Shadow Bar

Debra Fran Baker

I've seen them all. I've tended bar here in the District for twenty years, since Carter was president, and I've seen all kinds come here.

That kid over there is a clerk for the Supreme Court, with a still-wet law school diploma and the bar exam looming ahead. He's looking for someone to take his mind off of bar prep courses and old folks in long robes. Maybe the lobbyist with the empty piercing in his right ear will help.

And that's someone from Treasury - he's looking too vigilant for anything else. Secret service, taking an enormous risk on his night off from guarding someone important, chatting up an overage congressional aide who knows more about the represantative he serves than he should.

They all come here at one point or another. They pass the word around somehow, all these closeted men in government uniform. You don't find the boys in leather here, or the ones in heels and makeup.

Me? I'm the only woman in the place. I serve them their drinks and a willing ear and sometimes a place to duck. In return, I have the safest, quietest and most heavily armed bar in DC, even if the weapon is only a lawyer's mouth. And I get to see some of our government in action, here in the shadows. Of course, I don't know anyone's real name. At least not officially.

He started coming here about ten or so years ago. I couldn't place him at first. He screamed FBI agent, but agents of any vintage don't wear designer suits unless they either come from money or are being kept. And those that do don't buy them off the rack. This guy did. Finally I figured he had money and liked nice clothes, but didn't want to wait to get them tailored.

He drank tequila by himself, but he always left with someone. Sometimes he'd be picked up by an older guy, sometimes he'd leave with someone his age or younger. He never had any problem finding a partner. Not him - he couldn't fade into the woodwork no matter how hard he tried. He was too beautiful for a man, despite his large nose and ancient, haunted eyes. He even had me wanting to feed him, to put some meat on his bones, and no one has ever called me maternal. Someone had hurt him badly, but in all of our talks, we never spoke about that. Instead, he rambled about UFO's and ESP and all sorts of malarky like he believed it. Other Fibbies called him Spooky, but he didn't answer. He just kept puffing on those cigarettes.

Some senator I wasn't supposed to recognize found him one night, and he disappeared for months. Things like that happened, and I didn't think about it. Pretty boys find keepers all the time. Maybe this one would be kind and take away some of that hurt.

When he showed up again, he was wearing a wedding ring, and eating sunflower seeds, and talking about his father. The wedding ring didn't throw me. A lot of my boys are married, and a lot just wear the ring so people think they are. Some have a friend who covers. DC is not a good place to be one of my boys. Doesn't matter which party thinks it's in power.

Five or six years ago he came and drank half a bottle of tequila and told me a story about his sister and something somebody had hypnotized him to remember. I don't buy that recovered memory garbage, but he did