The bar was empty, but that figured. It was only ten in the morning. Still, it tracked with what Christopher had seen since landing at Ladd Army Airfield thirty minutes earlier -- he was beginning to wonder if this whole city, maybe this whole state wasn't empty.
Pretty, though, he thought as he walked into the Foxtail Tavern, which was all done up in heavy, polished wood. When he'd last been to Alaska six months before, it was freezing. It was actually kind of pleasant out now, and he hated to head inside, but he had a meeting.
A meeting he was early for, apparently, as the only other person in the bar was the middle-aged woman behind the counter.
"You're the first one in today, hon," she smiled at him as he walked in.
"Looks like it. Too early for a beer?"
"This is Alaska, honey. There are plenty of folks who're already on their fifth or sixth. What can I get you?"
"Got a local that's any good?"
"Moose Creek Cider's not bad."
"One of those, then."
She nodded and poured him a draft from the tap directly behind her, and Christopher sat down at the bar.
"You're not a local," she said as she put the beer down in front of him. It wasn't a question.
"Nope. Just up to see a pal."
"Didn't think so. I know near everybody around here. Where ya from?"
"Mm-hmm," Christopher said as he took a sip from his beer. It was quite good.
"So who ya here to see?"
"Guy named Todd. Jeremy Todd. You know him?"
"Sure I know him. He's here most nights. Hell, he was here last night. How'dya know Jeremy?"
"We met during the war. Right near the end, there."
The woman looked at him for a second, then slapped her palm on the bar, her face splitting into a wide grin.
"Well, holy shit. I thought I recognized you. You're Captain Lee, aren't you?"
"It's Major now. But yeah, that's me. You are?"
"Evelyn. Evelyn Meyers. I gotta say, Major, it's. . . it's one hell of an honor to meet you. Can I shake your hand?"
Christopher offered his right hand across the bar, and she shook it vigorously.
"We sure do owe you a lot, Major Lee."
"It's Christopher. And nah, you don't owe me anything. We were doing our jobs."
"Like hell we don't. Anything you want's on the house, Major. I mean. . . Christopher."
"Evvie, you leave that man alone," a deep voice came from the bar's front door. Christopher turned around to see a massive shape of a man blocking all of the sunlight from outside. As he approached the bar, Jeremy Todd pounded Christopher on the back, nearly making him spit his mouthful of Moose Creek on the still-beaming Evelyn Meyers.
"Hey, Jeremy," Christopher said, coughing as he choked down the beer.
"Christopher! How the hell are you, buddy?"
"Good, man, good. You look. . . huge."
Jeremy laughed, throwing his head back, the muscles in his neck knotting as he moved. Christopher had seen some muscle-bound guys in his time, but Jeremy seemed like he was made out of brick and steel.
"Come on, let's get a table. Looks like we got plenty to choose from. What you drinkin' there?"
"Not bad stuff, that. Evvie, get us a pitcher of Creek, will ya? We got some catching up to do."
Christopher followed Jeremy to a table at the back of the bar, and sat down across from the huge man. When Evelyn brought the pitcher, Jeremy refilled Christopher's glass before pouring his own.
"So, you out of the Marines yet?" Jeremy asked, taking a sip that drained a third of his beer.
"Nope. Still a lot of activity that needs watching. What about you? You're still with the CPF, I hear."
"Yeah. We're training the new kids who've just joined up with Fairbanks PD. Mostly war veterans, so they don't need much training. Nice, easy work. Spend most of my time in the office."
"Or the gym. Seriously, man."
"My whole family's big. We come from German stock. Hearty people, you know. And living up here -- it ain't for the fragile, brother. Bears alone will eat you alive if you're not tough -- and there's more 'a them up here than there is people."
"So I'd guess situational awareness would be a good quality to have out in these parts," Christopher said.
"Yep, it would," Jeremy said, draining off another third of his beer. "And it tells me that, much as you'd like to, you didn't come out all this way just to catch up with your old buddy Jeremy."
"Correct. And good observation, incidentally. I need a favor from you, pal."
"Shoot, Christopher. Not like I don't owe you one. Or several. Or my goddamn life, for that matter."
"Fuck that. You held your own."
Christopher took a long drink from his Moose Creek and pulled a pack of Russian cigarettes from the front pocket of his shirt.
"I'm the law in these parts, least until we get the new recruits trained. It ain't illegal if I say it ain't. Knock yourself out. And gimme one, if you don't mind."
Chris shook a cigarette from the pack into his mouth, then tossed the pack across the table to Jeremy. He lit his own, then slid the lighter to the huge man.
"Got a guy I need found. My last intel on him says he headed out this way two months ago, then promptly dropped off the grid."
"That's been happening a lot these days. This guy -- you think he'll stay close to the cities?"
"Might. Might make you work for it, go out in the wilds somewhere."
"That wouldn't be too smart. The bears, like I said. Plus plenty of. . . let's call 'em 'disaffected' types wandering around out there."
"He can handle himself. Trust that."
"Ooh," Jeremy said, leaning back in his chair and grinning. "This is starting to sound like fun. Your guy dangerous?"
"He can be. He was a Mecho."
"Friendly? Or someone you wouldn't mind getting a little bruised?"
"Friendly. One of my guys. After the war, he kinda. . . well, let's not sugarcoat it. Dude lost his goddamn mind."
"The shit you guys saw? Can't say I blame him. Hell, I'm surprised you're still relatively sane."
"'Relatively' is the operative word," Christopher said, sighing.
"All right. How quick do you need him found?"
"Sooner the better. I'm in town for the week, and I'll go with you, of course. My chances are just a hell of a lot better with someone who knows the land."
"Got a couple of guys that work with me who're pretty good trackers. I figure we split up -- you and a tracker, me and a tracker. Cover a lot more ground that way, give us a shot in hell at finding your guy by the deadline."
"Sounds like a plan."
"Gonna need as much info as I can on him."
"I've got a full dossier for you."
"Anyone I know?"
Christopher nodded and finished off his beer, filling another from the pitcher.
"It's Anthony Rice."
"Tony? No, man. He was fine last I saw him," Jeremy said, shaking his head and refilling his own beer.
"He kept it together through the war. But when we got back. . ." Christopher trailed off.
"Understood. What do you want him for, anyway?"
Christopher sipped his beer and said nothing.
"Oh, shit," the big man said, leaning in close and dropping his voice to a whisper. "You getting the band back together? Is something going down?"
Christopher again said nothing, sipping from his beer.
"Must be big if they're putting 47 Echo back in play."
Christopher remained silent, but he winked quickly.
"Well, then. Better get started," Jeremy said, downing his pint in three quick gulps and standing up.