Jack Canon's American Destiny

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Refuge by NG Osborne


“I’M SORRY, SIR,” the manager says, “but this club is only for members and their guests.”

“That’s cool. How much to join?” Charlie says.

“You need to be proposed by a member, and then your application goes before the committee.”

Charlie winces.

“You see that’s a problem, I really could do with a drink tonight.”

A patron comes through a set of double doors, and Charlie catches a glimpse of a smoky, raucous bar.

“Night, Nawaz,” the man says as he stumbles down the foyer’s stairs.

“A wonderful evening to you too, Mr. Wigram.”

The manager looks back at Charlie as though surprised he’s still there.

“There’s no such thing as a temporary membership?” Charlie says.


“Please I’m begging you.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I must ask you to leave.”

Charlie sighs.

“Fine. You mind getting me a membership form before I go?”

The manager trudges back to his office. His phone rings, and he picks it up. Charlie waits. From the animated nature of the conversation, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to end anytime soon.

Screw it.

Charlie heads for the double doors and pushes them open. To call the place a club is a stretch‌—‌it’s not much better than a dive bar with its mismatched chairs and scuffed wooden floor. He approaches some well-built men sitting around a table littered with empty glasses.

“Hey, one of you guys mind making me your guest for the night?” he says.

“Oh, piss off,” a bald-headed brute in a Manchester United t-shirt says.

“Easy buddy.”

“Sorry, how about fuck off. That better?”

The other guys laugh like it’s the best joke they’ve heard all night. A hand tugs on Charlie’s sleeve. It’s the manager.

“Sir, I must ask you to come with me.”

Charlie turns back to the table.

“Come on guys, it’s no skin off your backs.”

“Tourists aren’t allowed in here,” the Brit says.

“I’m not a tourist.”

“Or assholes.”

The Brits burst out laughing, and the manager pulls Charlie back into the foyer.

“Okay, okay, I’m going,” Charlie says.

Charlie heads for the front door.

“It’s okay, Nawaz,” someone says, “he’s with me.”

Charlie turns to see a greasy-haired American standing at the top of the stairs. His collared shirt is tucked into a pair of creased khakis that are so short you can see his white socks.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Gardener, but you are familiar with this man?” the manager says.

“We met a couple of days back.”

Charlie grins.

“Come on,” the man says. “I’m three drinks ahead of you.”

They enter the bar. The table of Brits shoot Charlie a collection of foul looks.

“Don’t let em bother you,” the man says, “they’re just drowning their sorrows.”

“Why’s that?”

“War’s nearly over, least the good part.”

“That’s a bad thing?”

“It is when there’s no other conflict to move on to.”

They reach the bar.

“What you drinking?” the man says.

“Bud would be awesome.”

The man orders one and a Coke for himself. He sticks out his hand.

“Ivor Gardener.”

“Charlie Matthews.”

“So what you doing out here, Charlie? You’re kind of young for this scene.”

“Got a job working for Mine Aware.

“Ah, Skeppar’s outfit.”

Ivor spies the red “1” tattoo on Charlie’s forearm.

“You in the First Infantry Division?”

“Three years. Got out right after Desert Storm.”

“That where you get your scar?”

Charlie traces the three inch blemish that curves down his left cheek.

“Yeah, totally heroic. Tripped coming down the back of the transport plane. Was the war’s first confirmed casualty.”

Ivor laughs. Their drinks arrive and Charlie takes a swig.

Shit, that tastes good.

“Please tell me you’re not another of those do-gooder types who think they can save the world?” Ivor says.

“Once upon a time I might’ve been, but not after what I saw in Kuwait.”

“Yeah, war has a way of making you realize all that good intention stuff is utter bullshit.”

Ivor surveys the inhabitants of the bar.

“Take this crowd. Nothing they like more than going back home and waxing lyrical about all the lives they’ve saved. But if it weren’t for their tax free salaries and endless servants, ninety percent of em would be lawyers or bankers.”

“I just want to open up a dive shop in Belize.”

“Well then Pakistan makes total sense.”

“It’s not going to be cheap and demining’s one of my few marketable skills. Figured I could bank my salary and be there in a year, diving the Blue Hole in the morning and sketching in the afternoon.”

“Fuck me, an artist and a vet. Could you be any more pathetic?”

Charlie laughs.

“Hey, Gauguin was in the navy, and he seemed to have a pretty good time afterwards in Polynesia.”

Ivor raises his Coke.

“Well here’s to Charlie Matthew’s Dive Shop.”

“Free lessons on me.”

“Watch out, just might take you up on that.”

Charlie downs his beer and orders another.

“So how about you?” Charlie says.

“With the Consulate,” Ivor says. “Been here three years.”

“Like it?”

“This is what they call a hardship posting.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“When they dump you in a city where the ninety percent of the locals hate America despite the billions we’ve spent, and none of the Afghans credit us with winning the war despite the fact they’d still be fighting the Russians with swords if it wasn’t for us, where every man feels like it’s his divine right to kill anyone he thinks has offended him, where there are only two places to get a drink, and there’s almost zero chance of getting laid, be it paid or free, that my friend is considered a hardship posting.”

“Not exactly Paris.”

“Fuck, most of us would take Luanda over this shithole.”

Charlie’s second beer arrives. He takes a swig and notices a long haired blonde in tight pants and a slim white shirt enter the bar. His eyes aren’t the only ones to track her curvaceous figure as she slips through the throng.

“Well the place doesn’t seem totally devoid of prospects.”

“Forget it. Elma Kuyt’s vagina is reserved solely for those who can advance her career.”

“That’s pretty harsh.”

“Only if you think it normal to be screwing the Interior Minister within a week of getting here.”

“What could he do for her?”

“Let’s just say permits that take other agencies months to get approved, Dutch Aid gets in days. From there she moved onto the French Ambassador. He used to come up almost every weekend, tell his wife how important it was to see the jihad close at hand. Might have continued like that forever, but someone gave his wife the location of their little love nest, and four months ago, he and Elma woke to find her standing over them with a pen gun.”

“Where she get one of those?”

“It’s the souvenir of choice out here. I have a bowl of them in my office for visiting Congressmen. I’ll messenger one over if you promise never to use it.”

“Why’s that?”

“Thing’s as likely to blow off your hand as it is the person in front of you, and that’s what France’s petrified ambassador managed to explain to his wife of thirty years. Needless to say that was the end of the affair. Now every idiot in town thinks he has a shot.”

“Any have a chance?”

“Just the one she’s talking to. He’s writing a big article on the refugee situation out here, and Elma’s wormed her way into being its focus. Nothing like a puff piece in the New Yorker to get that UN job you’ve always dreamed of.”

Over by the booth, Elma leans back and laughs at something the reporter’s just said. The reporter looks smitten. She glances in their direction and catches Charlie’s gaze. She turns back to the conversation.

Maybe she’s not as in to the reporter as Ivor thinks.

Charlie orders a Heineken and jumps off his stool.

“Might as well throw my hat in the ring,” he grins.

“This should be fun.”

“Fortune favors the brave, that’s what my mother always used to say.”

“So did Saddam Hussein and look where that got him.”

“Come on, be my wingman.”

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Genre – Literary Fiction / Romance

Rating – PG13

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Website http://www.ngosborne.com/


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