Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tragic City, Chapter 3, Copyright 2016 Robert McDonald All Right Reserved

Blueline Cigar Company sits on Glade Avenue just off Highway 11 in Trussville. Out front was a concrete parking lot where decades ago there had probably been a well manicured lawn. I pulled in and parked behind Steve’s minivan. Walt Bryant, the owner, was sitting in one of the chairs on the front porch wearing a faded blue BPD t-shirt with a cigar in one hand and a steaming cup of coffee in the other. A couple of regulars were sitting in other chairs lining the porch in front of the store’s picture window.
“Gentlemen,” I said as I walked up the steps.
“Hey, Roger,” Walt said. “What are you up to this morning?”
“Oh, the usual,” I said with a smile.
“Not shit then,” Walt said with a grin.
“Chase, Fred,” I nodded to the other two men sitting on the porch.
“Morning,” said Chase.
“How’s it going, young man?” asked Fred.
“Not bad, not bad at all,” I answered.
Fred was in his 60s, short, pot bellied, with ice blue eyes and white hair combed over a balding spot. He had a white goatee to match the hair on his head. He came off as a jolly old Saint Nick type in his good moods, and in his bad moods he was like an angry dwarf looking for a skull to split with his battle ax. He’d spent most of his late teens and early twenties in Southeast Asia as the crew chief and door gunner on a helicopter gunship during the Vietnam War. Not many men are left today who can write that on their resumes.
Chase was in his 70s and had also spent some time in Vietnam as an army officer, though his experience was pre-1965 and strictly as an adviser and military observer. He was tall and thin with a full head of white hair and a thin white mustache. It was rare to find him dressed any more casually than khakis and a polo with a pair of cowboy boots that cost more than some of my nicer guns. Get enough Irish whiskey in him and he’d tell you how he looked forward to one day visiting LBJ’s grave and taking a long piss on it for turning Vietnam into the cluster fuck it was rather than doing what was necessary to end it early on.
I made my way inside and swung into the humidor to grab a stick. It was early so I picked a Drew Estate Nirvana with a Cameroon wrapper. I walked into the kitchen to grab a can of Coke, and then I went to find Steve.
He was sitting in his favorite chair watching highlights from the previous nights Stanley Cup play off game. I took a seat next to him.
“Roger,” he said as I cut and lit my cigar.
“Steve,” I said after rolling some smoke around in my mouth and blowing it away. “What’s up?”
Steve had salt and pepper hair, was overweight, and walked with a cane most days.
“So, you know I kind of collect watches, right?”
I nodded.
“So, this guy I know calls me and tells me he ran into a guy looking for someone who wants a Tiffany Rolex 1680 Submariner. It’s the first model with a date feature, really hard to come by. So I call this guy. He says it’s mint, he even has the original receipt from when his Dad bought it new at Bromberg’s downtown. He says he needs cash quick and he only wants ten K for it. One of these went for twenty-two thousand at auction not long back.” He gives me this look that says you gotta be kidding me. “It could be a total scam, but I have to check this out. I mean, the guy could be full of shit but I could also double my money.”
“So you want me to come along just in case things aren’t on the up and up?” I asked.
“Yeah, Man,” Steve said. “I think that would be a good idea. This whole thing just seems a little shady and I’ll have ten grand in cash on me. Plus he wants to meet in Avondale.”
Avondale was desperately trying to get itself gentrified, but it wasn’t there yet. It had some great attractions, like Avondale Brewery and Saw’s Soul Kitchen. Saw’s had some of the best barbecue in the South, but both it and the Brewery were in walking distance of a run down motel filled with crack heads and worn down old prostitutes. The whole area was surrounded by dilapidated housing, though a few streets were beginning to look up since the yuppies had begun to move in.
Just a week before a young woman was kidnapped getting into her car after leaving the Brewery and forced to make a bunch of ATM withdrawals before her kidnapper kicked her loose, though not before asking her out and making her give him her phone number. A real Casanova, that one.
“What do you charge for something like that?” Steve asked.
I thought for a minute. “Normally a hundred bucks an hour with a minimum of two hours, but for you?” I pursed my lips. “Buy me three or four Opus Xs and we’ll call it a deal.”
“That’ll work,” he said. “You free this evening?”
“I can be,” I said. “No plans except to sit around here and maybe play some cards.”
“Guy wants to meet in front of Saw’s at six. That work for you?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll pass on the booze until after.”
“One other thing,” Steve said. “Can we go in your car?”
I laughed. The only thing Steve liked better than expensive watches were fast cars.
“Sure,” I said.
Steve was nodding his head with a smile. “Cool. I’ll go get your sticks.” He struggled upright, using his cane to lever himself out of his seat and made his way toward the humidor.

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