Sunday, September 21, 2014

The March, Chapter 31: Companion Comfort and Some Good Old Gossip

Chapter 30

I cannot believe I just gave my panties to The Geek
-Sixteen Candles

Mary held onto her fury all day, wearing her mood on her face and in her gestures.  The daytime regulars focused conversation away from her, making sure to ask for drinks politely and with casual deference.  They tipped well, but not so well as to draw attention.  They hoped she’d be back to normal tomorrow.  By late afternoon, the evening regulars had gathered around.  John Farebrother was there, sipping an Old Style.  Mike, the passionate Black Hawks fan, sat arguing with his friend, Grant, about something inconsequential.  Wally Cadwallader, who’d had an after-work Ooh La La related errand near The March, had stopped in for a martini.  He was discussing men’s skin care with Gilbert, a computer technician.  It was a typical after work crowd and Mary couldn’t stand the sight of a one of them.

When Caleb came into work, he headed behind the bar, prepared to switch for the night shift.  He paused, cash drawer in hand, and took a good look at his daughter, who was furiously polishing an already gleaming cocktail shaker.  “Mary,” he said.  “What’s wrong?”

“Fucking FRED!” she exploded.  “His fucking bookie came in today and I gave him all my money to save Fred from getting beat up.”

All conversation around the bar stopped.  All the patrons tuned into the much more interesting conversation happening behind he bar.

Caleb set his drawer on the back bar and walked Mary to the opposite end, away from the regulars.  Only Teddy sat there, and he wasn’t interested in their conversation.  Caleb put his hands on Mary’s arms and looked her in the eyes in such a way that she wouldn’t be able to look away.

“What happened,” he said, calmly.  And Mary told him the story, tears pooling in her eyes.

At the end, Caleb was angry.  “Why didn’t you call me,” he said.  “Jesus Christ, anything could have happened You should have called me!”

“I couldn’t,” said Mary, shaking her head  “He told me not to pick up the phone. But he wasn’t interested in me.  Only Fred.”

“Mary” said Caleb, moving to embrace her,  “Mary, shit. Are you ok?.  Do you know his name, I want to find him and make sure he stays the hell away from here.”

“He will,” said Mary, bitterly.  “I asked him if he was coming back and he gave me some bullshit line about honor among bookies. But why would he want to come here?  I told Fred not to bother coming around anymore.  At least not while I was here.”

“Still,” said Caleb.  “We need to get your money back.”

“It’s not the fucking money, Dad,” said Mary.  “Well, it's not just the money. It’s the whole engaging in criminal activity while actively planning for a career in the U.S. Attorney’s office. If it comes out I could be screwed.” She paused and leaned into her father a little more.

“Maybe I’m just being paranoid,” she said quietly.  “Maybe it’s not that big of a deal. What do you think?“

“Well, baby,” said Caleb. “You never know.  But if it ever does come up, I’ll tell them it was me.  We look alike. People will buy it.  How much money was it?  I’m going to give that back to you and then let Fred owe me.”

“Dad,” she said.  “You know I don’t take money from you.”

“You’re not,” he said.  “Fred is.  Besides, Mary, I’m your father.  I want to help you.  And if you can’t count on your Dad to pay off your bookie, what in the hell is the world coming to?”

Mary laughed out loud and felt better.  Caleb tightened his arms around her, and Mary relaxed into the hug, accepting the embrace, the offer and the comfort.

The bar regulars strained their ears from the cool side of the bar trying to figure out what was going on.  It sounded very exciting!  Bookies and the boss’s son!

“That Fred,” said Wally Cadwallader.  “He is as shameless as his father.”

“Mr. Bulstrode,” said Farebrother, sarcastically feigning shock.  “Why he is a captain of industry! A fine, upstanding member of society!  A godly man!”

“Whatever,” said Mike.  “Mary could do better than that rich shit anyway.”

“Fred’s not a bad guy,” said Farebrother. “But, you’re right, Mary could probably do better.”

“I wonder how much money he was into the bookie for,” said Gilbert.  “I bet it was a lot.”

“Seems pretty shitty for some rich boy like Fred Bulstrode to be taking money from a hard working girl like Mary,” said Mike.

“Oh, he’s not that bad,” said Wally.  “He’s just careless. I think the boy has a good heart. I regret my earlier harshness.”

A fevered debate broke out regarding the general character of Fred Bulstrode.  Everyone had an opinion that they were eager to share.  Their argument grew louder and more heated until Caleb walked toward them, at which point a rather guilty silence descended.

“Can it, you guys,” said Caleb.  “It’s not your business.  Another gin martini, Wally?”

“Please,” he said. “Only, Caleb, the proper term for a gin martini is martini.  It’s a vodka martini that gets the qualifier.  Honestly, what is happening with the world?  ‘Gin martini’ indeed.  How’s Mary?  
Shall I go give her a shoulder to cry on?”

“Leave her be,” said Caleb.  “She likes it better that way.”

“Caleb, can you put on the Bulls game,” said Farebrother.  “And get me another Old Style.”

“We’re watching hockey!” objected Mike loudly.

“Mike,” said Farebrother.  “The goddamn hockey game doesn’t start for an hour.  Do you mind if we just check in with the best basketball team in America for a bit before we watch the Hawks lose?”

“Basketball is a stupid game,” said Mike.

Caleb headed off to fetch the Old Style, grateful for the shift in conversation. But he knew it wouldn’t last.  The Mary and Fred gossip would prevail until the next scandal broke.  He just hoped it would break soon.