A STRONG CUP OF COFFEE

Otis sensed it before Sam even heard it – tires crunching through the snow on the driveway. Otis growled, knowing instinctively it wasn’t Chris and the kids. It was much too early; they weren’t due back until around 10:00. “It’s ok” Sam whispered soothingly while reaching for the handgun hidden in the cupboard and slipped it into the pocket of an oversized Washington Wizards sweatshirt. Sam squinted at the clock – 5:40 – too early, even for regular customers. Tapping at the other pocket Sam was relieved to find the cell phone. 

Cautiously approaching the door Sam yelled out “We’re closed. If you need help the police station’s half mile down the road.” Good bluff.

“I know. I just ended my shift there” came the voice from outside. “Trooper McGinty in from NY. Saw a light on and wanted to make sure everything’s ok.”  

“We’re fine but thanks for checking.” 

“It’s my duty. I’d still feel better if you let me take a look around.” 

”Mind showing me some I.D.? Just slip it under the door.”

“No problem.” Surprisingly a laminated I.D. card slid across the floor. 

Glancing to make sure both deadbolts were secure, Sam quickly retrieved the I.D. and checked it out in the glow from the cell. Calling 911 confirmed the trooper was telling the truth – and he was no stranger to Sam. 

“Son of a bitch! State Trooper Daniel McGinty!” Switching on the bright kitchen light Sam strode across the diner floor, flipped back the locks and swung open the door. 

“Hi, Sam” grinned the trooper. 

“Danny McGinty! It’s really great to see you!”

Laughing, the two friends greeted each other with a giant hug. “Sam, you look fantastic. Damn, I can’t believe how the time has flown by.” 

“You too, man. You look terrific! Grab a seat and I’ll make us some coffee. You still like it strong?” 

“You remember! Good to know some things don’t change. I just got off shift and was heading home when I saw a light on. You work here?” 

Sam paused and looked up from the coffee pot, smiling. “You could say that. Chris and I own the place. We met in the

police academy, got married and now live here with our kids. We’re the cooks and ……”

“Whoa! Back up. You’re married?? You always said being a cop in NY was all the family you needed. What happened?” 

“Chris is what happened, Danny. When the right one comes along, that’s it. Chris was the one. When we decided to start a family we knew it was time for a safer place for our kids and we couldn’t be happier out here. What about you?” 

“Yeah, I took the plunge, too, but things didn’t work out. We really tried, Sam, but we were just kidding ourselves. Besides Newark is like a war zone. So like you I moved out west and I’m engaged to an ER nurse at St. Joseph’s.” 

“That’s great!  I’m happy for you, Danny. You look peaceful.”

“You too, Sam. And this place is fantastic!” 

“What time you picking up this nurse of yours?” 

“9:00. Why?” 

“Chris is coming home from skiing around 10:00. The diner’s closed today; let’s meet back here for breakfast. You in?” 

“You bet, Sam. This is great!” 

Everyone arrived at the same time. Sam’s twin boys squealed “Mommy, Mommy” and Chris gave her wife a sweet kiss. 

“I missed you, babe” said Chris. 

Danny approached, smiling. “Sam, say hello to my fiancé Roger.” 

“A pleasure to meet you, Roger. Guys, this is my wife Christine.” 

“I knew” said Sam.

Liar!” laughed Danny. 

NAR © 2020

U.S.S. ARIZONA

Gregory Tomlinson stretched out on the top bunk, smoking his Lucky Strike cigarettes, watching the cloudy vapors swirl around the dimly lit corner of his berth on the U.S.S. Arizona. Some of the guys exchanged letters and snacks from home, showing off photos of their wives and girlfriends. Others played cards and cursed at their wireless radios saying “This news is a bore! Turn it off and find some Glenn Miller!” And the men all laughed like boys at summer camp. 

Hey, Gregory” whispered Leo Becker from the lower bunk. “Can I ask you a question?”

Gregory chuckled. “I think after eleven months trapped in this can you can ask me anything!” 

Leo hesitated for a second then said “Ok, here goes. How come you never get any mail? 

Gregory didn’t answer and Leo could have kicked himself. Lighting another cigarette, Gregory inhaled deeply and blew a precise smoke ring. 

Just as Leo was about to apologize Gregory summersaulted off his bunk landing perfectly on Leo’s. “That is an excellent question, my friend.” 

Leo was stunned. “I, a homely handyman from Reedsport, Oregon is your friend?? With your Tyrone Power charm and good looks you probably have a girl in every port! All I have is this box of letters and photos from home.”  

Ha!” snorted Gregory. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Your box is very special, Leo; even if I had a box I’d have nothing to put in it. When I was 15, my parents were killed in a car crash and I was left alone – a family of one. No siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – no one. I took off and made the Navy my family.”  

“Now I have a question for you, Leo” said Gregory nonchalantly. “How many nights have we sat on your bunk poring over the contents of this box?” 

Leo rubbed his chin thoughtfully, mumbling “eleven months, 30 or 31 nights give or take a few here or there  .. I’d say between 330 and 345” Leo calculated. 

How many times did I ask you to describe Jenny to me?” Gregory asked as he held Jenny’s photo. Leo shrugged, nonplussed. Gregory continued “How you said “hi” to her the day you were painting the chancery and knocked over a can of paint. You said she had the sweetest disposition.” Gregory sighed. “You said she didn’t get mad or anything – how you really liked her a lot that day. You know why I asked you to tell me those stories, Leo? Because I felt all alone but now I felt like I had two friends, you and Jenny.” 

Suddenly there was an enormous explosion, followed repeatedly by non-stop bombings and eruptions. The Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. Leo quickly stashed his stuff into his backpack and he and Gregory ran out to man the guns. The torpedo attack lasted about 11 minutes, long enough to kill Reedsport, Oregon’s own Leo Becker. 

Upon Gregory’s medical discharge, he was called to the admiral’s office and handed a box which he recognized immediately as Leo’s. Gregory’s name was written on an envelope attached to the box. When he opened it he found a letter inscribed “To my dear friends Jenny Warner and Gregory Tomlinson – Open this box together. Gregory, I wish you could have seen your face light up whenever I talked about Jenny. And Jenny … you must have asked about Gregory in every letter you wrote to me. If ever two people belong together it’s you. I love you both and you two love each other, too – even though you haven’t met yet. You belong together.”

A smaller note was also enclosed in the envelope; it read: “Gregory, I’ll be watching you from heaven. Call Jenny; her number is on the back of this note. It will make me eternally happy knowing my two dearest friends finally found each other.”

NAR © 2020