Michael O’Brien’s one room studio apartment across the street from Hayward Park in Spokane was his first attempt at living alone. Before joining the Marines, he was always at home. In the service even though he thought of himself an individual, he always ate, slept and spent every minute of every day in the company of others. It was barracks life, in squad or company, always with other people. Skinhead or buzz cut even the haircuts demanded uniformity. After his discharge one of the first things to do was to recover the cherished long hair of being Native American. Before and after work, he had four walls, an army cot for a bed, a toilet/shower, a make-shift kitchen counter/sink, one table and chair. Faced with three days of watching paint dry before going back to his security job, O’Brien had promised himself a day trip. Since this was going to be a covert op he decided to roll his hair in a man bun. Like most of the men in the country he put on a baseball cap backwards.
After the graveyard shift of driving around the perimeter of the casino complex O’Brien had left his Security uniform and paraphernalia in his locker. With the weekend ahead, he was taking the Humvee home. That was not only allowed but encouraged. The logo on the door panels and pinto pony paint job attracted a lot of customers. It also played hell with his need to keep a low profile. Coasting down Sunset Boulevard, the drive to his apartment was uneventful and safe. Homeagin Finnegin and not wanting to waste any free time, he decided not to go to bed. The camouflage jacket, new T-shirt and cargo pants and baseball cap would work for the next three days.
Setting the GPS in the Humvee for destination Clayton, O’Brien headed East on Sprague, left on Division and motored North waiting for the voice to say “stay left at the Y”.
Like the Montana tourist he was the road signs and billboards made the trip North on SR395 less boring than it was for locals. Wandermere Golf club on the right, Commelini’s Junction on the left, Graffmiller’s Barn at Half Moon Prairie Grange, Wild Rose road, the metropolis of Deer Park on the right and he was almost there. Not knowing where to begin, his search for the half-sister his dad told him about looked like it might be challenging.
When he got as to Clayton he was hungry and thirsty. A blink of the eye put the Humvee on the outskirts of town. An abrupt but safe U-turn in lieu of three lefts and a right put him back in town. Coming through town he had noticed the Clayton Hamburger Restaurant and a sign for Birdy’s Sports Bar. Of the two choices the Brew pub looked like it might be the best option.
No other cars in the lot told him this wasn’t the truckers regular stop. It was 2:00 PM and the place was deader than door nail. Walking through the swinging doors the barkeep greeted O’Brien with cordial but limited enthusiasm.
“What’ll ya have, stranger?”
“Are you sure you’ve got room for one more?”
“You must be the entertainment, buddy. Show time isn’t until 9:00 PM and right now it’s between lunch break and the dinner hour. Cookie’s out for a smoke if it’s food you’re looking for. I can pour you a cold one while you’re waiting.”
“Got any O’Brien Beer on tap?”
“That’s East Coast or import. Our supplier is always out or so he says. Can I draw ya a Coors light?’
“Not a happy choice but after the drive up here it’s any draft in a storm. Where’s your menu?”
“On the wall. It changes every day. Depends on what’s available at CMT Butcher Shop and Yokes Market in Deer Park. Cook’s back online and that BT burger, medium well is popular.”
After O’Brien had gagged down the half raw hamburger and sloshed it down with the warm beer his focus changed a bit. He began to ponder where he might be able to spend the night.
More customers drifted in and the sound level rose accordingly. With a quiet “Howdy” an older man in a cowboy hat joined O’Brien at the bar.
Figuring that introduction was adequate, O’Brien responded.
“Excuse me, pardner. Could you recommend a place to bed down for a couple of nights?”