Martin jerked around to see who was talking. The chair slipped, his knees hit the table. It wobbled. The ashtray and the lamp tumbled off and shattered on the floor. Martin regained his balance in time to see everyone in the bar stare. His face reddened, from the red silk tie he wore all the way to the top of his balding head. “Stupid, stupid,” he said. “Why is it like this?” Nothing ever works out for me.
It was a good thing the bar was dark, the patrons couldn’t see him blush.
The waitress bent to clean up the mess, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I thought you were talking to me.”
“Uhmmm, no. I talk to myself. All the time. It’s my way of keeping my sanity. It’s working, I think I’m still coherent,” a wry grin crossed Martin’s face. He was not very adept at small talk, but that line sounded good.
“May I bring you something to drink?” she asked.
“Uhmmm, milk. Yes, a glass of milk would taste good right now.” Martin gazed at her. “Would you bring a glass of ice also? I like to pour milk over ice, make it colder.”
“Milk? You want milk?” she raised her voice. “No one comes into a bar and orders milk. People come in here to drink beer, liquor. Oh, never mind, I’ll have to go next door to get your precious milk, it’ll take a few minutes.”
Martin slumped into the chair. She had just pushed a pin into his balloon and burst the bubble.
Why does it always happen this way? Just when things are going my way, someone comes along and ruins it. She’ll be the last to ruin things for me, Martin admonished, one of the few times his brain worked without his mouth moving. It’ll be different after I sell the formula, I’ll have money. Lots. Everyone will look up to me. Everyone will treat me with respect. His thoughts drifted off to his personal ‘island in the sun’. Sliding the briefcase under the table, he pulled out his pocketknife and cut the sleeve from around his wrist. That problem solved, he again relaxed in the chair, leaning it back on its two rear legs again. I WILL make this work.
“Mr. Shewbreak, Mr. Martin Shewbreak. Please go to a white courtesy phone nearest you immediately. Mr. Martin Shewbreak.”
“Ehhhhrrrr,” Martin growled loudly. “What is that incessant page? Who is it and what do they want me for?” The couple at the next table turned and stared. Martin’s heart pounded, his forehead perspired. White shirt became soaked. Reaching to loosen the tie’s knot, he lost his balance. The chair went over backward. The briefcase, still attached to his wrist, caught the bottom of the table and launched it in the direction of the waitress carrying his milk. She stepped toward Martin just in time to collide with the flying table. Milk and ice flew. The tray bounced off the floor with a loud crash. Martin barely had time to see the last of the accident, he was already on his feet running as fast as he could. The waitress yelled, the manager yelled. Martin didn’t hear.
Ending up at the far end of the Concourse, breathing heavily, he slowed to a brisk walk. His suit was stained, there were milk droplets all over. I really liked this suit. It fit well, cost more money then I’d usually spend. Good thing I charged it on the company credit card. Four hours old… and now it’s ruined. It was a present to himself for his ingenious little plan. The company owed me! The tie and shirt were ruined, too and the briefcase was stained. “Hey, wait just a darn minute!” Martin stammered, stopped in the middle of the concourse, he kneeled to inspect the briefcase. “This is not mine. Ohhh heavens, where is MY briefcase?”
The tires on the handicapped cart screeched to a halt, just inches before running Martin over the driver yelled, “… get out of the way.” Martin stood and pointed at the briefcase, “I’ve had this case all afternoon. It’s not mine! Whose case is this?” The driver shrugged, shook his head and backed up.
“Mr. Shewbreak. Mr. Martin Shewbreak. Please go to a white courtesy phone. This is the last page for Mr. Martin Shewbreak. Mr. Martin Shewbreak, please!”
“Wait! That’s it! That’s why they’re paging.” Martin’s voice grew louder. Hands flew in the air, briefcase swung wildly, the chain jangled. People maneuvered around him, staring. “I’ve got someone else’s case. They’ve got mine. They want theirs back. Where’s that paging phone?” Martin fidgeted with his glasses, circling twice in the same spot, looking for the phone. “Got to be what they want,” he said, sidestepping his way against the crowd on the moving walkway.
“Yes. Yes. Yes, I am on Concourse A right now, I think,” Martin blurted into the white phone, embarrassment turning his face bright pink. “Yes, I can find that. A few minutes. No, we have time. My flight doesn’t leave for another 40 minutes. I must get this taken care of right away.”
The hospitality room was nearby. Martin spotted the case on the counter the second the door was opened. Examining it closely, he shouted, “Yes! Yes, this is my briefcase.
“You must be Martin Shewbreak?” the distinguished gentleman asked, offering his hand.
“I am,” Martin replied, looking up at the six-foot tall man. “How in the world did I get your case? How did you get mine?”
“I not sure…” the impeccably dressed male said, reaching for the milk-stained case.
“Wait, I recognize you,” Martin said, unlocking the bracelet. “You were in the changing booth next to me while they tailored our new suits. We must have gotten these switched at the register. As a matter of fact, you even commented about how our cases looked alike.”
“Of course, at the counter. You set yours next to mine.”
“Oh, thank you very much,” Martin said, reattaching the bracelet and chain and grabbing the clean briefcase. “You have no idea how much this means to me,” he shouted, hurrying out the door to find his flight. “Thank you again.”