Lester McClain and the Bear

Blurry bar

Lester McClain sat at the bar, gazing over his glass of single barrel Four Roses bourbon at the glittering array of bottles along the mirrored wall.  His hands rested on the worn oak bar top, its lacquer nearly nonresistant in places where for decades patrons had leaned their elbows, set their belongings or held on for dear life as the countless drinks had taken hold.  The bartender passed back and forth, no more than an blur; a ghost drifting this way then that serving the spirit needs of the living. 

Les had been fly fishing the Narrow Canyon Creek that day.  It had been a good day for such adventure.  Not too hot, the water was crystal clear as it hadn’t rained in a week, and the trout had been in the mood to be deceived.  He had cleaned and packed the catch of three rainbows on ice before walking the pine-lined lane from his cabin to the Sierra Springs Tavern for his nightly cocktail.  It was a relatively normal day, except for the bear.

The faintest scent of tobacco wafted in with the opening of the door.  Les loved the aroma of tobacco, cigarettes, cigars or pipes; which was odd because he couldn’t stand the taste of any of them and so did not partake.

“Mind if I sit,” rasped a deep voice from behind and to his left.  

Lester turned to see a man of substantial presence, heavy brown beard, bushy eyebrows, long wild hair and usually large deep brown eyes.  So dark was the brown of the man’s eye color that it was hard to tell where his irises ended and the pupils began.  

“Be my guest,” Les offered, sliding to his right to make room for the unusually large man.  

The old stool groaned as the stranger sat and the bar flinched to a near buckle under the weight of his massive forearms.   He seemed familiar, in an odd, not particularly comfortable way, as though Les had met him in a dream but never in waking life.  He thought it curious that this fellow had chosen the neighboring seat at the long spacious bar.  Perhaps he was in need of companionship.  From the wild look of him, Les surmised that he might have gone quite some time without conversation or at least a conversation with someone who wasn’t concerned for their personal safety.

The phantom barkeep materialized in front of the two men but took a half step back when he focused on the newcomer.  

“Shash,” he blurted, “long time no see.” His tone teetered between conversational and disconcerted.  “What can I get you?” 

“Old Rip Van Winkle 25, double.” 

“Ice?”

“No.”  As an afterthought, Shash added, “thank you, no thank you on the ice.”

The barkeep vanished.  Les turned to his new companion, who seemed suddenly lost in thought, “Name’s Lester, Lester McClain.”

“Yes,” agreed the stranger.  Silence.  Perhaps he wasn’t interested in conversation after all.  The keep set the glass of Rip down on the bar; it seemed to emit the faintest glow.  

“I’ve never heard of Old Rip Van Winkle” Les offered. “I’m a Four Roses man myself.”

“It’s not sold here, Old Rip Van Winkle,” said Shash.  “Junior keeps it in a hidden cabinet at the end of the bar.”

“Junior?” Les thought, the guy’s name is Dillon.  Though he surmised, compared to this substantial gentleman, everyone was a ‘Junior’ of sorts.

“How was the fishing today?” The giant asked.

“Ah, good.  How did you know I was fishing.”

“I can smell it.”  Shash offered.

Lester raised his glass as if to take a sip, which he did.  More of a gulp really, but it was the sniffing of his hand, which he had thoroughly washed that was his true intention.  He smelled only soap and bourbon. 

The brown-eyed man raised his glass, swallowed the double in one gulp, set the glass down gently on the bar.  

“Nice to see you, Lester.  Be well.”  With that he rose, his stool exhaling a sigh of relief.  He adjusted his enormous brown leather coat, turned and walked out of the bar.

“Nice to see you, Lester?”  Les thought, did I get too much sun today? 

Dillon returned.  “Everything okay?” He asked, a bead of sweat escaping his hairline.

“Yeah, ah, yeah, fine.  Can I have another Four Roses please?”

“On the house.”  Dillon offered, pouring quickly then darting off.  

“On the house? That’s a first!” Les thought, swirling his bourbon in the glass. He watched the amber liquid cling to the walls of the cylindrical vessel then slowly fall in viscous waves under gravity’s pull.  Dillon scurried outside for a smoke break.  Les sipped his bourbon, considering the odd moments that had just passed, trying to conjure any waking memory of his curious new acquaintance.  The sweet smell of Dillon’s cigarette wafted through the open front door of the Sierra Springs Tavern.  Les inhaled deeply, raised his glass and took a long pull.

 

Continued in Lester McClain and the Bear – II

#fiction

If I Had It To Do All Over Again

Hourglass

A salesman came to the door yesterday.  I was drinking black coffee in the living room when I heard the knock.   We don’t get many uninvited callers on our long dead-end street, which works out well for me.  I slowly set down my old white porcelain mug and rose from my writing perch on the dark brown leather sofa.  Click went the lock. We have no peephole so the next bit would have to be a surprise.  There he stood, in a smart black suit, attaché case in his left hand, right hand cupped to his mouth.  Think he was checking the state of his breath.  

“Hello,” I said.

“Good afternoon,” he replied, quickly lowering his hand.

“My name is Xavier Mulligan, may I please have a moment of your time to present a most irresistible opportunity?”

“How irresistible?” I asked, wreaking of doubt.

“Exceedingly irresistible sir, I assure you.  Give me but two minutes to introduce the offer and if by that time you are not interested I will vacate directly,”  he said with unwavering confidence.

“Ah, okay.” I reluctantly mumbled.

“May I come in?”  

“I suppose,” I said.  My hesitation painting my face into a near grimace.  Though truth be told, I was a tad intrigued.

“Thank you kindly,” he said accepting the opening door with a quick step forward and then there we were in my living room.  My cooling coffee cup reminding me of traditional hosting duties. 

“And how would you like to be called?”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Your name?” He nodded.

“Oh, Landon, Landon Cooper,” I said.  Then with the slightest of disarmed stutters, “Would you like a cup of coffee Mr…?”

“Please, call me Xavier,” he offered politely.

I almost laughed thinking that calling him “Xavier” seemed a thousand times more formal than using any surname I’d ever heard. 

“Alright, coffee then Xavier?”

“No thank you, but I would love a spot of tea if you happen to have the leaf in-house.”

“I do,” I said fighting the involuntary raise of my eyebrow.  “Will Earl Grey do?”

“Oh yes, that would be splendid,” he said, running his free hand through his silvering dark hair.

I realized that by asking for tea, he had cleverly extended the original terms of his ‘two-minute pitch cap.’  What had I gotten myself into?

As I microwaved the water for his “spot of Tea” I found myself thinking, “spot of tea?”  “Did this guy come to the neighborhood in a Tardis?”  My next thought was, “This fucker may be completely psycho and looking to eat my liver with those beans and a fine Chianti.”

I mentally checked in with the baseball bat in the hall closet, then the shotgun in the laundry room; took a breath, set the Earl Grey tea bag in the steaming mug and returned to the living room in the full bloom of questioning my sanity for letting this tea drinking stranger into my home.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, taking the mug and bouncing the bag to encourage the darkening of its brew.

“Again I don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll get right to it.” He said, adopting a serious tone and looking me straight in the eye.

“I’m in the business of unique opportunity.”  He began, “extremely rare opportunity actually.”  He paused, sipping his tea, eyeing me with a calm, confident smile.

“I see,” I said.  “And what sort of opportunity are we talking about?” I asked with a hint of polite aggression.

“I’m in the business of second chances,” he offered, taking another sip of tea.

I stared at him.  No words formed.

“Yes, it is an unusual product, to be certain.”  He offered,  “In short supply and little known on the open market.”

My blank stare slowly transformed into an open-mouthed “huh?”

“Mr. Cooper, if you had it to do all over again would you?”  He asked.

“Do what all over again?”  I’m sure my tone of voice unveiled the blend of curiosity, incredulity, and consternation coursing through my mind.  A mind that had minutes before been at relative peace.  Which for me is saying something.

“It, all of it, your life!” He stated matter of factly.

“Okay, what the hell,” Was all I could come up with.

He stared into my eyes, took a long sip from his mug then spoke.  “I’m am authorized to offer you a do-over; a second go at this very life you are living right now.  

“How…what the…how the hell would that work?” I sputtered.

“Very simply actually.  You sign a few documents acknowledging your desire to indeed “Do it all over again” then poof, off you go to take a second run at this one life.”

I gaped at him in total disbelief, absent-mindedly spilling a bit of black coffee into my lap.

“Poof!” I stammered.  “What exactly do you mean by poof?”

“I mean you would be born again into this world to have another go.  Don’t you think it would be amazing to have a second chance at a lifetime here on earth?  Think of all the things you could do, create, accomplish with a second chance!”  He settled back on the sofa opposite me and waited, unblinking.

“What about this life?” I thought to myself.  “I love this life.”  I took a gulp of lukewarm coffee which suddenly seem not nearly strong enough.

“Forgive the language Xavier, but what the fuck are you talking about?  How the hell would that work and why should it?  More importantly, why have I of all people been selected for this, and I quote ‘unique opportunity’?” My voice rising to a crescendo of insolence by the end of the sentence.

“You’ve earned it,” he offered politely.  “I understand that this is, well, odd at the very least but I assure you this opportunity is most legitimate.  Please take a moment to sit with it.  May I refill my tea?  The kitchen is just through there yes?”

I nodded.  Xavier rose and headed toward the kitchen; the clip-clop of his dress shoes on the hardwoods gradually fading.  I fidgeted on the couch, uneasy, certain that I was either dreaming, crazy, or had accidentally made myself an unbelievably strong midday Irish coffee.  Not my habit.  

“As a rule, there are knives in a kitchen,” I thought.  But if he came here for that purpose, he’d most likely have everything he needed for the job in that attaché case of his.  I accepted the likelihood that he was not going to the kitchen for a knife and turned my thoughts the far more ridiculous reason for his visit, offering me a do-over!  

Was he offering me a second chance at life because I’d fumbled this one?  Was the offer a reward, an act of charity, or on a more sinister note, was it a punishment?  Was it a test?  I took quick synaptic inventory of my many years and saw ample flashes of regret.  Yes, I found things I would have done differently if I had them to do over again.  I also found moments, hours, years that I would not trade for all the Earl Grey in China or anywhere else.  I sipped the now cold coffee.  

There are a million ways to do life; to lose and to win, to surrender and just let it happen. There are moments of triumph and moments of regret.  There are memories to wish away, others to celebrate.  Perhaps, most importantly all those instances are available to make peace with.  Though I’m sure these thoughts have lived in my subconscious every day, I realized in that instant that I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, neither am I ashamed of the life I’ve chosen.  Are we here to be perfect, or to learn, and grow?  And there was the answer.  Crashing out of my flashback trance, I released a deep sigh.  Mr. Xavier Mulligan returned with his tea, smiling.

“So,” he said, “What’s the verdict?”

“Hmm, Mr. Mulligan?”

“Please, call me Xavier.” He corrected

“Oh right, Xavier, I’m, ah, I’m going to have to say no to your kind offer,”  I said with a new found smile.

“Really,” he said taking a sip of what seemed from the copious amount of steam to be scalding hot tea, without wincing.

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m grateful for the gesture, and I do believe this is a most rare opportunity indeed.  That said, I also realize that the very trip I’m engaged in at this moment is also a rare opportunity.  An opportunity to experience my ‘one’ life, complete with all its gifts, and its share of misfortune; experiences which I’m not likely to recapture should I abandon it now.”  I said raising my mug to swill the last bit of room temperature clarity.

“I see,” he said.  “Understood, understood.  Well then, I suppose it is time for me to take my leave as we have no further business here.  Before I go, are you absolutely sure of your choice?”  He asked.

“Yes, I am,” I said.  Then in what appeared to be a choreographed moment we rose simultaneously, his steaming cup still holding court on its coaster.  He lifted his attaché, gave a slight bow, and strode toward the front door.  I followed and reached to open it as he buttoned his coat.  

“Thank you for your time Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry to have wasted it,” He said.

“Not at all Mr. Mulligan, if fact it seems you’ve given me a gift.”  I offered.

“Have I?” He smiled.  “Excellent!”  He said crossing the threshold and making his way down the front steps into the brilliant sunlight of the late spring day.

#fiction