Footsteps and Photographs

Russell looked down at the photograph in his hand. The image was old, yellowed, and wrinkled. He looked up again. In the photo, the building had been a bar, with sign of active light. The colors were faded, and it had been uninhabited for probably a decade. Yet it was the same building. The angle of the mountain behind it was right, and the trim around the windows was dingy and battered but recognizable. At some point, over twenty years ago, his father had stood in this very same spot.
Carefully, he tucked the photograph away and took another look around. The coffee shop on the other corner was clearly of newer construction, but the bookstore across the street looked like it has been there for centuries. He took a deep breath and headed over.
He was pulling his phrase book from his pocket when the man behind the counter gave him an annoyed look. “I speak English.” His accent was thick, but the words were intelligible.
“Thank you.” Russell smiled. He hesitated a moment, then pointed. “Do you know anything about the bar that used to be just across there?”
The man gave him a considering look. “It closed five years ago, after the fire. Why?”
A fire. Naturally. The first real lead he had, and it caught fire. Russell exhaled. “My father visited this area before I was born. He liked the bar enough to have some photos of it.” Russell shrugged. “Thought I’d stop in for a drink while I was in the area.”
Something briefly flickered across the man’s face, and he gave Russell another look. “This is a bit off the path for tourists.”
Alright, the guy was willing to chat a bit. Or maybe he was bored. The shop was otherwise as empty as the street. “Yeah. I had a hard time finding it on the map. I, uh…” He swallowed. “My father, he uh, he died.” At least that was the assumption. “When I was ten. I thought I’d retrace his footsteps, see…”
“Finding a connection.” The man’s face warmed a little, and he offered his hand. “Otto.”
“Russell.” He accepted the handshake. “Yeah, that’s the intention. Can you, uh…” He smiled. “What made the bar special?”
Otto twitched his shoulder. “Beer was good. But uh…” Otto took a deep breath, then brushed an imaginary speck of dust off his counter. “Mostly it catered to a particular sort of crowd.”
“What kind of crowd?” Russell raised an eyebrow. His mother said his father had been a soldier once. “Military?”
“Some, but uh…” Otto shifted his feet a little awkwardly. “It attracted those of a certain persuasion.”
The other man gave him an annoyed look. “Men with preferences.”
“Prefer…” The wheels clicked in his mind, and he felt himself start to blush. “Oh.” He winced. “Oh.”
“Mmm.” Otto nodded.
“I don’t suppose you know anyone that…” He winced again.
“That sort tended to want to go unnoticed.” Otto shook his head. Then he frowned. “Though the landlord that rented it to the bar is still around. Not sure what you’re looking for, exactly, but he might be able to let you in to take a look if you ask politely.” He started looking around the counter, then after a moment produced a business card.
“Thank you.” Russell accepted it. “Uh…” He looked around. “If you’ve got a book on the history of the area…”
“It’s not in English.” Otto smiled as he led Russell to a shelf.
“I’ve got google translate.” Russell accepted the tome and paid. Then he tucked the book away before heading back to his vehicle.