Van played with the coin on the counter. “There’s a story behind that nickel,” Van nudged it around, tapped it.
I held the sweating glass of beer in my hand. “Is this one of your tall tales? Like the time you rasseled the alligator? Or the time you outran the tornado?”
Van’s eyes crinkled. “Buddy, you gotta have more faith. Otherwise, the stress will kill you.” He took a pull on his beer and looked at me sideways.
Outside, the spring rain was falling hard, but inside Hal’s Bar, we felt warm in the humid dark, and Happy Hour was in progress on a Friday afternoon. The sound was muted on the TV, but I could read the crawl at the bottom of the news show: Disaster in mine kills 21....Goldman Sachs executives take the stand.... Minnesota man wins the lottery....
“I’m a lucky man,” Van said. “I had melanoma, but the doctors got it. My ex just remarried. And I haven’t been laid off at the plant.” He counted on his fingers. “Diseased, divorced, and hard at work.”
“You’re lucky, all right.” He hooked me, as he always did. “What’s the story about that nickel?”
“My lucky nickel. I’ll tell you where I got it. But first, I need another beer. You’re buying.”
“If you say so.” I waved to the bartender, and he brought two beers.
He pressed the nickel beside the beer. “How’s the outlook at the plant?”
I grabbed a peanut from the paper bowl and cracked the shell. “They laid off seven guys last month. Judy is looking for another secretarial job. The one she has she doesn’t feel secure about.” I sipped my beer. “Tell me about your lucky nickel and how I can get one.”
“Sure enough.” He scratched his head. “I gotta borrow some money from you. It’s for last month’s rent. Tessa left a lot of debts. The good part is she won’t be charging my credit cards anymore.” He plinked his stein on the bar decisively. “Lookit that: the rain is letting up a little.”
I turned on my stool. It had been a downpour earlier, and now it was a silver-needle drizzle.
“Can you lend me four hundred till payday?” he asked.
I was not too surprised. “I have to let Judy know.”
“Of course.” He leaned on the counter.
“I think she’ll be okay with lending money to our Best Man.” Van and I had gone to Langley High School together, joined the army, and survived Iraq. I’d been Best Man at his wedding and he at mine.
“She’s a good woman.” He looked into his beer sadly. Behind him, the sun was shining through the raindrops. “We’re both lucky.”
“We sure are.”
He looked at a pair of guys in nice suits coming in through the dazzling doorway, with the clean sun behind them. “What I want to know is why some people have everything, and some people have nothing. Explain that.”
published 14 March 2012