Ben Venice didn’t do much to change around the round command office of G.H.O.S.T. once he inhabited it, except that he had a killer sound system crammed in against the wall, a big wood encased monolith with a Marantz inside it sideways and a turntable with a new, clean needle. A bunch of the General’s old history books were moved elsewhere in the island base to make room for the records that were taken by night out of his Louisville home after his demise was faked. Sometimes Bud would go up there and borrow one or two for his quarters, where he might slip on a disc and get high for awhile, forgetting temporarily the details of the person he would next have to kill. He always reverently slid them back in.
Ben kept his shit in order by preference of artist and then by chronological album release, and although it pained Bud to keep Miles ahead of Coltrane, he would do it anyway. Partially out of respect to his friend, but also so he wouldn’t get busted.
When the two men were in the same place at the same time, that spot was usually the office. On this day, they were convening as Lee Morgan filled the air. They both agreed on putting Morgan on the top shelf.
“Tell the truth, Bud…” Ben said, as he sipped his whiskey, “How much was getting ahold of my record collection your motivation for bringing me into this outfit?”
“What do you want, Sarge? Like a percentage?” Bud shrugged.
“No, no. I’m just giving you a hard time.” Ben replied, and leaned back in his leather chair, behind his big desk.
With some relief, Bud said “Good, because I don’t even wanna think about it like that. Fact is, I trust you more than anybody, and I saw you when you were in the shit. I figured that the civilian world wasn’t gonna be your bag anymore. I watched you for awhile before we had lunch that day, and you confirmed my suspicions.”
Ben’s eyebrow cocked. “Oh yeah? Do I want to hear more?”
“Sure, man. Of course you do.” Bud continued, with a bit of a laugh. “You liked action. A whole lot. You didn’t fuck around too much with guilt or anxiety, you had work to do to save the world from those assholes and you just did it. You’ve got a clarity of vision. That’s extremely valuable. But the main thing is, you’re a good man. You’ve got a good heart.”
“Wow. Thanks, pal.” Ben said, running his hand over his forehead.
“Well, there’s more.” Bud leaned forward, from his chair across from his old wartime friend, “You weren’t into all the military cock and bull. Wasn’t your scene. This isn’t a military operation, not anymore. G.H.O.S.T. isn’t just about giving and following orders, see. There’s a big storm looming. Jarhead macho horseshit’s not gonna get it.”
“Did you have any inclination to run this thing? The General wanted you to.” Ben had been waiting to ask him this for awhile. He was still coming to grips with the fact something like G.H.O.S.T. was real, let alone that he ran it all of a sudden.
Bud took no time at all to answer. He shook his head. “Nah. I mean sure, I thought about it. Of course, anywhere else, I’m just some aging colored man. Things are changing out there a little bit, though. Slow, but that’s out there…”
“Well, in here, you’re King Pencil, pal.” Ben had always hated that his friends like Bud would be looked down upon. He thought about the Lieutenant that used to give him shit for hanging tight with his friend, had the nerve to call him a “nigger lover.” Whenever Ben had trouble sleeping, he remembered how good it felt to have his hands around that cracker’s throat when the chips finally came down, behind enemy lines with no MP jerkoff around to issue a court martial.
“I get that.” Bud said, “I could’ve ran it, but I don’t know, man. I’m what the mob calls a consigliere. The adviser, the confidant. There’s no shit between us. I respect you, you respect me, we’re partners. You get to sit at the desk, and hey…” Bud pointed to the Hi-Fi and smiled, “…I’ve got your records.”
Both men laughed. Through the merriment, Bud said “Alright brother, Louise is on her way up. Let’s get into character.”