Fiction

Old acquaintances

By: Eric Burbridge

The day started questionable; a stubbed toe, dropped medication in the toilet and alarm test failure. Discouraging, but I refused to abandon the plan.

The plan; reconnect, instead of going out of town with the family, with people who I shared my younger years. Why? That question I asked myself sitting at the bar of Missy Black’s by my favorite window where the neon sign still crackled every ten minutes, the universal tavern smell still lingered and my head hit more times than I cared to remember. Deep down I wanted to gloat about my recent retirement from the city. They bragged about chasing skirts, clothes, cars upscale addresses, hustled like mad, successfully the majority of the times, and got respect and admiration. Decades later I’ll see who’s still around. Will I recognize them and vice versa? Deep down I wanted to gloat about my recent retirement from the city.

“Still digging ditches for the city, Phil?” They asked while getting lap dances. If asked this time what will be my answer? “No, but you should see the pension.” And then I might not get asked anything pertaining to the past. Okay by me.

Back in the day our crowd opened the place daily around 11:00am. Strange hours, but most of us worked evenings and nights. Two females sat at the far end of the bar. One with graying short cut hair, the other appeared to be a younger version and they filled out their silver studded jean outfits with authentic curves, not padded. I tried not to stare when I caught the older one’s eye. She turned on her stool and shot me a cold, but analytical, once over. Now what? A quick glance elsewhere didn’t mean a thing. Her eyes were locked and loaded when she stood and headed my way. The back door opened and shed light in the place while a guy pushed a dolly full of beer kegs. That couldn’t be Mira? I heard she got killed in an accident years ago. Well it was; tall, elegant with that intense air about her. My heart raced for a minute. “Hello, Phil, it’s been a long time hasn’t it? You look good.” I thought so for fifty-six, but fifty pounds heavier, half bald with grey hair and good skin tone. Her voice was as pleasant as her blue eyes. Virtually no crow’s feet for her age and that white blouse revealed cleavage that wasn’t wrinkled. She looked great.

“Thanks and yeah, it has.” That’s all I could squeeze out before clearing my throat. “Good to see you.”

“Thanks.” She kissed me on the cheek. She smelled younger, that best describes it. I pulled her to me and gave her a peck on the lips.

“Where do we start to catch up?”

“Don’t know ask my hubby; want to meet your daughter? That’s her right down there.”

“What? Hubby and my daughter?” That was Mira, bold, impulsive, to the point, no bullshit regardless what could happen.

“I know you don’t believe me. Shocking, aint it?” My mouth opened but nothing came out. “Your eyes blink twice when you’re shocked.” “They do?”

“Yeah, they do, Phil. I remember after all these years. I should remember something about the guy who got my pregnant.” Mira had that sinister ‘gothcha’ smirk on her face. “Well do you? And, of course, I’m not introducing you as such, but it’s a start of sorts.”

“Uh, okay, why not?”

“You want a beer or what? You look like you need one.” She giggled.

“Miller in the bottle.” After what she told me a double shot of anything would do. She signaled the young lady built like an earlier version of herself. “Miller.”

“You the boss now?”

“No, the owner, Missy sold the place when her health started failing, ovarian cancer, came out of nowhere.”

“Sorry to hear that, Missy was cool.”

Her, our daughter sat the beer on a coaster and smiled. “Pam, this is Phil, a long time back in the day friend. The stories we could tell.” Mira giggled as I shook Pam’s hand. When she arched her they way they say I do my heart sank. Could Mira be telling the truth? I hoped my nervous grin wasn’t obvious. She excused herself to serve another customer. She had the same nasty inviting walk as her mom.

“Damn Mira, she’s a chip off the old block as they say.” Her cold expressions were hard to read.

“Off our block, Phil.” She took a sip of my beer. “Um, good and cold.” The yuppish crowd started to trickle in and go to their favorite tables. One thing about Missy Black’s, she didn’t invest in contemporary furnishings, plain wood tables and chairs with table clothes and a lengthy bar was satisfactory. The atmosphere kept it popular with jazz, soft rock and R&B playing daily. “If what I think brought you here—”

“Old acquaintances.” I interrupted.

“Ok, well Omar’s around, Pablo’s in super max or probably dead and Wesley I don’t know. And, before I forget I say Pam’s yours, I was with four guys during that cycle.”

“Four?”

“Yeah, you know I like men like you like women. Guys don’t realize, well some anyway, we’re sneaky and slicker then you guys think. Anyway, all have been DNA tested negative that leaves you and her mannerisms are like yours.”

“You didn’t do one of those ‘you are or not the father’ shows did you?” I couldn’t help but laugh.

“No, I didn’t silly.” She punched me lightly in the side.

“Ma, you’re needed.” Pam waved for her mom.

“Gotta go Phil, good seeing you. I know I dropped a bomb on you, but you know me, to the point. If you accept it or not it’s cool.”

“Wait a second, what’s your cell?”

She gave it to me and I put in memory. “I’ll be in touch.” She looked at me with that ‘yeah right’ expression. By the time I finished my beer I was on my tenth question. Why didn’t I listen to myself? Don’t go dredging up old memories. You should’ve gone to Iowa with the family. Did Mira try to find after or during her process of elimination? Would she tell Pam later? It was obvious she didn’t need the support if she bought Missy’s. I didn’t know where she worked I assumed for the city like most of us who hung out there. Was she trying to play me; was she a grifter? Pam’s eyebrow did it. The introduction couldn’t have been rehearsed nobody knew I was coming. The main question, now what? If she wanted back support all I have is a thirty-five year marriage, pension and a mortgage.

Relax Phil, she means you no harm.

Mira was smart and well known she could’ve found me if she wanted.

Don’t blow your buzz, Phil!

I downed my beer and spun on the stool to leave. An athletic built six foot plus guy, his air said medical profession, walked behind the bar and kissed Mira. Her husband or what? Perhaps. I knew one thing she hadn’t looked my way since she left.

Nope, Mira didn’t need a thing from me.
*
I stood at the trolley stop to The Pier a half a block from Missy’s. A ride on that new Ferris wheel would do my inner child good and give me a chance to try my newest camera phone. All the windows on the vintage bus were open when it pulled up. The breeze and sun improved my mood from the assault by Mira. Should I be upset or what? If yes it hadn’t hit me yet. Good, now go enjoy yourself. The bus driver wore a throwback nineteen twentyish uniform and spoke into the microphone, “The Pier the next stop. Watch your step.” That voice sounded familiar. A couple of oversized teens jumped in front of me, but I was polite and waved a couple of older ladies ahead making me last. I sat across from him and tried not to stare. The driver’s hair was in a small blonde ponytail with a mixture of grey with sunglasses perched on a broken nose. He looked like Omar plus thirty years. He glanced, pulled the door control and pulled into traffic. When he turned to check his mirrors.

“Omar, is that you man?” He shot me a look and smiled.

“Yeah, yeah it’s me, Phil.”

“Damn man, I just left Missy’s. I heard Pablo and Wesley ain’t around, but it’s good to see you.”

He accidently laughed into the microphone and apologized to the passengers. “I guess Mira told you that, right?”

“Um…maybe, what difference does it make? We got catching up to do. When is your break, lunch or you getting off?” I was thrilled to see him again. He was smarter and more informed on current events then the rest of the crowd.

“This is my last run then lunch.” A car cut in front and he hit the brakes. He instinctively covered the mike. “Asshole!”
*
We pulled behind a row of other buses. “The Pier, good people enjoy yourselves and be careful.” The door swung open and they disembarked. Omar took his tablet and entered whatever info, I assumed, for that trip.

“Phil, I got to give this to the boss. I’ll meet you by that table.” He pointed to a shaded area behind a wrought iron fence “employees only” set aside for his company. I sat on a bumpy concrete bench that felt like little needles in my behind, but the shade was welcomed. Several drivers gathered around a stocky middle aged guy who scanned their tablets and handed out envelopes. A thin young guy with a shaved head tore open the envelope and snatched out the contents. I wasn’t close enough to hear, but he was pissed. I caught a glimpse of a pink sheet of paper.

Did he get a pink slip… a real pink slip?

I thought that was an old urban legend.

The boss said something, shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Omar looked my way…I quickly looked the other and pretended to search on my phone.

No Omar, I didn’t witness you being fired or whatever. He sat with an embarrassed grin on his face. “Lucky me, I got the rest of the day off, let’s go get a beer.”

“Ok.” What else do you say to a guy who just got fired? But, at his age it might not matter. Omar was a journeyman plumber, or so he said back in the day. Was that true?

The Pier, like all big tourist attractions, had the best bars in the city. And what employee didn’t have a tab at, at least, one of them. We walked past several where a few of his co-workers, or should I say ex-coworkers gathered. My guess; Omar wouldn’t be stopping today. They didn’t notice us and he didn’t look their way. We strolled by dozens of unescorted shapely tanned bikinis. A few winked. Brings back memories. Finally, we stopped at one of the upscale places, “The Ritz on the Water” -not many customers, but the price of one beer equaled two elsewhere. Who’s buying me or him? We’ll see. But, before we get started I sent the wife a text. “Bumped into an old friend. Interesting with more to come. Miss and love you.” Of course I wouldn’t dare tell her everything, but the hour will be interesting. The place was a mixture of film noir and contemporary, real nice. The padded bar stool felt expensive genuine oak inserts here and there. The entire wall facing the lake had been retracted to view all the various boats. A broad shouldered bar maid appeared dressed like someone straight out of Cosmopolitan Magazine. Her name was Mary. She walked and smiled like a model. “What are you guys having?”

“Beers and cognac.” Omar said.

“What?”

“You heard me, but you don’t have to drink cognac, I will.”

I placed the order and Mary set things up in front of me with a fresh bowl of popcorn. Omar reached over me a grabbed a handful of kernels. Rude, no excuse me or anything and then the shot of cognac disappeared down his gullet. He gagged then smacked his razor thin lips. “Ah, that hit the spot.” He pointed at his glass for a refill. “I try to expose you to the finer things in life, Philip, but you were always, common.” He laughed, but it was no joke.

“You’re serious aren’t you?” He nodded and that sadistic grin ticked me off. Surprise! Omar was never the snobby type. He was level headed, no airs unlike a few others who hung out at Missy’s. He was a tradesman, but he managed from a desk.

“Common. What the hell is common? You guys thought you were some kind of royalty…royalty amongst the blue collar workers. Don’t flatter yourself; none of you or me, for that matter was raising any hell.”

“Appearances mean a lot.” Omar said and gulped his brew.

“Being a player wasn’t, as they say nowadays, a priority of mine. New cars every year and fancy expensive clothing living in the YMCA, but nobody was supposed to know that right? Didn’t make sense to me.”

“We know.” He continued to giggle and ordered another drink.

I didn’t want to hurt his feeling by telling him I saw you get fired, but he’d have a line for that too. This was what I feared if I ran into the old crowd, ridicule. Why do that after all these years? “You invited me to have a drink so you could talk about me. Why?”

Omar shrugged his narrow shoulders and continued to drink. I caught Mary’s eye and signaled no more shots. “I remember you as being reserved, not a braggart like the others, what happened?”

“Nothing, I’m still not even though I owned my own company.” He slowly exhaled. “It was hard work, good and bad times, but I retired a successful entrepreneur.”

“Who drives a trolley bus? Oops, I’m sorry. Who formally drove a trolley bus?” I couldn’t help but to throw that one in. I didn’t mean too. I laughed while my friend turned red with rage. “You ever see any of those old players we hug with at Missy’s?”

“No.”

“That wasn’t a convincing lie, Omar, try again. Be back in a minute gotta go to the used beer department.” I laughed a hurried to the bathroom and hoped he didn’t drink my beer. Every drink he had taken increased the sorrow in his eyes. I tried to keep in mind, not my problem.
*
Where did Omar go? I scanned the area on the patio. I asked Mary. “He said to tell you thanks for the drinks.” She continued to wipe the bar. “I’m not surprised. I see that often people duck out and leave others with the bill. She reached in her apron pocket and handed it to me. Eighty bucks! “He staggered that way.” She pointed toward the entrance. That dirty SOB, I’m glad he got fired. I put it on my card and left.

Retired successful businessman, my ass.

I couldn’t run with a cane and if I caught him then what? I started to feel the alcohol with every step. Either the walk and heat would sober me up or I’d pass out.

What a day. A kid, allegedly, I didn’t know about and a snobby used to be businessman who conned me into getting drunk. It could be worse, Philip. I got on the same kind of bus Omar drove headed for Union Station. Traffic slowed to one lane due to the cops pulling somebody over, blocking the right lane. A guy stood at the rear of an early model Toyota Corolla. The closer we got…it was Omar in cuffs. The bus inched along the side of his car that had to be twenty years old, peeling paint from hood to the trunk, two mini spares and the front and rear windshields were cracked. An instant ticket. I stared at Omar.

Look at me, please look. But, he didn’t.

A pro football player sized cop spun Omar around to escort him to the squad car and he looked up in my face. I laughed and waved. FU rolled off his lips. Bye, bye, butthole.

Would the wife believe this?

Did I believe I have another daughter? No, and if I did after all these years when I could’ve been told. What was the reason? A cliché kicked in from an old timer. “Let sleeping dogs lay. Remember that boy it’ll make sense one day.”
*
I settled back in my seat for the commute home. A clean cut young guy sat next to me and asked. “How far you going?”

“Palatine.”

He sniffed and offered me a mint. “Boy you really hung one on didn’t you old timer?”

Old timer! Did I look that old? Well, if I did so what. That experience made me appreciate my common accomplishments more. “Wake me before you get off or by Palatine. I’d appreciate it young man.”

The End

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Categories: Fiction

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