John drives the long black limousine to Huntington Beach, finds a parking place, gets out, opens the door for Mr. Koczella. Kris gets out, smoothes his expensive suit and strolls across the parking lot toward the Pacific Ocean. He looks back. John stands by the vehicle.
Kris waves at him. “Come on, John. I’m not walking by myself, am I?”
“No, sir.” John pockets the keychain and moves to his boss. “It’s kind of hot today, sir.”
“Yes, it is,” agrees Kris.
“May I take off my jacket, sir?”
Kris looks at the big man, dressed in a black suit with a narrow black tie at the neck of the starched white dress shirt. He notes the man wears shiny black leather shoes and dark heavy looking socks. The pant legs are a tad short. Kris waves, “Well sure. Take it off, John. Take off that tie. Unbutton that damn shirt too.”
“Thank you, sir.”
John peels off the suit coat, undoes his tie and unbuttons the collar of his shirt. He carries the suit coat over an arm with the tie tucked into the inner breast pocket.
His boss doesn’t wait on him but moves off down the beach with the late afternoon sun to his left. John tries to catch up but Mr. Koczella moves quickly now, as if he has a goal in mind. John watches the man as he moves forward in the deep sand. Mr. Koczella stops a moment, then moves again. This time, John watches as the tall man tips over and falls onto the beach. John runs forward, awkwardly on his stocky legs and in his clunky dress shoes. “Mr. Koczella! Are you all right?”
Kris turns over to see John’s face close. “Yeah, yeah. I’m all right. I just fell down; that’s all. Don’t have a cow John.”
“Yes, sir,” says John as he rises from the sand. He offers a hand to his boss.
Kris slaps it away. He turns over onto his knees and pulls himself up. He loses his balance and puts his hands flat into the sand. What the hell. Then he remembers. The three Scotch and waters! No wonder I can’t walk. He pushes himself up to his knees then struggles to his feet. “Holy shit,” he says.
“You okay, sir?”
Kris glares at his limousine driver, “Yes, John. I’m all right. Let’s walk.”
“Are you sure, sir?”
“Yes, goddamn it; I’m sure.” And Kris heads down the beach again. He moves with a purpose. John stumbles after his wealthy, powerful boss.
Kris stops. Where the fuck am I going? He looks down the beach. He sees the Huntington Beach pier — with its shops and at least two bars at its end — in the distance. That’s where I’m going! With determination, he keeps moving forward through the heavy sand. He stops after several yards, sits down on the beach, takes off his own heavy shoes and socks, gets back up and keeps walking. John struggles to keep up. He’d take off his own shoes but then Mr. Koczella might yell at him. And he’d fall even more behind.
Soon, the pier is close. Kris picks up his pace and begins to leave John farther behind. But the Cock doesn’t notice. John is of no importance. The bar’s the thing. He gets to the pier, walks down to the first bar he sees, on his left. He walks through the door. A hostess stops him, says, “You need to put on your shoes, mister.”
Kris wants to strike her, but he knows better. He smiles, sits down on the bench to his right, puts his socks and dress shoes over his sandy feet and gets up. At the same time, John comes into the bar.
“Two,” says Kris to the hostess as he holds up two fingers. “At the bar is fine.”
“No need to wait on me, sir.”
“Good,” says Kris. He pushes passed the hostess and goes straight to the bar, sits on a stool in the center. John sits next to him. Kris turns to the driver, offers, “Let me buy you a drink, John. What’ll you have?”
John has never had a drink with Mr. Koczella before now. He thinks. If I turn him down, he may think I’m rude; if I accept, he may think —. John says, “I’ll have whatever you’re having, sir.”
“That’s stupid,” says Kris. “Order what you want, not what I want.”
“Yes, sir.” John hesitates again. Then he says to the bartender, “I’ll have a martini, vodka very dry.”
“Good choice, sir,” says the bartender who stands, drying a glass with a white terry cloth towel.
Kris says, “And I’ll have a Scotch and water.”
“House liquor, sirs?”
“No,” says Kris. “Glenfiddich for me; he’ll have Grey Goose.”
“Glenfiddith it is; great choice, sir.”
John watches the bartender make Mr. Koczella’s Scotch and water, then his dry martini.
When the bartender places the drinks on the bar, Kris pushes his toward John. He takes John’s martini. “Since I’m paying, try mine while I try yours.”
“Yes, sir.” John sips the Scotch. Takes like iodine.
Kris tastes the dry martini. Yep, that’s good. He pushes the martini to John and takes back his own drink. “Better this way.”
John smiles. “Yes, sir.”
“What do I pay you, John?”
“You heard me. What do I pay you? To drive me around Los Angeles.”
“500 a week, sir.”
“500?” Kris is genuinely shocked. “Fuck, John; that’s nothing.”
Before he realizes, John agrees, “Yes, sir.”
“Let’s make it 1K.”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“A thousand, John — an even thousand.”
“Yes, sir,” says John, feeling the buzz of the vodka and vermouth.
“I’ll probably forget I said this,” says Kris. “Here,” and he asks the bartender for a match book.
The man shakes his head. “We don’t have any, sir.”
“Shit,” says Kris. “What kind of fuckin’ bar is this anyway?”
“Well, we don’t allow smoking sir, so —.”
“It’s okay, sir if you forget —,” says John.
“No, it’s not!”
John pulls a crumpled receipt from his pocket, asks the bartender for a pen.
The man hands him his pen.
John hands the crumpled receipt to his boss along with the pen.
Kris smiles. He smoothes out the paper and writes “1K per week for John, limo driver, Los Angeles.” Then he signs his full name and dates it. He hands the piece of paper to John, says, “Keep it safe.”
John puts the piece of paper in his old cracked fake leather wallet. He looks at his boss. This man might kill me over this raise rather than admit to it. Still, might as well keep it.
Kris orders a second drink but is unable to convince John to have another dry martini. John tells his boss, “You don’t want me impaired, sir when I drive you home.”
Kris nods repeatedly, then puts his face on the bar. He turns his head so that his left cheek is against the wooden rim of the long surface. He looks down the line, squinting his right eye closed so that he has tunnel vision. He looks through the stem of John’s martini glass with his left eye. He whispers, “Beautiful.”
“Sir?” asks John.
“The sunset,” says his boss.
John looks out the window at the end of the bar. The sun is visible at the horizon of the ocean. John looks right at it; it’s so huge and glowing he can’t stop staring at the globe. At that moment, a waitress closes the blinds. Kris protests with loud, slurred speech.
The bartender leans in, says, “Sir, I believe you’ve had enough.”
Kris barks an unintelligible word, but John knows what Mr. Koczella says. John says, “Time to go home, boss.”
Though angry at the suggestion, Kris nods; says to the bartender, “I want to close out my tab.”
John notes Mr. Koczella’s right hand moves under his suit jacket. John says, “No sir.”
Kris looks at John, smiles. “Don’t worry, John. I’m not going to kill our bartender.”
The bartender — about to hand the liquor tab to his customer — stops. He studies the man before him, tears up the small piece of paper. He says softly, “On the house, sir.”
Kris laughs. “No, that’s all right son. Mr. Cock — Linda’d be surprised to know I know people call me that — pays his bills.” He reaches into his breast pocket for his wallet and sees the blood wash from the bartender’s face. He really thinks I’m going to kill him. He takes out his wallet, shows it to John and the bartender and another few customers who watch. He opens his Italian fine leather wallet, pulls an old wrinkled 50 from it, slaps it down on the bar. He gets up, stumbles once. Then he says to John, “Time to go home, driver.”
copyright 2014, R Jack Winter
All rights reserved