TITLE: Home For Good
By M. R. Davenport
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The man with the tightly trimmed mustache and military short hair cut took a stool and swiveled into the bar. His face was hard, like he was a body builder and lifted weights with his lower jaw. His blue eyes set deep and, like polished steel, stared briefly at his own image in the mirror opposite the bar. The graying hair belied his age. His reflection was momentarily blocked by the bar tender as he walked by. “Be right with you,” he said. The change of scenery gave the man an excuse to look away from himself.
He glanced around at the smoky din of the room. There were few other patrons, it being only three in the afternoon. Fifteen hundred, he thought to himself. It’s 3 pm, not 1500. A jukebox, likely full of music from twenty years ago, rattled out some soft disco no one in the place could likely remember. Maybe even LPs. Red vinyl benches, cracked and falling apart. Walls covered with archaic wallpaper, old trophies, a couple of dusty deer mounts, beer posters and two small dark blue windows facing the street. Typical 1980’s bar. Too bad it’s 2008, he thought sardonically.
“What can I get you?” The bartender interrupted his musing. The man swung back on the stool to face the him.
“Beam and Coke?”
“Gotcha.” The bartender turned on his feet to prepare the drink. He spoke over his shoulder, “You new in town?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“Just making conversation. Small town, I know most folks.” He said without turning.
“I guess I‘ve been here before.”
The bartender turned around to face him, setting his drink on a paper coaster. “You guess?” The bartender cocked his head a bit to one side. “You do look a little familiar.” He stuck out his hand. “That’ll be two seventy-five.” The hard faced man fished in his jeans for cash.
“That’s on the house!” A black woman, tall and beautiful said from the door at the back of the room. The bartender and the man on the stool looked up.
“What ever you say Gracie.” The bartender went back to wiping the bar top down. He didn’t ask for an explanation.
The visitor eyed the lady, knowingly. “That’s awful nice of you Gracie.”
“My pleasure, Bobby. It’s been a long time.” She said, taking a few casual steps towards him and shaking hands. “Probably the first legal drink you’ve ever had in my place.”
Her familiar southern drawl put him at ease with the surroundings. He laughed lightly. “Yeah, you’re right.” He glanced over her shoulder at the office door. “Where’s Natalie?” He asked.
“She doesn’t come around much. She has other things going on.” She sat down next to Bobby. “And you, are you in town for long?”
“I’m done. I decided not to re-enlist…”
The filthy, long, black, bearded soldier screamed into Thompson’s face, scattering spittle all over him, his English broken. Thompson never let on that he could speak Lebanese fluently. “Tell me what I want, I will kill you. I torture you with fire!” The man held a lit blow torch up to Thompson’s face. He looked away. He was only human and knew he could be broken eventually. The Lebanese stunk with strong food excretion and sweat mixed.
“Good Lord, you stink!” He yelled back at him. The Lebanese struck him again. His face was numb from being beat, but he still felt it.
“Take off his clothes. Cut them off.” He motioned to three of his men in the doorway, rattling in his own language. “I will burn him.” Thompson resisted the urge to react. His only hole card was that they didn’t know he could understand them. Aware of what was coming and reacting would give that away. Instead he changed the subject. Even though he was on his own, he knew the team was on the way. He just had to survive long enough.
“Did I ever tell you that you looked like Fidel?” He screamed at his assailant. The soldiers began cutting away his desert fatigues. The leader ignored him. “He’s the ugliest, smelliest, worst soldier and nastiest president that Cuba ever saw!” His pants were gone now. The Lebanese smiled, a sick, evil smile. Thompson’s shirt was ripped from him. The Lebanese’ arm came down and seconds later, searing pain rushed up from his right shin. He fought against the restraints. The acrid smell of singed hair and melting skin filled the room as he struggled. “Stop, stop. Oh please stop!” His pleas fell on deaf ears.
Just when he began to think the bone in his leg was burning, it ceased. “Where are the plans, you ugly dog? Tell me?”
Thompson was barely conscious. Had he been in his right mind, he would have told the mad man what he wanted to know. But he was a long way from that place at the moment. His eyes glazed over…
“Bobby? You with us?”
He came back from the reality that was torturing him. He looked up at the person addressing him. “Gracie…Umm. Sorry, I wasn’t here for a second.” He smiled it away and changed the subject. “Your dad, Gracie, how’s your dad?”
Her smile dropped. “He passed away a few years back.” She looked at the floor. “He didn’t like the way I was running things around here, so we weren’t getting along. I’m still dealing with that.”
“I’m sorry. That must be kinda tough.” He sipped his drink. “You said Nat was doing other stuff? What do you mean? Did she get married?”
“Nope, but she had a kid.” Her smile returned.
“Really? She living with a guy?” He said, searching.
“Hey, why you so curious anyway? I never knew you were sweet on her.”
“Now wait a second. Who said I was sweet on her?” He laughed. He didn’t do that too often. Kinda feels good, he thought. “So, you got a grand kid, eh?”
“Yep, he’s the center of my world too. He’ll be three in November.” She was positively beaming. “You just gotta meet him.”
“What’s his name?” He asked her.
The smile disappeared again. She looked him straight in the eye this time though. “His name is Bobby.” Her look seemed a little accusatory.
The look was not missed by him. “Umm. Did she name him after me?”
“Well, you tell me?” She was standing now and her hands were on her hips.
“Gracie, really.” He rose to his feet, defensively. “I haven’t been home on leave in nearly five years. He’s not mine.”
She smiled. “I know, I was just messing with you.” She laughed out loud.
Bobby smiled and sit down. “You have a scary sense of humor.” He took a long pull on his drink. “So what’s his real name?”
“Oh, it’s Bobby for real. She named him after you.” A kind of evil humor crested her face.
“Because, she thinks you’re something special!” A voice from the street end of the room piped up. An ugly familiar voice. Bobby spun on his stool, slipping off of it as the owner of the sarcastic remark came into view. In seconds, he recognized his old high school rival, Stan Petowski. “Hey, it’s the big war criminal - I mean hero come home to grace us with his presence,” Petowski continued. He was six foot, four inches tall and looked to weigh about fifty pounds. Skin and bones. Pasted back hair, side burns with a pencil thin mustache and an oblong head. His eyes just appeared like they were looking for trouble. His clothes didn’t match the rest of him. He was well dressed, almost like someone did it for him. And they looked pricy.
“Be nice Stan. I think you should let bygones be by-”
“Ah, shut up Gracie. No one pays you to think.”
Bobby looked at Gracie. “Pays you?”
She nodded. “Yeah, my daddy was right. Things sorta went to pot.”
“Yeah, Mr. Military. Gracie had to sell out or go bankrupt. So while you were off saving a bunch of foreigners that can’t even speak American, I was saving folks around town.” He walked up to Bobby and stood inches away from his face. Bobby braced just like he always did in school before getting knocked down. But this time he wasn‘t afraid. “Do yourself a favor, keep your shore leave short. Go back to hiding behind your uniform.”
“He’s home for good now.” Gracie said. Petowski looked at her and back to Bobby.
“Home for good, eh?” He smirked, moving to the bar. He motioned the bar tender and he was brought a beer. “Maybe you should plan on moving then. Your mamma ain’t gonna keep that house too long anyway.”
“Explain that.” Bobby said.
Petowski laughed. He looked up at Bobby as he spoke. “Explain that? This ain’t the U.S. Army buddy boy, I don’t have to explain nothin’ to you. You ask your mamma.”
Bobby looked at Gracie. Her gaze fell to the floor. He looked back at Petowski. From his pocket he produced a five dollar bill and placed it on the bar. He strode for the door. Petowski turned from nursing his beer and followed.
Bobby walked through the door with purpose. As he began walking up the side walk in the direction of his mother’s house, Petowski exited the bar. “Hey soldier boy.” Bobby turned. “Things aren’t like they used to be around here. You know, when we were in school?” He sneered. “Nope, not the same. They’re worse. I run this town now. It’s my town.” Petowski pointed at himself, repeatedly. “I got the car lot, I got the bank. I own over thirty houses and two apartment buildings. There’s three gas stations. They’re all mine.” Pointing over his shoulder, he said, “And, of course Gracie’s place.” He pulled a cigar out from his jacket pocket and lit it. Two puffs and he smiled, looking fondly at what he had in his hand. He gestured toward the other man, who waited patiently for Petowski to finish. “This here cigar cost six and a half bucks. Just this one. I buy them by the case.” He gloated a moment and then looked at Bobby. “Your mamma’s note belongs to me.” He leaned in a little, staying just out of range. “So be nice.”
Bobby turned, now with less purpose and walked toward home. The bartender seen a fight coming between the two and had called down to the police station. He never called 911, he always called direct. Across the street, watching carefully, was Chief Walden. He’d arrived as the two came out. There were only three officers in town, so the Chief was usually personally involved. He watched as Bobby walked up the sidewalk, glancing from time to time back in the direction of the bar. He stopped once and looked at the Chief. His car wasn’t marked, but Bobby had a quick eye. The Chief waved and drove off. Bobby continued to his mamma’s house.
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