Early October delivered a cloudless, bright football Saturday just on the south side of seventy degrees. Evening here at the Colorado ranch was turning cooler only a little slower than daylight was fading. The barbecue, pleasant aromas of burning hardwoods, unintelligible chatter of many well-heeled Coloradans, and intermittent tinkling of beer bottles chucked into strategically scattered trash bins, was on schedule for dining, drinking, and politicking.
I walked across an expanse of empty green to where the General, USA, Retired, was sitting low in a questionably sturdy, not-army-olive folding lawn chair with a towheaded young boy of maybe six or eight asleep in his lap. This white-headed, bristly-browed old general had been advisor to two of the three former Presidents here at this evening’s barbecue. The other president driven by need to show a slogan-worthy change in course, deemed it necessary he try a new military face suggesting new military advice.
I half-crouched down beside the General’s chair, on one knee, to his left. What I thought I’d seen, I had seen. It was a twenty-five caliber Fabrique Nationale, lying in the grass beside the General’s chair, blue-black against the crushed green of the foot-worn grass. The General could have reached it from his chair. It would have been a slow, deliberate process though, because of the child sleeping comfortably though sprawled awkwardly in the General’s lap, his head nestled against the General’s left chest, one arm dangling to one side, both legs dangling to the other from the General’s lap. The only thing keeping the kid from falling one way or the other was the General’s two arms, laced left-to-right and right-to-left around the kid’s middle.
“Good evening General,” I said. Softly. So as not to impose on the former Presidents. Or on anyone listening to their pearls of wisdom. Or to disturb the sleeping child.
The General had seen me earlier in the day, I am sure, but he certainly didn’t know who I was. He didn’t know my name. He turned his head as far as one can turn their head without moving their shoulders to look at me, squinted, or tightened his field of vision, up through wiry bristles of brows, then turned back to the animated conversation between the former Presidents. He said nothing.
“You know,” I said, “if I were an old former President, I think I’d go get some sleep so I could be rested and sharp. To match wits with the young bastards who will show up tomorrow. When the press is allowed in and points can be made by the hopefuls who will also attend.”
Without looking at me, the General replied in a raspy half-whisper, “These old bastards have burned the candle at both ends so long they don’t perform well if they don’t. They’ll go in for the evening when everyone gets tired of listening.”
“Or they get tired of talking.”
“That never happens.”
“And you, General?”
“I’ll go in when the boy wakes up. Or his momma comes looking for him.”
“That twenty-five on the ground won’t kill much more than grass where it is.”
The General said nothing. It was a habit he was known for and it was allowed. It was pretty damned stupid.
“Well, there are still one or two kids running around. They zip in and out before you even see them. They’ll see it. They see everything. They’ll know it’s a gun, but they won’t know it’s a gun.”
“Yeah. I know. Take it with you.”
“No. A new secret service boy finds it on me, there’ll be a few minutes of uncomfortable confusion while we sort things out. Let’s do this the right way, sir.”
I spotted an agent about twenty yards from the youngest former President. Sometimes they’re hard to spot. Sometimes they stick out like mustard on a blue suitcoat lapel. When I had his eye, I jerked my head discretely back like a bulldog tugging on his end of a rope, motioning him over. He pointedly ignored me. I waited. He looked back my way. More I think because seasoned guests were supposed to ignore secret service agents. Like they didn’t exist. They did, they always do. Wherever old former Presidents were. Protecting them from international bad guys, overzealous citizens, and tooth decay.
Like a cheap bimbo signaling ‘come-hither’ I crooked my index finger at him. As if looking for traffic before crossing the street, he looked to his left and then to his right before talking to his chest. While I couldn’t see his buddies, I knew how many were here and where they were supposed to be. I wanted this one to join me with the General, USA, Retired, and the sleeping towheaded boy.
He stopped decently a few feet away, where looking down and talking to me was comfortable for him and for me. Locking eyes with him, I slowly stood up. He was a good three inches taller than I and you could smell his muscles. With a jaw set that tight, he probably had to have hydraulic assists to chew food.
“Lose the fucking glasses,” I said. “They make you look like a bit player in a dumb movie. If there were any doubt, they tell everyone who you are. Sun’s almost down, and in this light, you can’t see shit with them on.”
Muscles said nothing.
“Do you see the General’s twenty-five under the toe of my left boot?”
Muscles tensed. Palpably. He probably thought I didn’t notice, but he tensed. He glanced at the toe of my boot. “Yes, sir, I do,” he said.
“The General says it’s too heavy for him to carry any more this evening. Would you take care of it after I leave?”
I looked at the General, still with his arms wrapped around the grandchild or grand nephew or stray kid. I’m not sure retired generals are allowed to have grandchildren. The General was focused on the former Presidents’ conversation. Or he seemed so.
“I have to leave now,” I said.
The General looked up at me for just a moment. Looked me in the eye. I don’t to this day know what he might have been thinking. He looked at Muscles and nodded.
“I’ve been told I’m old…” I said.
The General turned his attention back to the former Presidents. One was now telling an off-color joke. It was a good one from what I heard of it.
Then I looked Muscles hard and square in the eye again. He had his glasses off. He didn’t blink.
I continued, “…and stupid.”
Muscles blinked. I turned slowly and walked away from Muscles, the General, USA, Retired, and the sleeping towheaded boy.
© SPWilcenski 2020
Genesis October 9, 2010