Paul opened the dark pine door with some
effort. The bar used to have a much lighter door, made of polished
aluminum and glass, but after the third time it got broken in a brawl,
Josie had replaced it with the the heavy wooden door.
at both sides, there were two large windows that faced the parking lot.
The windows had been covered with a plastic film to prevent them from
being smashed. As a result, they were covered in many cracks, large and
small, like sharp spider webs hanging in the air.
the kind of place that would be described as "popular". It was close to
the edge of town, just a few blocks from the exit to the insterstate
Most young people preferred to take the one hour drive
to San Diego every weekend, which was fine for the regulars at Josie's.
They didn't discourage new people from coming in, unlike a couple of the
roughest, nearby bars, but it also didn't need them.
clientele was mainly people who were thirty years and older, who had no
other place to go to enjoy a cold beer, greasy fries and wanted to feel
as comfortable as in their own living room.
Built with pine wood
that had turned black by decades of grime and cigarrette smoke, it was
more like a large cabin with a bar at the back, with all kinds of
bottles adorning the back wall. A big mirror was hung right in the
middle, with some old photos along the edges.
Paul had visited it
a couple of times when he was younger, a couple of years before his
father's death. Despite having that tube in his throat, Les still had
wanted to smoke like a chimney, drink a whole pitcher of beer and shove
all the onion rings he could in his mouth.
-I don't want to die wanting just one more of these - he'd said, pointing with a gaunt finger at the fried onion rings.
then, Paul knew better than to try to change how his father acted. His
mother had tried for almost twenty two years, and it had taken a heart
attack while driving back home to stop her.
-¡Paul, over here! -called a familiar voice, deep and gruff.
walked slowly to where he was called. At that time there weren't many
people inside the bar, just a couple of old men sitting apart in the
round wooden tables in the big area in the middle. One of them had a
half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels in front of him, along with an ashtray
full of cigarrette butts.
The boys were sitting around a table,
close to the right wall, and under a bunch of vintage posters of music
shows: Rock and Roll mostly, but some Jazz ones, and even a couple
advertising Frank Sinatra's shows in Las Vegas.
-What took you so
long? Dan and Pete were about to leave -said Rich. The large man then
poured the last beer in the pitcher. -¡Blonde Josie, bring us another,
Paul took a seat next to Rich. He was almost as wide as
he was tall, just a bit taller than Paul, who was almost six feet
himself. His unkempt beard was barely enough to cover his many chins,
the same tone of brown as the hair that was covered by an old red and
white trucker hat.
He was wearing faded blue jeans with a dark
green t-shirt. The back had the words "Rich's Landscaping service" in
large yellow silk-screened letters.
Blonde Josie brought a new
pitcher full of dark beer to the table. Just as she replaced the empty
one on the table, Nick got out of the bathroom, rubbing his hands along
his pant's legs to dry them.
Nick sat down next to Dan and Pete.
The two brothers looked like carbon copies of each other, two men with
wispy black hair with lots of white on the side, thin as Rich was fat.
Pete was four years older, and Dan had a mustache he tried to keep well
groomed, but failing at that task.
The two were dressed in dark
blue over-alls, with many colored paint stains all over them. Pete had
unzipped his a bit, showing the Pink Floyd t-shirt that was below,a nd
was taking a red box of Marlboro from the front pocket.
see you, Paul -greeted Nick, while pouring some beer in his glass. -We
were getting tired of hearing Dan complain about his daughter's new
-That girl, I don't know what she's thinking -repeated
Dan, while his brother lighted a new cigarrette. -You try to educate
your children well, make sure they know what's right and what's...
yeah, you already complained for half an hour, Dan. She's only doing it
because she knows you don't like it -interrupted Rich, hitting the
table with an open palm.
-Now that Paul's here we can plan the
trip. And let's do it quick, I want to go home and catch the baseball
game while I can -said Pete.
-Actually... -started Paul, but he got cut before he could continue.
is not going -intervened Nick, putting down his glass, and grabbing
some fried onion rings from the bowl in the middle of the table. He
seemed like he had drank a bit more beer than the others, judging by the
redness of his face.
-Is that true? I thought Nick was tryin to pull my leg -said Rich, turning his big round face towards Paul.
could feel how his friend's eyes were looking straight at him, almost
with almost the same intensity of a concentrated laser.
-Yeah, I'm not going - he announced, feeling a bit bad as the words left his mouth. -Sorry, guys.
table came alive with expressions of incredulity. Paul just served
himself a glass of beer, and waited until they all calmed down, and
drank some of their beer.
-It's not going to be the same without you, you know? - asked Pete, flicking the ash of his cigarrette into the glass ashtray.
-C'mon Paul, why are you leaving us hanging dry? -insisted Dan, leaning a bit over the table.
-I just don't see the point of going all the way over there, that's all -answered Paul, but almost regretting being too frank.
-He doesn't see the point -repeated Nick, in a mocking manner.
Rich saw that the pitcher was almost empty, and motioned towards Brunette Josie to bring them a new one.
was a tradition to call any waitress that worked at the bar by the name
of Josie, even if that wasn't their name. Sometimes there were some
trouble, when the patrons couldn't think of any good descriptor to add
to the name, like the time there were two blonde Josies, until someone
noticed one had blue eyes and the other had greenish eyes.
Much better than the time someone tried to call them Old and Young Josie, thought Rich.
-Well, it's a free country. For a little while longer, at least -said Dan.
down, guys -Rich ordered, with a serious tone in his voice. -We all
know that Paul already did more than most. If he wants to sit this one
out then he's earned it.
Dan and Pete lowered their heads,
suddenly very interested in their own beers. Nick just laid back on his
chair, crossing his arms.
Paul took another sip of beer. He hated
when people made a big deal of what had happened to him. And he hated
it even more when people didn't even bother to acknowledge it.
The sun was high in the sky, it's light scorching the arid ground below.
A large convoy of trucks, thirty of many sizes, tried to follow a road that only existed in the markings of their GPS screens.
truck jumped all over the uneven road, even more since Paul was keeping
the speed as fast as he could, trying to not fall behind and delay the
Even though he had been in Iraq for three months
already, he still couldn't remember well the names of every province he
had drove through while in a convoy. And outside the military bases, it
looked all the same to him: the same box-like houses, the same narrow
streets, the same people who yelled at him for not speeding down when
they were in the middle of the roads.
-Too bad we can't put some nice rock'n roll to pass the time -said Donald, while eyes darted all over the horizon.
-Did they even had Rock stations here? Before it was all bombed to hell, I mean -asked Paul, with genuine curiosity.
doubt it, man. Saddam hated America, and there's nothing more american
than some good, hard Rock'n Roll- mentioned Donald, trying not to get
-Maybe when they find those WMDs it'll turn out
they're a large cache of western songs -joked Paul, trying to not feel
Donald laughed a little, while he again confirmed that they were following the correct route on the GPS screen.
convoy runs were always tense. Not single day passed without the
drivers hearing about some attack with rocket launchers, a suspicious
object in the middle of the road or a guy throwing a grenade at the
And the best the bosses had come up with was to tell them
to keep the pedal to the metal, and to not stop under any circumstance,
no matter what. Not even if one of the trucks suddenly became a bunch
of fire and twisted metal, lying on its side.
Paul looked at the
route just in front of him, trying to scrutinize even the smallest rock
he could see through his sunglasses, holding his breath every time the
truck jumped a bit too high.
-Man, this isn't nearly as fun as
what my uncle told me it was for him, the first time around -Donald
complained, while wiping the big drops of sweat from his dark skin.
to him it was like summer camp? Did they find the one place with a nice
lake where everyone could just chill all day? -said the driver.
and Donald had become good friends very quickly. Even though Paul was
from California, and Donald from East San Louis, they shared the same
love for baseball, Vin Diesel movies and yes, Rock and Roll.
was good to have someone he liked being around during those long drives
inside the Iraqi cities and the countryside. Even at top speed, every
run took about one to two and a half hours to complete, not even
counting the return trip.
-Well, they did have to spend many
weeks sleeping in their tents under this sun, while not going anywhere -
started Donald, smiling a bit. -But my uncle, Rob, told me about the
It took all of Paul's willpower not to turn his
head, even for an instant, and look at his pal to make sure the heat
inside the cabin hadn't fried his brain. Even with the air conditioner
at full blast, it was quite balmy inside the truck.
truck. In the middle of the desert, far away from any city, is that
right? -he stated, trying to make sure it sounded as non-sensical as he
-You don't believe me? -said his friend, in a sardonic tone, trying to sound like he was a little hurt.
I'm sure there's plenty of ice-cream trucks all over the place. I just
not pure of heart enough to see them, is it something like that? -Paul
expressed, hoping that the punchline to that joke would be a good one.
-Are they driven by Playboy models, too?
-Nah, it was just some
crazy-ass dude who thought all those soldiers in the middle of the
desert would like some ice cream, or burguers and fries, or a nice cold
soda - Donald remembered.
-Wish I could be driving that truck instead of this one -Paul said. -Bet he made a fortune that way.
Donald was about to say something, but the words didn't even get out of his mouth.
that Paul could remember later, was that he felt like the truck had
crashed against a concrete wall, and then the inside of the cabin was
full of smoke and fire.
The bomb had exploded just below the
engine, next to the right wheel, and it had been strong enough to
crumple the steel like paper. The truck just behind him called for help
through the radio, but couldn't stop to see if they were still alive. It
could've been the set-up for an ambush, so the best they could do was
go on and pray they wouldn't be the next to explode.
woken up a week later in the hospital back at the camp. He had so many
painkillers inside, that he could barely notice that part of his left
leg was gone. Or the five cracked ribs, three broken vertebrae, a couple
more fractures in his hip bone, a broken hand and ruptured ear-drums.
he had been lucky. At least he was still in one piece, unlike Donald.
From what the other drivers told him, the soldiers only managed to find
enough of him to account for half of his weight.
almost midnight before Paul returned home. The small apartment was on
the other side of town, near a small undeveloped lot encircled by a
concrete sidewalk. Most of the other residents had already gone to
sleep, or were outside working the graveyard shift.
on the lights, and then slumped in the couch. It was the only piece of
furniture he had kept after selling his father's house. His family had
kept that orange couch since he was two, and it had so many memories
attached to it that he couldn't just part with it.
His father had
taught him so many life lessons when they were sitting on it. They had
sit there for hours, not saying anything, the day that they had returned
from his mother's funeral. He did it again when he returned from his
Les had always tried to teach his son about right
and wrong. That for a man of true character it wasn't difficult to know
which one was what.
They both had been furious at how the
insurance company had tried to weasel away from doing right by his son,
trying to shield behind more rules and regulations that contradicted the
ones that mattered.
It was around that time that Paul had met
Rich and the others. In the middle of all those troubles, they had been
the only ones who had helped him.
At first, he didn't align too
much with their beliefs, but little by little he had come to see that at
their core, they were just trying to keep the world from blurring the
line between what was right and wrong.
-Now, hear me well. Always
remember to do right to everyone, even more to your friends -Les had
said to him during his childhood.
It had been one of his favorite
bits of wisdom, and was fond of saying it out of the blue, no matter
what he and his son were doing.
Inside Paul there was a growing
discomfort, that had been bothering since leaving the guys at Josie´s a
bit earlier. They hadn't said anything else to him, but he knew that his
negative to go with them was disappointing.
The guys had been so
excited about the trip. To them, it was a chance to something good,
something that made a difference. Paul could see it in their faces, a
plain and honest feeling.
Paul went to his bedroom, and started
to undress. He then sat on the bed, took off the prosthetic leg and put
it right next to the bed. As he slowly slipped into sleep, he kept
thinking about his friends.