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Two Blind Men and a Fool

by Sherman Smith

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Chapter 17: The Blues Have Never Seemed So Deep

part 1: Seeking Safe Haven

The cabbie grew impatient as he drove slowly up one street and down another waiting for directions.

Desperation seeped into Earl’s soul as he felt the cold foreboding wind blow against his face. He had to have the window open lest he suffocate; the world as he had known it was shrinking with each breath.

“It’s your dime, buddy. We’ve been by this way three times with no luck. If you can’t give me an address, name of the place, or tell me what the place looks like, we can be at this all night. Do you know how many bars there are in this city?”

Earl sat facing the open window, the cold, and smell of salt air, a dark memory of his days at sea. “It’s within walking distance of the hospital,” Earl said. “Just keep trying, I’ll make it worth your while.”

Two blocks farther on, the cabbie pulled to a stop. “Okay, pal, this one here is the last one in the neighborhood. It’s a local dive, if I ever saw one. The place looks empty.”

“Describe the building to me,” Earl asked. “How many stories?”

“It’s a two-story, white stucco dump with peeling paint. It don’t look like much. There are two front windows with blackout curtains still in place. It’s dark except for an ‘Open’ sign buzzing in the window. The name of the place is painted on a small window in the door, but I can’t read it from here. That’s it, Mac. Take it or leave it. It’s your dime.”

“Help me to the door. I’ve got a hunch this is the place.”

Earl hesitated at the door. God, he hoped he had the right place. He had nowhere else to go. He took a deep breath and sang low to himself to steady his nerves.

Shaking the blues away, unhappy news away
If you are blue, it’s easy to
Shake off your cares and troubles.
Telling the blues to go, they may refuse to go,
But as a rule, they’ll go if you’ll
Shake them away.

The bar was quiet. A baseball game was playing on a radio, not in the bar, somewhere outside. The San Francisco Seals were two up, in the third inning. The place didn’t sound like any bar he’d been to. There was no clicking of ice, drunken banter, or laughter, no music. He smelled stale beer and tobacco and something else he couldn’t quite make out.

As he stepped forward with the help of the cabbie, his foot crunched something on the floor. He sniffed and found the aroma of roasted peanut shells. Must be a pigsty, he thought and called out, “I’m looking for Henry Akita.”

The crunch of the peanut shell alerted Gibby that someone had come in. “Who’s asking?” Gibby said as he turned towards the door. New customers were rare; blind ones, well that was a whole different story.

He peered through the top of his glasses. “You must be the one and only Earl Crier. Henry has said nothing but good about you.” Gibby stepped forward, shells crunching underfoot, and took Earl’s arm. “Come on in. How much is the fare, cabbie?”

“First thing I learned about Henry,” Earl said, “is that he’s a lousy liar. If you want to know the truth, I’m a condescending pain in the butt. Being that I owe Henry a favor or two, I’ll behave myself, for the price of a cold beer.” He settled into a seat, his bag on the bar in front of him, then searched the inside of his bag for the envelope which contained his discharge papers and back pay.

“Three-fifty,” the cabbie said.

Gibby pulled out four bucks and sent him on his way. “My friends call me Gibby. I’d be pleased if you’d do the same,” he said as he came around the bar. “Henry will be back in about twenty minutes. He went out to pick up some Chinese. Henry always buys more than we can eat, so you’re welcome. What can I get you?”

Earl sat back and blew out a dry whistle. An hour or so ago, he had been booted out of the hospital, with no direction, nor a chance to say goodbye to his pals. He did not kid himself: the Veteran’s hospital was a lousy place to be, a dead end for many; however, its dreary sameness was something he already missed.

The party Stella and Henry had thrown the night before had let in a little cheer, which everyone needed by the bushel. He couldn’t recall hearing as much joy in the old veterans’ tomb as had rocked the place last night. But, hell’s bells, it had also opened up a hornet’s nest and God knows what else.

Ivory Burch, a guy wanting to jump headfirst into his own grave, had somehow been resurrected. Earl had known that the hospital brass were likely to get on his case for his part in the insurrection, but he had not thought that they would cut him loose and throw him out like so much dirty bathwater.

The hospital’s bland routine had sheltered him from the terrors that lurked in the dark. He knew how many steps there were from one place to the next. He felt less handicapped when he was able to help someone more mangled than he. Less time to worry about where that damned dragon might be.

Earl felt his nerves begin to slip. The dragon was near. The cab ride had unnerved him, riding around in search of a place he did not know. The dragon was not far behind, or perhaps just ahead. Now, here he was, a blind fool on a fool’s journey. He knew that he was close to the edge, with no idea how far the bottom lay.

He wet his lips. “A tall cold beer, leave the foam, if you please. Make it two, the first will be gone by the time you’ve poured the second.”

Gibby laughed as he poured the first and brought the cool glass to Earl’s fingertips. “Done with the hospital and got your walking papers. Bet you thought you’d never see the day. Pardon me, sometimes I’m too nosy for my own good. You have family waiting?”

Earl finished the beer with a smile and a frothy mustache as the second was placed before him. “No,” he said. “I had a kid brother. He died on Wake Island. I had me a girl before the war,” he said with a slight sigh, “but that was a lifetime ago. Home? No, sir, no place I can call home. The one I had blew away in the Depression.

“When I joined the Merchant Marine, my forwarding address became the next place I’d be.” He laughed out loud. “Damn, I haven’t cried in my beer, telling a good old-fashioned sob story to a bartender, in a month of Sundays.”

He took a sip of beer. I’d better shut up before he finds out that I’m about as vulnerable as an old coon dog sitting in the middle of two lanes of oncoming traffic. A tear rolled down from behind his dark glasses. I should have had the cabbie stay. I ain’t got no right adding my burdens to anything Henry’s already carrying. He reached for his bag, found the envelope, and opened it. “How much do I owe you for the beers?”

“Your money is no good here,” said Gibby. “You’ll stay and have Chinese with us, and I won’t take no for an answer. It ain’t great, but I’ll bet it’s better than the hospital swill you’ve been eating.”

Earl suddenly felt lightheaded as he counted the bills in the envelope. There were three left of what had been a couple of dozen. He pulled them out. “Help me out here,” he asked with a slight tremor to his voice. “How much do I have here?”

“Three tens, thirty bucks,” Gibby said, “but I won’t take your money.”

Earl folded the bills and slipped them into his pocket. Thanks, he thought, someone else already did. I had sixteen hundred bucks. What the hell can I do with thirty bucks? I’m blind, homeless, and broke. Three strikes and you’re out, and I guess this here is strike three. Time to take a flying lesson off the old Golden Gate Bridge. His breath caught short; he felt the dragon draw near enough that he could almost smell it.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith

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