Three Card Monte

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3

I tried to exercise after work whenever possible. It helps clear my mind as I use all my energy, pushing myself just enough to build muscle but avoid injury. Occasionally I would have an epiphany on a case I was working, but unfortunately, not today. I wiped the sweat from my brow, brushing my short straight brown hair from the front of my eyes. Standing straight and stretching for the finishing touch of my routine for the day.

My eyes drifted to the painting featuring my personal hero and great-great grandfather which hung on the wall. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, resplendent in a brevet general’s uniform, with a line of Union soldiers behind him. His signature mustache hung down from the corner of his mouth to a point just below the chin. His eyes were sharp but seemingly sad in this scene, as he stood straight in salute. Around Chamberlain and his men, rifles were stacked in rows like teepees as larger than life Confederate General John B. Gordon, with his sword drawn and its point touched to the toe of his boot, bowed his horse gracefully in a returned salute. General U.S. (Sam) Grant had chosen Chamberlain, of all his generals, to accept the confederate flag three days after Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

I grew up hearing stories about Chamberlain from my great grandfather, my grandfather and my father. Each had participated in the yearly reenactments at Gettysburg where Chamberlain’s actions, under dire conditions, had saved the Union Army from possibly losing the entire war. My father had hinted that it would soon be my turn to take his place at the annual ritual. I looked forward to everything but growing the mustache over my clean shaven face. I was proud of my heritage, as were the Chamberlain’s before me. I felt a duty to be sure that my great-great grandfather would be proud in return of his grandson and the legacy he left behind.

I smiled as I remembered those days long ago, when the stories of the Civil War were passed to me around the campfires of my youth. I could still hear the exciting stories from men both old and young whom I loved and respected. I was still fascinated by stories about a time when the Civil War was taking away the innocence of a young nation. I looked at the clock, coming out of pleasant remembrances, as I got in the shower. My dad and I made an annual visit to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, to visit Chamberlain’s house that had long been turned into a museum of his life. As the hot water cascaded over my head I decided it was time to return.

Gritty’s is a local brewpub located in an area of Portland known as the Old Port. The Old Port was a 6-block area where some of the streets still had cobblestone from the 1700’s. There were a good number of small restaurants, bakeries, coffee houses, retail shops, small pubs, and dance clubs. Most of the three story buildings were crowded brick structures adorned with decorative overhangs, with many containing small apartments and offices on the upper two floors, all the shops and clubs were on the first floors. In my younger days the whole area was part of my frequent haunts, but I have matured and the crowd is too young for me now anyway.

As I walked down the sidewalk I passed groups of people that congregated here and there in front of the shops. They were either window-shopping or smoking as all of the pubs were now non-smoking. A crowd of six bikers stood in front of a dance club called Cadillac Jack’s talking loudly, all wearing leather jackets displaying the Iron Horsemen logo. The Iron Horsemen motorcycle club had a nasty reputation for violence and petty crime. I decided to call the station and let them know that these boys were hanging around town.

Gritty’s sat up ahead on the 1st floor of a brick building with large picture windows. They brewed their own beer and there was a large fermenting vessel displayed prominently in one of the picture windows. The sign over the door was a simple beer vessel with the word Gritty’s in script font in the center. As I walked in I could hear laughter and caught the scent of hops as it drifted into the cool night air. The interior was nautical in style with wooden sailing vessels and pictures of the perfect storm on the walls. A ship’s wheel hung over the bar with light bulbs stuck in it to give the room its rather dim, smoky quality, even though the bar was smoke free.

I noticed a six-seat table empty towards the back of the room and made my way to it. No sooner had I sat down when the waitress was asking what I wanted. “I’ll have a Gritty’s Ale on Tap.”

I looked around at the various patrons on what seemed to be a rather slow Tuesday night. This place catered to all types. There was a group of guys and gals dressed in office attire playing darts against a far back wall. It looked like they were playing mixed doubles. In a separate room to the left were four pool tables where some biker dudes were playing pool. They had H.O.G. jackets which stood for Harley Owners Group. These were, for the most part, law-abiding Harley riders that just liked to congregate. There were a couple of different women’s groups gathered, most dressed casual with blue jeans or slacks. I picked up a menu and looked over the various selections that included Buffalo wings, onion rings, Gritty burgers, and other choice offerings from the grille.

I looked over towards the bar and saw a black skirt that rose just above the knee. Beyond the short skirt was a pair of shapely legs, tanned brown, wearing a pair of 3” high- heeled boots that stopped just above the ankle. The heels were wide which I imagined were easier to walk in. Her back was towards me, which was fine for what I was looking at. She had long black hair, more wavy than curly, drifting to the center of her back. Her red shirt was cut low in the back exposing her smooth brown skin almost to the top of her skirt.

She picked up her drink from the bar and waved at the front door. Two women were walking in, one wearing khaki pants and the other jeans cut-off at mid-thigh. They made their way over to little miss knockout and appeared to be ordering drinks. My waitress brought over my beer and asked if I was interested in an appetizer. I declined as I was waiting for some friends and didn’t and to order without them.

“Hi Jack, glad you could make it. This is Sandy and Lori.” I looked up to see little miss knockout standing in front of me and it was Claire. I am not usually, or let’s say never, at a loss for words, but it seemed I had some dumb look on my face. ”What the hell is wrong with you, Jack?”

I tried to recover the best way I knew how, “I just fell in love with a pair of legs, high-heeled boots, and a short skirt; I’m just shocked they were on you.” I smiled and looked up at her. She held my gaze for a moment and I could see a slight redness enter her cheeks.

“Like I always say, what’s not to love,” and with that she did a spin and I swear my heart skipped a beat. I must be nuts.

The waitress came over and promptly ruined the moment by asking if we needed anything. We all decided another round was in order and we sat down for some small talk. I got to know Sandy and Lori a little and they seemed nice enough. They both worked at offices in the city. Sandy was a paralegal that lived just around the corner with her husband and five-year-old son. Once a month she had a girl’s night out to blow off some steam. Lori was an accountant with one of the larger local firms. She was a local Portland high graduate who said she was single and wanted to stay that way. Her blonde hair and hazy hazel eyes seemed to attract a good deal of attention from the men in the pub.

Claire had sat next to me and I found myself looking at her probably too damn often. Her wavy hair was parted so that her right eye seemed to look at me from beneath fine black locks. Her eyes sparkled in the dim light as if they provided their own inner fire that revealed itself in flashes. A wide smile crossed full glossy red lips giving her cheekbones added definition. She told a story in hushed tones, of one of our earlier cases and laid her hand gently on my arm. I felt goose flesh emanate from beneath her soft touch and surge through me. I looked down at her short nails painted a deep red and was disappointed when her hand left my skin. My breath stopped short as she reached up and parted my hair in a slow steady stroke. Our eyes caught as her hand left my hair and felt a sensual energy pass between us. I would always recall this moment as the one where my heart began to understand something that my mind had long taken for granted, which was how beautiful Claire really was. I noticed, Sandy nudge Lori with an elbow and I realized my face must be flushed as I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. Claire was more than the rough around the edges partner I had grown to trust but obviously not really know. Christ, who is this woman I have been working with over the last year?

As our food began to arrive, Lori asked me how it happened that I had partnered up with Claire. “I drew the short straw.”

Claire hit me in the arm. “The best fucking thing that ever happened to you too, buster.”

“I remember my first impression of Claire was of a tough sailor mouthed girl with a chip on her shoulder. I knew she grew up in Turner, Maine, and I did some checking up on her.”

“Now there is some tough detective work. My father, mother, uncle, aunt and most of my relatives all worked at the biggest chicken egg farm in New England. It’s not like we’re hard to find. We had a monopoly on the trailers that sit up on the property, especially on Sanchez Road. If you could get past the smell of chicken shit, it still really sucked. Even in that environment I still finished top ten in my class,” she finished with a defiant shake of her head that sent her hair brushing across my face.

“The thing that impressed me most was her military record,” I continued. “When Special Ops is praising your shooting ability, you have to be good. According to Claire’s CO she was the best sniper in the field.”

“I’m so glad I turned down their offer to join the rangers. It just wasn’t for me. My CO introduced me to Major Kidd of the DCIS, Defense Criminal Investigative Service. I was hooked with my first case where I could hunt down the bad guys. After six years in, it was time to come home to Maine. I knew I wanted to stay a cop and I wanted to work with the best.”

“Flattery will get you, well, almost anything I suppose,” which elicited some giggles from our audience. “So, I end up with my first female partner.”

“You have it made. I do most of the work anyway,” finished Claire as she stood and excused herself to go to the bathroom. As with most women I went out with, her friends promptly stood to join her.

I watched them leave and again could scarcely believe the difference in Claire tonight versus the girl I was used to spending my days with. Normally her hair would be in a ponytail and thrust through the adjustment strap in a well-worn Sea Dogs cap, a Double A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Her daily attire consisted of sneakers, jeans and baggy sweatshirts that covered her ass. A tomboy, but damn, she cleaned up good. As I watched her continue across the room, her curves attracted the attention of every red blooded horny bastard in the joint. I guess I wasn’t the only one here that found her attractive.

When Claire returned we finished another round and it was off to a small blues club about two doors down. The place was standing room only. All asses to elbows with people spilling drinks on one another – this was definitely over capacity but I didn’t feel like being a cop right now. The waitresses were amazing, trays held high weaving through the crowd. I saw a drifting hand sneak a grab on one girl walking by and minutes later the jerk was escorted roughly out the door – good for her. Our waitress brought over a round as we stood in a corner trying to talk over the din. Not a drop spilled, slightly short of amazing in this place. After about an hour, the girls moved to the dance floor and again my eyes were drawn to Claire dancing to Werewolves of London. A young guy, with his black silk shirt wide open thinking he was some kind of Adonis, moved in and began to dance with all three. They did their best to ignore him but I saw him reach down and grab Claire’s butt. She swiped his hand away then danced herself over to the edge of the dance floor.

I think it was at this point when I became a little agitated. Who the fuck does this grease ball think he is anyway? He made his way towards her and grabbed her again. This time Claire turned around and looked like she told him to F-off – that’s my girl. I set my beer down and began walking towards the crowded dance floor. I really didn’t have a good reason to feel this way but regardless, this guy really pissed me off. As I approached Claire, the son of a bitch did it again and like they say, third time’s a charm. I grabbed him by the wrist and jerked him towards me. “The lady doesn’t want you pawing her. I thought she made that clear,” I said.

“Yeah, you her fuckin’ Daddy or something?” he asked snapping his hand away. Well, being a cop I knew exactly what I should do, unfortunately I didn’t do it. Instead I hit him in the gut. He quickly recovered and tried to roundhouse me with a left, but I ducked and hit him in the gut again. With him slightly bent over, I drove my shoulder and him into the wall at the far side of the dance floor, which successfully knocked the remaining wind out of him. I was about to finish him off when both my arms were yanked behind my back and this burly bouncer began hauling me towards the door. I had the opportunity to end it and leave peacefully but again, I didn’t take it. I had the height on this guy so I managed to hook one of his feet in mid stride and trip him up. As he stumbled I spun on him and got behind him, shoving his hand up his back and creating a great deal of pain in his shoulder. Using the momentum I had, I drove him up against the wall.

“Jack, knock that shit off and let’s get out of here!” I heard Claire yell from beside me. I decided that maybe now was a good time to call it quits and we both bolted to the door and jogged down the street. “Jesus Jack, what the hell was that all about?”

“That guy pissed me off,” I said as I tried to catch my breath.

“Yeah, well he pissed me off too but you didn’t have to drive him into a wall. I’m a big girl, Jack and I can take care of assholes like him. Do you think this is the first time I’ve had to brush off some jerk on the dance floor? What the fuck were you thinking? You’re a cop for Christ sake.”

“Well first of all, I’m off duty and second of all, he really pissed me off.”

She looked at me with this what am I going to do with you look, which made me feel like a grade school child being admonished by a teacher I had a crush on. It was one of those moments when, even though I am almost a head taller than her, I would have sworn I was looking up at her. It was then that she gave me the most amazing smile. “You really are a dork you know that.” Which, at the time, I took as a compliment.

“Yeah I just wanted you to know that chivalry is not dead, and defending a lady’s honor and all that shit.”

“Doesn’t the saying go ‘defending my lady’s honor’?”

“Does it? I wouldn’t know. I’ve never read anything written before the 90’s. Are you sure?”

“Come on let’s get a coffee.” With that she hooked her arm in mine and we walked over to the Breaking New Ground coffee shop. I couldn’t help noticing, even in the aroma of a rich coffee house, the sweet smell of Claire’s perfume mixed with the sweat of the evening’s events. I realized that I could be in some real trouble.

I woke up to my morning ritual and headed downstairs at 7:30. Claire was waiting, truck idling at the curb. “Good Morning,” I said actually feeling a little awkward. “How did you sleep?”

“Like I had too much to drink,” she said, but ended with “although the coffee was nice.” She gave me a quick look and the same sly smile from last night. At that point I noticed her jeans looked tighter, her sweatshirt hugged her well and didn’t cover her ass. She also looked pretty damn cute in that hat. Her smile broadened with a little redness in her cheeks, as I must have been staring again. “You’re really starting to freak me out. Do you have this type of reaction to women often?”

Man I hate to be toyed with – well kind of. “Oh yeah, Miss Innocent,” I said. “You dressed for success last night and you succeeded.”

“Damn that’s smooth, Lancelot.” She stepped on the gas and headed for work.

I couldn’t tell if that was an insult or a compliment, so I settled for a compliment because it made me feel better.


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