Five hundred ponies wanted to run, practically howling for the chance in the midday sun. They deserved freedom to roam and rampage across concrete, it’s why they had been purchased in the first place. Instead, as seemed to be the norm for I-90 and Soldier’s Field, no one was moving.
“Well, at least you can see the park from here. That’s a start!” Lance pointed.
Bryan just shook his head as he stared out the window into the lanes upon lanes of halted people and orange barrels. “And this is one reason I never came down here. Too many people never going anywhere. I mean, sure, Bangor isn’t too isolated, but it isn’t…this”
His best friend snickered a bit at that, “You’re just jealous that a guy as wide as a bus on a bike managed to weave his way between cars and left us in the dust half an hour ago.”
“And where does he even think he’s going? Like, I know it’s probably best we don’t know, but after all that shit he talked in the diner only to haul off somewhere…it just bugs me, ya know?”
Lance shrugged, stomping on the pedal for only a second in order to change lanes in a rush before the Viper lulled back to an idle, “Oh, I’m sure we’ll see him again. He strikes me as the type to see a cause through to the end.”
Bryan started to counter that, but he had to hand it to his bother-in-arms. Lance had always been better about reading people than him, for better or worse. It was one of the reasons they were so tightly bonded through life, his best friend had easily cracked the book of Bryan McPherrel and had added more than a few pages of adventure.
One of those chapters had been Yukari. “So, why haven’t you told me before you two still talk?”
Sighing, his best friend worked his jaw for a moment, “’Hey, bro! What’s up? How are things in Maine? How’s your mom doing? Oh yeah, by the way, you ex-fiancé says hi’ How does that sound to you?”
Bryan sighed, “I guess, kinda dumb, but still! You should’ve told me! If I would’ve known, I would’ve done this ages ago!”
For one of only a handful of times, Lance Briar had no comeback. “You know what, you’re right. I should’ve told you. I’m sorry, bro.”
Even an idling powerhouse in a cage of construction and congestion was suddenly insufficient to break the growing silence between the two. Lance could tell his best friend was hovering between hurt and angry. It also meant he was thinking. “So, what are you gonna say to her?”
“Hell if I know…she always was better at starting conversations. Who knows, maybe something will come to me when I see her again…” Bryan started laughing slightly, “I mean, I couldn’t even say ‘hi’ to her the first time we met, you had to be my wingman.”
“Eh, all I did was get her attention. You two were the ones who talked until the restaurant closed. Making me walk home in the cold…jerkface.” Lance smirked.
Bryan shrugged, “Your fault, not denying it.”
And in that entire time, the Viper had not moved an inch. “Ugh…this could drive a man to drink.”
Lance cocked an eyebrow at that, and was rewarded with the split-second gap opening in their path towards a freeway exit. Their chariot roared with enthusiasm as they dove away from the standstill and sped away on the fairly free bypass road.
“So, no more Fenway?” Bryan posed, watching the stadium disappear behind them.
“Simple, you need a drink, then a drink we’ll find. With all the shit you’ve put up with lately, you need a visit from ol’ Bobby Burns.”
“Uhhh, think that will interfere with the meds?” the doomed man questioned.
“Maybe, but only if you’ve taken one today. Which you haven’t. So don’t worry about it, trust me.”
Weaving through traffic and any more jams, Lance found what he was looking for. A brick building bustling with traffic to and from, marked only by a single dark wooden sign. The four points of the compass branching out from a glass on the rocks. And, in perhaps the greatest turn of fortune in some people’s lifetimes, the parking spot directly in front opens itself for the Viper to nestle into. “Found it! This place should have some of the best cocktails anywhere in the world.”
Bryan cocked his head, “What makes you say that? And how are we even going to get in there? The place is packed!”
“You let me worry about that, buddy boy. You worry about what you want first.” The two men squeezed through the crowd and the noise, where two open seats laid waiting, almost front and center to the entire bartop. Quickly arriving at their attention came the vintner and owner, native accent and piecing blue eyes sweeping in with the smile patented by the booze trade. “Afternoon, gentlemen? What can I get ya?”
“Gunfire for me, whatever this man wants, and a shot of Yamazaki for the Traveler.” Lance ordered, spalling Bryan on the back.
It was an order that made the barkeep pause and give a curt nod of respect, “Alright, someone here knows their stuff! Fan of the show?”
“Dude, you’ve had the career we mere gentleman could only dream of! You got paid to travel the world to sample the finest things in the world! We watched it all the time in Iraq, it was the closest thing we could get some days to even a beer.”
Bryan knew this man looked familiar, but it took is friend’s reply to really jog the memory. “Oh, holy shit! You’re Jack Maxwell! The ‘Booze Traveler’!”
Jack gave him an informal salute, “Guilty as charged. And you two sounds like you’ve served our country, amiright?”
Lance nodded, “Iraq, three years for us both.”
“Then you two are my heroes and deserve something special. Marcus, you’ve got the rush, I’ll be back.” Jack grabbed the bottle of whiskey and gestured to an upstairs level, roped off by velvet which he removed. While the actual barroom was impressively kept and had customized wooden tables and seats, the upstairs we more like a full lounge. Bookcases ready to house fine cigars and liquors along with pages of lore surrounded a very fine table etched with a world map. Impressive chairs closer the thrones surrounded that, making excellent seats to converse or to rotate and watch the world out through the large bay window.
Once upstairs, Jack poured out three shots for their free hands, Lance and Bryan both cradling fine cocktails already, “Gentlemen, here’s ta you and all that ya do.”
It was an impressive fire that slipped down his throat and into his belly. Sharp, but not obscene. It was a clean burn that left no trail, like what he imagined a burning fuze rolling down his gullet would feel like. Gone were the normal hints of oak or American spices, the Yamazari had the twinges and sweetness that Yukari could bring to his life, or had once brought long ago.
Lance rolled his head back in relaxation, “Holy…. That’s smooth as polished glass!”
“I’ll be sure to thank my man Hidetsuga for the recommendation. Man knows his stuff for being a barman who can’t drink.” the Traveler mused. “So, what brings ya out my way?”
Byran started, “It’s a long story…”
Lance injected, “But the simple version is we’re on the trip to end all trips. We’ve got about a month to kill before my best bud here reunites with the woman of his dreams and hopefully doesn’t choke on his words.”
Bryan shot his friend a glare, “Basically, yeah.”
Jack laughed heartily at that, “There’s always a girl, ain’t there? I can respect that.” The bartender doled out three more doses. “To love and happiness, something everyone looks for, but so few find.”
Lance snorted, “Amen to that,” he punctuated that with a slight snarl as the liquor blazed its way down. “Hell, it’s partly the reason we’re here, to help my brother here think and unwind himself. He’s not exactly a silver-tongued devil like you.”
The Traveler smirked at that, “Well, I wouldn’t go that far, I just know my way around people and listen to what they gotta say, ya know? You can figure out anyone easy enough if ya listen first.”
“Are you taking notes, dude? This man speaks truth,” Lance nudged Bryan with an elbow. “And you know how to do it too!”
“Yeah? He a player of the game?” Jack queried.
An idea that condemned man shook away with his hand, “Nah, just a fool who gets lucky and smart sometimes, only to blow it all in the homestretch.” Taking a long drain from his main drink, Bryan suddenly put that in perspective as to where he was now. The final and ultimate homestretch. “But that won’t happen this time. Because it can’t.”
The other men nodded in approval, “See, I knew there was something else in there. Could tell when ya walked in. I know a man with a story when I see one.”
“That he does, and it’s gonna be a helluva ride,” Lance added, raising his drink for a toast. “To the story, wherever it goes and however it ends!”
Another clink and dose of core fire as the sun began to creep across the table. “Alright, there’s something I gotta know, Jack. And I know Lance does to.” Bryan began, leaning forward to table center.
“Yeah, what’s that?”
Looking over to his friend with a smirk, he continued, “Well, you’ve been all over this map, and had a lot of gorgeous company along the way.”
“Particularly Armenia!” Lance injected
The question needs no finishing, the Traveler a sly grin and poured three more. “Gentlemen, let me tell you a tale…”
And so the story continues for a man facing the end of his days and his battle buddy, brother and watcher. Sometimes, what helps a man see things clearly is just a drink and a vent, and it’s the solemn duty of the brother, whatever form that is, to provide both.
I don’t know, own or make claim to Jack Maxwell or the Booze Traveler, which became my favorite Travel Channel in about thirty seconds. I highly recommend it.
I hope you all enjoy