Writing about writing a book – Day 24

Time to put the team back together, well, sort of.

We’ve been given the introduction to who Barry McDougall is, or the man otherwise known as ‘Brainless’, and after three days of trying to get it straight, this is the first rough draft of his start in the story.

Barry, whose daring selfless deeds earned him the nickname Brainless because that was the only way to describe the motivation behind them, was one of the regular soldiers, and, for a long time, had been my only true friend.  His was a reputation both friends and foes alike considered awesome.  He’d been in Vietnam, and later just turned up at Davenport’s camp, reporting for duty.

Davenport was more surprised than I was at his arrival, but obviously, after checking his credentials, was impressed because he let him stay.  And it would be true to say, if he had not, I would not be here now.

So Barry was just the sort of person I needed to help me.

That was the good news.

The bad news was Barry, at the best of times, either on one of his ‘benders’ using drugs or alcohol, whatever was easier to get at the time, lost to everyone, or locked up in a mental institution, having admitted himself.  He had no interest in participating in life, hadn’t worked in years, and often said, in moments when he was at his lowest, that he did not care if he lived or died.  It had not always been that way, but his demons had all but taken him over, and despite the help, I tried to give him, nothing could shake him out of this lethargy.  He said once he envied me that I could not remember the dark days, and, now those memories had returned, I knew what he meant.

For a long time, I could not understand why he didn’t try harder to help himself, and I guess he humored me by accepting the jobs I’d found him, and the help I offered.  I owed him a great deal, but that was probably the one honorable thing about him, he never expected, nor wanted, anything in return.

He tried to make a go of being a police officer and lasted several years before he resigned over an incident that didn’t reach the papers.  There was, he said, no place for heroics in modern society.  I hadn’t got to the bottom of it, but I heard he shot some thieves at a time when the police were trying to promote a pacifist image.

He tried a few other occupations with an equal lack of success, so now he survived on whatever money I gave him.  He lived on the street, and when he was not there, I knew he could be found in a bar, in one of the more seedier parts of the city, a ubiquitous underground bar called Jackson’s, named after a man who had a salubrious reputation that hovered between load shark and saint, and who was reputed to be buried under the storeroom floor.  The present owner, or what I assumed to be the owner, was a large, gruff, ex-prizefighter, who had the proverbial heart of gold, most of the time, and who took my money and looked after Barry without making it look like he was.

I’d called the bartender in advance, and he said he was in his usual spot, and that it was at the start of the next cycle, having just discharged himself from the hospital after a bout of pneumonia.  It was, he said, getting worse, and taking longer to recover.

It was probably only a matter of time before it took him, so perhaps this time I would have to try harder to convince him to give up his nomadic lifestyle.

When I walked in, the aroma of spilled beer, stale sweat, and vomit, mingled with the industrial-strength carbolic cleaner almost took my breath away.  In the corner, two construction workers were sitting, quietly smoking and drinking large glasses of beer.  In the other, Barry was being held up by the table, an untouched double scotch sitting in front of him.  Sitting at the bar was a woman of indeterminate age, badly made up, and thin to the point of emaciation.  I was not sure what she was drinking, or what it was she was smoking, but I could smell it from the front doorway.

The bartender, Ogilvy, no first name given, was pretending to polish glasses, standing at the end of the bar, looking at the television, playing some daytime soap.  He didn’t look over when I came in, but I knew he didn’t miss anything.  I saw him flick a glance at Barry, and then shake his head.  I think he cared as much about Barry as I did, but could recognize the sadness within him.  As much as Ogilvy said, which wasn’t much, he too had seen service in Vietnam, and it had affected him too.

I ordered an orange juice, caught the glances from the construction workers, and a steely look from the woman then went over to Barry’s table and sat down.  Despite the loud scraping noise when I moved the chair, or the creaking as I sat in it, Barry didn’t move.

Whilst the bar had that seedy aroma, Barry was showing the signs of having spent the time on the street.  It was one of the disadvantages of having no permanent residence and though there was a shower at the bar which Ogilvy let Barry use from time to time, he obviously hadn’t for a few days.

A groan emanated from the table, and Barry moved his head slightly.

I shifted the drink in front of him, and then a hand went out and moved it back.  He lifted his head to look at me, and then lowered it again.

“I thought it was you.”

© Charles Heath 2016-2021

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