The animated mass of tanned leather and scars that served as bartender was an old war veteran named Marty Mudd. He had been slinging watered-down gin in this dive for twenty years, and he knew better than to give a straight answer, “Lots of people come here, doll. Don’t really know every one of ’em. Lot of ’em come here hoping to not be found, if you know what I mean.” He looked left and right in an exaggerated caricature of clandestine chicanery, “Not sure it’d be good business if I started acting contrary to their wishes.” He winked an overly conspiratorial wink at her. His bushy eyebrows and shock of unruly white hair made it a very comical gesture, indeed.
Roland smiled in quiet approval. Marty was good people. He had done his tours during the Venusian secession without complaint and came home to a planet that didn’t need him anymore. He didn’t take it personally. It just wasn’t his style.
No, Marty had stepped off the dock still in his uniform, walked into this bar and took a job sweeping the floor. Sixteen years later he bought the place. Smart, friendly, and tough as tungsten, he proved to be a man Roland liked very much. This made Marty special in a world full of people Roland didn’t like at all. The feeling was mutual. Marty liked Roland as much as Marty could like anyone. Roland wasn’t big on ‘friends’ in the classical sense; but he and Marty had history.
The two old soldiers enjoyed a professional arrangement as well: Roland took care of Marty when Marty needed his particular kind of help, and Marty did not charge Roland for every single drink he consumed. Marty also helped ensure that Roland’s privacy remained sacrosanct and unmolested by too much unvetted scrutiny. Truthfully, a lot of the people in Dockside helped with Roland’s desire for privacy.
Docksiders liked having Roland around because Roland kept problems away, and in exchange the folks respected his privacy. Which of course, is another reason the woman at the bar needed watching. Unfortunately for all of them, the next words she uttered were a big ’ol heap of problem.
“I’m supposed to say the word ‘breach’ to you. Does that mean anything?” A hint of desperation tinged the edge of her question. Marty flinched in surprise, and he could not help but blink and cast a glance back over the high-top tables and across the dimly lit booths. It carried all the way to a dark corner of the room deep in the back. She caught the look and whipped her head to the left, and Roland knew she could not help but see him seated in the corner booth.
He stared vehemently down at the table and his empty beer glass. His mind swam in a frenetic crossfire of desperate thoughts, all of them pushing the same agenda.
He furiously willed her not to have said the damned word. But she had said it.
He sat silently and tried to will the woman to walk out at that instant. She stayed put.
With a sinking heart he willed his beer glass to be full. But the glass remained stubbornly empty.
He did not want to look up and meet her eyes.
But he had to look. And he did look. She saw him, and he saw her.
Marty held up his hands in mock surrender and gave Roland a look of abject apology. Roland heaved a mighty sigh and waved the woman over. The packed bar was loud with drunken conversations and bad rock-and-roll coming from the ancient music machine in the corner. A few of the locals stopped to stare at the attractive woman in the nice clothes supremely out-of-place in their happy little slice of hell. But as she passed through the dive bar and got to Roland’s table, they made it a conspicuous point to look at something else. Another reason Roland liked this bar: People knew to mind their damn business here. The woman sat down in her nervous, twitchy way. She snapped her head left and right to check her surroundings, and Roland started in before she could get a word off.
“Who told you to use that word here?” Though phrased as a question, Roland took for granted most people understood that he did not simply ‘ask questions.’ What he had meant was, “Tell me who told you to use that word here. Now.” Clever people rapidly figured out that his veneer of politeness was merely a courtesy. He was a brusque guy, and he liked it that way.
She responded, “My father. He said to come find you and to call you ‘Breach’ if you didn’t trust me.”
“Yeah well, I don’t trust you, and using that word doesn’t necessarily mean you are trustworthy. Who is your father?”
“My name is Lucia Ribiero. My father is Donald Ribiero.”
Roland could only think of one thing to say, “Well. Shit.” This information changed everything.
She went on, “My father said he knew you from the Army, and if I ever got into trouble to find you here and say that word.”
“And you’re in trouble?”