I handed my money to Beef, the bartender. He looked at it with a raised eyebrow. I said, “Little short but I’m working.”
Beef snatched the twenty from hand. “Bills got to be paid.”
I thanked him. He wiped his forearm across his wet upper lip and then filled a mug with the house brew. When he handed it to me, he jerked which caused about a quarter of it to slosh over the side. I watched him. With a chuckle, he said, “Sorry about that.” Then he peered over at the other side of the room, grinning and shaking his head. When he wiped off the bar, he left the foamy contents of mine that he spilled right there for me to see, like a puddle of mockery.
After the first sip, I snickered. “That’s it, right there.”
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I waved them off. The hand then spun my shoulder around until I faced them. They said, “Well?”
I held onto the mug. Not one drop lost. I peered over the mug at this man-handler. A tank top covered his chest while his exposed abdomen wore a field of black hair. I laughed, spewing the beer onto his tank top.
My boots clopped on the bar’s hard floor on the way out while the bartender cackled behind me. The tank top man shoved me out into the parking lot. I kept hold of the mug, still spilling nothing. Tank top loosened up his shoulders and flexed his fists while a crowd of onlookers shuffled outside. I set the mug down by the rear tire of a two-tone blue Chevy Bonanza. Then I strutted to the parking lot’s center and waved Tank Top toward me. He plowed into my gut with a right uppercut. I fell down, moaning out like a desperate hound chained up on a July afternoon with no water bowl. Tank Top raised his hands into the air with the crowd cheering him on. I managed to crawl back to my mug where I took a sip. One of the onlookers laughed but Tank Top’s smile dropped. He stormed over at me and launched a kick at my head, but he only caught the Bonanza’s bumper.
I spun away and got into a fighting stance. Tank Top rushed me but I stepped around and circled him. He bobbed and weaved, knocking his own head back in a “Come on and fight” gesture. So I ventured a right hand at him.
Tank Top nailed me on the jaw. Bells clanged inside my head while the onlookers cheered on Tank Top who tossed his tank top onto the cracked pavement and beat his chest. I scraped over toward my beer. “Oh…so close. Oh…just need a…drink…oh…”
Tank Top hovered over me with his hand to his ear. “What’s that? You want a drink? Do you?”
I nodded and pointed at the mug which still wore a hint of frost. Tank Top walked toward the beer. I said, “Yes…yes…”
However, Tank Top then stepped over to his tank top shirt and reached up high and then plowed it right in my face. The beer I’d spewed on him earlier covered my face like afterbirth. His oily fingers explored every centimeter of my face beneath the 1980s relic. His muffled voice shook my ears. “You want a drink? Have a drink then.”
I moved a piece of tank top out of my face. The onlookers made up about half a dozen men. “Ah, come on.”
Tank Top stopped over me. Turning back to the crowd, he said, “Y’all ready for this? Huh? Y’all ready?”
The group remained nothing but men. I gave Tank Top’s calf a quick kick. The crowd stopped, staring and pointing at my retaliation. Tank Top said, “Y’all seeing this?”
The blonde stepped outside among the men. She wore her hair down tonight. The lipstick beamed off her lips in a fiery red. She smacked a piece of gum and nodded at Tank Top. Then he poured my own beer all over the tank top on my face. I lay my head back, dropping my arms.
Tank Top strutted back inside. Through the haze of beer in my eyes, I watched the blonde smile at him when he got to the door. Once the crowd all got back inside, I dragged up to a sitting position and pulled a pack of smokes from my jeans pocket. I smoked the half-cigarette I had left, leaned back on the Bonanza’s bumper. Then I rubbed my head and got to a standing position. I took one look at the “Barrel” sign over the door and shuffled down the road.
I must have been about a mile up the road when I found this bush that stood beneath a hummingbird feeder. I took a seat behind it, listening to the semi trucks blow past me. I fell into a nap where dreams of giants in tank tops all stomped around me but they didn’t see me, like I must have been the size of an ant to them. I would have built a nest or something but even in dreams, I can be awful lazy.
A blue two-tone Bonanza pulled up on the shoulder of the road behind me. Ace walked around the bush and handed me a twenty. Then he helped me to my feet. I rubbed my head. “How did the kid make out?”
Ace patted my shoulder. “He headed home with her a few minutes ago. Told me to thank you.”
“Aw, all right. Bonanza’s sounding a little rough.”
Ace pointed a thumb back at it. “She’s a beauty but I can’t get her a muffler just yet. Wife won’t allow it. We got other costs. No telling what I’ll have to do to convince her it’s important. No telling what we got to do in this life to pay a damn bill. You all right?”
I patted his arm. “You bet, buddy. All this talk of bills has worked up my thirst, though.”
Ace didn’t offer me a ride back. I smiled during the whole walk. Inside, I took me a seat at the bar. Beef spat on the floor but he handed me a fresh mug of house beer and set a basket of chicken wings in front of me. I didn’t thank him. A young fellow walked by me and reached out his hand. I shook my head “no”. He drew the hand back and headed to the restroom. I peered over at the newest flavor. This one kept her raven black hair cut short. Her black stretchy pants would turn any male head though and maybe some female ones, too.
After two rounds and the wings, I wiped my face, drew a breath and took a long pull from my beer before nodding to the young man who chatted with Ms. Raven. He approached me. I turned and spewed my beer all over his striped tie. He grabbed me by the collar and said, “Here we go.”
I flexed my frown muscles on my way out with my boots clopping on the hard floor.
Bills got to be paid.
Here we go.