The place was dark. Flies hovered over their drinks at the bar. The jukebox was playing something funky. A couple of pool tables sat under dull and unamused lights. I liked it right off. There was a certain scent in the air, some kind of pheromone for the demented and depraved. One of them tried to hop the three ball for the twelve in the corner. He missed the cueball and tore a couple more holes in the felt. No one cared.
I saw Mary-Lou at a table near the back. Some young punk was beside her laying it on thick. She looked annoyed.
The kid looked up at me. He looked liked James Dean with a shnoz the size of a dachshunds. I gave him a nod. He took the hint and peeled away whatever pick-up lines he had left.
“What took you so long?”
“I wanted to make an entrance.”
“That kid’s been at it for fifteen minutes. He told me he wanted to show me his record collection . . . I think it was a euphemism.”
“Hot love on the wing,” I said lighting a smoke.
“Nothing . . . How about that drink?”
“Please. Anything colorful.”
I went to the bar. Swatted a couple of flies to the side and waved the bartender over. He had a face like Bukowski.
This was once someone’s child, I thought.
“What’re you havin’?”
“Give me a vodka soda with a lemon. And a whiskey, neat.”
I looked over at the far end of the bar. Dean and four of his buddies were eyeing me. He turned and said something to one of his pals and they started laughing. Cowards always grow a pair when the numbers are on their side.
The bartender came back with my drinks. I flipped him some bills then swatted some more flies away as I turned to head back to Mary-Lou. She stared at the drink when I slid it across the table. I knew that look. It was disappointment.
“There’s more flies in here than on a rotting corpse. Makes you wonder if there’s anyone here with a soul.”
“Why do you say that?”
“One of those poor bastards has a tattoo that reads ‘God is dead’ across his neck. And the bartender looks like he just crawled out of a grave.”
“Frank, I have to tell you something.”
“You’re in love with me.”
She choked on her drink and spit some of it back in the glass.
“Cute. But this is important.”
“So is that.”
“It’s about Lon Snyder and the cowboy you mentioned before.”
“What’s the guff?”
“Lon is having me followed. I know it. He’s watching every move I make. . .You know the cowboy?”
“How can I forget.”
“His name is Bixby, and he’s been following me . . . I don’t know what to do . . . They’re up to something . . . You have to help me.”
“Bixby, huh? So that’s the prick’s name.”
“Frank! Are you listening to me? They want to kill me!”
There was a sense of urgency in her voice. She was scared. And her eyes looked heavy, the way they sagged and puffed around the edges like she’d been up for a few days. Common symptoms of neurosis. Or coke-head.
She went on about Snyder and this idea of a tyrannical takeover. How he aimed to rob the people of her father’s dream for them. She couldn’t get the idea out of her head that he aimed to take her out with the trash too, if he hadn’t already done the same to Bertram . . . I was beginning to believe she was paranoid. My mind went to work while she continued on about Snyder and her father. What could Bertram Welles make to have his longtime partner turn on him? Wasn’t there plenty of money at the top? Maybe it’s not money Snyder’s after? . . . And what does he want with Mary-Lou? What’s her roll in all of this? I had a hunch she wasn’t telling me everything.
I lost my train of thought staring at her legs. I stole glances at them each time she looked around the joint. They were long and slim. Perfectly sculpted. I tuned back in after she said ‘I don’t know what to do’ again. I cut her off.
“Maybe it’s best you get away for a while . . . Take a trip.”
“Where would I go?”
“I hear Bermuda is a lovely place to disappear.”
“I can’t just leave.”
“Sure you can. People do it all the time. They disappear. Change their names. Start over. It’s a thing . . . Plus it’ll keep Bixby’s nose out of your ass.”
She continued on about her father, something about Tesla and a generator. I heard the words ‘free’ and ‘energy’, but I can’t remember the congruency in which she used them. Seemed like an improbability in a world run on profit margins and market growth. I got lost in her legs again. One crossed over the other hiking her dress up past her thighs. I started to sweat.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“You can hide out at my place. I have a nice bottle of French wine with our names on it. Chateau de Idiote.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“I’ll show you my book collection . . . I bet it’s bigger than that kid’s record collection.”
She laughed and it brought the place to life for a brief moment.
“Maybe you’re right, Frank. I should leave town for a while.”
“Where will you go?”
“I’m not sure . . . But I’ll contact you when I’m safe.”
A dark cloud came over her and the place was grim once more. Mary-Lou got up to leave.
“I’ll walk you out.”
“No, it wouldn’t look good, us leaving together. They probably already know I’m here.”
She paused for a moment. Then looked me in the eyes.
“Please find my father, Frank.”
“I always get my man, baby.”
I turned to watch her go. Those legs, one in front of the other. Her ass swaying towards the door. Dean called out to her. She turned and said something back. Then she was gone.
I looked over at the little shit and his boys. They were laughing at me again. I finished my drink off and whatever was left in Mary-Lou’s. I got up and headed for the door, grabbing a pool cue as I passed one of the tables. When I got to the far end of the bar Dean opened his mouth.
“What’re you gunnuh do with that stick, grandpa? Sit on it?”
I swung for the fence and connected with the side of his head. Two of his pals grabbed me while a third punched me in the jaw. There was a flash of colors. I shook them off.
“I’ve seen nuns with bigger balls!”
Another one got me in the stomach with a knee. I hit the floor. My head broke my fall. They started kicking me. I went into fetal position. A heel stomped on my head and a boot got me in the nose. I tasted blood.
“Hey!” The bartender yelled out.
Salvation! I thought.
“Take it outside, you degenerates!”
Two of them grabbed me by the legs and dragged me out to the parking lot and into the rain. Then they really went to work. Kicking and punching and cursing.
This could be worse, I thought, as another fist hit the side of my head. I could go out like Heraclitus smothered in cow shit.
“Alright, let’s get out of here. This old turd’s had enough,” I heard Dean say almost out of breath.
Then I heard a zipper. A warm liquid mixed into my cuts and burned worse than hydrogen peroxide. Some made its way into my mouth. I gagged, then puked.
I made a mental effort to kick one of them, but they were gone by the time I could move my leg.
A man needs a break sometimes from the hard luck of it all. He needs a drink and some good tunes. He needs a place just for himself. A place to dissolve. Absolute shutdown. The program can only run for so long before it gets old, before you see the patterns and the terrible way things go most times. It can make a man go crazy . . . Shut the hell up and struggle beautifully, that’s what I always say.
Mary-Lou was gone. But it’s not the first time a woman’s walked out of my life. They tend to do that. They’re like revolving doors, though. Sooner or later they come back around.
She played the part of a damsel in distress pretty well. The panic. The urgency. The fear . . . Who knows, maybe she was telling the truth. Maybe Bixby was tailing her. Maybe Snyder was under a Dionysian spell, gone mad with power and lovesickness. The disease has been going around for some time. Everyone is so quick to throw love on their lives without wondering what it means, how arbitrary it can be. Glittering generalities can look like golden butterflies in the right light . . . But what the hell do I know. Aren’t we all looking for a call to meaning? Something to move our blood to all the right places? Hell, even if it’s just to get it up.