I took the ramp that skirts the Expessway and then exited onto I-20E/I-59N. On either side of the interstate I had a view of the urban sprawl of industrial sites mingled with rundown residential neighborhoods and the ever present green of Birmingham’s trees. Birmingham calls itself Tree City USA as well as the Magic City. A satellite view of the city will show you why the former came about, as Birmingham seems to always be on the verge of being swallowed up by looming foliage outside of downtown.
I continued up the combined interstates until they split just past the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, continuing north on I-59 towards Trussville and Clay as I-20 curved away towards the east and Atlanta. Another few miles and I exited the interstate and turned right onto North Chalkville Road headed toward downtown Trussville. I took the very next right and pulled into the parking lot of the Waffle House on the corner.
I ate at this particular Waffle House so often that the waitresses and short order cooks knew me by name. I locked up the Mustang and walked inside. I pushed my sunglasses up on my head as I walked through the door and headed for my usual seat at the far end of the counter where I could keep an eye on the entrance and most of the diner.
“Hi, Darlin’,” said Allie, a wrinkle faced grandmother with Coke bottle bottom glasses. “The usual?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I said. I looked around the diner as Allie called my order out to the cook. There was another man at the opposite end of the counter nursing a cup of coffee while perusing a newspaper and chewing on the end of a straw like he missed the days of smoking inside. A family of four, Mom, Dad and two little girls, where devouring waffles in a booth off to my left. It was just before ten in the morning and the place was kind of dead.
“Here you are, Hon,” Allie said as she sat a glass of Coke down in front of me. “Food will be up in a minute.”
“Thanks, Allie,” I said and took a sip.
My phone vibrated in my pocket and pulled it out and glanced at the caller ID. It was a guy I knew, not exactly a friend, but more than an acquaintance.
“Hello,” I answered.
“Hey, Man. It’s Steve,” the caller said.
Steve had lived in the South forever, but he still has a trace of New York in the accent.
“What’s up, Steve?”
“Not much,” he said, making small talk. Steve was never quick to get the point. “What’s up with you?”
“About to eat some breakfast,” I said as Allie sat two plates in front of me, one holding a large order of hashbrowns and two eggs over medium with toast. A smaller plate held strips of bacon. I moved the toast over to the sausage plate and coated the hashbrowns and eggs with salt, pepper, and ketchup.
“Well, I won’t keep you from your breakfast,” Steve drawled. “I just wanted to see if you’d be in the shop today?”
The “shop,” as its patrons call it, is the Blueline Cigar Company. The owner was a retired Birmingham cop and the place had become a sort of clubhouse for local cigar smokers. At least, it had for the ones with any taste. The shop was in an old house converted to retail space with one room converted into a walk in humidor, two large rooms with wall mounted tvs and an assortment of leather chairs, a full kitchen, and a dining room converted into a card room. On any given day there was a group of salty old men at the card table playing ten cent a chip Limit Hold’em. Bigger games could be had, and these were the men to help you find them, but this was a fun and profitable little game for the skilled player looking for a low stress game.
“Yeah, I’ll be in a little later,” I told Steve.
“Cool,” Steve said. “I got a little work you might be interested in. We’ll talk about it when you get here.”
“Sounds good,” I said.
I ended the call and returned the phone to my pocket, then I dug into my food as I wondered what Steve might need. My stock in trade was usually damsels in distress and elderly folks wanting the meth labs and crack dealers out of their decaying neighborhoods.
Before some dip shit in an Atlanta city works truck T-boned me I had been making a good living in the telecom industry. Sounds like a weak sauce job which is why it is so high paying if you’re willing to travel a bit and put in some real effort. In truth it was hard work and I fucking hated it but the money was so damn good that you couldn’t walk away.
After the accident and the city’s settlement I could support my lifestyle without the job so I told the boss I was hanging it up. I was all set to settle down to a life of good cigars and good bourbon while pissing away the hours at the poker table when my Doc reminded me that I should probably stay active if I wanted to stay out of a wheel chair. I decided to fulfill a life long dream and spent two years traveling around the country to all the big gun and self defense schools and training with the big name trainers. Gunsite, Thunder Rance, Massad Ayoob Group, SouthNarc, Larry Vickers, Ken Hackathorn, Michael Janich. If they had a name in the gun or self defense world, I was there. Between training courses I started shooting a lot of pistol competition, mostly IDPA, and a little two and three gun.
I even spent a little time in Mexico with an ex-Federale who taught counter kidnapping and other skills along the border. The Mexican government likes to pretend there are no guns in Mexico outside of official hands. I can attest to the fact that this is bullshit. I didn’t take any with me, and I didn’t bring any back, but I had plenty of guns in Mexico and so did damned near everyone else.
When I came home I found that there wasn’t much to do but go to the range or sit at the shop. I shot a couple of matches every month but mostly sat on my butt for the first couple of months. After a while word got around among friends and acquaintances that I knew some stuff and I started getting asked for favors. I rode shotgun for a few friends repossessing cars and did some escort work for some business owners who carried a lot of cash but didn’t feel up to defending themselves.
This morphed into a kind of Have Gun, Will Travel career. I registered an LLC and got some insurance and put myself out there as a consultant and trouble shooter for average people. Unlike Paladin, my prices were a lot more reasonable, but I tried to be just as selective about my clientele. A lot of my work was just riding along when someone was going to buy or sell something for a lot of cash. People get set up all the time for robberies through online classifieds, so a concerned person can spend a few bucks and have someone with them to look out for a potential set up.
My favorite jobs were those where I made abusive ex’s realize they were not, after all, tough guys. I loved to come in and show a lady how to look out for herself and give her a little defensive training. I’d also sleep on the couch for a while if there is a strong chance of the ex showing up. The look of absolute fear on the faces of some of these cowards when I opened the ex’s door and reminded them that they were in violation of a restraining order while holding a shotgun under their noses almost made me want to do the work gratis.
I’ve never thought of myself as a gunfighter. Point in fact, I hate that term. It makes me think of pussies walking around with a grudge looking for some sucker to prove how tough they are. Besides Mexico I haven’t done much with guns except shoot them in competition and emphasize the occasional point.
I pepper sprayed a young lady’s ex once outside her work when he thought he’d show her that I was no protection from some MMA wanna-be. She did more damage when she kicked him in the balls while he rolled on the ground trying to rub the burning from his eyes, and he was crying like a little bitch when the cops picked him up.
I finished my breakfast and paid with a twenty, telling Allie to keep the change. She beamed and told me to come back soon. I smiled and waved as I made my way out the door, and a couple of minutes later I was rumbling down North Chalkville Road toward Highway 11.
14 minutes ago