Exactly like John Wayne
Updated: Apr 15, 2021
An unfortunate accident. An unlikely rescue. And a job interview that might just change a former green beret’s life.
Sushi Kashiba’s waiting area was crowded. The hostess acknowledged Tom without looking at him.
“Meeting Anna Scott.”
“Ah.” The temperature rose infinitesimally. “This way.”
She led him to a secluded table occupied by a woman in a nondescript dress that didn’t quite conceal the cast on her leg.
He almost scowled when he saw she was wearing a baseball cap indoors, until he noted her huddled posture and the bruise peeking out from under her huge Jackie-O sunglasses. Tom felt a hot flash of anger, and made an effort to conceal it.
“Anna? I’m Tom.” He sat, placing the bag he'd been carrying on the spare chair between them.
Anna picked up her water and took a sip. “Do you like sushi?”
“I guess we’ll find out.”
“I won’t make you eat raw fish to get the job.” Anna’s smile lit up the room, and this time the flash of heat Tom felt was definitely not anger.
“I was a green beret. Believe me, I’ve eaten worse.”
“A green beret? Like John Wayne?
He looked her solemnly in the eye. “Exactly like John Wayne.”
She laughed, and relaxed back into her chair.
They examined one another as they ate, each taking the other’s measure. Tom couldn’t help but admire Anna’s slim, athletic figure…as a trainer, of course. But he felt his smile tighten every time his eyes reached the bruises on her face.
“Why would you give up being John Wayne to be a physical therapist or personal trainer or whatever?”
Tom spoke softly. “My sister got sick. She’s a single mom and she may…be in the hospital a while. I need to be here with my nephew, in case…” He cleared his throat. “So what do you do?”
“I’m an actress.”
“Really? Anything I might have seen?”
“I doubt it. I’m in a television series.” She waved from the black eye to the cast. “I closed the first season by screwing up a stunt. Think you can get me back into shape before we start shooting the next season?”
Tom gazed at her for a moment, then extended his hand. “Give me three months; you won’t remember what life was like before you knew me.”
Anna tilted her head, an elfin smile playing on her lips. After an eternity—or maybe it was only two or three seconds - she reached out and shook his hand.
“I’m sure you’re right, Tom.” She fished in her bag and handed him a business card.
“Anna Scott is a character from Notting Hill. I love Hugh Grant by the way, but not as much as John Wayne.” It seemed like she was winking at him, but he couldn’t be certain, with the huge sunglasses.
“So, do I call you Anna or…?”
“Holly is fine. And…please keep the contact info private.”
“So…” Anna—Holly—leaned forward conspiratorially. “What’s in the bag?”
“According to my sister, my nephew Sam is totally into some new kids’ TV show, Hyper Fighter Gold. He really wants Captain Somebody’s Hyperjet for his birthday. I must have gone to every toy store in Seattle, but—” Tom pulled a red fighter plane from the bag. “This was the closest I could come.”
Holly shook her head despondently.
“What?” Tom asked with a frown.
“That,” Holly replied, “is a Red Haze Mechajet. A swarm of them shot down Captain Fireflash in the season-ending cliffhanger. Nobody knows if the Captain survived!”
Tom groaned. “Does everyone know this show except me?”
“Well…” Holly shrugged.
“I ordered the whole first season from Amazon. I figured I could watch it with Sam and he could try to explain it to me. But—it’s his birthday today. I’m meeting them at Seattle Center at two for the party. I am a horrible uncle.”
Holly nodded empathetically. “I’m afraid you are.”
She laughed. “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to have his uncle there… even if he is conspiring with the enemy.”
Tom lifted an eyebrow. “You do realize I am in charge of planning your exercise regimen…”
Holly sat up straight, hands in her lap. “Sorry, coach. Come by the house first thing Monday and we’ll iron out the schedule, okay?”
* * *
Tom hugged his sister hello, and noticed that Sam hung back. Couldn’t blame the kid; Tom had been away in the Army so long he was essentially a stranger.
“Hey buddy. Happy birthday.”
Sam hid behind his mom. “Can I go play?”
His mother’s admonishment was interrupted by a sudden rise in the noise level. A mob of kids surged toward them, then parted to reveal—Holly. She had abandoned her glasses and cap in favor of a flame-red ponytail and a bomber jacket with glittering dragon patches.
Sam ran forward to throw his arms around her, practically knocking her off her crutches.
“Captain Fireflash! You’re okay!”
Holly ruffled his hair. “It takes more than a few mechajets to flame out a full Star Dragon. I got a little banged up, but your uncle says he’ll have me jets-hot again in no time.”
Holly put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“I wonder if I could ask you a favor, Sam?”
Sam’s eyes were huge. “Captain Fireflash knows my name!”
The Captain pulled the Mechajet from Tom’s bag. “I wonder if you two could study those mechajets for me. I need to know their weaknesses.”
No sunglasses this time; she definitely winked at him.
Sam saluted smartly, then grabbed his uncle by the hand. “Come on, Uncle Tom—we have to help Captain Fireflash!!”
“Yes we do!” Tom replied with conviction. “Tonight, right after dinner, okay? Right now, we have a party to attend.”
Sam nodded vigorously.
Tom knelt down, eye to eye with his nephew.
“Y’think Captain Fireflash might like some cake?”
“Sure!” Sam grabbed Holly’s hand again. “Over here!”
As Tom rose, he murmured, “And once you’re completely recovered, maybe…dinner with John Wayne?”
Once again, Holly’s smile lit up the room.
By Bern Brown
Bern Brown lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two dogs. (Two of those three are a little crazy, but he’s not saying which two!) When he isn’t running marathons, he runs in the woods, runs Dungeons & Dragons games, runs off at the mouth, and occasionally allows his imagination to run wild.