On the surface, the relationship between Bill and Barry is an odd one. I’ve thought about it, and at the moment, there’s some aspects that need to be written to provide background for what follows later.
I think I would like to make Barry one of those people who were built for soldiering, and not for civilian life, and it has to be said, he is a bit of a sloth once he becomes a civilian.
And, yet, under all of that, he’d be the first one in line to help his friends.
I just have to strike that balance so that I don’t make him too unsociable.
So, a little more about them, and Barry in particular.
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.” A croak.
“Mate. Not looking too good this afternoon?”
He groaned again, and then struggled to sit up, trying to smooth his hair back into place, and failing. He rubbed his face and realized he had a week’s stubble, giving him the look of a deranged sanatorium inmate.
“Someone’s gotta try and get me off the gut rot Ogilvy calls booze.” He nodded in Ogilvy’s direction, but typically, Ogilvy ignored him.
“You don’t have to drink it.”
“That’s what I keep telling myself. Only it doesn’t work.”
“Perhaps you should try harder.”
He looked me over, looking for the changes since the last time he saw me, about four months ago.
“Where you been?”
“Not surprising. Work too hard, no fun.” He looked at the drink on the table, took it in his hand, then holding it up to the light. Perhaps he thought it was the magic elixir that would fix him.
“Someone shot at me. I nearly didn’t make it. One thing it did, though. Brought back all those memories I’d shut away. Now I know why I did.”
“Shot at you? Why?”
“I don’t know. You should see the other guy. He’s dead.”
“What other guy?” He put the drink down, untouched. He was beginning to look a little more alert.
I had not expected it would make much of a difference telling him about my problems, but it had.
“Take it from the top.” Then, over towards Ogilvy, “Bring me some coffee. Black.”
I started, a little hesitantly, not quite sure how much or little I should say.
Ogilvy came over with coffee for him and my orange juice. He glared at me, then Barry.
“Your account is a little overdue,” Ogilvy said, standing over him.
“It’ll get paid.”
By little, I assumed it was more than Ogilvy was willing to stand. He was kind, but kindness had its limits.
I pulled out two hundred dollar notes and gave them to him. “Will this settle it?”
“I don’t want your money. You should throw him in a detox center. That would make more sense.”
“It’s only money. If he wants to drink himself to death, who am I to argue?”
Ogilvy shrugged and took the money. As he turned to leave, Barry said, “And take the scotch back. I’ve had enough.”
He looked at Barry with surprise, no, I think it was more shock, but did as he was asked. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ogilvy drink the scotch himself, and another for good measure.
I picked up the story where Aitchison and I were shot in the street and related what I knew from there. He asked only two questions, who was Jennifer, and what had happened to Ellen. He’d absorbed the rest, and judging by his reaction, probably not understood any of it.
“You have a friend? Does Ellen know about this friend?”
“Ellen and I are divorced. Don’t you remember me telling you several years ago?”
“Has it been that long?”
He’d been like this off and on over the last twenty years. It had been getting worse in the last few years, his health failing, and, at times, his memory. I watched him pick up the coffee cup, his hand shaking so badly, he needed to hold it was two. It took a minute or so before he could drink it, and then, his face was of a child, taking medicine.
He looked over towards the bar. “More coffee.” He set the cup down carefully, and then looked back at me.
“What can I do?”
“I need someone to watch my back. I have the odd feeling I’ve got myself into a situation. The people I work for, well, I can’t put my finger on it, but they’re probably doing something they shouldn’t. I have some evidence, and I think they know I’ve got it, and they’ve attacked me, like I said, at least once since I got out of the hospital.”
“You want me to get this Kowalski character and beat it out of him?
I smiled at the thought. I had no doubt if I asked him, he would do exactly that.
“Not yet. We have to get a better case against them first.”
“So, just watch your back?”
“For the moment. And for Jennifer.”
“But you are not sure about her. I get the impression you think she might be involved in more ways than one.”
“Did I give that impression?” I had no idea he would pick up on my doubts. But he was right. I did.
“Yes. But it doesn’t matter. If she is we’ll find out soon enough.”
In the space of five minutes and the arrival of the second cup of coffee, to be followed by a third, his whole manner had changed. There was still the pained look from the hangover, but the eyes were brighter, and he had a purpose.
“Then you’re in?”
“Might as well. It’ll be better than the last bodyguard gig I had. Had to thump the little turd. Smart arse needed it.”
To be honest, I didn’t expect Barry to take up the challenge. Perhaps I’d become used to seeing him down and out, and not expecting anything else. It was the look in his eyes that changed my opinion. The same look I’d seen all those years ago, in the jungle.
It was another good sign when he asked for an hour to clean up so he could become inconspicuous. I told him he could take over my place, gave him the key, gave him some money, and then told him where he could find me in an hour.
It was exactly what I needed. The Barry of old.
© Charles Heath 2016-2023