“For Christ’s sake, what is Egypt? I knew that answer.” Marsha barked.
The bartender and other happy-hour patrons belly-up to the hotel bar gave her more than a few raised eyebrows and scowls.
Her vocal participation in Jeopardy was wearing on them. The breaking news story out of Arizona had just interrupted her boozy streak of right answers.
The Hi-Def screen showed the all-too-familiar scene of high-schoolers fleeing single file from campus in yet another school shooting. The story then cut to the on-scene reporter who was doing her best to describe the carnage. At the same time, RoboCop SWAT team members milled behind her inside the fluttering yellow crime scene tape with their military rifles and visored helmets clearly on display. This local current events reporter of Cancer 5K runs, and bakery openings along with her cameraman were nearby when they were suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. She was doing her best to report the facts without the horror or her excitement bleeding through. The shooter was dead, this much she was told. Around his body lay his AR-15 and high-capacity magazines. His name and motive were not clear at this time, she said. The number of dead and wounded were unknown, but area hospitals were swamped with ambulances from all over the county, she reported.
“Hey, barkeep, I’m a little dry here.” Marsha held up her mug and waggled it upside down for him to see. She took this break from the game show to get her refill.
“Are you a guest here, ma’am?” He asked quietly upon his arrival to her stool. The empty shot glasses and peanut shells made for proper accounting of her afternoon’s decision to get shit-faced.
“Yes, I am, and don’t call me ma’am,” Marsha snorted.
“I had to ask because if you were driving, I would have to cut you off and recommend you get a cab.”
Marsha was primed and ready to smart ass him when she looked at the others at the bar. They were staring at her. I’m the train wreck they are looking at. Now a talking head caught her attention on the screen, sadly informing the viewers about the uptick in mass shootings in just this year alone. She looked down at the mess in front of her. Where did all those shot glasses come from? She closed her eyes, and the room began to spin.
“Lady, are you alright?” He asked.
Slowly tears came to her eyes. Marsha tried tightening them to stanch the flow. He slowly removed the mug from her grip. She wobbled forward, eyes clenched closed, and whispered, “No, I am not.” She opened her eyes briefly to acquire a bar napkin to dab her eyes, and then she let the room know she was blowing her nose.
She looked around. Alex just then announced the Daily Double. The other patrons returned to their own business.
“I’ll cash out now if you don’t mind.” Marsha exhaled.
Sobering up was not the goal this evening. Water gently lapping against the boats moored in the Gulf of Mexico by the Clearwater Beach Hotel provided sights and sounds she needed to focus on. The two six-packs she grabbed at the gas station next to the hotel supplied fuel for her despair. A pool deck chair wrangled over the fence and down to the soft white sand cooling from the unseasonably warm March sun completed her plan. She toasted herself for not making a further scene at the hotel bar. Bartenders wanting to call cabs for her or bouncers flexing their biceps while pointing to the door had been nonexistent in her life until the last month or so. Getting out of Philly was the right thing to do. The change of scenery with palm trees and spring training baseball was much better than the ice-rutted streets and mountains of snow piled up in a shopping center parking lots back home. Not to mention all the dead bodies.
She had always wanted to spend some time watching the Phillies play in the Grapefruit League. With no direct ties back in the City of Brotherly Love, she jettisoned out of town after her last interview with the stern-faced FBI agents, trying to make sense of the carnage left in her wake.
Earlier that day, she had drunk her lunch at Bright House Field and watched the game from the lawn in left field. She was giving the business to some Met’s fans when she noticed a young family fold up their picnic blanket and move away from her as the Mets fans were giving it right back to her. From there, her drinking picked up again in the cool, dark hotel bar where many fans and snowbirds had retreated from a sunny day at the game or the beach.
The gentle Gulf waters reflected the half-moon when it peeked out between the steady parade of puffy clouds. Commercial shipping traversed north and south, parallel to the beach further out to sea. There was no hurry to their movements. The coal stripped from Tennessee and Kentucky mountain tops would eventually arrive in China, and the Hyundai parts would float into Mobile before sunrise.
Here she sat, cooling her sunburn and steadily sipping her sixteen-ouncers. She needed to drink, to forget. She needed to drink to remember why she became an FBI agent in the first place. She needed to drink to get numb. She needed to curse her own mistakes and stubbornness that she had replayed over again in daydreams and nightmares. Mostly, she needed to grieve. She had no safe outlet. Everything was twisted inside. Shunned by her family and kryptonite to her co-workers, she found solace with Mr. Heineken and Mr. Daniels. All alone in Clearwater, Florida, she was doing a horrible job of chasing away the blues.