Friday, October 15, 2010

The Quiet Man

I had to admit I’d always been a little curious about him. He’d been coming here for five or six years now I’d say. If I said “Hey there” he’d smile and nod in my direction but offered nothing more. He just never said much, just a polite thank you when he paid for his stuff.

It’s funny how people are. He always bought the same thing, two packs of smokes and a bottle of expensive tequila. To look at him all leathered out like that you wouldn’t expect him to buy the pricey stuff. Well that’s how I how I used to think but not anymore.

He’s a big sucker, bigger than me in fact. I’m six foot two, two hundred pounds. This guy’s easily two inches taller than me. For sure he’s in a lot better shape, for a guy his age. I figured him to be at least fifty from the deep lines beside his eyes, but I couldn’t know for sure. I just sensed he was long in the tooth. Maybe not as old as me but he’d been around a while I was sure of that.

His hair was dark yet at the temples I could see some gray creeping in. He wore a well clipped goatee that had few minor telltale traces of gray around the edges. Oddly, on him it seemed to look like it belonged there. His skin was real tan, like he worked outside. Or maybe it was from riding that beautiful bike of his. I’d never seen him ride or drive anything else, even in the rain.

I got a real good up close look at that bike a few times. It was obvious someone had put a whole lot of love into her. She was blood red with a ghost like shadow of a winged skull layered deep within the paint. Everything on her was chromed and sparkled in the sunlight. He’d even taken the time to hide all the cables and wires. You could tell just by looking at him, that he’d done all the work himself and he certainly had every right to be proud of her.

One time I noticed a scar on the right side of his face. It was weathered like him. It seemed he’d worn it a long time. My Daddy always told me real men should stand up straight and tall. So I notice things like that. The quiet man he stands straight always did. His wide square shoulders are never hunched and he holds his head up proud like a man should. One time I noticed some faded tattoo’s peaking out from the wrist of his leather jacket. I couldn’t make out what they were but it was obvious they had shared a lifetime with him.

I asked him one time where he was from. He answered with a vague “all over”. The cadence of his voice was a mix between years of smoking those unfiltered cigarettes he liked so much with a hint of gravel thrown in for added effect. The sound was rich and deep and slightly raspy. Once you heard it you’d never forget it.

I never saw him wear nothing different neither, just a pair of well worn jeans, a club t-shirt which might differ in color or caption. Year round he wore that distressed old leather jacket with his colors over the top and a nearly destroyed pair of black cowboy boots. I noticed that he never brought his helmet inside, he just left it hanging there on the mirror. It was black and small and it had only one sticker on it that read “Fuck Off”. Guess that part didn’t really need any explanation.

Over the years I’d seen him hold the door for men and women alike. I liked that about him in spite of the way he looked. One time he paid the difference for some kid who was short fifty cents. On the flip side, I saw him beat the crap out of a guy that was kicking his dog repeatedly because it jumped out of the car. I couldn’t believe my eyes really. I remember thinking that chump really deserved an ass kicking. Then the big man scooped up the dog zipping it into his leather jacket and they were gone. When the cops came they asked me what I saw. I told um the guy fell on his face getting out of his car. Then bounced off everything in sight, and then tried to get me to sell him a bottle. I told um I refused and they hauled his ass away.

He was good for about three to four times a week sometimes more sometimes less. Funny unlike a lot of my customers I never did catch his name. The man always paid cash and never wrote a check. I remember one summer day he bought a Dreamcicle. He smiled the whole time he ate the thing. He walked all around my store just looking at this and that killing time. Seemed like he was remembering or something cause he looked kinda far away. Ice cream can do that to folks I’ve seen it before.

I really liked that big man he was one of the good guys. I don’t give a damn what other folks might think cause they didn’t know him. He had a kindness about him but it wasn’t to be mistaken for weakness, cause that simply wouldn’t have been true. I could sense that he had seen a lot of different things in this world just by the way he carried himself. He was strong and proud and reminded me of what more men ought to act like. I reasoned that at some point in his life he might have been a solider cause he had that kind of air about him. In fact I’d almost bet he’d been a Marine. He wasn’t at all like the whining, sniveling poor me complainers I see in here everyday.

Anyhow it was just before midnight I was already starting to close up, when I heard his bike out front. He sauntered in gave me a wave, walking that confident strut he had. He walked towards the back of the store just as this real big sucker came in. I'd never seen this guy before. I sensed right away, that the new guy was nervous. He had a real bad vibe to him. Now I’m big myself so I’m not easily intimidated but I knew this guy wasn’t right. Sure enough in a split second he pulled his gun and stuck it in my face. Then he demanded all the cash in my drawer. Before either of us could blink or react I heard a distinctively loud click in the otherwise deafening silence. Until that second I’d been totally focused on the guy, the guy whose hand was shaking like a leaf in the breeze. The guy who had his gun pointed right at me.

“Put that down, then turn around real slow like and you and I won’t have a problem”. The quiet man said real calm and slow. His statement dripped with confidence. I saw the other man holding the nine millimeter at my head react to the threat. His eyes darted back and forth real panicky like while inside he tried to figure out what he should do in that split second.

Suddenly without warning, the man with the nine abruptly turned around and as soon as he moved I kissed the floor. Laying there I heard four distinct shots fired. I knew enough that three were from a forty five and only one was from the nine. They sound completely different.

My small liquor store was silent. I could smell the smoke from the pistols in the air. Nervously I got to my feet and I saw the quiet man in leather holding his shoulder. The other man was dead on the linoleum floor. He’d been shot three times, once in the head and twice in the heart.

“Thanks man, you saved my life” I said lamely. “Give me your gun” I said, nervously adding there aren’t any camera’s in here. “Just go, I never saw you” I said. Then I smiled. Do you mind if I take the credit for this shit bags death? He cracked a smile nodding his head as he wiped down the forty-five passing it over the counter to me. I knew he’d been hit so I asked if he could ride. “Yea, it’s just a flesh wound in and out, no big deal. Then he really surprised me by asking “You OK with this? Cause I’ll stay if you need me to?” The sincerity ran deep and I knew he meant it. I stood there vehemently shaking my head saying, “You go, I got this.” Hell, I thought, the man just saved my life. Taking credit for this mess was the least I could do!

Funny how time and knowledge can change a person’s perspective about things. I learned everything I needed to know about bikes from him. He still comes in, acts just the same as he always did. Still buys those unfiltered smokes and that really good tequila. Only difference is now we make a little more small talk. One night I finally asked him about that damned ole dog? He said he named him Jumper and still has him. He told me “turns out I needed him as much as he needed me” he said walking out to that beautiful red bike. “Night Now” I hollered as he fired her up. Maybe one day I’ll get around to asking that quiet man his name.


Six Shooter Sally