I first met HVAC Hal at Perk Noir and have Snippy to thank for it.  My little Yorkie took one look at Hal’s Black Lab Aretha and was smitten for life, that is, until Olive interfered.  Something about Aretha’s moist round nose, or the way those hips waddled from generations of highly specialized breeding really got to the little Snipster.  I had no choice but to intervene, before Snippy hurt himself, Aretha got annoyed or Hal keeled over from laughing so hard.

I knew right away I’d hit it off with him.  Anyone who could laugh so hard at failed pooch sex was all right by me.  I’d seen him before.  The dude was an early morning Perkhead, always wearing blue work pants like they wore at full service gas stations in the fifties, and a pinstriped flannel shirt with a sewn on label that read “Harold”.   He was in his forties and powerfully built, in a non-threatening sort of way, and had an eagle tattooed on his forearm.   Most impressive was his perfectly shaped head.  Some people’s are too round, some are too oval and some are too pointy, like the Joker, or some, like me just have everything in gigantic sized proportions.  Hal’s however, was like a piece of Michaelangelo’s fine sculpture.  You might have found an oyster in his dimples and I’d bet you anything he never, ever had problems finding a hat that fit.

“I’m Harold,” he said, stating the obvious.  “And you’ve already met Aretha.”

Harold?  No sir.  This guy was a Hal if I’d ever met one.  Harolds were bookish and obsequious.  This guy could crush a watermelon in his bicep.  “Nice to meet you. I’m Mason.  Mason Barnes and my sidekick Snippy. Mind if I call you Hal?”

Mom would have given me the evil eye for that one.  She’d have called it disrespectful, but Hal slapped me on the back.  “Not at all.  All my buds in the 36th Wing called me Hal.  Say … are you Mason Barnes, the football player? I remember the hit Kearse put on you.  It was the first game I watched after I got back from the Gulf.”

Reflexively, I rubbed the back of my head, almost wincing from the [non] memory.  I’d seen the replay so many times, it was almost like I could remember it, but honestly, the only thing I remember from that day was loading up on pancakes before the game.  I know, it’s ironic, isn’t it?  Pancakes!  But, I had to have my carbs on game day.  “No, Mason Barnes, author of Mia Killjoy, the spy with a killer libido.  You heard of her?”

His eyes wandered the length of 6 foot ten inch frame, from the mop of red hair on my over-sized head right down to my old pair of sneakers.  “Oh, I thought for sure …”

I broke into a grin.  “But before I wrote, I did play football and yeah, Kearse did get me good.”  This was before Shelly, Doc Hutch and my trips to the Cleveland Clinic, when I could still laugh about it.  “I’ve seen you in here a few times.  What do you do when you’re not drinking coffee or taking in the jazz?”

“I work for Edelman & Sons.”  The family-run heating, ventilation and air conditioning business was located just up the street from the Perk.

So … his name was Hal and he worked for an HVAC company.  I’d call him HVAC Hal, which was just alliterative enough for me to remember. “Been there long?”

“Ever since I got back from the war.  Old man Edelman, he … he lost his son over there and needed someone to help out around the place.  I know air conditioning.  I had to keep the ancient one at the Al Kharj base running.  Turns out I have a knack for it.  When I got home, Edelman adopted me, more or less.  He gave me a job and let me use his son’s room.”

Snippy barked, reminding me that it was time for his constitutional.  “Edeleman’s a good man.  When my furnace broke on Christmas Eve a few years back, he took care of me.”

Hal nodded.  “If had been any other night, it probably would have been me knocking on your door, not Joshua.  He’s Jewish.”

I snapped the leash onto Snippy’s collar.  “I’ll keep that in mind.  The next time it breaks, I’ll make sure it’s not on Christmas … or Easter.  Take care, Hal.” Snippy was making moon eyes at Aretha.  “See ya around.  Snipster will make sure of it.”

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