Chapter One – Broadway at the Beach
Broadway at the Beach. One of the Grand Strand’s more contemporary dining and shopping venues. The fact that its 30 acres adjoined the Palace Theatre was the Broadway’s branding pretext of the landmark. In season, The Palace rotated Vegas style theatrical shows as Cirque, third tier magicians, and musical productions. But now “the season” was over and the Palace was dark. The owner now was evaluating the accentuated downturn in this season’s attendance as well as his other entertainment venues under his holding group. The country was economically reeling from the implosion of overheated mortgages and arrogance of the Wall Street book makers. What discretionary income would be there for 2010?
The Broadway shops and restaurants surrounded a two acre man-made pond in the middle of the center. There actually was no beach. It was a place most locals did not go in season as they typically chose not to compete with their primary income sources for a seat at the tables. In addition, as in all primary tourist attractions, there was a premium to be paid to eat and dine there.
This Saturday afternoon was great fall weather in the South. The humidity had broken and the circle bar at Margaritaville was loaded with patrons settled in for the late afternoon SEC games. The bar’s deck slightly cantilevered over the unnatural lake. The outside island bar was positioned as a gathering point for those not wanting to go inside to the restaurant. Amidst the “every-tiki-bar-you’d-ever-seen” décor the lakeside section of the bar provided a great vantage point to people watch from all directions of the patrons coming into the bar.
Ricky arrived early that afternoon and took a viewing position at this side of the bar. Blond, weathered, and with a two day beard one would think he’s was part of the Jimmy Buffet décor. He wore photosensitive sunglasses and began to hail the healthy and firm server behind the bar. In the Beaches, prime bars were prime income for the servers and prime working real estate. They were aggressively protected once secured. The server profiles were typically cougaresque: tanned, and they had walked, talked, and selectively leveraging their mental and sexual attributes behind the speed rails. Those who really possessed the street sense could earn part of the action at the first tier independent venues on Ocean Drive.
“Hi, I’m Gail what can I get for you?”
“Draft beer…Miller Lite is fine.”
“And you are?”
“Ricky, Gail. Just...Ricky.” The barmaid extended her hand to shake Ricky’s hand. It was clear to her sight and touch Ricky spent most his time outside. Beneath the Tommy Bahama shirt and SoCal ball cap sat a stocky man, thick arms, and rough hands that had experience the business end of labor on both sides. No local. Beta male. Definitely. But he was not just “Ricky.”
At the handshake, Gail saw his ink on the inside lower right hand. Modest in size with an outline of a shape and she couldn’t recognize, but she knew art from shop work. This was art.
“Nice tat!” she said
“Yours too,” replied Ricky. It was hard not to notice. She and the other female servers although sported SEC football jerseys that were tied and modified so that bar patrons would share their admiration of bare midriffs. Gail sported a small multicolored tattoo on the small of her back, the pre-requisite passport of a generation of American women. Privately, inked women were all not appealing to Ricky, and at this time in Myrtle Beach that was a lot of women.
“Will you need a menu?”
“Maybe an appetizer in a little while”
“Fine, I’ll check back later.” Gail turned to serve other patrons. It was about half-time for early games in the East. The prime SEC and ACC games would start in another hour and a half. Football Saturdays were a blessing and a curse. While they were busy as hell, some patrons came early and stayed late. Some would tip well, but frequency was also important. She would go ten strong hours for “the day” of the week. NFL Sundays didn’t make the volume and passion as NCAA Football Saturdays. For the top bars, fall football weekends were the second season, and many other businesses along the Strand didn’t get one.
Prior to sitting down at the bar, Ricky had identified the best vantage point to sit. As he approached the bar he pulled a vacant stool out from the bar, and with his left hand he felt the underside of the bar overhang to assure there was a flat surface without gum and relatively dry. It was acceptable. Ricky settled his bar stool with feigned interest at the big screed plasma above the bar.
With his left arm resting on the bar, Ricky took his right hand and unbuttoned the side pocket of the cargo pants on his right leg and pulled out a manila envelope the size used by anyone of the Grand Strand’s Christian churches. It fact it was. The only difference was that it had a pre-attached Velcro strip set. Rick quickly peeled the back of the top of the strip and quickly affixed it to the underside of the bar at the stool next to him, and waited between another beer and a cheeseburger.
Alli approached the inland bar from the Broadway promenade at the south end which brought patrons from the peripheral parking lot onto the boardwalk which circumnavigated the lake and gave most stores a lakeside entrance. Alli carried a Hallmark store shopping bag as he walked into the now loud island bar area of Margaritaville. Having identified the SoCal ball cap, Alli made his way to the bar and positioned himself to the right of Ricky. There were no exchanges between the two men.
Gail recognized the new patron and moved to greet the new customer. It was brief as Gail scoped out the gentlemen as East Indian descent as not like the new guest a significant consumer of nachos and Miller Lite. He was not. Strictly sweet tea and that was exactly the order.
As Gail went to get the tea, Alli put the Hallmark bag on the bar took out several cards and envelopes and began signing the cards and writing addresses. As he began his writing, Ricky looked over at Alli, shook a “no” gesture with his head at the foreigner and decided it was a good time to hit the head. As he got top his feet, he got Gail’s attention to bring another draft, and then headed into the restaurant. Alli waited a moment to make certain his neighbor had gone into the restaurant, and began putting his cards and envelopes into the Hallmark bag. He also pulled the envelope with the attached velcro from under the bar. He spent a moment looking in the bag, and pulled another envelope from the bag that also had one exposed Velcro strip and placed it where the other envelope had been. Alli had been too occupied with the envelope juggle and switch to notice that Gail had already brought his sweet tea. Given that his business was done, Alli left three dollars on the bar with the untouched beverage. It was time to go.
Ricky’s scheduled five minute respite completed, he returned to the island bar to begin his second half of watching SEC football, and the tattoo on the small of Gail’s back. Gail saw him returning, and met him with another frosted pilsner. They both looked at the full glass of tea.
“What happened to your partner?”
“Evidently, the wrong tea.”
They smiled at each other, as she cleared the space which was quickly filled by another patron. As Gail made the last swipe of the bar top, Ricky pulled the new envelope from the under counter and put it in the same side pocket of his cargo pants that the original envelope came from.
Alli walked from the Broadway’s retail area to the outlying parking lot where he had parked his personal Lincoln Town car. Even though the car had over 150,000 miles, it was meticulously maintained and detailed weekly. It was one of the few luxuries that Alli would indulge himself, but it was also symbolic to his business and expectations of those who drove and rode in his fleet of Coastal Sedan and Taxi vehicles.
Myrtle Beach was a lifetime away from what Alli Peshwar’s life might have been thirty years ago in northern Pakistan, or even now. A life in which the Peshwar family trade had always been moving men and commodities between their village and tribes north of the border. A life into which he was recruited as a teenager to assist his father and the clan which required travel at night and sleeping under a rock outcrop, or the honeycomb of caves which were natural or made by his ancestors over the centuries. A life which his father instilled life’s priorities and allegiances: Allah, the family, the tribe.
None this troika built on faith and blood acknowledged the relevance to borders or governments that defined the border from some distant capitols. There was timelessness to it all, and sameness to the stories handed down to each generation. It was a region once occupied by the Persians, the Greeks, the Mongols, the Turks, the British, the Russians, and now the Americans. No outsider ever lasted long here. No one except the tribes whom Allah protected. The tribes who controlled the trade routes and commerce. The tribes collected all manner of tolls from those who passed through the region and from each other when the outsiders were eventually vanquished, as they always were.
Alli’s introduction to the family’s legacy was the Russians who had occupied the north region for almost a decade with a presence of brute force wracked upon a number of the tribes in the region which had heard of similar tales from ancestral stories. There was no need to embellish the stories of cruelty, torture, and death. The infidels were well armed with the intent of a long occupation. There was no political game to win the hearts and minds of the people. No pretense to colonize the area. It had become a bunkered in communist military occupation. A military buffer to the rise of Islamic militant activity along the Soviet southern borders. Soviets had the numbers, the weaponry, the firepower, and stubbornness to stay. But not forever. No one did. The tribes had Allah.
Even the present day smaller American presence would leave a lesser footprint for the winds to carry away soon enough. But in Alli’s youth it was the Russians, and helping the “freedom fighters” who returned to the sanctuary of northern Pakistan.
The chiefs had AK-47’s and Allah. The Pakistan government took more than a small interest in the northern war as they saw they’re mortal enemy India a patron of the Russians, and the defacto Russian presence on their northern border. They would always be vigilant to the east, but defending their back would stretch their resources, and the government‘s control in the northern provinces which was more frontier than any resemblance of western provincial government extension of Islamabad. Nor would the Pakistan government openly provide the new jihad with munitions and supplies to support the guerilla effort of the mujahedeen. However, Pakistan was not beyond brokering deals. Small deals that provided others access to help their brothers in the Northern provinces. And as most agencies of clandestine information gathering and disinformation placement, those special offices with special generals kept their select cadre of contacts financed, and their storefronts open for business. As the Russian occupation continued there was no bigger seller of material, munitions, and supplies than the American CIA. The best part was that the Americans provided the funds to purchase the American weapons, munitions, and supplies of choice that would contribute to the eventual Russian cut and run. What a country!
That didn’t dismiss that someone was needed to get men and material over the border, into the mountains, and provide guidance to the freedom fighters on the munitions they were receiving. Alli’s father was one of the “caravan” distribution tribes that moved both through the passes and into the mountains throughout the region. It was also a time when very young men, with their family leaders and local chief’s approval, needed to learn the family business. It took a year for the CIA to insert “consultant” as part of the supply chain, including eventual repetitive travels within Afghanistan. It was young Alli’s assignment to “assist” the embedded American agent. Of the three brothers, in Alli’s father view, he was most blessed and he would hold back his youngest for a greater calling from God.
Within a year of the consultant’s arrival, the Russians were under pressure beyond the mountains and plains that held the ancient silk trade routes. They had disrupted the poppy production and harvest for almost a decade. Finally their departure was imminent. And with the Russians gone, it was believed the Americans and their resources would finally have their reciprocal payback after two decades of Vietnam. In the year of living ‘in country’ the consultant had built a transactional relationship of trust to the degree of what was promised was delivered, mostly to the mujahedeen and to the modest comfort needs of the Peshwar immediate family. But with the American advisor’s certain return to his homeland there was one last request: could he sponsor his son Alli to go to the States attend school and obtain skills and knowledge he could not obtain in the frontier of Northern Pakistan. Given the access the consultant had been provided to the frontier, there was no way the father could be refused.
The operative would return to the states to be based at the Marine training base in Beaufort, SC. Alli was provided a onetime stipend via Uncle Sam that would sustain the émigré for several years, and supplemented by periodic packets of the family’s stash of American currency. Alli enrolled at Coastal Carolina whose campus sat halfway between Conway and Myrtle Beach. For Alli, it was the environmental opposite of his homeland, lush, humid, and an abundance of water. A very different life. But a life with limits. He still saw and felt injustice of racism and religious bigotry. 9-11 was a rough patch, but things settled down quickly for him with help from the hospitality business community. Though not black, there were public venues in this corner of the Old South were he still got the initial “look” when dealing with the locals. Part of his matriculation through Coastal Carolina was eased with the Americanization of his speech patterns which he took pains to fine tune during the first few years in country: as a taxi driver.
It was an opportunity to refine his American English and watch, listen, and absorb all he could about America. Throughout, the Peshwar family maintained their communication with Alli, and annually celebrated his homecoming by a two week trip back to Pakistan to visit the family. They’d discuss the topics and issues of the day, the human conditions at home, and Alli’s future in the family business, and the growing cultural and political change of Islamic politics. By the time of Alli’s pending graduation, there were two growing issues within the clan. Alli’s increased Americanization and life among the 21st Century West. Alli developed a growing reluctance to return to a Pakistan and the predominantly third world life that surrounded the daily life of the clan. Third world yes, but within the family there continued the acquisition of inconspicuous wealth as was the Peshwar family credo and history.
To Alli, his father was apolitical. A pragmatist when it came to the political capital that was the cohesive glue that protected his interests and the interest of the family. The family did not see Alli’s graduation, nor did Alli attend the ceremonies. It was agreed was that Alli could remain in the states, with continued green card sponsorship of their American consultant friend. For the Americans, they would retain direct contact in the region that was being perceived non-Arabic, but still Islamic with strong Arabic ties, a perceived relationship of greater trust and reliability within the inner spook intelligence.
It was decided by Alli and his sponsors it would be best if he was not employed by anyone. Within the first three months following his graduation the youngest son of Syed Peshwar was an entrepreneur. Coastal Sedan and Taxi opened for business in the second bedroom of a sublet condo in Myrtle Beach. It consisted of one big boat Lincoln sedan and a Plymouth Wagoneer. Mileages on both were close to six digits. Alli could not be more excited or happy about his new life and business in America. Or about his application for American citizenship. What a country!
So now, twenty years later, he was being forced to swap envelopes with a Russian. He got to his sedan and threw the Hallmark bag on the passenger seat. It took all of twelve minutes to get to the Coastal Sedan and Taxi office and yard. Second shift drivers were beginning to arrive, and waiting for the day shift drivers to bring their cars to rotate their charges. Alli walked through the dispatch office, a two desk set-up, and through another door which was the inside entry into his residence of the last 20 years.
He closed the door behind him and went to the kitchen. He placed the Hallmark bag on the counter, poured himself a glass of ice water, and thought about dinner options for that evening. Dinner always was at a hotel along the Strand, with a stop to chat with a concierge or front desk lead of the evening. They all knew Alli and Coastal Sedan and Taxi. His company had become his American passion.
Alli looked at the yellow bag with the gold and red logo. “Well,” Alli thought, “let’s see what our friend thinks his protection and our information is worth.” With that he pulled Alex’s envelope from the bag and opened it. Twenty crisp $100 dollar bills. Sequential serial numbers.
“Stupid Russian!” sighed Alli.