Jake was sitting in his usual place in the back corner of Sadler’s. The bar was a rough place of that there was no doubt. It was fairly early in the day so there were only about five customers and Beth the owner. The bar had been her husband’s dream so she used his death benefits to make it happen. Chad More had died somewhere doing something for his country. Beth didn’t know where or what but she loved him still forty years after his death and this bar was a shrine to him and the men like him. The walls were hung with photos from all over the world with the faces blacked out. The captions stated the location and date on some, others just had a date. The wall behind the bar held the photos of the fallen. Each photo had a small shelf with a doubles glass of the Solders favorite drink covered over with plastic wrap. In recent years the Memorial wall had stretched from behind the bar into the room as more and more seemed to be added.
Jake team had brought him here for the first time after he was stationed with the 1st SFG (Special Forces Group) at Fort Lewis. The team had said they were taking him to church. He didn’t understand then how bar qualified as a church, but he understood now though. He had personally placed three of the photos on the wall behind the bar. When he was medically retired he purchased a home fifteen miles away and came almost daily for lunch and to pay his respects. The bar with its odd mix of music and cadences playing in the background, and the pictures of fallen Special Forces soldiers watching over the bar, was the only place he felt at peace. He didn’t know if that qualified as a church or not, but in many ways this bar was his temple. Beth brought over his lunch and a large glass of juice and sat them on the table. “Need anything else Jake?” she asked with her always present smile fixed in place.
He smiled in return and answered, “Just your undying love and devotion Beth, and maybe a night of heaven in your arms. What more could any man ask?”
She snorted and let out a full body laugh. At her 5’5” it was always a pleasure to see her little old body shake, and Beth was old if you asked her. She was 68 and told most she was 62. Her once reddish brown hair was so gray it looked white with a few streaks of its original color thrown in. She refused to have it colored. She said she had earned every one of her gray hairs first with her husband Chad and then with her son Timothy who had followed in his father’s footsteps and been buried next to him. When she quit laughing she said, “I’m not sure I could survive that.” She shook her head as she walked off saying, “Boy have times changed me, I used to tell you that you couldn’t survive a night with me.” She chuckled as she returned behind the bar.
Jake was taking the first bite of his steak sandwich when the door opened. He paused with it almost to his mouth as he glanced to see who had come in. After a quick assessment and decision that it was no threat he took his bite and began chewing as he watched the new arrival. The girl shouldn’t have been here that’s for sure. She couldn’t be even eighteen and certainly wasn’t twenty-one. Then again he had noticed some of the guys who came in with the teams looked too young to be in here also. “Must be getting old” he thought. The girl, or maybe young women was a better term as she did have the hips of a woman, looked around the room like she was searching for someone. Her hat and glasses hid her eyes and most of her face, but her posture slumped and she looked defeated when she didn’t see who ever she was looking for.
She walked over to the bar and cleared her throat. Beth turned and the two started talking as Jake chased down another bite of his marvelous lunch with his juice. He was totally absorbed with his lunch when Beth swept by refilling his glass. She shocked him as she whispered, “She’s looking for you Jake and if I had to guess she is scared.” That caused him to straighten up and pay attention. “She says she is supposed to meet Cath and you here.” She raised an eyebrow asking a question.
“I haven’t a clue. I haven’t seen or heard from my Ex in two months. You remember the last time she came looking to get her itch scratched. The next morning she left a note while I was showering. All it said was “Thanks I needed you! I’ll call”. I tried to call her three times and sent her flowers on her birthday, but well, you know how she is. She has a new life with Jill her partner and doesn’t want me reminding her of the old days. Besides that Jill hates me. I don’t know why she lets Cath come around like she does.”
“Are you sure Jill even knows she comes around?” she asked
“Oh yeah I’m sure. I made Cath call her and I talked to her the first three times. The third time she said if Cath shows up there in the future she has my permission and don’t call. I don’t need the reminder that my girlfriend is with a man.” Jake shook his head. “I don’t know why I keep letting her back in my bed when she comes calling.”
Beth snorted then said, “Because you still love her it’s as easy as that. Oh I know you wish you didn’t but you do. I think it’s both sad and beautiful how much you love that crazy woman. Hell I know a dozen women who wish they could take her place.” Jake raised his eyebrows at that. She waived it off as he put another of the steak fries in his mouth. “So what about the girl? Should I send her over?” Jake thought for a moment then nodded. Beth headed back behind the bar, and Jake started studying the young woman in more detail.
She was 5’ 8” or 9” but it was hard to tell with the way she was all slumped over and hiding in her sweatshirt. As he looked he realized it wasn’t her sweatshirt she was wearing but his. It was one of the shirts his ex-wife swore she didn’t have. He was trying to decide if he was mad or just resigned when Beth pointed him out to her. He waved his hand inviting her to come join him as he stuffed the last of his sandwich in his mouth. She still had on that big hat and large sunglasses even though the bar was rather dim. He watched as she walked to join him. Her steps were hesitant then resigned, but there was something else also. She was injured. It all clicked in a heartbeat. The hat and glasses weren’t to hide her, they were to hide her injuries. And the way she was walking there were more injuries than just the ones on her face.
He stood and covered the last few steps quickly and as he reached out his hand to help her she flinched from him. “I won’t hurt you. I was just trying to help.” She nodded and took his hand guardedly at first. Then she seemed to falter and almost collapse. Jake’s other arm was around her in a flash. As he gently scooped her into his arms she laid her head on his chest and began to sob. He couldn’t understand what she was saying through the sobbing but he tried to comfort her as best he could. As he turned to look for Beth she was there glaring at him from less than two feet away. “All I did was offer her my hand to help her to her seat. She is injured!” he said to the older woman defensively.
Beth nodded then turned and motioned for him to follow her. As they went through to the back she told Tiffany to take over the front for her. Tiffany waved and continued to work on the orders. Once through the kitchen they turned down a wide short hall to the back door but Beth opened what Jake thought was a broom closet revealing stairs to her apartment above. He had known she lived up there but figured she just used the stairs on the side of the building to come and go through the back. At the top of the stairs she opened a door into her apartment. Jake had helped her bring in her new refrigerator and visited her a couple times but had never ventured down the hallway. Instead of turning in the direction he knew was the living room Beth turned towards what must be the bedrooms.
She opened a door going into a bright room with a beautiful four post bed and stood back as Jake carried the young woman through. He tried to lay her on the bed and step back but she wasn’t having any of that. She clung to him like a drowning man to a life preserver. He looked to Beth for help. She stepped over and tried to comfort the young women. “There now, you’re safe. Why don’t you let go of the brute and you and I will have a little talk and see what the matter is.” Jake thought that sounded like a great idea to him, but the young woman just shook her head and clung even tighter. At some point her hat had fallen off and her red gold hair had tumbled out and now seemed to be everywhere.
As he untangled his hand form her hair he said soothingly, “I’m Jake Hammond, everyone just calls me Jake and this is my friend Beth. Why don’t we take off those glasses and let’s see how bad it really is? You’ll be more comfortable without them pressed against you face and my chest.”
At that she pulled back a little and removed the glasses with one hand but the other still clutched Jake like he was going to run off. As she turned her body looking for some place to put them she let out pain filled groan and wrapped both hands around herself. Her moan turned to a whimper. And then she started talking fast, very fast. “I’m Emily, Emily Howe, but everyone calls me Em. I’m sorry about downstairs. It just hurts so much I couldn’t even get dressed this morning. Then when I got here I had to wait for the pain to subside before I could even get out of the car.
Cathy was supposed to be here. She said she would meet me here at noon but if I didn’t see her car to go in and find Jake. She said that I couldn’t miss him as he was always here for lunch and dinner half the time. She said everyone knew him. I wasn’t sure which Jake she meant and I didn’t know your last name. She said you were her ex-husband but I didn’t think you would still have the same name. And then well I don’t know. When I took your hand I just couldn’t hold it back any more.” She was back to crying again and the crying was causing more pain and that was causing her to cry more.
Jake felt useless, but Beth seemed to know what to do and took charge. “Have you taken anything or seen a doctor?”
“No, no doctors promise me you won’t call a doctor it’s how he found me last time. She said you would help and no doctors.” Em said running it all together.
“Did you take anything dear?” Beth asked again. “Some Aleve last night to sleep and a couple when I woke this morning” she replied.
Beth darted out the room and was back in quickly holding a field medic kit in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. She handed Jake the water and opened the kit up on the foot of the bed. Then pulled out a large bottle half full of pills. She took out two of the pills and handed them to Emily. Taking the opened water from Jake and giving that to her as well saying, “This is Tylenol. Take them and after they kick in we’ll see how bad it really is.”
Emily took the pills and washed them down with about half the bottle of water. As she was doing that Jake fished his cell out and dialed Cath’s number. The call went straight to voicemail and Jake was going to hang up when he heard Cathy’s voice say “Hi, this is Cathy Hammond. If your calling about a lost dog the owners have already claimed it and my husband is happy for that bulldog to be gone. If you’re calling about something else, please leave a message. Chow!”
Now Jake was worried. Cath had used the emergency code from when they were married. That was a very bad sign. The background noise had been of her car driving and he thought he heard Jill say something but he didn’t catch it. So he called again and listen even more carefully. He heard it this time. Jill asked “Do we turn off in long term parking?” Another of their signals. Cath was in trouble and told him where to find her. To anyone else it would sound like they were at the airport, but to him it meant a very specific place. He glanced at the two woman. Emily was laying back on a pile of pillows and Beth sat on the edge of the bed and the two were softly talking as he made his call. What the hell was going on and who was Emily? He decided to try Jill in the hope of getting some answers. When it too went to voicemail he was even more concerned. Her message was similar to Cath’s with Cathy asking about long term parking in the background. He hung his phone and decided it was time to start asking some very important questions.
Jake was just opening his mouth to start asking those questions when there was a loud chime from the TV in the corner. Beth turned and picked up the remote from the nightstand pushing buttons Jake couldn’t see. The television came to life and the three could see the inside of the bar. On the screen stood two men at the end of the bar near the door. Two other men were coming in from the back lot entrance looking around. The two at the front said something and Beth turned up the volume.
Tiffany responded to the question, “Haven’t seen her, sorry.”
The shorter guy asked “Look we know she is here. Her car is out front and her purse is sitting on your bar. Just tell us where she is and we can leave.” He started pulling out bills from a money clip.
Tiffany stared at the money and adopted an airhead attitude. “Um, I like, don’t know where she is but I can tell you who she was with if that helps. What’s that worth, hmmm???” She smacked gum that Jake was sure she wasn’t chewing.
The guy placed two of the bills on the bar and said, “If you tell me and I believe you then you get these. If you try to lie to me, you won’t like what you get.”
“Look all I know is that some chick came in here like half hour ago you see and she was asking about some other chick who wasn’t here and as far as I know has never been here. I didn’t get the name but Beth she’s like my boss was like I don’t know her. And the chick started crying. That was when the Colonel came and talked to her. I think he is a Colonel but maybe he got promoted and is a Major now I don’t know.” The second guy looked like he was going to say something but she never gave him the chance as she just kept going. “Anyway then she sort of collapsed and he caught her. What a fake! I’ve seen better fake fainting spells by the homos in Seattle. But the Colonel he falls for it and he said like “We need to get to you to a hospital” and Beth she shakes her head and said she would go with them and like I got stuck doing both our jobs when they left.” She tried to reach for the money but the guy wouldn’t let go.
“Did they say what hospital?”
Tiffany scrunched up her face and then said, “Nope I guess the Army hospital? He was a Colonel or Major or whatever so like he would take her there like wouldn’t he?” She asked the last as if wondering why they needed something so easy explained to them. The two men turned to go and Tiffany asked, “Hey wait! Aren’t you going to take her purse to her? I mean if you’re going to find your friend and all she’ll like want her purse. I know I would.”
The shorter guy turned and said, “Nah, what if we miss her? Better to leave it here so she has her key to her car when she gets back.”
“Oh yea didn’t think of that.” The look the two passed to each other said they doubted she ever thought of anything in her life. Soon the four had left the bar.
Beth said, “Remind to give that girl a raise. I never knew she was such an actress.” She pushed some buttons and the view of the front parking lot showed on the TV. Soon the two from the front were joined by the two from the back. They seemed to talk for a few minutes. Then the shorter guy made a call. He wasn’t on long and then they all loaded into the two black SUV’s and drove off with one heading towards the base the other towards the nearest hospital. Jake was about to say something when Beth held up her hand as she was already pushing buttons on her cell. “Yea we saw. I didn’t know you were such a good actress. Good job. I’ll ask but just put it behind the bar for now. Be back soon I hope.” She hung up and turned to Emily “So, young lady! Why don’t you start by telling us who those men are and why they are looking for you?”