Marc found Dale rummaging through a trash can between two gasoline pumps. A Hefty bag laden with plastic, glass, and aluminum beverage receptacles dangled from a belt loop at the side of his tattered dungarees. No razor had touched his face months, but the sweatshirt he wore managed to maintain its luminous white although it was months since Labor Day had passed. Broadway failed to notice his fashion blunder. "Perfect," Marc muttered to himself. "Perfect."
Dale glanced up from his industrious endeavor for long enough to strike Marc's eyes with silent spears that exposure hadn't dulled. No plea for pocket change came from his weathered face. Marc began to wonder if his prior assessment was correct. This outdoor entrepreneur seemed staunchly independent. Perhaps that's fitting, Marc thought as he composed a proposal in his head.
"What's your favorite brand of whiskey?"
"Maker's Mark," Dale shot, unhesitant to unholster.
"Want to come for a walk?" Marc asked. It was a gamble with odds like the literacy rate in Georgia, but he took it. "It's hard to find a man with a taste for bourbon in town these days."
"Sure," Dale replied. "Just no funny stuff." Marc wondered what he meant, then cringed at the possibilities. There were truths that no newspaper would dare to uncover.
There'd been a fire down the block. Remnants from the cracked hydrant coated the macadam. Rollers from the responders' vehicles reflected off the pavement. Two bearded thirty-somethings slowed their Zipcar and approached the curb in reverse gear. Rubber tore from the side of the rear tire while the god of parallel parking shook his head in the offing. Marc and Dale walked by, dodging a minefield of niggerspit on the sidewalk. Music from the adjacent barbershop blared through the fogged storefront glass.
"Ever been here?" Marc asked as he pointed to the hip new distillery a few steps ahead of them.
"Not lately," Dale replied, clutching his bag of empties. Dale heard the humor that hid beneath the dirt.
"Let's see if they've got anything as good as Maker's."
The two men entered a rowdy sea of revelers. Flannel was the dress code. Sarcasm filled the air. Marc led Dale to the counter unperturbed. A kid unfit for combat rolled his sleeves two inches higher, approached his two new customers, and gulped an imagined shot.
"What'll it be?" he asked.
"Something like Kentucky." Marc elbowed Dale, but didn't get a rise.
"That'll be eight bucks," said the timid employee.
Marc raised his eyebrows. "The sign says there's a tasting."
"That's for..." the kid behind the counter began. "Sure," he said, amended. He poured them out two jiggers.
"This tastes more like Tennessee," Marc said after swigging.
"Tastes more like my boxers," Dale belched without a pause.
The hipster with tattoos he'd regret in three years didn't know what to make of it. "How about this one?" He doled them out and wiped the bar. Marc and Dale sniffed their whiskeys, then took them to the hilt.
"Are there bubbles in yours?" Marc asked his companion.
"Sure as hell are. Are you serving us dishwater, Jack?" Dale inquired.
The youth behind the oak succumbed to his assailant. A given name is trivial. There were larger problems looming.
"What's that one in the small bottle up there?" Marc asked, pointing to a remote corner of the top shelf.
"That's not on the tasting list. It's limited. My boss would..."
"Are you some kind of test-tube baby?" Dale was proud of his contemporary insult. He once slept under a newspaper with a headline about that phenomenon. It stayed with him.
"Let me have a bottle of it; sealed." Marc eyed the slinger of booze, poised for swift retaliation.
"Sir, that's a two-hundred-and-thirty-dollar bottle."
"Do you take cash in this dump?" Marc replied. Dale seemed shocked. Marc plucked the bills from his wallet and waited for the change.
The clerk placed it in a paper bag and slid it across the counter. "Enjoy."
"It ain't for me," Marc said, passing the package to the stranger to his left. "Dale here's celebrating." There was no further mention of what fortunate event had transpired. Clarification was not required. One doesn't question greatness. One merely nods the head.
"For your troubles," Dale said as he laid his bag of recyclables on the bar. It was the first time he'd tipped in awhile.