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At the End of the Street

He had promised to meet her at nine that evening, in front of the bar at the end of the street, which was actually it's name, as well as it's location.  Unfortunately, he had met Charlie at another bar, just after noon, and was now very, very drunk, and unwilling to test his balance.  He tried to call, but the keypad didn't seem to be  compatible with any language he was familiar with.  He was sure they were Arabic numerals, but their order was confusing him.  It felt as if someone had scrambled either his mind or his  telephone.  He couldn't be sure which it was, but he was sure he had enough cash in his pocket to stay in this place for at least ten more beers and a couple of more shots of bourbon before he'd have to investigate the linguistic organization of the ATM keypad half way down the block.

He jammed the cell phone into his right hip pocket and ordered another beer.  She was beautiful, he was interested in her, but it would have to wait until another day.  Charlie had recently gotten divorced, after what he thought were fourteen wonderful  years.  Everyone else knew better.  She'd been her boss's mistress for longer than she'd been married to Charlie, and when the boss's wife decided she'd had enough, Charlie was history.  Poor  Charlie.  Poor everybody, he thought.  Life sucks, then you die.  Not exactly French existentialism, but good enough for this pathetic little pub, and certainly more than Charlie could put together himself.

They were at least three miles from the end of the street he was supposed to meet her on and he knew she wouldn't be happy that he was drunk so early in the day, but today, Charlie needed him  more than he needed her, or any other woman.  He was going to keep drinking with Charlie, until Charlie wanted to quit.  Charlie had just ordered another round.  It was two hours after he was supposed to meet her.  He decided to try the phone again, when the door opened and she walked in.  His first thought wasn't really a thought, it was more like a reaction, kind of like when you trip over a snake in the forest.  He didn't panic , but he girded his loins, metaphorically.

"Elaine, I tried to call you."  She chuckled.  "How long have you been here, Jack?"  He looked at Charlie.  Charlie chuckled, too.  "Somewhere between four and forty hours." Classic Charlie.  She smiled at Charlie, and took Jack by the hand and said "Come with me, my friend, it's time to eat.  Charlie needs to learn to take care of himself, without your sad excuse for friendship."

There was a cab outside, waiting for her, and they went directly to her apartment, instead of the restaurant at the end of the street, where they were supposed to eat.  "What are we doing here,  Elaine?"  She was very clearly not angry, not even annoyed.  She smiled, and said "You're going to shower, sleep, and then, we'll make it dinner, instead of lunch.  If you've sobered up enough, we might even have a conversation.  I like you, Jack, but I won't let this shit with Charlie go on much longer.  He needs to find a life, and believe me, you're not the right woman for him."

This was the stuff that frightened him. They had only been together once before.  He had just published a short story with her magazine and the publisher had assigned her to his account.  They had a business lunch near her office, had discussed the possibility of a long term contract, and that was it.  He didn't have the slightest idea if this was business or personal, and he didn't want to ask.  He was worried about Charlie, but he couldn't figure out how she knew about him, or even how she had found him at Clancey's.

He hadn't said anything personal in the first meeting, certainly nothing about Charlie or the bar.  He started to think about it in the shower, carried on in bed, and then, he fell asleep.  She woke him at seven in the evening.  She had taken his keys, driven across town, and had brought his navy blazer, a light blue shirt, socks, underwear and a pair of dress shoes.  He was somewhat sober, somewhat incensed.  "What the hell is this?  I sell one short story to your half-assed magazine and you think you own me?"

She gave him a long, hard look.  "Jack, you're a literary genius.  We'll pay you more than anyone else, take good care of you, and make sure you're always ready for your next book.  That's my job, Jack, and if it goes any farther on a personal level, then it's that much better for me."

He still didn't get it.  The short stories always sold.   They weren't making him rich, but he ate every day, and drank every other day.  It was a good enough life.  He didn't want to be rich and famous.  He just wanted to be able to pay his tab and have enough left over to eat a pizza or a steak on the weekend.  He knew he had more in him than that, but he didn't want to go there.  The last time he had tried to sustain a novel, he'd ended up in the nut ward for a month and a half.  This woman was making him nervous.

He took a hard look at her.  She was beautiful, professional, and mercenary.  And he was falling for it.  There wasn't much to do about it.  He knew how his brain worked.  She was in it, and he wouldn't be able to get her out until he made her so damned mad that she couldn't deal with it.  He was good at it.  He had never broken off a relationship himself.  It wasn't his job.  His job was making them want to leave.  She wouldn't be easy, but he was going to let it start.  It might be interesting.

copyright 2007: john zavacki (the elder)