Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik
Vail Colorado was as beautiful as advertised. The overpriced chalet he rented for a three-day rest was richly appointed, but not as isolated as he had hoped. The views were great, if you liked looking at ski runs. He had the feeling he'd stumbled into the most overpriced ski bum village in North America. Spring was a popular season in Vail to his surprise. The city was hosting a festival, but he didn't venture down the mountain.
By the second day, he was beginning to go stir crazy. Time alone had never bothered him before. In fact, he longed for it, but he wasn't able to relax.
He gave up and called Corporal Mast. "Art, how's it hanging?"
Art's voice came through the phone, "Where the hell are you?"
"Headed your way if you're around," Scott said. "I'm making better time than I anticipated, somewhere near Vail."
"Well shit, come on!" Art replied. "I know a terrific steak place. We can knock a few back and tell some lies."
"Sounds like a plan. I'll holler at you in a couple of hours."
He felt better already.
Back on the road, heading east, the mountainous terrain made memorable scenery and the miles passed. Before he knew it, he had driven out of the mountains. Denver lay sprawled out before him. The thin brown haze over the city was a harsh contrast with the glorious mountain vistas behind him.
Art's directions took Scott near Mile High Stadium and south of the university campus. The area was flush with student condominiums and apartments. He sat at a light, turn signal blinking, watching people enjoying a spring day. The light changed and he quickly found the turn-in for the complex Art had described.
The housing looked like upscale-duplexes. Maybe 'Condo' was a marketing term, he mused. He parked, grabbed his bags, and blipped the alarm. Partway toward the apartment door, it opened and Art Mast came limping out, cane in hand.
"Nice wheels," Art said.
"Nice place," Scott replied.
Scott put his bags down and they met in the middle with much backslapping.
"Salt n Pepper back together again," Art said.
Scott laughed. He'd almost forgotten the old squad nickname for the pair.
"Good drive?" Art asked.
"Real nice," he said. "Great scenery you got around here."
"Come on inside."
Scott grabbed his bags and followed. "What's with the stick? I thought you got rid of that thing."
"Had a setback. The docs had to trim my stump. No marathons for me this year."
"Some," Art said. "How's the ass?"
"Thigh!" Scott said.
"Yeah, yeah," Art replied with a laugh, "you say wounded in the thigh, I say wounded in the ass."
"Upper thigh, maybe," Scott said as he stepped inside. "This is great."
The apartment was neat and clean. He could see a woman's touch at work. There was a print on the wall that Art would never have purchased and scented candles.
"Hope you're okay with the couch."
"It's fine, bud," Scott said. "Don't worry about it. We've slept in worse."
"Amen, brother. Take a load off."
Scott took a seat on the couch and watched as Art maneuvered himself toward a reclining chair. Art grabbed a picture from a side table and turned it toward Scott. "Remember this?"
"Sure," he replied. The picture was of their fireteam before a patrol. "We were some good looking bastards."
"Still are," Art said, smiling. "Let me call my girl. Feel up to a cold beer or three?"
"You bet. Is it still the girl you were writing, Lisa?"
His friend smiled. "Yeah, she stuck with me."
"That's great, man."
The restaurant was crowded. The college crowd mingled in the tight confines of the bar area. Monitors on the wall displayed a European professional soccer league game that had a surprising number of fans.
"Food any good here?" Scott shouted over the noise.
"Yeah," Art yelled back, "and the prices are right."
A frat type in a size too small t-shirt, and earrings in his ears, stumbled over Art's cane and swung around, "Watch it crip!" he slurred.
Scott saw red.
He grabbed the kid's collar and twisted. He used a fistful of the shirt as a handle to bring the loud mouth to his eye level. "Apologize to my friend you little shit."
Spittle flew from the kid's mouth as he tried to frame a thought.
"Whoa!" One of the drunk's buddies shouted. "Whoa man! Chill."
Scott growled at the loudmouth who backed away.
"Easy big guy," Art said. "He's not worth it."
He had such a tight grip on the shirt that the kid's face was turning red. He looked at the half-circle of college students. They were boys. He'd seen tougher Afghanis half their age. The frat boys were bowed-up, but none rushed to aid their friend. Threats of imminent violence tended to sort the predators from the prey.
"This man," Scott said pointing at Art, "bled for his country." He raised the drunk's body another couple of inches and considered tossing him through the plate-glass window.
"Ease up, Marine."
Art's tone burned through the red fog in Scott's mind and he shoved the punk into the arms of his buddies. The group beat a hasty, but mouthy, retreat.
Art grabbed Scott around the neck and squeezed. "These kids aren't the enemy. Come on sergeant, show me why you earned that promotion and let it go. What do you say to a cold beer?"
"Beer sounds good."
"Show's over folks," Art said with a wave of his cane. "The association for pissed off combat veterans thanks you for your indulgence."
A smattering of nervous laughter from the assembled bar patrons made Scott realize that he'd scared the pampered college types.