Here’s another excerpt from a short story I’m writing. Right now, it’s called “Things I Learned from my Father.” This is rough-rough, so there will be lots of changes before this story gets sent off anywhere. Anyway, this is a flashback that’s about 3 single-spaced pages in…
NOTE: I have not proofread this…this is raw, uncut, 100% pure J. Robert Novak here!
One of the last memories I have of my father, one of the last before he went to prison, at least, was at a bar. It was nothing like Crosley’s; it was some downtown dive, near the steel factories. I had just turned 18, and he figured I was old enough to handle alcohol.
The first beer, a Bud Light if I remember right, I drank in silence, nervous about drinking illegally in public, in front of my dad. While I drank it, I watched as my father made the rounds, hugging this guy, shaking that guys hand, buying a bag of some white powder, either cocaine or heroine off of someone else; the whole thing had an air of surrealism about it, like a David Lynch movie. By the second beer, though, I had become accustomed to this, or numbed at least, and I loosened up.
“You OK?” my father asked.
“Yeah. Yeah, why?”
“Ha ha! That’s my girl. I noticed you looking around. What can you tell me?”
I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, so I looked around again. “Um…That guy?” I pointed to the man who had given my dad the baggie. “He’s a dealer. He’s a little uptight right now….and he looks like he’s been using?”
“Go on,” my dad implored.
“Um…” I looked around some more. “That woman over there? Tattoo on her wrist? She’s in a biker gang. The Guns of Satan, maybe?”
“Knights of Gehenna, but good call. Keep going.”
This was actually becoming a game to me, and in my drunken state, it felt like harmless fun.
“And….That guy. The one who’s staring at you. He’s a cop.”
My dad’s face went completely blank. “Who? Chuck?”
I might have giggled. “I don’t know his name. But he’s definitely a cop. Look at the way he’s watching the place. He doesn’t belong here. Like—” I stopped myself before saying “like me” . I thought I might disappoint my dad if I had said so.
Dad stared at “Chuck” for a moment, silently. There was something in his eyes, a fire, an intensity that I hadn’t seen before. It was unsettling. I tapped my father on the arm and said, quietly, “But what do I know? I could be wrong.”
My father looked at me, frowned, then said “I’ll be back in a second. Stay put.” He walked into a back room beside the bar counter and vanished for a few minutes. The whole time, I was shaking; the whole place suddenly felt very, very wrong. I thought about getting in my car, since I had driven us here, and leaving. I thought about going over to Chuck and telling him that it might be a good idea to do the same. I thought about getting out my cell phone and calling 911.
I did none of these things. When my father returned, there were three other men, large, muscular men, probably bikers or something, though I was no longer playing “I Spy.” They came to our table and stood, staring at Chuck. Nobody said a word, though I wished they had said something, anything. It would have been less intimidating if they had come out yelling and cursing and threatening to murder this man. There was something in their stares, my father’s included, that said that they had killed before.
I tapped my father again to say “Maybe we should just leave,” but the words would not come out. There was this feeling in my git that told my that Chuck was not getting out of this alive, and that it was all my fault. I think I began to cry.
Chuck noticed the scene unfolding, because he put some money on the bar and walked for the door. As he turned his back, my father and his crew followed him out the door.
At this point, a woman, probably the bartender, though I didn’t look up at her, put her hand on my shoulder. “It’s OK, dear,” she said. “You did the right thing.” I never did find out how she knew what I had done. I didn’t care, either. I just wanted out of this place.
After about twenty minutes, my father and his friends came back. The other men returned to the back room, but my father stopped briefly to talk to me. He dropped a badge on the table.
“You were right,” my father said. “I knew you were. You’ve got your father’s instincts! Remember: Always trust your gut.” Then, my father walked away, the scent of gasoline and burnt meat wafting from him.