“Sorry, man.” I blew smoke out and looked at Stipple. He hadn’t had an easy life, but he made the best out of it. Right out of the service his dad died and he raised his brothers and sisters. His mom had died before he went into the service. Sometimes your life is put on hold. Sometimes it stays that way forever. “Every time he’s in it costs you some serious cheddar.”
“You know why I like talking to you, Ben?” For some reason, Stipple and I had hit it off immediately. I had the utmost respect for him.
“Because when I call money cheddar you know exactly what I mean?”
“Because I never have to Barney things down to you.” That sounded like something Amber would say, not Stipple.
“Has my daughter been in here talking to you?” Amber was always coming up with new words and phrases. It was a habit she picked up in high school and she was always ambushing me with a word from left field or a phrase that left me in stitches.
“She’s become a wonderful young lady, Ben.” He smiled at me. You took a poll around town, nobody would disagree with him.
“She has, hasn’t she? Been here?” Amber liked stopping in the Legion to talk to Stipple. Stipple was almost like a grandfather to her. Sara’s father had died a couple of weeks after Amber was born. My dad lived in Boston, but I saw him rarely. He was a fairly successful writer and traveled the world. We weren’t estranged. We both lived our own lives and intersected when convenient for either of us. Amber didn’t have a relationship with him.
“You think I’d come up with Barney things down on my own?”
“She’s a one of a kind.” I had become accustomed to people bragging about Amber.
“And you’re one lucky man,” he said, getting into his wallet for some more money. Warren came over to our table and joined us. We both looked at Warren, waiting for brilliance to emit from his mouth.
“’bout all I can take of that fucking Magruder for one day,” Warren said. I’d be shocked as shit if Warren didn’t squeeze in one fuck per sentence.
“I hear that,” Stipple said. He tapped out another cigarette from his pack. “That shaved head of his. . .”
“I fucking hear that,” Warren said. All of our hearing, apparently, wonderful.
“You’re off in space all of a sudden, Ben,” Stipple said.
“Have to leave pretty soon and go to Hopkins.”
“Waddya going to the fucking airport for?” Warren asked.
“Picking up a new roommate for my daughter.” I was waiting. It didn’t take long. Warren and Stipple high-fived each other.
“I just know you got something going on at that fucking mansion of yours,” Warren said. I looked at Stipple and Warren.
“Aren’t you getting a bit worn to be high-fiving people, Stipple?” I asked.
“When you’re my age, any appendage you can raise, you raise.” Stipple and Warren high-fived each other again. I wasn’t much on the high-fiving business myself.
“I think our man needs another fucking drink,” Warren said, pointing to Stipple’s empty glass. I walked the glass up to the bar and pointed to the Jim Beam. I came back and placed it in front of Stipple. He nodded his thanks.
“So, what kind of a fucking model you picking up tonight?” Warren asked.
“Japanese girl,” I said.
“Ahhhhhhhh,” Stipple said. He looked into his glass. “You talk to war buddies and those Pacific boys say they had it all over us guys fighting the Germans. Never did care for all that hair in the pits and legs those French girls had when I was there. But, those Pac boys said some of those oriental girls taught them things they were pretty certain their mothers hadn’t a clue about in this lifetime.” I didn’t even want to think what my mother knew about in terms of the bedroom. I was just glad I was here for chrissakes, grateful she’d figured that part of it out.
“Well, how’d you like to fucking be me?” Warren asked. “I didn’t as much as see a fucking ankle over in Desert Storm.” They both looked at me. For some reason Warren assumed, since I was at the Legion, I was naturally a vet of some kind. The truth was, a friend of mine signed me up as a social member a few years back. Now, every time Warren talked about Desert Storm, he assumed by my age I had to have been there. It was pretty obvious I was too young to have served in Vietnam. Warren came from a family that put a premium on military service. It was as natural as going to college right from high school was in my family.
“Breathing is the way I prefer them,” I said. They both smiled and said some amens to that, brother. I figured if Warren ever cornered me about what branch of the service I had served in, I would tell him I just couldn’t talk about it. He’d figure it was too painful for me. A lot of them couldn’t talk about it. Maybe he’d figure I was CIA or some undercover bullshit. It was one of those things I should have cleared up on day one. Now, day nine hundred and something, I kept trying to avoid the issue.
“Doesn’t much matter where we served,” Stipple said, “all I know is those mothers were at the ass end of one hell of a beatdown.” He polished off his drink. “Gotta go. Thanks for the drink, Ben.” Stipple got up and wobbled toward the door.
“He was in a fucking mood,” Warren said.
“Indeed.” I gathered up my keys and cigarettes. “I gotta run, Warren. Have to go to the airport.”
“You fucking want me to go with you, keep you company?” Warren had a gleam in his eye.
“Well, I appreciate your kindness, Warren, but I’m sure this girl will be nervous enough as it is.”
“I’d calm her fucking nerves.”
“I’m just quite sure you would.” I shook his hand and walked out the door.
. . .from the novel in progress. . .Permanent Declarations of a Temporary Love