Brannigan’s Bar

 

One Night in Brannigan’s Bar

(“Most of what follows is true”)

 

 

 

The ceiling fans droned on a warm Saturday night in Brannigan’s Bar at the corner of Main and Durango streets.  Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid robbed another train on the muted televisions positioned above the mirror behind the bar, while on the jukebox Neil Young confessed that he’d shot his lady down by the river.  A few patrons watched the movie and a few danced.  Some were chatting, others ranting, and just about everyone was drinking.  In the rear a couple of gamblers played pool and nearby a couple of lovers played footsies.  A good many eyed one another in that mirror that ran the full length of the bar and exposed all that went on above the counter.  And everyone was on the make—for either a woman, a man, a fight, a fistful of dollars, or a better high.  Brannigan, himself, as usual, was in the back cooking burgers on the grill for the few looking for a bite to eat.

Along about sunset, Jess and Mick pulled into town, parked their ‘66 Chevy out front, and entered Brannigan’s through the saloon doors on Main Street.  The first thing Jess noticed was the movie.  “Check it out,” he said, pointing up at the television.

“All right, this must be our kind of place,” Mick said.  As he watched the posse storm off the rail car that had just halted a ways down the track from where Butch and Sundance were doing business, he mimicked Butch’s line, “Whatever they’re selling, I don’t want it.”

Jess settled into the barstool nearest the corner of the long end of the L-shaped bar, while Mick tried to catch the waitress’s attention to order a couple of beers.  Once that was accomplished, he took the seat to Jess’s right, which was the first of two along the short end of the bar.  Jess and Mick were worn out, scruffy, and thirsty.  They’d driven over 400 miles that day, across barren desert and through craggy hills.  Soon the beers arrived.  Jess stretched out his legs and leaned far back in his stool, sinking into the dark red vinyl-covered seat.  Mick propped his elbow on the padded edge of the bar counter.  Contentedly, they recounted the adventures of the day, their 52nd on the road.  And they drank their beers and watched the movie, oblivious to everything and everyone else in Brannigan’s Bar.

They didn’t see the pretty blonde on the dance floor who had her eye dead set on Mick from the moment he walked in.  But the curly-haired, squared-jawed fellow sitting with his back against the wall in the last seat at the bar on Mick’s right did.  His name was R.J. Stokes—he had been released from the state penitentiary a few weeks earlier after having served a three-year stint for burglary and other related charges.  He was thirsty too.  And three-years-worth of horny.  The blonde was Linda Lou.  She lived in town and she was only nineteen, but she had cards that said she was old enough to drink in Brannigan’s.  She and R.J. had a brief fling before he got locked up.  He wrote to her again and again.  She wrote once to tell him it was over.   But R.J. Stokes had a hard time getting over it, and the drunker he got, the harder the getting-over got. 

Jess took a long slow drink from his beer, then said, “They don’t get any cooler than the Sundance Kid.  Wouldn’t you like to be in his boots?”

“I’m don’t know about Sundance,” Mick replied, “but I wouldn’t mind being Redford, except younger.  Sundance is cool all right, but he’s an outlaw living on the run and dodging bullets, and then he gets mowed down in Bolivia.  God damn Bolivia.  Now those movie stars and rock stars, and athletes too, that got it fucking made.”  Mick took another sip of beer and continued, “And I don’t even think they realize just how lucky they are.  They act like they earned it or something . . . like they’re really that much smarter and more talented than everybody else in the world.  They’re just luckier.  That’s all—a hell of a lot luckier.”

“What are you jealous?”

“Maybe a little, maybe a little more than a little.  But it pisses me off the way they’re pandered to.  And it pisses me off when I see one of them interviewed—they ask ‘em the stupidest questions.”

“What would you ask ‘em?”

“I’d ask ‘em what everyone really wants to know, but nobody ever asks.  And that’s ‘So what’s it like to have the world by the balls, nothing to worry about, everything on a silver platter?’  Think about it—most guys spend their whole fucking life busting their butt just so they can buy beer and pay the rent too.”

“And try to get laid,” Jess added.

“Yeah, particularly that.  And there’s a whole lot more trying than getting.  But these stars, they never have to concern themselves with that stuff.  They got more money and women than they know what to do with.”  Mick took a sip of his beer and added, all the while keeping an eye on the movie, “For instance, take that Hogan’s Heroes guy.  He was basically a nobody, but he had a name, so he has a little money and the chicks come easy.  I once read that this buddy of his hung out with him to get sex with women they’d meet in bars, and this pervert would film everything.  I mean everything.  Then one day Hogan tries to end their relationship, and the loony bashes his head in while he’s sleeping and kills him because that would mean no more women and sex.”

 

R.J. Stokes shot Jess and Mick a sneer and said, “Hey, where you guys from?” 

Mick had his back to him and didn’t hear what he said, but Jess did.  “Back East.  What about you?”

“Around,” R.J. said caustically.  Then he added, “Up until Thursday, I resided with a bunch of other upstanding citizens in the state pen.”

Linda Lou was dancing with a young, gangly fellow wearing a leather vest, work boots, and a flipped-back baseball cap with a John Deere logo.  His name was Tom Murphy, but everybody called him Skinner.  She’d come to the bar with him, but it would be vastly stretching the nature of their relationship to call it a date, at least from her vantage point.  For that matter, it would be stretching the nature of dance to say that they were dancing together.  She danced solo with her arms on her hips and alternating leg kicks in time to the song “Come a Little Bit Closer.”  It was very athletic, very wild, and very fetching.  Skinner looked like he was trying to stomp mud off his boots.  Skinner was no clod, but he wasn’t about to be mistaken for a dancer either.

“Bet you’re glad to be out,” Jess said, making small talk.  “Let me buy you a beer.” 

Jess summoned the waitress and asked her if they took traveler’s checks.  She said, “Sure, but I’ll need to see some ID.”  Jess ordered a round and handed the waitress his driver’s license.  The traveler’s check was accepted but not his patronage.  The waitress returned with the beers, set them on the bar, and said, “I’m real sorry, fellow, but you can’t stay.  The license says you’re only 19.  You got to be 21 to drink in this state.”  So he gulped the last of his beer and went outside.  Mick said he’d be along in a few minutes.

Mick downed his beer and started in on the round Jess had bought.  He watched Butch and Sundance try to outwit the posse, but the film’s appeal wasn’t the same without his buddy. During their 52 days on the road, Jess and Mick had lived off the bounty of the land and endured its harshness; they’d seen the good in people and witnessed the depravity of others; they’d chased women and dodged cops; they’d knocked one another down and then picked each other back up.  Given all they’d been through together, it didn’t seem right to Mick to indulge in the lolling yet anticipatory ambience of Brannigan’s Bar without his friend, so he drank quickly. 

Linda Lou kept kicking up her heels, getting sweatier and hotter.  And she kept her eye on Mick, hoping he’d catch hers.  R.J. Stokes could tell, however, that Mick was in another world and was unaware of Linda Lou, so he turned his attention to Skinner, who like himself hadn’t come to Brannigan’s alone.  Besides Linda Lou, Skinner came with his buddies Nick and Slim and a fellow they hung with now and then named Eddie Sombrero.  Skinner’s buddies were playing pool at the far end of the bar.  R.J. had come with Robbie Holiday, Poncho, and Albert “Frizz” Frizelli, who were skattered about.  Robbie was dancing with a shapely brunette.  He was a wiry fellow with thick brown wavy hair and an excellent dancer.  The brunette was Bonnie Fletcher.  She was at Brannigan’s with a construction worker named Joe.  But Joe didn’t like to dance and Bonnie did.  Poncho was drinking a beer and watching the movie.  And Frizz restlessly darted about looking for something or someone to pounce on.

The posse had Butch and Sundance trapped on a ledge overhanging a rocky gorge.  Butch analyzed their precarious situation:  “But if we fight, they can stay right where they are and starve us out, or go for position and shoot . . . might even get a rock slide started and get us that way.  What else could they do?”

Sundance replied: “They could surrender to us, but I wouldn’t count on that.”

Mick downed the last of Jess’s beer, waved goodbye to the waitress, and glanced up one last time at the television set—Butch and Sundance raced from their cover and jumped over the cliff into the raging river below.  And then he left, never once having noticed the prurient interest Linda Lou took in him.  Who knows what would have happened if he had.  He might have just kept going.  But Linda Lou was one very sexy and willing woman, and God knows they’re hard to come by on the road.  No, more likely than not, the night would have turned out quite differently for Mick and the patrons of Brannigan’s Bar had he seen her.  The way it did turn out, however, for Mick and Jess was that they were back on the road, piling on more miles over a desert highway.  Brannigan’s Bar was just a pit stop on another long day’s journey into another lonely night.

 

Even without Jess and Mick’s patronage, business was thriving in Brannigan’s Bar.  Money was changing hands by the pool table, where Eddie Sombrero beat John Detweiler in a game of 8-ball.  “Lucky bastard,” Detweiler fumed as he handed Eddie Sombrero the money he owed him for the bet.  Eddie Sombrero handed his pool cue to Nick Hanlon and went searching for something worthwhile to buy with his winnings.  Nick was a real big fellow, a regular at Brannigan’s for the past couple of years, and an excellent pool player. 

“How much did he take you for?” he asked Detweiler.

“Twenty-five,” Detweiler said matter-of-factly.

“Want to go fifty?”

“I wouldn’t play you for fifty cents, Nick Hanlon.  But if you want to put your money on Slim, I’ll play him.”

Nick handed Slim the pool cue and said, “You’re can play Slim if you like, but I’ll let Slim put his own money on himself.”  Then Nick headed for the bar.

Slim grinned at Detweiler and said, “Hey, don’t you owe me money, old man?”

“What are you talking about?  I never lost a game to you in my life.”

“Oh, I must be thinking ahead.  Rack ‘em, Jacko.”

“What are we playing?”

“How about 9-ball?’

“Let’s make it best out of three.”

 

In the restroom, a local small-time drug dealer called Dealer Dan was peddling hashish to all who entered.  Most of the time Dan had good connections and offered a quality product.  But if his connection got busted or wasn’t home or something else went awry, Dan wouldn’t let that interfere much with his flow of commerce.  He’d mix in an inferior or altogether worthless substance with whatever stash he had to carry him through until his connection got restored.  Frizz and Eddie Sombrero were standing in line to do business.  Eddie Sombrero was in the market for a gram of hashish.  Frizz wanted cocaine.  After fulfilling Eddie Sombrero’s order, Dan pulled out a small clear packet containing a white powdery substance from his hip pocket.  “That’ll be twenty-five,” he said as he slipped the packet to Frizz.

Frizz handed him the money, snatched the bag, and stepped into the nearest stall to inhale his purchase.  He cleaned the porcelain lid with his shirt-sleeve and emptied half of the contents of the bag on top.  Then he crushed the powder with his thumbnail as best he could and sniffed it up his nose using a rolled-up twenty-dollar bill.  The powder produced an acrid burning sensation.  Must be good stuff, Frizz thought as he exited the restroom, waiting for the drug to take affect.  Poncho passed him on his way in to use the urinal.  Frizz nodded at him and said, “The guy wearing the floppy hat is selling some toot if you want any.”

“I’ll pass,” said Poncho.

As Poncho was preparing to leave, Eddie Sombrero held out his pipe and said, “Hey, man, want a hit?”

“Smells good,” Poncho replied, accepting the pipe.  He took a deep draw.  “Tastes good too.  But if you ask me there’s more in the air tonight in this joint than smoke from a hash pipe.  I don’t know just what it is, but it smells kind of nasty.

“That’s just the vibes this place gives on a Saturday night.  Above the bar, everything looks to be practically asleep, but below the bar, where you can’t see, a current runs through everything and electrifies the place.  Here have another hit, maybe that’ll smooth the edges.”

“Not right now, thanks.”

Dealer Dan closed up shop, slipped out of the restroom, and then out the side door of Brannigan’s Bar onto Durango Street.  Meanwhile, R.J. Stokes made his way onto the dance floor and confronted Linda Lou.  “You wanna dance?” 

“Not with you,” she replied.

Rebuffed and furious, R.J. Stokes returned to his barstool.  He may have been charged with burglary, and that’s what he accepted in a plea bargain, but that wasn’t what put R.J. Stokes behind bars—not this time, not the previous times, and surely not the next time.  He could burglarize any place about as well as anybody.  It was his defiance of society’s rules that made him a prime target of the authorities.  And it was his explosive temper that was always his undoing.  Had R.J. Stokes been a cool customer, he could have lived a life of crime and lived very handsomely at it.  But he was not a cool customer.  And right now he was getting hotter by the second.

R.J. wasn’t the only one.  Frizz was very disappointed with the cocaine he’d bought.  So he returned to the men’s room to get his money back from Dealer Dan.  But he found only Poncho and Eddie Sombrero.  “Where’s that dude who sold me crap?” he barked.

“Hell if I know, man,” Eddie Sombrero shot back.  “He didn’t leave a forwarding address.  But I’ll tell you what I do know, you should have bought some hash instead.  Would you not agree, Poncho?”  Poncho nodded in agreement.

Frizz spit in the sink and returned to the bar to hunt down Dealer Dan, who at the moment was two blocks away hiking down Main Street.  Dan stopped a long blond-haired fellow wearing an old floppy Stetson hat who was coming up Main and asked him if he wanted to buy some hashish.  His name was Billy, he was traveling through town, and he was interested.  “Can I see what you got?” he asked.

Dealer Dan reached in his pocket and pulled out about a half-dozen grams of hashish, each one tightly wrapped in aluminum foil, and proceeded to unwrap one.  Inside was a cube-shaped, sandy-colored nugget, a little smaller than a lump of sugar.  “Blond Lebanese, man.  Good shit.  I mean real f’ing good.”

“How much?”

“You just looking to score one gram?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Twenty.”

Billy nodded OK and reached into his pocket.  But before he could pull out his wallet, a police car came out of nowhere and screeched to a halt catty-corner in front of him and Dealer Dan.  A cop jumped out each side of the squad car and hustled up to them.  Dan quickly tossed the hashish into the shrubs behind them.  One of the cops walked up to him and asked, “What did you just throw in there, fellow?”

“Who me?” Dan asked.

The cop stuck his face right up to Dan’s.  “Yeah, you, buddy.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, officer,” Dan replied as he held out his hands to show that they were empty.  “Look, I ain’t got nothing, and I didn’t throw nothing.”

“Oh, you didn’t, huh?” said the cop.  The other cop took out a flashlight and shined it into the bushes.  The first cop looked Billy in the eye and said, “Why don’t you take a walk.”

For the first time since the cops showed, Billy took a breath.  Then without hesitation, he walked.  At first he walked just to get away, but before long he had a destination in mind—a bar and a cold beer.  More than anything, Dealer Dan wanted to be someplace else.  He didn’t expect, however, that Officer Gruman was going to suggest that he also take a walk.  Instead the officer read Dan his Miranda rights and then took out his little notebook in preparation to asking a lot of questions Dan had no interest in answering.  Since the officer was clearly going to make a nuisance of himself, Dan shoved him aside and bolted down the street and up a side alley.  Officer Gruman took off after him on foot, while the other policeman radioed dispatch to put out an all-points bulletin.  It must have been a dull night in town, because the dispatcher assigned five additional units to the pursuit of Dealer Dan.

 

“You remind me of that Damdenyuk fellow,” Slim blurted to Detweiler, garbling the name of the accused Nazi prison guard turned Cleveland autoworker.  “You and him have a heap in common.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Detweiler sneered as he looked the table over in search of a makable shot.

“I’m talking about how like that Damdenyuk guy your luck has run out.  It’s over, and done, and now you’re going to have to pay the piper.  You got no shot.  You’re fucked.”

“I don’t know Damdenyuk,” Detweiler replied, growing more agitated. “Who’s he?  One of your loser buddies?”

“No, you dopehead, he’s Ivan the Terrible—the guy who was hiding in Cleveland till the Feds uncovered his duplicatious ass.”

“No, you’re the dope, Slim.  First, his name is Demjanjuk.  Second, the word is ‘duplicitous’ not ‘duplicatious.’”

“Well, you may be a word expert and all,” Slim said with a grin.  “But I still maintain that you’re the dope.  First, you got no shot.  And second, you’re shooting like Ivan the Terrible.  Now tell the truth, Herr D., were you ever a Nazi prison guard?”

Not only was Detweiler’s shot on the 7-ball very difficult, but he was distracted.  Following his rather easy win in the first game, nearly every time he lined up a shot, Slim’s accomplice, Jugs, would position herself on the opposite side of the pool table and bend forward and expose that part of her anatomy from which she earned her nickname.  Detweiler was no dope and he was a respectable pool player, but he hadn’t had sex without paying for it in a long time.  Jugs’ display was throwing his game off, and that was making him plenty angry, which in turn further upset his touch.  He took a shot and missed.  Badly.  Then he wiped his moist brow, while Slim winked at Jugs and took his turn on the table.

 

Joe the construction worker wasn’t getting any happier either.  He sat near the middle of the bar drinking beer and doing shots of Southern Comfort with a co-worker named Miles.  When he wasn’t boasting to Miles about how tough he was and lying about how many women he’d laid, he alternately pouted at his date, Bonnie, and glared at Robbie Holiday.  Bonnie and Robbie continued dancing.  Dancing that became more and more physical with each succeeding song, reaching a whole new level of sultriness as the sensual strains of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” played.  Hips and pelvises bumping and grinding, hands groping fleshy protuberances, that sort of thing.

“I thought I’d see you out at the races in the canyon last night,” Miles said.  “Good party, man.  Everybody got real liquored up.”

“I was planning on it.  Me and few of the guys stopped over at Murdock’s trailer.  We had a few drinks, did a little gambling.  Next thing I knew, it was too damn late.  At least I cleaned house playing cards.”  Miles was going to mention that he heard otherwise—that Joe had lost over $200 playing a game called acey-deucey.  But he decided to let it drop.  Joe continued, “Let me tell you, man, about the videos Murdock has.  We watched this one Brazilian porno flick—they call it a snuff film.  You ever seen one of them, man?  At the end of it, they actually kill the girl, they gorge her and strangle her, while she’s having sex with like three guys.”

“Come on, that can’t be real.”

“Oh, it’s real all right.  I read about it, and now I’ve seen it.  And let me tell you, it doesn’t getting any realer than that.”

“I still don’t believe it—it’s too sick,” Miles remarked.  He noticed that Joe was eyeing the folks on the dance floor again and pounding his right fist into his left hand.  “Do you, uh, know that guy dancing with Bonnie?”

“Yeah, it’s John ‘Fucking’ Travolta.”

“He’s a good dancer.”

“He’s a fuck face.”

“Who Travolta?”

“No, the dude dancing with Bonnie,” Joe said rolling his eyes.  “And I’ll tell you what, I’ve had just about all of his act that I’m going to take.  And if he don’t knock it off like now, I’m going to put a fucking end to it.”  Joe belted back his shot and slammed the shot glass down on the counter.  “He don’t know it yet, but Mr. Fred ‘Fucking’ Astaire is about to get his fucking face rearranged.”

“And I’m with you, Joe.”

“Right on, Miles.  Let’s do another shot.”

After leaving the pool table, Nick Hanlon worked his way down the bar, chit-chatting with the regulars and refilling his beer mug whenever it got dangerously low.  Half way down the bar, he sidled up to Joe.  “Hey, if it ain’t Joe Bonner.  Long time no see.  How’s it going?”

“I’m working on it.  How about yourself, Nick?”

“Fine and dandy.  You still doing construction?”

“Yeah, sure.  Why do you ask?”

“Just curious,” Nick replied, scratching his beard.  “I heard you had a little accident over at the new supermarket they’re building—fell off a wall onto some rebar that was sticking up.”

“Yeah, I was laid up a spell.”

“I heard the rebar went right up your butt.”

“Well, you know, you can’t believe everything you fucking hear.”  Eager to change the subject, Joe pointed at Robbie Holiday.  “Hey, Nick, do you know that asshole out there dancing with Bonnie?”

Nick turned around to have a look.  “Can’t say that I do.  Looks like he’s a hell of a dancer, though, don’t he?”

“He ain’t going be so good after I’m through with him.”

“Oh yeah.  What’d he do to you?  Push you off that wall?”

“That’s my girl he’s out there molestating in plain view of every one in this damn bar.”

“Bonnie is your woman?” Nick said.  “Since when?”

“She came here tonight with me, and she’s leaving with me, and twinkle toes just might be leaving on a stretcher.”

“Whatever you say, Joe.  But it sure looks to me that being molestated, as you call it, seems to agree with Bonnie.  That or she’s got a real funny way of protesting.”

“Nick, I don’t really want to talk about it no more,” Joe said.  “We’re doing shots.  Southern Comfort.  Want one?”

Nick shook his head, “No thanks, I’m going to mosey along.”  He patted Joe on the shoulder and added, “Don’t do anything too stupid,” knowing it was all but inevitable he would.  Nick moved down the bar and found his friend Skinner sitting in the last stool on the long end.  He thought for a moment to settle into the empty stool to Skinner’s right on the short end of the bar, but upon spotting R.J. Stokes in the next seat over, he decided against it.  R.J. Stokes was still sitting with his back against the wall in the last seat at the bar.  He liked it there because he could see the whole bar before him, thereby eliminating anyone’s ability to sneak up behind him.  If anyone was going to surprise anyone, R.J. Stokes wanted to make sure he was the one doing the surprising.  Prison will do that to a man.  Both he and Skinner were keeping an eye on things—the movie, their drinks, Linda Lou, but mostly each other.  They didn’t say a word.

            Frizz was pacing between R.J. Stokes and the front door.  He’d peer outside, then guzzle some beer, and then scrutinize the bar.  Then he’d do it all over again.  He was going to mention to R.J. Stokes that there was a police car parked across the street, but he got sidetracked and forgot about it.

Nick slapped his buddy Skinner on the back, “Hey, partner, how come you ain’t still out there with that girl, doing whatever it is you call what you were doing with her?” 

            “Hey, Nick, how do?  Oh the dancing, well, I was getting, you know, kind of tired and sort of thirsty, so I figured, shit, I’d sit down and maybe have a cold one.”

            “I don’t know, Skinner, I’d have gone for the hot one if I were you,” he said, casually pointing at Linda Lou, who was dancing solo to the song “Keeping the Faith” by Billy Joel.  “She’s a mighty pretty woman,” he added.

The ironic thing about Nick saying he’d have gone for the hot one, if he were Skinner, was that he had a long-standing open invitation from Linda Lou to date her any time he wanted.  He never took her up on it because he figured that, like most guys she dated, he would probably only get a night or two with her.  And he wanted to save his option until . . . until he couldn’t stand to save it any longer.  And he certainly wasn’t going to move on her tonight because no matter how preposterous it seemed, she had come to Brannigan’s with his friend Skinner.

            Skinner motioned for the bartender and ordered Nick a beer.  “You may find this hard to believe, Nick, but I don’t think Linda Lou is all that wild about me.  Fact is, I don’t know why she came here with me in the first place.  It was her idea, but I’ll be damned if I know why.  She don’t even want to talk to me.”

            “Then it’s to her considerable loss,” Nick assured him.  The bartender brought Nick his beer.  He thanked her and Skinner for the refreshment and took a sip.  As he did, he by chance made eye contact with R.J. Stokes.  He was sure he seen him before but he couldn’t remember the time or place.  He had, in fact, seen him momentarily the weekend before last, when R.J. came speeding around a bend and nearly ran into Nick, Skinner, and Eddie Sombrero, who were cruising on their motorcycles in the opposite direction.  Nick took a gulp of beer and whispered to Skinner, “Don’t that fellow against the wall look awfully familiar?”

            “Yeah, I was thinking the very same thing, but I can’t place him.  I gather he knows Linda Lou or least ways used to, and I’m dead sure he’s pissed about something.  Maybe me . . . on account of how good-looking I am.”  Skinner reached in his pockets for money to pay for Nick’s beer.  He didn’t have any.  “Hey, Nick, I must have left my wallet in the truck.  How ‘bout laying a fin on me so I can pay for your beer.”

            “Lasse Viren,” Nick said.

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “What, don’t you know who Lasse Viren is?  He’s a Finn, get it?  More precisely, a Finnish long-distance runner.  He won the Woolworth Special, that’s the 5 and 10K races, at the ’72 and ’76 Olympics.  He won it square in Munich, but as I see it, he only won in Montreal because Pre never made it there.”

            “Pre?  Who’s Pre?”

            “Steve Prefontaine.  I must have told you about Pre before.  Slim and I partied with him a few times up in Eugene about ten years ago.  Nobody believes this, but I beat him once in a race—a 50-yard dash.  No shit.  Anyway, he died in a one-car accident back in ‘75.  He was coming down a winding road and somehow lost control.  The car flipped over and pinned him underneath.  Heard he suffocated to death.  The saddest thing of all is that he was at the top of his game at the time.  I remember one race against practically every top distance runner in the world at the time, and Pre smoked them all like Secretariat at Belmont.”

            Skinner rubbed his chin.  “An auto accident, hey” he said.  “Now I think I remember where we, uh, ran into the fellow over there.  He’s the asshole who nearly ran us off the road the other day out there by the canyon.”

            “That’s the guy.”

The bartender interrupted the conversation by asking Skinner, “Do you want to pay for the beer now or start a tab.”

Skinner was going to ask if there were any other options, but before he had a chance, Nick said, “Molly, just put it on my tab and kindly get Mister Murphy a bottle of Coors.”

            “Cool, Nick,” said Skinner.

 

            Dealer Dan emerged from a back alley onto Durango Street about half a block north of Brannigan’s Bar.  He started north but spotted a police car slowly cruising south.  So he did an about-face and headed toward Main St.  But before he got to Main, he spotted another squad car parked on the far side of the street and occupied by two officers.  Fortunately for Dan, he saw them before they saw him.  He quickly ducked into the alley behind Brannigan’s, but another police car was crawling up the alley toward Durango.  He was surrounded, so he did the only thing he could short of surrendering—he went back into Brannigan’s Bar.

            Just as Dealer Dan slipped into the bar from Durango Street, Billy entered through the Main Street entrance.  He walked up to the counter, sat down at the corner stool between R.J. Stokes and Skinner, and motioned to get the bartender’s attention.  Unbeknown to Billy, he garnered Linda Lou’s undivided attention, no motion required.  Linda Lou liked what she saw.

            Frizz thought he spotted Dealer Dan at the far end of the bar but then lost him in the crowd just as quickly.  He started moving up the bar, passing Linda Lou, who was dancing solo and eyeing Billy, and by Nick who was watching Linda Lou.  Frizz passed by Joe and his buddy as they belted back another shot of Southern Comfort.  He looked in the recess in the rear where Detweiler and Slim were playing pool.  But he didn’t see Dealer Dan anywhere.  So he headed back into the men’s room, where he found Eddie Sombrero and Poncho having a wide-ranging discussion that had veered from what the Reverend Jim Jones hid behind those dark glasses to what sort of hammer sociopath Laszlo Toth should have used to effect maximum damage to Michelangelo’s Pieta to who was to blame for the atrocities committed by Cambodian dictator Pol Pot upon his fellow countrymen.  They were also very high on hashish.

            “Hey, Frizz, let me ask you something.  Who do you think was responsible for the slaughter committed by that Pol Pot guy?” Poncho asked.  “Eddie Sombrero, here, maintains that it all rests on the dictator himself, saying if everyone’s to blame, then no one’s to blame.  But I say, just like with Hitler, these types are always among us; it’s others who create the environment that allows them to . . .”

            “Look, Poncho, I don’t give a flying fuck about any of that,” Frizz said cutting him off.  “You seen that dictator, I mean dealer around?”

            “No I haven’t, Albert.  He’s probably in the next damn county by now.”  With that said Poncho jostled past Frizz and headed through the restroom door and over to the pool tables, where Detweiler was lining up a tricky but makable shot on the 9-ball in the corner.  Although he had lost the second game, Detweiler was in position to win the third game and with it the $50 bet if he made this shot without fouling.  Jugs stood at the opposite end of the table and slowly bent over to retrieve her fallen napkin.  Not only were her bare breasts fully displayed, here left boob came completely out of her blouse.  Detweiler saw it all, until the sight caused his eyeglasses to fog up.  He took a deep breath to regain his composure and realigned his shot looking over the rims of his glasses.  Then he stroked the cue ball.  He hit the 9-ball clean and knocked it in the corner pocket, but the cue ball ricocheted into a side pocket.  The foul meant the 9-ball would be respotted and Slim could position the cue ball anywhere on the table.  What that meant was that Detweiler was about to lose the bet.  Slim lined up the 9-ball and then sank it.  Game over.  Detweiler stood motionless for a moment looking in disbelief at the pool table.

           

            Midway down the bar, Joe stood up and said to his buddy, “You ready to teach Fred Astaire a lesson.”  Miles nodded that he was.  “Then let’s do it.”  And with that they each took about six unsteady steps before Joe bumped into Robbie Holiday, partly on purpose and partly because his balance wasn’t too good.  “Hey, whatcha doin’ Twinkle Toes?  Trying to horn in on my date?”

            “Hey, pal, what’s your problem?” Robbie asked.  “We’re just dancing.”

            “You call that dancing?” Joe asked jutting his face inches from Robbie’s.  “That ain’t dancing; it’s . . . it’s disgusting.”  He turned to Bonnie and shook his finger accusatively at her.  “You should be ashamed of yourself, Bonnie Fletcher.  Carrying on like this, and in front of the whole bar.

            “Why don’t you just go sit down and do a few more shots,” Robbie remarked.  “You might be able to get even more ripped if you try hard enough.”

            Bonnie chimed in, “Please, Joe, go on back to the bar and sit down.  Would you do that for me?  I’ll be right on over after this dance.”

 

“Well, where’s my money, Jacko, old pal?”  Slim said to Detweiler, breaking him out of his stupor.

Detweiler’s face contorted with rage.  “You don’t deserve it,” he started his rant.  “You didn’t win.  You cheated.  You had that, that harlot parade around and expose her . . . her . . . her tits to upset my game.”  He held up his pool cue as if it were a bayonet and warned, “You’ll have to come and take the damn money.”

“Come on now, old fellow,” Slim said soothingly.  “You don’t mean none of that.  No more than I meant any of that Damjenwhatever stuff.”

“But I do mean it, I tell you.  I mean every goddamned word of it.”

“Well, what if she did accidentally on purpose flash a little titty?  You didn’t have to look.  Now quit being foolish.”

            Detweiler’s outburst was attracting plenty of attention from those nearby.  One of whom was Dealer Dan, who was standing in a dark corner doing his best to avoid attention.  So he quickly skirted from the corner toward the men’s room.  He reached the door just as Frizz was exiting.  They stood face to face.

            “You sold me crap, man,” Frizz said, thrusting his face inches from Dan’s.  “And I better get my money back.”

            Dealer Dan took a half step back and held up his palms.  “That’s a bummer, man.  I’ll see what I can do.  But right now, I’ve got to get in there really bad, so step aside, OK?”

            But Frizz didn’t budge.

 

            The bartender served Billy his beer.  He leaned back in his stool and took a long, slow draft and started replaying his close call with the police a few minutes ago and a couple of blocks away.  On the jukebox “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” began to blare, but Billy was too immersed in his thoughts to hear it.  And while Mick Jagger declared that he “was born in a cross-fire hurricane,” Linda Lou began kicking up her legs in Billy’s direction to the beat of the song.  And she winked an eye, and wet her lips, and flounced her hair.  Had Billy looked back, he would have seen her.  But he didn’t look back.  Had he looked up, he would have seen a battered and bloodied Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid get ready to leap from their cover to shoot it out with what they thought were a few local lawmen.  But Billy didn’t look up.  On his left, Skinner matter-of-factly asked R.J. Stokes if he owned a “beat-up, shit-brown Chevy?”  To his right, R.J. Stokes tightened his grip on the bottle of beer he held by the neck below the bar.  But Billy was oblivious to it all.

            Although Billy didn’t know it, Brannigan’s bar had become a powder keg.  And just as Butch and Sundance burst from their cover, R.J. Stokes lit the match.  He stood up, pointed at Skinner, and said, “Yeah, and I should have run you over with it, you mother fucker.”  And then he lunged at Skinner and smashed his beer bottle over his head, coming within inches of hitting Billy who stepped back from the bar in utter amazement.

At that very same instant at the other end of the bar, Dealer Dan said to Frizz, “Didn’t you hear me chump?  I said get the fuck out of my way.”

Frizz threw a punch to Dan’s gut.  As Dan doubled over in pain, Eddie Sombrero came storming up behind Frizz and rammed into him at full speed.  The impact sent Frizz tumbling over Dan’s back and head over heels onto a nearby table.  Beer bottles, mugs, and ashtrays went flying everywhere.  Detweiler, who was already in a frenzy, snapped.  He crashed his pool cue on the pool table and hurled the shard remaining in his hand at Slim.  Slim skipped aside just in time, as the shard whizzed by his ear and crashed against the wall about a foot from where Poncho stood.  Slim started toward Detweiler just as Frizz rose to his feet and moved toward Eddie Sombrero.  Their paths met.  Frizz shoved Slim, and Slim shoved him back harder, sending him tumbling over the remnants of the busted table.

Skinner staggered from his stool bleeding profusely from where he had been struck by the bottle.  Nick rushed at R.J. Stokes and tackled him.  On the dance floor, Joe took a wild roundhouse swing at Robbie’s head.  Robbie easily dodged it and grabbed Joe by the hair and yanked his head down to waist level.  While Joe continued flailing without effect from this ridiculous position, Miles started jumping around like a drunk kangaroo.  Robbie easily kept him at bay with his free hand.  Bonnie cried for Joe to stop.  In the rear of the bar, Jugs leapt on Detweiler’s back.  He shrugged her off and then tore off her shirt.  Poncho stared at her bare breasts.

This was an out-and-out barroom brawl.  A real donnybrook.  But no sooner had it started when half a dozen cops came storming into Brannigan’s Bar through both entrances and put a sudden stop to everything.  And that included Linda Lou’s prancing and Mick Jagger’s protestation of  “It’s a gas, gas, gas,” neither of which had abated during the free-for-all but were stopped cold when one of the policemen pulled the plug on the jukebox.  Billy could not believe his eyes—one moment it looked like the entire place had erupted in a riot all around him, and before he knew what had happened, it was over.  Billy had seen a whole lot more than he had bargained for in this town, but he still didn’t see Linda Lou looking at him with those moist lips and that come-and-get-it look.

In his stained and greasy white frock, Harvey Brannigan emerged from the kitchen to survey the wreckage as the police tried to make sense of what happened.  Although the place looked a shambles, the only real damage was to a small table, a pool cue, Jug’s shirt, and the top of Skinner’s head.  The table, pool cue, and Jug’s shirt, were ruined.  Skinner’s head was bandaged, and he was taken away by ambulance to a nearby hospital.  Along the way, he tried to bribe the driver to take him back to Brannigan’s.  But he didn’t have much leverage because his wallet was in Nick Hanlon’s pick-up.  And someone found Jugs a shirt.  “Shucks,” Poncho muttered.

While Mr. Brannigan swept up the debris and cleaned up his establishment, the two remaining police officers, identified R.J. Stokes as the sole culprit and lead him away in handcuffs.  They also asked if anyone had seen Dealer Dan.  But nobody had.  Even Frizz said he hadn’t seen him all night.  Just the same, they searched the bar, checking in the men’s room and even in the women’s.  But Dealer Dan was nowhere to be found.  That’s because he had slipped out the small window in the restroom, landing in the alley behind the bar.  He tore down the alley and was never to be seen in these parts again.

In all the excitement, Molly the bartender forgot to charge Billy for his beer.  And what with all that excitement, one beer at Brannigan’s was enough for Billy.  He looked at Nick, who was standing nearby, and said quoting Butch Cassidy, “That settles it, this place gets no more of my business.”  Billy then emptied his mug, laid down a generous tip, and got up to leave.  Linda Lou never did get his attention and gave a little pout as he left.  But she didn’t pout for long because as Billy went out the door, in walked an out-of-towner named Larry.  Larry stepped up to the bar and took the seat Billy had vacated.  “Seat feels warm,” he said glancing over at Nick.

“You should have been here five minutes ago, pal.  The whole damn place was on fire.”

“Is that so?”

Larry ordered a beer, then swung his seat around, and right off caught sight of the beauty on the dance floor.  He was struck by her rhythmic gyrations to the Bob Seger song “Night Moves.”  He was caught by her strut and her brass.  And on top of it all, she seemed so ready.

Things returned pretty much to normal in Brannigan’s Bar.  Detweiler gave Slim the $50 he owed him, but Nick persuaded Slim to give it back.  Then Nick beat Detweiler in a game of 9-ball and won it for himself.  Eddie Sombrero gave Frizz a pinch of hash to make up for shoving him.  Frizz smoked it and mellowed out.  Bonnie slipped Robbie her phone number and then her tongue and then she sat down with Joe and consoled him.  Poncho ate a cheeseburger and stared up at the muted TV, where Cool Hand Luke was lopping off the heads of parking meters.  Larry finished his beer and invited Linda Lou back to his motel room.  She eagerly accepted, and off they went.  With his winnings, Nick ordered a round for everyone in the bar.  And they all merrily drank up because it was Saturday night in Brannigan’s Bar, and the night was young.

 

The End 


 

 
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