Johnny Faa – Chicken Ranch

Over the next few weeks, they met more and more, but always at a different place. Libraries, hotel bars, and even once involving a 50 minute drive to Mt. Pleasant.
“Why did we do this again?” David said as they sat down, “I had to pull some major strings to get out of Keokuk proper.”
“It’s worth it, trust me,” Faa said, tucking into a plate, “best fried chicken ever.”
“But it’s a pizza restaurant?” David cocked an eyebrow.
“Don’t ask me, man,” Faa shrugged, his mouth full of chicken, “I stopped figuring out humans around the time I was getting trench foot in the Somme.”
“Point proven,” David nodded, picking up his own drumstrick, “Damn, this is good!”
Faa made to say “what did I tell you?” but it came out of his stuffed self sounding more like “whahdahelldah?” They enjoyed a companionable silence of chicken bliss. David did go back up to the buffet and try the namesake pizza, but it paled in comparison. He had really started to enjoy these meetings with the Gypsy King in the rough. Back at the facility, he was like a caged animal, biting at everyone and everything, but now he seemed so relaxed, even friendly. His stories slowly stopped being boasts about his conquests or accomplishments and started being more like fond recollections. He explained one night over beers in a dimly lit local bar how the recollections were actually a key to his time traveling.
“Your brain sorta does it on its own,” he said, draining his second glass of Jameson, “You’re in the next dimension, and you’re seeing things and hearing things and just, well, experiencing things that are beyond human comprehension. So your brain does the best it can to make things make sense, like how you can still read a word if the letters in the middle are jumbled.
“I used to get those annoying email forwards saying something like that,” David noted with amusement, tracing the rim of his own rocks glass with a finger.
“Exactly. Your brain can see and know enough of what it’s seeing, outside of the trippy extradimensional stuff, to at least understand that you’re moving through what we would call a timestream. Just like we can flip through a book or a record album–”
“Record album, Grampa?”
“Shut up,” Faa flipped him the bird, “It’s just like that. You can pick and choose like you’re at a restaurant, and once you make the decision and concentrate, it’s just like flipping a switch.”
“And your drugged out mind was concentrating on dinosaurs.”
“Hell yeah,” Johnny Faa laughed and motioned toward the bar, “dinosaurs are awesome. You wouldn’t believe all the stuff you guys got wrong.”
“I’d love to hear more about it.”
“Maybe next time,” Johnny said quickly as the woman came over.
“You know,” she said coldly, “I’m a bartender, not a waitress. If you want something, take it to the bar.”
“Oh, but you’re already here,” Faa said coolly, his eyes locking onto hers, “You obviously wanted to come over here, even if it was just to bitch me out, so why don’t you take an order while you’re at it?”
She folded her arms, looking unimpressed.
“Look,” he said, lowering his tone, “Would a $50 tip change your mind?”
“You ain’t got that money, scraggly-ass.”
“Don’t I?”
He produced a Grant note from his pocket and handed it to her.
“You’re a nice lady. I’ll give you another one before we leave.”
She looked down at him, eyes wide.
“So what can I get you gentlemen?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Faa replied with a practiced smile, “we’ll come up there and order when we’re ready. I just wanted to give you that tip somewhere the other bartenders couldn’t see. Wouldn’t want them getting jealous.”
She smiled and headed back to the bar. When David went up for another round of drinks, they were free and very, very strong.
“Must be nice,” he said as Faa helped himself to a third round, “not having to worry about freezing because you can’t pay the rent, or starving because you’re broke.”
“Oh, it still hurts,” Faa replied, “don’t you think it doesn’t. But after you’ve seen what I’ve seen, you start to realize that a fifty here and there for a nice barmaid is worth it.”
“And yet you throw chairs at people down in the hole?” David asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I  never threw one at you.”
“You totally did!”
“Well, maybe you were being an asshole.”
“Coming from you, that’s rich.”
They both shared a laugh and Faa regarded his drink.
“So… what are your thoughts on the bartender? She’s got a bit of a “Mommy ass” thing goin’ on, but I find sometimes I’m in the mood for that.”
“Er…” David was taken aback by the question, “No, she’s not really my type.”
“Well, what is?” the Gypsy shot back, a little annoyed, “What’s it gonna take for me to get you into one of these barflys by the end of the evening?”
“A lot more booze, that’s for sure,” David sighed, taking another careful sip, “Why do you care whether or not I get lucky out here in Nowhereville, Iowa, anyway?”
“I feel I owe it to you,” Faa replied, leaning back in the bar booth with a sigh, “You basically gave me my freedom. Any Gypsy can tell you that’s all we ever want: go where you want, do what you want, make your life happen without anyone bugging you too much. You gave me back the one thing that still, I don’t know, connected me to who I was, if you want to make this a Dr. Phil special. I’m just trying to pay it back to you any way I can; I’m your genie, make with the wishes.”
“I don’t want you to be my genie,” David rolled his eyes, “And if you were, I’d ask you to find someone a little younger. Why don’t you just call it a favor for a friend, huh?”
“Friends…” Faa murmured, still leaning back and looking up, past the low hanging light at a nearly invisible ceiling, “Shit, I don’t think I’ve had an official ‘friend’ since, well…”
“Very funny, asshole,” he leaned back down to get face to face with David, “Nah, if I had to say, I’d say I made my last real friend around… 1954.”
“Remember, I’ve been locked up since the early seventies, and not, as you’ll remember, with the best kind of people.”
Johnny helped himself to David’s third round drink. David let him. After all, he had to drive them back.
“Her name was Dorothy; I called her Dot. She worked in the same little Mom ‘n’ Pop shop I did after I got back from the war and went incognito. I was told by one of my army buddies that if you ever wanted to get lost, Idaho was a sure bet. I wish I could have thanked him for that, but he took one right above the eyebrow on Normandy. Dot was a divorcée, definitely not something you wanted to be in the Fifties, but she was a pretty forward thinker. Married a guy before he shipped out, and she thought his violence was just a way of working out his nerves about fighting the Nazis. Only problem is, he didn’t stop after the Nazis did. When she found out she was going to have his kid, well…”
He took a long drink and let out another big sigh.
“She decided she wasn’t. She’d come out to Idaho much like I had, to get away. Still, she had the most adorable Boston accent, always saying was out in the pahhh-king lawt. We made a connection, I guess: we were both rejects, freaks, trying to run away and hide, and we found each other. I made a whole lot of friends in foxholes in all my years… but I never thought I’d find a foxhole somewhere between the Libby’s peaches and the Jolly Green Giant.”
“So what happened?” David leaned forward. A story like this, he thought, there was always a sad ending.
“Did her husband come looking for her?”
“Ha! Once.” Johnny slapped the polished wood table with a snort.
“There was this kid we had as a bagger, name of Herman Olsen. Eighteen, just outta school… not the brightest bulb, but he had so much of that, well… I suppose you’d call it the Spirit of the Fifties. So when her ex found her and started making a scene over by the Wonder Bread, ol’ Herm sprang into action. He’d been a pretty fair wrestler in high school, and her husband, well… he was a shitty little gutter rat who looked like he hadn’t crawled out of a bottle since they discharged him. Herman beat the ever-loving shit out of that guy: he knew everything about Dot, he asked me about it, but he didn’t seem to care… he loved her. Truth is, I loved her too… but I was just getting my life back on track, and if I went and caused a scene, well, you know. It was about that time I realized I didn’t really love her, not like Herman did… and I think I knew then I’d never really love anyone again. I left shortly after for Canada… right after I was Herm’s best man at a real nice little country wedding. Dot had this dark hair she cut just under her chin, and these dark eyes… I’d never seen them so happy as I did that day.”
“What happened to Dot’s ex? Did he ever come back again?”
“No,” Faa’s eyes hardened like David hadn’t seen them do in months, “I took care of him. The nice part about being immortal is that you can walk to the bottom of Lake Lowell and make sure no one ever, ever finds him. I considered it a wedding gift for those two. I kept in touch with them, in my own way, until the government came calling again and my shit was toast. Sometimes I think my letters were what got me into trouble… but they were worth it.”
He didn’t say much after that. On the way home, David tried to stir up some conversation by mentioning a few of the things he’d read on Cracked: The Antikythera Mechanism, the Voynich Manuscript, the Baghdad batteries, and so on. Each one of them had a simple explanation: a language lost to humans eons ago, a mechanism to make his life easier, a way to boil his ancient whiskey, and so on. Maybe he’d just had a little too much to drink, but it seemed like he fell asleep about halfway back to Keokuk. By the time they got back to Faa’s apartment building, David was starting to feel a little drowsy, too. That struck him as particularly odd, because he’d drank a lot more in the past and wasn’t anywhere near this tired before…
But then the government agents stormed the car, and it suddenly all made sense.
“Gentlemen, you are being placed into the custody of the United States Government Special Operations Division post 549.”
A deep, familiar voice came out of the dark night and a myriad of spotlights effectively blinded both Johnny and David, as well as sobering them both up considerably.
“God damn it,” Faa’s voice was absolutely poisonous, “I knew her ass looked familiar!”
“By the authority given to me in Secret Order 212, you are both to be detained indefinitely for the willful act of mismanagement and sabotage of top secret government processes,” the voice continued, “You will comply with the order and held in the nearest government facility until your sentence has been reached. You have been stripped of the rights of the US Constitution and are labeled as suspects of treason against these United States. Your actions and failures in action have been potentially damaging to every facet of American life and your punishment will be excessive to deter future cases of program disruption.”
A man stepped between David and the spotlights, and he immediately recognized the well built form and even, low voice belonging to one General Tate. He looked down at David, helpless in the driver’s seat of a rusted Toyota. His face showed no anger, or disappointment, or emotion whatsoever until he spoke again.
“You really shouldn’t have bought that Lambrusco, David.”
There was a small crack in his voice, almost imperceptible, but if there was anything David had learned in his time with the Immortal King of the Gypsies, it was how to read the small things.

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