We’ll share the bottle | The Newcomer – Chapter 10

Thick black Vietnamese coffee dripped from the metal filter into a glass mug that was engraved with the logo of the Truc Bach Cafe. Carla followed each drip with caffeine-hungry eyes as Chuck sipped at a smoothie that looked and smelled like damp grass.

“You gotta stop drinking that stuff,” said Chuck. “Look at you, you’re fiending.”

“Can’t be any worse than drinking lawn clippings,” said Carla, tapping the filter with her spoon to hurry it along.

“This stuff gives you real energy,” said Chuck.

“Uhuh,” said Carla, leaning back and rubbing her eyes. “I’ll stick to coffee.”

Carla unfolded her fresh copy of The Daily Worker and scanned the headlines.

“Any good news?” asked Chuck, glancing up from his smartphone.

“Looks like we might be taking in more refugees from Puerto Rico,” said Carla. “Things are getting rough over there.”

“Of course they are,” said Chuck. “But I asked for good news.”

“Not much today,” said Carla. “New iPhone is coming out next month. Did you vote on the headphone jack thing?”

“You know me,” said Chuck, holding up his phone. “Android for life.”

“I might be right there with you if we get rid of the headphone jack,” said Carla.

An urgent chirping erupted from Carla’s handbag.

“Speaking of phones,” said Carla, digging into her bag.

Chuck’s phone began chirping as well. He quickly swiped to silence it.

“I got it, too,” said Chuck. “Domestic violence, just up the road from here.”

“Looks like we’re the closest Responders,” said Carla. She glanced forlornly at her coffee. “I guess we’d better take it.”

Carla swiped to indicate she’d be responding and sighed.

“It’ll be waiting for you when we get back,” said Chuck. “Addict.”

“Shut the fuck up, Chuck,” said Carla. “You have your gear?”

“Always,” said Chuck, tapping the breast of his sportscoat. Carla grabbed her tazer out of her handbag and clipped it to her belt. “Let’s go.”


The GPS lead them to a little dive bar a block away. “RED’S” was painted on the crumbling brick wall by the door. A lineman was standing outside, still wearing his hard hat and tool belt. He held his smartphone up and waved to Carla and Chuck as they approached.

“I’m Roger,” said the lineman. “I’m an apprentice.”

“Chuck,” said Chuck.

“Carla,” said Carla. “You been inside?”

“I didn’t want to go in alone,” said Roger. “This is my first call.”

“You’ll be fine,” said Carla. “Just keep your eyes on their hands and don’t say anything.”

“Got it,” said Roger.

“Ladies first?” asked Chuck, gesturing to the door.

“You’re getting on my last nerve,” said Carla, shouldering past Chuck to swing open the door.

She had her hand on her taser at her side as she rushed in, eyes flitting around the room for signs of danger.

The bartender was a middle aged woman. She had a baseball bat on the bar in front of her and her arms were folded.

“Fuckin’ asshole passed out,” said the bartender. “He gave his girlfriend a black eye.”

A large man was slumped over the bar, thoroughly unconscious.

“Where is she now?” asked Carla.

“She left,” said the bartender.

“You know where she went?” asked Chuck.

“No idea. Never seen these two before.”

“How much did he drink?” asked Carla, gesturing for Roger stay with her as she carefully approached the unconscious man.

“He came in here drunk,” said the bartender. “I told him I wouldn’t serve him, I guess that’s what set him off.”

“Roger, will you call for an ambulance?” asked Carla. “You and Chuck stay here and keep an eye on him. I’m going to see if I can find the victim.”

Roger nodded.

“You have no idea where she would have gone?” asked Carla, turning back to the bartender.

“She was pretty drunk herself,” said the bartender. “I doubt she got very far.”

“Thanks,” said Carla. She turned around and walked back towards the front door.

Just as she was back outside her phone chirped again. She got it out and swiped. Several new call markers were blinking half a block farther up the street. She saw that two ambulances were already en route to the area.

“There you are,” said Carla, swiping to indicate her response before shoving the phone back into her handbag.

She looked around for a public bike. There weren’t any so she started to run.

Five minutes later she came upon a gaggle of people circled around someone.

“Carla Tucker,” said Carla, holding up her ID badge. “I’m a Master Responder.”

The crowd parted, and Carla could see a young woman sitting on the curb. Her cheek was smeared with either blood or lipstick and she had a black bruise beneath one eye. She was wearing a green dress and she was crying.

“She needs an ambulance,” said an old man.

“There’s one on the way,” said Carla. “Y’all get back from her, give her some air.”

Carla knelt down and examined the young woman’s face.

“I’m Carla,” said Carla. “What’s your name?”

“Stacey,” said the young woman.

“You’re going to be okay,” said Stacey.

An ambulance whizzed by on the street, sirens blaring, headed in the direction of Red’s.

“Is Craig okay?” asked Stacey, staring up into Carla’s eyes.

“He’s going to be fine,” said Carla, handing Stacey a napkin to wipe her face. “Did he do this to you?”

Stacey looked down.

“It’s okay,” said Carla. “We don’t have to talk about it right now.”

The crowd began to disperse. Carla reached out to hold Stacey’s hand.

“You’re gonna be okay,” said Carla. “Just try to relax.”

A young man in a suit and tie knelt down next to Carla, holding up an ID badge.

“I’m Troy,” said the young man. “Journeyman Responder.”

“Hi, Troy,” said Carla. “I’m Carla. Master.”

“Anything I can do to help?” asked Troy.

“I think we’re fine,” said Carla. “An ambulance is on the way.”

“You sure?” asked Troy. “You don’t need anything?”

“Actually,” said Carla, “maybe you could go grab her a bottle of water somewhere?”

“Sure thing!” said Troy. “Anything else?”

“If you don’t mind,” said Carla, “I could really use a cup of coffee.”


“Feels like the paperwork has tripled since our last call,” said Chuck, pulling an orange American Flyer touring bike from the public rack.

“Domestics are always complicated,” said Carla.

“You think they’re going to be okay?”

“Medically speaking, Stacey will be fine,” said Carla. “Just a bruise.”

“Otherwise?” asked Chuck.

“Not sure,” said Carla. “They’re both registered to a commune in Seattle but they’ve been on the road for a long time. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened.”

“It never is,” said Chuck, with a sigh.

“I put in a recommendation for inpatient treatment,” said Carla. “For both of them.”

“She’s from your part of the woods, isn’t she?” asked Chuck. “Alabama?”

“Yeah,” said Carla. “She’s only been out West for a few months. Don’t know how she got caught up with that guy.”

“It can happen to anyone,” said Chuck. “At least this happened here and not back East. Could you imagine?”

“Oh, I don’t have to imagine,” said Carla. “She’d definitely be worse off if this happened to her in Alabama. She’d probably be sleeping it off in a jail cell right now. Definitely wouldn’t be offered any free therapy or anything like that.”

“What a fucking hell hole,” said Chuck, before quickly adding: “Um… No offense.”

“None taken,” said Carla. “That’s exactly what it is.”

Carla’s phone rang from her handbag and she scrunched up her face.

“What is it this time?” she asked, pulling out her phone.

“Carla?” asked Curtis.

“Curtis?!” asked Carla. “Is that you?!”

“It’s me, baby!” said Curtis. “I’m at the airport!”

“What airport?”

“Oakland!” said Curtis. “I’m here in Oakland, at the Oakland Airport!”

“What’s going on?” asked Chuck. “Is that Curtis?”

“It’s Curtis,” said Carla.

“Who are you talking to, baby?” asked Curtis.

“Nobody,” said Carla, a tear rolling down her cheek. “How did you get here?”

“I don’t know,” said Curtis. “I’m just here. I need you to come and get me.”

“I’ll be right there,” said Carla, sniffling. “Shit. I used all my tissue with that drunk girl,” said Carla to Chuck.

Chuck handed her a napkin from his inner pocket. It was stamped with the logo of the Truc Bach Cafe.


“And what happened after that?” asked Nikosi, scribbling furiously at his pad.

“Nothin’,” said Tucker. “He just died there in the road. We went back to the FOB. That was it.”

“That can’t be the end of the story,” said Nikosi. “The family didn’t protest? There were no repercussions?”

“They don’t tell us about none of that stuff,” said Tucker. “We just went back to the FOB and that was it. They flew me home about a week after that.”

“But that can’t be how the story ends,” said Nikosi.

“It’s how it ended for me,” said Tucker. “Ain’t got nothin’ else to tell ya. Sorry.”

“Well the politburo is going to want something more,” said Nikosi. “What did you take away from the experience?”

“What did I take away from it?” asked Tucker.

“What did you learn? How did you grow? How did it change the way you see the world?”

“I ain’t done none of that,” said Tucker. “It was a shit world before I saw that man die, it was a shit world after, way I seen it.

“I think I can work with that,” said Nikosi, scribbling more.

Tucker looked out the window. And watched the clouds billowing below. The private jet they were in was a lot more quiet than the ones he’d been on before. The chair he was sitting in was a lot more comfortable, as well. He stretched his legs and looked around the plane. A full portrait of Kim Il-Seong was posted on the wall next to the lavatories on the other end of the airplane.

“This here plane’s from North Korea?” asked Tucker, pointing to the enamel flag that was set into his coffee cup.

“It is,” said Nikosi, leaning in to whisper to Tucker: “Gives me the creeps, to be honest.”

“All that stuff they say about North Korea true?” asked Tucker, in a hushed voice

“Some of it,” said Nikosi. “But not most of it. But perhaps that’s best discussed when after we’ve disembarked.”

Tucker nodded and took a sip of coffee, looking back out the window.

“Have your views changed since you got here?” asked Nikosi.

“My views?” asked Tucker, eyes drifting over the patches of California countryside that peaked through the clouds.

“Of the world,” said Nikosi. “Do you still think it’s a shit world after seeing what we have to offer out West?”

“I’m holdin’ on to my judgment,” said Tucker. “I only been out here a few days.”

“You’re a wise man,” said Nikosi.

“No I ain’t,” said Tucker, “but I ain’t no fool, neither.”

“I guess that would make you wiser than most,” said Nikosi.

“Anything you say,” said Tucker.

A North Korean flight attendant rolled a service cart up to their table and waved his white-gloved hand over a collection of bottles and trays.

“Any refreshments, gentlemen?” asked the attendant. His uniform had all the piping and braiding of a Civil War cavalry officer.

“I ain’t hungry,” said Tucker, settling back into the extremely comfortable chair.

“I’ll have a bottle of soju,” said Nikosi.

“What’s that?” asked Tucker.

“Kind of like Korean vodka,” said Nikosi.

“It any good?”

“We’ll share the bottle,” said Nikosi. “Then you can tell me.”

“Man, I tell you,” said Tucker. “I never thought I’d be drinkin’ no North Korean vodka on no North Korean airplane.”

“Life is funny,” said Nikosi.

The attendant poured two small glasses with the clear, sweet-smelling liquor and let the bottle on the table. Tucker picked up his glass and sniffed at it.

Nikosi held up his glass.

“What should we drink to?” asked Nikosi.

“That motherfucker over there, I guess,” said Tucker, pointing to the portrait of Kim Il-Seong, “Since he’s lettin’ us use his airplane.”

“He’s been dead for decades,” said Nikosi, glass still raised.

“Then we’ll drink to his memory,” said Tucker.

“I’d really rather not,” muttered Nikosi, as the flight attendant rolled the cart away.

“Then we’ll just drink,” said Tucker.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Nikosi, and they drank.

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