My guest blogger today is author, publisher, Caleb Pirtle, III.
He’s a principal in Venture Galleries.com and seeks to help independent authors promote
and market their work. His work is admirable, award winning, and most importantly–sells.
Today, he presents a true story from his past–a topic with which I’m quite familiar. The names have been changed.
HE LOOKED LIKE he hung out with a rough crowd.
Let me rephrase that.
All by himself, he was a rough crowd.
He wasn’t as tall as he thought he was.
He wasn’t as pretty as he thought he was.
He was as tough as he thought he was.
As gentle man with a mean streak.
He said his name was Joe.
I called him Joe.
No last name.
No reason to have one.
His hair was black but turning gray and growing thin.
His eyebrows had been singed, and they no longer grew at all.
He had burn scars on his face.
They hurt him when he grinned.
Joe no longer grinned.
I met him in Atlanta on a hot July night in 1978..
I didn’t mean to. I just looked up, and there he was sitting in the back corner of a neighborhood bar, sitting alone and nursing his third beer of the night. Two empty bottles were still on the table.
He looked like a story to me.
I sat down and bought him a beer.
Joe had fought one war in Vietnam.
He had battled another one at home.
His war had not yet ended.
He fought it mostly in the nightmares of his sleep.
He lost every night. He died a little every night.
“You got a reason to be here?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“I was just headed back to the hotel and stopped in for a drink,” I said.
“You picked the wrong bar.”
He didn’t look up.
“It’s just a bar.”
“No,” he said. “Most people don’t come here to drink.”
I looked around.
There was only a bartender.
No place to dance if there had been.
“Then why does anybody come?” I asked.
I must have looked stunned.
He grinned. The pain hit him. He stopped grinning.
“Who do you see in here?” he asked.
“Three or four guys down on their luck,” I said.
And no doubt they were.
Beards, mostly shaggy.
Black leather jackets.
Bandannas wrapped around their heads.
All drinking beer.
One man was walking out of the bar.
He didn’t belong.
He was a man in a hurry.
He had a right to be.
Joe nodded to the empty booth nearest the door.
“That’s where he left the wallet,” Joe said. “Don’t know if it’s the first one or the third one. But you’ll find a wallet in the seat.”
I found a wallet.
I handed it to Joe.
He stuck it in his pocket without opening it.
“I’ll find a name inside,” Joe said. “A name, a photograph, and an address.” He shrugged. “That’s how it’s done.”
“If a man or woman wants somebody knocked off, they come in and leave an old cheap wallet behind when they leave,” Joe said. “Three times they come in, and each wallet has a name, picture, and address tucked inside. Leave one wallet, and it might be a mistake. Leave three, and there’s not doubt that somebody is buying a hit man. The third, wallet contains five hundred dollars. Somebody takes the wallet, somebody leaves, and, sooner or later, somebody dies. None of these guys know who hired them. And the man paying for the hit has no idea who he hired.”
It didn’t hurt him to laugh.
“It’s foolproof,” he said. “Nobody can squeal on anybody.”
“That’s awful cheap,” I said.
“Life always is,” he said.
“Why do you do it?” I asked.
“It’s a job.”
“There must be better ways to make a living.”
“Who’ll hire a cripple with a burned out face?” he asked. “Most of us make a damn good living at this bar.”
“But what if you kill an innocent man?” I asked.
Joe finished off his beer.
“This is Atlanta,” he said. “Ain’t nobody innocent.”
“So why are you telling me?” I asked.
“You look like you can keep a secret,” he said.
“I may write about it someday,” I said.
Joe laughed again.
“Who the hell will believe you?” Joe stood and limped toward the door.
Somebody’s days in some corner of Atlanta had grown short.
But only Joe knew who he was.
He never knew why.
It was better that way.