“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 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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.