The local from parts unknown
He was just there one day. A new face at the long, crowded bar, totally out of place but at the same time, part of the groove, as though he’d been coming there for years. It was a rough bunch, too – construction workers, plumbers, excavation crews and women who might just knock you on your ass rather than accept the offer of a drink. If you were a “newbie” in the ’70s, you might have thought the old Eagles Club was an aerie of redneck revolutionaries, as many did, but in actuality, it was probably one of the most tolerant bars in town. That’s why this stranger, in his freshly pressed shirt, new slacks, neatly combed salt-and-pepper hair, impeccable manners and handsome face with finely chiseled features didn’t seem to arouse the crowd’s curiosity. Time would tell.In that unassuming way that friends are made, he and I hit it off immediately, even though he was at least 20 years older than I. He said he’d lived in Aspen for many years but had been gone a long while on business and it felt great to be back. That was a stretch, I thought, because I’d never heard of him, but he reasonably covered all the little nuances that could blow bullshit out of the water, so there wasn’t a lot to do but play along with his story. It seemed strange (when I later asked) that no one could recall him from days gone by. “No, I don’t remember him, but his uncle mighta lived up on Deane Street,” or, “I can’t place the guy, but I think his family came here about 1960 and had a store on Galena Street.” Whenever I pushed him kind of hard about his past, he always seemed to smoothly cover his whereabouts.I was breaking horses that summer, so I didn’t get in to the Eagles Club a lot, but whenever I did, there he’d be, holding down the fort and keeping the afternoon crowd entertained, or playing a game of whist in the back. We went to the Red Onion for lunch one day, and as we left, he signed the ticket with the flourish of a man who’d had an account there for years. It was then, I think, that I started to believe maybe his story had some merit, as Kuster didn’t give an account to just anyone. A couple of days later, however, one of the bartenders (Brad) hit me up for the lunch tab, saying my dining companion didn’t have an account there and nobody knew who he was.Around that time, we took to having sporadic, all-night poker games at a retired banker’s house over on Hallam. Ancient Age was the whiskey, and seven-card stud was usually the game. Big bills changed hands with regularity, and how we kept the chips straight, I can’t remember, as the whiskey disappeared by the half-gallon. The new guy, the one susceptible to my interrogations, started drinking the whiskey with an almost maniacal seriousness, and a few cracks began to show in his polished facade. And disturbingly, the banker had a habit of strewing mutual fund and savings account statements around, easy for wandering eyes to peruse.Those guys were a little rough for even me and I quit them, but occasionally I’d see my mysterious friend, usually at the Onion. He was going downhill fast, even for Aspen, and naively, I’d try to put a finger on it, but couldn’t. I’d determined he couldn’t handle the booze or reality, but hadn’t perceived he was getting ready for a long walk of another kind. He’d stolen some securities from the banker – how hard could that have been – but handled the scam carelessly and was about to be apprehended. “It’s just as well” he slurringly confessed, leaning against the juke box in a crowded Red Onion, for now he could, “go back to the big house and get my life together again.” What the hell, “go back,” you say? It was a tragedy, like so many others.Tony Vagneur writes here every Saturday and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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