Libertine, Chatham Arch. 2:47 am, February 28th, 2017
Stepping in from the biting cold where his head was exposed to the incessant rain that surely planned to torment him through this week’s work trip, James Cook could only imagine how much of a glowing red beacon his balding head would be at a place like this so late on a Monday night. Making his way under a wall lamp, he peeked at his wristwatch.
“2:47 already? Oh God! He even going to be here?” Cook’s dress actually fit in well amongst the dated suits and deafening dull vintage sweaters of the establishment’s occupants but the nature of his walk, in a place where every other table was occupied by four people, of which none felt inclined to speak when he was in their presence, screamed to the rest of the patrons that time was of the essence to this outsider and that he was sensitive to the loss of each and every second.
Finally, broadcasting the flickering lights of his iPhone screen against his wall back, Cooks identified his client and rushed to his corner booth, frantically grasping for the thought of how he’d justify showing up four hours late. He tossed his dripping jacket onto the plush red leather seat and flopped himself down, with the intention of rousing the attention of the man who had surely been occupying the booth for many hours and, more likely than not, had been drinking and stewing for that period. Cook hoped not. He’d asked his client to keep clean all weekend, in fact, just in case someone called a meeting. After all, it was illegal to meet with team representatives in February so who was to say the 25th was no less likely than the week of the Combine?
His entrance worked! The client looked up and pulled the headphone out of his right ear.
“Hey Bus.” Jay shook the phone a couple times until the flickering nearly quit then set it on the table. “Okay, got it paused.”
“Hello Jay. Listen, I’m sorry about the delay. Good things though. More interest than anticipated. Wait — what the hell are you wearing? I asked you not to stand out and you wear a sumo jacket emblazoned with the team logo? The team who is about to cut you and that’s why we’re both here, to find you another landing spot when Pace inevitably drops that axe after they draft a young cheap replacement for you!?”
“Look, ” Cook tried changing the subject, “I’m so glad you could make it to Indy, my man.” He always tried, and failed, to make his excitement for work visits infectious. But Jay clearly had some sort of natural immunity to any such tools. “And I trust your flight was good and low-key? I didn’t see you pop up on Twitter or anything.”
“Aye Bus. Is it good?” Jay’s eyes were already sneaking peeks at the frozen images on the phone screen.
“That’s very good, Jay. Now I need you to answer me honestly here. I know I left you a long time. I’ve got us penciled in for breakfast with some reps from — get this — the Miami Dolphins. It’s for 5am though. Now, I’m not going to be mad if you have but I need you to tell me — how much have you had to drink tonight?”
There was no way to gage the consumption of Jay Cutler anymore. Until he passed out on the floor, Jay with a .217 behaved eerily similar to Jay drinking iced tea.
“I think this is my third. I can ask Lin Sue though. I told her to keep a tab for when you showed up. She said she was supposed to leave like three hours ago but I told her you’d make it worth her while.” His phone flickered and Jay’s hand instinctively pounced for it.
“It Kristin? She with the kids? Oh I do hope she’s well.”
“Lunardi just moved ‘Nova to First Four Out. Sweet.” His eyes remained on his phone.
“So if you’re clean, I think we need to talk about this deal with the Dolphins. Chris means business to take this risk to meet us so we gotta nail this. Play our cards right and you’ll be first off the market when free agency hits!”
An innocent young female voice cut into the conversation, “And so you must be Bus. Well, Jay was right, you were worth the wait. ” The waitress rubbed her cool finger across the top of his now blazing-hot ear. “So what can I get you?”
“You’re the waitress? Okay. Okay good. So I’ll have a seltzer-heavy gin rickey and, can you bring me the bill for his complete tab tonight please? This is very important. Thank you.”
“Better get me another one of these too, Suey,” Jay swirled the backwash and cigarette butt contents of a High Life bottle above his head.
“Only if you stop lighting cigarettes in here. We’re a non-smoking establishment and I’m tired of asking.” Jay continued to scan his phone but mumbled a response that didn’t seem disagreeable. She scribbled the order and walked away.
“What do you think about playing for Adam Gase again? I think lightning could strike twice with you two and now how’s THAT make you feel?”
“Feel? Sure, I guess.” His eyes now twitched as one hand fingered the phone pad with alarming speed while the other rustled around his jacket pocket.
“Well, it should make you excited! You’re on the verge of professional retirement and a career without legacy and I get you interest from a playoff team! What are you going to do if we don’t land you a good situation? You can’t coach. You aren’t cut out for media. Seriously, what will you do? I’d like to hear!”
“Guess I’d be surgeon general or something then. That’s fine.” He took a sip from his High Life and only looked up from his phone, grimacing, to discover the source of the ashy taste of his swig.
“Jay, how do you honestly expect to get that position?”
Jay shrugged “I don’t know. Whatever. Trump.” He presented a green and white cigarette pack and a novelty lighter from his pocket. With a flip of his wrist, the flame danced on the tip a cigarette in his mouth and, with a deep draw from his lungs, the flame crept halfway closer to his lips. His phone beeped and, after pawing his hand across the device, he stood up and, without diverting his attention from the screen, began navigating through the crowd until he disappeared behind the backbar, clearly unaware of the smoke signals tracing his route.
Cook felt a vibration against his breast pocket and used the opportunity to check the message without concern for proper table etiquette.
Jay returned to the table and set his phone aside. A smile — his first of the conversation — dominated his face. He tapped the face-down phone and explained his absence as well as his attitude change. “There’s a Dunsparce in the mens room. I finally got that bitch square in my Pokédex.”
Cook ignored this statement, as he did about most topics that made Jay smile. “Just got a text from the Jets. They’re excited, Jay. They want you! I can tell they’re creamin’ to get you locked down.” He presented the phone as proof to his client.
“Cream?” Cook wouldn’t have believe Jay’s smile could have gotten any larger.
“Look, I need you to stay with me tonight. I’ll get us there in the morning. You got your bag, right? Run to the bathroom and change.”
“I was just in there. I’ll go next time I piss.”
“Goddamnit, Jay! These guys expect me to show up in two hours with a strong-armed Bears quarterback willing to take a two-year deal with few guaranteed dollars because, you know Jay, your reputation doesn’t make this an easy sell. Just go fucking change.”
Jay rolled his eyes, grabbed his bag, and skulked to the restroom. Cook retrieved his phone and reread the text. He twice started to type a response before setting down his phone to think but he instinctively hid away the incriminating texts when a glass was placed before him.
“I hope you’re a Hendricks man.” The waitress brushed his hand once when she set down his gin rickey and a second time when she placed the tab before him. “I love the taste of Hendricks men.” Cook was intrigued but not so much so that he didn’t rush for the tab.
He hooted a laugh of relief as he pulled out his wallet. “Only beer? Nothing hard? Nothing that you could set on fire? He was only ordering some beer?”
“This gonna get you off my back, Bus?” Jay stood next to the waitress, modeling a sharp blue plaid suit with just the slightest gang green accent.
Cook was on cloud nine. “Dapper and sober? I’m thrilled.” He handed two crisp one-hundred dollar bills to the waitress and took a large drink of his rickey.
“Sober? Quite the opposite. This guy has had like thirty shots. They’re not on the tab because they’ve been picked up.”
“Shots of what? Who sent these to him and what was –“
Jay’s head slammed against the table as his legs gave out. A groan escaped his limp body before he began purging four hours worth of vodka shots.
Securing her money, Lin Sue simply thumbed to the booth behind Cook and stepped over Jay to cash out her shift for the night. Cook looked from his purging client to the blinking cursor on his text app, then back to his client.
“Fuck surgeon general. Tell ’em I want ATF. Oh God…oh….” Jay exhumed a stream of his 80 proof stomach contents.
Cook twisted in his seat to face the financier of this disaster.
“I’m plenty familiar with creamin’ but, tell this strong-armed Bears quarterback willing to take a two-year deal with few guaranteed dollars, does this breakfast got an omelette bar?”