Afghan Dan and the Kitchen Table Man
Little beach California; somewhere on the coast – close to Los Angeles…
Moonlight strikes the trailer. Her arms drape loosely around my neck, her legs hug my lower back. She rocks me gently with the waves, her face close to mine, just above the surface… “Promise me Eli no matter what, we stay together. Don’t ever let me go!”
I look to the shore. There is a silhouette standing in the shadows smoking; some lady in a short skirt and fitted jacket. She turns to walk away then stops, looks back and begins to laugh. The laughter gets louder and louder until I can no longer hear myself scream!
The door slams. Footsteps on the stairs…
“Nice to meet you, maybe call again some other time!” Hard to miss the insincerity in Dan’s voice.
I’m shivering! Heatings broke. I grab a gown; finish the whiskey, whats left of it, and decide to speak with Dan about the temperature.
What was it that just happened? ‘A gentleman by the name of…’ That lady, what was her name? Mind feels hazy, moving in and out of range, like some smart ass fighter down at the Garden, a flash of sparks, and shockwaves buzzing through my ears. Drink is killing me!
I head downstairs to the mini-mart. Dan is stood at the till. His arms dance like a puppet as Zorro keeps nodding. I struggle to catch a sentence before they spot me.
‘Senor Cryl, Hola.’ Zorro smiles. The ceiling light reflects off his teeth. The neighbourhood christened him ‘Boca Plateada’: Silver Mouth!
I’ve never understood why Dan keeps him around. What use is he? A promising fighter in his day, so they say. Until he went berserk with a switch blade. Caught his old lady with some chancer. Zorro left him with the sign of the Ze… so the story goes!
He spent the next five years in the State Pen. Never boxed again!
“Yo Eli wassup?”
“When you gonna get this heating fixed Dan? Guy could freeze to death round here.”
“When I see this months rent Eli! Guy could starve to death round here!”
“Bullshit my slimy little friend. You got enough to carry us through winter right here.” I grab a bottle from the liquor shelf.
“Thats three now Eli. How you gonna make rent digging deep on that juice?”
I keep walking.
“Thats three bottles and a months rent. Don’t fuck with me man. I want my money Cryl.”
“What’s your problem… Goat hungry again?” I joke.
“I fucking kill you, you drunken piece of shit” I almost feel the blast wave.
“By the end of the day mother fucker” He’s screaming now.
“I told you not to marry that bitch.” I’m on a roll now, “Can’t say you weren’t warned.”
Zorro sniggers. I aim the middle finger high, hearing the cash till slam as I head back to the stairs.
Dark. Silent. I come round sat upright on the couch: watch says 7pm.
Whiskey… I drank the bottle as I thought of Marcie and that Wishbourne lady. Thinking, thinking, and more thinking. It was light then, now dark. I had passed out in the chair.
I need to sober up. I get the importance; a fucking absolute necessity. The thought follows me into the shower. I let it keep me there; stood watching water drain away. I turn the heat up as I start to shake! He needs to fix this heating system. Maybe not top of the list in Kabul Dan, but this is NYC and its winter!
‘I assure you Mr Cryl, the pleasure is all mine!’ What the fuck did that mean? Why had she said that? It seemed distant now; like I was back in the dream, like Marcie was there. How could that be? And whats with the sparks and buzzing in my skull? I should speak with a doctor… Yeah maybe. Maybe later.
Take a break Eli, sober up, head on down to 96th Street and hit a meeting. The man will be there!
I kill the shower and get dressed. My mind races. I should straighten out and work this case. Thing is… Im not sure why Im taking it! Sure I need the money, who doesn’t? But this Wishbourne lady, she kinda gives me the creeps. And to be honest I’m having a hard time remembering what she said. I recall something about a phone call. Sober up she said, I need you sharp she said, those in my service she said. Fuck you Lady, I should have said, Just who do you think you are – I should have said! Then why didn’t I?
Something else stole my attention! A darkness, buzzing, those sparks, then she was gone. I need to get the fuck out… and fast!
The 7-11; stores empty… except for Dan, zoned out, cellphone in hand.
No sign of Zorro; always a good sign.
“Hey Dan.” I say.
“Listen bro I’m sorry about earlier.”
“The rent money; by the end of the day.” He leans on the counter and glances up, “Theres something about that woman, I don’t trust her!”
“I apply that rule to everyone, especially our little Mexican friend.”
“Keep her outa this place Cryl. She’s trouble!”
“You could always put a Fatwa on her ass.” I laugh.
“This ain’t funny Eli.”
Im almost at the door when he says, “I’ve seen her before, sure of it!”
I board the 3 train on 125th. Dan’s words stick in my head. He’s right. I can’t pinpoint it but he’s right. Theres something about Louise Wishbourne thats almost familiar.
I say fuck Dan, his rent and the Lady Wishbourne, whoever the fuck she is.
I’m sat on this train watching people jump on and off; I wonder where it is they go in this fucking Metropolis? And I think to myself: All that other shit can wait!
“Stand clear of the closing doors.” The driver barks at every stop.
I’m filled with an urge to ride the subway all night. Just sit here. Many times I’ve done exactly that. Yeah sure, you get your share of freaks and the occasional lunatic, but theres a peace here, below ground, zipping stop to stop.
I exit the subway at 96th & Amsterdam. The scene is familiar. Manhattan Diner to the right, a bus stop to the left. The subway station separates two roads, crossed by a third. Traffic is light but the street is busy. A church sits on the corner. Outside are three guys, sharing a smoke and cutting the shit. I cross the street and head over.
“You looking for the meeting buddy?” Says one.
“Sort of” I reply, “could use a word with the Kitchen Table Guy first.”
Six foot and 200lbs of ’I know the way outa here’ steps forward, “Eli, you look like shit. Its good to see ya.” He grabs my shoulders pulling me into a bear hug. It feels good. “Where you been man? We been worried about ya!” Its warm, friendly and different from how I’m wired up. I know his struggles, stared me dead in the eye and shared them with me, first time we met. I also know he got his shit together. This works for him. Whatever this is.
“How’s things going?” He asks.
“Work, drink, same old me.” I look at the floor as he stares right through me.
“How’s Dan?” He asks.
“Hasn’t poisoned me yet!”
He starts to laugh, “You don’t need his help with that.”
I just smile.
“Cmon, its about to start. Let’s take a seat.”
The meeting starts. A woman sat up front shares her take on experience, strength & hope. I feel a tremor start back up. Nervously I look around. Nobody seems to notice. My head spins, guts turn, the sickness starts. I need a drink. His eyes are on me and I know it. I glance over my shoulder. He gives me a smile and nods his head. I look back to the sharer. I remain focused best I can: Teenage years, first drink, first love, first DUI, first divorce, first rehab, first meeting, first relapse, first time coming back, first sponsor, first step, first sponsee…First chance I get I’m going to throw up!
Its over quick. Friendly faces remind me to ‘keep coming back, how great it is to see me and please stay this time.’
“You got time for a walk?” He asks.
“Sure, lets head over to the park.”
“You carrying Eli?”
“.357, it goes with the territory.”
“Good, its getting late; junkies, rent boys and muggers they all be doing the rounds soon.” He pauses to light a smoke, “Don’t shoot anybody though. That ain’t working a program.” He winks. “You don’t look too good.”
“Yeah you,” he says “you’re shaking like a victim.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Obviously.” He starts to laugh.
We leave the park at Strawberry Fields and I throw up outside the Dakota Building. Im sure Lennon would of seen the funny side. Then again, maybe not.
I break the long silence as we head south on Central Park West, “How come I still struggle with this?”
“You carry some baggage Eli.” He lights another smoke and pockets the packet. “That and not a fifth step in sight. When you gonna do the work?”
“I mean to, can never find the time is all.” I hear the bullshit leave my mouth.
“Always find the time to get loaded though don’t we… is all.” He makes no attempt to hide the sarcasm.
“Got me there.” I feel the need to vomit creep up again.
“You get drunk, turn up looking like shit, stick around long enough to feel better, then repeat. Sooner or later somethings gotta give; one way or the other.” A look of concern crosses his face, a hint of pity. Quickly replaced with a stare; like a mirror.
He picks up the subway at Trump Tower. “That meeting off Broadway behind the Beacon Theatre, you remember it?”
“Of course man.”
“Be there at seven tomorrow.”
We shake and he’s gone.
I head west on 59th Street and stop at Jakes Saloon. The grip of the grapes squeezes tight. A few beers will take the edge off. I sense thats just delaying the inevitable. Its also insane but what the fuck. My head spins and guts ache. That shit can wait one more day.
I throw a whiskey back while the barman pours a beer.
“Tough day?” He asks.
“I hear ya.” He places my beer on the mahogany bar and wipes the counter. “Hola if you need anything.”
My mind races uncontrollably; something doesn’t sit right. I let the whiskey take effect while drinking the beer. Bits of the day rewind back. A news channel reports mass shootings between Mexican drug cartels and police. I think of Zorro…
“No man, I wanna run something by ya.”
“What’s up bro?”
“A friend in need, you ever miss the signs?”
“In what way.” He feigns interest.
“My buddy he wanted to tell me something today.”
“And I walked away with a wise crack.”
“Whats got ya thinking this?”
“Look on his face, I’ve seen it before.” A memory flashes through my mind.
“He often wear this look?” He runs the cloth over the counter again.
“No” I reply “Only seen it once before, few years back” I chug at the beer. “During some fucked up circumstance.”
“What was that?” He’s interested now.
“We were been shot at and he took one in the chest, nearly died.” I clean the glass and order more whiskey. He pours the dink and asks “How come?”
“We were newly acquainted down in Texas. He had upset the wrong people, real mean hombres. He was in my custody on route to see the Sheriff.”
The bartender leans on the counter, “You a cop?”
“Collect Bail Bonds.” I take the glass from him, “Runners.”
“How did it end?”
“Shooting, lots of it. Everybody got shot. Bad guys died; we lived.”
“Jeez man that’s heavy shit. But what’s that got to do with his face today?”
I throw back the whiskey “He had that look earlier, just for a moment, same look he had lying on the floor puking blood and gasping for breath.” I lay 20 bucks on the bar, “A look of fear… and I missed it!”
Back out on the street my temperature drops. Again I feel the cold.
To be continued…
D&O in Fresno