Friday, November 27, 2009

ZAP Chapter 10 by Mark Adair

I’ve always wondered why failure stings the way it does. The perpetrator, the victim, even innocent bystanders seem to feel the bite. I could see it in their eyes, reflecting the turmoil in their soul. I hate failure. I hate what it does to people…most of all, I hate what it does to me. Once again, face to face with my old nemesis, I could feel the effect of its venom spreading through my soul.

Kelly studied me for a few seconds A couple tears raced one another down her cheeks. Timmy watched her carefully and then switched his penetrating gaze to me. Then back to Kelly once more before he addressed me.

“Mr. MacDonald. I am sorry as well. It would seem as though the end of our negotiations has…ahem…arrived. I will, of course, inform the powers that be of your decision. I had hoped for a more ideal resolution to our situation.”

He scooted over toward the end of the booth and then stood up. Placing his hat upon his head he nodded first to Kelly and then to me. “I am tempted to wax philosophical on the lessons learned during our time together. However, as Mr. Dickens once penned, ‘A word in earnest is as good as a speech.’ My sincere condolences to you both.”

The dark clouds rolled into my mind as I tried to keep my stomach from convulsing. My body began to tremble as the walls closed in…all alone in the prison of my making. The pain pierced my soul, awakening from their tombs years of hurt from days gone by. My head lowered under the weight of it all.

“I’m sorry too,” chimed in a familiar voice, coming from behind me and over my left shoulder.

Turning toward my friend, I responded, “Jake?”

“Sorry to interrupt and sorry I’m late Mac. Hi Kelly. I just finished up the paperwork. The transaction we spoke about earlier just completed. The funds you requested have been transferred to your account. It sounded urgent so I hope you don’t mind the interruption.”

Two seconds later I embraced my old friend. A huge friggin’ bear hug.

“I love you, man,” I said, at least five times.

He smiled as he struggled to breathe. Barely able to speak, he managed to squeeze out, “I love you too, Mac. Think you could put me down?”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” I said, restoring his five foot nine inch frame to the floor from whence it came. “Sorry, man,” I mumbled, feeling suddenly self-conscious.

“Well, just wanted to give you the news. I’ll let you get back to your company. Later, Mac.” He nodded his head and then politely added, “Kelly.”

“Later, Jake. Thanks. You’re a magician. Seriously, dude, thank you.”

He nodded and headed over to the bar. And for the rest of his days, I made sure Jake never paid for another beer in my pub.

Grinning from ear to ear, I rejoined my group. “Well, Timmy, looks like we’re good to go after all. Where do I sign?”

Smiling in return, he responded, “Well, quite the interesting turn of events, Mr. MacDonald. Just when I think I have you figured out, you surprise me. Excellent. Without further ado, let us finalize this transaction, and put this ordeal behind us.”

Sitting back down, he pulled out a small cellphone-sized device from inside his grey, pin-striped suit. On closer inspection I thought it looked very familiar.

“Is that an iPhone?”

“Yes, it is.”

“We’re going to conduct this transaction on a friggin’ iPhone?”

“Unless you have religious preference precluding your use of technology from the company in Cupertino?”

“Uh….no…I just….expected something more James Bondish. You know, like a briefcase with a special access code verified by eye scan, voice recognition, and fingerprint.”

“Yes, well, that’s all fine and good, but I’m not exactly in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Are you ready to proceed?”

I nodded. His long, slender fingers worked deftly on the surface of the phone, surprisingly so. A mere few seconds passed before he handed the device to me.

“Please enter your account#, your password, and your verification information.”

I followed his instructions and an “I Agree” button popped up on the screen…like I was purchasing a five dollar app. With my finger hovering over it, I paused. My heart raced and my palms started sweating. Everything I owned, all that my parents had left me, my entire material net worth sat in that account. For the first time I seriously questioned the sanity of my decision. My hand drifted down and away from the device.

I mean, what the hell had I been thinking? Selling my birthright? The only thing my beloved parents passed down to me? All that I had left of them? How could I even contemplate doing such a thing? Had I lost my fucking mind?

And for what? Yes, for what? No longer fixated on the screen, my eyes darted around. A girl who came into my life only months ago? Someone I know less about than almost anyone else in this town? She might be a serial killer or a man-eater. She says she loves me, but mysteriously declines my proposal? I can’t believe I even asked her to marry me…what was I thinking?…maybe she’s a witch…casting a spell on me….or maybe she’s a pod-girl from another planet…or maybe--

In the middle of my rapid-fire internal interrogation, I felt her hand touch my arm. My gaze met hers and all my questions seemed to disappear into the emerald pools of her eyes. All I needed to know peered right back at me. I loved her. And I would do anything for her. The time had come for me to stop vacillating and be a man. Act on what I believed, regardless of the damn consequences.

Once again, I positioned my hand above the screen. She squeezed my arm and mouthed the words, “Are you sure?”

I smiled. Like an out-of-body experience I watched my finger press the button marked “I Agree.” In response, a polite, green “Thank You” popped up on the screen. Closing my eyes, I took a long, deep breath.

I felt her lips softly kiss my cheek. Almost like a test run, she whispered into my ear, “Thank you, Scotty.” Taking my face in her hands, she turned me toward her and pressed her body up against mine. This time she spoke clearly at a regular volume. “Thank you, Scotty.”

Through my smile, she kissed me and I felt it everywhere – my head, my toes, my stomach, everywhere. I wanted to make love to her, right there, and right then. In that moment, my universe began and ended with her…the center of my galaxy…the sun to my moon…

Sounding like an attendant giving out boarding information for the next flight, Timmy’s voice crackled in the distance, “Well, I can see that three is a crowd and all that. Good day to you both.” By the time I’d disengaged enough to respond, he had disappeared, once again. A small twinge of melancholy ran through me at the thought of never seeing him again.

Bringing me back to the moment at hand, Kelly slid over into my lap, facing me and straddling my legs. Resuming our makeout session, one thing quickly led to another. Our hands ran free across each other’s bodies and we started unbuttoning every button we could find. I’d forgotten where we were, and even if I’d remembered, I wouldn’t have cared. I wanted her and I wanted her now.

As I kissed her neck, feeling the warmth of her skin on my lips, I could hear her saying my name over and over again. I realized how much I loved her voice, how much I’d missed the sound of her voice. About to remove her blouse, I felt a strong hand on my shoulder and heard someone yelling in my ear.

“Mac! Mac! Mac!”

“What?” I yelled back.

“Mac! You’re in your pub! Look around, dude!” Jake waved his hand in the direction of the twenty-five or so patrons staring in our direction. Shaking my head trying to merge the two realities, I overheard a small laugh coming from Kelly’s direction.

A few awkward moments later, Gerry stood up in the back of the crowd. Lifting up her pint of Guinness toward the two of us, she gave her husband Lynn a get-off-your-ass-and-join-me glare. He grunted and moved his heavy frame up from his chair. Lifting his glass of Cabernet, he took his place beside his wife. And then one by one, the rest of the group joined them, all extending their glasses to us.

Gerry took two steps forward, cleared her throat, and extinguished the silence with her strong Bronx accent. “To Mac and Kelly. May your kids have Kelly’s brains and looks and personality and temperament, and Mac’s....” She paused, searching the ceiling, and then continued on, “And Mac’s pub. Cheers.”

After the chorus of “Cheers” and laughter died down, Gerry spoke again. “Come on people! Can’t you see these folks need some privacy? Show’s over. Time to go.”

Still in the middle of their lunch hour, the crowd dispersed, leaving their unfinished food and drinks. The staff followed a few minutes later. The last person to leave, flipped the sign to “Closed” and locked the door.

Kelly hadn’t moved from her position on top of my lap. I smiled and casually tossed out a comment. “Well, that was…unusual.”

“Yes, very unusual,” she responded.

And then we took up where we left off as if nothing had happened in between. The rest of the day we made love. Until that time, I’d never known there was a difference between having sex and making love. I gave myself to her and she gave herself to me, no strings attached and no inhibitions. We became one physically and emotionally. The most intoxicating event of my life.

Midnight came and went. Eventually, our passion settled into a more peaceful intimacy. With her head on my chest and my arms wrapped around her, Kelly struggled to keep her eyes open. She looked up at me and smiled. The words “I love you” floated out from her mouth just before she drifted off to sleep.

The next few hours passed quickly. I was exhausted and I needed rest, but I just couldn’t sleep. Her fragrance, the feel of her skin, her heartbeat, her soft breathing…everything about her felt like a present that just kept opening to reveal new and wonderful surprises.

Through a myriad of different positions, we managed to stay in contact throughout the night. Each position seemed to work for us…we fit together….almost magically. Somewhere around four or five in the morning, I found myself behind her, laying on my right side, with my left arm around her. My legs intertwined with hers, and my lips rested against the back of her shoulder. The next thing I remember the brightness of the day woke me from my slumber.

Still trying to regain my vision, I searched around for her - the love of my life. Not anywhere to be seen, I threw my jeans on and stumbled over to the bar, calling out her name. After completing my walk through the main part of the pub, I decided to head to the back where she lived. Knowing that I’d probably find her there and anticipating holding her in my arms again, I picked up the pace. Her closed door greeted me, so I knocked. My knock pushed the door open and I peered inside.

Nothing. Other than the furnishings, absolutely nothing. Her bed made and her room spotless. Not a scrap of clothing, a picture, toiletries…nothing. Without a trace, like she’d never been there at all…

Kelly had disappeared.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

ZAP Chapter 9 by Mark Adair

The brilliant sunlight streaming through the window introduced me to the new day. Nothing but a pale blue surrounding a bright ball of fire far above the horizon. Another perfect day in paradise. Next to me, her head resting on my chest, Kelly a gentle peace. A peace I'd never seen before on her, or anyone.

Struggling to separate last night's memories from the dream, I forced my mind to recall each and every detail. Several complete trips later I felt fairly certain that we had kissed in both worlds, and then fallen asleep, exhausted by the events of the day.

As my mind cleared, the pains in my body amplified - my neck, my back, and especially my butt. I moved less than an inch to alleviate some of the soreness. Kelly moaned softly. Not willing to wake her, I resisted any further adjustments for the next several minutes. Just about to give in to the pain, I saw her eyes blink.

I studied her every movement, anticipating the final awakening. Her eyes registered a slight confusion, followed by recognition. She smiled at me. Happiness shot through me - heart, mind, and soul. I laughed. She mouthed the words "Good Morning, Scotty."

Without thinking, I responded immediately, "Marry me."

She continued smiling for a few seconds, before her simple, happy expression turned serious. In the same moment understanding dawned on both of us – I’d actually meant what I'd said.

"Marry me, Kelly," I repeated.

A winter dip in Bodega Bay couldn’t have woken her up more than my words. She looked away and then back to me…and away and back…and away and back…as if she had a piece of a puzzle that didn’t fit anywhere, and she didn’t know what to do with it.

Shock permeated the room. I sat there mouth half-opened and she did the same. If I hadn’t repeated the offer, I’m not sure I would have believed that I’d said it. And my words just kind of sat there, like a tasteless joke in the middle of a funeral. We both just stared at them as if we expected them to somehow morph into something less bizarre.

Her hand mimed a handwriting motion. Glad to remove myself from the tension, I fetched her something to write with and on. Handing them to her, I could see my heart beating through my chest. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride had nothing on my emotions. I took an absurdly sharp turn from the road of shock at making the offer to a side street of desperate hope that maybe she would say something less than painful.

She sat across from me. Hoping to interpret her writing as her hand moved across the page, I paid close attention. My best count totaled five or six letters before she put down the pen. Too long for ‘yes’, too long for ‘no’, and too short for ‘have you lost your fucking mind’.

Her eyes darted up and then back down. She handed the notepad back to me and I read the two words:

I can’t

I nodded my head, resigned to the obvious. Of course, she couldn’t. What was I thinking? “I understand,” I responded.

Grabbing the notepad out of my hand she started writing again. Less than thirty seconds later, she handed it back to me. Now it read:

I do love you, Scotty
But I can’t

In spite of her declining my marriage proposal, I couldn’t keep myself from smiling. I may have lost the war, but I did win the battle of her heart. No matter what happened from that point on I felt I could face it. Kelly loved me…nothing else mattered.

“Kelly? Can I tell you something?”

She cocked her head slightly to the left waiting for me to continue. I’d practiced the speech fifty times since last night. A quick deep breath and a glance at the ceiling later, I began.

“Before I met you, I’d locked my heart up in the basement of my house. I needed to keep it safe…safe from hurt. I guarded that room night and day with a huge friggin’ two-by-four. And somehow you ended up with the key…the only one…and you unlocked the door and slipped right past my defenses. The light flooded my world and my heart ran free into the fresh air. Honestly, you scared the shit out of me, but I just couldn’t keep my mind off of you. No matter what argument I used to talk my heart back into the basement, it just kept saying, ‘I love her and I’m not going back to that place…ever.’”

A tear formed in my left eye and then ran down my cheek. Her eyes filled with moisture. Another deep breath passed through my lungs. With a shaky voice, I finished my monologue.

“I totally understand, Kelly. Of course, you can’t marry me. I do get it. I’m not exactly Mr. Right. Hell, I’m not even Mr. Barely Acceptable. But whatever happens I will never ever forget the moments we’ve had together. You have changed me. I owe you. Thank you, Kelly. Thank you.”

She scooted over next to me again. Reaching over and grabbing my arm, she put it around her. I turned my head toward her; she turned hers toward me. I studied her face, trying to read her intentions. The edges of her mouth turned up just slightly and she moved forward until she kissed me. A tender, passionate, you’re-welcome kiss.

Like I’d touched something hot I broke out of our magical moment. “Fuck!”

I answered the question mark written all over her face, “I got to go, Kelly. I need to take care of something. And I need to do it now. I’m so sorry. That was…..perfect. You can stay here as long as you want. There’s not much food in the pantry or in the fridge. Might be half a veggie smoothie left. You may want to go into town for breakfast. ”

I jumped up, threw some jeans on, grabbed my wallet, and handed her the forty bucks that I had found inside. She laughed…without a noise, but still a laugh.

“Sorry,” I said. “That was stupid. You probably have money. And I’m not your dad. Shit, that was stupid! Sorry.”

I reached out to take the money back. She pulled her hand away and shoved the money down the front of her low cut blouse. Her face lit up with a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile. I didn’t know how to interpret it – maybe go away, maybe chase the money, maybe….

“Oh shit! I really gotta go. Sorry. I’ll call you later. Shit! Sorry, that won’t work will it?”

I stopped worrying if I’d offended her when I noticed her entire body shaking from laughter. I smiled in return and headed toward the door. “I’ll see you later on, okay?”

She nodded and I exited the room, grabbed a few papers on the way out, and opened the front door of my apartment. I did a three-sixty, ran back into the bedroom and over to Kelly, still sitting in the corner, kissed her quickly, ran back the other direction, and out the front door.

The next several hours of my day revolved around discussing financial options with Jake. And every option led to a dead end, all centered around the timing issue.

“Come on, Jake. There has to be something. Someway to get my Tahoe place liquidated in the next 48 hours.”

“Mac, we’ve been over this twenty times. There’s just not enough time. It can’t be done. Can’t you get an extension on this deal? As your financial advisor I’ve got to tell you, again, that making rash decisions about large investments is just not a good idea. Ever.”

“Damn it, Jake!” I yelled. “If I wanted a fuckin’ mother, I wouldn’t have come to you in the first place! I don’t need to know why I shouldn’t do this, or how I can’t do it. I need some help to get it done!”

Everything became quiet. I’d never yelled at Jake. One of the few people, I’d never even raised my voice with. The kindest, most gentle soul I’d ever known and I’d just verbally abused him. I’d broken a trust with him and I could see it in his face.

“Jake, I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry. That was wrong of me. I appreciate all your help. Thanks for trying. You’re a great friend. I’ll figure out something. I gotta go.”

He didn’t move or change his expression. I blurted out another “I’m sorry” and left his office. I walked in long, fast strides over to the bank, feeling more anxious by the step. After that ‘no’ I found another bank. Then places closed down for the day. One day wasted; only 2 business days left. When I finally made it home at the end of the day, I was actually glad Kelly had found another place to be. I couldn’t face her. Not until I figured this thing out.

After a few hours of Internet research and finding the same answers that Jake gave me, I finally nodded off in my chair. I must have dreamed a dozen variations on the same theme – trying to accomplish some simple task and getting detoured and frustrated over and over again. I woke up in the morning even more pessimistic and angry than the night before.

Realizing I’d missed any sort of food the day before, I guzzled down the remains of a couple of smoothies. I returned to the computer for a couple more hours until businesses began to open. That day and the next, I hit every single place in town, called dozens of national and regional financial institutions, contacted individuals with money who I thought might be able to help. I pleaded. I begged. I offered everything I had plus all sorts of things I didn’t have.

I stopped sleeping and barely ate anything. I tried to avoid Kelly but the last night before my deadline, I ran into her at the pub. She smiled. I forced a smile. I didn’t look so good and she obviously noticed. I apologized, told her I’d been crazy busy, and said I would see her in the morning when Timmy came in. We only had a few minutes together but my sadness somehow traveled to her, like an extremely contagious virus. By the time I left her, my melancholy practically owned her.

My mood darkened with each block on the trip back to my place. When I arrived, I actually searched for “the mob” and “loan sharks” on the Internet. I even emailed a couple pretty scary sounding people and organizations, but didn’t get anything back. Finally, I retired to my living room and sat on the sofa, in the dark, as the reality of my failure poured over me like a steady, persistent rain…drenching me to the core.

When the sunlight finally broke the night, I felt like it mocked me. It could give life to the entire planet, keep the rest of our solar system revolving in a perfect dance, but I couldn’t even help one single person. A woman who meant everything to me.

As I thought about today and what it would bring, I felt some relief. At least the world would know, no more illusions, I’m not to be counted on, trusted…especially when it really matters. I briefly toyed with the idea of not showing up to the meeting with Timmy. And then the thought of how low I’d sunk almost made me sick to my stomach.

The minutes passed like hours as my time ran out. I threw some cold water on my face and headed out the door, forgetting to close it. My parents used to tell me stories about walking to school, uphill both ways, in the snow, barefoot, with winds gusting around seventy miles an hour. Mostly tongue-in-cheek. But as I made my journey over to the pub, I thought their version of a difficult walk would have been a thousand times easier than mine. I had to will each foot to take its turn, and the reluctance grew and grew. It felt like days had passed by the time I reached out to grab the door handle at the pub.

Timmy and Kelly sat in the same booth we’d met in every other time, waiting for me. Instead of his normal courteous greeting, he glanced at my wrinkled shirt and then up to my unshaven face.

“Tough night, old boy?”

Ignoring his comment, I sat down next to Kelly and turned to her. I wanted to defend myself, but I couldn’t think of any argument that might possibly justify the terrible wrong I had brought into her life. Time had come to man-up. I glanced at Timmy and then turned and locked my gaze on her emerald green eyes. I could see sadness in them. I could feel the sadness in them. Nothing left to do but say the words.

“Kelly….I’m sorry. ”

Friday, October 2, 2009

ZAP Chapter 8 by Mark Adair

Practically running to the back of the pub, I heard the sound of someone throwing up in the ladies room. I knocked at the door and then headed in. For some time, I hadn’t felt very good about the person I’d become, but seeing her hunched over the toilet seat made me flat out angry with myself. I could have avoided this for her. I should have avoided this.

“Kelly, I’m terribly sorry. I am going to make it right. Maybe you should stay at my place. I can stay here. You would have more privacy.”

She wiped her mouth and then turned her head my way.

I reiterated my offer, louder this time. She watched me and then motioned for something to write on.

Pulling out my small blue notebook and pen, I sat down next to her and put them in her hands. She scribbled a few words and then started getting sick again. I held her hair, back away from the toilet. When she paused, I ran to get a hand towel from behind the bar and brought it to her. Finishing her note, she handed it to me.

I’ll stay with you.
I’d rather not be alone.
By the way,
I’m mute…not deaf.

Forcing an uncomfortable smile, I asked, “Are you ready now? Or do you need more time?”

She put out her hand and I helped her up. Taking the towel from her other hand, I dampened it and wiped off her mouth and chin. Hidden in this less than perfect situation I stumbled into a perfect moment. A moment of pleasure completely intertwined with just being there for her…taking care of her when she needed someone…actually being a friend.

The cool of the day welcomed us as I escorted her out the back door. She rested her head against my chest and I responded my putting my arm around her. As we walked toward my place, I whispered “I’m sorry” into her ear at least ten times before she finally put her index finger to her lips indicating that she’d heard it enough.

By the time we reached the apartment her body felt like dead weight. I seated her at the sofa in my living room. I offered her some soup. She declined. I offered some Ginger Ale. She accepted and I fetched it quickly. Her eyelids drooped as she sipped on the cold liquid.

“Give me just a sec, to change the sheets on my bed. I’ll be right back.”

Less than five minutes later I finished up. Entering the living room, coming up from behind the couch, I didn’t see her until I reached the edge of it. Scrunched up on the cushions, nothing moved other than her chest letting the air in and out. Trying not to wake her, I slipped my arms underneath her and lifted her. I managed to carry her into my bedroom and lay her down on the bed. After removing her sneakers, I pulled the covers over her.

And then I watched. Minutes passed and I just sat there. I’d never seen her like that...without the fire or the constant activity…wearing a sweet, peaceful smile like it belonged there…like she owned it. I wanted her to be happy more than I wanted to be happy. Hours passed before I moved from her side and parked myself in my sleeping bag down at the foot of the bed. I listened to her soft, gentle breathing and thought about how I could come up with three-hundred thousand dollars.

My pub and my business, mortgaged to the hilt, provided no help whatsoever. I didn’t own anything else of significant value….other than my parents’ place, and that seemed like a sacrilege to share it with a bank or anyone else…if I sold everything I owned that would net me about $2.89. It’s not like I could ask the Plants or anyone else for the kind of money I needed. Maybe ten grand would be feasible, but three-hundred….ridiculous. I worked and I worked and I worked…every angle trying to find a financial windfall. Not having success, I tried every combination of all the angles I could think of….nothing.

She changed positions from one side to the other. Like a nurse at the bedside of a patient in critical condition, every small adjustment on her part brought a reaction from me. I couldn’t imagine anything more significant than finding a way out of this. A way to end this ZAP craziness. I owed that to her.

After exhausting every other alternative, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that only one feasible option remained: I must sacrifice my inheritance, the Tahoe getaway. My initial reluctance soon gave way to an overwhelming desire to make things right for Kelly. After that it became a matter of financial logistics…most of which I didn’t understand, yet hoped could somehow be accomplished…must be accomplished in the next couple of days. Practically a financial magician, I believed my buddy and CPA, Jake, would help me find a way to pull a rabbit out of the hat. I’d call him first thing in the morning.

Having made the decision, I felt the weight of the undecided-ness lift from my mind. I rubbed my temples, closed my eyes, and then fell fast asleep. A few hours later, I woke with her lying next to me, snuggled up against my sleeping bag. Opening up my bag, I gently pulled her in next to me and wrapped my arm around her. Her eyes opened to barely a slit and she nodded her head. I smiled and stroked her hair with my fingers. Her soft breathing signified her return to the world of dreams. I had the sense that I should remember this moment. And so I did.

Her hair, her ears, her nose, her cheeks, her lips, I memorized every feature, every crease, every freckle…the texture and color of her skin…everything. I closed my eyes and asked, “Please don’t let this moment ever end.”

The sun broke the plane of the horizon. I finally fell back asleep…and dreamt…

Kelly and I stood, a few feet apart from each other, at the edge of a forest. Maybe more like a jungle… impenetrable. I knew if we could somehow get in, we would be together, forever. She ran one way; I ran the other. We searched for hours trying to find an opening, even a few inches would have given us a starting place…and some hope. But nothing. Miles of impossibility stretched out before us.

Exasperated, I threw myself into the greenery. It felt like hands caught me, and then tossed me back out. Almost in a caring way, and yet unrelenting in its duty. I tried digging underneath, but no matter how far down I went, the jungle went further. Days passed and our hope dwindled. I did my best to put a good face on it, and so did she…but the reality of our situation continued to nibble away at our optimism until almost none of it remained.

Many days later, so many that I lost count, I knew that I’d given all that I had – my strength, my energy, my optimism, my analysis, and all my effort. I looked over at her, she shook her head, and put words to our reality, “I give up.”

And then the light went on.



“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. We did the best we could.”

“No, not about this,” I clarified, waving my hands toward the trees. “I’m sorry for wasting time. Searching and plotting and running and sweating…when I should have just been with you. I’m sorry for always living in tomorrow or the what might be, rather than living in the what is. I’ve been a fool.”

She reached out her hand and it occurred to me that we hadn’t even touched since we arrived in this strange place. Her hand clasped mine. I pulled her to me, stroked her hair, outlined her features with my fingertip, and gazed into the emerald green. Her eyes smiled; mine smiled in return. And then her lips met mine…hours may have passed, even days…I had no idea, nor did I care.

The spell broke when my peripheral vision caught movement just beyond where we stood. Almost in a bow, the branches parted…making a way for us to walk in. We laughed at our good fortune, took each other’s hands, and headed off into the great unknown…

Exploring our new world, we encountered waterfalls and countless variations of other-worldly plant life that gave off unique aromas blending citrus and flower and herb. And trees filled with fruits and nuts that exploded with flavor in our mouths. Eventually we found the beaches. An island! Entranced by the translucent blue waters lapping gently on the tan shore, we laid down next to each other.

We traded smiles, leaned toward one another, and kissed. All was right in our idyllic new home…until a small tremor shook the ground, followed by a larger one. With our eyes locked in mutual gaze and our lips still pressed together, everything else began to disappear…

Piece by piece, my mind returned to reality - Kelly’s malady, my financial predicament, ZAP, Timmy…all of it. I scanned the room. Everything seemed just as I remembered it before falling asleep – the bed, the lamps, the sleeping bag, the crick in my neck, and Kelly right next to me. Every remnant of our dream island had vanished…almost every remnant. I blinked several times trying to force the final changeover. Instead of disappearing, the last scene of my dream completed its transition to reality…

…the emerald sea reflected in Kelly’s gaze…her lips touching mine.

Friday, September 18, 2009

ZAP Chapter 7 by Mark Adair

The longer I drove, the more I thought about my life. The more I thought about my life, the greater my resolve to make something of my second chance. By the time I drove into the lot next to my apartment, I had come to terms with several important issues in my life.

First of all, the days of feeling sorry for myself…history. I’d wasted enough time and energy rerunning old episodes of my life tragedies. I had actually grown tired of feeling sorry for myself.

Which led me to my second resolution: my “wife” had made exactly two calls to me each year for the past three years. Each conversation started with a description of her happy life highlighted by her relationship with roommate/boyfriend/love-of-her-life, Ryan. And it ended with “Scotty, please sign the papers.” Except for the last phone call about 6 months ago…it ended with “Scotty, I’m pregnant. Ryan and I are having a baby. Please sign the fucking papers.” Time to sign the papers…even if it forced me to admit I’m alone, and have been for some time.

The third and most complicated issue remained. What to do with Kelly…or how to do with Kelly…or would I even get a shot with her. I didn’t know how to fix the mess I’d made, especially considering that I hadn’t treated her that well at any point in our relationship. Running though several options during my several hour trip, I picked the one where she had already left town, for good, as the most likely scenario. All I wanted, all I could ask for: one chance to make it right…to do the right thing.

Sitting in the parking lot, I listened to the end of the Beach Boys singing Don’t Worry Baby. I tossed my bag and the care package from Mrs. Plant in my apartment. Grabbing the divorce papers, I U-turned, and headed toward the post office. After completing that errand, I walked toward the pub, thinking about what I should say to Kelly. Every speech I conjured up and practiced on the walk over, sounded lame. By the time I reached the front door, I’d lost a good chunk of my resolve. My palms began to sweat and I hesitated before finally grabbing the handle.

“Hey Mac!”

“Hi Jake. How’s it going?”

“Good. You okay? Seem a bit preoccupied.” He interjected a short laugh and then added, “Even more than usual.”

“Yeah, well, you know me. Never met an issue I couldn’t overthink. It’s definitely been an eventful couple a days. You seen Kelly lately?”

“Yeah, she’s here.” He pointed toward the back, right side. “I think I saw her over there in a booth talking to some older dude.”

“Thanks, man. I gotta take care of something. Catch you later.”

I walked over to the booth, my heart pounding.

“Hi Kelly. Timmy, how are you?”

She didn’t look up. Timmy stood up, reached out his hand, and returned my greeting. Responding to his invitation, I sat down next to him.

I turned to him and asked, “How long have you been here?”

“Just arrived, old boy. No reason to be here without your presence in the neighborhood, right? After all, Mr. MacDonald, you and I have an ongoing business transaction to discuss.”

“I don’t even want to know how the hell you knew I would be getting back at this particular moment, but I would like to talk with you in private about our ‘ongoing business transaction’. Kelly, would you mind?”

“If I was talking to you, Mr. MacDonald, which I’m not, I would say something like, ‘Because I’m the only one here with a truly vested interest in the outcome of this bullshit you call an ongoing business transaction, I must insist on staying right the hell where I am…asshole!’”

A smile almost escaped before I caught it and put it back in its cage. “Fair enough. Timmy let’s get down to it. Where do we stand?”

“I must inform you that your past unreasonable position on the topic has cost you any negotiating position whatsoever. As they say, the fuse has quite grown short. This will be my final offer and the terms are not negotiable. Do we understand one another?”

I nodded. His ominous tone gave me a strange feeling in my stomach.

“The terms are as follows: within one week, you will deliver to our online account the sum of One-hundred and fifty-thousand pounds. If you choose to—“

“Are you fucking serious? Where in the world would I get one-hundred and fifty-thousand pounds?”

Kelly glanced up at me.

“Mr. MacDonald, the responsibility for your current predicament rests solely on your shoulders. You summarily dismissed all of our fair and reasonable past offers. Now, ahem, the gloves are off.”

“Or what?” I yelled at him.

“Of course, right you are to ask. Yes, well, the repercussions for refusing this offer will be a permanent ZAP for your girlfriend.”

At the same time, Kelly and I both refuted his claim about our relationship status. Then she mumbled, “We finally agree on something.”

Rubbing my forehead, I barked out, “Dammit Timmy! Why do you have to be so damn cryptic about everything? What does that mean exactly?”

“Mr. MacDonald, ZAP doesn’t work in a pre-configured, manufacturing methodology, i.e., there is no ‘exactly’. Basically, it consists of three levels of actuality potential reduction tailored to the personality, physiology, and DNA of the subject. The most complete, and the only irreversible, level causes a permanent and debilitating change in the patient. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in that dire and wholly unpleasant situation.”

“The patient!” Kelly and I yelled in unison.

“Right. Sorry. Part of our internal vernacular, as it were. Ms. Fairchild, my apologies.”

“Thanks Timmy. As usual, you’re as clear as the San Francisco fog.”

“Certainly, Mr. MacDonald, you understand permanent and debilitating. At any rate, a preview of that experience will be afforded you upon my exit.”

Kelly took off across the table and reached Timmy’s neck with her hands before he could defend himself. I knew I should break them up but I had wanted to the same thing. So I just sat there, watching Timmy suffer. His face became redder by the second and his eyes started to glaze over. When it occurred to me that killing him would eliminate the only possible way out of this for Kelly, I intervened.

“Kelly.” I said in a cool, calm voice. She tightened her grip. My smile slipped out and then I tried again with a little more oomph, “Kelly!” Nothing. She started shaking. I reached up and with all my strength I pried loose her hands from around his throat. The red marks from her grip looked like they would be there for a few weeks.

She stood there shaking from head to toe. I came over to her side and started to put my arms around her. In between her glare and the list of cuss words that she spewed at me, I got the message that maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.

I returned from the bar with three stouts, a bottle of Scotch, and three shot glasses.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I need a drink…or two or three. Anyone join me?”

Timmy continued to hold his neck in his hands while he managed a slight nod. Kelly had cooled off a bit – instead of a ten on the five point pissed off scale, I’d say maybe a 9.7. I poured both of them shots and handed them out. He whispered a ‘thank you’ and picked up his glass. She picked hers up, nodded her head, and then threw it right in my face. Reaching across the table, she grabbed the bottle and poured herself another shot, which she proceeded to swallow down in one gulp. She repeated the procedure two more times and then started on her beer.

Picking up a couple of nearby napkins, I tried to remove the stinging alcohol from my eyes. When my vision cleared, I glanced over at her. And I started laughing.

“What the hell are you laughing about?”

“Yes, I must agree with Ms. Fairchild. I fail to see the humor in this.”

I tried but I couldn’t stop laughing. It might have been the whole ridiculous situation or the fire in Kelly’s eyes or the red marks on Timmy’s neck or just stress, but I laughed like I’d never laughed before. The entire pub customer population turned in my direction. Most of them had never heard me laugh before at all, much less like this.

“Cut it out, Scotty!”

“Sorry. I don’t know what got into me.”

Timmy cleared his now raspy voice. “Mr. MacDonald…ahem…I have other appointments to make. I will return in ninety-six hours. That is exactly four days from right now. You have that time to come up with the money. I will return, planning to transfer the funds. If you’re unprepared to do so, our conversation will be over, and Ms. Fairchild will suffer the consequences.”

“I understand.”

Standing up, he put his fedora on, bid us good day, and marched out the exit.

“I’m sorry, Kelly. I should have done something before. I’ll figure out something. I don’t know how, but I will figure out something.”

She acted like she might say something so I paused.

“What is it, Kelly?” Silence. “Just say it! I know I fucked up. I’m sure it doesn’t matter, but I did sign the divorce papers. It’s over.”

She moved toward me, opened her mouth, and then closed it again.

“I get it. You have nothing to say to me. I certainly don’t blame you. I’ve been a real shit. I just have one last thing to say then I’ll shut up.”

Her eyes darted around like she wanted to find a place to be, anywhere other than with me.

“Kelly, I…it’s just that…I’ve never met anyone like you. You don’t take shit off of anyone. I love the way you think…the way your minds works…your sense of humor…how smart you are…and you’re beautiful…like the moon and the stars beautiful. And I love the sound of your voice, even when you’re yelling at me.”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“Fine. I just want you to know one thing.” Pausing to clear my throat, I finished what I had come to say.

“I love you.”

The fidgeting ended. Her eyes met mine and for a few seconds I thought maybe, just maybe I might have a chance with her.

She grabbed a clean napkin from the table, pulled out the pen from her shirt, and scribbled several words. Standing up, she threw the napkin at me, and ran to the back of the pub.

It swirled around and then fell face down right in front of me. I knew it had the verdict on it and I felt pretty confident that the verdict wouldn’t be what I wanted. I finished off another shot of Scotch while I moved the napkin around with my index finger.

Better to know than not, I decided. I turned it over.

you idiot
something’s wrong
feels like someone yanked out my vocal chords
I can’t speak

Friday, September 4, 2009

ZAP Chapter 6 by Mark Adair

The Kelly disaster ran nonstop, an endless replay in my mind, over and over and over again. The disappointment that had become my life drenched my soul in a downpour of melancholy. I felt like throwing up. I wanted to throw up, but I couldn’t…just like everything else in my world…I couldn’t.

Stumbling out of the cabin, I thought about walking into the lake. I raised my eyes up to the heavens wanting a sign and expecting nothing. Less than a minute later my feet felt the freezing cold of the water seeping through my sneakers. Another step - my ankles stung from the icy liquid, and my feet numbed. The next step dropped off, over two feet deeper, emerging my belt. The numbness spread up into my lower chest. My breath came in short, quick gasps.

So this is how Scott MacDonald ends his pathetic excuse for a life. One last swim and God will finally have his way.

The memories flooded my mind…my parents, my life before their death, my wife, and then Kelly…her green eyes blazing. The tears rushed down my cheeks as I laughed out loud. Her beauty, her mind, her laugh formed a collage of memories all fighting to be seen and heard, until one forced it’s way to the top, capturing my attention…

The night before tax day, I had just cleaned up for the night. Kelly came in from the back and started brewing some coffee. I barked at her and she barked right back, refusing to tell me why she needed coffee at 1:00 in the morning. Shaking my head, I asked her if she would at least close up when she finished making a mess. She flipped me off and then went back to the coffee.

With my flight jacket in hand, I left for the day and headed back to my place. A block into my walk, I started wondering what she was up to, so I snuck back and watched her through the window. She poured an entire pot of coffee into a container, added about three-quarters of a bottle of Irish Whiskey, and grabbed a couple of large cups. She headed out the door, taking long strides with her long legs. I followed her several blocks to the other side of town and watched her knock on Melanie Stenson’s door. Melanie had lived in town her entire life, married early, and had no friends that I knew of. She peeked through the curtains, recognized Kelly, and then carefully opened the door.

By this time I’d already committed to stalking so I decided to finish up what I set out to do. Making my way around the left side of her red brick house, I found an open curtain. On her way to the kitchen, Melanie passed within a few feet me, and that’s when I saw it – the bruises and the cuts on her face and arms. The rumor around town about their financial problems and her raging husband, Roger, turned out to be true. I wanted to kick his head in. I made a mental note to do just that.

Melanie returned from her trip to the kitchen carrying a tray of ice and sat down on the sofa next to Kelly. Kelly put several cubes of ice in the cup and then filled it up with Irish Coffee. Coaxing her to drink like a loving mother with her 3-year-old, Melanie finally took it and drank several gulps. She wiped her mouth and began to talk, before falling apart. One sobbed uncontrollably and the other held her and rocked her, fighting back her own tears.

I felt like I’d invaded a sacred place, a sacred moment, and I ran away like a teenager who had just watched a couple making love in the privacy of their backyard. And I ran and I ran and I ran…until the night air cleared my mind. Then I started looking for Roger, because I was going to kill him. Dawn came and went. I continued my search through most of the day. I never found him, nor did anyone else. He disappeared for good.

A week later, Melanie walked into my pub, head held high. The long sleeves couldn’t cover the remaining bruises and cuts on her face. She pulled up a stool and said in a strong, clear voice, “Mac, I don’t have any money, would you mind starting a tab for me? I need a beer….oh, and a couple bucks for the jukebox.” I smiled at her, gave her a twenty to play some tunes, and filled up two pints with a double IPA. I handed her one and took the other for myself. I told her it was on the house as long as she needed it to be. She nodded her head, forced a smile, and stuck out her glass. I held my glass up to hers. She took a breath, met my eyes with resolve, and said, “Everything is going to be alright.” I agreed, “Damn straight. Cheers!” We both downed our beers in about ten seconds. While I refilled our glasses, she marched over to the jukebox and thrust the twenty in. I didn’t know it at the time but she selected the same song as many times as that twenty bucks would give her.

For the only time in my bar-owning career I bought drinks for the crowd. Over the course of the next few hours, the place filled to standing room only. The word spread that Melanie had come out of hiding, and everyone wanted to show their support. The entire evening we listened to Bob Marley sing No Woman, No Cry. The more drinks I served the more the crowd joined in...

My shivering body startled me, ending my reminiscing. Standing waist deep in Lake Tahoe, the cold creeping through my body, I could still hear the crowd singing…

Everything’s gonna be alright…Everything’s gonna be alright…Everything’s gonna be alright…

And then I heard myself yell, “Scotty MacDonald, what the fuck are you doing!” Channeling my father, I added, “MacDonald’s never quit!”

To this day, I don’t remember the next hour of my life. I found myself on my couch, the fireplace burning brightly, and my parents’ friends, the Plants, pouring Irish Coffee into me. They later told me I had called them on my cellphone, said ‘help’, and then hung up. They found me on the shore, shivering, and mumbling ‘everything’s gonna be alright.’

Mrs. Plant, a Naturopath by training, had me in non-critical shape within a couple hours. Exhausted, I slept for 12 hours straight. Other than a bit of soreness in my legs, I had no physical reminder of my episode. She rubbed on a little Arnica, gave me a couple Turmeric capsules, and my legs improved within fifteen minutes.

She nursed me for the rest of the day. About sunset, she explained to me the whats and hows of a few herbs that she left for me in the kitchen. Sitting down next to me on the couch, she studied me for a few minutes. Satisfied that she’d completed her work to her satisfaction, her facial expression turned stern, even dark. Then the most hippy-like, tree-hugging, peace-loving woman I’d ever met, put her finger right in my face and started yelling.

“I know things haven’t been easy for you, Scotty MacDonald. You lost your parents and that’s just terribly wrong. We lost our best friends and that’s wrong. But we didn’t lose each other. You have us and we have you, don’t you ever forget that! If you even think about doing anything like that again, I will chase you all the way to heaven and kick your ass for all eternity! You will never, ever get a moment of peace! Am I clear, young man?”

My eyes darted back and forth between her finger and her angry eyes as I answered, “Yes ma’am.”

“Give me your word!”

“You have my word, Mrs. Plant.” And somehow I knew I had to be true to that word.

The next day they showed up at my door with their second car, a real hippy vehicle – a 60s era VW Beetle with a large peace sign on the front, painted in bright reds, blues, yellow, and greens. Mr. Plant, a man of few words but plenty of smiles, handed me the keys and said, “What’s ours is yours”. He hugged me, a good, long hug. It felt good. I tried to avoid looking into Mrs. Plant’s face, but she took my chin in her hand and lifted it until my eyes met hers. A single tear fell onto her cheek. She leaned forward, hugged me, and whispered in my ear, “You are our son, Scotty. We love you.”

I drove off, thinking about how much they meant to me…and how much Kelly meant to me, in spite of my complicated situation. For now, that was enough. I tried the radio. Static. Thinking it wouldn’t work, I pushed the no-label 8Trak cartridge into the slot. To my surprise the music started right up. I put my sunglasses on to keep the sun reflecting in the rear view mirror from blinding me. The breeze flowed freely though the open windows as I turned the volume up and sang along with the Grateful Dead…

I will get by…I will get by…I will get by…I will survive…

Friday, August 28, 2009

ZAP Chapter 5 by Mark Adair

Earthquake-like movement woke me from my slumber. Kelly sat on the bed next to me, shaking me. Even though the light emanated solely from the full moon, I had no trouble seeing her two sheer pieces of clothing that left little to the imagination.

“Hey! Wake up! You’re dreaming.”

“Yeah, Kell. Thanks for the 411. That’s what people do when they sleep! It’s two o’clock in the morning!” Each word escalated in anger and volume.

“Geesh, Scotty! Is there any time that you’re not a royal pain-in-the-ass?”

I closed my eyes hoping she’d get the message to leave me alone. A couple minutes went by and I cracked open my left eyelid.

“Yes, I’m still here.”

“What do you want?” I barked out.

“You called me, so I came. Jerk!”

“What the hell do you mean I called you?”

“You yelled out my name in your sleep. At the time I didn’t know you were sleeping because I shut off my mental telepathy device at 10:00 PM every night! So I came in and found you moaning and calling out my name! And by the way, it didn’t sound like a bad dream!”

Shit! Just what I need. Not enough that she’s invaded my dreams…she has to point out that she’s invaded my dreams and make a federal case of it.

Rubbing my head and trying to get that last X-rated dream image to leave, I mumbled, “Whatever.”

“And besides, I couldn’t sleep.”

I snarled back, “I don’t do bedtime stories.”

She leaned in closer, maybe two inches from my face. “Oh darn. I so wanted for you tell me my favorite story…you know, the one about the Pub owner who managed to alienate every person that ever tried to befriend him.” Switching from a little girl voice to a full on womanly yell, she added, “I especially love the part where he dies all alone and nobody finds out about it for another 12 months!”

Getting up into a leaning on my elbow position, I knew my only shot at more sleep rested solely on my ability to give her whatever the hell she wanted. “Fine. What do you want me to do?”

She turned away for a few seconds, took a deep breath, and then faced me once again. “I just…” Another deep breath. “I just didn’t want to be alone tonight. I don’t want anything other than to sleep in here somewhere. That chair in the corner will be fine.”

“Fine. The chair is all yours. There’s an extra blanket in the closet.”

In a matter of a few minutes, she had retrieved the wool blanket and scrunched herself into the recliner.

“Good night, Scotty.”


Any other day in the past several years I would have just nodded right off to sleep, but ‘no’ not today…today, I had to start growing a damn conscience. I tossed and turned, switched it up with a turn and toss, and then finally gave up.



“This bed’s plenty big for the both of us. Why don’t you just sleep on the other half? Just stay on your side though, deal?”

“I don’t know if I can resist, Scotty. Your bedside manner makes me all juicy inside. Deal!”

Scrambling into bed, she pulled up the off-white comforter and turned away from me, all in one swift motion. I closed my eyes and tried to think of something other than her. Half an hour later I gave up on sleeping. Like a muse, she danced around in my head of her own volition. Eyes closed or opened, asleep or awake, it didn’t matter. Every path I forced my mind to follow ended up in the same place – thinking about her, wanting her…and knowing I shouldn’t.

She sighed and then flipped sides. Trying to detect the expression on her face failed, but I could see the moonlight bouncing off her eyes.

“Can’t sleep?” she asked in a soft but frustrated tone.


“Me neither. What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing,” I lied. “You?”

“Lots of things. Mostly about how damn frustrating you are to be around. I want to get to know you better but you make it near impossible. For example, telling me that you’re thinking about nothing, what’s that about? You’re always thinking about something. Do you ever let your guard down, Scotty? Ever let anyone in?”

My long pause resulted in another sigh from her. I forced an extra breath and then responded. “No, I don’t. Years ago I did, but I’ve found the whole tight as a clam thing works pretty well for me…present company excluded.”

She laughed, but not in a condescending way. “So you’re happy?”

“No…happiness is overrated.”

“How do you know?”

“Used to be happy.”

Her tone softened. “So the life you have now works better for you than the being happy version?”


She moved a couple feet closer and touched the side of my face with her hand. “So if I declared my undying love for you, you wouldn’t want that because you’ve worked out this unhappy, lonely existence and you don’t want to jeopardize it?”

“You want the truth?”

“Always. I prefer the transparent, unfiltered version of things.”

“Good. Me too. Here’s what I think. First of all, you’d have to stop despising me before you could declare your undying love for me, which seems extremely unlikely. Secondly, if you did, I would…”

“What? You would what?” Moving a couple inches closer, her stare caused me to look down.

“I would…”

Before I had a chance to think it through I ended up kissing her. Not my best work as I almost completely missed her lips in the darkness. Then she put her hand up against my face to guide her and she kissed me back. I don’t know if it was her best work or not, but it seemed perfect to me.

My head swam. I forgot where I was. I almost forgot who I was. She moved her body next to mine and kissed me again. I don’t remember the exact chain of events but each move brought more excitement and heat. I grabbed her arms with the intention of moving on top of her…but I didn’t. I just grabbed her arms and pushed her a few inches away from me.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I can’t do this.”

“Can’t do what?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about!”

“Geesh, Scotty. You are one complicated man. Can’t you just go with it for once in your miserable excuse of a life? Everything doesn’t have to be analyzed to death.”

“Kelly, I would love to go with it…that’s exactly what I’d like to do…but I can’t.”

“I don’t believe you want me to stop,” she purred out, again moving her body up against mine and kissing me.

God knows, I didn’t want her to stop, but what I wanted didn’t matter.

“Stop!” I yelled.

“Fine! You don’t have to yell!”

“Really? Because when I don’t yell you don’t ever get the damn message!”

“Are you gay?”

I rolled my eyes. “No, I’m not gay…in the way you mean it or in the more traditional sense.”

“So what is it? Is it me? Do you not want me?”

I shook my head. “I want you, Kelly. God knows I do. I think I may be falling in love with you…but I cannot do this.”

Like a puppy, she tilted her head slightly to the left and broke out in a smile. “Did you just say that you love me?”

“Technically, no. I just said I might be falling in love with you.”

“Scotty MacDonald. Scotty MacDonald loves me. I must say you caught me off guard with that one. So, you love me--”

I interrupted her, “Might be falling in love with you, but seriously questioning that at the moment.”

She waved her hand tossing aside my feeble correction. “Right, so let me get this straight: you might be falling in love with me, and yet you don’t want to make love to me. Does that pretty much sum it up?”

“You don’t understand.”

“Duh! Of course, I don’t understand. I find it hard to believe that you have a religious conviction about it, so why don’t you explain it to me, lover-boy, I mean almost-lover-boy. You have another family in Utah?”

“No.” After a short pause, I added, “Not in Utah………in Oregon.....…I’m married.”


“Dammit! That hurts! This wasn’t my idea, you know. It’s not my fault that you showed up in my bed looking like a damn Victoria’s Secret model!”

All my words bounced off her backside as she practically ran out of the room. Over the next five minutes the heat from her anger melded together the flurry of her activity with her expletives into a solid mass of I-hope-you-die-ness. In what seemed like a few moments, she’d packed her stuff, grabbed my keys, and slammed the door. Standing near the window, I watched her drive off with my truck, spinning the tires and spitting dirt everywhere.

Speaking to the ceiling, I offered my synopsis of the events, “All in all I think that went pretty well…pretty, pretty well…”

With my fists clenched and stretched upward, I shouted to the heavens my final commentary on the last several minutes.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

ZAP Chapter 4 by Mark Adair

That night my head hit the pillow and try as I might I couldn’t get the damn smile off my face. Staring up at the popcorned ceiling, I replayed the scenes over and over and over in my head. I loved the one where Kelly smacked Timmy right upside the cheek. He stood there, stoic as ever, with that growing red mark on the side of his face. Kind of took his whole I’m-British-therefore-I’m-better-than-you routine down a notch or two. At the time, I wanted to applaud, but I didn’t think I could clap without compromising by ability to protect myself from her.

She is one fiery, feisty woman. I like fiery and feisty…sometimes…

After the replays ended, I slept well and woke up feeling less miserable than usual. I finished a quick shower and then wolfed down two of Mac’s breakfast burritos – a tortilla heated in the microwave. I tossed on my black t-shirt and jeans, and headed into the pub. On the walk over I started thinking about stuff...

Before life beat the shit out of me, I used to care…I used to have a conscience…well, sort of. Blow by blow, the traumas hammered away my energy and health to the point where the choice between living and dying became a tossup. When all was said and done, the balance on my emotional, physical, and financial bank accounts showed more red than a…a really, really red thing…with lots of red on it.

Man, it’s early to be thinking about stuff.

The main point is: over the years, my cynicism became my most featured and treasured personality trait. I went from hating to see people struggle, through a not caring phase, and eventually ended up thoroughly enjoying the trials and tribulations of others – plant, animal, or person. Something about knowing that God hated somebody or something other than me, made everything a little nicer. Not exactly Mary Poppins nice, but still nicer. You know, I’m not sure I’ve actually ever used the words ‘Mary Poppins’ before.

Anyway, the whole beat-Mac-to-a-pulp procedure came with a little unexpected bonus: life without a conscience made everything easier. Not exactly Mary Poppins easy…enough of that bullshit. Suffice it to say, my conscience-free life allowed me to say and do whatever the hell I felt like saying and doing. It liberated me. Not giving a damn whether I violated somebody’s feelings or society’s absurd Victorian book of wrongs and rights, smoothed out the path quite nicely.

Just when I had come to terms with the new, “improved” me, I woke up this morning with a twinge of guilt about the whole ZAP thing. Maybe not a full twinge, but at least a quarter of a twinge…or half of a quarter... In any case, it did surprise me…and the more I thought about the fractional twinge, the more it pissed me off. By the time I reached the pub, I wanted to kick something or somebody.

I wish I had a dog. Not just any dog. One big enough to take a swift kick and yet friendly enough to not bite me for it. Maybe a Doberman body with a Golden Retriever temperament.

Speaking of dogs, as I reached out to grab the doorknob to the pub, I heard a faint whimpering sound coming from inside. Quietly cracking it open, I peered through the opening and saw…nothing unusual. Everything looked in order and nothing smelled like dog. Sniffling joined the whimpering as I walked quietly in the direction of the last booth on the right. I glanced into the seat, and then took a double take. My one and only special-occasion, white tablecloth covered a trembling body. Only a few locks of red hair stuck out from the top.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m great!” Her head shot up from its hiding place and her reddened eyes blazed. “I just thought I’d spend the night here because the second swimming pool at my beach house is undergoing renovations to add the new gold-plated swans between the Jacuzzis, and I couldn’t stand the damn noise!”

“Hey, I’m not deaf! You don’t have to yell!” Then I added under my breath, “Bitch.”

“Go to Hell, Scotty!”

“Already live there, Kell! Put your blue dress on and you can join me!”

She stared straight at me for a few seconds, studying my eyes and then looked away like a shopper who couldn’t find anything that interested her. “It’s pretty early for a Grateful Dead reference, don’t you think?”

I smiled knowing that I knew something she didn’t. “Actually, Kell, the Dead only covered the ’66 Mitch Ryder original.”

She smiled in return. “Actually, Scotty, Mitch Ryder covered the original version by Shorty Long recorded in ’64.”

Damn she’s good!

Against my better judgment, I acted on impulse instead of my usual well thought out acrimony. “Had any breakfast yet?”

She shook her head slowly. This time I did notice the bags under her eyes.

Still on impulse, I added, “Hey, what do you say I hand the keys to Van and we head out of town for a day or two? Get away from all this? I got a cabin in the woods near Tahoe where I go sometimes to think up diabolical ways to rule the world…or just to punish it…used to be my parents place…fully stocked bar…what do you say?”

With a slight raise of the eyebrows, she responded, “You think we can be together for that long without killing each other?”

I grinned. “I hope not.”

Thirty minutes later, F150 truck loaded up with gas and a couple of duffle bags, we made our way out of town and onto the highway. Almost four hours and no conversation later, we arrived at my parent’s cabin…my cabin. Our only stop along the way revolved around a breakfast burrito, with actual eggs and stuff, at Carl’s Jr.

Like most places in the area, the cabin’s A-frame rustic exterior camouflaged an upscale, luxury interior. Two fireplaces, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, comfortable leather couch and chairs, pinewood floors, and wooden beams extending from the sides to the 25’ ceiling in the middle. The floor-to-ceiling windows on every side, looked out at the mountains and the lake, and invited the majestic blue into the home at every turn…seemed close enough to touch …

Kelly sat down at the couch, stretched her arms, and yawned. “You were serious.”

“About what?” I asked, starting the coffee.

“You have one book and one DVD on the coffee table – Mein Kampf and Pinky and the Brain, Volumes 1-3. What are we going to do tomorrow Brain? Narf!”

I turned back toward the coffeemaker so she wouldn’t see the smile I couldn’t repress.

“Hey Scotty?”


“Can I ask you a personal question?”

I grunted out, “Nope.”

“I was just wondering why—”

I let out a deep sigh. “You really don’t understand that word, do you?”

“You know I’m not going to stop hassling you until you let me ask what I have to ask, right? We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”

Realizing that the shortest road to peace and quiet went right through the town of Getting-this-question-over-with, I acquiesced. “Fine. One question and one question only.”

“Why did you invite me up here?”

“None of your business.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“I didn’t agree to an answer. Just a question.”

“Fine, let’s go back to step 1. Scotty, you know I’m not going to stop hassling you until you—”

“Geesh!” I yelled. “You really want to know why I invited you here? It’s quite simple actually. Do you know the story of the girl who’s walking down the street and sees a guy banging his own head against the wall? And she stops and asks him why he’s doing that. And you know what he says? He says, ‘because it feels so damn good when I stop!’”

“So having me here is like banging your head against the wall?” She paused and then continued with a sickly sweet Southern drawl. “Snookums, you say the sweetest things. I just can’t understand how any woman can resist your manly charms. Maybe it’s because you are a total asshole, Sweet Cheeks.”

I grunted. She continued with her Scarlett O’Hara imitation. “Furthermore, Honey Punkin, I’m not only going to continue to hassle you until I get a real answer, I’m also going to do it with this lovely accent, Reason for Livin’.”

I rolled my eyes, took a deep breath, and started to answer…but then I remembered I had no idea why I had asked her here. So I started with that.

“I don’t know…maybe I um…I don’t know…nobody but me has been up here since my parents died…why in the world I would invite the biggest pain in my ass to break that perfect streak…I sure as hell don’t know…doesn’t make any damn sense at all.”

“Thank you, Scotty,” she said without accent and without facial expression.

I nodded.

Later on we headed into town to get some lunch and pick up a few groceries. I ran into a couple friends of my parents and we chatted for a minute or two. The rest of the day we spent just hanging out on the balcony that faced the lake. A bit cold but crystal clear…hard to complain about. We talked a little about the pub and my plans, but mostly we just sat there, gazing at the scenery.

Shortly after dinner - a turkey sandwich and a Sonoma Cabernet – Kelly’s three consecutive yawns signaled the end of our day. I pointed her toward one of the two guest bedrooms. I headed for the other. She grabbed my hand.



“Thanks again.”

I nodded, smiled, and headed to bed.

That night I lay there thinking about all the reasons that I shouldn’t like Kelly…couldn’t like Kelly…but I did…like her…a lot…and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t help myself…it scared the hell out of me. After a couple hours of doing my best to avoid thinking about her and finding myself doing exactly the opposite, over and over again, I finally drifted off to sleep with one final thought about the last 14 hours…

God must have been busy today hating on someone else…

Friday, July 10, 2009

ZAP Chapter 3 by Mark Adair

As usual, the arrival of Wednesday afternoon brought almost no customers with it. We had just finished prepping everything for happy hour, leaving plenty of time to relax before the after-work crowd started rolling in. My weekday afternoon ritual included a short nap followed by a black coffee. More often than not Kelly snuggled up in a booth and put her nose in a book.

Before I headed to the back for a little rest, I glanced over at her favorite spot. True to form, a novel hid most of her face from the rest of the world. The last few days had worked her over pretty good. Surprised to find her reading The Hobbit, one of my favorites, I thought I’d make an attempt at acting like a regular person who gives a shit.

I sat down across from her. “What ya reading?”

“Twenty Ways to Kick Your Breaking Out in Song Compulsion,” she responded with an eye roll.


“No, not really. You see it would be funny if it wasn’t reality,” she shot back.

I squirmed around in my seat and took another swig of my beer. “What the hell you want me to do about it? It’s not like it’s my fault.”

“Come on, Scotty! This can’t go on forever you know…you do know that, right?”

The blank look on my face must not have convinced her. I went with my default position on the topic. “You seriously suggesting that I should give this escapee from Planet Lost-My-Mind twenty-five thousand dollars?”

“Damn it! It’s not dollars, it is P-O-U-N-D-S.” Searching the worn out mahogany tabletop for an answer, she rubbed her temples in a circular motion. Her hair bounced gently against her forehead. My gaze worked down her face until it reached her lips…and I just stared…

“Scotty! Are you listening to me? You realize this is not going to stop, right? This guy, whoever he is and whatever planet he’s from, he’s just not getting kicks from this. He wants his money and he plans on doing what it takes to get it.”

My dad’s advice rang in my ears – “Never, ever accept the first offer. Everyone wants to negotiate. Everyone.”

“Maybe it will just stop, Kell. I mean how do you know he’s not just a get-your-kicks kind of guy? When I see him again, I’ll set him straight, man to man. I’ll just negotiate a--”

And there he was….standing right in front of our booth.

“This seat taken?” he asked, pointing to the space next to Kelly.


Like a newly painted red Mazerati running full speed into a Rolls Royce, her right hand connected with his cheek, leaving a bright red mark covering most of the side of his face. First I smiled, then semi-repressed a chuckle, and finally burst into laughter. I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed like that. I recovered in time to see her second attempt fall just short as he caught her hand in mid swing.

“My dear lady, considering the circumstances, once is understandable. However, twice is simply American - an overindulgence in anything that brings pleasure. Now if we could dispense with the excessive display of emotion, I have business to conduct with Mr. MacDonald.”


“Ouch!” This time she connected her left hand with my left cheek…and it really hurt.

“What the hell was that for?” I yelled.

“You see these?” she yelled back, pointing to her eyes. “You see the red behind them and the bags below them?”

I turned my head slightly to the left and back to the right trying to find the evidence, and finding very little. She went on. “I don’t sleep very well these days, so forgive me if I fail to find the humor in the situation…asshole!”

I tried to rub the pain off my face as I responded, “Maybe you’d sleep better if you weren’t such a bitch!”

“Maybe I wouldn’t be such a bitch if I didn’t know you!”


“Excuse me! What is it with you Americans? Why do you insist on addressing every problem, ahem, or shall I say opportunity, with an escalation in violence, or a threat to do so? Does no one study history in this country? Violence does not solve problems, it simply creates more. Can we just get down to business and behave like civilized men and women?”

He pointed to the seat, “Please, Ms. Fairchild.”

After shooting him a smoldering stare that would have caused a lesser man to crumble, she sat down…two spots over from where he suggested, leaving no access to her side of the booth. Watching their interaction, I had a sudden urge for a bag of popcorn.

“Thank you. Now, why don’t we start over? I don’t believe we have been formally introduced. My name is Thames, Timothy Thames.” He held out his hand to Kelly. She glared, making no attempt to respond in kind. I finished the last half of my pint in two gulps.

“Right. Ms. Fairchild, I certainly do understand your reluctance to bury the hatchet, as they say, but there’s no reason for all of us to not get along in our joint business adventure. Don’t you agree?” He put out his hand once again.

Kelly leaned forward toward our unwelcomed guest until mere inches separated them. “Mr. Thames, at the risk of seeming uncivilized and American, I think I’d choose a trip to hell for eternity over shaking hands with you.”

Good one.

“Yes, I see.” Nodding his head and turning to face me, he said, “Now that the introductions have been properly concluded, or should I say, attempted, I have an extension of my original proposal to offer you.”

Still wrapped up in the Thames-Fairchild show, it took me a few seconds to realize that he was speaking to me.

“Mr. MacDonald?”

“Sorry, Timmy. You don’t mind if I call you Timmy, do you? Does anyone else think this would make an awesome movie?” This time I caught her hand just before it reached my face.

I got up from my seat and made my way behind the bar. Timmy sat down in my place. Pouring myself another pint, I asked, “Anything for you Ms. Fairchild, Timmy? Maybe a dark, brown stout for example?”

“Excellent suggestion, old boy. How about a—”

“Don’t you dare say it!” Kelly shouted, pointing a finger at his face.

“Newcastle Brown, please. I had no intentions of ordering that Irish imitation of a real stout. As much as possible I refrain from even speaking the word.” His contorted facial expressions made his disgust for the famous ale more than obvious.

I nodded my head. “I didn’t peg you for a Newcastle kind of guy, Timmy. Maybe a little jealous of your Emerald Isle cousins? Let’s face it, most folks never even heard of Newcastle Brown, but everyone has heard of…”

Kelly jumped up from her seat and snarled each word at me, “Don’t even think about—”

“Think about what, Kell? Think about…”

“Guinness?” I yelled. I reached up and covered my ears in anticipation of the song I’d come to hate.

Nothing…just dead air.

After twenty seconds or so of holding her breath, a smile returned to her face for the first time since Friday. She blurted out, “Nothing happened!”

“Quite.” The Englishman agreed.

“What do you mean ‘quite’?” she responded, suddenly serious once again.

“Mr. MacDonald may have failed to mention this to you, but I provide protection on your behalf. I am here with you, therefore you are not subject to any less than desirable effects from actuality potential reduction.”

She shook her head and began rubbing her temples again.

“So if I kill you right here and now?”

“Not only would that be an immense lack of courtesy on your part, it would also leave you in the wholly undesirable position of having no protection whatsoever. A lose-lose, if you will. Young lady, in a way I am on your side.”

More temple rubbing and some muttering about ‘with friends like you…’

“Fine! Scotty, get your ass over here and let’s get on with it?”

Returning to the table with two pints and a shot of whiskey, I sat down next to Timmy and made myself comfortable.

“Thank you, Mr. MacDonald. Cheers.”

“Cheers, Timmy. Now you were saying something about proposing to me?”

He chuckled. Barely audible, but still a chuckle.

“Let me cut to the chase, as you might say. My proposition is actually quite simple: for a nominal fee paid by you, Mr. MacDonald, I continue to provide Ms. Fairchild with the high degree of ZAP protection that she enjoys at this very moment. How does that sound?”

That’s cutting to the chase? Two can play at that game. “Well, Timmy. I do appreciate your reasonable sounding offer, but maybe I missed a small detail regarding the ‘nominal fee’ as you put it. Knowing that different cultures might interpret ‘nominal’ differently, I would like some clarification—“

Kelly barked out, “What the hell is wrong with you two guys? A couple of namby-pambys. Look Thames, I’ve had it with you. How much do you want?”

“Right, cutting to the chase and all that. My calculations including the extra travel and, ahem, miscellaneous expenses added to the standard protection fee result in a grand total, I should say nominal fee, of thirty thousand pounds. Which I must say is more than reasonable--”

“Thirty thousand pounds?” Kelly and I exclaimed in unison. Well, almost in unison – I said ‘dollars’ and she said ‘pounds’.

To make a long story short, we spent the next twenty minutes bartering, positioning, and yelling…a lot of yelling…a lot of four-letter yelling, especially by Kelly. Timmy didn’t budge on his price; I didn’t budge on mine – twenty bucks. And Kelly blew so many gaskets I thought she’d need a tow truck.

After her last and greatest tirade, Timmy stood up, put on his hat, bid us good day, and headed out the door. Glancing over at her crimson face I knew she wasn’t too happy about the situation, or with me.

A few customers showed up. Shaking her head, she muttered something under her breath, and headed over to the bar.

“What can I get you, Jake?”

Our town’s CPA, and most mild-mannered good guy, studied her for a couple of seconds. “You all right, Kelly? Anything I can do?”

“I’ll be fine in a minute. You want the usual?” she asked.

“No, not today. I’ve got some paper work to get through tonight. How about some coffee with a shot of Baileys?”


The right side of Jake’s bearded face bore a palm-sized red mark. Kelly stood across the bar from him mouth half-open and eyes wide-open, staring at her favorite customer.

Moving his jaw around slowly making sure it still worked, the question on his face said everything. In response, she just shook her head and kept saying, “I’m so sorry, Jake. I don’t know what got into me. I can’t believe I…”

He laughed it off. “Don’t worry about it, Kelly. It’s good to be able to feel, to be alive.”

“I’m so very sorry. I don’t know what to say. What can I do to make it up to you?”

“Probably just frustration from putting up with Mac,” he responded with a grin. “No worries. If I could just have that coffee. Maybe you could toss in an extra shot of Baileys—“


Sunday, June 14, 2009

ZAP Chapter 2 by Mark Adair

The boisterous conversations from the Friday afternoon crowd made it nearly impossible to hear her voice, much less the actual words. Standing behind the bar, I leaned in closer.

“Listen, Scotty. I’m just saying, nobody but you even saw this Peter O’Toole look-a-like, much less had a conversation with him. He said three days, and it’s been three days. Nothing’s happened. I’m fine; you’re fine…well, as fine as you’ve ever been. He’s obviously short a few cards from his deck. Just forget about him. Forget about the whole crazy thing.”

Kelly moved closer and stood on her toes. I could feel her breath on my mouth. She pressed her slender frame against mine, and kissed me softly on the cheek. “Think about something else.”

I gazed into her soft emerald eyes. I wanted to forget about it. I mean let’s face it, the thing sounded like the beginning of a guy-walks-into-a-bar joke. I’d even started wondering if I made it all up, or dreamt it.

“Ouch! Dammit Scotty! Whad ya pinch my ass for?”

“Sorry Kell, just checking to see if I was dreaming,” I replied with a half-smirk, half-smile.

As quickly as the reddened face and sneer appeared, it started to dissolve. “Pinch yourself next time. You do that again and I’ll have to resort to violence, even if you are the boss and we’re standing in front of your home team…at least you’re smiling…jerk.”

I reached out to take her hand in mine. She slapped it away.

“You know when you’re angry, your face and your hair almost look the same color? Just one big red ball of fire.”

With her hands on her hips, she shot back, “Inside and out, baby. Inside and out.”

“Methinks the lady protests too much.”

“Methinks the gentleman doesn’t know Shakespeare from a milkshake. ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks.’ Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2.”

We stood there within an inch of one another. She stared defiantly; I gazed.
“Hey Mac! Why don’t you two get a room? But first refill my beer, will ya? And another Pouilly for Lynn?”

“Mac! Mac!”

Kelly turned away from me. “Sorry, Gerry. Mac’s busy…being an asshole. I’ll get it for you.”

She carried on a conversation with the couple while she poured their drinks. Kelly knew how to ask good questions, and she knew how to listen like she was your best friend. Most of all, she knew how to make people forget, at least for a while, the hardship of living life on this god-forsaken planet.

Her reputation made the rounds quickly in our small town. In a matter of a few short weeks, customers had started showing up asking specifically for Kelly - customers like Lynn and Gerry, an unlikely pair to say the least.

Lynn, the height-challenged, three-hundred pound husband, detested beer, but thoroughly enjoyed a fine glass of Pouilly Fuisse. He spoke eloquently of history, literature, and the arts with a snooty Boston accent. Gerry, the slender, tall, pretty wife, detested wine, but loved to chug down a dark, stout Guinness followed by a walk outside to light up a cigar. She talked like a sailor, with a harsh touch of the Bronx. I learned words from her that I never knew with stories behind them that I didn’t want to know. Married for over 40 years and affectionate in public to the point of embarrassment for everyone but them, they agreed on nothing. And yet, I think they both would have adopted Kelly in a heartbeat.

I continued to clean the shot glasses. She delivered their drinks in record time, adding a genuine smile at no charge.

“Thanks Kelly,” they responded.

Like I wasn’t in the room, Gerry added, “You know this place would be right back in the toilet if you decided to leave. That other guy, what’s-his-name, he didn’t know shit about customer service.”

I grunted; Kelly grinned. Looking around as if to make sure I wouldn’t overhear, she shouted, “Yeah, I know. Mac’s a bit social-skill challenged. Part of his endearing personality repertoire.” With a roll of her eyes, she added, “So irresistible.”

The longer Kelly hung around, the less visible I became. I did like that, but I don’t like change. As much as I hate the present state of things, I hate anything different even more…or at least the process of transitioning to different.

As Lou Reed belted out a few choice phrases about Rock and Roll, the membership of the Kelly-saved-the-pub fan club increased by a dozen or so. One after another, my patrons joined in extolling her virtues.

Having had enough, I pushed Kelly behind me and spoke up. “You know, I kind of liked it the way it was.”

After the corporate crowd groan ended, I continued. “My small, yet loyal clientele put up with my less than effervescent demeanor, and in turn I rewarded them with good food and drink. What the hell’s wrong with that?”

More groans. Gerry stood up and bellowed out, “Did you say ‘less than effervescent’?” Her head shot back as she let out a thunderous laugh that seemed to rock the entire pub.

A minute later, the laughter died down and I offered my last words on the subject. “Whatever. But now, all sorts of folks show up, even halfway functional ones. And the problem with you functional types is that you have expectations about stuff. I hate expectations. They always—

“I’m singing in the rain. Just singing in the rain. What a glorious feelin’. I’m happy again.”

“Not bad, Kelly. I didn’t realize you crooned,” Lynn offered. “A Gene Kelly tune no less. Any relation?” he added with a mostly repressed chuckle.

Surprised me, too. Not only that she could sing, but that she did sing…a show tune…in my pub. Give me a break. By the expression on her face, it seemed like it surprised her as well, but not near as much as the repeat performance about two minutes later, or the third another ten minutes after that.

After her second encore, I grabbed her arm and pulled her into the back room. Before I could get a question in, she blurted out her own. “Scotty, what the hell is going on?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing. I’m glad you’re happy again and all that shit, but don’t you think that’s about enough singing for one day…or for an entire lifetime?”

“Yeah, I think it’s enough. But what I think doesn’t seem to matter. First Jake ordered a Guinness—

She stopped mid-sentence and broke into song, “I’m singin’ in the rain. Singin…”

“Cut it out, Kell!” Ignoring my command, she finished her chorus and then I finished my thought. “Listen, I’m not biting and I’m not amused. Who put you up to this?”

“Oh you think, I’m completely embarrassing myself just so I can pull a prank on you? Geesh, Scotty! This might be hard to believe, but the world actually revolves around the Sun. Not you!”

“You don’t have to yell!”

“Better than singing!”

“Good point!” A couple of deep breaths later, I tried again. “Why don’t you just try closing your mouth? You can’t sing with your mouth closed, right?”

“Wow, I wish I would have thought of that. Thank you so much.” The heavy sarcasm reminded me a bit of my own. She went on. “It’s like…like somebody’s pressing a play button in me.”

“You’re not making any sense at all. What are you trying to say?”

“Hmm, let me think about that…I don’t know!”

Jake tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, Mac. Mac!”

“What?” I snarled as I whipped around to face him.

“Sorry to bother you, but there’s a guy in the main room, near the entrance.”


“He said to give you this note and that it was extremely important.”

“Now what?” I opened up the note.

“What’s it say?” Kelly asked.

“Somebody thinks they’re funny. It’s just one word: Guinness.”

“I’m singin’ in the rain. Singin…”

Pointing to the note, I shouted to make myself heard above Kelly’s latest performance. “Jake? What did the guy look like who gave you this?”

“Kind of unusual. Tall, gray hair, British accent—”

I ran out of the backroom. Standing on my toes, behind the bar, I scanned the packed house. At the back of the crowd, near the entrance, I found him: the tall Brit with the fedora.

Before I could make a move in his direction, he tipped his hat, winked, and disappeared.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

ZAP Chapter 1 by Mark Adair

“For the assurance of her safety, I’d say something in the neighborhood of twenty-five thousand pounds.”

“You can’t be serious! 25 Grand! Have you lost your friggin’ mind?”

“Excuse me, Mr. MacDonald, but what did you expect? Considering her present predicament, safeguarding her requires a special…ahem…finesse.”

“You’re serious? You want me to give you twenty-five thousand dollars just to get your word that you won’t ZAP this girl. A girl I’ve known for only a couple of weeks and don’t really give a shit about?”

“Well, I certainly wouldn’t have resorted to such blunt language, and, no, not dollars, pounds, but other than that, yes, I believe you have the gist of it, old boy. Now if you would be so kind as to enter your account and routing numbers here and here, followed by your PIN, we can get on with it and avoid any further…ahem…unpleasantries.”

“And what the hell does ZAP stand for, again?”

“Zero Actuality Potential, ZAP.”

I should have known this night had it in for me when I stumbled out of bed, banged my shin on the damn bed frame, and bled all over my white carpet that ran down the hallway to the bathroom. I should have just gone back to bed and written the evening off. But no, I had to push through it. Be the man. Prove to everyone that nothing holds Scotty MacDonald back…from anything.

So I cleaned up the mess, threw on some jeans and a t-shirt, and headed out the back door of my apartment. A short walk later, my spirits revived by the cool October air, I’d reached my home away from home - my favorite booth, shouting distance from the bar, in my favorite pub…my pub…Mac’s Public House.

I nursed my stout as I thought about how you really can’t keep Scotty MacDonald down. He may lose his keys; he may lose some blood; he may lose his girlfriend; he may lose his car; and he may even think about himself in the third person. But like my old man always said, “Nothing keeps a MacDonald down. Nothing!”

Matter of fact, those were the last words I ever heard him say...

Anyway, I sat down with my second beer. The pain in my leg had subsided, business had picked up, Nina Simone sang about Feeling Good, and my girl friend - not girlfriend, just girl friend - sat across from me looking almost as a attractive as the dark brown liquid in my mug. Kelly had the distinction of being my oldest friend - we'd known each other for a full two weeks. I liked her and she put up with me. All in all, not a bad situation.

I notice stuff. Studying the characters that pass through the doors of my establishment entertains me to no of the many things I really love about owning a pub. In between sips, I saw this guy standing at the bar - grey suit, grey tie, grey hair, and grey fedora. Unusual, but harmless. And then he turned to face my direction, raised his glass to me, and smiled. I return the gestures. Life is short, right?

Making room for another beer, Kelly stood up and headed to the restroom in the back. The next thing I know the tall lanky grey dude parked himself in her place. No problem. I have a rep. People like to hang with me. Get a free drink, whatever. I get it. No reason not to be nice just ‘cause I’m THE man, right? Then the distinguished gent raised his glass and with an I’m-lord-of-something British accent proclaimed, “To the potential.”

Not knowing at that point in time that he happened to be lord of the we've-completely-lost-our-fuckin'-mind club, I nodded my head, clinked his glass, and responded, "To the potential."