America the Dead: Survivors Stories One
Copyright © 2018 W. G. Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.
Cover Art © Copyright 2018 W. G. Sweet
Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 W. G. Sweet
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
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Watertown New York
Off Factory Square: Joel Morrison
Joel sat at the bar and watched football on one of the big screen TV’s Mort had put in. It was a slow game, he was tired, and his mind kept turning to other things. He couldn’t concentrate. Part of the allure of the Rusty Nail was the quiet. After a 12 hour shift at the mill with the constant noise from the huge machinery, the quiet had been nice. But that had all changed once the bar had become popular with the nearby base. He needed to go home. The crowd in the bar was starting to build and the noise was giving him the beginnings of a headache. He caught Mort’s eye and went back to his thoughts as he waited.
The Rusty Nail had always been a locals only bar up until a few years back when the economy had taken a nose dive. The nail was wedged up a side street off Factory square. Not exactly easy to find, and that had hurt business too as the old people left and the new people came in.
Mort, Mortimer to anybody that felt like being tossed out on their ass, had nearly lost the small bar and the building above it to the bank. The building above it had six small apartments that Mort had purposely left empty when he had bought the building fresh out of the service thirty years back. Who wanted to deal with tenants, he had said then. But times changed, and so he had sold his house, moved himself into one of the apartments, and then sold the bank on remortgaging the whole building as well as renovating the other five apartments. The bank had come up with a loan that took all of that into account and added a second income source from the apartments that could pay the monthly mortgage and put a good chunk of change into his pocket too.
He had signed on the x, taken their money, renovated the building, moved in the tenants and then taken a hard look at the Rusty Nail. He had decided to completely gut the bar and do it over. He had dumped far too much into the renovations though, including being closed for nearly a full month, and then opened it to find that the economy had taken an even deeper nose dive during those nearly thirty days. The third month into the new mortgage and he had found that he was maybe in a bad spot already.
Joel remembered now that he had sat right at the end of the bar when Mort had talked it over with some others, Moon Calloway, Johnny Barnes, Jim Tibbets, Joel had been welcome to include his two cents which he had declined to do.
“Well, what you do is put the word out to those cab drivers. Believe me, I’ve seen it. They will have them soldiers down here in no time, even if you are off the beaten path,” Jim had said. Jim was a school bus driver for the north side district and less than a year away from a fatal car accident on the interstate. Jeff Brown, who had been a local football star, was doing ten years up at Clinton Correctional for hitting Jim’s car head on drunk and killing him. But that night Jim had still been alive and had wanted to be a part of the New Rusty Nail that Mort had in mind. Something a little more modern. Modern bought the soldiers, but more importantly it also bought women.
“I’m not paying a cab driver to bring me G.I.’s,” Mort had said. “And I know your game. You’re just hoping to get laid out of it.”
They had all laughed at that, except Jim who had turned red. But after a few seconds he had laughed too, and the conversation had plodded forward the way bar conversations do.
“Well, you ain’t got to pay them exactly, give them a couple beers,” Moon threw in.
“Jesus Christ,” Mort exclaimed. “That’s why you boys ain’t in business. You think the beer is free.”
“I know it ain’t free, Mort,” Jim said. “But it don’t cost you that much. You get it wholesale.”
“Wholesale? I drive right out to that wholesale club and buy it by the case most of the time just like everybody else. Cheaper than them beer guys, except draft, of course. That ain’t free. You got to pay the yearly club fee. You got to pay them taxes to the feds. You got a lot you got to pay for. Some fuck crushes your can you’re fucked for that nickle. Jesus… wholesale my ass. It ain’t no bargain.”
“Yeah? … Let’s see,” Moon starting writing in the air with his finger. You get it for let’s say six bucks a case, I know that cause that’s what I pay out there too. So six bucks divided by 24 is,” he drew in the air for a few moments, erased it, and then started over. “How the fuck do you do that, Joey… The six goes into the twenty-four? Or times the twenty-four?” Moon asked.
“Uh, it’s a quarter a can,” I had supplied.
The argument had raged on from there. Once Moon found out he was paying a buck fifty for a can of beer that only cost a quarter he was pissed off.
In the end Mort had talked to a couple of cab drivers. Free draft beer one night a week if they bought soldiers by all week long and told as many others as possible about the place. Within two weeks Joel hadn’t recognized the place when he had come by after shift to have a couple of beers. The soldiers drank a lot of beer, the bank mortgage got paid, and life was fine. Except for the fights, Joel thought, but you can’t load young guys up on alcohol and not expect trouble. Especially when those young men were just waiting on the word to go and maybe die in another battle that remained undeclared as a war. High stress levels meant heavy duty unloading. The M.P.’s got to know the place as well as the soldiers did.
“Joel, you ready?” Mort asked now.
Joel smiled. “I was thinking back…” He had to shout to be heard. Tomorrow his voice would be hoarse. “This place was empty! … Yeah… One more then I gotta go,” Joel agreed.
Mort leaned closer. “Gov’ment tit. I know it, but screw it. It’s all the Gov’ment tit. Road and Bridge projects. Job centers. One way or the other it comes out the same. Even them subsidies so the paper mills can still run. It’s all the Gov’ment tit, ain’t it, Joel?”
“Its is,” Joel shouted. He nodded. It was. This town would have dried up years ago without it. Mort left and then came back a few moments later with a fresh beer.
“Vacation?” Mort yelled.
Joel nodded. “Two weeks of silence,” He shook his head at the irony and Mort’s laughing agreement was drowned out by the noise.
“If I don’t see you, have a good one,” Mort said leaning close.
Joel nodded. “I will.” He raised his glass and then tossed off half of it. A few moments later he was outside on the relatively quiet sidewalk punching numbers into his phone, calling for a cab. The night was cold, but the cold sobered him up. It seemed nearly capable of washing away the smoke and noise from inside the bar. He stood in the shadows beside the door waiting for the phone to ring on the other end. The door bumped open and Johnny Barnes stepped out.
“You ain’t calling for a cab, are you?” Johnny asked when he spotted him.
Joel laughed and ended the still ringing call. “Not if I can get a free ride from you.” Joel told him.
“Yeah, you were always a cheap prick,” Johnny agreed. “Hey, I heard you’re heading into the southern tier tomorrow?”
“Two weeks,” Joel agreed as he levered the door handle on Johnny’s truck and climbed inside. His breath came in clouds of steam. “Get some heat in here, Johnny.”
“Coming,” Johnny agreed. “Man, I wish I was you.”
“Me too,” Joel agreed.
Johnny laughed. “Asshole, but seriously, man. Have a good time. You gonna hunt?”
“Nothing in season… Maybe snare some rabbits. Not gonna be a lot this time of year.” Joel said.
“Maybe deer,” Johnny offered. He dropped the truck in drive just as the heat began to come from the vents.
“Probably, but they’ll be out of season. Rabbit, and I got freeze dried stuff. Trucks packed, which is why I didn’t drive it down here.”
The truck drove slowly through the darkening streets as the street lights began to pop on around the small city: The two men laughing and exchanging small talk.