Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Compromise

I wrote this for Casson years ago. It was for some project that never lifted off. It has an edge to it that I don't really like, but then again...it has other things that I do like. This is a crude spasm I had after spending too much time working in a pub. It isn't pretty. it isn't supposed to be.




“Yeah, about three.” Brad said. He was talking into a phone.
“Yeah, I’ll be there. I just have to serve he poison, you know.” He said.
“Jeff, I love you too, later” He said. He put the phone down and opened the register.

Mike had been at the bar for the last half hour. Tony was late again. Late enough for Mike to order a second Bud Lite. Tony wasn’t late like Mike’s recent ex. He had just gotten off the phone with him. Shauna had taken the pregnancy test and was positive. Mike winced as he thought about it. He didn’t need another kid, this was like high school all over again. Mike had told Shauna to handle the kid situation and come back to him after she was done. He had let her down an hour ago.
“This is gonna be a good night.” He muttered to himself. Mike turned to see Tony making his way down the bar.
“Hey man.” Tony said. Tony took off his leather trenchcoat, threw his tie over his shoulder, dropped the coat at the base of his stool and sat down.
“Dude, you’re running late.” Mike said.
“Man, I had to go to the clinic.” Tony said.
“Clinic? Sounds like you have my problem. Shauna is preggers.”
“Not my problem. I have been pissing yellow for the past bit. Had a little discharge. Now I know what it was.” Tony was looking down. Brad walked up, behind the counter.
“Can I get you something?” He asked. His sleeves were rolled up. He was a kid, and he had Popeye anchor tattoos on both forearms.
“Yeah, I need three shots of Irish whiskey, lined up here.” Tony said, gesturing.
“Three. Wow man.” Mike said.
“Sure thing. My name is Brad, I’ll be your bartender tonight.” Brad turned and went to the other end of the bar.
“Yeah, chlamydia. Never expected it. I go without a condom one night, and this is what I get.” Tony shook his head.
“Man, you can’t go one night in this town. Too much stuff is going on these days.” Mike smiled to himself in the mirror behind the bar, proud of his retort.
“It must have happened last month, if she was the one. Brenda and I broke up, and I went on a bender. I slept with everyone for about three weeks straight.” Tony said.
“I remember you had a lot on the go. I didn’t know that it was all pussy. I thought that the job was tearing at you.” Mike said.
“Well, I guess some of it was rotten.” Tony still hadn’t looked Mike in the face. Brad walked up with a tray and laid the three drinks down.
“You want me to close you guys out?” He asked.
“Nah, keep it open, Brad. Tonight is going to be a long night.” Mike said. He slapped Tony on the shoulder as he said this.
“Here’s the deal men: if I serve you drinks after you are intoxicated, that is a misdemeanor on my part. But I can see that both of you are a little low. So if you swear to me that you guys are getting a cab out of here, I will help you drown your sorrows.”
“Deal Brad. Look, here’s my card and my license. Hold me to the deal at the end of the night.”
“I’m liking you guys already.” Brad said, as he squinted at the Visa card. “Can I get you something else, uh, Michael?”
“Yeah, I go by Mike, get me three Irish whiskeys, just like Tony here.”
“Three more, coming up. Gentlemen. When you feel low, the best comfort you can possibly take other than three Irish whiskeys is that of a woman.” Brad said, smiling.
“Women are just the problem on this side of the bar Brad.” Tony said.
“Women are always a problem. You two need to meet new ones. Get laid. Look, if you see someone in here tonight that interests you, hit me up, I’ll send them the drinks, on me.” Brad turned and walked to the other end of the bar again. He was a muscular fellow, with blond hair, but still a kid.
“This might be the coolest bartender I have ever had.” Mike said.
“Whatever.” Tony answered. He slugged back a shot.
“Brad’s right. Let’s get laid. I need to crack twenty-five in the next month. Tonight, I think I can do twenty-four.” Mike said. He had finally caught Tony’s eye in the mirror behind the bar.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I turn twenty-five next month. I sleep with a woman for every year I have been alive. I am at twenty-three. I will finally be on par this year if everything works out.” Mike said, beaming.
“Just put a fucking sock on the pickle.” Tony said.
“You know what? Fuck you. I got herpes back when I was in high school, so just drink your shots and quit being such a bitch.” Mike said.
“Herpes eh?” Tony said.
“Yeah, I haven’t had an outbreak in five years, but I did get the old lump-lump. You know something? I have been involved with more women than I can even count. Long-term, short-term. I have put in my time in the old relationship game. Still, this herpes thing plagues me. Fortunately, when I do put a sock on the pickle, girls think its about pregnancy and not about that fucking virus.”
“Well, apparently, I can keep this chlamydia as long as I want. The doc suggested that I get the shot, but it really doesn’t do much to me, besides this yellow discharge thing.” Tony said.
“What, you leak all the time?” Mike asked.
“Yeah, it’s a leaker.”
“Get the shot.”
“Next week, if I’m up to it.”
“Hey, you still have it then!”
“Yeah, you are talking to an infected man!” Tony laughed. Brad walked up and put the three drinks in front of Mike. Mike picked one up.
“To infection!” He said.
“Infection it is!” Tony responded. Tony picked up his second shot, toasted and knocked it back.
“I don’t even want to know.” Brad said.
“We are going to infect the world. We are going to inflict ourselves on society!” Mike said.
“You two really just need to get laid.” Brad said. He smiled a half smile and walked back up the bar.
“He’s right.” Tony said.
“What? Get laid?”
“Yeah. But I don’t want to get laid. I want to get myself a classy woman. I want a relationship.” Tony said. He hovered over the second vowel on the word so it sounded like ‘relaaaaytionship’.
“Here’s my problem. Shauna is late on her period. She takes a test. She’s positive. I’ve only been with her for a month, so I kicked her to the curb. I don’t need to worry about a kid right now.”
“You’re cold. Did you infect her?” Tony was smiling.
“Damn right I did. To infection!” He said, reaching for his second drink.
“To infection!” Tony echoed, knocking back his third shot.
“Brad! Brad! We need backup!” Tony yelled. Brad tuned from the woman he was talking to at the end of the bar, nodded and reached for the bottle of Bushmills.
“Seriously. Tonight, let’s meet some women, some classy women and do this right.” Mike said.
“Classy women. You know what? I need a woman who knows how to handle me. You are aiming for twenty-five? You are talking to mister forty-two!” Tony said. Mike turned and looked at him.
“So why the hell are you so twisted up? Forty-two and all you have is a little yellow discharge? Buck up! You’ve beaten the odds!”
“Yeah, I guess I have. But I want to settle down with a woman now. I need to settle. I need to look at a woman for more than something to get me off. I want to have a meaningful relationship. I’m almost thirty-two here. Marriage is what is next in my life, I can feel it.” Tony said. Brad walked up and placed six drinks from a tray down in front of them.
“Gentlemen, I can tell that the mood is lightening up.” He said.
“Yeah, you know what Brad?” Mike asked.
“What’s that?”
“We don’t need to get laid. We need to get out and get ourselves into some long-term relationships with classy women.” Mike said. He slurred the word ‘ourselves’.
“I heartily agree. Holler when you need back-up again.” He said. Brad turned and walked back towards the woman that he was talking to at the other end of the bar.
“Mike, you just dumped a girlfriend. What the hell are you talking about a ‘long -term relationship’?” Tony asked.
“Just that. I want to meet up with a woman who I respect. I want her to take care of herself. I want no diseases. I want no kids in the making. I need to just focus on the relationship end of things.” Mike said.
“Shauna wasn’t that sort of focus?” Tony asked.
“Tony, Shauna wanted to hook me. That’s why she got preggo. I don’t want to be hooked. I need a responsible, classy woman.” Mike said. As he said that, the bar behind them erupted. Twenty new faces walked in.
“The movies just got out.” Tony said. He knew this because there was a movie theatre next to the bar that they were in.

Jeanette and Maria sat down at the table. It had been a long afternoon for each of them. They had worked their respective jobs, gone to the gym together, gone to the movie for a treat, and were now out for an after movie drink.
“Do you think we should order something to eat?” Maria asked. Her long straight black hair hung behind her shoulders with weight.
“Honestly, Maria, what could they have here that you would possibly want to eat?” Jeanette answered. She was looking through the laminated pub menu, wrinkling her nose.
“Well, drinking on an empty stomach is a total no-no, plus, we pushed it pretty hard tonight on the cycles you know.”
“Just one drink. Then we go our separate ways. You can go home and cook something, and me? I’ll go home and sleep.” Jeanette said.
“We could get a drink here and go for dinner somewhere else you know. Its not like we have husbands and kids to answer to.” Maria said.
“Cash is getting short here. Plus, I stink. I didn’t have a shower. These are my work clothes. Thank God this is a smoking bar, or people would smell through my ruse spritz.” Jeanette said.
“I have the same spritz on that you have, honey. Forget all of that, what did you think of the movie?” Maria asked.
“I have seen it all done before. Typical paranoia. It had the Exocist thrown in there for good measure.” Jeanette answered.
“So you took that for demon possession? I thought that she was just consumed by her passions.”
“The wide eyes? What about the growl? She was totally demonized.”
Woah, woah, woah ladies! Demonized?” Brad said.
“Nice tattoos. I take it you like Popeye?” Maria asked.
“I’m still on demonized here. Look, I’m a Bible School dropout, but my ears still prick up when I here words like, ‘demonized’.” Brad said.
“Don’t worry, it’s this crappy flick playing across the street.” Jeanette said.
“What’s it called?” Brad asked.
“You know what? I don’t even think that I should tell you the title. This film was so worthless. It was such a minuscule blip on the big radar screen.” Maria said.
“Fine then. I’m up for the challenge. Listen, my name is Brad, I’ll be your host for the rest of the evening. Can I interest you two in some drinks? I will get the title out of you two before the night is out.” Brad said.
“So, you expect us to tell you the name of the movie when you won’t even tell us if you like Popeye?” Maria asked.
“Popeye isn’t the subject right now. Your drinks are. So what’ll it be?” Brad asked. If Brad hadn’t been smiling, his tone would have betrayed his irritation.
“I need a whiskey.” Jeanette said.
“Whiskey!” Maria repeated.
“Yes, and let’s make it a double.”
“Jeanette!” Maria said, astounded.
“Yeah, I need a double. A good kick in the ass before I go home.” Jeanette said.
“Well, can I have a glass of white wine?” Maria asked.
“Umm, what kind of whiskey would you like?” Brad asked. His hands were behind his back. He stood at a sloping angle away from the table, yet his head was crooked forward.
“Popeye, surprise me.” Jeanette said. Her voice wasn’t flirtatious. It was the voice of a woman who couldn’t be bothered with the decision making required for her order.
“Irish whiskey seems to be the hit tonight.” Brad said.
“Irish it is.” Jeanette said. She looked Brad in the eye, but it was the formality of eye contact, and not the longing for connection that Brad was hoping for.
“And you? Any old white wine?” Brad said, turning his head towards Maria.
“I’m sure that you know what is good and what is not, Brad.” Maria said. Again, the eye contact caught Brad, but again, there was nothing more than the decorum of it all.
Brad turned and walked to the bar.
“The boy wanted to flirt with you.” Maria said.
“Boys are trouble. This is not the kind of place to meet a boy.” Jeanette said.
“You’re right. Two girls should be able to go to a bar and have a drink without having to worry about that kind of nonsense.” Maria said.
“Did you think he was cute? He’s probably a rapist or something though.” Jeanette said.
“I guess he was cute in a high school sort of way. The thing is what we have been talking about for the past several weeks. It’s ok not to want that kind of relationship right now. We have both been hurt, and it’s ok to take a breather.” Maria answered. “Why do you have to say that he was a rapist?”
“Because I am sure that once a guy finds out that you have been raped, then its over.” Jeanette said.
“This isn’t the middle east. Men understand these things. If I found out some guy that I was dating had been raped, I would still like him, rape isn’t the issue.” Maria said.
“Well for men, it is. It means someone was where they want to be before them. That someone was also there by force.” Jeanette said.
“Bullshit. If I had been raped and I met a man and I told him about the rape, I would still have him, if the relationship was strong.” Maria said.
“That would be a special man. The run of the mill male isn’t going to go for you. The run of the mill male is going to think of you as damaged goods.” Jeanette countered.
“You know something, I have been thinking about our little ‘let’s get healed before we date’ philosophy. I have been thinking about it hard. I don’t think it could work if we didn’t have each other to pull each other through.” Jeanette said.
“He broke my heart you know.” Maria said.
“I had my heart broken too.” Jeanette answered.
“How can a guy pledge all of his love to you like that and just cheat on you?” Maria asked.
“I don’t know. How can a guy pledge his heart for you and leave town without a word?” Jeanette asked.
“I mean, its not like guys are scum or something, it’s just that we both had two real assholes.” Maria said.
“And that’s why we have been going o the gym. You have your pain, and I have mine. Somewhere I read that it really helps to work out to master heartbreak.” Jeanette said. Her hand reached up, and by habit, began to twirl the ends of one of her dark brown curly locks. She was wrapping it around her finger and pulling the end through, yet the knot wasn’t able to tighten, it just worked its way to the end of the lock, only to be started again by Jeanette’s twirling finger.
“Jeanette, thanks for helping me to get through this mess. Seriously. If I didn’t have you these days, as someone to fill my odd hours with, I would have gone insane.” Maria said. She picked up the pack of matches in the ashtray and folded the cover back.
“I think that its great that we are both in the same frame of mind. We can heal together. And when we both are in the shape to go back out dating again, we will have each other to check on. You have been great for me.” Jeanette answered.
“So, demonized?” Maria asked.

Mike kept on stealing glances behind his stool.
“The fuck is your problem?” Tony asked.
“There are these two girls behind us. They look like they might be classy.”
“Well tonight is classy night.” Tony slurred. He spun around on his stool and looked hard at Maria and Jeanette.
“I’ll take the one on the right.” Tony said.
“I don’t know…I haven’t played this game in awhile. How do you want to play this?” Mike asked.
“We’ll get Brad to send over the drinks. Its that simple. Brad? Hey Brad! Over here!” Tony was waving his hand in the air like he was flagging a cab.
“Yes gents, what can I do for you?” Brad said. He was wiping a glass down with a sterile white terry cloth rag.
“Brad, those girls behind us. Those are the ones that you need to send the drinks to for us.” Mike said.
“Gentlemen. I don’t think that these are the women for you.”
“What would make you say such a thing?” Tony asked, swiveling in his stool, leaning in towards Brad.
“They just don’t seem, interested. I think that they have other things going on. Like maybe they have men in their lives or something.” Brad said.
“Brad, your mission is to go over there and buy the two women drinks for us. You said you would, and personally, if you don’t want to do it, then I’ll pay the bill. You did say you would though.” Mike said. He ran his hand through his tousled hair and watched himself in the mirror behind the bar.
“I did say that I would. Gentlemen, I am a man of my word. Let me walk over to them and talk to them. They already ordered drinks, I’ll just make them ‘our’ treat, what do you say?” Brad said.
“Excellent job!” Tony said, reaching across the bar and slapping Brad on the shoulder.

Brad walked up to the table with the two drinks.
“A double Irish whiskey for you, and a white wine for you.” He said, as he put down square beige napkins and placed the drinks on top.
“Ladies, these drinks have been taken care of courtesy of the two men directly behind me.” Brad said. Maria and Jeanette looked behind Brad and saw Mike and Tony looking their way, smiling.
“Oh God.” Jeanette said.
“Is there a problem?” Brad asked.
“No, no problem. Just that we’re not here for that. I mean for that.” Jeanette said, gesturing towards the men.
“I don’t understand?” Brad asked.
“Tell the men that we appreciate their kindness, but we can pay for our own drinks.” Maria said.
“So, I will tell the gentlemen that their goodwill was refused. I will let them down nicely.” Brad said.
“Look Popeye, let them down real nice and I’ll tip you an extra three dollars.” Maria said. She turned her head and laughed, lightly. Her black hair jangled behind her.
“Done.” Brad said. He turned and rather than going straight to the men, he went around the bar, forcing Mike and Tony to turn away from Maria and Jeanette.

“Guys, I don’t know what to tell you. They aren’t into it at all. I poured it on. They would rather pay for their own drinks.” Brad said. He shot his eyebrows up, exhaled and turned to handle customers up the bar.
“They must be gay.” Mike said.
“Must be dykes.” Tony said.
“Impossible. Look, if you are a woman, and you look as good as they do, you don’t go into a bar and sit down and order drinks. They are on the prowl. We just have to find out what their secret is. If they were gay, they would be up at that bar up the street. They are in here, and we have to find out what the combination is to crack them.” Mike said.
“Where are you going?” Tony asked. Mike had already slippe off of his barstool and was headed towards the women.
“Where do you think I am going?” Mike answered.

“Prowler at three o’clock.” Maria said.
“Shit.” Jeanette answered.
“Um, so ladies.” Mike said.
“Look, when a guy refers to us as ‘ladies’ it really sets me on edge. How about you just kill the act and get to the point?” Maria said. She never looked Mike in the face, but her voice was very loud.
“Ok, well, my friend and I couldn’t help but notice you two over here.” Tony said. He was standing behind Mike, speaking over his shoulder.
“That’s strike two. That ‘couldn’t help but notice you’ line is tired.” Jeanette said.
“Well, can we sit down here and try and have a decent conversation with you two?” Mike asked.
“I would rather you didn’t, but since you are here, go ahead and sit down.” Maria said.
Tony went to another table and grabbed two chairs. Mike and Tony both sat down. They were between Maria and Jeanette.
Before you totally blow us off, how about we get to know each other? Let’s get to know each other and if you still hate us, then we’ll leave.” Mike said.
“We don’t hate you; we just aren’t up to the games right now. This sounds a little more intelligent now.” Jeanette said.
“I have one game I would like to play with you two if that’s ok.” Mike said.
“Didn’t we just get done telling you about games?” Jeanette asked. She was twirling her hair again.
“Yeah, but this is a game that we can play and we can tell each other truths about ourselves and go from there. If you don’t like what you hear, we’ll leave.” Mike said.
“So, you will leave us alone if this stuff doesn’t pay off? Because you two already have two strikes.” Maria said. She was smiling. This wasn’t the smile of a flirt. This was the smile of one preparing to accept an easy challenge.
“Yeah. Sure. The game goes like this: You take this quarter here. We rotate this quarter from boy to girl, er, man to woman, and you flip it. Heads, you tell a fact, tails you drink.” Mike said.
“I don’t think anyone has anything to lose.” Tony added.
“This could be interesting.” Jeanette said. She sipped on her double.
“The key is that it has to only be about relationships. We play for facts about relationships, nothing else.” Mike said. Jeanette and Maria looked at each other. There was a conspiratory note hanging in the air somewhere.
“Sounds like a deal. Guys go first.” Jeanette said.
“But of course. We’re here, bothering you, we brought the game, we should show you how it’s done.” Mike said.
“I want him to go first.” Maria said, pointing at Tony.
“Why me?” Tony asked.
“Because your friend here is doing all of the talking. You are the mystery man. Let’s lose some of the mystery.” Maria said.
“Brad!” Tony yelled. Brad perked up at the bar, like a dog being called for a treat.
“Brad! Get your ass over here!” Tony yelled. Brad walked in their direction.
“Brad, we need drinks. We need another of everything that we have been drinking so far.” Tony said.
“So, three Irish whiskeys and a wine?” Brad said.
“Yeah, sounds good.” Tony said.
“I told you that Irish whiskey was the flavor of the evening.” Brad said, winking at Jeanette.
“Just get the drinks Brad.” Jeanette said, cold.
“Ok, so, my name is Tony, ad I am going to flip the coin here.” Tony said. He flipped the quarter, hard. It flew, spinning in the air and bounced off the table and onto the floor. It rolled to a table fifteen feet away.
“I have this.” Maria said, getting up. Brad and Tony watched her ass as she went to go get the quarter.
“Don’t.” Jeanette said.
“Don’t what?” Tony asked.
“Don’t look at Maria like she’s a piece of meat.
“We weren’t!” Mike said.
“I know how men look at asses, you both scoped her out hard as she got up. I bet you can’t wait to see my ass too. I bet you can’t wait to see if it fits my face. I know how you guys work. My ass is a big part of whether you will accept me or not.” Jeanette said.
“That’s ridiculous!” Mike said.
“Ok, ok, so I looked at her ass. For the record, she has a nice ass.” Tony said.
“And what makes a nice ass?” Jeanette asked. Her smile was malevolent.
“Heads!” Maria yelled.
“Ok, um, let me tell you about myself…something to do with relationships. I recently had my heart broken.” Tony said, looking down.
“Heat broken?” Maria asked as she took her seat.
“Yeah.” Tony said.
“I say that we get to ask questions about what has been shared.” Jeanette said.
“Why not?” Tony said. He leaned back in his chair and exhaled slowly.
“I found out that my girlfriend was seeing another man.” Tony said.
“How did you find this out?” Maria asked.
“Let’s just say that there is evidence.” Tony said. He looked at Mike and they both began to laugh.
“Drinks, drinks drinks!” Brad said as he placed drinks on the table.
“This round is on me, people.” Brad said. He looked at Mike and Tony and winked.
“There is a lot of winking going on at this table.” Jeanette said. Her hand pulled away from her hair.
“Ok, so my heart was broken. She was playing around. She infected me with her evil heart, let’s leave it at that.” Tony said.
“Hmmm, infected.” Maria said. “My turn” she added. She took the quarter and flipped it. It spun in the air. She snatched it out of the air and slapped it on the back of her other hand. She closed her eyes and peeked at it when she removed her hand.
“Ok, heads. My name is Maria, and I have three kids. From three different men.” Maria said. She giggled when she said this. Jeanette giggled too.
“Three kids?” Mike asked.
“Yeah, three. There was a time in my life when I was a little rowdy. I have changed since then, but seriously, three kids is the deal right now. I’m going to have to call my nanny in a bit.” Maria said. Jeanette held her mouth to suppress the giggles.
“What’s so funny?” Mike asked.
“I just can’t believe that she told you that first thing.” Jeanette said.
“This has to do with relationships because, if you want to have a relationship with me, you have to realize that I am split in three directions already.” Maria said. She reached for her wine and pulled hard on it.
“I’m up.” Mike said.
“Go then.” Maria said. Mike flipped the coin. He snatched it out of the air with a fist, just as Maria had. He slapped it on his other hand. He closed his eyes, mocking Maria, then he squinted at the coin.
“Heads. Damn.” Mike said.
“Well, what can you tell us?” Jeanette said.
“My name is Mike and I don’t have any kids!” Mike said.
“Give us something else.” Maria said, disgustedly.
“Ok, I am turning twenty-five soon and I have only been involved with two people.” Mike said. His eyes flashed to Tony. Tony caught his eye, then looked back down.
“Only two? High school and everything?” Jeanette asked. She reached for her drink and slugged it back.
“Yeah. I always wanted to have a whole bunch, but I guess you could say that twenty-three of my almost twenty-five years have been terribly unlucky.” Mike said. Again he flashed his eyes at Tony. Tony didn’t meet them.
“My go,” Jeanette said. She reached for the quarter from Mike. She flipped it so high that it hit the ceiling and crashed back down to the table, landing in Tony’s drink. Tony picked his drink up and looked to the bottom.
“Heads!” He yelled.
“Ok. My name is Jeanette. I thought I was in a good relationship with a guy, then he raped me and left m for dead.” Jeanette said.
“He what?” Tony asked.
“I was raped by my boyfriend. I stayed in the relationship for a little while longer, but basically, he branched out and went on to do other things.” Jeanette said. She didn’t look at Maria, she had pushed it too far.
“Wow, that’s some story. I really don’t know what to say.” Mike said. “I would like to ask you more, but, I don’t know.” Mike continued.
“Mike, shut up.” Tony said.
“Well, she brought it up, I figured it was good for discussion.” Tony said.
“I have to take a piss.” Tony said. He got up and headed to the bathroom.
“So do I” Mike said. He got up and followed Tony.

In the bathroom, Tony and Mike pissed into neighboring urinals.
“I really thought Jeanette was hot.” Mike said.
“Damaged goods.” Tony responded.
“Amen brother. And three kids with the other one?” Mike added.
“What the fuck is this world coming to?” Tony asked.

Maria looked at Jeanette. Jeanette stared back at Maria.
“Do you think we scared them off?” Jeanette asked.
“They won’t be coming back.” Maria answered.
“Guess again. Here they come.” Jeanette said.
“You know what? Fuck it. This is going to get ugly. I want a cigarette. You want one?” Maria asked.
“We just came from the gym! We haven’t even had dinner yet! We are half drunk taking to these two losers and now you want to smoke?” Jeanette asked.
“That last bit sat strange with me, and here they come. I want a smoke.”
“Then get some Camel shit-ends.” Jeanette said. Maria got up, and left the table. She hustled out of the bar, in the opposite direction of Mike and Tony who walked up, with inquisitive looks on their faces.
“Where did she go in such a hurry?” Mike asked, as he pulled into his chair.
“That girl wants to smoke.” Jeanette said.
“Like we had sex or something.” Tony slurred.
“Yeah, like you had sex or something.” Jeanette mocked. She rolled her eyes. Brad stepped up.
“More drinks?” He asked.
“You buying?” Tony responded.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.” Brad said, with a smile, and eyes locked on Tony’s.
“Yeah, we need another round, bill me later.” Tony said.
“You’ve got it, anything else? You guys want some mozza sticks or something?” Brad asked. Now his look was pleading, and he met everyone’s eye, starting with Jeanette.
“No, no mozza sticks Bradley, how about an ashtray though?” Jeanette aksed.
“Um, the state of California strictly prohibits smoking in a public building. I can’t do that.” Brad said.
“Brad, Brad, Brad. B-Dog. Can I call you that? Look, you have us covered that we are going to take a taxi outta here. You have my license up there. What are people going to say? Is someone going to call the cops?” Mike said. He looked up.
“Brad! There’s a fucking fan over my head! Hit that ceiling fan and earn a tip! It’s that simple, Mister Dog!” Mike said. He smiled at everyone. Mike was the star of the moment.
“First off, I am not from ‘the hood’ so B-Dog will get you no play on this course. Second off, my boss could walk in here at any minute and fire my ass for this. So, the answer has to be no.” Brad said.
“Brad, there is going to be one really unhappy woman here in a minute. Um, Julie just stepped out for the smokes.” Tony said.
“Julie will have to be sad then, a rule is a rule.”
“Her name is Maria, Brad, and there is no loophole here?” Jeanette asked.
“The only loophole that I know is sitting you by the door. I could prop the door open, I could get a fan going, and you people could be discreet. If I get one complaint from another patron, you’re cigarettes are done, and I’ll double tonight’s bill.” Brad said. There was a smile, but there was malice too.
“Deal, buddy, hook up the new table.” Tony said.
“Right this way. Gentlemen, your job is to pick everything up at this table, that is part of the deal. Bring it all to the new one. I will show the young lady to the new table.” Brad said.

In the ten foot hustle to the door, Brad used his dishcloth and stalled at a table, wiping it off.
“Is this it?” Jeanette asked.
“No, this isn’t it. Look, these guys? They’re bad news. They are not for you. You could do better than this.” Brad said. He looked her in the eye. He winked.
“So you are saying that you are better?” Jeanette asked.
“No, the wink? It’s a habit. I’m sorry. Look, nevermind, its none of my business.” Brad said.
“Just show me the table.” Jeanette said. Her voice sounded tired. She looked over her shoulder and saw that Mike and Tony were watching her walk away. They were watching her ass.
“Here’s the table.” Brad said. Maria walked in from outside.
“Hi!” She said.
“Hey, we had to move closer to the door to smoke.” Jeanette said.
“Thanks!” Maria said to Brad. She was undeniably perky. Brad didn’t answer. He flashed his teeth with a sneer and went back to the bar.
Tony and Mike came to the table, and put glasses, half-empty around the table.
“I think this was our configuration.” Mike said.
“Oooh, configuration! The big words now!” Tony said. Mike shot a furrowed brow look at Tony. Tony caught it and looked down.
“Actually, this is rather stupendous.” Tony mumbled.
“Is that the best you could do?” Mike asked.
“Hey man, fuck you.” Tony said under his breath.
“Fuck me? No, but I would like to get fucked.” Mike said. He sat down and looked at Jeanette.
“What the fuck are you looking at me for?” Jeanette asked.
“Sorry.” Mike said.
“Let’s smoke!” Maria announced. She had already worked the cellophane top off of the pack of Camels.
“Shit-ends. If you are going to smoke, you need to smoke a hump like that!” Jeanette said.
“Shit-ends? Is that what you call them?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, shit-ends. There is no filter, silly. You get shit all over you if you’re not careful!” Maria said. She lit the cigarette that was hanging from the side of her mouth. She pulled on it hard, and brought in an air chaser as she pulled the cigarette away from her mouth. She coughed a little hack.
“Wow, you smoke like a sailor” Mike said.
“If I’m going to smoke, I am going to do it like a pro.” Maria said. She blew a ring over Mike’s head.
“Impressive. Give me one of those.” Mike said.
“Me too.” Tony said, right on the heels of Mike.
Soon they were all smoking. The door was propped open and the fans were turned on. Brad bought over the ashtrays, a fresh round of drinks and the night seemed to be moving.

“I say we flip the coin again.” Maria slurred.
“Yeah, I say we flip the coin again!” Jeanette added.
“I have to let you ladies in on a little secret.” Mike said, as he leaned forward and stubbed out his cigarette.
“Secret?” Jeanette asked. She leaned forward, suddenly sober.
“Yeah, I have a secret.” Mike said.
“What is it?” Tony asked, leaning directly into Mike’s face.
“Well, I haven’t been entirely honest with you.” Mike said.
“You what?” Maria asked. She leaned in and blew smoke directly in Mike’s face.
“You know, in some societies, to blow smoke in someone’s face means that you want to fuck them.” Mike said.
“That is not the case here. Now are you going to continue being a prick, or are you going to tell us your little secret?” Maria asked. She was blunt. Her straight black hair hung over one shoulder. She was smoking, holing her head at an angle.
“The secret is that it was a two headed quarter.” Mike said.
“What?” Jeanette asked.
“It was a two headed quarter. How the hell do you think we got heads every time?” Mike asked. He was laughing as he told this fact.
“Let me see it!” Jeanette demanded. Mike leaned back in his chair so that he could access his jeans pocket.
“Here it is.” He said. He slapped it onto the table. Maria snatched at it.
“Tricky, very tricky.” Maria said, slowly.
“Yeah, I got it at Disneyland when I was little. I have kept it in my wallet and messed with it off and on for years.” Mike said.
“You have kept that on you for years?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, years. It looks like I have a condom in my wallet, but its actually my lucky two headed quarter.” Mike said, looking directly at Maria.
“I don’t think that tonight is going to be your lucky night, Mister.” Maria said. She laughed and leaned towards Jeanette for back-up.
“You never know.” Mike said.
“Um, I don’t think so. I’m not the kind of girl that you can just sack like that.” Maria said.
“But you said earlier…” Mike said.
“I said what?” Maria asked.
“Well, when we were flipping the coin, you said that you had three different kids by three different men.” Mike said. Tony flamboyantly slapped his forehead.
“Shut the fuck up Mike.” He said.
“Well, she did say…” Mike said.
“Shut the fuck up, now.” Tony said, with a notch cranked up in his voice.
“Oh, what the fuck would you know? Mister, ‘my girlfriend was seeing someone else?’” Mike said.
“Didn’t I just tell you to shut the fuck up?” Tony asked.
“Mister, ‘oh, I’m all heartbroken! She was diddling somebody else!’” Mike said
“I am sure I just told you to shut the fuck up!” Tony sated.
“Oh, and the evidence! The fucking evidence that she played me. Oh, the fucking evidence! This evidence, why don’t you tell them about the evidence! Its such an infectious story!” Mike yelled.
“Why don’t we play the game again. This time with a real quarter?” Jeanette said.
“There is nowhere worse this conversation can go.” Maria said, scowling at Mike.
“Yeah, let’s play it again. I’m sure that there is more truth to be told here.” Tony said.
“Yeah, let’s bring out the truth this time.” Mike said.
“Heads or tails, the truth comes out.” Maria countered.
“Then what is the point of flipping the coin?” Tony asked.
“Ritual.” Maria answered around exhaled smoke. She stubbed her cigarette out.
“I’ll go first.” Jeanette said. She opened her purse and pulled out a quarter. She flipped it. It hit the floor. Tony went after it.
“Don’t bother. Here is the truth.” She said. Tony sat back up in his chair.
“The truth is, I wasn’t raped. The truth is that I was madly in love with this guy. We were so in love. Then he just up and left me one day. Pledged me his heart and then left. That is the truth. I guess you could call it a rape, metaphorically, but he never forced his person on me. There were no torn clothes or a trip to the emergency room. There was no rape kit, no DNA, none of that shit. He just broke my heart, hard.” Jeanette said. She was done. Spent. She reached for the pack of cigarettes that Maria had left on the table. She fumbled one out and lit it.
“My head is really going to hurt in the morning.” She said.
“I’m up.” Mike said. He flipped his two-headed coin in the air. It clinked and crashed through the glasses as it lolled about the table on impact. It fell to the floor, no one bothered with it.
“I think that Maria and I have a lot in common.” He said. He leaned forward, and tried to smile at her. Her look was cold, so cold back to him.
“You see, my current girlfriend is pregnant. She is pregnant with my child. I don’t want anything to do with this thing. This kid. Its beyond me. So we had sex a lot. So I don’t like to wear condoms. So what it I pulled out a little too late one night? This doesn’t mean that I should have a kid, does it? I don’t need this in my life. I still need to get out there. I need to do things. A kid is going to slow me down. It was her responsibility. She could have taken a morning after pill. She could still get an abortion. There are things out there that she could do.” Mike said, exasperated. He exhaled hard and sat back in his table, and wouldn’t look up.
“You have a girlfriend?” Maria asked.
“Not anymore, I fucking dumped her tonight, when I heard the news.” Mike said, his eyes never left the table.
“So what the hell are we? Your rebound?” Maria asked.
“Hey, how about you find a fucking coin and flip it, and tell me something true.” Mike said.
Brad walked up with a platter. He started to load the empty drinks on the platter.
“Everything fine here?” He asked.
“Fan-fucking-tastic Brad.” Tony said.
“I told you so.” Brad said, sensing the mood at the table. He Looked at Jeanette. Jeanette mouthed ‘fuck you’ to him.
“Testy table, eh? And you guys are also allowed to smoke. Spoiled. That’s what you are.” Brad said.
“Brad, shut the fuck up and get one last round.” Tony said.
“One last round, and then I need you all to get the fuck out of here, this party is over.” Brad said, turning his heel.
“I’m up.” Maria said. She reached into her purse and pulled out a penny.
“Forget a quarter. You aren’t worth it.” She said to Mike. She flipped it. It twanged against something on the table. No one bothered to follow it with their eyes.
“Three kids by three different men? That was bullshit. I simply had a guy pledge all of his love to me and he cheated on me. Its that simple.” Maria said. She looked at Tony for solidarity. Tony didn’t look up.
“Yeah, it was some girl that he worked with. I never saw her. But there was all kinds of ‘evidence’. I eventually found his stash of notes. One day, I was at his apartment and he had left his email account open. I really was just looking to see if the letter that I had sent him earlier had been read yet, but there were all these emails from someone else. The titles of these emails were pornographic. I knew that he had a filter, so I was curious. I opened one, and that was all it took. He walked into the room. I asked him what was going on. He didn’t lie, I left, and that man broke my heart.” Maria said. She was crying now. She reached for her drink and knocked it back.
“My turn.” Tony said. He got down on his hands and knees.
“What are you doing?” Mike asked.
“I’m looking for a fucking quarter.” Tony said. Soon he was standing. He was holding a quarter up, like he had just won a prize. He flipped it where he stood. It made a padding sound as it hit the thin pub rug. Tony sat back down in his chair.
“Well, Maria, I wasn’t dumped, like I said earlier. The truth is that I broke up with my girlfriend and I went on a sex bender. I slept with anything that moved. It was a lot of alcohol and a lot of pussy. Well some of that pussy was rotten, because I caught chlamydia. I just learned that today. I am trying to decide when I am going to have it taken care of.” Tony said.

There was a coldness at the table. A quiet. All of the cards were out. It was that awkward moment where escape needed to be made, but social taboos couldn’t be completely forgotten.
“I have to call it a night.” Jeanette said.
“So do I.” Added Maria. They both stood.
“I guess we’ll see you later then.” Mike said.
“I hope not.” Maria answered.
“Yeah, me too.” Tony said.
“Fuck you.” Jeanette said, as she turned to walk out. Maria followed her.

“You know what?” Tony asked Mike.
“What?” Mike said.
“I don’t think I am ready for a relationship yet.” Tony said.
“Oh, how thoughtful of you.” Mike mocked.
Brad walked up. He was scowling. He loaded all of the spare drinks on the platter. He flipped Mike’s driver’s license and visa card on the table.
“I am disappointed in you two. I warned you. And now, I have to ask you to leave.” Brad said.
“Yeah, whatever.” Mike said.
“No, seriously, get the fuck out of here. Oh, but you need to sign this.” Brad handed over the credit card statement. Mike signed it without even looking at it. Then he and Tony both stood up. Brad clenched his fists. His anchor tattoos rolled slightly.
“Is there going to be a problem?” Brad asked.
“There is no problem. But Brad, what the fuck was up with those girls? How did you know?” Tony asked.
“I have been working here for a little bit now. I can spot trouble when I see it.” Brad said.
We’re outta here.” Mike said.
“Good riddance.” Brad said. The two stood and walked out the door. Brad looked down at the white receipt that Mike had signed.
“Dumbasses.” He said, smiling. And he went back to the bar.