from Book II, Chapter 2 of Out of Zion
by Robert Marswood
“Fifty dollars for one lousy letter!”
“You want to make sure it’s sent from the other end of the country—and no one finds out you’re here?” Joe said raising an eyebrow.
Brad suddenly realized that Joe could not only send the letter, but also betray him. He felt sweat in his armpits. “How much could it possibly cost to get one of your air-steward friends to take it on his next flight to the East Coast?”
“Not much. But of course, this letter isn’t important to me. It’s important to you. What’s it worth to you?”
“How about 25?”
“How about forget it.”
“Not even warm.”
“And you buy me a drink.”
“I’m always buying you a drink every time I meet you in a bar.”
“That’s what people do in bars here. Buy each other drinks. Get drunk. Take each other home. Have sex—and leave the next morning. I guess you haven’t gotten the hang of that yet.”
‘And I hope I never do,’ Brad thought. He raised his hand and caught the bartender’s attention. A tall man with a military buzz cut and a strong jaw leaned over the bar to take Brad’s order. “A white Russian and a 7-Up,” Brad said.
“You remembered!” Joe said acting genuinely surprised.
“Yeah, that’s what happens when you don’t kill too many brain cells in a place like this.”
“You know just how to make a girl feel special!” Joe said as he picked up his white Russian. He stirred the ice cubes a few rotations with the little, red, swizzle stick to mix the cream on top before taking a sip.
Brad said nothing. He just watched the video playing on the screen above the bar. It was Madonna’s Vogue. The dancers wore 1930s or ’40s clothing and struck poses. ‘How appropriate,’ Brad thought. ‘Just what everybody in this bar is doing—posing and acting—badly.’ Brad turned his attention back to Joe who had quickly emptied his glass.
“Buy me another one, Jethro, and I’ll do it for free—if you show a girl a good time.”
“As appealing as that offer is, I think I’ll pass. Let’s just keep this strictly business.”
“If that’s the way you want it. So, how’s your new place on Haight Street working out?”
“H-H-how did you know I moved there?” Brad stuttered.
“Your super called to have the ad pulled. I asked who moved in. So, are you enjoying the roach motel?”
Brad was afraid and ashamed that Joe knew where he lived and that his apartment was a dump. He could tell the police exactly where Brad lived if they ever came calling. Brad was so unnerved by Joe’s comment that he almost walked away before giving Joe the letter.
“Sorry to cut things short, but here’s the money.” Brad counted out two twenties and a five into Joe’s outstretched palm. “And the letter. Make sure someone sends this within a week from the East Coast.” Brad handed Joe a thick, white, security envelope that wouldn’t reveal its contents when held up to a light. His mother’s name and address were typed on the envelope and Brad had affixed a first class stamp. Inside was a postcard of Times Square’s neon signs with the short message. “Living in New York City. Have work and a place to live. Hope you are well. Love, Brad.” He hoped that his mother would be the first to collect the mail as she usually did at noon when she walked the three blocks from the store to the house to make his father’s lunch. If she did get it first, Brad knew she would keep it a secret.
“What’s in here?” Joe asked as he waved the envelope in front of Brad.
“None of your business. Just make sure it gets mailed,” Brad said finishing his 7-Up. Then he walked out of the bar unaware of the half dozen men who watched him leave.