by Michael A. Clark
It was a quiet night at the Morehead Tavern when the Nazi sat down next to me. Chad the bartender was languidly watching the Hornets losing to the Cavaliers on TV as a chunky, balding guy was trying to chat up a girl twenty years younger on my right. I was awaiting my order of fried pickles.
The Sturmbannführer, replete in fascist regalia, primly took his stool and ordered a draft. He took a sip of his Bass, turned to me, and said, “I do not mind English beers.”
“They do not brew with great craftsmanship,” the Nazi continued. “But the English can make palatable ale.”
I looked around. The older guy was telling his young victim about how the local real estate market was making a comeback. Radiohead played in the background. Murmurs of conversation mixed with music within the calm stained-wood cavern of the bar. Nobody seemed to notice that I was talking to a Nazi.
“But palatable is not the same as excellent,” said the Nazi. “The hint of sweetness corrupts. A beer should stand tall and refresh. Not hide behind flavored tricks.” He took another drink, strong jaw surging. “Would you not agree?”
“I never really thought about it,” I said, sipping my Miller Lite draft.
“Of course not,” said the Nazi. “Why waste time on such pleasures when there are more important matters to ponder?”
The Cavs scored on a fast break, and the balding guy rose to use the restroom. His target slumped her shoulders and looked pleadingly toward Chad, who gave her a wan smile. Neither of them seemed to notice I was talking to a Nazi.
“What are ‘important matters’?” I asked.
The Nazi looked straight at me for the first time. He was an impressive specimen of Teutonic manhood. A ramrod backbone, a sharp, pale nose, and close-cropped blond hair under an officer’s cap. Add his formfitting battle-gray uniform, and here was the Desert Fox in a Charlotte bar. The Nazi smiled, with perfect teeth.
“The future,” he said, “and what responsibility we have to it.”
Cars rolled past on the street outside. Chad laid my basket of fried pickles and a wad of napkins before me. “Anything else I can get you?” he asked. I looked at him, at the Nazi, and then back at Chad.
“I’m okay for now,” I said.
“We all have a role to play,” said the Nazi, as Chad meandered back to his post below the big-screen TV. “Whether we choose that role or the role chooses us, we must play.” He sipped his beer. “Destiny determines we play a part. How a man plays that part, determines what kind of man that he is.”
I took another drink.
“What kind of man are you?” the Nazi asked.
“I guess that depends on who you ask,” I said.
Chad came back to check on my order. “How are they?”
“Ah, Chad,” I said, lowering my voice over my breaded cucumbers. “What’s with the freaking storm trooper here?”
Chad glanced casually toward the Nazi and said, “He comes in every once in a while. Orders a beer, drinks it slow, than leaves.” He wiped a mug with a dirty white towel. “You’re the first guy I’ve seen him talk to.” Chad turned back to watch the ball game. “Lousy tipper,” he said under his breath.
“Yeah. I can imagine,” I said.
I thought about the hours I’d spent in bars. Places where perfect strangers will talk about everything and nothing. Where a Nazi can accost you about your manhood and career plans.
“I was asking YOU,” the Nazi said firmly.
“Okay, that’s enough.” I set my glass down hard on the stained walnut bar. “You come in here looking like Colonel Klink and start spouting existential bullshit.” The Nazi looked at me. “I gotta admit, that outfit looks authentic. But what is the freaking point?”
The Nazi continued staring at me. “Want a pickle?” I asked, offering my basket of fried vegetables.
“Nein,” he said. “My digestion.”
The Cavs widened their lead over the Hornets. The balding guy was back, mumbling more financial advice to his victim. Chad washed glasses behind the railing.
“So…what’s your point?” I asked.
“That is my point exactly,” he replied. “What can you do to improve the future?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“Perhaps, then, you should think about improving the present.” He turned his attention back to his beer, half gone. “The one does follow the other.”
“That’s deep,” I said.
“That is also the truth,” replied the Nazi. “You, and all those around us, have the power.” He waved a rough but manicured hand. “The Duty! To improve the future by changing the present. To make the world a superior place to live, and to banish cowardliness and fear. The human race can do so much more than what it has done.” He drank from his glass. “We could have done so much more…”
“I may have asked this already, but…what the hell are you talking about?”
“My attire raises hackles in you, does it not?” asked the Nazi.
“Are you of Jewish blood?”
“Oy vey!” I said. “I’m Hungarian, American Indian, and probably some other stuff. But nothing kosher.” Chad wandered back to ask if I wanted another beer. “Why not?” I said. “So…what the fuck are you talking about?”
“Ah. A gypsy and a savage,” the Nazi sneered. “And ‘some other stuff.’ The New World is a mongrel melting pot.” He got a faraway look in his steel eyes. “The Führer used to hold forth at length about this subject.”
“Yeah. Those sociopathic dictators can ramble on at times.”
The Nazi glared. I drank deeply from my fresh draft.
“You perhaps do not understand,” he said. “History is written by the winners. However, those winners’ victories may be temporary. The power of an idea to organize the present into changing the future…now that is a true final victory!”
“You’re making my head hurt,” I said.
“Is that so?”
“Yes, it is ‘so,’ and I’m about tired of this shit.”
“You are ‘tired’ of being confronted with your responsibility,” said the Nazi.
“My only responsibility right now is to finish this beer and go home.”
“Your responsibility is to challenge yourself to make the most of the future.” The Nazi stroked his twin-lightning-bolt cufflinks. “Your challenge is to see beyond the curtain that has been draped over the truth of an idea.”
“So what’s this great idea you say is so full of truth?”
The Nazi got a gleam in his eye. “The power of obedience,” he said. “The obedience to be driven forward, cleansing the present of that which is holding back the future. To find the solution to cast off the shackles dragging you down. To live as a man among men.”
“The power of obedience,” I said. “Sounds like some bad TV preacher’s DVD. If I order before midnight tonight, would I get a free cattle prod?”
The Nazi smiled, a widening scar between chiseled jaw and sculpted nose. “You jest, but you realize how much you love being commanded.”
“Not me,” I said.
“Of course not,” replied the Nazi. “You are an individual. You would never simply do what you are told.”
“I can think for myself,” I said.
“Of course you can.”
“Fuck you, man.”
“Are you man enough to rise to the challenge?” asked the Nazi.
“I said…fuck you, man,” and I got up from my stool. “I’ve had enough of this bullshit. You should be hauled away for wearing that costume. There’s freedom of speech, but that still ain’t cool!”
“My ‘costume,’” asked the Nazi, “or my speech?”
“Damn you, drop the fucking act!” I could hear the quiet of the bar behind me. “If this is some kinda reality TV bullshit thing…” Something was squirming in my throat. “I mean, what kind of freak goes out in public looking like that?” The basketball game roared softly down a long distant tunnel. “You should be fucking committed, man!”
“I am committed. To the idea.” The Nazi focused on me. “To what are you committed?”
“Drop it!” I shouted, like I was commanding a deaf Labrador retriever. “Drop the fucking act!”
“Who is acting?” asked the Nazi.
I clenched my fists. Then I noticed the butt of the lugar jutting out of the oiled leather holster on his hip, and the calm, professional way that the Nazi’s fingers were drifting up his field-gray pants leg toward it.
“Who is acting?” he asked again. “Perhaps, it is not I.” His hand halted its journey, and he posed, a marble-and-iron statue from the horror gallery of the last century. All that was missing was a monocle.
“Are you thinking perhaps that I may truly be a servant to the idea, rather than just a ‘freak’?” He raised his glass. “But if that is so, then why am I here, drinking bland beer in this hovel?” He drained the glass of its suds. “And why am I wasting my time talking to you?”
“Who are you?” I asked. The squirm fell into my stomach.
“A wanderer, in these times,” the Nazi replied, and looked toward the mirror backstopping the line of liquor bottles arrayed on a low shelf behind the bar. “Do you know what I see, when I look into my reflection?” he asked, almost wistfully.
I shook my head.
The Nazi turned back toward me. “A man out of place, waiting for the right time to return.”
“The right time for you to return?” I asked.
He sighed and gave me an almost pitying look. “I am already here. The right time is waiting to be reborn. With a different face, perhaps. But patiently waiting.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Perhaps not,” replied the Nazi. “But you may understand enough history to know that an idea cannot be killed until the last believer in it is extinguished.”
The Nazi drew his right hand over his holstered pistol…and then reached into his pocket and pulled out a bill and some coins to lay upon the bar. He stood erect and faced me.
“The ‘right time’ may come sooner then you think,” he said. And with that, the Nazi turned on blackened heels and strode out the door.
The bar recovered its voice. Chad sidled toward me along the smooth wooden counter top. He palmed the money the Nazi left behind and shook his head. “What did I tell you?” he said. “Exact change.”
Category: Fiction, Short Story