“Speak now,” the lady says softly touching his arm with her hand.
An hour ago Pappy filled a vacant chair at the bar beside her. The two made immediate eye contact and she began talking as though he were an old friend. He listened, kept eye contact but said little. Outside the sun had set and the back end buzz of Happy Hour sounds inside.
“Say something nice. I’m sitting here telling you all about me through a couple martinis and that tells you how much I like to talk. My thinking out loud, to you, exposes your patient listening skill but now, now you fess up dammit. I want to hear your story, your name and, by the way, my name is Bell, how did we miss that part, and I’m older than I look.” She arches her eyebrows. “My favorite tavern light. Glows perfectly imperfect in here, allows for a small but sufficient subtraction of years. Not married right?”
“No Bell not married. They call me Pappy the Pecker, but my real name is,” a long pause ensues as the older man seems to have forgotten his name. Glaring over rimless readers toward his beer bottle he finally tells Bell, “Chief, I’ve been a Chief in the Navy for so damn long I’m sure that must be what my parents named me. Nowadays though Pappy seems to work best for everyone.”
The two chuckle, their heads leaning toward each other by a small but measurable amount to those observing.
“Okay name is Theodore, Theodore Thrush. Look over there, see all those handsome mugs around the bar?” he points across the bar and begins sweeping an open-handed arm around the bar to the right ending a few seats the other side of Bell.
Bell semi circles her gaze from across the U-shaped bar around to where they sit. “All these faces belong to your friends?”
“All but three or four to your right are my shipmates,” he says brushing his bare scalp with the palm of his hand. “We refer to ourselves as shipmates or bubble heads. We are all submarine sailors.”
“Yep, really. I’m sure that’s where my baldness comes from, not genetics but stress. Listening to the steel hull creak and groan and moan at test depth worried the hair right off me noggin,” he brushes his scalp again.
“They call me Pappy because I’m older and I damn well submerged more times than all the them boys put together. Ahoogah, ahoogah, dive, dive, if I heard it once, well, you know, a thousand times. This techno group including the Officer-in-Charge who is sitting right over there keeping a close eye on me handles a special mission. Going to Pascagoula to ride a new fast attack on sea trials. He’s a lieutenant. We call him LT for short. Don’t stare but he’s the one with the yellow teeth, the jeering grin washing up to each ear. I expect since he’s in charge and I’m not, he believes his important self should be doing the talking these fine inches away from you lovely lady, Bell. A bell I’m sure he would gleefully ring,” the two laugh. “They call me Pappy the Pecker because I’m probably the only sailor alive that knows Morse Code although we don’t use it anymore. Other navies do though. I prefer Ted the Tapper to Pappy the Pecker but hey, I ain’t doing the name attaching and no one asked for my opinion. Now if another reason for my nick name wanders through that fetching pretty head of yours you might not think too far on such a thing if you get what I mean.”
“How do you say Bell in Morse Code?”
“Not too pretty but here it is; Da di di dit - dit - di dah di dit - di dah di dit. Good thing Bell is a short name.”
“Ah, you’re quite a story Pappy. Better than an Amazon series. Speak more wise submarine man. How’s the family?”
“Oh no family. Always been me, the green canvas sea bag slung over me shoulder and one wave after another.”
“You mean lady waves on ships or waves on the sea?”
“I belong to the sea, salt and submarines.”
Pappy and Bell laugh leaning toward the other. Her full hair tightly pulled back ending in a round bun while his top shines like a light house. Across the bar shipmates poke the smoky air with beer bottles, a silent salute as they perceive Pappy’s success as what they describe as an organic hot run. Somewhat different than a torpedo lighting off inside a torpedo tube, also called a hot run. Faces nod approval and encouragement.
“We better order another round,” she says. “What are you doing here in this town in this bar and don’t tell me your King Neptune or Captain Nemo? Although,” she studies his face with her round brown eyes, “you are kingly and even a bit grandfatherly.”
“Don’t mind me,” she warns. Her hand slides back and forth across the smooth fallow field where a fine crop of hair once grew. “I feel a lot of time at test depth, wore your noggin gemstone smooth.” she says caressing the smooth, bare scalp.
He smiles, “the boy do I like girls pot you stir with a slow, soft paddle.” I wish I sat where Pappy sits. Across the way Pappy sees the faces shining admiration, longing and filling the wishing well with thoughts that count. Bell sees it too.
Their fresh drinks arrive and the bartender says, “how you are doing tonight, Bell? Good to see you. Catch any bad guys today?”
“Sure did, that’s why I came tonight, relax, screw the cap back on the jar.”
“Bad guys? Why would he ask you that? You a policewoman?”
“Did I miss that in the opening comments? Dangerous work. What kind of cop? Undercover, detective? Where’s your badge?”
“What, you don’t believe me?” Bell points down to her waste and lifts a leather flap covering her badge. “My badge is right there on my belt. Shiny right? Undercover.”
“Shiny alright. You would think I could have figured that out but I’ll tell you I am fond of police and police characters.”
“I need a potty break. You’ll be okay here for a couple minutes?”
“This old chief can take care of himself you go ahead. You be careful because that damn Lieutenant sitting like a judge over there got some serious goggle googling on us.”
“I’ll be Nestle’s quick. Don’t go away.”
Only a few seconds later the Lieutenant stands beside Chief Pappy his hands on the back of Bell’s chair. “What do you think you’re doing old man? Sure looks like you are bothering that woman to me. You’re drunk. Look at you old man, get out of here. You belong in quarters.”
Pappy looks around the curved row of faces that are his shipmates and feels support worn on their faces.
“You hear me old man. Get out of here before I have you escorted out.”
Pappy engages face to face the LT. “That will be Chief Old Man to you LT. I’m not going anywhere. Who you going to find to escort me, sir. I’m having a pleasant conversation with that woman, and I’m not drunk. Had me a few but not driving to my room, walking since my room is in this building on the second floor.”
“I’m going to have you,--”
“You’re standing in my way mister.”
“Oh, please excuse me Miss. I’m Lieutenant Tinpensel, Officer in Charge. I stopped by because I see this old man, who is a member of my party, bothering you. I’m sending him to his quarters so you can feel free to enjoy your evening. I’m glad to sit here with you until you feel safe and am happy to process a sexual harassment report if you want. Somehow he coerced you into touching him in an inappropriate way? I can tell you he is a wily old codger.”
“Chief Pappy bothers me not at all. You on the other hand bother me immensely. Chief and I are having a pleasant conversation and I’m quite pleased with his company. So much so we were thinking of spending the night together. We are discussing that right now, right after you leave. Your motive I see clear as a bell playing like a porn movie in your eyes. Get out my way please.”
Badly embarrassed Lieutenant Tinpensel says, “I’ll be having my eye on you old man.”
“A threat? Sounds like trouble to me.” Bell held up her badge. “You see this badge, Lieutenant? You are disturbing the peace and if you don’t get out of my face I’m going to handcuff you, arrest you, and haul you to jail.” Bell swings her purse back and forth. “Oh my, this purse conceals a small handgun. Do you have one of those? The gun I mean.”
“Okay, I’m going,”his arms up, hands facing out.
Bell slid onto her seat smiling at Pappy. “Took care of that didn’t I.” She reaches into her purse and pulls out a card and laid it in front of Pappy. “Hey look at this Pappy,” she held her purse open. “What do you think of that?”
“Nice. Your purse piece, eh? Something tells me you know how and when to use, that’s right isn’t it.”
“Come with me and get something to eat. There’s a nice little cafe just down the street.”
They leave the bar waving to the bubble heads as they go and begin walking toward the restaurant.
Pappy’s friends, excluding the sneering OIC, send them off with applause.
“You have too many names. Think I will stick with Pappy if that’s okay. When you coming back through town Pappy?”
“About three weeks I expect unless I figure a way to throw that dumb Lieutenant overboard.”
“Not easy on a submarine huh? No, just ignore him so I don’t have to bail you out of jail. Glad you stopped by my watering hole. I like you. We’ll have dinner tonight. When you start back from Pascagoula call me, tell me your on the way. I’ll be ready for you. We can discuss ringing Pappy’s bell and find a natural test depth. Grow back the hair. Speak now.”
“I like you too.”