarrassment as he walked down Green toward the pier.

He found Restoration at Pier 12 with hardly and effort. The sign was right there on the side of the road. He had been expecting a club or a bar or something of that nature so when he saw that it was a boat restoration business he was genuinely surprised.

“What the hell were you doing here, Juan?” Jeff wondered aloud as he walked toward the little building.

The business was located halfway down the pier. It was a part of the structure of the pier businesses that took up most of the surface of the pier. On the right of the restoration business was a small motor repair business and further down from that was a boat leasing and sales agent. The restoration business took  up fully half of the room on the dock and there were all types of small boats in various states of repair both floating in the river tied up to the pier and on the pier itself, dry docked.

Was Juan an owner of this business? He couldn’t be a customer? He hated boats. What the hell was he doing?

“A few hundred bucks a month might be enough to buy or lease a boat,” Jeff realized. A crumby boat, but he wondered if he was going to have to find a legal avenue to extricate himself from buying an albatross of a boat at three hundred a month for the next sixty years.

Dan had been a designer, and a good one. He loved working on houses that were under construction and helping the architect come up with plans that were both functional and intriguing to look at. He always felt that architects glommed onto the functional side of things too often and didn’t consider the aesthetic appeal enough. He always said that if not for designers, if architects were allowed to design the world, everyone would live in grey squares and rectangles.

But this, whatever was inside that warehouse, was a part of Dan that Jeff had never known, unless he was designing boats. Jeff felt his hands fidgeting so he put them into his pant’s pockets and walked up to the door and tried it. It swung open easily and Jeff stepped inside.

The warehouse interior was old and worn. The walls looked as though they were one hundred years old, brown hued bricks with crusty, ageing, yellowing mortar all of which look as though it could tumble down in a strong wind but had withstood a century or more of hardship. Jeff felt like stepping into the warehouse was like stepping back in time. The dominant feature inside was a weathered, old tugboat. The front and cabin were still in good shape, but the back was disintegrating quickly and looked as though it was the focus of a restoration attempt. Around that central artifact were other boats in various states of repair and restoration, none as large as the old tug. There was an old wooden cabin cruiser that if Jeff had to guess was less than ten percent complete. A hull of a sail boat, some of the ribs still uncovered stood near the back, dinghy’s and small sloops were everywhere. The smell of creosote and wood and sawdust was everywhere and started right at the doorway. The lights were all a missmatch of yellow and neon, some fixtures hanging low, some high, some single bulbs, others huge banks. Jeff had to watch his step as there was debris in the form of wood planks, beams and other construction goods everywhere.

From the back of the warehouse, from an office that Jeff had failed to notice till that moment, a man emerged. He was large, immensely fat, with over sized glasses on his face. He waddled toward Jeff quickly. He had a full beard and wore a sailors cap that would look more appropriate in Eastern Europe. He was a walking stereotype of an old sea man.

“Can I help you?” he said as he neared Jeff who was still standing in the doorway.
“Is this a club or something?”

“You could say that,” the man said. “But really we’re just a bunch of guys looking for some room to work on our boats.”

“Are you in owner?”

“Manfred Williamson,” he said as he held out his hand to shake Jeff’s. It was a strong grip but enthusiastic, playful even.

“Jeff Stocks,” Jeff said in reply.

“Dan’s friend?”

This question rocked Jeff back on his heels and Manfred still shaking his hand pulled him closer.

“You’re Dan’s fella aren’t you. Where the hell is he? We’ve been wondering when he’s coming back. We’ve kept his sloop ready for him. Paul’s been making some progress, but really he didn’t want to get too far along without Dan’s help.”

Jeff looked around as Manfred motioned around the warehouse, but he was completely lost. He had no idea about nautical terms and he felt like this step into Dan’s private life had started with a trip that left him sprawled on the sidewalk rather than enjoying a stroll down memory lane.

“I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jeff said.

“You are Dan’s Jeff right?”

Jeff nodded. He liked hearing that. He liked knowing that he was called “Dan’s Jeff” to Dan’s friends. He liked knowing that Dan had talked about him here. That he had been discussed and perhaps gossiped about. For a split second Jeff had visions of Dan sitting around in here with his friends trading stories about their personal lives and Dan talking about his relationship with Jeff.

“I am Dan’s Jeff.” Manfred began walking back further into the warehouse, ushering Jeff along with him.

“Is Dan with you?”

Jeff shook his head and he could tell that Manfred read the fall of his face that he hadn’t been able to prevent . Manfred stopped guiding Jeff through the boats and looked at Jeff stoically.

“Is he okay?” Jeff could hear from the timbre of his voice that Manfred knew the answer.

“He passed away two weeks ago,” Jeff answered. “He was sick for the past few years.”

“It was the fucking cough wasn’t it?” Manfred had tears in his eyes. “What was it? cancer?”

Jeff nodded. “He didn’t tell you?”

“That fucker. That brave little fuck.” Manfred put his hand out to steady himself. “And you’re here to collect his shit? Is that it? You think you’re entitled to his boat and his tools and everything? Well, you might have some legal right, but when Harris finds out about this, he’s gonna fight you for that shit. That boat is as much his as it was Dan’s. Probably more so.”

Jeff’s hands came up to try and placate Manfred. “I’m not here to take anything. I didn’t know that any of this was here or that any of it was Dan’s. I knew he came here sometimes but until I walked into that door I thought he was working on furniture designs or something. I never would have guessed he was building a boat. I didn’t even know he liked boats.”

“Come here,” Manfred said, genial again now. “Let me show you what that little twerp was doing.”

He herded Jeff along the way they had originally been going, past the tug, around a couple of smaller motor boats, one of which looked complete except for a motor. They stopped when they got to the far corner. As they walked Jeff started to see order in the chaos. Each boat had a table next to it, a workbench, piled with tools and plans and books. He assumed that each person in the little club had their own set of tools. But he also imagined that more specific tools could be borrowed from others or taken from the warehouse’s own store which looked like it was around Manfred’s office. Three huge workbenches filled to overflowing with tools and clamps and wood and pots of paints and stuff sat next to the door Manfred had originally emerged from.

“This is Dan’s rig,” Manfred stopped in front of a boat that to Jeff’s eye looked similar to everything else he had just walked by. Manfred must have seen his lack of impression so he started talking and pointing.

“This is a Devlin design. A twenty-six foot sloop designed with an enclosed head, an internal galley and an engine box for a ten horse power diesel engine. It had a three foot, ten inch draft and will displace fifty, two hundred pounds when sailing. It’s an extremely special vessel. Not like some of the crap you see around here.” He waved his hand at some of the boats they had passed.

Jeff turned and looked around him. He started to see that Dan’s boat was a bit more stylish than the others.

Manfred continued without waiting for Jeff to turn around. “Take a look at the one in the corner. See how it’s being made? That’s called plywood construction. Basically you take sheets of Marine grade, three-quarter inch plywood and you stich it into place to create the hull. Once you’ve polyestered the whole thing then you take out the wire and you’re done.”

Jeff was lost again but didn’t want to take what Manfred was saying too lightly so he nodded at what he felt were the appropriate times.

“Dan’s building his the old fashioned way, plank-by-plank. He’s basically building it as our forefather’s might have built sailboats. It was Paul’s idea. Paul’s built two this way and Dan wanted his to be like Paul’s. They’ve been working on it for months.”

Jeff broke in. “Who is Paul. Is he here?”

“No,” Manfred said. “Like I said he’s helping Dan, but he has his own project over there.” Manfred finger lumbered up toward the far end of the warehouse where Jeff could just make out another sailboat that he thought Manfred was pointing to.

“When could I find him here?”

“He comes in most evenings, but . . .”

Jeff, using his CFO voice cut in. “Do you have his number?”

Manfred’s several chins shook as his head moved back and forth answering no. “We don’t keep records as such of our members. We’re pretty lose like that.”

“Not even phone numbers,” Jeff heard his tone sharpen and immediately regretted it. He could feel the jealousy coming into his thoughts. Who was this Paul? Was Dan having an affair? But if he was, why was Manfred talking so openly to Jeff about Paul?

Before Manfred could answer, Jeff shook his hands back and forth telling Manfred to forget the question. Manfred wasn’t the person he was mad at. All of the warm feelings that he had built up on this little tour through Dan’s private life with Manfred was starting to tumble down. Jeff looked back at the way he had come, then back at Dan’s boat. There was nothing more here for him without knowing more about this Paul. He gave one last look at the boat that might have been Paul’s.

“Tell Paul that I’d like to talk to him,” Jeff said finally. He handed Manfred a card from his pocket. “I’ll try and come by later, but if I miss him, please give him this. Tell him that Dan’s Jeff wants to talk to him about the sloop.”

He turned and walked away. He felt like he needed out of the warehouse. Jeff reached the door just as he felt tears springing into his eyes again.

 

Sunset Perfect Ch 5

Alex followed him as best she could that first night she saw him but lost him somewhere near Grand Central. She suspected he went in and so ran into the terminal to see if she could spot him, but even before she made it through the doors she knew it was a lost cause. After just a few moments of walking around looking for him she gave up.

The next week she was there again. She stayed there from the afternoon till the evening watching and listening to him play. Still she found no song she could distinguish. When he left she was close on his heels. She wanted to talk to him after his set but he never took breaks and they closed the bar down with him still there. Each time she tried to tell the staff that she wanted to talk to the pianist she was politely but firmly told no. So just like last time she stood outside and waited and hoped to spot him. Unlike last time she placed herself along the route to Grand Central thinking that he might take the same route as the week before and she could stop him along the way.

She never saw him. She had walked home wondering what the hell was going on.

“You going again tonight?” Claude asked. They had just finished for the night. Her voice was tired and she could feel the scratch at the back of her throat. She had taken it a bit too far again. It was three in the morning. Usually they were through by midnight and she was in bed by two, but this evening the crowd had stayed around longer than usual, so they had gone on playing.

The club was a new one to them. Move to Trash it was called. Why? Who knew. It had sprung up sometime in the past three months and the owner was trying out all sorts of different bands, a different one every night, in an effort to find a following. Claude was happy because the owner had already asked them to come back in two weeks. Another Thursday gig. He was hoping after a few shows this bar could become their regular Thursday show and perhaps after a month or so, and after getting a following, they could parlay that into being the house band for the joint.

Alex wasn’t so sure. She doubted the bar would be open in a few weeks much less in a month or so. The owner, a young, bearded, neo-hippie who sat at the bar like a customer and took a too laissez faire attitude toward management, looked like the son of a uber-wealthy socialite who after a few more months of not turning a profit would be cut off by daddy. It wasn’t that she could tell that by his wardrobe or his accent, she could just tell by his nonchalance and the questions she asked of the others at the bar.

The bar itself was dark and their were no decorations anywhere. The walls were flat black and she suspected, based on the horrible acoustics, that they were plywood. The tables and chairs were a motley, unmatched crew, and the bartender looked desperately low on every single staple. To get to the bar the patron had to duck down a small, alcove like doorway then follow some steps further down after that. Alex would have bet with anyone who asked that fully half of the people who started the trek down the stair to the bar turned around before taking three steps in.

The only good thing? The owner paid well. They would make a handsome bit from tonight. Sadly, that was another argument in Alex’s favor that the place would be out of business soon. It was a hobby not a business.

She nodded.

“Your voice again?” Claude knew her well enough to understand her quiescence.

She nodded again.

It didn’t matter to Claude whether she talked or not. Claude went right on cleaning up the gear with her, talking all the while, barely stopping to look to see if she nodded or shook her head at his questions.

“It cracks me up that you keep going there,” Claude was helping John with the drums while he spoke, his voice going up and down in volume as he walked and passed the gear through the door to his band mates. “I mean it’s so fucking staged. It’s a fake. He’s doing it just to get some notoriety, to make him seem different than the others.”

Alex shrugged her shoulders.

“I know your argument well enough to make it for you,” Claude said as he came back from hefting the snare drum up the stair well to John. “You think he’s got something because he makes the songs up on the spot. That he’s a composer, right?”

Another shrug.

“It’s all a gimmick!” Claude went on happily. “I mean think about it. All he has to do is find some obscure songs from unknown composers, past and present, from out of the way places, Eastern Europe, Japan, Middle East, and throw it all together with a bit of his own style thrown in and you have it. Throw in some strange, surreal silence and you’ve got your hook.”

Claude stopped as he packed away the cymbals into their case for John. He looked up as if surprised. “Could be he’s on to something? Holy shit. If this gimmick has em packed in as much as you say, maybe we should do it. We should have you just stand silently on the stage and not say a word into the microphone. Might be an improvement.”

Alex looked up with a glare. Claude winked and gave an air kiss.

“Without you we’re nothing, I know that Alex.”

“Don’t you forget it.” She heard the rasp in her throat now.

Claude quickly held up his hands in a “stop” gesture as he heard her speak. “You need to rest that sucker. We have another gig in two days. At the Top Down. Twice the size of this one. Go rest that voice.” He started to push her away from the stage. “We will finish up here, you go rest.”

He wouldn’t take no for an answer so Alex found herself  on the street hailing a cab to take her home. It took her a long while to get to sleep. That was always the case. Her little studio, homey, quaint, on the fifth floor of a small brownstone on the west side of the park that she was everyday grateful that she had, was filled with noises, creaks and drips that came from the drizzle that had started on her way home and didn’t seem like it wanted to really stop.

She awakened just before noon and her head hurt. She could still feel the scratch at the back of her throat so she told herself to not speak. She made the bed, a futon, and propped it back up into a couch, a habit she couldn’t break no matter how hard she tried, cleaned up a bit, made an egg white and went for a jog. She came back five miles later and enjoyed a long hot shower, an apple with some peanut butter on it and was dressed and out the door by four so she could make it to The Burning Pear before the evening rush.

She didn’t make it. The crowds beat her and she found herself at the bar again. She asked for a juice, not wanting any alcohol on her throat, and settled down to wait. He came in at ten till five. He was wearing jeans, run down loafers with dark socks and a grey sweater. He was skinny, just shy of painfully skinny, but there was musculature behind the smoothness of the sweater that spoke of time when he had been more filled out. His beard, the only thing she had a hard time thinking was attractive, was full and unwieldy. Wearing  full beards had become de rigueur lately and she again found herself surprised that someone who seemed so artistically talented and serious fell into the beard fashion so easily and conventionally. His hair was a pair with the beard. Long and curly and without style or care. Still, despite having the outward appearance of homelessness he was clean and sharp and his ensemble fit the mood of the bar and his performance.

She was going to stand up and go confront him before he began, but as soon came into the room the customers began a hesitant and light clapping that caught her off guard. As he sat down he started to play and Alex knew she had missed her chance again.

His set went on for hours and as much as Alex tried to pinpoint a repeated song, a song she had heard him play before, or even a song she knew, she couldn’t. It took three juices and three cocktails before midnight came and the staff started ushering people out with light movements and thanks. Again she waited outside. This time she had a plan. She was looking for a man wearing jeans and loafers with a beard. Last time she had focused on the beard and had been surprised by all the bearded men who past her. This time she was determined to find him and the combination of the beard, the hair, the jeans and the loafers that could not be hidden by a heavy coat or over coat, seemed like that best bet.

It was a full thirty minutes later that she found him. Last time she had given up too soon if he was in the habit of leaving this long after closing. She saw the beard, but the hair was under a dark ball cap. It was the blue jeans and loafers that capped it for her and she ran to catch up with him and finally confront him about his music.

Another man beat her to him and it was obvious from the way the second man reacted that they were friends.

“What are you doing, Brother. I said I was going to come get you.” Alex heard the second man say. There was no reply.

“Come on, let’s get you home.” The second man again.

Alex felt there might not be any better time so she stepped forward.

“Excuse me,” she said to both of them. “I was hoping to talk to you about your playing.”

“Who are you?” It was the second man.

He was large, much larger than his piano playing friend, but like him he had a full beard and long hair. His was blond instead of dark, and he was much more muscular than the still silent pianist. Still they both seemed of a type.

“I’m just a fan of his.” She pointed at the pianist. “Can you tell me your name.”

The huge blond friend smiled as if she’d just told a joke. “If you’re one of his fans you know that he’s not a big talker.”

“I was just hoping to know more about his music. I’m a musician and a composer. Hey, . . .” They were turning their backs on her.

“Not interested,” the blond friend said over his shoulder.

“Not interested in what?” Alex ran to catch up.

“Whatever you’re selling, Lady.”

“I’m not selling anything, I just want to talk about his music.”

Again the smile that made her think he was joking. The piano player this whole time she noticed remained completely impassive and without any emotion.

The friend allowed the piano player to walk on as he stopped to confront Alex. “Look, he just likes going and playing the piano. If you like it, great. Enjoy. But he’s not really into anything more than that, okay?”

He started to turn as if that explained everything, but Alex stopped him by saying, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

He turned back to face her, again, blocking her from following the piano player. “He’s not into having groupies, or hangers-on, or women who want to save him, okay? I mean sure, you got this skinny but defined muscly woman thing going for ya, and maybe I’d like that. Hell, I’d be into you right now if I wasn’t pursuing this other cutie, and I don’t care much for pushy women, but whatever, Marcus isn’t into that okay? He doesn’t want anything but his music in his life right now, alright? So just leave him alone.”

“I’m not a groupie,” Alex spoke through clenched teeth.

“Whatever,” he said. “How bout you just leave Marcus alone.” He turned and ran up the street after his friend.

Alex stood there feeling angry and confused. She felt the blood in her face and knew she would regret not speaking up more later, but she felt that she might have won at least a small battle in the overall war. She now knew that when she looked for him next week she should look for two men, and that his name was Marcus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset Perfect Ch 4

So, this may be too graphic for younger readers. Just a word of warning. But it starts some of the conflict in the novel so it’s important.

She was drunk. Grant could taste the gin on her breath. It was sweet and light and there was a hint of lime there as well. The problem was that he could also taste the smoke from her cigarette. He didn’t normally like smokers, but she seemed to smoke as if to say “fuck you” to the world, and he did like that.

She hadn’t been easy to get away from her friends. He had waited till the end of the night. The other’s had gone home. Usually they stayed to watch him till the end of the night, but tonight he wanted to get laid, and to do that he knew he would have to drink slowly. So when he saw them watching him, he could tell when they were counting his drinks, he had slowed way down, started nursing the beers, until they realized he wasn’t going to get drunk and they left him alone.

Even then they had wanted to stay. They had wanted to leave as a group, Harris, McIntyre, and the new kid, Ross. He allowed himself to be lead away from the bar, but while Harris boarded the number 15 bus going uptown, and Ross and McIntyre went down the stairs to the 135th Street Subway but instead of walking down toward Maidson I went up toward Amsterdam.

They weren’t bad guys, but it got old to Grant. He liked hanging out with them, they were all similar, but it was always the same stories, always the same jokes. It got old. Besides, he wanted a good fuck tonight. He was tired of porn on his computer and a quick release before bed. He didn’t want to drive to fucking New Jersey either where he knew he could get a quick fuck. The girl would do fine, despite the gin.

He met them at a seedy bar on Broadway. At first her friends hadn’t wanted her to go with Grant, but Grant knew he had the type of charm that would eventually win her over. He knew when to smile and play coy and when it was time for fun. Fun happened in the dark, behind locked doors, when she was least expecting it, not out in the open when she was with her friends.

When they stopped at her place he held the door for her and waited for her to invite him up. She may have said, “come on up for a drink” but Grant could tell by the look in her eyes that she wanted it as badly as he did. As they walked up to her apartment he watched her move, taking in the sway of her hips, the bulge of her calves as she took each step, the swell of her ass and let himself get hard as he watched.

As soon as the door closed he was on her, kissing her, nothing too rough, just holding her pinned against the wall as he kissed her, stripping off the clothes and popping a few buttons.

“Hey, I have to pay for that,” she said when the buttons flew.

He shut her up with another kiss and by pulling off her pants for her.

“Let’s slow down a bit, what do you say?”

He felt her grow tense under his grip so he backed off just a bit, letting her think it was all okay for a little longer. More kissing and he gently nudged her head down toward his cock so she could give him a blow. It was the least she could do for him. Fuck, he’d spent almost a hundred fifty dollars on drinks for her and her friends not to mention the cab ride home. A blow would be a nice start.

He leaned back against the door as she went down on him and he used his hands to guide her head. She wasn’t great, kinda workmanlike if he had to admit it. He looked down at her once. She looked up at him with those big, fucking, doe eyes and he just kind of made her get back to work instead of letting that become a moment.

“How’s that?” she asked in her husky voice that ruined the mood that Grant was trying to achieve.

“Keep going.”

“I kinda liked when we were kissing,” she said as she stood up.

“No,” Grant said. He put his hands on her shoulders and tried to push her back down so she would finish. He had already decided a blow would the best he could get from her and he was determined to finish at least that.

“Hey,” her voice rose. “I don’t think this is . . . ”

In a smooth move that he had done a million times in other situations, Grant swept his right leg behind her left calf and shoved her shoulders back. The girl fell back onto the floor and before she could recover Grant was on top of her.

“Get the fuck off me,” she yelled. Grant planted his hand on top of her mouth and muffled any other cries.

“You should have just finished you stupid cunt.” Grant felt tears on his hand that covered his mouth and it made him smile.

He ripped off her panties with his other hand and with his hand still on her mouth forced her on her stomach. He was inside her ass quickly, fucking her harshly. She screamed against his hand, but he kept at it. Once or twice he looked down at her ass, watched it bounce and yield as his hips pumped, and it made him more excited.

When he was done he got up and pulled up his pants. She stayed on the floor. She whimpered a bit and that only pissed Grant off. How come the ones he thought would be the most fun turned out to the be the most timid. It’s always the big talkers who turn into the worst fighters. Hell, this gal had barely even tussled, he thought.

The door wouldn’t open since she was in the way, so Grant just shoved her legs out of the way and pushed the door harder. He closed it after him and left the building quickly. As he made his way to the subway he realized how unsatisfying the whole damn thing had been. Not a fighter, her tits were too big, not a great mouth. The only thing he’d like had been her ass. She probably had never even felt a cock in her ass before. On balance, Grant thought, he probably would have enjoyed going home and watching porn on the computer more.

Sunset Perfect Ch 3

The girl was across the dance floor and she knew she was the hottest thing in the club. She danced with a confidence that showed she knew it.

“Are you going to eye fuck her all night or are you actually going to go over there?”

“I’m getting there.” Ross said.

They were all of a type, he and his friends. Ross had been in Marine Force Recon, Grant the Navy Seals, McIntyre the Rangers and Harris the Special Forces. They were a walking amalgamation of the Spec Ops community. The biggest difference between them all, other than their individual branches of service was their respective ages. Ross was the youngest at thirty-one, Grant was fifty-six, McIntyre and Harris were both in their forties.

Ross liked going out with them. It was one of the few times he felt safe in crowds. He may not have ever fought with these men, but they were brothers nevertheless. They thought the same, the talked the same, they moved the same. It was comfortable and it was expected. They went out just once or twice a month together, but each time they did, Ross enjoyed it more than any other evenings.

“If you don’t hurry up, Devil Dog, I’m going to go over there and take my chances.” Grant said.

“You’ll ruin every chance you mean,” Ross responded.

He knew that Grant would go over there and talk to her if he didn’t hurry up and get his shit together. Grant loved hitting on girls, even girls that were half his age. Maybe especially girls half his age. When he was drunk he was even more lecherous and at that moment, Grant was easily onto his sixth beer an moving toward his seventh. Two more and he would be slurring his words and wanting to get into a fight. Five more and they’d be leading him home.

They knew one another from there fitness gig. They all four of them woke up early and ran a military style boot camp for people who wanted a different type of fitness experience. Sometimes businesses wanted a team building experience, other times they ran regular boot camps, and every now and then there would be a scared straight class, people who needed their kids to experience a real world fitness wake up, and often there were kids wanting to join the military and needing to get a taste of the workouts they would experience. Grant, Harris, McIntyre and Ross would run them all through the ringer from five in the morning till seven every morning.

Some days all four of them would show up, but most of the time it was just one or two of them. It was these evenings when they hooked up at a bar; Grant’s choice, or a new Italian restaurant; McIntyre, or a dance club; Harris, that they really got together and were able to let their collective guards down. Out there, in the mornings, with the clients, they always had to keep their character’s up. They had to workout like animals, be gruff and tough, always look the part. Out here, it was like coming back from outside the wire back to areas where security was taken care of for them, outside the combat zone. They were smart; Harris, funny; McIntyre and a bit of a jackass; Grant. Ross knew how others would see his type, since he was the youngest, he was the new guy, the rookie.

Ross felt a hand pushing him from behind. He glanced back and saw that it was McIntyre giving him a shove toward the dance floor. Typical for McIntyre. His unit was always the hammer or the anvil. The Rangers were the group that was sent when the mission was on the brink of going from covert to overt; very little subterfuge, lots of force and action and explosions. Harris would have been surgical,  Grant would be optimistic and jump in with no plan and count on his skills and his charm to get him through, McIntyre would get bored and tell him just to dive in. That’s what this push from behind meant.

He walked toward the dance floor. Once he looked behind at the guys who he knew would be watching him and critiquing him. He was sorry he did immediately. Grant gave him the middle finger. McIntyre gave the Army’s hand and arm signal for attack or advance quickly. Harris saluted him with his beer pint glass, and all three of them laughed heartily as he waded into the dancers.

He heard Harris yell at him, “Dance you fucking Jarhead Jackass!” Ross smiled despite himself. It was exactly what he would have done had the roles been reversed.

Ross felt like an imbecile when he danced. There was nothing for it but just to get it over with so he snapped his fingers and tried to shuffle his feet. Silently he cursed McIntyre for choosing a fucking disco for the night out. Immediately he rolled his eyes and found perspective again. If not for McIntyre’s choice he wouldn’t be moving toward this girl.

The blonde was dancing with a bunch of other girls. She had long blonde hair that she had styled into a bun. Not a pony tail, not a braid, a bun. He liked that. He decided he liked the utilitarianism of it. He liked the way the hair on the back of her neck curled into small ringlets.

Her friends were all wearing clothes that screamed they had gotten ready for the night out. Boots, blouses, slim fitting pants and belts that accentuated the ensembles they had picked. The blonde was wearing nothing more than a t-shirt, blue jeans, and completely out of character for the crowd, flip flops. Like the bun, Ross immediately liked this about her. Again, it was utilitarian as fuck. She dressed what made her comfortable and fuck all the world, she screamed with her choices.

It was her hands that had first grabbed his attention though. They were tough and scarred and fucking beautiful. He had first seen her at the bar, her arms on the bar as she ordered drinks. She had picked up the drinks, six of them in all, one for her and each of her friends, Ross supposed with her hands around them expertly. He had been fixated on her and her hands as she walked back to her group and his eyes hadn’t left her all night. As he approached her.He wanted her hands now as he approached her on the dance floor and again felt an inability to look away.

They were dancing in a circle, all of them, all six of them. Every now and then a man would come up and try to dance with one of them, and in almost every case giggles, smiles and a slight rebuff had resulted. One thing that Ross had noticed was that no guys made a play for the blonde with the bun. He watched now as another guy came up to the circle and tried to pull one girl away, the brunette with the braid, from the group and dance with her solo. She gave him a few moves, let herself be pulled off, then she spun back and the whole group laughed at him. Ross realized that he was in serious danger of being their next victim unless he tried something different.

Instead of dancing up to the group of women, Ross slipped around behind the blonde with the bun and came up behind her. She wasn’t a good dancer either, but from her smile he could tell that she was enjoying being in her group. Instead of dancing over to her and trying to dance her away as he had seen all the other guys try and do, Ross went up and tapped her on the shoulder.

She turned and for a moment Ross realized how badly he didn’t want to fuck this up. Her eyes were bright and lively. Her smile, which disappeared when she turned and saw him, had been bright and lovely and intoxicating.

Ross leaned in and whispered in her ear.

“I know if I try to dance with you, you’ll just dance me away then laugh with your friends. I’d rather go over to the bar with you, buy you and all your friends a drink and get to know you for a few seconds.”

The smile returned but briefly. She leaned in and whispered back to Ross.

“What if I said I would rather dance?”

“I’d dance. I’m a horrible dancer but I’d dance if you asked me to. I’d rather talk and buy you drinks, but if it means getting to see you smile, then  I’d dance.”

She stood back to look at him. Ross tried to smile but inside he was a bundle of nerves and worry. He didn’t want to be just another guy who got laughed at and mocked by the pack of girls. He wanted to know this girl, not just hook up with her.

He felt for a moment that he might have failed, that she would turn and go back to dancing, but then she moved past him, walked in front of him and her hand shot out to grab his and pull him along. Ross let himself be lead back to the bar and felt the stares of his buddies even though he couldn’t see them. As she walked Ross took in her bun, her neck, her walk, her way and fell more and more for her with each step. She looked back a couple of time, each time he smiled back at her and gripped her hand in his more tightly.

 

 

 

 

Sunset Perfect Ch 2

So earlier I shared with  you the first chapter of a romance novel I’m writing. This is chapter 2. There are several characters and stories in this novel, this is the second one. I’m calling in Sunset Perfect. 

Jeff looked down at the spreadsheets that were strewn out on his desk in front of him and the certainty that Juan was gone hit him. It was a strange realization for ten in the morning on a Tuesday, fully two weeks after the funeral. Hell, he had had years to come to grips with Juan’s life ending since he had been diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago. All that time watching his lover cough, waste away physically, try chemo, radiation, and even thrown is hopes into more mystic, Eastern healing practices, double over in pain as he hacked up blood, and finally one day not be able to get out of bed and staying there till the end.

All those days of holding Juan’s hand through the trauma, cleaning up the messes, emptying bed pans, cleaning sheets, bleaching blood out of his favorite clothes, both of them knowing with a certainty that he would not survive long, knowing with each cough that ended with spots of deep red blood on the sheets, the pillow cases, the blankets and the t-shirts, that the cancer was spreading incessantly through him and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop it.

Jeff looked down at his desk again. He saw the spreadsheets. He saw the numbers spread out before him. All those numbers in ordered rows and columns that tallied sales and revenue and costs. He tried to focus. They started to blur in his view. Somewhere in the back of his mind Jeff was amazed that the numbers were actually blurring. It was something he might have seen in a movie, where the director wanted to show that the character was lost in thought, losing focus, literally and physically. He tried to laugh as he thought about it and the numbers in front of him continued to blur, but even when he tried to force the laugh, nothing came.

An analogy jumped to the front of his mind. As he thought it he realized how absurd it was that he would think about it, but the more he thought about the absurdity the more the thought formulated and took over his mind. It was an analogy that his accounting professor had told him when he got his MBA over thirty years ago. These numbers, they represented the life blood of his company, these numbers before him that stretched out month by month throughout the year were just like the pulsing of a heart rate on an EKG. He saw the still blurred numbers on the sheet without reading them and thought that he was looking at how healthy the company was.

Why couldn’t it have been as easy to read Juan’s own life, Jeff thought. The smiled disappeared.

Juan’s life had been perfectly steady and consistent up till three years ago. There had been no sign, no warning, just a long bad, persistent cough that eventually lead to the cancer diagnosis.

What was in these facts in figures spread out before him that Jeff couldn’t see that might be the indicator of a cancer within his company, he wondered. Was there some number? Perhaps that missed budget from their Toledo location, could that be an indicator that in three years the Toledo location would be nothing more than a shell of what it was today? Was there something that he could see today that might stave off that location’s demise or hell maybe even stop the entire company going under?

Jeff closed his eyes as the next thought came. What could Jeff have seen in Juan three years prior that might have made him be able to save him?

“You okay?”

Jeff looked up and saw Sarah looking at him from the office doorway.

“It’s all so fragile.” His voice was usually stern and steady. He heard it quake as he spoke to Brad and he felt his face flush as he realized how pathetic he sounded.

“You may want to take a day,” Sarah said.

She really had no right to say that. She had been with the company less than three months. She came into his office with that damn, pathetic, pity-filled look that so many people gave him these days, dropped off a packet of papers, and left.

Jeff glanced at the papers she had left. A lawsuit from Minnesota. He threw it on the side table with his other legal papers. He would look at it when he was in a lawyer mode. Right now he needed to be in CFO mode.

He swiveled in his chair and looked out the window. His eyes had drifted to the view as he had thought about Juan.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts. Then the absurdity of actually having to shake his head to rid the thoughts from him mind made him smile. He swiveled back to his desk and  forced his eyes back to the monthly operating reports. He studied them. He forced them not to blur, forced himself to really see the numbers. People were counting on him to do his job, he reminded himself. He saw that Long Beach was having a great month. They were ahead of budget and ahead of forecast. He looked at those two numbers and compared them to New Orleans. That office wasn’t doing well. New Orleans always did well and Long Beach usually struggled. Now they were reversed. Could that be the indicator of a cancer in the company or was that just business as usual?

The thought jumped into his mind. Juan had counted on him.

Jeff was smart enough to know what was going on. It was a crisis of conscience. His faith was being tested. He was being tested and right now he felt as though he was failing the test. All his life it was these numbers and spreadsheets that made sense to him. If you wanted to meet forecast, than you needed to goose your revenue or decrease your expenditures, it was as easy as that. If you wanted more revenue then increase sales. If there were no sales then you cut costs. Each number told a different story and each number could be massaged and changed and worked till the outcome was what he wanted. If you read the numbers right you could read the story and maybe affect the future, hopefully in a positive manner. Jeff had lost count of the number of times he had helped struggling locations overcome difficult seasons with phone calls with advice or tweaks to their operating budgets. Hell, Salt Lake City would have gone under last year if Jeff hadn’t stepped in when he saw them missing budget. Why hadn’t he been as prescient when it came to Juan? Salt Lake City was just one of fifty locations. Juan had been his life. Why, Jeff wondered, couldn’t he have seen something in Juan’s life that could have helped him save the one life that mattered most to him?
Had the decision been between saving Juan or saving the Salt Lake City office, there would have been no question of which way Jeff would have sided.

His mind drifted to Juan and the hospital, the EKG, and the last three months. Tears welled up on the inside of his eyelids. He turned away from his desk when he heard his tears plop onto the printed spreadsheets. He was back to staring out the window of his office on the sixteenth floor of the Humboldt building. He saw the end of Long Island through the horizon of the sky scrapers in front of him, as well as the East River and a few of the buildings on the southern tip of Manhattan. For a moment, his vision still clouded by tears, Jeff’s mind jumped to how much he loved his view and whether or not Juan had ever been to his office to see the view. He answered the question for himself as he realized that not once had Juan ever been to his office. He had known Jeff’s co-workers, but never been to his office. Juan was the one in the relationship who loved views. For Jeff they were While Jeff liked taking the long view, Juan had enjoyed being on the ground. Juan would have been more enthralled by a crack in a sidewalk that no one else noticed, or a sculpture that used rusted wire formed into loops, rather than something as prosaic as the New York skyline. Still, Jeff thought, Juan would have loved this view. He would have loved it more than Jeff ever had.

“You okay?”

Jeff looked up from his desk. His door had been closed, hadn’t it? Sarah had shut it, hadn’t she?. Brad was standing in the doorway. Jeff quickly wiped his eyes and tried to look busy.

“I’m fine.” Jeff felt his face flush again at how silly his voice sounded again.

Brad was the CEO of ALC, Jeff the CFO. They were more than co-workers though, they had been friends through three different companies and over three decades as they both grew into greater and greater managerial and business roles. Brad was also one of the few people at PSC who knew that Jeff had been living with Juan and the only one who knew that Juan was gone.

“Seriously, are you doing alright?” Brad shut the door behind him as he came into Jeff’s office.

“Yeah,” Jeff tried to find his work rhythm again. “I’m fine, I’m fine.” He rummaged through the pages and tried to find the sheet that showed that Long Beach had made the forecast for the month, something to prove that he was still on track, to prove to his boss that his personal life wouldn’t interfere with business.

“Did you see this?” Jeff found the page and pointed to it.

Instead of looking at the page, Brad came further into the room and sat down across from Jeff’s desk. He leaned back, steepled his fingers and cocked his head. It was Brad’s sympathetic mien. Jeff had seen it a thousand times.

“Jeff,” he said. “You should go home.”

“I’m fine, Brad.”

“I’m not really asking,” he said. “You should go home. We can handle the monthly operating reports without you for at least one month.”

“Really, Brad,” he tried again. “I’m fine.”

“You’ve told me you’re fine six times today. You’re not. You shouldn’t be. You should go home.” He smiled his smile that told Jeff that he was both not upset, but also not going to order again. “I’m not asking. You’re going home.”

“I can’t go home.”

“Then go somewhere else,” he said. “Go to my house and talk to Liz. Go to the gym. Go to the library or the museum. Go on vacation. Go anywhere but work. Come back to work when you’re ready. You’re not ready.”

Jeff knew it was not worth arguing, so he didn’t. Instead he said, “I have some thoughts on these numbers.”

“Great, email them to Andrew. He can present them to the team for you. But you need to go give yourself some time to work through this. I’m all for throwing yourself back into work, for getting back to the routine. But this is too soon. Even I can see that.” Brad got up and moved toward the desk.

Jeff started to speak but Brad cut him off. “If you say “I’m fine” one more time, I’m calling security.” Brad gave him that same smile, then a pat on the shoulder. “I’ll call you tonight, but you need to leave the office. I’m giving you ten minutes. If I come back around and you’re here in ten minutes,” he left the sentenced unfinished.

“You’ll fire me?” Jeff asked.

“No,” Brad was sliding out the door. “I’ll be disappointed. Go home.”

When he left the building, thankfully, Jeff didn’t see anyone else. He stood on the pavement looking out at sixth and wondered what he should do. It was mid-morning and the traffic was light. In another hour the street would be choked with people going to lunch and too meetings. Now, it was the calm before the storm.

Jeff knew that going home wasn’t the answer. Home was a reminder of Juan around every corner. Home was a den and a bedroom that Juan had decorated. Home was memories of every party they had ever hosted together, of every night they had curled up in front of the television to watch an old movie, a movie that Jeff reminisced about and that Juan went away from wondering just how much older his partner was than he. Home was not the answer. Even thinking about home made Jeff miserable.

Museums also weren’t the answer. Their first date had included dinner and the Guggenheim. He loved Brad and his wife Liz but he certainly wasn’t going to burden his best friends with his remorse and depression. So going to Brad’s house was out.

Maybe it was that final thought before Brad came in, the one about the view and whether or not Juan had ever come to his office that decided it for Jeff. Perhaps it was just that he had no other answer but eventually he knew where he wanted to go. To the right was home. To the right were the coffee shops, the bookstores, the restaurants and other places were he could find a spot for an afternoon of solace and quiet among the busy worker crowds but the right also meant memories of Juan. To the right were things he could understand and relate to. To the left, several miles of walking east, he would find the waterfront and a dock. Maybe just because usually he turned right, Jeff turned left.

Another Start

So here’s another little story that’s been playing around in my mind.

Rain was pouring in sheets in the voids between the tall buildings that lined 5th Avenue. It dropped Alex into an even gloomier mood. She never came this way, it was typical that on the one night she did, she would be stuck in the rain. Her small umbrella barely covered her. The blowing wind threw her rain soaked hair around her face as she turned to look up the avenue for a cab having in her mind already decided it wasn’t worth going on. There were none so she drudged on.

The rain turned from deluge to downpour, and Alex shrieked reflexively as the rain pounded on her umbrella and the wind tried to pull it from her hands.She trotted the last few steps to the bar she had come to visit and ducked into small, entrance. She had been wanting to come here for weeks and only just now found the excuse. Ten minutes before she had been walking to a club off of eighteenth, but when she got there the music she heard coming through the door was techno/funk. She kept walking. In the back of her mind she noted where she was, just three blocks from The Burning Pear, the hotel bar she had read about in BSMN, Bleeker Street Music News last month. As she turned left to get to fifth, the rain, a slight drizzle, started.

Alex stopped in the foyer of the hotel and allowed the rain to drip off of her slowly. There were several people near her waiting for a break in the rain to go out about their business, all of them turned to look at her as if she were crazy to be out in the storm. She shook herself with a bit more aplomb and held her chin a touch hire to spite them and walked back toward the rear of the lobby where she already heard the piano playing.

The lobby of the hotel was steeped in age and past grandeur. The floor was yellow tinted subway tile that had a fluer de lis design running through it. A century ago it would have looked amazing. There was a dark mahogany desk on the left of the lobby and a grand staircase in the back with thick red carpeting and banisters that were held up with elaborate balusters. The ceilings were two stories and vaulted with designed that looked like frescos aging and drying up into faded designs. Alex knew the neighborhood well enough to know that in just a few years a developer would offer the right price and the whole thing would be gutted and a new, sterile, hotel would take the place of this antique, but for Alex , it was pleasant and soul filling to walk through a piece of history. It was like that in New York. A person could step off the street and instantly be wrapped in antiquity and be a part of history. She took in as much as she could as she walked, with each step the piano music getting closer and louder. Nestled in the back left, just a quick jog from the stairs, a restaurant cum bar that was filled to overflowing with people.

There were a few couples at the entrance, drinks in hands, it didn’t look like they were upset to be there, they were whispering to one another, looking in toward the bar, not a line waiting to get in, just over spill. Alex squeezed past them and made her way to the left where she saw the bar. The bar was really nothing more than a large, dark wood mahogany bar that had a dozen or so closed packed tables and chairs that served for the appetizer eating patrons. The whole place could hold maybe fifty people tops and tonight it was jam packed. She had expected a crowd, the BSMN had warned the reader that it was popular, but she hadn’t expected quite so many.

She slipped through the crowd and angled her shoulder though the throng waiting on the bar and waved at the bartender who looked her way. She ordered a Vanilla Stoli and coke before she turned to take in the real reason she was there.

Alex looked around the bar. It was a darkened room, with mood lighting that did little to reveal much about the restaurant. It was as if everything about the place has been altered to emphasize the music. Altered was the right word. Alex realized that the bar hadn’t been built expressly as a studio, it had been changed recently, in little ways, tables moved to allow for a grand piano, aisles moved to pack more people in, doors with whisper close devices so that the lobby noise was kept out and the doors didn’t make a bang when they closed.
Behind the bar, in the corner, nestled tight against the intersection of the exterior windowed wall and the brick wall that was shared probably with the building next door, was a grand piano. In any other bar it would have seemed out of place. It would have been a waste of space. In this case it was the reason for the popularity. Like a restaurant with a popular chef who churns out a masterpiece dish that everyone in the dining community must try, this piano, and the man playing it was the magnet that drew every person Alex knew from the article, like iron filings. In other bars she knew she would have seen couples talking and eating and drinking. The piano would have been an afterthought. Here, it was the opposite. Everyone was watching and listening. There was a hushed quiet in the crowd as if everyone was holding their breaths wanting to hear as much as they could. All eyes were facing the piano, and the only thing she heard other than the shuffle and hum of the crowd, was the slight tinkle and clink of glasses as the bartenders hustled to make drinks.

What was interesting was that the whole thing, the mood, the hushed crowd, the ambiance, it all worked. The music was the focus. It was just piano music. No accompanying voice, no strings, no percussion. Just a simple piano that was being played softly yet with distinction. Alex took her drink and gave the bartender a ten. She turned and leaned slightly against the bar, holding her drink in front of her, eyes closed and let the music soak in. He had just started a new song. The first had been jazzy and had a distinct bass melody. This was faster, more upbeat. She focused on it and imagined the fingers of the pianist as the keys were played.

Alex was a musician and felt sure she could identify who was playing as soon as she heard them play. If she walked into Poor Richard’s she could tell if it was Marcus or O’hare playing the guitar after just two chords. She couldn’t see the man playing the piano yet, but she knew she had never heard him play before. Her ear told her that. Next she tried to listen to see if he had training. How precise was the time? How forceful were fingers pressed on the keys and did that pressure vary? Was the musician a slave to the music or vice versa? Hell there were times when she felt she could determine if a fellow musician had been through Professor Higgsons History of Music class.

The article last month in the BSMN had been less a news piece but more of a variety piece. not so much a news piece. The only reason that Alex had read it was that the author, Renee Pace had written an article about her own band,  Persistent Soul, a year before. Reading it had been fun and light and told the story about how Renee and her friends had spent five days coming to the bar and listening to the songs to see if they could identify one. They hadn’t. Five nights, with about forty songs a night and they never heard one that they had heard before, and they never heard the same one twice, at least they didn’t think they had.

The article promised a follow up where Renee hoped to get a some industry resources, professors, teachers, tutors, music lovers, music store owners, whoever, to come in and listen as well. It was a bit of a gimmick but it was a gimmick that worked. It had Alex watching and waiting and listening to see if she recognized the songs.

The most intriguing part was that Renee and her friends had gone up to the man playing the piano to talk about the songs he played. He hadn’t spoken to them. In fact, according to Renee, he had hardly even noticed they were there. Renee, being Renee had been persistent, and eventually a waitress had pulled them away. It wasn’t just rudeness or not wanting to speak to the press, the man never spoke. No one at the bar had ever heard him speak at all. He came in and played and left later that night when the bar closed. He had never been asked to play, he had seen the stand up piano one evening, when the owner had installed it as a lark, and started to play. The crowds had followed. Three months later the owner upgraded the piano and tried to get the man on retainer. Nothing. No one could get him to speak. He came in, he played, he left. No money. No talking. No nothing.

Again, Alex thought to herself, a gimmick. Maybe a bit of performance art. Perhaps everyone who worked at the bar, the waitstaff, the owner, the bartender, maybe they were all in on the conspiracy. Whatever the case it was working. There were certainly lots of people. She doubted the bar had ever been this popular.

Alex sat back with her drink and let the music roll over her.By the fifth song she knew that this musician wasn’t a fellow Julliard alum. The keyboard work was too rough, too unrefined and every now and then the timing was slowed slightly.  But it was a nice arrangement and the most amazing part was that she didn’t recognize the songs at all. If they were covers they were unknown to her completely.

She stopped the analyzing and just listened and realized she loved it.

 

 

Poli-Sin (Rough Draft)

This is something I thought about on my run today. A short story perhaps? Maybe a novel if I ever decide it has legs. But it was a running epiphany. Got to write those suckers down right?

“You keep in shape?” 

He sat behind a large desk. It wasn’t the oval office desk, that was down the street. The fact that he didn’t call him there, and talk to him across that desk made Curt wonder what the ulterior motive of this meeting really was. 

Curt nodded in reply. 

“You look like you’re still in good shape, that’s good.”

Curt lived in a world of ulterior motives and hidden meanings. Just two sentences into this meeting and the landscape here was filled with them. Why here? Why at night? Why no one else? Why the questions about being in shape? Why the word, “good?” Good was so subjective and middle of the road. Why did it matter? Curt knew what to do in these situations; shut up and wait to see what happened. 

Curt had worked with the man across the desk for years. He had been on his security detail when the man had first made inroads into the world of finance and real estate and fame and eventually fortune. It had been those years that had lead Curt to start his own security business and gained him the slight noteriety that he had. 

Sure there were some that would say it had been the wars in the early 2000’s and the lucrative govenrment contracts, and the oddities of conservative and miltiary policy allowiong so many private security personnel into the theater that provided him his wealth and fame within the contracting community. But very few of them knew that Signet Contracting started thanks to an angel investor who wanted to see one of his trusted security personnel, one who had fought for him, protected him and shot to defend him, have what he wanted in his life. 

That angel investor was now staring across teh desk at Curt and asking about his weight and health. If he wanted to have a late night meeting in some random law offices with the lights down and no one anywhere within ear shot, that was his call, and Curt owed him enough, and knew him well enough to just sit and listen and see where he wanted to go. 

“I remember when you first came to me, remeber that? when was that? Ninety-two? Ninety-one?”

“Ninety-one,” curt said. He knew the date he got out of the Marines like his own birthday. It had been less than a month after that, after coming back from combat in Bush’s Gulf War, that he had gotten the gig as a body guard.

“That long ago? Really? We’ve known each other that long?”

Curt nodded.

“And we’ve have a lot of history behind us don’t we? Alot of history. A whole lot. Isn’t that right? Lot’s of stories between us? Lots of stories. Lots of history. Lots of secrets.”

Curt heard that last statement and knew he had just gotten one step closer to knowing the point behind the meeting.

“Where do you think we’d be right now if not for each other?”

“I know how much my success has to do with you.”

“No, no, no,” the man put up his hands eventhough he barely moved from behind the desk. He kept his body leaned back, his stature laconic, like an old corporate head sitting at a board room table, which until just a few months ago was exactly what he had been.

“You miss my point,” he went on from across the desk. “I think I owe you much more than you owe me. I owe you my life. Remember that night in Vegas? How could you forget? I know I haven’t. If not for you I doubt I would be here. Hell, without you that night I wouldn’t be alive.”

“It wasn’t that big a deal,” Curt said. It really hadn’t been that big a deal. Some drunk asshole who had lost too much at the casino had gone to his car and gotten a gun and come back with thought of revenge on whoever he could find. The drunk had targeted the first rich looking asshole he saw and started walking up on him. Curt had seen him coming and intercepted him steps away from the boss. He felt the man pull up the pistol and instinctively Curt had stopped the drunk’s arm from coming up. There had been a struggle, the gun went off. The drunk took it in the chest and Curt had held the man as he went down. 

For Curt, a combat veteran and a willing participant in many fights with drunks, the episode had been little more than a blip on his life’s radar. Sure it was a big deal to have a man die in his arms during a struggle, but in Curt’s mind it held little compared to launching an anti-tank round at an approaching column of tanks and frying the crew inside, watching burning men, men still on fire, exit the top hatch and be mowed down by the machine gun situated next to him. How does a drunk pulling his own trigger and sealing his own fate compare to that same vision of the Iraqi tankers replayed four, five, six times? 

Curt’s resume started with those tankers, in continued with the drunks, and had been added to drastically with each protection contract he signed throughout the Iraq invasion in the early 2000’s, and thankful seemed to have come to an end just five years back when he had called in an air strike on a compound that had him and his team and his employer trapped in a far ambush in northern mosul. 

“It may not have been a big deal to you but it was a huge deal to me.”

Curt decided the best thing to do was to just shrug his shoulders. So he did. 

“Big deal,” the man went on. He did that. He overemphasized and reapeated himself to get what he wanted. He wanted something now. “Great big deal, huge deal.”

Curt just nodded.

“I know you didn’t have to do that for me.” The man leaned back again, even further in the huge, squeaky leather, office chair. His face went from a shaft of yellow light produced from the lamp on the side table to one of dark shadow. “I would never ask anyone to do that for me. You know that. I’d never ask that. Never.”

“You don’t have to ask.”

“That’s right,” the man leaned forward again, his face coming back into light, his eyes bright now. “I shouldn’t have to ask. Just like you would never have to ask me.”

A silence dropped between them. A curtain of silence. Heavy like yards and yards of velvet that comes down thick at the end of a stage play. It sat there between them for long moments. Curt knew that this was his cue to say something. He let the silence remain for long moments more than he knew the man wanted it to. The man to his credit didn’t force anything. He knew the art of the deal better than any man.

“What can I do for you,” Curt finally asked.