End of Quarter
“Buy a girl a drink?”
I had turned to the older man standing at the end of the bar and coyly fluttered my eyelashes in jest. I could tell he wasn’t the sort to go for camp and that’s why I did it. I liked to make his sort uncomfortable.
Stanley Barton looked up from his gin & tonic and glanced over his glasses at me before turning his attention back to his drink. He didn’t turn his back to me, however, and that was a good sign.
“I take it that’s a ‘no’.” I said.
He looked at me. Stared. But he didn’t say anything.
“Dwight,” I said, extending a hand. He ignored my offer of a shake so I added, “Ah, c’mon. I don’t bite. Well, sometimes I do. Under the right circumstances.”
“Hank,” he grunted, and then explained, “Sorry, but I don’t get why some men think they have to act like women. I wanted a clown, I’d go to a parade.” “Hank? Okaaayyy. Hello, Hank. Buy a ‘guy’ a drink?”
This time he turned toward me and gave me the once-over. It was pretty dark in the bar but I could tell he liked what he saw. I may not have been in the game for long, but I knew a mark when I saw one, and so-called Hank was ripe for the plucking.
He raised a hand to get the bartender’s attention. I beat him to the punch. Dropping onto a stool, I called out “Casey, hun, give me a blow job but with Tia Maria and refill my friend’s drink.”
Casey stopped wiping the glass in his hand and asked “You sure?” We had a code.
“You know how I like it,” I told him, staring to make my point.
The bartender splashed some Bailey’s in the glass, and reached for the Tia. That was the signal. Otherwise he used Kahlua like everyone else. Before he squirted on the whipped cream he glanced over his shoulder and pulled an Altoids tin from the pocket of his jeans. He took a small white tablet from the tin and crushed it in a marble mortar he used for muddling mint. One more glance showed no one was watching so he casually stirred the powder into the cocktail and topped it off with a spritz of whipped cream. Then he made another G&T and set them down on the bar in front of us.
Stan reached into his pocket and, finding only a ten, started to pull a credit card from his wallet.
“Not a good idea, Hank,” I warned and nodded toward the end of the bar where there was an ATM. “Owner-provided for your safety.” He moved to the machine and I could tell he was deciding how much to get. I hoped it would be enough.
Casey whispered, “You think it’s smart to give him that here?”
“We’ll be on foot,” I said. “I’ll take him to the Stardust so he won’t have to drive. I’ll just be someone helping a drunk friend down the block. Better hand me another roofie for later, though.”
When Casey handed me the tin of pills, he said, “You need to be more careful. You don’t know anything about this guy.”
“Not true,” I told him. “I know his name is not Hank. I know he’s married and has two kids, and I know he teaches at a small town Kentucky high school.” I looked toward Stan to see him shoving a handful of cash into his pocket, and turned back to Casey. “He won’t be any problem. He’s my brother’s basketball coach.”
Stan came back to the bar and started to reach for his gin & tonic. I grabbed his drink and pushed mine toward him. “Let’s switch things up,” I told him, and downed the cocktail. He started to pick up my drink and I stopped him.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never had a blow job!” He turned the color of a beet. “No hands,” I said. “You just lean over and pick it up with your lips and toss your head back.”
He only hesitated a moment. I could hear his mind working. “In for a penny, in for a pound” it was saying.
“Ka-ching!” said mine.
“Say that again! Say it, and I will knock you the other side of Sunday!”
“Get off me!” I told him, pushing him back and trying to straighten my sweater. “Do you know what I paid for this? You are so taking me to Saks for a replacement the next time we are in Cincy.”
“You talk about my wife like that again, there might not be a next time,” Stan said. I could tell from his shoulders, the way he walked across the room, that he was pissed. I knew better. I could tease him a little, make a few jokes, but I knew better than to even mention his wife. I admit it. I sometimes like to push my limits, but Stan said I shouldn't get in the habit. That someday we’d run into each other in a public place and people would notice. It had happened before. Marlene comes into the library where I’ve been working since I moved back to Madisonville. Once she even came in with Stan. She introduced me to him and I don’t know whether Stan or I put on the best act.
He was still standing with his back to me and I could hardly hear him. “I love my wife. You need to understand that.”
“Actually, I like her, too. I wasn’t really making a crack about her. It was wives in general.” I blame myself. When I’d met him, I’d made clear that I wasn’t looking for a relationship. He was jumpy, especially after I admitted that I knew him. Knew his real name. Hell, I even knew his mother. When I moved back home, he could have shit a brick. He’d come to Cincy a few times to see me—never realized there was anything shady the night we met. By then I realized he might be what I was looking for. Not a love match, but someone dependable. Bendable. A seat-filler until someone with more promise came along.
There was something else I knew: If I was going to be with him, I was going to have to butch it up. If I forgot and called him “Mary” or “Grace,” he gave me one of his looks. It wasn't like I expected to be invited to family barbecues. He wouldn’t even talk to me at Kiwanis. I wasn’t used to living like that. I’d been out since God was a boy. That’s probably what scared him most. Everyone in Madisonville knew about me, and if anyone even suspected we were friends, Stan feared they’d start watching him to see if I was “turning” him. It wasn’t how I wanted to live. He knew it. I told him once that no one would suspect I was after him for his jinglebobs but probably those of his team. That didn’t amuse him, either.
“You knew what you were getting into when you moved back down here,” he said, reading my mind in a way that always startled me. “You and Marlene are separate. I don’t talk to you about her, and you don’t talk about her with me? Capice?”
Capice? Who was he… Edward G. Robinson? I nodded. I did understand. Really. That’s why I was in this damned deer trailer at the back of nowhere. It’s why I had to drive my own car and park it out of sight lest one of his brothers-in-law decided to come ‘bag a buck’ and I had to make a fast get-away. It’s why I, at 26, suddenly am living life on the down-low.
Is it worth it? Wish the hell I knew…
“I know this radio will pick up music newer than the 80s,” I grumbled, trying to find (a) any other station, and (b) one that played some Mika or Scissor Sisters.
Stan shoved my hand away from the radio and clicked the button for his regular oldies station. Why is he is so into Creedence? It’s not like he’s that much older. Maybe it’s just another of the trappings that comes with having a respectable job (his term). Owning a house. Being trapped (my term; his would have been “having a wife and kids.”)
“Don’t fiddle with the radio,” he warned, slapping at my hand and giving me what amounted to a glare, though his face wasn’t made for stern warnings. It was all teddy bear with no hint of grizzly. But definitely bear.
“What can I fiddle with?” I purred, sliding over and running a hand up his right thigh, even though I knew from experience that my target rested on the left.
“Dammit, Dwight! Get the hell over on your side of the seat!” he cursed, glazing in the mirror and giving me a little shove. I confess I may have flounced over nearer to the passenger door, if one can flounce while sitting down. Stan could evidently sense my pout—though it was too dark in the cab for him to see it or for any other drivers to see how close to him I was sitting.
Maybe he felt sorry for me, or guilty, because he reached over toward me, and, glancing in the rear-view mirror again, leaned over to give me a peck on the cheek.
Big mistake. The truck dropped off the edge of the pavement and Stan jerked the wheel to the left. My head was bouncing against the roof of the cab, and Stan’s elbows were jerking around and the next thing I saw was a bale of hay flying through the air, some fencing, and a pot of mums landing on the windshield.
“Shit!” I don’t know which of us said that. Maybe both.
Stan got the truck back in the road and we both looked back to assess the damage. Someone’s fence would never be the same, nor would that someone’s Thanksgiving yard display. Too bad it wasn’t one of those hideous inflatable Christmas monstrosities, I thought, but I heard “Shit!” again, and this time I knew it was Stan.
He hit the gas and the wipers, trying to knock the flowers off the windshield, and I strained to see what had startled him. I saw a blur of brown before I heard the barking. There was a gi-normous dog racing toward the truck, barking with every breath. It seemed tall enough to look in the window at Stan, like one of those e-werewolves from the Twilight movies. Stan was trying to drive, look at the dog, and see through the flowery windshield. “Stop and let me clean off the window,“ I said. “Are you crazy?” he asked, but when he put on the brakes, they didn’t cause the squeal I heard. He pulled over and listened. No traffic, no barking. We could still see the house we’d just visited and no one had come out or turned on a porch light.
“’Yeah? And who will explain how we happened to be on this road? I told my wife I was going to be at school catching up on some work.’”
“Get the flashlight,” Stan ordered. We got out and saw a dark bulk just off the side of the road. I moved the beam of light toward it and we saw the blood first. The dog’s labored breathing brought a “Thank God” from me and I reached behind the seat and pulled out a small quilt and spread it beside the dog. Stan didn’t realize what I meant to do at first, and as I pulled the shepherd by its back legs onto the quilt, he just stood and stared.
Then he came to and tried to pull it away. “We have to get it to the vet. It may not be hurt too badly,” I explained, and asked him to help me lift it into the bed of the Ram. “Leave it there. No one will ever know who hit it,” he ordered.
“It’s hurt. I’m not leaving it here. We have to tell somebody.”
“Yeah? And who will explain how we happened to be on this road? I told my wife I was going to be at school catching up on some work. Not heading to my deer camper with the town fag.”
A distant beam of lights stopped my retort and spurred him to action. He lifted the dog into the bed and moved quickly behind the wheel. As we headed north, I noticed the lights turn into the driveway at the house with the ruined display. That’s when I recognized the cruiser and realized whose house it was. My turn to say “Shit.”
“Go!” I said, and when he looked at me with surprise, I said “The lake road. Now!”
Had it not been dark I might have recognized Hank. Hank the K-9 hero. Hank, the dog the entire county worshipped after he jumped in front of a car aimed straight at Deputy Carnes. Hank was a hero in these parts.
“You’ve lived here long enough to understand this, Stan; there’s no way we can take this dog to the vet.” I explained, and Stan didn’t say much. I think he just eventually realized he’d be spared having to explain why the married basketball coach was out cruising with a man of more-than-questionable sexuality. We could be in the same Kiwanis Club but not in the same truck on the way to our love-nest.
I didn’t give a damn about the gay thing but I wasn’t lying when I said I like Marlene, and I was pariah enough in this town without being branded home wrecker and killer of RinTinTin. Yeah, I said “killer.” ‘Cause that’s what I’d be once we got to the lake. Unless Hank died on the way. Or I could talk Stan into doing it. Fortunately, I generally get my way now, even without the use of pharmaceuticals.
Evidently love is a potent drug and lust is a goddam fucking opiate.
Ron Day, a retired librarian, lives in Pineville, Kentucky, with two cats. He never leaves home. “End of Quarter” marks his first appearance in Still: The Journal. "I love regional writing, going back to Jesse Stuart and Rebecca Caudill, and my other stories that have been published have been about a gentler mountaineer than this story features," Day stated. "I am trying to write about rougher characters—the type who might appear in works by Daniel Woodrell, Chris Offutt, or Carter Sickels."