Honey Ko (Sweetheart), Book 2, Chapter 11, Part 1

Cigarette smoke assaulted my lungs as I made my way to the exit, already missing Marie’s fragrance. I had reached the door when I heard my name called above the screeching racket from the jukebox. I looked above the heads bobbing on the dance floor.

Frank! Hey, Frank. Over here.

Sam waved from the bar. I changed direction, but the door opened, forcing me to quick-step out of the way. A well-dressed man glanced at me as he entered and strode to the center of the room. He might have owned the place by his manner. He scanned the tables and the bar. Amy, passing by with a tray of empties, greeted him. They spoke for a moment before she left for the back room. The man stretched his neck and adjusted his tie, taking in the crowd. He nodded in recognition of Mama-san in her post at the end of the bar. She gave a thin, frigid smile with just the right amount of insolence. The man sneered and looked away.

Hey, Sam. What are you doing here? Was that you on the piano?

Yep. But the keys are so darn sticky with who-knows-what. That’s a sad way to treat a piano. He dipped his fingers in a glass of water and wiped them on a bar towel. The mama-san said you were in the back talking to someone, so I decided to wait. Sam grinned. I figured if it was a woman, I wouldn’t have to wait long.

The bushy red whiskers around Sam’s mouth lifted and fell as he spoke. I suppressed a smile. Sam cocked his head and smiled back. What’s so funny?

Nothing. You remind me of someone. I ran my fingers and thumb down Sam’s beard.

Don’t tell me, he said. Yosemite Sam.

Great horny toads. Is that beard regulation, you varmint?

Very funny, Frank. Sam smiled at the familiar joke. Probably not. I’ll trim it up in the morning.

I’m only joshing.

Amy returned from the back room and spoke to the well-dressed man. He clenched and unclenched his fists and pointed to the back room. Amy shook her head and backed away, but the man moved toward her.

Still, a trim would be a good idea before you report to the squadron in the morning. You don’t want the Skipper telling you to shave.

One of Mama-san’s burly barbacks entered the bar unseen by the well-dressed man and stood with his back against the wall while another barback, equally burly, stepped from the back room.

The man cast a furious look at the second barback and again spoke roughly to Amy. I couldn’t make out his words, but his tone carried. Amy’s forehead wrinkled; I thought she would cry. The tension in the bar rose as people turned to watch the fuss. The man, with a hand inside his coat, stared at Mama-san, who stared back unperturbed. She spoke to the man behind the bar without taking her eyes off the stranger. The menacing Filipino joined Helen, standing next to her with his arms across his chest. The well-dressed man scowled again and withdrew his hand. He turned on his heel, appeared surprised by the man at the door, and left the bar, slamming the door behind him. Amy, shaken, returned to the back room.

I turned my attention to Sam, who had been speaking while I watched the action with the stranger. I’m sorry, Sam. What were you saying?

I agreed with you. I said I don’t want to scare the nuns at the orphanage either. Sam spun around on the barstool and leaned back, his elbows on the bar. So. How’d the Chief’s meeting go?

Fine. I came in at the end, just in time to have a blowhard senior chief get in my face

About what?

About her. I tipped my head toward Marie as she left the back room. Amy followed close on her heels. Marie spoke to Helen, who patted her arm. Still holding the blue clutch, Marie kissed her aunt’s cheek and returned to the back room.

Excuse me, Sam. I’ll be right back.

I left Sam and crossed the bar. Pardon me, Mama-san. What’s wrong with Marie? Is everything all right? Can I do anything?

Yes, everything is all right. An old friend of Marie’s asked after her, but she does not wish to see him.

May I see her? May I go into the back room?

If you wish. However, you will not find her. She has gone home for the night. She will return tomorrow.


Would you like something else? Are you returning to the base tonight?

What? No. I mean, yes, I am returning to the base tonight. Thank you. I rejoined Sam.

What was that all about?

The woman I pointed out left. Seems she didn’t want to speak to the guy who slammed the door. Old friends, apparently. I signaled for a beer. The bartender set a San Miguel on the bar, a cold beer this time.

Or old lovers.

Sam’s answer annoyed me. I doubt it. The blowhard I mentioned told me she’s pure.


She doesn’t go out with customers.

Ah. Interesting. Maybe the guy came back for more than a drink. He left disappointed.

The blowhard’s a former aircrewman who stopped flying after a crash. He’s a troublemaker the Master Chief is trying to have transferred.



Who’s getting transferred?

The blowhard.

Oh. Sam leaned back against the bar. Sorry. I was watching the barmaids. Don’t they get cold dancing in bikinis? His eyebrows lifted. That one’s real cold. He spun around on the barstool to face me. You like her, don’t you?

Who? The obviously cold one?

No. The other girl. The one from the back room.

Oh. Yeah. She’s something else.

What’s her name?


She’s good looking. Beautiful. If she doesn’t go home with men, does that mean she isn’t a barmaid?

Yep. You’re quicker than I am; that’s exactly what it means. She’s the manager.

I thought the mama-san was the manager.

She owns the place. She’s also Marie’s aunt.

So, despite her job, is there any hope for you? Are you going to ask her out?

Maybe. We spoke for a while after everyone left. I think she’s interested. I spun the beer bottle in my hands as a mental image of Marie passed through my thoughts. She’s beautiful, Sam. I couldn’t help staring. She’s cultured too, prim and proper, with a feisty personality. Unfortunately, we disagreed a bit, and I left her sitting at the table.

What happened?

I called her a barmaid.

Ah. I take it she didn’t like that.

Not a bit. Beyond that, we argued over the relationship between barmaids and Sailors.

Were you at any point in the conversation not arguing with each other?

I think we were in violent agreement most of the time, but neither wanted to lose the point.

Give the point, Frank. Women always win. If, by some stroke of fortune, we win, we lose. Our happiness is only possible when women are happy.

Says the man whose wife once told me her happiness depended solely on her husband’s happiness I touched Sam’s shoulder. She was a wonderful woman, Sam. I would give anything to find someone like her.

Susanna loved you like a brother, Frank. Tears welled in his eyes at the memory. She spoke of you often.

I loved her too, Sam. We had a lot of fun together, didn’t we? You know, I never felt more lonesome than when I saw the way she held you on the pier when we returned from overseas.

Susanna wanted to get you married. Remember how she always fixed you up with her girlfriends? And how you always said you couldn’t talk to them?

How could I forget? She’d say, ‘Oh, Frank’ and roll her eyes and ask me what I had done wrong when a blind date didn’t work out. Anyway, Miss Right will come along someday. When she does, I’ll thank Susanna.

I had to look away as I, too, became emotional. My love for Susanna had begun the day we met, the same day she and Sam met. She had an overwhelming yet subtle presence. She appeared at first ordinary, unremarkable, just another pretty bartender. But the pull Susanna exerted on me, on anyone, was spiritual, not of this world. It was as though she spoke directly to the heart, like God. A man didn’t hear Susanna’s voice so much as he felt it, somewhere between the mind and the heart. Like the voice that tells you what a nice thing you’ve done, Susanna’s voice made you feel good, happy, proud, at peace with the world. Susanna made you smile because she always smiled, and her smile carried the command, be joyful. Her life had carried that message, and her life had imprinted itself on my heart. At one point, I became jealous of the love between my two dearest friends and avoided them for weeks. Seeing them together filled me with envy and a burning passion to take Susanna away from Sam. But that could never have happened. Their love, their bond, was unbreakable, immovable. Others could love Susanna, but Susanna’s love for Sam, and his for her, had been born when time was born. She could love another man, but only as a sister loves a favorite brother. When I finally understood that, I basked in the warmth of her love.

It’s okay, Frank, to love another woman, she had said after coming to see me while Sam was away on duty in the Azores.

Why have you not come to see me, Frank? I don’t understand. Have I done you a wrong? Have I hurt you?

I remained silent at first, afraid to give in and appear weak.

If I have caused you pain, I apologize. I would not hurt you for the world.

Agony showed in her face, as though I were physically harming her. My resolve was fading. Susanna made you feel as though her happiness depended on you alone.

I love you, Frank. I need you in my life. You bring me comfort no other man can bring me.

I’ve loved you since that first night, Susanna.

Her eyes, when she replied, held sorrow. Oh, Frank. That love I can give only to Sam. I clenched my jaw until it ached to hold back the tears. Susanna’s soul had spoken to me, had wrapped around my heart, and lifted away my carnal love for her. She had spoken; she could not love me the way a woman can love only one man.

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