Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Back to One Ch. 3

Ch. 3

The Going Get to Being Gone.

They entered a pool hall from his past. A place he hadn’t been since his collegiate years. Unfortunately, it was at the same level of disrepair he remembered it being when he was there last. A night, long ago, which ended in a catastrophic set of events which involved two beer bottles that refused to break on the bar, a stranger with brass knuckles, two bouncers with exceptional arm-breaking techniques, the flight of Jay’s broken-armed body through the front window, and a parking meter which claimed his two front teeth. Other than the fact that the window had been replaced, he felt as if he could have been walking back into the bar immediately after plowing into that parking meter, teeth in broken hand. It was as if the place could age no more.

There were a dozen pool tables, haphazardly arranged about the floor space of the main floor, with a rickety balcony looming over the noise and cigarette fumes. NWA boomed from the jukebox, and a small band was setting up in the far corner, preparing for a late-night jam. The bar ran all along the right side of the establishment, and was lit by glass-bowled candles. Middle-aged biker men (jockeying to get drunk and laid) mixed in with youthful hipster girls (hoping to piss off their suburban parents by getting drunk and fucking an old biker), people were clogging all available floor space around the tables. He was struck by a strong feeling of disdain for the way the girls were pimping their youth, and the bikers’ disgusting desire to harvest it, all of them operating under the influence of revenge. This irritation mixed with his angry memories of misspent youth, irreversibly wasted in this exact environment. Specifically, he hated that window and the parking meter out front. He felt a dangerous rage building up behind these thoughts. A rage that was vaguely familiar, a shadow of previous emotions, which used to run rampant in his conscious thoughts. Perhaps some weed would do well to calm the impending storm.

A pleasant-looking fight was brewing near the restrooms at the left of the entrance, between two rather attractive 20-something mod girls. He took note of the candles, the KISS parafanelia on the walls, the percolating girl-fight, and the odd absence of security personnel as he lit up a joint while walking toward the bar. Even with the passage of time, nothing about the place had changed for the better.

His five drinking mates immediately spread throughout the room with devilish glee. He did not feel compelled to stick with them, and they appeared equally disinterested in following him. The bar was singing, whiskey was its tune, and Jay was whistling right along.

When he arrived at the brass lip of the sticky bar, he heard the voice of the Driver yell out from behind. “Five shots of Knob Creek, a double shot of 151 and a double Jager. I’m going to fuck this place like a Boston Priest, real painful-like.” Jay turned around to greet the voice, only to have an arm reach around his shoulders, and spin him back toward the bar. The Driver put his face within an inch of Jay’s, and continued speaking with a softer tone, his eyes sparkling like nickel-plated six-shooters. “You see, Bee, this place is good for one thing and one thing only.”

Bee? Jay hadn’t heard that name in many years, and the utterance caught him off guard.

The Driver was an early thirties Caucasian fellow with a medium build, carelessly-yet-attractively arranged brown hair, a slight but well-trimmed beard, and emerald green eyes. His clothing appeared to have been intentionally coordinated, with his brown belt matching his brown shoes. And the green accents in his shirt seemed to have been chosen specifically to bring out his eyes. Everything about this fellow seemed very calm and planned. It also seemed to Jay that this guy required being the leader of whatever group he ran in. The others did not seem to mind his controlling nature.

Jay stuttered. “Did you just call me Bee?”

“Of course I did, don’t sound so surprised,” he responded, with a slight grin. “You’re the Beast, are you not?”

Jay took a long toke of the calm-inducing weed and squinted his eyes, tightly, as he stared, sternly at the Driver. Jay was rather unhappy about hearing that name. It evoked many conflicting emotions, none of which were positive. When the extended herbal draw was exhaled, he decided to dig into this set of strangers. No one he currently consulted with, other than his wife, had ever referred to him as ‘The Beast’. It was a nickname long retired. Jay was not pleased with its resurrection. He also felt that the Driver knew he would feel this way about it.

“Alright tough guy. How did you know my name is Jay, and where the fuck did you get my nickname from?” His voice was slightly cracked, and his tone was decidedly pissed-off.

“Common knowledge in certain circles, Jay. Common. Knowledge. Don’t stress over it though.” The Driver gave him a reassuring smile and turned to the busy bartender, who was starting their order.

The dirty and cracked shot glasses slid across the bar, and were arranged for efficient booze distribution. The bartender, after pouring the double of Jager, looked up at Jay, and warned him about the marijuana. “I don’t care if you smoke that in the bathroom, but not out here in the open. I’m trying to run a business here.”

Without removing his glare from the Driver, Jay responded. “If I was worried about the health of your fucking business, I wouldn’t be considering burning it to the fucking dirt. But if you insist on being so mindful of your precious fucking business, then you’re best served leaving mine alone. Otherwise, I might try and win my two front teeth back from this shit hole.”

The bartender paused and looked to the Driver for a second opinion. The Driver picked up the Jager and gulped it down, effortlessly. Then he lazily turned and recommended to the bartender, “maybe you ought to just handle the pouring and let sleeping dogs still.”

“Ooookay there buddy. No need to get hostile. I don’t need any trouble here.” The bartender retreated to the task of filling the order. Knob Creek, and the double of 151. Jay’s eyes stayed fixed on the Driver, who continued to grin with a satisfaction that only served to further incense Jay’s already diving mood.

“So, what’s with the 151?” Asked the Driver.

“How should I know,” answered Jay, “You ordered all this idiot juice. Not me.”

“Oh, right. I ordered it. Very true,” the Driver replied, then turned his back to the bar and raised to his tippy toes. “Hey boys, juice is up!” The other four travelers emerged, giddily, from the filthy mass of drunken, horny patrons.

“Taken in about fifty so far,” claimed the first traveler to arrive at the bar, the Mysterious fellow.

“Nice work Barth, you can cover this round, if we end up dropping down on it.” The Driver handed Mysterious a shot, and motioned to Jay. “Jay, this is Barth. He’s particularly adept at convincing strangers to lose their money in pool.”

Jay tried to take in the image of Barth, but found himself having difficulty making out any discernable features. Nothing about him was exceptional. His mannerisms, outside of being cruel to The Wretch (which even that was nondescript, in that it appeared everyone was guilty of that) were sublime and intentionally dulled. It was almost as if he was making an effort to be less than memorable. Jay could tell that once Barth left his sight, there would be no mental image remaining to serve as a reminder of who this person was. He was practically a non-person.

“Shark, eh? Good skill to have, Barth. Good to make your acquaintance.” Replied Jay.

“Jude, would you mind keeping it down a bit. Don’t want my money to get scared away. You’re pretty good yourself, aren’t you Bee.” After saying this, not as a question, Barth put on a look of slight apprehension, as if he knew he was pushing a hot button that might cause a meltdown. But Jay had the feeling that he was being tested, and refused to give this guy satisfaction by reacting poorly. Jay looked at Barth’s feet, watching his left foot twitch at an alarming speed, and then looked back up to meet his eyes.

“You can call me Jay. And yeah, I’ve played some fools for their paychecks in my day. But you won’t catch me announcing it either.” Then he turned to the Driver. “So, your name is Jude then?”

“Yes. So they tell me anyhow. I’ve had many names that I’d prefer over ‘Jude’, but that one will do just fine between us.”

There was an odd pause, wherein the room seemed to slowly roll over. Almost as if the entire bar and its contents were suspended in an atmosphere as thick and transparent as jello, slowly tipping end-over-end. The music and frolicking of drinkers became a muted casserole of slurred voices and slowing groans. All fine details of the room hazed and turned, bringing on a strong feeling of nausea to Jay. Then the hallucination was ruptured by the familiar hairy-armed handshake of Mr. Friendly.

“Jay, let’s shoot some shit! Whiskey, eh? Now we’re talkin’.” Jay noticed that Mr. Friendly did not refer to him as ‘Bee’, but he felt equally displeased, regardless.

“Yeah, Whiskey. Damn straight.”

His hand was still pressed firmly into Friendly’s as Friendly pulled him closer. “My name is Jay too, but you can call me KC if that makes it easier for you.”

KC had good height, astoundingly masculine facial features, bright-white teeth, unblemished skin, and a meticulously sculpted full head of hair. His wide shoulders and healthy physique were well complimented by what appeared to be perfectly tailored clothing. He was a most impressive specimen, and did not fit in very well with the others he traveled with.

“KC… What’s it stand for?”

“It’s a nickname. I don’t really know. Maybe I’m a town in Missouri, maybe a song by Boy George. Maybe I’m a chicken in Kentucky before the good Colonel fries me up. Your guess is as good is mine, from one moment to the next.”

Jude interrupted the shake by handing KC his whiskey shot, and telling him to “shut the fuck up. Your name was never Jay. Don’t fucking push anything to the wrong here KC or I’ll call that fucking Colonel after bleeding you to jerky. Straight?”

“I’m just talking here Jude! Yeah, straight, got it. We all know the deal here. I’m just being friendly with him! No need to hit turbo or anything.” While he was obviously on the defensive, KC maintained an unnatural aura of buttery-smoothness.

Curious, Jay remembered thinking that KC was just a hitchhiker like himself. Addressing Jude, he asked “You guys know each other from before?”

“You could say that. We’ve all known each other forever, always running in the same circle.”

“Circle? Did you mean circles?” Asked Jay.

“That’s what I meant. I get my clichés mixed up sometimes.” Jude seemed to become nervous by the question, but continued on. “Forget it, no big deal. Where the hell is Worm? And that fucking worthless shit Earnest. I’ll give them ten seconds to get up here.”

As Jude began his mental countdown to alcohol ingestion, the ratty-looking punk of a kid named Earnest sulked up. This specimen was The Wretch from the bed of the truck. He was even more pathetic looking in the light. He fit right in with the hipster chicks and emo boys that were slouching and smoking throughout the bar. He looked to be no more than one hundred pounds, soaking wet, fully clothed, and holding a twelve pound bowling ball (but he would bowl with an eight, if he was capable of anything as fun as bowling). Even though he was in his early twenties, he had the red remnants of a face ravaged by teenage acne, doubtlessly irritated by the greased shanks of black hair that drooped over those poofy-red eyes of his. He wore black Levi’s, a black Danzig t-shirt, and black and white Vans. In Jay’s earlier days, he would have been one of those derelict kids that hung out in front of quickie-marts instead of attending school. A real-life representation of what Beavis and Butthead were designed to poke fun at. He was slow moving, and irritatingly sad. Jay found himself wanting to beat and cradle the kid, simultaneously.

Jay confronted the kid. “Why were you looking at me like that through the truck window earlier?”

“Why did you punch the glass, like a moron?” Earnest raised an eyebrow.

Jay retorted, quick and angry. “Are you going to answer my question? There’s no glass to protect you now.”

“I wanted to get a look at your eyes. To see if you were alive or not. It was funny when you punched the glass.” He did not smile, even though he claimed it was ‘funny’. Jay continued to feel the urge to punch and cradle, punch and cradle, punch and…

“Worm, you crazy fuck!” Jude shouted out over the crowd.

“Whhhhaaaaaaaazzzzzupppppppp!!” Worm spit in response, lunging at them from deep within the crowd. “Maahhaan, these fuckink guys owfer dere fuckink deeerrrrink like feeeeshes! Faaaack! They gabe me some fuckink coke. Word be bond, beeetches!” And with that, he vomited on the floor beneath a neighboring biker’s barstool, splashing digestive juices up the heal and onto the buckles of the victim’s Harley boots.

“Hey, fruity,” addressed to KC, “get yer fucking drunk buddy to spew his soup kitchen shit on someone else. Otherwise he’ll be shittin’ his own teeth into next week.”

KC, with his trademark friendly demeanor, shouldered Worm behind him, and replied to the threat. “Many apologies, friend, we’re visiting from Canada, and Fred here,” he motioned toward Worm, “is not accustomed to drinking all this whiskey. He means no harm. Let us buy you a drink to make it square.”

“Fug dat, and fugging fug that guy,” Worm slurred from a safe distance. “Don’ buy the beetch a ‘hic’ goddamn drank. That’s MY fuggin’, fuggin’ ass whisketee.”

KC shooshed Worm, and handed him a shot to quiet him down. Worm shot it immediately and turned his attention back to the crowd.

Jude, sensing that KC was about to build up a dangerous situation, stuck his head in. “Fella, you’re in a bar. Sick happens. If you don’t like it, why didn’t you just go to church instead? Wine and wafers and such?”

The biker considered the insult for a second, looked over at his two other buddies, received their nod of approval, and then looked over at Jay. “These your friends buddy? If not, you might want to wander elsewhere.”

“I barely know these guys buddy. But he’s got a good point. If you can’t handle some chunks on your shit-kickers then maybe you should have worn your high-heels instead.”

The biker’s two friends put their drinks down onto the bar and started to mobilize.

Jay continued, as if ignoring the impending brawl. “Why don’t you and your boyfriends go somewhere else and fuck each other’s hemmoroids raw.”

As soon as Jay finished his recommendation, KC downed his shot and dropped the glass to the floor. Worm began to stumble his way back to the entrance in an obvious attempt at abandonment. The three bikers stood up and pushed their stools away from the bar, giving the group some floorspace on which to settle the soiled-boot dispute. The two biker friends flanked Vomit boot and made convincing attempts to look menacing.

Barth produced a pool cue, and started wagging it the way baseball players wag a bat when preparing for a fast ball, right down the middle. Jay remained leaning, lazily against the bar, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Jude handed Jay the double of 151 and sank the remaining shot of whiskey, wiping his mouth with his left hand. Then noted, “gentlemen, now we dance.”

It was not lost on Jay that this situation was very cliché, sadly typical, and extremely uncivilized. But he could not see beyond the rush it was supplying him, and he felt a demonic grin take control of his face.

The center biker, on the cusp of rage at such indignant treatment of his footwear, returned the sound. “Alright then. Who goes into traction first, faggots?”

And with that, the wagged pool cue swung over Jay’s left shoulder, cracking dead center on the forehead of the left biker, breaking the weighted end of the stick clean off. Blood immediately began to mingle with his balding, pony-tailed hair, and he crumpled into the vomit pool like the wicked witch of the west . Then Jude handed Jay a candle from the bar, just before he took a sharp left hook from the vomit-booted biker. As Jude buckled from the blow, Jay pounded his shot, held the candle in front of his mouth, and sprayed the volatile alcohol over the flame, aimed at the two remaining bikers. Vomit boot stepped forward, and took the majority of the torch, which managed to ignite his t-shirt. He began to shriek, and fell toward the bar in an effort to bang out the growing flames. The bartender began spraying him with tonic from the soda gun, yelling at him to “get the fucking fire off my fucking bar!”

The right biker, only licked by a moderate amount of Bacardi-heat, leaped at Jay. Jay threw a poorly cocked right punch that met the attacker but failed to stop the assault. The biker hammered his right fist down on Jay’s left shoulder and secured Jay’s neck in his left paw. As Jay sank down against the bar, firmly in the grasp of his attacker, he suddenly felt the suffocating grip release. “Fuck, aw fuck! Jesus, he fucking stuck me in the… fuck!” The biker leaned back and turned the other direction. From the ground Jay looked up and saw the biker swinging left and right, clawing at the tip end of Barth’s pool stick, which was protruding from the area on his back where his suffering right kidney had been pierced. Jude rose from under the bar, grabbed an ashtray and began to bash the head of the smoking biker, who was still screaming, with shreds of charred facial flesh falling with every blow by Jude. “Fuck you,” crack-crack, “you fucking sucker punching,” crack “wannabe-tough,” crack-squish-crack, “eat-a-dick bitch!” The bludgeoned, still-vomit-booted biker sunk to the floor, desperately grasping a barstool for support. Jude gathered his footing, and kicked the unconscious biker in the left rib cage, hard enough to clear out the barstool.

The only biker left vertical was still swinging about, crying and pawing at the bloody pool cue, still jutting from his back. “He stabbed me man, like a fucking pig, he stabbed me in the goddamn back!” Jude and Jay remained by the bar while Barth jumped forth and drop-kicked the flailing biker to the floor.

By this time, the crowd had moved away from the bar, gawking, giving the dying conflict a wide berth. With the gift of space, Earnest emerged from his hiding spot underneath the end of the bar and bolted for the rear fire exit. When he hit the door, the alarm began screaming and motorized lights throughout the bar lit up and began to rotate as designed. The fire that was previously on the main biker had migrated to the bar top, and was now making its way to the mirrored wall behind the bar, climbing the wall to the asbestos-tiled roof. A sad ceiling fan, spinning at a worthless speed, helped to give the flames better routes to other flammable parts of the wall. The ancient sprinkler system tripped into action. The majority of the spigots had long been clogged by calcium deposits, neglected by the fire marshal through payoffs for years, and simply pissed water straight to the floor, onto the now panicking crowd. No sprinklers tended the growing fire on the bar, and it continued to rage unchecked. Old-skool Chuck Taylor’s screeched across the puddles forming on the cement floors as the hipster kids ran all directions. Chaos gripped the establishment as Jude, Jay, and Barth kept close to the not-as-yet aflame end of the bar.

Jude reached over the bar and grabbed two bottles of Jameson. “Worm would never forgive me if this burned.” And dove into the crowd heading out the front door. Barth looked at Jay, expressionless, and then slowly turned to walk toward the emergency exit where Earnest had ducked out. Jay looked over the wreckage around him: fire, streams of useless water falling straight to the floor, overturned furniture, and the barely squirming bodies of three bloodied bikers.

He thought to himself, “Man, I hope you guys aren’t weekend warriors,” as he jogged toward the front entrance, now cleared of the panicked crowd. On his way to the door, he grabbed a chair, and chucked it through the front window he had broken through so many years ago. “Just squaring things up,” he yelled at no one, and then added, with more lungs, “damn straight!”

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