The term shit heel is not one i bandy about lightly but it can be used to describe my behavior on numerous occasions throughout my life. Of course shit heel differs from asshole or even raging asshole which are two more descriptions that could be aptly used to describe my actions at times. I am far from the bastion of ethical and moral righteousness and about the only redeeming part of this is the fact that i'm at least aware of the level of complete bastard that i am capable of being. Ah but karma has a funny way of evening the score and right about the time one thinks they might be winning there comes a resounding kick in the balls to bring one back to the terra firma. Which leads us to the last time i actually saw Veronica before she packed up her things and headed west.
It was early doors as they say, in the poisoned union that El Kono somehow willingly joined. How do we know this? Well without giving it away i was still wearing the ring the i had slipped on a few weeks before and which i would take off a few weeks later never to be put back on. To say i don't believe in archaic institutions all while subjecting myself to archaic institutions sums up the conundrum that is my existence, an existence filled with such conundrums which makes me much like everyone else walking the streets. And so when it came to my attention that the date was set and Veronica would be leaving the city i made my way to the place she was bartending at the time. It was a Mexican restaurant located on the second floor above a some designer boutiques in the swanky section of the city. Oddly enough it was the same neighborhood i'd lived in during our London expedition. In fact i had only recently left that hood for one less swanky but with a flat three times the size of my old place. A proper flat with a sunroom for the cats, a couple bedrooms, one of those long, old city cribs where one could be in the front of the place and be completely separate from what was going on in the back.
It was early in the week as i walked up the steps to the Mexican restaurant, my boy tagging along to hang and shoot the shit once i had paid my visit. On entering the place it was virtually empty, well not virtually empty it was empty except for Veronica, the kitchen staff and a lonely and bored waiter who sat in the corner twiddling his thumbs. There was a look of surprise on her face followed by a wry smile, the reception wasn't exactly cold but it was far from warm and she very professionally asked, what would you gentleman like to drink? I ordered a Dos Equis for myself, a High Life for my friend and sat back and watched her move elegantly and easily behind the bar. In the couple of years since we had met she'd come a long way and now she was an excellent bartender and i for one love and excellent bartender. It's an underappreciated skill and though she was only grabbing and opening beers one could tell she was at ease behind the wood. Having watched her before she was charming and witty and her smile could disarm gangster and cop alike.
She set the beers down and leaned against the back bar, arms folded, shelves filled with expensive tequila and high end liquor. So, she said, what's new with you? the sarcasm fairly dripping from each word. I could tell this was not going to go the way i thought... and how did i think it was going to go? Of course being the kingpin i was used to everyone basically kissing my ass, not that i expected her to but as i said what did i expect? Some sort of congratulations on my (disastrous) nuptials? Did i think she was going to haul me back to the bathroom, lock the door and fuck me? I was a fucking idiot. There was me and my wants and needs and then there was the rest of the world and i was still not that interested in what the rest of the world fucking wanted or needed. And so i put on my best grin and said, Oh not too much, you know the usual. She quickly shot back, oh yeah just the usual huh? I shrugged. She turned and tapped a cigarette out of her pack, lit it and somewhat glared at me.
We sat there for a minute, eyes locked on each other as if we were kids in a stare down, she looked away, i gazed into my beer as if somewhere in the bottle there were answers. So i heard you got married, she spat out, her eyes drilling into me. Yeah, i said, i did. Well then congratulations she said, each word a knife being thrown in my direction. Good for you, her eyes boring into me. Of course i wasn't smart enough to just accept the fact this news, me being here, hurt this woman. I had to be the fucking prick and so i went on the offensive. Yeah it was a great fucking time, bartenders said they'd never seen such a pack of maniacs, practically drank them out of booze, said they'd never made so much in tips. Wanna see the ring? Not really, she said. Too bad i shot back and put my hand on the bar so she could see it. Her eyes were welling as she looked at me and then she turned around and made herself busy behind the bar. There was silence. The only noise the low hum of the Mexican music being played in the background. She locked the register and slipped away towards the bathroom.
When she came back out she was her composed self again. Would you gentleman like another round? I looked at my friend who had been stuck suffering through this whole scene. I guess? he mumbled. Yeah, two more i said and laid down a $50. She grabbed the beer and set them on the bar along with my change. She walked to the other end of the bar where there was a stool at the end for the bartenders on slow nights, she sat down, lit a cigarette and started scanning the weekly free paper, the fact it was already a week old told me all i needed to know. I believe i had bumped my rating from shit heel to asshole... because i was one. Can i sit here and say i loved this girl? I don't know. Can i sit here and say i did not? No i can't. In those wee hours i spent staring at the ceiling i knew that i did but i was too wrapped up in the game. Now the game was over but i was not the grand master at this game of chess i thought i was as i now had myself boxed in. In order to be with her would be to upset so many apple carts the floor would be applesauce in a matter of minutes. Unbeknown to me i was most likely the most fucked man in the city... and i deserved to be.
When we finished our beers i looked at my buddy and motioned that we should get out of here. As i looked down the bar at Veronica as she sat there reading the paper, lost in her thoughts, most likely wishing i would leave. That thought stung more than i'd ever let on. We stood up from our stools and she looked up. Finished? she asked. Yes, i said. She walked over and tossed the bottles into the bin and began wiping the bar. I stopped and watched her. My friend said he'd be outside and walked down the steps to the street. We stood looking at each other, the bar like an ocean in between us. I fidgeted a bit, i guess this is it then, huh. Yeah, she said, i guess it is. We both stood looking for the words. Finally i said, i hope California is everything you hoped for... i hope to see you on some movie poster someday so i can smile and say "i took that girl to England". For a second a smile flitted across her beautiful face. Good luck i said... and take care of yourself... the world can be a big bad place you know, i grinned, but i think you'll be able to handle it. She looked at me with those doe eyes and said, take care of yourself too. Goodbye Kono she said. Goodbye Veronica, my hushed voice giving away my feelings.
I turned and walked towards the steps as she pretended to busy herself behind the bar. At the top of the stairwell i turned and watched her. She was fucking gorgeous, moving gracefully, an otherworldly elegance about her, i soaked her in, she didn't realize i was watching when she stopped, put her hands on the back bar and let out a deep sigh, as she turned she wiped at her eyes when she realized i was still there. We didn't say anything, i smiled at her, a smile filled with sadness, she smiled back... i blew her a kiss and drank her in like a man who knew he'd never find water again... then i went down the steps... she never saw me wipe at my own eyes... to be cont.