--STRANGERS ARE NEVER AS FRIENDLY AS YOU THINK
Callie And CompanyFriday, November 14th, 2014
In Parsons, Kansas, a tiny place whose downtown is two blocks long, I find myself at a bar. Actually it’s more of a saloon. Has a real gunslinger feel to it with swinging half doors at the entrance (how do they lock the place up at night?), a long mahogany bar, antlers framed on the walls, and patrons who look like they just left the state penitentiary. One bald guy has a neck tattoo of a dragon. His glum buddy has a worm-colored scar that runs from middle forehead, through an eyebrow and across the cheek. Knife fight, I’m guessing.
When I walked in, all ten or so drinkers turned but when they saw it was me they looked disillusioned, as if they’d been expecting a stripper who was very late for the party.
I took a seat at the bar, feeling a little twitchy. People had probably died in this place, maybe even recently. I was chum for any one of these barrel-headed guys if they got hot around the collar.
I ordered tequila. It reminded me of Mexico and my honeymoon, my wife and I on a private little dinghy manned by a squat native nicknamed Cannibal who would shout, “Happy Hour” every sixty minutes, retrieve a bottle, fill a shot glass with tequila and 7 Up, slam it against the boat’s roof, and pass the drink to me or my wife. We got so drunk I hallucinated, seeing sharks in the water that weren’t there. My new bride became as frisky as I’d ever seen her and when Cannibal docked the boat at a small tropical island, she lured me away and we made love under a tree that kept dropping bombs around us as we went at it, two kids fucking like rabbits while dodging falling coconuts.
My memory is broken up by the arrival of a young lady who takes the stool next to mine, even though there are a dozen others empty.
“You’re pretty deep in thought,” she says, her voice sounding a little hillbilly.
“I guess so.”
“My name’s Callie,” she tells me. “I was named for the calla lily. You know that flower?”
“Can’t say I do.”
The bartender, a huge refrigerator of a man whose name is Earl, says, “I thought your Daddy named you after a Cadillac.”
“It’s Callie, not Caddy. Come on, Earl. Don’t give me any grief. It’s been a long day already.”
“I bet it’s been long,” Earl says, wriggling his purple tongue.
I hold up my glass to Earl. “Another please.”
Earl scowls, as if I’ve insulted him, but he gets me a refill anyway.
“Watcha drinking?” Callie asks.
“Buy me one?”
I don’t like how this is going, yet to refuse her would clearly be an insult. “Sure.”
“That’s so sweet,” she says, patting my knee.
When her drink comes, Callie knocks it back and taps the rim and Earl pours her another, which she drowns, just like the third one.
“Whoa,” I say, though what I want to say is, I’m not a fucking ATM.
Callie starts talking a million miles an hour, saying she’s had a patch of bad luck lately, she’s a Scorpio, she likes dogs and especially puppies, her dad’s an asshole, her mom’s okay, Callie’s self-employed, and would I like a date?
“Date? No, I don’t think so.”
She leans forward, massaging my thigh while looking down at some massive cleavage then back to me with a grin. “These are real.”
“Great. Good for you.”
“Want a squeeze?”
“Hey, I don’t think—“
She grabs my hand faster than a striking rattlesnake, and when I try to pull it back, she screams.
Now several of the large felons in the room are up and out of their seats.
“He tried to cop a feel,” Callie says. “He molested me.”
“I did not.”
Earl grabs a baseball bat from under the bar as Dragon Neck and his scar-faced buddy lumber over my way.
I put my hands up. “Look, I didn’t do anything.”
“I saw you,” Earl says. “You grabbed her titty and were holding on for dear life.”
“I did no such thing.”
“Strangers come in here all the time thinking they can treat our women like dogs.”
“I was just making some friendly conversation,” Callie says “when he lashed out and groped me. It hurt, too.”
“Fucking pervert,” Dragon Neck says.
Earl stabs my back with the blunt end of the bat. “We don’t cotton to sexual deviants in these parts.”
I wish I’d been smart enough to bring the gun along with me. I wish I’d never stopped in this ratty shit hole, wish I’d never offered to buy Callie a drink.
“What’re we going to do with him?” Scar Face says.
“I say we break a few bones.”
“Please,” I say.
Dragon Neck’s face is only inches from mine. His breath smells awful. He’s had sauerkraut for lunch, perhaps fried liver as well.
“Maybe you’d like to buy your way out of this,” Earl says, nudging me with the bat.
I get it now, how this was a set up. Probably happens any time someone from out of state is unfortunate enough stop in.
Earl rams me with the bat and a sliver pierces through my shirt and flesh.
“Okay,” I say. “How much?”
“How much you got?”
“Look,” I say, fishing out my wallet, “I’ll buy the drinks, plus how about fifty extra?”
“That wouldn’t even pay for ten minutes with a good lawyer.”
“Come on guys. Let’s be reasonable.”
Dragon Neck grabs my shirt by the collar and twists until we are almost a pair of Eskimos rubbing noses. My vision goes cross-eyed. Someone else takes the wallet from my hand.
“All right,” I say, as if they need permission, “you can have it. Just leave me something for gas money. That’s all the cash I have in the world.”
Dragon Face grabs me under my armpits, lifts me off the stool, carries me to the door and tosses me quite literally to the curb. Someone steps over me and into the bar, but not before spitting on my forehead first. My wallet it chucked next to my bleeding cheek.
“Stay the fuck out of here,” Scar Face says.
I get up slowly, first kneeling then standing up. Walking to the car I remember I have a gun in the glove compartment.
Inside the car I retrieve the pistol, holding it in my lap. With this gun, I could cause some serious shit, get my money back, even rob the place. I’ve never done anything so bold before and the idea excites me, the image of myself getting retribution and for once in my life being a badass.
But then a police car pulls over two spots ahead of me. An officer gets out with another cop and together they enter the bar. They’re likely all in cahoots—cops, Callie, Dragon Neck. Heck, Earl is probably Callie’s dad for all I know.
I drive off not feeling hoodwinked so much as feeling like a loser, cowardly like my wife often accused me of being. I watch the sun starting to set in the distance and remember how sudden the sun in Mexico would descend at a certain point in the evening, as if it got bored and decided to dive into the sea. I think about Mexico and my honeymoon, how it felt like life was just starting. I remember watching my wife blow-drying her hair naked in the hotel bathroom, her skin golden brown except for the places her swimsuit had covered. I remember thinking I’m the luckiest guy in the world, it can’t get any better than this, and now as I drive off I realize just how right I was.