AS MORE OF A tradition than any particular reverence toward the Sabbath day, Shorty never turned on the bar lights in the Mine Shaft’s windows on Sunday, but everyone who needed to know knew he opened at noon. Of course, Rueben and Larry knew and arrived five minutes apart at the table in the back. The clunking and clanging in the men’s room signaled to them that Shorty was obliviously cleaning toilets and they patiently waited his return.
“Think Buster’s coming?” Larry asked.
“Said he would,” Reuben replied.
“So, like I said, think Buster’s coming?”
“Think we need to call this off?”
Shorty finally shuffled past steering the metal mop bucket with the protruding mop handle.
“Morning Shorty,” Larry said.
“It’s afternoon,” he said. “Beers?”
“We ain’t here for your sparkling personality,” Larry replied.
“See how you are,” Larry added. “Gonna wash your hands?”
“In your beer.”
Shorty poured two frosty mugs and brought them over.
“You two looking for someone?” he asked with a smirk on his face.
Surprised at the comment, Reuben looked up from his intent gaze at his bar napkin.
Shorty took some glee in the rare occasion of catching Reuben off guard and smiled.
“You know something we don’t?” Reuben asked.
“Spill it,” Larry snapped.
Shorty looked around the otherwise empty bar. Seeing no lurking ears, or even bodies, he put his hands on the table and spoke in a hushed tone anyway.
“The Black Lords have her.”
“What?” Reuben said, wrinkling his forehead.
“How do you know?” Larry asked.
“They told me to tell you.”
“Why would Slug have her?”
“He doesn’t. Slug has been detained in Denver. Probably for a while unless he makes big bail. Zeke’s in charge now.”
“The guy with the lizards?” Larry asked.
“Serpents. Yes. Seems your buddy pissed him off.”
“So what are they doing with her?” Reuben asked, perturbed.
“They know you’re up to something and they want half,” Shorty explained.
“Shit,” Larry said. “That damn Buster.”
“And if we don’t agree?” Reuben asked.
“I assume the girl doesn’t return. No big loss if you ask me.”
“Did we?” Larry grumped.
Shorty shrugged and shuffled back behind the bar to dry some glasses and let the boys think.
Relatively unfazed considering the turn of events, Reuben scratched his chin and said: “It’s darn near biblical.”
“How so?” Larry asked.
“The Lords taketh and the Lords giveth away.”
“More like we giveth – half!” Larry snorted. “Hardly seems worth doing now.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Reuben grinned. “It’s just a little more of challenge. Now we steal the four motorcycles, one broad and then stick it all up ol’ Zeke’s tailpipe.”
“You’re a greedy old bastard aren’t you.”
“And vindictive as hell,” Reuben added.
“One man’s vices are another man’s virtues,” Larry said.
“Then call me virtuous as hell.”
“That’s what I’ve always liked about you pal.”
A THUD AT THE DOOR caused Reuben, Larry and Shorty to give it a glance, yet it didn’t open – not right away. But after finally winning the battle with the pesky door handle, Buster stumbled in.
His face was flushed from crying or drinking or both and an Atlanta Braves cap sat askew on his head. He held a nearly empty Jim Beam bottle by the neck. In a red flannel shirt and blue jeans he looked like Paul Bunyan after learning Babe his blue ox had just died.
“Fire up the coffee pot,” Reuben piped up to Shorty. Larry walked over and steered Buster by the shoulders to a chair at their table.
“Hey, you can’t bring a bottle in here,” Shorty hollered over.
“It’s a bar, ain’t it?” Buster babbled back.
“But I sell the booze in here.”
“People bring their own cigarettes in here, don’t they?” Buster argued.
“And you sell cigarettes in here, don’t ya?”
“So, there ya go,” Buster rested his case.
“Pretty good point for a drunk,” Larry agreed.
Shorty just shook his head.
“Did you drive here in this condition?” Reuben asked.
“Took a cab.”
“I assume Candy hasn’t showed up,” Reuben said.
“Nadda,” Buster said, rubbing his face with both hands and beginning to whimper. He pulled it together in a snap, looked up and said: “I need to pee.”
“I just cleaned it!” Shorty hollered, his hearing in better shape than his hairline.
“Just ‘cuz I can’t walk straight doesn’t mean I can’t pee straight!” Buster blurted back, pouring himself out of his chair and sloshing his way to the john.
“Seems to me the two kind of go hand in hand,” Shorty replied.
Then Larry chimed in: “And you’re on your own. I’m not helping you there.”
As the bathroom door closed, Larry whispered to Reuben: “You gonna tell him the news?”
“Been considering that,” Reuben said. “Maybe when he sobers up.”
“Ya, like in November.”
“Don’t see any good coming either way we do it,” Reuben said.
“Story of Buster’s life,” Larry added.
“If we tell him, there’s no telling what he might do,” Reuben said. “And if we don’t tell him, he’s apt to go to the cops.
“Either way, what do we do with him until Friday?
“Maybe he could stay with you,” Reuben offered with a sly grin, anticipating Larry’s dramatic reaction.
“Good God no!” Larry exclaimed with a jump like the boogie man had just leaped out from behind the door. “I’d rather take my chances with the cops.”
Reuben chuckled. “Then let’s give him a couple hours here to get his wits about him, then break the news and see where it leads.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Larry said.
“Then you can drop him off at his camper on your way home.”
“I spoke too soon,” Larry frowned.
THE BOYS PLAYED some Pinochle (or “tossed some knuck” as they like to say in sunny South Dakota) and switched over from alcohol to caffeine before finally breaking the news to Buster. He was alternately with the span of two minutes angry, relieved, mad some more, relieved again, and then finally resolved himself to Reuben’s longer-range plan for revenge on the Lords.
After all that drama, Larry drove Buster home, while Reuben spent his trek home northward getting screamed at by Selma on his cell phone.
“How the hell did these Black Lords get involved?” she wanted to know, loudly.
“A long story,” Reuben rued, annoyed that he’d felt compelled to call her with an update. “A long story of trust, betrayal and greed.”
“Oh don’t play this off as no big deal, Reuben,” she snapped back.
“It’s nothing I can’t handle,” he said.
“You sound almost gleeful about this turn of events.”
“Well, it does make things more interesting,” he replied.
“Was stealing four vintage motorcycles from the midst of thousands of people, throngs of law enforcement and the governor too boring for you?”
“There’s always surprises in any operation,” he said. “Your mother understood that.”
“Well I’m not as understanding as she was!”
“Obviously,” he mumbled.
There was a long pause before Selma replied. “Okay. I took some deep breaths. I’m calm. I guess I have to trust your judgment on this.”
“Good,” Reuben said.
“But don’t screw it up!” she replied.
Reuben stayed on the line for a while longer even though it had gone silent. He wasn’t sure if Selma had hung up on him or if he’d hit a dead spot in the cell coverage.
“Oh well,” he said, folding the phone shut and tossing it on the seat next to him. “Not everyone can have the patience of a teacher.”
LARRY HIT THE SWITCH to roll down the windows of his Miata and turned his XM radio to channel 75 – “The Sound of Starbucks.” He needed to clear the air of Ode de Buster after dropping off the oaf at his RV and was still a little steamed at Buster’s parting remark. Slurring and stammering as he spilled out the passenger side door, Buster’d quipped “Thanks for the pretty ride. I never rode in a gay car before.”
Larry had purchased the forest-green Miata as a Christmas present for himself and had since noticed a couple magazine articles that referenced his model as the top car of choice among the homosexual set. The Mini-Cooper was mentioned as their second choice, so Larry took solace in the fact that his personal second pick had been a Hummer. Still, Buster’s comment got under his skin, because he hadn’t realized how common knowledge the gay Miata thing had become. And if a doof like Buster knew, then the whole world must know and probably joked about it behind his back. That’s what really burned him.
So he punched the gas and set the cruise on 95 as he tore south down Highway 79 to Hot Springs. “Gay my ass!” he shouted into the wind as he cranked up the volume to Norah Jones.
Before approaching the turn to Hot Springs, the speed limit drops from 65 to 45. When you’re driving 95 it really doesn’t matter much, except for the size of the fine if you’re caught. And Larry got caught.
Just over the small hill, the sheriff’s car sat. The flashers turned red and a quick burst of the siren caused Larry to emit his own drawn out: “Shittttttt.” He slowed quickly and pulled onto the shoulder of the road. Digging into the glove box for his license, insurance card and registration, he turned back to the window as the flashlight beam nailed him in the eyes.
When, for some reason, it diverted to his crotch area, his eyes had time to adjust and he saw Deidra Deeds outside the car door holding the flashlight with two hands.
“Deidra! What the hell are you doing?” he asked incredulously.
“Denny let me take it for a spin,” she said with an evil grin. “He’s so damn worried I’m going to tell the town about his freaky sexcapades, that he’s letting me do pretty much whatever I want. Heck, I bet I could shoot you right now and he’d look the other way.”
“Nooo,” Larry said, “No need for that.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it you old horny dog. I don’t give a rat’s rear about you, but I wouldn’t want to hurt the feelings of that little Bambi waiting for you at your house.”
“Who’s at my house?” he asked.
“The school board president’s daughter. She’s been there for the past 45 minutes.”
“You’re keeping track?”
“I’m watching you.”
“I am. Remember that, Laurence.”
“I will. Can I go?”
“I’m not the sheriff, dumb ass. I’m just driving his car. And watching you.”
Larry started his car with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
His mind spinning from all the things that could go wrong with Deidra Deeds watching his every move, Larry pulled into his driveway. Sure enough, there sat Auburn Thrice sitting pristinely on his porch swing. With legs crossed and a pretty yellow sun dress accentuating her accentuals, she offered a wave and a smile.
Stepping out of the car he nervously glanced up and down the street for any of the Deeds family members. Seeing none, he loped to Auburn’s side and joined her. They exchanged pecks on the cheek and pleasantries.
She seemed nervous, like she had something important to say, and eventually she divulged.
“Larry, I’ve been thinking,” she said. “Do you know Myrna O’Brien?”
“Your best friend? Of course.”
“You’ll never guess what she did last weekend.”
“Yes. It,” she explained succinctly.
“Oh,” he managed, not quite sure where this was leading.
“So now I’m the only girl from my graduating class who hasn’t done ... it.”
“Oh,” he said, none the wiser. “And?”
“And I’m kinda thinking I might like to also.”
“Ohhhhh,” the bell finally clanged in his brain and he broke into a coy smile, like a psychic had just given him the next day’s winning lottery numbers. “Now?”
But he’d jumped the gun.
“Not now, silly,” she said. “I have to pray on it. But maybe Saturday night, after a romantic dinner and music. I want it perfect.”
“That’s how I’d want it to,” he schmoozed.
“Then it’s a date. Pick me up at 6?”
“I have some business to attend to on Friday night but my Saturday should be wide open.”
“Super duper,” she said. “See you then.”
And she skipped down the sidewalk to her red moped, turning to wave before scooting down the street.
Larry looked at the stars for a bit, mouthed a “thank you” to the heavens and skipped inside for a nightcap and visions of dancing virgins, or at least one in particular.