Chapter 26 – Time Out

Irish Whiskey, Terrace Bar, Washington, DC

The file the director spoke of was in the briefcase which he had left on the table, my mind was racing again, slow down, don’t do anything just yet. My self-survival mode kicked in, I needed a walk, a cigarette and to think clearly and constructively. I would however not be the true professional and read the file and pack my stuff and an early night, that was just not my style or how I lived my life. I was not a Jason Bourne or a Lara Croft clone, I was just plain old, well less of the old Max. And this Max was in a serious dilemma, at the junction of yet another crossroads, but it sure was exciting and at that moment I would not have wished to be anywhere else.

I reckoned on a drink or two at the Jack Rose Dining Saloon on 18th St NW, Washington, DC and called a cab which would be round in a few minutes. The Jack Rose is a whisky bar which boasts the widest selection of whiskies in the Western Hemisphere with over 6,700 sq ft of space that was filled with leather seats and ladders over 5 separate bar areas. I always preferred Irish whiskey with an e to the Scottish equivalent which seemed to always make those drinkers violent and argumentative. The Jack Rose had all that I needed, Jameson, Bushmills and Maker’s Mark, there were many other favorites but I did not need to go stupid, did I?

I took out the file and turned to the brief notes at the beginning of the document and took images on the cell phone before returning them to the briefcase. I wanted a quick overview that would force me to question what I was doing before reading into the details. That approach gave me the ability to be devil’s advocate and had saved my life in the past.

The flight was booked the next day with American Airlines from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Phoenix but that would simply not be happening, I had other plans for the journey because I trusted nobody, and I wanted to be in control. The last journey I had taken and not completed, in fact it had hardly started, and that was to Moscow, and I never arrived and had almost died. It would not happen again and over the last few months I had made a point of going over many different routes by several means of transportation. I knew that somebody somewhere would be tracking my movements and I wanted to make that as difficult as possible.

A thick woollen sweater, boots, coat, hat, cigarette box and some cash, which was always in a clip of low denomination old bills, never carry a wallet to have a drink. On this occasion there was no watch, no jewelry or accessories that could be remembered except for a pair of fake glasses which make eye color recognition difficult and changes the shape of the face to onlookers.

The rain was falling lightly, and the air had a harsh chill in it, the pace quickened as the adrenaline kicked in and the distance to the objective destination closed. It was still early and there would be plenty of room in the rooftop bar which greets new arrivals with a cloud of cigar and cigarette smoke. It has a strange atmosphere as there are not many tables and they tended to be for the sole purpose of resting purses and jackets while the owners stood in huddles next to them drinking and not sitting. The smokers were always more sociable, there is an unwritten code of camaraderie amongst smokers that non-smokers could never really understand, and they would always complain about something, but hey there were other bar areas in the building that could be used.

I stopped inside the entrance as my glasses had steamed up and I could see nothing, as I cleaned them a very cute and petite smiling waitress appeared and indicated the two free tables before taking my order. I replaced the glasses and pointed to the table on the left which was further away from the larger group of customers and made my way across the bar.

I removed the warm heavy coat, folded it over and placed it on the table, as was the tradition in this bar and looked around savouring the atmosphere. No-one appeared to be eating, but there was comfortable air of fun and laughter, two drunks were discussing football a little too loudly but there were no complaints. I took a rolled cigarette from the Germanus box and flipped the zippo to lite it as my drinks arrived, I blew the smoke away from the waitress before thanking her as she turned to the requests from the nearby group.

Today I would have Bushmills with water and no ice, I wanted to feel the warm softness of the whiskey and relish the moments. It was accompanied by a Sierra Nevada Narwhal Stout which is described as an incredibly complex, rich and intense imperial stout, with notes of baker’s cocoa, molasses and dark roasted coffee from Chico, CA and brewed at 10.2%.

The bar was filling up and the next table was filled with coats and bags and happy laughing customers. I was still enjoying the drinks, cigarette and the solitude as I scanned flight details from Washington to Tuscon, AZ then made a few mental notes, before reading the pages on the iPhone screen. I was wrapped up in my own world, digesting information and thinking dark thoughts and was brought back to the present by a friendly voice asking if the seats next to me were taken. I looked up to two young office workers who were both smiling in eager anticipation of a yes of course reply and I did not disappoint them.

The very cute smiling waitress appeared as if by magic and the young women ordered and I was asked if I needed the same again or something else. I could not make out her accent, but somehow it reminded of a situation in the Louisiana swamp, but I had no time to think of that any further as the friendly voice asked which whiskies I would recommend?

The two faces were watching me as I looked up from the screen with a swift apology for being so distracted, my mind had been focussed on my own agenda and clicked into social mode. The three of us were sitting at the table which was unusual on the terrace and we seemed to be so much closer together and yet apart from the other clientele. The noise level was rising, and I leaned forward to give them the answer they appeared so desperate to hear. Before I could do so the waitress had returned with both orders and placed them on the table.

This was an opportunity not to be missed, I asked for a Bourbon, a Scotch whisky and an Irish whiskey, any one of each, whichever the bar staff recommend and of course three small beers that would ideally go with them. They both protested that it was not necessary, but I insisted that it was on me, they were obviously new to the bar and I could only help them if they joined me in tasting a few. They giggled and agreed, the ice was broken, and they lightened up big time. Before the drinks were delivered both the young women were chatting casually and enjoying their Chardonnay wines and giving me the details and the very boring reasons in their own words, why they happened to be in DC.

The evening flowed all too quickly with multiple tastings of every drink selection that I ordered, I was enjoying the company and smoked too many cigarettes. I rolled a fresh one in the little box, which raised their curiosity and they both wanted to try one, and I duly obliged. Much coughing, sputtering and laughing later they both agreed it was probably not going to turn into a habit in the very near future. They were both curious about what type of work I was involved in and I managed to be casual about it and they believed my story about being an economic analyst and advisor for various State Department Agencies.

They were staying very close by in a mid-range but comfortable hotel and drinking too much for their own good. I recommended a last drink and asked the waitress to put everything on my tab, which went down a dream with both the women. Finally, I said that we must all be going home or wherever, because they both might, just might not have job in the morning. I paid the tab, including a large tip, and was rewarded with a receipt and white business card on which was a hastily scribbled phone number under the name Amelie, and escorted them both from the terrace bar to the street below.

They were too drunk to walk alone to the hotel, so I called over a taxi and took them back, knowing they would be fleeced by the taxi if they had gone back alone. I had to assist them from the taxi to their hotel room which was a spacious room with two large double beds. The fixtures and fittings were as dull as a medical center waiting room, but it had been recently decorated and had a fresh clean odour.

It was difficult not to take advantage of the situation and over the next few hours I reminded myself of many of the good reasons to remain alive and to be in a good physical condition. It was just after 3am before they were asleep and tucked up naked in the beds, and I could slip away and start my preparations for the following morning. I had slept enough over the last few months and missing a few hours of sleep would not jeopardize my position. Back in the street I hailed a passing cab and returned to the safe-house.