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.”
“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.
“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—“