Hindsight: Part 9

Hindsight is a work of fiction written by Jamey Stegmaier, released in 9 short segments (1 per week). 

Part 9 of 9: This Is It

The pub was empty. It was well past closing time, but the bartender had let the man talk. Stew had stopped drinking about an hour ago and showed signs of sobering up.

envelope-back            The bartender pointed to the envelope. “So what’s the great mystery, then? You know that the contents of the envelope are the same as that message the man gave you. You said so yourself.”

“Ah,” Stew said, holding up a finger, “you are both correct and incorrect. That is indeed what I said. There you are correct.”

“But they’re not the same?”

Stew smiled. “Not yet. The contents of this envelope”—he waved the tattered paper—“are whatever I want them to be.” He slammed the card the CIA agent had given him onto the bar, message side down. “If I study this, that’s what the message says. If I study something else, some other random combination of words and numbers…”

“That’s what the message says.”

“Precisely.”

The bartender took a sip of Grey Goose. Aussies don’t stop drinking at closing time.

“Why wouldn’t you just study the message the CIA gave you? That’s what you’ve been waiting to do for the last 20 years, no?”

Stew shook his head. “I just needed time, man.  Time to clear my head, figure things out. Figure out if there’s anything worth caring about.”

“Whatever happened to Theresa?”

“She moved to France a few years ago. Always liked their language better anyway.”

“You talk with her?”

“Uh, no. I made my bed, so I gotta lie in it.”

The bartender sighed. “And of all places to be. Sorry, mate.”

Stew looked up. “Come again?”

“She’s in France. You been paying attention to the news today? France launched a completely unprovoked nuclear strike on the U.S. today.”

Stew stood up, knocking over his stool. “Damn. Damn. You don’t think—yeah, that makes sense. This is it.”

“Slow down. What’re you talking about?”

Stew looked him in the eye. “This is it. This is the event, the disaster. Why else would I get the call today? ‘Be at the Crescent Pub at 9:30.’ When was the air strike?”

“About 30, maybe 45 minutes before you came in.”

“Dammit! Why France? Theresa’s going to get blown to bits with the rest of the country.” He was pacing now, his movements wild.

The bartender moved his glass under the counter. “Hold on. What makes you think the U.S. is ready to retaliate?”

Stew stopped. “Why wouldn’t they be ready?”

“Well, completely unexpected assault, random time—the only way they’d know about something like that in advance is if they had someone on a top-secret government team who could see well into the future.”

“Go on.”

The bartender held up the envelope and the card from the CIA agent. “You said so yourself: The message that you study now is the message you saw 20 years ago. You’re not changing fate—that’s inevitable. You’re just changing how prepared the U.S. is to face its fate.” He paused. “You told me earlier that it was my job to convince you if the world is worth saving. Sounds to me like Theresa was your world. But it’s your choice—it’s either your country or your girl.”

Without saying a word, Stew clasped the bartender by the shoulders, gave him the most resolute look he had ever seen, and walked out of the pub. The bartender watched him leave before looking down at the bar.

There, soaked in spilt whiskey, remained the card.

“Be brave,” he said in Stew’s wake, tossing the card in the trash. “Be brave.”

***

Hindsight is over! If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts.