A Waiting Game

Three tones then silence. 

Marcus looked down at his glass of scotch on the kitchen table. Glenfiddich, neat, aged fifteen years. A gift from his company following his honorable discharge.

Four minutes until he gets here. As if this motherfucker even knows how much time that really is.

He brought the glass to his lips and drained it. The whisky was strong and smooth; the warmth soothed him. Growing up in Minnesota, being poor didn’t mean you had to drink low-grade hooch—not in the Taylor household, at least. And this Scottish stuff certainly did the trick. Hell, it was so fancy that he could barely pronounce the name. The only reason Marcus could even do that was because of his alcoholic NCO.

Mike Sanchez was an alcoholic. But he was also the only friend that Marcus had during his time in the War—well, as close to a friend as the young Captain could be with his most senior enlisted man. Sanchez was fifteen years his senior, and sometimes felt more like a father to Marcus than a subordinate. Other times, though, he could be as immature as the rest of the boys in his company.

Sanchez was shit-wasted when Marcus’s surprise party started. But he was still drunkenly charismatic enough to teach him how to pronounce the name of the distillery:

“C’mon, skipper, it’s easy,” the forty five year-old Gunnery Sergeant began. Sanchez knew how much Marcus hated that nickname. Or any nicknames, for that matter. Sanchez didn’t care at all. In fact, he loved it when the enlisted would call him “Gunny.” For him, it was a point of pride. For Marcus, it was borderline insubordination.

Gl-gl-glen. F-f-fid-d-d-dick. S-s-say it with mmmeeee!” he slurred authoritatively. Marcus wondered how long it would take for Sanchez to start giving him commands following his discharge. Five hours, by Marcus’s own timekeeping. But, to be fair, he started drinking long before that. And Sanchez was no longer the link between him and the boys that Marcus commanded. He was just another friend, trying to give him a military send-off the only way he knew how.

War had changed Marcus over the last eight years; but even the scorching heat of Iraq couldn’t rid Marcus of his hatred for ice. Cold was fine, but ice was a deal-breaker. In fact, the only thing that Marcus hated more than ice in his drink was his wife, Kate. Marcus was at his wit’s end with her lies.

He had suspected something when Kate stopped writing him a year ago. In Iraq, letters kept the devil dogs going. A letter from a kid in Omaha or a relative in Minneapolis were enough to keep Marcus, Sanchez, and his boys alive for another hour.

Two minutes now.

When he had been in battle, he would keep the time by counting out three hundred seconds in his head. Always Minnesotas. Never Mississipis. In three hundred Minnesotas, five minutes were over. If he repeated this process twelve times, an hour was over. A few more times, and the day was over. Simple as that.

It had been weeks since he had done this. The familiar numbers swirled around in his head like the memories of the boys he had sent to their deaths. He had been following orders coming from his superiors, but the consequence didn’t allow him any peace of mind that those higher up could afford. The first two dozen numbers in his mind were always accompanied by the image of a man’s face—usually in the form of a photograph on top of a maple casket.

Eventually, the faces would disappear and Marcus could focus on his counting without distraction. It was grounding for him—to bear witness to the fleeting seconds of his life.

When he reached 278, Marcus looked out the window and saw the man—the man who had been texting Kate; the man who had answered the phone when Marcus called the number from her phone. The man who had heard Marcus’s voice, said, “I’ll be right over” and then hung up.

The man pulled into the driveway in an old BMW. He looked about thirty-five years-old, and he was Marcus’s worst nightmare come true.

Marcus heard three strong knocks, and made his way to the door, and threw it open.

The man was tall and lithe, with a muscular swimmer’s body hidden by an expensive suit. His facial features were chiseled, and his wavy hair was dirty-blonde and seemed to gracefully rest on his head like a halo. He looked like the bust of a Roman coin.

His eyes, to Marcus’s surprise, were warm and honest; but they were veiled with shame. Marcus could plainly see that this man was no cheater.

Marcus extended his hand. “Captain Marcus Taylor, United States Marines. Here on extended leave.”

The stranger grasped with a nervous look on his face. “Tom Slattery, accountant. I’m the man who has been sleeping with your wife.”

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