by Dave LaRoche
“So why dija let me go on like that, a talkin ‘n explainin ta thet passerby? You jus sleepin on in the wheelbarrow. How’s I s’pose to know you were higher than thet Kilimanjaro? You shoulda said somethin. I jus’ don’t understand. It’s like I’m workin here on the fence, cuttin to length, and hammerin in, and you jus sleepin. Ya even had a smile on your face, there in the wheelbarrow, legs propped up on thet there sawhorse. I mean, what if the man payin us was to come out, and saw ya like thet? I’m supposed to say you’re helpin’ out with the fence. Who’d believe it? Jus what do you think, there with that smile ya got—like ya jus ate a lizard?”
Jimmy, he ain’t sayin nuthin.
“Well, I can tell ya this. It ain’t gonna happen no more. It’s downright embarrassin to me. No sir, no more. So jus take a hike. Pick up your stuff and get outta here. Maybe I’ll see ya tomorrow.”
I see’d him go, slumped over some from the weight of ‘is tools in that box he made up. Everytheng’s in there and must weigh sixty-five pounds. Sure as hell don’t know why. He ain’t never picked one uv em up.
And real soon I’m feelin different—bad, cause I treated him poorly. I mean, he’s a good ol boy, and my friend through some big number a years now. Never did much ta help me along, but never held me back none neither.
So I’m thinkin,’ why am I so rough? Well, no answers come as I’m standin there, and the fact is, I ain’t got a whole lotta friends—not so many I can jus reach over and flick em off like a goldarn fly. So, I give him a look again, him a shufflin there down the drive—tall, lanky and sorta lopsided from the back as he’s movin along. Them tools a his … ain’t much use ta start with, but they’s leanin’ him over and I can see he’s lookin sick to ‘is heart. So dang it, I gotta yell out.
“Hey, y’all come back here now. I dun want nothing hard b’tween us, so c’mon back here an get yur ass in the wheelbarrow.”
He stops. He ain’t goin fast enough ta notice the difference, but I see’d ‘im turn. He’s gotta smile creepin’ over his sorrowful face. A big ol smile and it makes me glad thet I done it—thet I yelled out like that.
He stopped when he got up close. He ain’t sayin nuthin but had a questionin look to his eyes. He woulda said somethin I guess, if he’d known what to say, but he jus nodded over ta the wheelbarrow. I nodded back and he put down his box and got his self in—tucked a jacket under his head and put his feet up ta the sawhorse. It weren’t two minutes till he was snorin, thet lizardy smile back to his face.
Me? I jus got back to the fence, couple a hours yet till sundown.
So, I’m hammerin and thinkin. I ain’t got a lot a friends, and Jimmy there in the wheelbarrow is number one of meybe three. I can’t afford ta treat him so rough. When the sun is down here purtty soon, I’ll ask if he wants ta go for a beer. I know raight now what the answer’ll be.
Jimmy and me, we walk into the Old Soldier’s Saloon and Raymond is there tending bar. He’s always there—fur years, come to think on it. Ya might think he owns the place— course he don’t. There’s a couple a guys in suits at the end of the bar and two couples at a front table. Otherwise it’s quiet—though of a Friday night, the place is bound to fill up.
“Wadja want?” Raymond says, thet permanent scowl on his face.
“Jimmy and me, we’re gonna have us a beer,” I say. “We been workin all day and got a big thirst.”
“Kind?” he asks.
“Draft,” I say. “Meybe a couple a darker lagers.” We pull ourselves up a stool. Jimmy, he ain’t sayin’ nuthin’.
Raymond’s a nasty sort sometimes. Seems he’s often got a cramp in ‘is belly. Don’t bother most none. We jus do what we wanna do anyway.
“Take your beers,” Raymond says, “and go to the table down there in the corner in the back a the room. Don’t need no Jimmy at the bar. Ya might say I’m expectin’ a bit better clientele a little later this evening an’ they might think sittin’ here at the bar is their choice.”
“Well now,” I say, “that ain’t very hospitable. Fact is, a fella could think it offendin.” I look over at Jimmy and he ain’t sayin nuthin.
“It ain’t you, Otis. It’s Jimmy there. Ya know he’s unpredictable once he gets a few under his belt. Tonight, I ain’t takin’ no chances. Maybe some ladies comin in. They be celebratin a little, and maybe lookin, ya know. It’s the table back there or it’s nothin. Y’all can suit yourselves.”
Well, gawldurnit, I thought. A man comes in after a hard day’s work wantin a cold one, and this is the talk he gits. It’s enough ta raise the anger in a regular kinda Joe. I look over ta Jimmy and give ‘im my eyebrows. Jimmy there, he ain’t saying nuthin’ but I can see he don’t take this oderin’ about too kindly.
So Jimmy stews a mite, is long muscles expandin. Then, without a sound he reaches over and grabs Raymond’s lapels. Up comes Raymond over the bar, his feet dragin’ through the ice there and scatterin’ those little cubes all over the place. He’s a big one, Raymond, but he ain’t as big as Jimmy—ain’t too many thet is. And I knew from experience there at the saloon thet Raymond weren’t much fur violence. So I says to him now, him on ‘is ass on the floor, “Where was it ya want us ta sit?”
“A-anywhere,” he says. “You sit anywhere you like there Otis. Jimmy too. I don’t mean to offend. Ya know that, doncha?” He pulls hisself up from the floor were Jimmy had dropped ‘im.
So I says to Jimmy, “Whadda ya think? Let’s take thet table there, back in the corner. It’ll be quiet and we can have our privacy. You okay with thet?”
“Whatever ya want,” he says. Thet Jimmy, he’s on the quiet side.
We take thet table and drink our beers. Friday night and nuthin’ tomorrow. Jimmy, he’s a drinker, sucks it down like it warn’t there before. But then, he’s a big lanky man, and in the evenin, a demandin thirst.
We’re talkin. First, we’re just doin it cause thet’s what friends do. He’s tellin’ me ‘is ideas, thet he wants a motorcycle. He likes the sound, he says, the wind and thet road to the sunset. I’m postulatin’ some, the danger they is, but a’course he don’t care. He nods with my serious admonishin and smiles at my negative pronouncin—hearin but not listenin much. We don’t argue cause once he’s of a mind, it’s hard to persuade ‘im otherwise. I’m thinkin now, I shoulda said impossible.
I’m lookin over the tables and down the bar, and I see those ladies of Raymond’s now a dancin together to the box, and I’m wonderin when Jimmy’s gonna shift from motorcycles to somethin more attractive. Me? I’m already there, but I can see complications comin up, and try to keep im occupied with the wheels.
“What motorcycle will ya buy?” I says.
“Dunno,” he says and I can see he’s watchin the ladies now. I’m watchin too. They looks a handful, all dressed up in their Friday fineries, but I’m too tired to care much other than watchin—workin’ all day on the fence. But Jimmy—he’s got energy left, and it’s in ‘is pants cause most a ‘is day he spent sleepin.
“Some like those Harley Davidsons,” I say. “Make a good noise, low and comfortable to ride.” He’s jus watchin them ladies and he ain’t sayin nuthin.
“Ya got an idea as to trim and color?” I ask. “Ya got enough money? I might could lend ya some.” He’s real obvious and quiet now, and I see a smile comin on, and I don’t think it’s about them motorcycles.
Jimmy gits up, and kinda shy-like wanders over to where them girls is dancin. I watch as the big lunk, thet he is, taps one on the shoulder. They part an’ the one he ain’t tapped smiles up at him, then puts her arm on his shoulder. Goes ta show ya—don’t do nuthin all day an’ now reapin’ another man’s reward. But then I see him nod at our table and the other girl, she comes over.
“Hi,” she says. “I’m Rosalie. You mind if I sit.” She’s a cute little filly, and a-course I nod.
“You want I should git ya a beer?” I say.
“That would be really gracious,” she says, as she takes her sittin right next ta me. She’s got dark hair and enough make-up ta fill a beauty salon. Long lashes a flutterin’, her eyes all lit up.
“You boys here alone?” she says. “I mean by that, you’re not expecting anyone?”
“Nope,” I say. “You sit there now. I’ll be raight back.” I git up to get us some beer. Damn, I think. We gittin purtty lucky. We been in this old saloon hunderds a times, and nuthin like this ever happened. I go to the bar.
“Raymond,” I say, “we need a pitcher and a couple more glasses.”
“Okay,” Raymond says. “But you know those two aren’t your regular women.”
“Oh?” I give off a quizzical look. “What does thet mean?”
“You’ll see,” he says as he draws the beer. “And remember, I told ya.”
Well, I don’t think much about it, what Raymond said, and take the beer and those extra glasses back to the table and set. I pour Rosalie one and top off my own.
“You dance?” she says. And she puts one uv her hands over mine and flutters those lashes again. She’s purtty darn good at thet.
“Nope,” I say, “not much of a dancer. Been workin all day and purfur jus to sit.”
“What work do you do?” she says, still flutterin. Her eyes are all dark with thet liner.
“Fences mostly,” I say.
“So that’s where you get your love-a-ly tan.” She draws her hand down my arm.
I drink my beer, and I notice thet Jimmy and the other girl are on the next tune. It’s a slow one. She’s crawlin all over im and he ain’t slackin back. I ain’t never seen Jimmy dance before. He ain’t movin much. Course this whole episode’s new to us both, and makes one start ta thinkin.
“Do you like girls?” Rosalie says. “I mean, you have any wish to be closer to me?” She smiles an I’m thinkin. Well, to tell the truth, I do like em. Ain’t had a lotta experience, and tend to shy away from the thing, and really don’t know how to respond to the durn question. I sorta ponder a little and then I think, well, I ‘spect it’s a new day, and what seems forward ta me may be jus the way things are raight now.
“I like ‘em,” I say. “You like the beer?”
“Sure,” she says, “but I’m thinking my apartment’s close by. I’ve got cold ones there and two bedrooms.” She gives me arched eyebrows and a great big smile—like thet woman on TV that’s sellin insurance.
I sit back, and I’m thinkin’ this is goin’ too fast to be real. Then the thought uv motorcycles sneaks into my brain and it seems a more comfortable think. Jus then him and the other one come back to the table. Chairs squeak around and they set. The girl pours Jimmy a beer and one fur herself.
“I’m Dot,” she says, “and I really like your friend, Jimmy. He’s so delicious, ya know, and we’re thinking of leaving this place—going up to Rose’s apartment. You two gonna join us?”
I look over ta Jimmy. As is usual, he aint saying nuthin but he’s got a big grin on is face—thet lizardy smile plumb ear to ear. He empties the glass in a single gulp an’ pours im another.
“We ain’t got thet far,” I say, lookin over ta Rosalie who is wearin thet agreeable look on her face. Then it comes ta me, what Raymond was gittin’ at with that “regular woman” comment a ‘is. This ain’t no ordinary pickup—these girls are sellin’.
“Well,” I say, now thet I’m tuned in. “How much will it cost us?” I ain’t payin’ nuthin’ ya see, but playin’ along. See where it takes us.
“Ten regular,” Rosalie says. “If you want the full treatment, ten more. Forty will get you the night.” She has her hand back on mine and her eyes are a flutterin agin.
“Thet’s too much,” I say, still playin’. “Ya got anything cheaper. We’re jus workin’ men, don’t have thet kinda cash.” I look over ta Jimmy. He don’t like what I’m sayin’ and thet smile a his is gone. Rosalie, she lets go a my hand ta leave, but I see Jimmy reach into his pocket.
“I’m in,” Jimmy says, and he hands Dot a ten-dollar bill. I got no idea where he’d get thet, ordinarily broke or says he is. She takes the ten and stuffs it into her blouse.
“C’mon,” she says to Jimmy. “They’ll come if they wanna. Your friend’s kinda cheap, ain’t he.” She pushes her chair back and takes Jimmy’s hand.
Jus then those couple a guys in suits, I mentioned earlier, they come over ta our table from the bar. One flashes a badge and takes Dot by the arm. She’s tall and blond, was earlier good lookin, but raight this minute wearin an ugly scowl on her face.
“Both a you, right now,” he says. “You’re comin’ with us to the precinct. You’re under arrest for soliciting. I’ll give ya your rights when we get out the door. And you,” he motions to Jimmy, “I need your name, phone and address. You too,” he says ta me, “we’ll need you as a witness.”
They take the girls, and Jimmy too walks out the front door. I sit there sippin my beer. They got my address and Jimmy’s, though he lives in a shed out back a my place. And I’m thinkin’ I kinda knew it—could tell the minute I saw those flutterin’ lashes there was somethin amiss.
Soon enough, Jimmy comes back and sets down. He pours a glass an’ downs it. He ain’t sayin nuthin.
“Shoulda stuck with the motorcycle talk,” I say, tryin to lighten the air. He jus looks at me as he slumps in is chair, the look I seed this afternoon, after I sent ‘im packin.
“Ya wanna git back ta thet?” I say. Jimmy’s a quiet one and I don’t espect too much.
“Don’t care she’s a whore,” he mumbles, “beautiful flowin’ hair. She was nice ta me, Otis—made me feel important.”
“Tell me about the motorcycle,” I say.
Dave LaRoche is the author of 40 short stories and two novels. He was the founding editor of the California Writers Club literary review, and founding chair of the Northern California group of CWC clubs. Visit Dave Laroche‘s Facebook page.