1994 The Slippery Deck Tavern sat off Highway 103, which runs the full length of the Long Beach Peninsula in the State of Washington. With the Pacific Ocean on one side, and Willapa Bay on the other, the land mass runs north and south for nearly 35 miles, over 28 of them continuous beach. When the tide is out, the beach is actually a highway with a speed limit of 25 mph, although many a car has seen it's speedometer pushed past the century mark along that same stretch of hard wet sand.
During the peak traffic of summer, occupants of the Slippery Deck were as varied as the means of transportation they arrived in. Many were professional types from the metropolitan areas that were within a day's drive, like Seattle or Portland, pulling up in their BMW's and Infinities. Others came in what seemed to be the vehicles of the 90's. Nissan Pathfinders, Toyota 4Runners, Jeep Cherokees, Ford Explorers, or any other four wheel drive that cost at least twenty-five thousand dollars before throwing in the CD player and a cellular phone. A trip to the ocean and the occasional snow storm was the only time they would ever engage their four wheel drive systems, and even then they would need a tow truck more times than not. Others would show up with little more than a kite, a tank of gas, and beer money. The cars they drove where held together with hundred mile an hour tape and a prayer. These tended to be college students, young newlyweds, and potheads looking for a cool place to cop a sunset and a buzz without a blue light special.
Business slowed down a lot in the off-season, when the sun seemed permanently obscured by wind driven rain and fog. Most of the drive-ins and boutiques closed all together during the winter, as the dozens of motels and cabin rentals slashed prices in half to attract enough people to pay the utilities and keep the mildew from completely taking over. What vacationers did come usually stayed at the bottom end of the peninsula in Long Beach or Seaview, seeing no reason to drive another half an hour to see a beach that remained basically unchanged. This left only the locals and people who visited their property from time to time to carry the economy over until next Memorial Day weekend, when the peak season would start anew.
The Slippery Deck Tavern, or 'The Deck' as she was known to the regulars, usually had more than it's fair share of business in the winter. This was due to the bartender, slash cook, slash owner, who poured the cheapest schooners and ladled the meanest chili and chowder this side of the Rockies. Luke Perry, no relation to the teen idol of television fame he was quick to add, looked every bit at home behind the taps and along side of the makeshift kitchen at one end of the bar. He had the customary paunch of thirty extra pounds for his height of five-nine, that bulged through his white starched apron with the occasional chili or pickle juice stain sprinkled down the front of it. His face was leathery and wrinkled, more from the elements and the past than from time itself, making an accurate guess at his age quite impossible. He was in fact fifty-two years old, and had once been a salmon fisherman like so many of the others. His left leg had been badly crushed in an accident while dropping, literally, a new engine into his boat. That had left him too handicapped to maintain his balance on rough seas, not to mention the pain that always came when he got too cold. He now walked with a pronounced limp, and most of his friends had taken to calling him 'Peg Leg', which just added to the atmosphere. So he sold his boat, and along with his life savings, purchased an old run-down tavern named Sandy's Place and turned it into the Slippery Deck.
The inside of the tavern was typical for the area, with glass floats and nets hanging from the walls and ceiling, along with the ever present spider webs that only seemed to be noticed in the light of day. On one wall was a helmsman's wheel that looked real enough, but in truth had once been a wall clock made in Taiwan that Luke had bored a hole through and left out back for a year or so to get that weathered look. He had always been mechanically gifted, which he put to good use by fixing up old pinball machines and a couple of coin-operated pool tables that he resurfaced himself. Luke stopped polishing the huge mirror behind the bar, and stepped over to give the chili a stir or two. To Luke, good chili was like good booze. You had to age it, and it got better every day. This batch was going on four days now. He wasn't sure if that was kosher with the state inspectors, but they had never asked, and no one had ever gotten sick. He changed spoons and stirred the chowder too, but he never let it go past a couple of days. The seafood aroma from the clam chowder permeated the air as it mixed with the freshly brewed coffee and the ocean smells coming through the open door. The rain, light but constant over the last two days, made the air even fresher. It was quiet for a Friday, with the ceiling fan and the steady staccato of the rain gutters overflowing onto the walkway the only sounds to be heard. With all of his morning chores now completed, he poured himself a half cup of Starbuck's and sat it on a worn out cork coaster below the bar. He pressed a button recessed into the wood panel above the coaster and counted to three in his head. As he did, the remainder of his cup filled to within a quarter of an inch of the top with brandy. Luke Perry was many things, including clever and discreet, but first and foremost he was an alcoholic.
There was only one customer at the tavern, and he was almost as much a part of the decor as the helmsman's wheel. Thomas Engelhart had been coming in every day since the Slippery Deck had opened. There was a picture of him shaking Luke's hand with a dollar bill taped beneath it framed behind the bar. 'Our first customer, and our first dollar, April 17, 1978.' was written in longhand underneath the wrinkled currency.
After his wife had died giving birth to Edward, Tom had struggled on alone raising his three children, putting one of them through college. His whole world had seemed to turn to shit, and it had been one big catastrophe after another. Too many to be a coincidence he used to think. Now he refused to think about them at all, except sometimes in his sleep. It was then that his subconscious would override the alcohol and thrust him into nightmares that were unfortunately too close to reality. After those episodes, he would go without sleep for days, until he finally took a sleeping pill along with his daily allotment of beer and scotch. He knew his drinking would kill him someday, if mixing drugs and alcohol together didn't do it first, but it would be a small price to pay for a little peace of mind. The 'Big Sleep' would be a welcome change of pace, and why he hadn't done it himself with a bullet or a whole bottle of pills by now he could never quite figure out. Probably some leftover guilt from his childhood years as a forced practicing Catholic. If there were two things you always got enough of in a Catholic household, it was going to mass and guilt.
Tom and Luke were a lot alike in some ways, enough to become close friends over the years. Both had worked hard at their labors of love, or destiny to be more precise, before fate had thrown them a curve ball and changed their lives forever. Tom had farmed the land in the plains of Nebraska, on the same patch of dusty earth his father had, and his grandfather before that. Corn and a few cattle somehow paid the bills each year, with a little left over to start up again the next season.
Luke's lot in life was the same, as the Perrys were fisherman as far back as the family tree could be traced. It had almost broken Luke's heart to sell his boat, and to face a new life as some landlubber pouring drinks for city folks and real seamen. Thomas' story was to finally end up the same way too, for he had to sell the farm before it was all over, and take a job as a mechanic and part time tractor salesman to get the kids through college. Once that was accomplished, he had sold their house in town, bought a used truck and travel trailer, and slapped what little was left in a money market account. Between interest on that and Social Security, he had taken over two years to travel across most of the continental United States, finally parking his rig as cheaply as he could at an RV park on the Pacific Ocean. He could go no farther without a boat. Luke had sold his boat, and could hardly give a rat's ass about any land out of sight of the ocean. So here they were, at the same place in time, and they shared their misery together, with the help of their mutual friend, the bottle.
While Luke had no living family or relatives that he knew of, Tom did, and some of them were living right there in Washington State. He hadn't talked to any of them since he had left Nebraska, but it wasn't hard to keep track of his oldest son Jonathan, who had entered the political arena shortly after graduating from WSU. His other son, Edward, had ended up working for Jonathan, as he had read in some blurb in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, as an advisor. Tom would never figure that one out, but if it concerned Edward, he'd just as soon not have anything to do with it. And he didn't. His only daughter, Janice, was last seen leaving home with some long hair from Lincoln, Nebraska, in a run down GMC pick up. Their only plan was to meet up with some friends in Denver and then head out to Oregon somewhere. Long Hair, he had never bothered to remember his name, had mentioned something about a commune. He hadn't heard from either one of them since, not that he had left much of a forwarding address. They could be in communist China for all he knew.
It wasn't that he didn't care, just the opposite actually, Janice had been his favorite. She was the one that had remained sweet and innocent, or so he had thought, on a family tree that had gone sour, due to one particularly bad apple. He didn't blame her for never calling, or writing, or coming back. She had gotten away the first chance she got. His only regret was that he hadn't done the same thing sooner himself. But that was water under the bridge, not to be pondered on for long, or the nightmares would return again. Just another reason to start drinking, and as soon as Luke opened up the Deck and was ready for some company, that's exactly what he did. Every day. He figured it would be that way until he died, and that was fine by him; until the phone rang that January morning, and for the first time since he had left Nebraska, it was for him.
Jonathan Engelhart was deeply concerned about his political future for the first time since running for city councilman back in the early 80's. He had won by the narrowest of margins, which had launched a career since filled with landslide victories and swift advancement up the political ladder. One of the Washington state congressman, Brent Sherill, had died in an unexplainable light plane crash upon returning from a fly-fishing trip in Alaska. Due to the length of the time remaining on his term before the next scheduled voting period, an emergency election was to be held in March. Every Tom, Dick and Harriet with their sights on Washington D.C. had thrown their hat into the ring. Jonathan had tested the waters too, and somewhat hesitantly, had decided to also announce his candidacy. He felt that maybe it was a little early in his career, being only forty-three years old, but his brother Eddie had convinced him that he was being typically over-conservative, which he was, unlike his political views.
Chances like these didn't come every day, although it was a sad day indeed, Eddie had reassured him, with a slight curl of a smile that erased all believability. Eddie was sure that it was the right move, at the right time, for the right man, and the rest of his small staff had agreed unanimously. Eddie had let the cat out of the bag before Jonathan had even made up his mind to tell anyone else, which really pissed him off. Eddie was so good at doing that, he often wondered why he kept the little prick around, and he had almost given him the boot a hundred times in the past. There were just two things that kept him from that, two things that everybody else seemed to know also, or at least feel. One, Eddie was always right. It was almost scary. Two, never cross Eddie. There was no almost about that being scary. And when he was willing to admit it, no one knew that better than Jonathan Engelhart.
Jonathan looked up from the rough draft of a speech he was to give at some fund raising banquet that night. He didn't even bother to memorize the schedule any more; he had a secretary for that. He didn't know how much a plate it was, or how much cash would be added to the coffers, Eddie took care of that. He didn't have to worry about what he would say or whether the topic would be appropriate for the audience, he had ghostwriters and volunteer PR people covering those details. His clothes would be picked out for him, down to the tie and cuff links. They would be dry cleaned and pressed and ready to slip into just prior to the engagement. He felt like a knight being prepared for battle, or better yet, a high paid call girl. 'Here, just wear that, say this, humor them, and we'll count and collect the money. Just perform on cue, and we'll do it again tomorrow.'
What happened to his agenda, his goals and dreams for a new and better future? He had told himself that when he finally got into big time, national level politics, that he could finally accomplish something tangible, something satisfying, something with meaning and purpose. Now he wasn't so sure. He felt more and more like Pinocchio, a puppet who's nose grew every time he told another lie, and all he really wanted to do was become a real person. What a bunch of bullshit. He was about as real as the shape of Madonna's bra, and he was very seriously contemplating withdrawing from the election just to see if he still had any control over his own life when his private phone rang.