Saturday, July 16, 2005

Famous and Andy

A watering hole. Last night. 2100 hrs.
It was a rough bar, but I wasn't afraid. I'd seen or read about more action than any of the other men and women in Red Lobster this night, and as usual I was armed to the teeth. Besides carrying my standard weapons load, I was ordering peach daquiris and saving the plastic swords they use to hold the garnish together. Those things can put an eye out, and quick.
I was about to call it a night when a slightly overweight guy in a hawaiian style "bone shirt" sat down on the stool beside me. He nodded at me, appraising me with his icy brown eyes. Something in his look told me he recognized a warrior when he saw one. I nodded back, barely.
"Bourbon and grenadine," he called to the barmaid. "And make it a good one, luv."
I immediately recognized his accent as South London, having listened to my books-on-audio CD of Andy McNab narrating "Wuthering Heights" while I Jazzercised that afternoon.
"Limey, eh?" I asked him. "South London?"
"Spot on, mate," he grinned. "Of course, I've traveled a bit, I have. Probably sound a bit of everything, yeah?"
"Been around a bit myself," I said, indicating my Soldier of Fortune tee shirt.
"Merc, then, yeah? Brit army meself."
"Four-fifty," the bartender said, sitting the man's drink in front of him. "And you can't run a tab anymore," she added.
"Four..." He frowned as he rummaged through his wallet, accidentally letting me have a peek at something I should have suspected was in there anyway. SAS, the card read. Official Identity Card. Below that, the winged dagger and a name...A name I can't reveal.
"Er, I think I'm a bit short," the man said. "Bleedin' Yank money, can't keep track of it...Now where's me platinum Amex?"
"I've gotcha," I said. "And another daquiri for me," I told the bartender. "Not so strong as last time."
"Well, crikey and Big Ben," the man said. "You're a swell bloke." He toasted me when our drinks arrived. "Name's Andy," he said. "Least, that's what I go by."
Holy shit. It couldn't be. I tried to calm myself, think rationally. Okay, test him. Only way to know for sure.
"So, Andy," I said, as casually as I could. "Ever been to Hereford?"
"Sure, Stirling Lines--oh, cor blimey, I've said too much." He frowned into his empty glass. "That grenadine hits me quick, it does."
"Lemme buy you another," I said, and did. I couldn't believe it. Andy McNab. My hero, hell, my God, right here beside me.
"Your secret's safe with me, McNab," I whispered to him.
"Thanks, mate," he said, sounding very relieved. "IRA's everywhere, you know."
"You bet I do. I exposed an IRA cell operating a mexican restaurant right here in town."
"Doesn't surprise me," he said. "You seem a switched-on bloke. Say, how 'bout another drink for a fellow hard man?"
"No prob, friend." I looked him over more carefully as he drained another bourbon, wanting to absorb every detail. Something about him reminded me...
"Hey," I said. "This is weird. I met Chris Ryan at The Olive Garden a few months ago, and he looked just like you. Even let me buy him a few drinks."
Andy leaned close and whispered to me, "Mate, think about it. Of course we look alike. All SAS men do. Kind of hard to target us as individuals if we all look the same."
Of course. I felt like a dumb-ass for not realizing that, but then again I was two-daquiri drunk and not as sharp as usual.
"Sorry, Andy," I said. "I didn't mean--"
"No worries, mate, buy me a drink and we'll call it even."
I did, and as we talked long into the evening I was pleasantly surprised by his modesty. He acted like he didn't even remember the names of most of his books, and he was much more interested in ordering drinks than bragging about his exploits. Just like Chris Ryan, a class act.
After two hours, two daquiris, and seventeen bourbon-and-grenadines, Andy was ready to leave.
"Sorry to go, mate," he slurred, "but, crikey, I'm pissed. Feel like I'm gonna--" He finished his sentence by puking, or "bulking up" as the limeys call it, all over my lap. He leaned on the bar for support, and I cupped my hands for him as he threw up the shrimp cocktail we'd shared.
"Oh, cor blimey," he said. "Mate, I'm so sorry." He grabbed a corner of my tee shirt and wiped his mouth. "Really, mate, I feel terrible--"
"Stop," I said. "It's an honor to wear your puke, Mr. McNab. " I meant it. I had washed the shirt Chris Ryan barfed on, but Andy's vomit would go into my souvenier chest, right alongside the pair of used skiddies I had purchased on e-bay, the ones Andy wore for two weeks straight in Belize.
"You're a good chap," he said. He stumbled, then righted himself. "You'd have made a fine SAS trooper, mate. Tell ya what--I can't find me bleedin' credit card--lend me twenty quid and I'll send you a Regimental beret and stable belt as soon as I get home to London."
"Hell no," I said. "But I'll give you forty, Sergeant."
He saluted me, money in hand, and staggered out the door. I'm not ashamed to admit, I cried a little as I watched him go.
"What an asshole," the bartender said from behind me. "That's Nigel Hull, the guy who works at the shoe store down the street. He's always bumming drinks off of people."
"That's a shame," I said, turning to leave her my usual ten-percent tip. Poor girl, he had her completely fooled, and I wasn't about to tell her that "Nigel Hull" was in fact the most famous SAS soldier of all time. I gave her a wink as I left.
His secret was safe with me.