Old Dave 3/4

The bartender gave me a disapproving look when he set down our last two glasses of whiskey. His eyes lingered on Old Dave’s dirty coat and matted beard.

“Is this going on your tab?” he asked me as if the answer were already a foregone conclusion. I nodded and he cast another dark look at Old Dave before walking over to the cash register.

Old Dave sat with an empty, screwed-up smile pursing his lips, his eyes jerking over the bar top. He glanced sideways at the bartender, then he turned to me.

“Well, Martin, I surely thank you,” he said jovially. “I’m afraid I lost count of the bill.”

“That’s no problem,” I said, spinning my glass on the bar. I got a feeling from Old Dave, a sad, tired feeling that felt too familiar. He swayed in his seat, sodden with booze, singular and downtrodden. We finished our drinks in relative silence and I paid the bartender.

I shrugged into my coat as Old Dave adjusted his, his gnarled fingers fumbling with the buttons.

“Where are you going from here?” I asked him as we walked together to the door.

“Ahh,” he said softly, peering up out of the window towards the cloudy, darkening sky. “I’m going to go see my son.” I turned and looked at him.

“How old is your son?” I asked.

“He’s forty-two. Married to a woman who doesn’t like me,” he said with a gruff laugh and a little shrug of his pointy shoulders. “Oh!” He held up one hand and fished in his coat with the other. Finally, he produced a small square photo of a boy missing his left front tooth. The picture had been slid into a flimsy plastic sleeve for safe keeping.

“This is Jacob.”

I took it and looked at it for a long moment.

“Handsome kid.” I smiled, handing it back. Old Dave gazed down at it.

“He sure is.”

“Look, Dave,” I said uncomfortably. He stored the photo back in his coat and looked up at me with a firm grin.

“Thanks for the drinks, Martin. I’m sure I’ll see you around here again.”

“Thank you, gentlemen,” the bartender called in a high, impatient voice. We exchanged a glance and Old Dave led the way through the glass door and out into the crisp fresh air. As I followed him, I fished my business card out of my wallet.

“Call me if you need anything, okay?”

He took it and looked at it, then gave me the same firm grin.

“I sure will.”

I raised a hand with reluctance to say goodbye and then I turned and headed down the block to my car, leaving Old Dave standing on the sidewalk, his wool coat flapping around his calves in the wind.