Lovers & Other Mean People

Novella SUGAR MULE

Tommy Birdwell sat on his favorite bar stool in O'Hara's, mid bar, just to the right of the waitress station's large chrome dividers, watching his image in the back bar mirror peeking back at him from between the top shelf bottles of booze standing at the ready waiting for the next big spender. He saw the reflection of his pleasant face, his sandy hair parted on the side, with long strands sliding down his forehead. It was on this day, just two weeks shy of his thirtieth birthday, that he had his tequila revelation. By this stage of my life all of the good women have been taken and I'm doomed to bachelordom.

Through the Cuervo haze he reflected on all of his married friends and their cute wives, and how the women he always admired in stores and on the street turned out to have wedding rings. While other guys read the Sunday sports or comics first, he read the social section checking out the good looking brides and brides-to-be in the announcements and recently married pages. "Damn. She would have been perfect for me," Tommy said aloud at least two or three times each Sunday.

He salted his hand just behind his thumb, grasped a wedge of lime between the thumb and forefinger and only then picked up the shot glass with the golden liquid filled to the lip. He licked the salt, tossed back the shot of Cuervo Gold, and bit deeply into the lime wedge. "I need an original toast," Tommy mumbled. "All of the good toasts have been taken, just like all the good sayings have already been said."

It was after nine on a Wednesday evening, the TV had a muted basketball game on and about a dozen or so tables were occupied with couples to small gatherings. There was one waitress, Mary Lou, and she was able to handle the room with ease. The jukebox was playing Sade and one couple was on the dance floor locked in an embrace, undulating to some rhythm only they were tuned to. No one paid attention, even as they kept the same position when Johnny B. Good came on next.

Tommy motioned Brenda the bartender over and asked her if she realized that all of the good inventions have already been invented. "Also," he asked her, "Do you realize that all of the good exotic remote tribes have already been found and there are probably no natives living in some jungle who haven't seen a toaster?"

"Ahh, the toaster criteria trump card," Brenda said as she poured Tommy another shot and gave him a bar nap with a lime wedge. She took some bills from in front of him, rang up the drink, and brought him back his change before heading back to the end of the bar where a group of regulars were discussing the problems with their sex lives and their women. He watched her go, looked at the guys and realized that all of the good groups had already been formed.

"Ask Brenda" was a game that the Group had been playing for almost a year. It started when one of the guys, Charlie T., was in his cups and asked Brenda what he should do when his wife got on his case, which was often.

At that time Brenda had been working at O'Hara's for only a few weeks. She was naturally friendly and had the ability to be one of the guys in short order. She was also a sexpot. Brenda was only five-two, kept her red hair piled high and wore very mini skirts. She knew when someone asked for a drink that called for a top shelf bottle that he was just sneaking a peak at her ass as she stood on her tip toes. It didn't bother her and sometimes she made it seem extra difficult and put on a little show wiggling a bit more and letting her skirt slide up even higher, knowing that it was going to mean extra bucks in her tip jar. Brenda had a natural demeanor in a bar situation from growing up with six brothers plus a father who owned a bar. She worked, as did her brothers, every job in the bar, and learned to banter under the protective wings of the men in her family. And even though the men ogled her she still felt the same protective influence she had always felt around a group of men.

Today's Ask Brenda was a complaint from several men that their wives were spitters and not swallowers. They wanted to change that. Brenda took her hand-painted "Ask Brenda" mason jar down from behind her and sat it on the bar and unhooked the lid. Hands pulled dollar bills from pockets and the bar top and the jar was passed around and the bills stuffed in to the already stuffed jar.

"First of all," Brenda said in her school teacher mode, "you guys ought to be happy that she puts that thing in her mouth at all, because there are lots of women who won't even touch it much less suck on it. Anyway, Andy, what does Deb say when you tell her you want her to change?"

"She's not even a spitter," Andy said. "She pulls away just as I'm ready to come."

"Have you talked to her about your desires?" Brenda asked pushing the Mason jar in front of him.

"She tells me to put it in a shot glass and drink it myself if I think it's such a good thing."

"Well?" Brenda asked. "Have you done this to show her that no lasting harm can come, no pun intended, to an individual who does such a deed?"

The others laughed as Andy sputtered, "Wha. . .wha . . . what kind of Ask Brenda answer is that?"

Brenda took the Mason jar, snapped the lid closed and placed it behind her. She then took a bar rag, polished up a shot glass and slid it down six feet of polyurethaned hardwood. The glass stopped right in front of Andy. "Bring this back and let us know how it went," Brenda said. She turned and served drinks to a couple who had just walked in and then did an order for Mary Lou, the waitress who had been standing just a little too long at the waitress station.

Mary Lou wasn't smiling; she had been forced to listen to too many of Tommy Birdwell's ramblings. "Did you ever realize, Mary Lou, that all of the good names have already been used and even the old biblical names are kicking around again? Say I were to marry and have a kid-I'd have to use someone else's name for the kid," Tommy whined. "I wish Tommy or Mary Lou weren't already taken. It kind of makes me feel helpless."

"Tommy, I wouldn't worry about any of that," Mary Lou said.

"How come?" Tommy asked, brightening up a bit for the first time that night.

"First of all because all of the women out there who might even consider marrying you are already married to guys in prison or other institutions. And B, if you were to somehow find a wife and have a kid the name would not be that much of a problem."

"But all of the good names are taken." Tommy seemed close to a tantrum. "There are no new names."

"Obviously you don't watch the NBA," Mary Lou said as she walked away with her drink-laden tray. After doling out her drinks she walked over to the "dancing" couple. Without missing a gyration, the man pulled a bill from his pocket and handed it to Mary Lou. She stuffed a couple of greens back into his pocket and walked over to the silent juke, put in a bunch of quarters and punched buttons. She didn't have to read the songs-she knew the ones she wanted to hear by their numbers. They were all ballads.



II




The couple that had come into the bar had taken the two seats next to Tommy Birdwell. He looked over to engage them in his continuing conversation but saw they were sitting stone faced looking down at their drinks. He turned away and watched them in the back bar mirror. A bottle of single malt scotch obscured part of the man's face. Tommy could feel the tension. He eavesdropped.

"What do you mean it's been fun but it's time to go back to your wife and kids?" The woman asked angrily.

"That's not exactly how I said it," The man said pleadingly. "We can still see each other now and then." Tommy snuck a glance at the cad. The man had a strong chin, clipped moustache and obviously didn't get an eight-dollar haircut. He sure was a smooth one, Tommy thought.

"Really? Now and then? How now and then?" She demanded to know.

"You know," he said. "Now and then." The man was feeling that he had the upper hand and obviously planned on keeping it.

The women pulled her sweater closed over her shell top and through clenched teeth asked, "How about tonight, tomorrow or this weekend?"

"No," he said with authority. "That's too now and then."

The man was Larry Dumars, and for four years he and Susie had been having a "Thing." Then Larry's wife Flo found out about it and tossed him out and he moved in with Susie. That was two months ago and upon moving in he swore that his long promised divorce would now finally take place and they could live happily ever after.

Larry, a week after moving in with Susie, began having an affair with his wife's best friend, Angie. She had called him at work to try and get he and Flo back together again. They met for drinks and before they knew it they were in a hotel room ripping each others clothes off and swearing that they never meant for this to happen and oh my God I've waited so long for this and we're terrible people and after tonight we'll pretend that this never happened but for now life is short and we could get hit by a bus in the morning so get back here under the sheets and let's do that again.

Larry, unimaginative as he was, used the same pattern on Susie that he'd used on Flo. Have to work late - don't wait up, going bowling with the guys, business trip - I'll be back Wednesday. After a month of this it finally dawned on Susie that she was the new Flo and somewhere there was a new Susie. Susie was doubly angry because she had broken off her engagement to a less than exciting patent attorney in order to keep her affair with Larry going. She couldn't continue to cheat on the attorney and always be available when Larry called and those calls were coming more frequently.

The patent attorney, heartbroken as he was, eloped two weeks later with the senior partner's only daughter, thereby securing himself a future and a damned good one. He called Susie once after he'd been drinking and suggested they get together and try page thirty-two in a book of sexual positions that they had purchased together, and as far as he knew was still at her house. He told Susie that he missed her and that his wife was away and since she had no shame about fucking married guys what did she have to lose?

Susie had fought with Larry three days earlier and hadn't heard from him so she told the patent attorney okay, come over. The patent attorney must have gotten cold genitals because he never showed up that night or called. Susie mailed the book to the patent attorney's wife with a note stating that they should start on page thirty-two since that's where she and her husband had left off. And by the way, she wrote, tell your husband that I have nothing I wish to patent with him so please refrain from calling.

Larry agreed to go back to Flo and Flo was eternally grateful to Angie who turned out to be the best darned neighbor any guy could ever hope for since she liked her life the way it was and wasn't going to rock the boat loaded with perks especially since her husband was away so often on business trips. Solace was just a backyard away. It was a win-win for everyone. Everyone, that is, but Susie who didn't find out until they were sitting in the bar after making love in her apartment. Larry, fearing a real scene in private, took her out to break the news that he was moving back in with Flo because of his kids. "I still love you, Susie, but what's a guy to do?"

"Order me a Grasshopper," Susie said, turning towards Larry, her long earrings dangling beneath her close cropped red hair.

Larry called Brenda over and Brenda had to look up Grasshopper in the Bartender's Guide. Finally she walked back to Susie, put a Hurricane glass filled to the top with a green drink and a straw, in front of her and dead panned, "Umbrella?"

Brenda didn't wait for an answer but went and pulled a Samuel Adams from the tap and served it to a heavily jowled man at the end of the bar.

Susie took a sip, made a face, and with Larry still staring down at his Scotch rocks, proceeded to pour it over his head. She pulled his shirt collar back and emptied the rest down his back. Larry sat as frozen as the drink. Finally, after what seemed an eternity he got up and with as much dignity as one could possibly have under the circumstances, wearing and leaking green, he walked out of the bar. Brenda walked over. Susie handed her the Hurricane glass and said, "One's his limit. Vodka tonic, please."

Tommy Birdwell watched the whole Susie/Larry episode without flinching, even though it was only a few feet away from him. Mary Lou lumbered over with a mop, broom and dustpan and proceeded to clean up the mess, making Tommy get up so she could move his stool. He found himself standing next to Susie as the cleanup was taking place. "Nice move," he said.

"Thanks," said Susie looking up at Tommy. "He had it coming."

"You don't see moves like that anymore," Tommy said. "Most of the good moves have been used up years ago. I actually didn't think there was a good one left."

"Well, I've been saving that one for a special occasion. I've got several more unique moves written down in case I run into that special 'need.' When I think of something really different I worry that I might forget it so I write it down. I do the same with pet names when I think of an unusual one."

"Really?"

"Well, it's not like I said to myself, 'Susie, some day you're going to pour a frozen Grasshopper over someone's head.' Conceptually this has been with me for years, but this was a spontaneous move. I haven't seen a Grasshopper since I was a teen," she said.

"Even more impressive," Tommy said. He ordered himself another drink and asked Brenda to give Susie one too. Susie declined and during that time Tommy did his shot and asked for another. The lime wedges were lined up on a bar nap and Tommy counted them three times coming up with three different numbers. Things were getting a little blurry. Susie had gone to the ladies room and upon returning had moved her seat over next to Tommy.

Tommy put a lime wedge in his palm, salted the bar and picked up his shot glass. He stared straight ahead, wide-eyed, and then fell over sideways, his head landing on Susie's lap. Now that's a move, thought Susie.

"I think he's had enough," Brenda said, wiping up. She poured Susie another Vodka tonic. "On the house," she said, giving Susie a good once-over. Susie felt embarrassed and on display but was too shy to reject the drink.

As Susie sat on the bar stool drinking her vodka tonic her thoughts were on Larry and not on the stranger passed out on her lap. She was brought back to the present when Tommy, trying to scrunch up into a fetal position, wrapped his right arm around her rear and adjusted his head on her thigh. For some strange reason Susie didn't mind, and when Brenda walked over and asked if she'd like to have Tommy 86'd, she said no and asked for a refill. Brenda brought a fresh one, winked and told Susie to call her if she needed help.

Tommy was trying to get his left arm pillow-like under his head but got his hand stuck under Susie's skirt. Feeling the soft underside of her thigh Tommy began to softly caress it. Susie sipped her drink and Tommy's hand, still trying to get under his head, hit pay dirt. Without showing it, he began to awaken. His fingers were entwined in Susie's pubic hair. He slowly moved his thumb and two fingers in a circular motion that was not visible outside the skirt.

"Of all the nights not to wear underwear," Susie thought, and then it dawned on her that she didn't know this guy who was playing with her and just as she was about to get up and let the creep fall over Tommy found her spot and she thought, so what if I don't know him. Tommy opened his eyes and she closed hers and just as she came he squeezed her waist with his right arm. Exhaling, she opened her eyes to grab her drink and Brenda was staring at her from across the bar.

"I'm better," Brenda said.

"Oh," gasped Susie. "I've never been better," and she pushed her empty glass towards Brenda. Brenda brought back a fresh one, took some bills from the bar, shook her head and went back to the guys at the other end of the bar.

Tommy, trying to get his bearings thought, "Now all the good places have been taken." He had a bone that needed attention but was afraid to move for fear of waking up and find that he was dreaming while lying in an alley. Susie ran her fingers through his hair and said softly, "Sit up and I'll take you home and return the favor."

Tommy began to straighten himself up and as he righted himself he rubbed his chin and smelled Susie's smell on his fingers. He turned towards her and she watched as he put his fingers into his mouth and nodded.

This magic moment ended as he stumbled getting off the barstool. They helped each other out of the bar and into the first passing cab.



III




Mary Lou O'Hara's father owned the bar and she could easily have been the bartender or manager if she'd wanted, but she loved waitressing and didn't want the responsibility or the scrutiny from her father. Mary Lou would be described by witnesses as, "You know, average looking." She was five and a half feet tall, slender, wore lipstick as her only makeup and kept her dirty blond hair in a ponytail. She did have a ready and sincere smile and it proved helpful in the tip department. Mary Lou genuinely liked people and preferred walking the floor as opposed to the plank. She also had the hots for Brenda who wouldn't give her the time of day. Brenda wasn't rude; she just wouldn't acknowledge Mary Lou's hints. Mary Lou, on the other hand, had never been with another woman and was confused over her fascination with Brenda.

One of the perks of having a father who owned the bar was getting the apartment over the bar. She often had the crew up after work and the last guy there got to stay for the night. Brenda made sure that she was always one of the first to leave.

Tim, another bartender, showed up with some killer hash, and as eight of the group sat around Mary Lou's living room passing the hash pipe, someone grabbed a deck of cards off an end table. A game of strip Acey-Duecy was started.

Mary Lou and Rick got up and turned on the lamps and turned off the bright overhead light. They put a new batch of CDs in the changer and returned to the group with an eight ball of coke and Simon and Garfunkle singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Taking her cards, Mary Lou announced herself as dealer and proposed the rules of the game.

"Here's the deal," she said, "I turn over two cards and then you bet that the next card turned over is going to be between those two cards."

"What's the bet?" A voice called out.

"Clothing," said Mary Lou. "You can bet from one to three articles of clothing. If you win your bet, you pick who has to take off the number of pieces of clothing you bet." Mary Lou paused to do a line and a shot. "If you lose the bet, if the card is not in between the other two than you have to take that number off."

There was nervous laughter and wisecracks flew like butterflies.

"After everyone is naked then it switches to part two which is - if you win a hand you get to ask anyone in the room to tell something or do something with yourself or another person. If you lose the hand than you must select a person to make a call for you to do something."

Everyone jumped on the idea and clapped, but in reality, few understood it.

"There is one exception to the three item limit," Mary Lou announced.

"What's that?"

"Well, the game is called Acey Deucy, so if someone gets an Ace and a Deuce, the best hand, they can bet 'all' which is total undress. If they get in between they can pick a person to strip all the way, but if that person loses then that player must totally undress."

"Bitchin'," said Brenda.

"And," Rick said, "Just before your turn, you get to do a line."

Brenda waved her arms for attention. "I propose that if most everyone boos a suggestion it's gotten out of hand, and that person loses their turn."

Anxious to get on with the game the participants' sort of mumbled their okays.

Mary Lou looked over at Jane, another waitress and the person to her immediate left and turned over a queen and a nine.

"Tell me again how this works?" Jane asked.

Mary Lou did another shot and said, "Okay guys, listen up. I'm going to explain this game once more and only once. We start at my left and go clockwise. Everyone gets a turn, including me. I turn over two cards and you bet that the next card to be turned over is going to be between those two cards in value. If it's over, under or the same, you lose. If it's in between you win. Aces are always high and deuces the lowest card."

"Okay," Jane said tentatively.

"What's your bet?" asked Mary Lou. "You have a queen and a nine showing and your next card has to be between those two for you to win."

Jane smiled, did her line and said, "Three items of clothing please, Mary Lou." She could just as easily have been saying, "I'd like to buy a vowel, Pat."

Mary Lou turned over a four and said, "Nice try, Jane. Take off three."

"Does jewelry count?" Jane asked.

"Anything you're wearing counts," Mary Lou said.

They all watched as Jane took off one sneaker, her belt and an ear-ring. She giggled and said, "This is fun. I can't wait for my next turn."

"We're all waiting for your next turn, Janie," said Brenda.



IV




Larry Dumars, sopping wet and dripping green realized that he couldn't go home to his wife looking as he did, so he drove over to Susie's apartment to shower and change. He figured that he could also pick up his personal belongings at the same time and not have to come back and face her in another scene. Maybe things worked out for the best, he thought.

After parking his car on the side street near the apartment's rear entrance, Larry watched until he was sure the coast was clear and then dashed in to Susie's building running up the three flights of stairs, avoiding the elevator and hopefully other tenants. Taking the key from under the mat he let himself into her apartment. Still gasping for air from his running up the stairs he shuffled to the bathroom, shed his green, wet clothing and ran a tub. I should shower, he thought, but a tub will calm me down and then I'll shower. 

He paced in the small bathroom waiting for the tub to fill and it only made Larry more frantic. Maybe I'll try to meditate while I'm waiting. Now's as good a time to learn meditation as any, he thought. Larry lifted the lid, sat on the toilet, closed his eyes, and tried to clear his mind by beginning an 'oohm' chant. Oohm. Oohmmm. Oohmmm. The moment was harshly broken when Larry had a bowel movement. Damn. It was going so good. I should have meditated on the living room rug. I should have known better than to sit on a toilet and concentrate.

He gave up on calm and while the tub continued to fill he wandered around the apartment gathering his personal possessions, filling a paper grocery bag. He took another bag for his clothes, except for what he planned to wear home. Larry returned to the bathroom, turned off the water, and climbed into the tub. He sighed with relief as he sunk into the cocoon of hot water. In less than a minute he was snoring, soap in hand, still Grasshoppered and sticky.



V




Timothy O'Hara, Chief of Police and bar owner had a good life. He had the things he valued most - the Top Job, his own saloon and a select group of female companions who neither wanted nor expected a commitment.

O'Hara looked the part of a police chief. He was almost six feet tall, stout without being fat, his thick white hair was parted on the side and he had the map of Ireland for a face. The Chief had a ready wit, a quick smile, an air of authority, an available story and the ever-present gift of blarney.

All of these attributes that made him a good top cop also made him a good bar owner, even though he spent very little time in his own bar. He'd drop in once a week or so just to make his presence known to the staff and to say his hellos to the regulars and spring for a few rounds; but otherwise he did his drinking in posher places befitting a man of his stature.

All day he was in a good mood. He was humming Irish ditties, joking with his staff and looking forward to his weekly tryst with his favorite sexpot, Lilly. He also needed a day or two off after a night with her. Lilly was a bundle of raw passion and he never knew what she had waiting for him. After fighting the machismo thing with her for several years he finally gave in to her, allowing her to take the lead in their lovemaking. Lilly became the Chiefs drug of choice. On Lilly days he was always in a good mood.

He passed patrolman Dineen in the squad room and said, "Hey, Dineen, have you been to O'Hara's Bar yet?"

Dineen knew what was coming. The Chief had gone through this conversation several times before, but never remembered.

"I believe I have, Chief," He said.

"Well, next time you're there look up my daughter Mary Lou. Tell her I said to spring for a cool one on me."

"Thanks, Chief. I sure will do it," Dineen said. " When she's the last woman on the planet," he wanted to say.



VI




"He's up to his old tricks, Angie," moaned Flo. "He should have been home by now."

"I don't think so, Flo. Something important must have delayed him. Larry's for real this time," Angie said.

Angie knew that Larry was breaking the news to Susie today after work and was now worried that being the weak of will that he was, he might be waiting until she fell asleep so he could sneak out, just leaving her a note. The thought of him with another woman infuriated Angie. She realized that she would have to share him with Flo, but that was acceptable because he'd have to share her with her husband, Pete. She'd already slowed down on the nooky output for Pete in preparation for Larry. She knew that he was secretly happy to get a respite, but she couldn't go too many days without, and the vibrator was only a vibrator. Besides, Pete traveled so much that he was only home one or two days a week.

Flo and Angie watched television and acted like brides waiting at the altar for the groom. Both fell asleep on the couch and Flo woke to David Letterman's monologue while Angie remained curled in a ball, sleeping.



VII




Susie drove Tommy to her apartment in his car. At every stop sign and red light they made out. He groped and she groped. Tommy was no longer feeling sorry for himself and was pretty well sober thanks to Susie's massaging of his privates and his playing with her boobs en route. They entered her apartment and went at each other as soon as the door was closed. In seconds they were naked in the foyer; then Susie led Tommy into the living room by his penis and they made love on the rug-hard and fast. Real fast. Tommy apologized for his quickness, and Susie laughed it off, telling him that he was about to begin his redemption, but first she was going to the bathroom and he should wait in the bedroom and make himself at home.

Just as Tommy got into bed he heard Susie screaming. He bolted out of bed searching for the bathroom. Tommy found her staring in her tub at the guy with the green hair. Greenhead was looking up at her with a sleepy bewildered look on his face. He yawned, Susie screamed, and Tommy wrapped a towel around his waist.

"Get out of here, you bastard," yelled Susie. "You've got a lot of nerve breaking into my apartment. Get out or I'll call the police."

Larry Dumars stood up, green-headed and dripping. Susie picked up his clothes from the floor and shoved them against Larry's chest as he was climbing sleepily out of the tub. She pushed him out of the bathroom and opened the apartment door and shoved him out, slamming the door behind him. Larry looked around and saw faces in doorways looking at him. He ran to the stairwell and dressed on the landing. It felt awful putting on those same sticky clothes, but he was thankful to have clothes and his car keys. He wished that she had thrown his shoes out with him, too.



VIII




Larry drove home, thinking that Flo would be sleeping and he would shower before getting into bed with her and everything would be Okay. Barefoot, disheveled, and green, he quietly unlocked the door and tiptoed to the stairway. He glanced over and saw Flo and Angie standing side-by-side looking like every nightmare he'd ever had.

"I'll explain when I get out of the shower," Larry said, turning to continue up the stairs.

Flo and Angie attacked Larry - pummeling him - and in Angie's case scratching and biting. They pushed him to the door and tossed him back out into the night. Larry landed hard on his back and moaned in pain as the door slammed shut.

"I can clear this up," Larry thought. He barely was able to stand and propel himself to the front door. It was locked and he couldn't find his key. He rang the bell. He rang it and rang it for a good five minutes and continued as he heard a siren in the distance. When the black and white pulled up in front of his house Larry felt relieved. He stopped ringing the bell. The two cops were out of the car at a trot and Larry ran to them to explain. The lead cop, Sgt. Wilma Gonzales, sensing danger, took him out with one swing of her baton.



IX




Tommy Birdwell wandered around Susie's apartment. "She's definitely a reader," he thought. "Look at all of these books. I have quite a few of the same ones." He glanced over the rows of books and now and then picked one up and suddenly it dawned on him. "Unbelievable. She alphabetizes her books." Tommy whispered.

He continued walking around the apartment, now looking at the pictures on the wall trying to see if there was a pattern to them. "It's too much to hope for," he said. "Just because I have my paintings, posters, and photos in alphabetical order by the artist, why should I expect anyone else to do the same?" Finally a pattern emerged and Tommy felt like he'd broken the WWII German code. The artwork was alphabetical, not by artist but by predominant color. "How ingenious," Tommy said aloud.

"What's ingenious?" Susie asked as she entered the room.

"Your pictures are hung alphabetically by dominant color. Are you aware of that or is it a coincidence?"

"C'mon," said Susie. "Coincidence?"

"Well, I have my wall hangings alphabetically by artist," Tommy said.

"That's okay," Susie said. "But all posters or pictures don't always have the artist's name. So then what do you do?"

"I don't buy," said Tommy smugly.

"Yes," Susie said, "That's one way to do it - the old way, but you cheat yourself out of art that you might like having around the house. Did you ever think of that?"

"Sure," Tommy said, "I just accept it."

"Well, with my system I can have it all," Susie said even more smugly.



X




Mary Lou's apartment was cluttered with nude and semi-nude people, most of them high on something. Mary Lou herself was having giggle fits and still dealing. Brenda, having just been dealt an ace and a deuce did two quick lines and said, "What the hell. Let's go for it." Everyone became alert - almost sober. No one there had ever seen Brenda naked before and she still was wearing most of her clothes.

"Deuce! You lose, Brenda," said Mary Lou, a little too elated. "Peel, baby, peel." Mary Lou gathered the cards up quickly and began to shuffle. Brenda thought she spotted a seven in the middle, but it was too late to say anything and she knew that everyone would get on her case if she complained.

The game came to a momentary halt as Brenda undressed and Mary Lou waited and watched along with the others. "Take it off. Take it off. Take it allll off," the group chanted. Brenda was acting self-conscious and took a while to disrobe, or maybe she was not self-conscious and just a tease. That's how Mary Lou took it. Brenda slowly peeled off her blouse and reached behind her back to unhook her bra. She shook off her bra and her boobs bounced happily a couple of times and settled back in their straight ahead and alert position that caused more than one erection and in Mary Lou's case a wetness as she squeezed her thighs together. Finally, while everyone waited to see if she was a real redhead, Brenda slowly peeled off her panties. It remained a mystery. Brenda was shaved clean.

Mary Lou was proud of herself. She kept the lights dim and the cards close to her. Most couldn't even see what was dealt - they just took her word for it. It never dawned on them that they were all getting naked at a rapid pace while she was slowly peeling off one item at a time.

Bones knew differently. He didn't do drugs but drank and could hold his liquor. He watched with amusement as Mary Lou pulled this con on her friends. Bones, the nickname came from his love of dice, not his physique, said suddenly, "Mary Lou, let me deal a few. You shouldn't have to do all of the work."

Mary Lou protested, but Bones persevered and reluctantly Mary Lou handed over the deck of cards. Two hands later it was her turn and Bones went Acey-Deucy on her and Mary Lou fearlessly said, "Go for it." Bones crawled a couple of crawls over to Mary Lou and pulled some cards from beneath her knee. "We forgot these," he said, noticing they were aces and deuces. He pretended to shuffle them into the deck. Mary Lou watched as he dealt a deuce from the bottom of the deck and all she could do was grimace at Bones. He smiled back and said, "Show em, baby."



XI




Flo and Angie watched from the doorway as Patrolman Dineen and Sgt. Gonzales began dragging Larry to the black and white. He was face down, and each cop had one of his legs and never looked back to see him bumping up and down on the rough surface and getting torn to shreds. Instead, they only looked at each other and talked about dumping this "roach" back at the station and checking out the abandoned warehouse they usually checked out around midnight when business allowed.

"I'm not wearing any underwear, Dineen," said Gonzales.

"I am," said Dineen. "But it's all leather."

"Oh God, Dineen, You know what leather does to me."

"I do and I'll probably have to restrain you with the leather straps I just happened to purchase," he said.

Dineen looked more like a movie star playing a cop than he looked like a cop. He was almost six feet, with deep wavy black hair, and it was obvious that he was cut even through his tailored uniform.

They would call in an oh-seven (dinner break), and go through the motions of opening the warehouse side door and shine their flashlights around looking for derelicts and end up on the third floor, where the president's office had an anteroom with a sofa bed, refrigerator, and other signs of the once good life.

They stopped about halfway to the car and without looking back at Larry, tugged harder at his legs.

"How much leather?"

"A lot."

"Not a face mask."

"You'll see," he said. "Let's get this scum bag to the station already."

Larry's head had plowed into a rock tip protruding from the ground. It was about a foot high and no matter how many times Gonzales and Dineen yanked they couldn't pull him through or over the rock. They hadn't even bothered to turn around and look at what the problem was.

Flo and Angie could take it no longer and ran out screaming at the two cops to let Larry go. "Police brutality!" screamed Flo.

"Police brutality!" screamed Angie, and she kept it up even when they were standing next to the two cops who dropped Larry's legs and put their hands on their batons, getting ready to take out these two crazy ladies.

While Flo kept up her screaming, Angie rolled Larry over and gasped as she saw his cuts and scrapes. Blood was pouring from his nose and mouth. He groggily awoke and put his hand to the side of his head where he had been clubbed and felt the lump and almost passed out again.

"You rotten bastards," Flo yelled. "Look what you did to my husband. I'm going to call the police."

"Lady, we are the police," said Gonzales, standing tall and fierce, all five foot two of her.

"Help! Help!" screamed Flo. The neighbor's lights began coming on and people started walking over. "Look at what these cops did to Larry. Call somebody! Police brutality!" Flo turned on the cops and they both two-handed their batons out in front of them to keep her at bay. The last thing they needed was to club this crazy lady in front of all these witnesses.

"Lady, you want us to take this guy in or not?" Gonzales asked, her green eyes looking hard.

"Take him in, yes, but I didn't want you to flay him you fucking moron."

"Hey lady, we wasn't filleting anyone. What's with you?" asked Gonzales defensively. "I don't even have a knife. That's a racist remark and I don't have to take a racist remark."

Just then two more cop cars pulled up and a well-dressed man in civilian clothes quick-walked over to the scene, flashed his tin, identified himself, and left two officers in place of Gonzales and Dineen, whom he told to go wait by his car. He asked Flo and Angie what was going on.

They explained the Larry story in more detail than the detective wanted and finally got to the police brutality part.

"Do you want to press charges?" Detective Brown asked.

"Damned right," said Flo. "Those cops think that they can get away with anything."

"Do you want to press charges against Larry Dumars, the person you called us about?"

"What's with you?" Angie asked. "Do you guys all stick together or what?"

"You called 911 to complain about your husband and we responded to that call," Detective Brown said. "That's one issue. If this man wants to press charges of police brutality against the two officers, that will be a separate matter and we will handle it separately. OK?"

Detective Brown commanded respect. He was tall, dark, and handsome and he dressed like a model. Angie thought that he was the best looking black man that she had ever seen. She thought again and realized that he might be the best-looking guy period. He also had a soothing and commanding voice.

"Would you like to come in and sit down and talk about this, Detective?" Flo asked.

"Not at this time, thank you. I would like to resolve these two issues that confront us. First of all, who belongs to this man? He asked, pointing to Larry, who was sitting with elbows on knees and head in hands. "He's my husband," said Flo. "And I think he's had enough punishment for quite a while so I won't be pressing charges."

"Thank you," said Detective Brown. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go and see what's behind door number two."

Flo and Angie laughed, and Angie took the Detective's arm and walked a few steps with him and said in her best Lauren Bacall, "Do you have a card or something just in case I have an emergency and have to call you?"

Detective Brown handed her a business card and asked with a slight smile, "Are you planning on any emergencies soon?"

Angie smiled back, "You just never know." She winked and walked back to Flo, who was doing a not so slow burn at her friend.



XII




Andy, finally having left the Ask Brenda crowd, staggered into the house after Deb had fed and bathed the kids. He helped them with their homework and tucked them in for the night. She was soaking in the tub reading when Andy popped in. "Hi there," he said with a drunk's grin.

"Working overtime, dear?" asked Deb sarcastically.

"Nooo. I was not working overtime. I stopped off with the guys for a little pop, that's all. Is that okay?"

"Sure. Your dinner is in the disposal. It's cold, but I haven't ground it up so you'd better get to it before breakfast and those egg shells," said Deb.

"My little Deb is pissed, isn't she?"

Andy got undressed in the bedroom and, returning to the bathroom, sat on the edge of the tub naked.

"What's you reading?" he asked.

"It's a book about the old days."

"How old?" he asked.

"It's about the Trojan War," Deb said. "If it wasn't for that war there would be no such things as condoms today."

"Really? Is that the truth?"

"Of course. Here, read it yourself," Deb said, trying to hand him the book.

"S'OK. I believe you. Come to bed, I have something to show you."

When Deb walked into the bedroom Andy was lying in the bed with a shot glass in his hand. "Now what did he go and steal that for?" Deb wondered.





XIII





Bones took up where Mary Lou left off. No one cared about the game - they were more interested in getting to the naked part and the booze and drugs. Realizing this, he had people putting on clothes and taking off clothes. He had Tim put on Mary Lou's bra, Rick wearing panty hose and Mary Lou sitting spread-legged on a pillow. No matter how big the hoop, if Bones said they lost, they jumped through it.



XIV




"Why are you so pissed at me, Flo?" Angie asked.

"You know damned well why."

"Because I was nice to the policeman?"

"Nice? You call that nice? I call it coming on."

"Well, don't we sound a little jealous," said Angie.

"You bet your ass," said Flo. "I hope you plan on sharing."

"When I get tired of him," Angie said, "I'll toss him over to you."

"Fat chance. Let's plan on doing him double - some time soon, okay?"

"No problem," Angie said to end the conversation. "This one was for keeping - not for sharing," she thought.



XV




Bones had everyone naked. They were sitting around somewhat nervously awaiting part two of the game. Those that were alert that is. They didn't have long to wait. Here were seven naked people sitting on the floor in somewhat of a circle in a dimly lit living room, all not wanting to go first but anxiously waiting for the unknown part two.

Mary Lou said, "Here's how we'll decide who goes first. I'll deal each person one up card and the highest card goes first. If there's a tie on the high card, the first one who got it goes first. Any questions?"

"What are the ground rules again?" someone asked.

It seemed like a stall and Mary Lou, anxious to break the ice, said, "I'm going to deal the cards now. After we start, we do Acey Deucy and if you win, you get to make a request for yourself with someone else or a request of others. If you lose, you get to pick a person and that person gets to make the same type of request."

She dealt the cards face up and Tim and Brenda both had high jacks, but Tim was first and broke the ice quickly and with just a slight quiver in his voice. "Brenda, come here and give me a kiss." There was a silent collective sigh of relief that was felt by all now that the game had begun.

"Go Brenda."

"Go Tim."

It was a quick but not passionless kiss and then Brenda scooted back to her spot and the game continued.

Bones lost and picked Tom.

Tom said, "Mary Lou, say something nice about my cock while holding it."

"Oh, you're starting off with a hard one," Brenda laughed. Then the others did also.

Mary Lou said, "OK, Tom, stand up and come over, rather, walk over here."

Tom got up and walked over and stood naked in front of Mary Lou who was kneeling. She took his cock in her hand, felt it stiffen a little and said, "Oh, how cute you are. When you grow up, you'll be called a penis,"

She let Tom go and laughed with the others as he walked back to his spot. Annie won her turn and had Bones give her a neck massage. Brenda won and told Tim to kiss anyone in the room anywhere but on the mouth, and without hesitation he put down his J and cupped Brenda's left breast in his hand and kissed all around her nipple.

Mary Lou's fantasy was about to come true. One of them at least. She got a ten-queen and Bones flipped over a jack. She owed him big time. "I want to kiss Brenda for thirty seconds and Tim can time us," she said with a quiver in her voice.

Brenda, for her part, wanted to leave. She knew that sometime this evening she was going to have to do something with Mary Lou and now here it was. She couldn't back out because everyone was clapping. Mary Lou walked over to where Brenda was sitting, put her hand out, and helped her to her feet. They kissed and at first Brenda kept her mouth tightly closed but soon gave in to Mary Lou's tongue and when the thirty seconds had elapsed, neither one was ready to call it quits until Bones yelled for Annie to bring over a dish of cold water. Knees shaking, Brenda sat while lovesick Mary Lou floated back to her spot.



XVI






"So tell me, Tommy, do you alphabetize your books and CDs or just your art?" Susie asked, lying propped up next to Tommy in her bed.

"All of it, of course. Why? Do you do your records and CDs too, or are you making fun of me?"

"I do it all. Go into the living room and check if you want to. In fact, I go a little further."

"Further than alphabetizing? What's further? That's like the ultimate," Tommy said smiling and excited at finding a kindred spirit.

"How about this," said Susie looking superior as all get out. "I not only alphabetize, but I read my books in alphabetical order, and get this Cowboy, I listen to my CDs the same way."

"No way."

"Way."

"Wow."

"OK, Tommy, tell me this. How would you file the Rolling Stones? Under R or S?"

"S of course. There's no question. You?"

"Same."

"How about the collected stories of twentieth century writers, male?"

"Under A for anthologies and in the M section?"

"Why not under the heading 'Writers' or 'Twentieth Century'?

"Because those would be wrong headings. This is the obvious and only choice."

"Right. This is too much."

"Okay, I've got a stumper for you."

"Fat chance. Go ahead."

"Louis Armstrong and Pearl Bailey singing duets."

"I need more information."

"Nope. That's all you get."

"In that case it's got to go under D for duets."

"I'll buy that."

Tommy and Susie made quite a team.

"Do you keep a journal?" Tommy asked.

"What kind?" Susie wanted to know.

"What kind do you keep?"

"Well, I keep a daily expense journal."

"Yeah."

"I also keep a daily thought journal."

"What do you do with it?"

"I transcribe it alphabetically each night of course."

"And you?"

"This is a freak out. I keep the same journals and keep them the same way. I also keep lists."

"What kind of lists?" Susie asked.

"Lists of books or records I'm looking for at garage sales. Lists of things I see or think that I want to tell someone about."

"How do you keep these lists?" Susie asked.

"Rainbow pads. How else." Tommy said.

"Oh my God," Susie gushed.

"You too?"

"Me too," she said.

"I keep some other lists too," said Tommy.

"Me too," said Susie. "What are yours?"

"Favorite movies."

"Me too."

"Favorite books. Favorite songs. And my ten most impressive men and women."

"I also keep list of people I hate and things I'd like to do to them," said Susie.

"We all do that," said Tommy. "I cross-reference the people, the injustice, and the means of punishment."

"You are good," Susie said.

"Thanks. It has just evolved over the years. It probably stems from having the time alone due to being an only child."

"But you're not an only child. You told me that you have two brothers."

"Right. But since they are so mentally inferior I've always been able to consider them nonexistent, or at best visiting relatives," Tommy explained.

"Gee, Tommy. You're a master at this. I thought that I was alone in doing these things."

"Anything else?" asked Tommy Birdwell.

"I also keep a list of secrets that people tell me," said Susie.

"Me too. That's one of my favorites."



XVII




"Detective Brown, this is Angie Passarella. We met yesterday evening when my girlfriend's husband was being dragged away by the cops, whoops, excuse me, police."

"Oh yes. How are you doing?"

"Fine, thank you."

"It's been hectic and a lot has gone on. I remember both of you, but I'm having trouble separating which is which."

"I'm the one that walked you to your car."

"Oh yes," he said.

"My girlfriend is the flat-chested one," she added.

"Now I remember. Blue eyes, tall and quite attractive as I recall."

"Blue eyes and tall for sure. Quite attractive is in the eyes of the beholder," Angie said.

"Are you calling to file a complaint or to check on the discipline of the two officers."

"Well, I'm actually calling to thank you for helping out."

"It's my job, Ma'am."

"It's Angie, and you do your job so well."

"Why thank you, Angie. But you didn't have to call and thank me."

"I couldn't think of another way to talk to you again unless I called in a fake something or other."

"You're right. This is better. So what's on your mind?"

"You are, Detective Brown."

"Call me Buster."

"Buster? Buster Brown?"

"It's my nickname and that's what everyone else calls me."

"What's your real name?"

"Antoine."

"I like Antoine better. May I call you Antoine?"

"May I call you?"

"You may, or you can come over for some late home-cooking tonight after you're off duty."

"I'm off in an hour. Where?" Detective Antoine "Buster" Brown asked.

"My place," Angie said and hung up.

A few minutes later she called back and gave him the address.



XIII




Gonzales and Dineen were questioned by Detective Brown and sent back out on patrol. He warned them about excessive force and told them to register for a sensitivity training course and to report back to him after they did.

"There goes the warehouse tonight," Dineen moaned as they were driving patrol.

"Pull into that dark spot in the alley near the bar," said Gonzales, "and I'll suck some of the pressure out of you."

Gonzales was unzipping Dineen when she happened to look over and see the side door to the bar slightly open. "Look," she said pointing to the door. "It might be a break-in. Radio that we're going in to check the bar. No need for backup."

"We're busy right now. It can wait," Dineen said.

"Dineen," Gonzales said, pointing to the stripes on her sleeve.

Dineen called in as instructed, zipped up and got out of the car and along with Gonzales grabbed his three-pound flashlight. Quietly they separated and looked around the bar, taking slow steps with their backs to the wall. There was enough neon so they didn't need to turn on their flashlights. They met on the far side of the open door and there was another door that was slightly ajar. Gonzales pointed upstairs and unhooked her holster and Dineen followed suit. Their adrenalin was pumping from the noise of the voices they heard.

"Should I call for backup?" Dineen asked.

"No," Gonzales said. "Let's try to make up for tonight's fuckup."

Cautiously they crept up the stairs, hugging to the edges so there would be less chance of creaking. As they reached the first landing they saw light coming from beneath a door the next flight up. Gonzales drew her Beretta and motioned for Dineen to do the same. They slid the flashlights back into the loops on their belts.

Dineen was soaking wet from the leather and needed to scratch himself in the worst way. As the leather got wetter, it got tighter, and Dineen thought how nice it would be to find a bathroom and take off his leather underwear before they made the bust. "Maybe," he thought, "when Gonzales has the drop on them I can sneak into the can for a few minutes."

They reached the door and stood on opposite sides listening.

"Take Mary Lou over your knee and spank her hard three times."

Gonzales and Dineen looked at each other and shrugged.

"Mary Lou, give me a foot massage with some heated oil and if it isn't good, I'll send you back to Tim for more discipline."

"We'd better get in there before they kill this Mary Lou person," whispered Gonzales. And then as a team that had done this before, she pointed high on the door and to him and then to herself and pointed low.



XIX




Detective Antoine "Buster" Brown showed up at Angie's a few minutes late with a bottle of red and wearing a black and white herringbone sport coat, a black mock turtle-neck, gray slacks, black socks, and tasseled black loafers. It had taken him all of three minutes to decide what to wear. Angie, on the other hand had tried on everything she owned and finally settled on a white satin blouse opened down four buttons with a turned up collar and a black mini with a red sash belt and red fuck me heels. Her make-up was impeccable.

When she opened the door Angie froze and looked at the smile of Detective Antoine Brown. He looked into her hazel eyes and finally took out his badge and said, "Police, let me in." Angie blushed, took the bottle and, backing into the room couldn't keep her eyes off of this hunk. Antoine, not remembering what the woman looked like that he had made the date with, was relieved and turned on as he checked her up and down and settled on her blouse or what passed for her blouse.

"I'm making salmon steaks," Angie said with a quivering voice, knees knocking. "How do...do, how do you like yours?"

Detective Brown said, "Cold and later." He scooped Angie up in his arms.

"Bedroom?" He asked.

She pointed.

Antoine Brown held Angie at arm's length and said, "You are very beautiful." He walked behind her, lifted the hair from her neck and kissed her softly many times. He reached around and pulled her blouse from her skirt and unbuttoned the last three buttons before pulling her blouse off. Turning her around, he smiled as he looked from her eyes to her freckled chest. Brown sat on the bed and untied Angie's sash, threw it on the chair with her blouse and then unzipped the mini skirt and let it fall to the floor. He began to take her shoes off, thought better of it and stopped. Angie stood naked and nervous as he stood up and walked around her, inspecting all angles. He turned to the bed, pulled away the blanket and top sheet and led Angie to lie down.

Antoine then removed off his herringbone sport coat and draped it over the chair back. He pulled his mock turtleneck over his head and folded it before placing it on the seat. Next came the loafers that he lined up under the chair with a sock inside each. He stood bare-chested, wearing only his slacks and holster. He placed the gun and holster on the chair and slid off his slacks and laid them over his sport coat. He was left only in his briefs with a good size bulge. All of this was done wordlessly. Angie's hand had moved down to between her legs by the time Detective Brown had taken off his briefs, folded them in half and put them on the chair. Angie watched him and thought, "I wonder if I'm in good girl heaven or bad girl hell."

The thought ended there as Detective Antoine "Buster Brown," brown, muscular, and erect, ravaged her on the spot.

XX






Susie and Tommy Birdwell talked into the wee hours. The more they spoke, the more enamored of each other they became.

"You know, Tommy," Susie said. "All my life people have laughed at me and teased me. You are the first person I've ever met who truly understands me. Even my family never hesitates to mock me."

"I understand what you mean, Susie," Tommy nodded. "I've been through it all myself. But I've learned to basically keep my habits to myself and not discuss them. I've opened up with you because I felt right along that trust was not going to be an issue between us."

"I'm tired, Tommy. Come to bed. I want to sleep cuddled next to you."

Tommy, enthralled by Susie, imagined himself in a movie theater looking up at the screen watching the two of them play out this love story. He saw the close-up, love-struck look in Susie's eyes and the confident but tender Tommy Birdwell giving of himself and bringing happiness to this beautiful and betrayed girl. He saw himself as her savior and saw her as the unreachable brain and beauty that accepted him for himself and would give of herself completely. Tommy followed Susie to bed and they were both asleep within minutes of cuddling after pulling up the covers.



XXI




Just before Gonzales started the silent count of three she quietly grasped the doorknob and turned it. The door opened slightly and she nodded to Dineen, who hit the door high, gun in hand, knocking Gonzales and himself over in the process. She quickly got up, picked up her gun, and made a mental note to make Dineen pay for this indignity. Finally, with her gun drawn she yelled, "Freeze!"

Dineen, still on all fours searching for his weapon said, "Yeah, freeze!"

Eight stoned, naked people, in various stages of sex as pairs or groups looked up. Brenda and Mary Lou were on the couch engulfed as one, Annie was satisfying Rick and Tim, and Bones had Janie bent over a chair, joint dangling from his lips.

Dineen and Gonzales shrugged at each other and holstered their guns.

"We saw the bar door open and thought there was a break-in," said Sgt. Gonzales.

The nakeds either continued with what they were doing or just stared at the two cops.

Finally Bones took the joint from his mouth and held it out to Gonzales and Dineen. Gonzales took a hit and turned to pass it to Dineen, but he was bent over a mirror doing a line. Tony Bennett was crooning from the stereo, and Brenda lifted her head from between Mary Lou's legs and said, "Close the door." Then she went back to her business.

Dineen and Gonzales undressed each other as they kissed. Gonzales remembered that she had worn no underwear. Dineen, felt right at home in his leather. He proceeded to grab a couple of beers, share a line with Gonzales and find a spot in the corner, where he bound her wrists in leather and tied them to a chair leg. He was pushing out of his leather underwear while Gonzales was spitting out a rapid fire Spanish and appeared to be struggling to break free. She had her legs crossed and was tugging at the leather ties that tightened the more she fought. Dineen pushed his knee between her legs, separating them, and forced himself on her with Gonzales doing her best to kick and bite him every chance she got. She stopped only as he entered her. She continued thrusting but in a more wild, unabandoned, and helpful way. Most watched without stopping what they were doing. Everyone except Mary Lou and Brenda. The police walkie-talkie went off and scared the guys soft. Dineen managed to squelch the call with one well placed smashing of his fist.

Bones wanted to borrow the leather ties when Dineen finished and Dineen showed him his leather mask. It had eyeholes, two small breathing holes for the nose and a silver dollar sized opening for a tongue. Rick got both the mask and Gonzales. Dineen ended up with Janie, and Bones tied up Annie while Tim unsuccessfully tried to join Brenda and Mary Lou.

Gonzales suddenly thought clearly for a brief moment and radioed in a twenty-three (off duty) and went quickly back to Rick. Tim joined Bones and Annie and everyone made new friends.



XXII




Pete Passarella was supposed to be in Boise at his monthly sales call. The truth is that Pete Passarella had never been in Boise or Elk Creek, Fargo. Des Moines, or most of the other places he told Angie that were part of his sales territory. Pete Passarella, in fact, worked out of his home office forty miles away and did his selling over the phone. Less selling than taking orders from the catalog of uniform shoes that his company specialized in. The company was tops in their field in nurses, police, fireman, steel toe, prisoner and guard plus a half-dozen more styles of shoes. The shoes were so good and the company so reliable that they pulled the sales staff off the road six years ago, restructured their pay, and except for an occasional company outing Pete had never left the state since then on business. If there were a problem with an account one of the VPs would hop a plane.

Pete never bothered to tell Angie because he had been seeing Arlene Weiss, a company secretary, and had moved in with her when the new edict came down from the Home Office.

It was the usual story. Arlene knew what she was getting into by dating a married man and wanted no commitments herself, she said. As the years went by it was smooth and fun until Arlene hit the big three-oh and then she changed. According to Pete she changed. She wanted them to marry and start a family. He was with her four or five days a week anyway - so what was the big deal?

"You live here now almost full time," Arlene said. "What's the big deal about telling Angie? You're never there and if what you say is true, you guys haven't had sex in three years. The only thing she'll miss is washing your clothes."

Pete kept stalling her and one day when Pete was back with Angie, Arlene finally succumbed to the attentions of Mr. Pheem, or PH as everyone called him. He was the widowed vice-president of the company and her immediate boss. Herbert Pheem was a gentleman and a gentle man. He knew nothing of Arlene and Pete and never made an advance, proper or improper towards her. But occasionally he would offer to take her out to lunch, or dinner if they worked.

Unfortunately, Arlene was hung up on Pete and always had a ready excuse for Mr. Pheem. That is, until that one night, a Friday, when he got back to the office about six-thirty and she was still working and he said, "Miss Weiss, enough. We're going for dinner. You've put in too many hours already." Then, always the gentleman, he added, "Do you already have dinner plans?"

"No, I don't," she said resolutely. "And I'd love to go with you. I should go home and change first, though."

"Nonsense," PH said, "you look fine as you are. Call up, never mind, I'll make the reservations. You just be ready in fifteen minutes."

That's how it started. Not only was Pete living a double life, but also now so was Arlene. Later, she would find out that there was no grass growing under PH's feet, either. He had been seeing the town librarian for several years. She was a woman in her late forties and closer to his age than Arlene.

The showdown came about eight months into this revolving door when PH asked Arlene to become Mrs. PH. "Marry me, Arlene," he said. "I love you and I'll take good care of you. We can fly out to Reno tonight. Right now. Don't bring anything. I'll buy you whatever you need."

"PH, I don't know what to say," she said, looking at diamond ring he'd just handed her. "It's a big step for me, it's so sudden. I want to say yes, but let me sleep on it and tell you tomorrow." She kissed him and he melted and had no doubts what her answer would be.

"I've waited this long, Arlene," he said. "Another day won't kill me."



XXIII




"Well, Pete. Have you told Angie yet?" Arlene demanded.

"Not exactly," he said.

"How not exactly?" Arlene asked.

"Well, I've refused to go to her family picnic," he said.

"That's it?"

"Hey, that's a lot." Pete said. "What's gotten into you lately?"

"Pete, there's the phone and there's the closet," Arlene pointed as a game show hostess would. "Either call Angie and tell her right now or pack your stuff and get out of my house and life."

"Wait a minute, honey. Don't you think you're rushing things a bit?

"You have two minutes, honey. How's that for rushing things, honey? Phone, honey. Closet, honey. Phone, honey. Closet, honey," she chanted.

Pete sat next to the phone with his hand on the receiver and looked towards the closet.

"Fifteen seconds," Arlene announced.

Pete picked up the phone, and Arlene felt a shiver of mixed emotions. He then threw it across the room, got up and silently walked into the bedroom and packed his clothes and other personal items. All the while Arlene fumed just thinking about the years she wasted with this loser. In five minutes Pete was standing at the door with two suitcases and a shopping bag. He looked at Arlene and said, "If I walk through this door, don't you ever expect me to come back."

Arlene barely lifted her hand from the arm of the chair and waved her fingers bye-bye, saying nothing. She was already thinking, "Hi. I'm Arlene Pheem."

Pete left, and on the ride home he thought about how he'd pick up with Angie where they had left off a few years ago before he took up with Arlene. She had stuck with him through these bad times and now he would make it up to her. He pulled over to an all night supermarket and got a dozen long-stemmed boxed roses and thought about the surprised look she'd have on her face when he showed up tonight. Little by little, he'd smuggle his personal belongings in and throw out anything that had to do with Arlene. Thank God he had found out how crazy she was before he went and made a real big mistake. "Things have a way of working out for the best," he thought.



XXIV




"Herbert, what a pleasant surprise," said a flustered Lillian Kay, looking at him through the screen door.

"Aren't you going to ask me in?"

"Where are my manners? Certainly, Herbert. Come right in."

"Thank you, Lillian," Herbert Pheem said; "I have to speak with you if you have a few minutes."

"Of course, Herbert," Lillian said, pecking him on the cheek. "It's so unlike you to come over without calling. In fact, I think that this is the first time ever."

"Lillian, I'm sorry," Herbert said. "I know it was thoughtless, but I have to talk to you now. May I stay for a few minutes?" He watched as she walked away and never absorbed that she was in her bathrobe, her hair spilling over her shoulders

"Certainly, Herbert. Make yourself at home and I'll be right back. I want to turn the TV off in the bedroom."

When Lillian returned her hair was back in a bun. She and Herbert sat on the love seat that they had spent many hours on over the years. Lillian had hoped to bring it with her when Herbert finally got up the courage to pop the question. "It must be tonight," she thought with excitement. "Why else would he drop in unannounced?"

"Lillian," Herbert said, taking her hands in his. "I . . .

"Would you like a glass of fresh lemonade, Herbert? I just made it," Lillian said, trying to prolong the moment. "Be still, my heart," she thought, and giggled to herself at her own schoolgirl wit.

"Lillian, this isn't easy for me. We've been good friends and more for a few years now . . ."

"Three years and eight months, but who's counting," smiled Lillian.

"As I was saying, we've been good friends and more for a few years now, and what I'm about to tell you may come as a bit of a surprise."

"Oh, Herbert, you are so predictable. There are no surprises with you."

"Nonetheless," he continued, "I've been seeing another woman for the past eight months and have fallen in love with her. We are to be married. I care for you deeply and never expected this to happen but I wanted you to hear this from me and I hope that you'll understand."

Lillian pulled her hands away and stood up. She turned away so Herbert wouldn't see the tears streaming down her face. She walked around the room as Herbert told her about Arlene and how their romance came about and how he knew that she would be happy for him because if the situation were reversed he would be happy for her.

Lillian came to rest standing in front of the fireplace, behind the love seat, her arms on the mantle, her head buried in her arms. "I gave him everything," she thought. "He was screwing both of us at the same time."

Lillian suddenly got angry and turned to confront Herbert, who still had his back to her, and was rambling on. She picked up the fireplace poker and screamed, "You cuckolding son of a bitch!" And just as he turned around she parted his skull with one very hard blow of the poker. She added a half-dozen more until her energy sapped and Herbert lay slumped on their love seat - bleeding and dead.



XXV




Pete Passarella pulled into his driveway and slowly got out of his car. He didn't notice the car parked by the curb. Quietly he let himself into the house, carrying the box of roses, and tiptoed up the stairs to his bedroom. He first heard the sounds on the way up the stairs and then he recognized them as voices when he reached the second floor. "Angie always played the TV too loud," he thought. "At least she won't hear me and I can surprise her good."

As Pete approached the bedroom door he thought he distinctly heard the sounds of lovemaking, but with his ego fully intact he thought, "In a minute she'll be able to turn off the cable channel or video and I'll give her a taste of the real thing."

"Surprise!" Pete yelled as he literally jumped into the bedroom. He landed only a few feet from the bed, looked down, and saw a black man looking up at him from between two white legs. Pete was in a definite state of confusion. He didn't see Angie and for a second it flashed through his mind that he might actually be in the wrong house. Then Angie's head popped up, looking at him over the black man's ass.

"What's going on here?" Pete demanded.

"Figure it out," Angie said. "It's called sex. It's in all the books." Pete looked around the room and spotted the gun on the chair, but before he was able to take a half step towards it, Buster was off the bed and in one lightning movement he pushed Pete aside and picked up the weapon.

Angie pulled the covers up to her neck, Detective Brown put on his pants and Pete glared at both.

"This is the thanks I get for working my butt off and traveling around the country to give you a good life? You're nothing but a whore. I should have seen it coming. I was just too tired from my trips when I got home. How long has this been going on?"

"I think that I'll wait downstairs," said Detective Brown.

"That's OK," said Angie, "You can go and I'll call you in the morning."

"Well," Detective Brown said, "I'd rather wait around to make sure everything is OK."

"You heard her," snarled Pete. "Get out of here."

Detective Brown snapped around to glare at Pete, and Pete rapidly retreated a couple of steps.

Once the Detective had left, Pete started in on Angie again on how could she and how hard he worked and just today he told his boss that he wasn't going to travel anymore so he could be home with his wife and now he came home to this, and what the hell.

"Too little. Too late," said Angie.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"It's too late for us. There is no us. I want you to leave this house and not come back."

"Angie, wait. Let's give it a chance. Let's give us one more chance. I love you. Why do you think I went through this scene with my boss today about traveling? Why do you think I'm home today? I'm the new Pete. You'll see." As he was talking Pete was thinking about Arlene. He had to get to a phone and call her. "I can't live without you," he would say. "I made a colossal mistake and I'm on my way back and I promise to file divorce papers in the morning and you can even pick the lawyer and go with me."

"Pete! Pete! You're not even paying any attention to me."

Pete looked at Angie. He gathered up the roses from the floor and tossed them back in the box and said, "Enjoy the dark meat, baby. I'm history." He then grabbed a suitcase, filled it, reached for an armload of suits and shirts from the closet and walked out to his car. He made two more trips, passing Detective Brown sitting in the living room in his once favorite chair, before he headed back to Arlene. At the first gas station he pulled in, gassed up, and got change for the pay phone.

"Hello," Arlene said lovingly.

"Hi honey. It's Pete."

"What do you want?" she said, no longer lovingly.

"Listen. I realized that you are the only woman in the world for me and I drove home and told Angie that I'm getting a divorce and that I'm in love with another woman. I took my clothes and I'm heading back. Tomorrow we'll go to the lawyers and fill out the divorce papers. You can even pick the lawyer and come with me. I almost made a terrible mistake."

"Fuck you, Pete," said Arlene and hung up. She didn't answer any calls the rest of the night, fearing that they were from Pete.



XXVI




Chief O'Hara heard the screaming. With gun in hand, and pulling up his pants and suspenders, he came running down the stairs. He stopped at the living room entrance and saw his Lilly holding a bloody fireplace poker. She was standing over a well-dressed man lying slumped and bleeding on the love seat.



XXVII






Tommy Birdwell awoke before Susie. He lay next to her happy and erect. She lay on her side, back toward him, and in just minutes his entering her awakened her and she smiled. " I think I'll keep some kind of log," she thought. " I'll cross reference dates and positions."

As Tommy was slowly moving in and out of Susie, he decided that he should keep some kind of record of these happiest days of his life. " I'll record a.m. or p.m. and who initiated the love-making," he decided.

Later at breakfast Tommy and Susie were still learning about each other. It seemed as if they were twins separated at birth. Tommy, upon leaving, said, "Let's have dinner tonight. I'll make reservations."

"That's wonderful," Susie said. "I'm doing B's so Branford or Bridgeport, or Berlin - no matter. You pick. I'm sure you're on the same wave length."

"What a cut-up," Tommy laughed.

"What do you mean?" asked Susie.

"You can't do restaurants like that," said Tommy.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you're doing it wrong," he said. "I thought you were smarter."

"Wrong. What's wrong?" Susie asked, fuming at his remark.

"By city is wrong. Anyone who's in the business knows that. You can do it alphabetically by nationality, by type of food, or by name. But to do it by city is wrong - you must see that. You're putting me on. Aren't you? C'mon, you kidder you. It was just another one of your little tests. Right? You just wanted to see if I would fall for a dumb concept."

"Dumb concept, huh? If you are serious, Tommy, you are out of the loop. It's been city for the past three years and anything else is passé. You know everything else - you must know this," Susie said. "And I don't appreciate personal attacks."

Tommy and Susie looked at each other, each not quite sure what was happening. Susie thought, "How can he even joke at a time like this?"

Tommy was thinking, "How could I have been so wrong about a person?"

Finally Tommy broke the ice. "Susie," he said. "We've got too much going for us to blow it over restaurants. Let's sit down and try to resolve this."

"Resolve what?" Susie asked.

"Resolve our differences on the restaurant approach," he said.

"Tommy, listen to me. I've been around. I deal with this on a regular basis and have friends in the field. This is the only way to do restaurants. Your way is outmoded. I used to do it myself that way - once perfectly OK - but it's a new era and you got to go along or get along."

Tommy was hurt, but he couldn't back down. Not when he knew he was right. "Why don't we just kind of ignore restaurants for now and go on with everything else? Later on, as we get to spend more time together it will just kind of happen. I feel it. I can feel things."

"You can?"

"Yes. I can. I feel that even though you realize that you are wrong you are sticking to principle."

"Really?"

"Yes. Really."

"Do you have a feel for a lot of things?" she asked.

"Yes," Tommy said. "More than most. It's another one of my talents."

"Good. Feel the door hit you in the butt on the way out," said Susie.



XXIII




Tommy Birdwell sat in his usual spot just next to the waitress station. Down at the end of the bar, Brenda was holding court with her Ask Brenda regulars. They were their usual laughing and noisy selves.

Mary Lou walked up to her station, placed her tray on the bar, and pretended that Tommy wasn't there. Brenda saw Mary Lou out of the corner of her eye and was at the waitress station in a wink. Mary Lou gave her order and Brenda filled it while trying to make small talk with her. Mary Lou looked impassive and walked away to wait on two women who were ready for refills.

After that she served three hard hats that had just come in and parried their come-ons like the pro she was. She paused in front of Mary Lou at her station and Mary Lou picked up her tray and walked away. Brenda, trying to smile, went back to her group.

"You know, Mary Lou," Tommy said on her return. "There are no new sexual positions left. All of the good ones have been thought of."

Mary Lou, without turning towards him said, "Tommy, how in the world would you - of all people - know?"

"I just know," Tommy said, not wanting to sound too studly and not realizing that once again Mary Lou was putting him down. She left her station to take care of a large group that had just come in and was pulling two tables together.

While Mary Lou was taking their order, the door opened and a man walked in and stopped. He then slow-walked towards Brenda's group. As he passed by Tommy, Tommy noticed a pained look on his face and saw that he was clenching something in his hand, something that Tommy couldn't see. He watched him stop at the Ask Brenda group and then Tommy turned back to his own world.

Tommy thought, "Poor Mary Lou. She probably has almost no sexual experience and can't comprehend what I said to her."

Mary Lou returned and waited for Brenda, who was busy laughing and holding up a shot glass in front of the group. Mary Lou and Tommy heard her say, "Well, Andy, how was it? C'mon. Tell us. We're all friends here." She handed Andy a beer, and Tommy asked Mary Lou, "Do you think that it's possible at this very minute someone, somewhere in this whole world, is discovering a new position?"

Brenda walked towards Mary Lou. Mary Lou faced Tommy and said, "If you promise to stop this kind of talk for the rest of the night I'll take you up to my room after closing and show you new. Okay?"

"Okay." said Tommy, who then wondered if there were any virtuous women left in the world.



XXIX




Larry Dumars was one perplexed individual. Flo had helped him to clean up and then tossed him out. Unsure of where to go for the night, much less the future, he checked into a motel not far from work and negotiated a good rate for the week. After unpacking he left for dinner but en route stopped at a topless club called The Ore House. He drank his dinner while topless women of all shapes, sizes and colors danced, waited tables, checked coats, shined shoes, and made the rounds. They wore only G strings and smiles.

Drink in hand, Larry walked over to the pinball machines and watched the players for a while. He stood behind one of the hostesses and watched her body English as she played The Phantom of the Opera machine. Three businessmen cheered her on. She was good; bells ringing, lights flashing, and drinks appearing in a continuous flow. Larry was about to leave and get change to play a newly abandoned machine when he noticed a birthmark on her ass, the right cheek, to be exact. It looked like a cartoon mouse - two small circles perched like ears above a larger circle.

"Minnie!" Larry yelled before he knew he was doing it. At that exact moment, she got the specials lit and was about to go after some major score. Instead, she turned around and saw the smiling Larry Dumars. The ball dropped, the game was over, and she grabbed his hand and dragged him away from the others.



XXX




Lilly returned to the love seat, poker frozen in hand, and sat dazed and unmoving. Chief O'Hara went through Mr. Pheem's pockets and found a note with Arlene's address and phone number. He tried to talk to Lilly but she wouldn't or couldn't answer. He phoned the station and ordered homicide to send over a team and asked them to call the meat wagon and coroner.

After the call, O'Hara finally managed to break Lilly's grip on the poker then he cuffed her. He then continued through Pheem's possessions and took notes on Pheem's address and snagged one of his business cards.

He filled the detectives in when they arrived, telling them almost everything, and left to do some investigating. He was too unnerved to sit and wait for their report. He told them he'd check out Pheem's house and this Arlene Weiss person.



XXXI




Larry and "Mouse Ass," aka Darlene, talked for fifteen minutes and then her shift was over. "Come to the house," Darlene said. "We can talk more and maybe you can meet the twins."

Larry and Darlene had been high school sweethearts until "Mr. Football Hero" came between them and swept Darlene off her feet. "What a loser he turned out to be, Larry. We've been separated for over a year this time and the divorce should be final in a couple of weeks. Do you think that you could ever forgive me?"

Larry, to his surprise, was still smitten with Darlene after all these years. "Of course I forgive you," he said in response to her question. "We were kids and that was a long time ago - but seeing that mouse brings it all back."

Larry was thinking about how good Darlene looked and how he wanted her. They went back to his room and made love and talked. She invited him for dinner at her double wide the next night, and Larry was sure that love had struck and somehow he had landed on his feet.

The next morning Larry, whistling a happy tune, entered his office building and was the only one without a somber face. He soon learned of Mr. Pheem's murder. No work was done all day. People were too busy gossiping and taking up flower collections. Larry and Arlene didn't speak. They didn't even look at each other.

Darlene called him a half-dozen times at work and each call warmed him more than the last. Before he went to her place for dinner he stopped at the motel for a shower and change of clothes. Just in case, he also packed a bag for the next day.

Larry got along fabulously with the twins, Missy and Sissy. They were excited to hear his tales of their mother when she was their age and finally when they were ready to go out for the night they got Larry alone and told him to give their mother another chance. "Move in with us," Sissy or Missy said. "We'd love to have you around, and we already know that Mom's been in a new world these past two days."

"The girls want you to move in, Larry," said Darlene. "So do I."

"Do you think it's too soon?" Larry asked. "And what about your husband?"

"First of all, it's not too soon. It was almost too late," Darlene told him. "As for my husband, none of us have seen or heard from him in over six months, and we'll be divorced real soon. Not to worry."

"OK," Larry said. "I'll check out of the motel tomorrow. I've brought a change of clothes and my shaving gear with me for tonight."

"I love you, Larry Dumars."

"Back at you, Darlene."



XXXII




Chief O'Hara called the office after spending the night checking out Herbert Pheem's apartment. His bewilderment turned to anger as he found more and more Lilly/Herbert mementos around the house. Lilly had been leading a double life on him for years. He realized that he had no hold on her and that neither had made a commitment to the other, but the Chief was a firm believer in the double standard.

His lead detective gave him an early morning call and arranged to meet him. He handed Lilly's diary over to the Chief. The only thing the detective said was, "No one saw me find this." Then the detective, staying on his career path, walked back to his car.

The Chief read the diary from cover to cover that night and fell asleep on Pheem's couch.



XXXIII




Larry avoided Arlene as much as possible throughout the workday. He knew that she'd been trying to catch his eye but he just ignored her.

She had been thinking about her being alone and now with Herbert Pheem gone her prospects were nil. She shouldn't have told Larry to fuck off, but she thought that she had Pheem in the bag and, after all - hadn't she given Larry all the chances in the world to leave his wife? "I'm sure now that he'll come back to me," she thought. "After all, what's he going to do now that he's told his wife about us? That is if he has really told her." Arlene wanted to believe that he told her, so she did.

Finally, she cornered him. It happened to be in the men's room stall.

"Larry," she said. "I was hurt and angry when you called the other night. I do love you and want you to come back. It must have been so hurtful for you after telling your wife that it was over to hear me turn you down. I'm sorry. Let's give it a try."

Larry had been looking up at Arlene and finally stood up, pulled his pants from around his ankles and pushed past her out of the stall. They were still alone.

"Arlene," he said. "Tonight I'm moving in with my old high school sweetheart who I just happened to run into yesterday. I'm sorry that our timing has been all screwed up, but after a bit maybe we can see each other every week or so and get back to our old routine. Everything was fine that way. Wasn't it?"

Arlene left Larry writhing in pain on the floor, holding his groin from her well-placed upper cut. For fifteen minutes he lay in a fetal position moaning as people walked in and out of the men's room. No one said a word or offered to help him.



XXXIV




Larry loaded his car and went to speak to the motel owner about a refund for his unused nights. "No way," she said. "A deal's a deal."

"It's the bed bugs," he said.

"What bed bugs?" the owner asked.

"The bed bugs that I'm going to report to the health department," he said, keeping a discreet distance, out of foot and uppercut range.

Larry left, fully satisfied with half his money refunded.

The motel owner knew she was being scammed, but there were other reasons why she didn't need the authorities snooping around.



XXXV




Arlene, red-eyed from crying and light-headed from drinking, answered the door. She smiled at the sight of this large man with a friendly face and a mane of white hair.

"Chief O'Hara, Mrs. Weiss. May I come in?" he asked, showing his badge.

"Yes," she said, "and it's Miss Weiss."

They sat on Arlene's love seat and over drinks Chief O'Hara told Arlene about Lilly, and Arlene told him about Herbert Pheem. The Chief didn't miss noting Arlene's hourglass figure and full lips. It wasn't long before the Chief was telling her his old jokes and stories in his charming Irish brogue. Arlene momentarily forgot her depression and loosened up and laughed along with him.

She left for more ice and on her return, passing by him, she tousled his hair. He held her hand as they talked, and they talked for hours.



XXXVI




Larry whistled as he drove to Darlene's, got out and with suitcase in hand knocked on the tinny screen door of the double wide. The door opened and a large angry man filled the doorframe. "What do you want?" he demanded.

"Darlene. I want to see Darlene," said Larry after clearing his throat several times. He wisely left his suitcase on the stoop and tried squeezing by the big guy into the living room. He didn't make it.

"Larry, I don't know if you remember my husband Tony from high school," A downcast Darlene said, as she moved closer to the doorway.

"Tony, this is Larry from high school?"

"Oh. A class reunion," Tony said belligerently. "How cute."

"Larry, Tony and I have been separated, but we've decided to get back together again. We are not going to get divorced. It was good seeing you again and reminiscing, but if you don't mind, we'd like our privacy now." Darlene turned away.





XXXVII




Larry Dumars knew that he had only one choice left in the world. He couldn't go back to the motel, that was for sure. Arlene. Arlene wanted him back and he turned her down, but he was sure that he could talk his way back into her heart and home.

He stopped for candy and flowers and a bottle of Arlene's favorite wine. He knew that he was going to need more than his charm for this one. Contrite. "I'll try contrite," he thought.

Rehearsing on the drive over, Larry said, "Arlene, that punch in the balls woke me up. I love you and realize now that I always have. Please take me back and let's get married. But, please, don't wake me up the same way any more." He was proud of himself. Deep sincerity, generosity, and just a touch of the old humor. The nightmare life he had been leading was taking its toll on him and he looked forward to settling down with Arlene. "For how long?" he asked aloud. "Forever," he answered, and winked at himself in the rear view mirror.

Larry pulled up in front of Arlene's, stopped the car and checked himself over. He ran over his text once again, and then with as much spring in his step as he could muster, he walked up the path to her door, carrying the wine, flowers, and candy.

There was a light on in her bedroom, so before he rang the doorbell, Larry tiptoed over and pushed himself past the hedgerow and peeked in. His heart fell to his swollen nuts. Arlene was lying on her bed, legs apart, and a big man with lots of white hair was face down in her crotch. She had that dreamy sexy look he remembered, and with the window open a few inches he could hear her moaning with pleasure. While he was stifling a scream and trying to figure out how to get out of there, Arlene grabbed the man's head with both hands, pulling him deeper into her, and she opened her eyes.

"Aahhh!" Arlene screamed, seeing a face in the window.

"Saints be praised," said the Chief, proud as could be - lifting his head and rubbing his jaw.

Arlene screamed again, and this time the Chief saw someone at the window and got out of bed, grabbing his pants and gun. Larry raced for his car as the Chief fumbled with his pants.



XXXVIII




Mary Lou turned to Tommy Birdwell and said, "Tommy, I know that I promised you a night of ecstasy if you didn't bug me and you lived up to your word, but I have a headache tonight, so I'll have to give you a rain check?"

"Headache? That's the best she can do? Headache? There are no more original excuses left in this world. I knew it," Tommy Birdwell thought. "OK, Mary Lou," said Tommy. "Nine out of ten women who make bar promises don't keep them anyway. So I never really expected you to keep yours."

"Is that so?" Mary Lou said indignantly. "Well, for your information, Mr., I know all the facts, it is only seventy percent, and I happen to be in the other thirty, and whatsmore, I resent the implication that I lied and led you on."

"Well, little look who's on her high horse now," Larry replied. "If the truth hurts, wear it." He got off his bar stool to leave.

"Not so fast, Mr. make up his own sayings; it's your attitude, not mine, that is the problem."

"Well, little Miss shoot from the lip, it's your bar and your rules, but it's my feet taking me out of here."

"Listen, Mr. turn tail and run . . ." Mary Lou began.

"Yes," said the ever-hopeful Tommy, stopping and turning to face Mary Lou.

"Get lost," she said.



XXXIX




Tommy Birdwell marched out of the bar, head down and muttering, and headed for his car. A car swerved into the parking lot and recklessly pulled into the space next to him and left very little room for Tommy to open the driver's door. Tommy rapped on the window of the car, pointed to his car, and motioned for the guy to move his car over. The man in the car had a dour expression and ignored Tommy. He got out of his car and headed towards the bar without so much as a glance.

"Hey, fella," Tommy yelled, thinking that the guy looked familiar. "You've got me blocked in. How about moving over a little?"

The guy flipped Tommy off and entered the bar.

Tommy, not in the best of moods, decided not to follow him into O'Hara's for a fight. He got into his car from the passenger side and slid over and started it up. Next, Tommy took a screwdriver out of his glove compartment and rolled down his window. He backed out very slowly, keying the nasty guy's car as he went.



XXXX




"Give me a double vodka martini, dry, with a twist," he said.

"Sure you don't want a Grasshopper?" asked Brenda.

Larry didn't find her humor funny, but since he planned to drink away the evening, he chose not to say anything nasty. "Naw. They're bad for my complexion," he said.

Brenda left to wait on Mary Lou at the waitress station. "Take a look over at the end of the bar," she said.

"Who is it?" asked Mary Lou.

"Grasshopper man," Brenda laughed.

"I feel sorry for him," said Mary Lou. "No one should be humiliated like that."

"I think he was a real weasel with that lady," said Brenda.

"Well, there's more than one side to every story," said Mary Lou.

"Speaking of sides," Brenda said. "I'd like to check yours out again tonight. How about it?"

"I don't want to talk about it. That was a one night stand and it's over."

"Yeah, but you've been coming on to me for months. What happened?" asked Brenda.

"Let's just say that I should have stuck with my fantasies," said Mary Lou. "I'm not trying to be hurtful, but I'm a man's woman, not a woman's woman."

"Maybe so," said Brenda. "But you've got real potential."

"Back off." Mary Lou said. She turned and walked towards Larry.

"So tell me," she asked. "How long did it take to get the green off?"

"Oh? Is it off?" Larry asked sarcastically.

"You sure did piss that lady off," said Mary Lou. "Do you do that often?"

"What's going on here? Do you get off on other people's troubles? I just want to sit and get blotto if you don't mind."

"I don't mind, and I also don't get off on other people's troubles. I was just trying to make conversation."

"I'm sorry," Larry said thinking that this might be his only shot at a warm bed for the night. "I've had a few real bad days and I've developed the ability to turn lemonade into lemons."

"Are you a bad guy?" asked Mary Lou innocently.

"No, not really. I've just been using poor judgment every chance I get."

"You looked kind of cute in green," Mary Lou told him. "I definitely think it's your color."

"It used to be, but I'm afraid of it now," Larry laughed.

Larry and Mary Lou chatted up the night, and Larry decided to nurse his drinks and not get blotto. At the end of the night he went up to Mary Lou's apartment with her and acted the sensitive lover and person. He really didn't want to get tossed out on his ass one more time.

"We click," said Mary Lou. "I feel good with you."

"Mary Lou," said Larry. "I haven't felt this way in a very long time. What do you propose we do about it?"

"Where do you live?" she asked.

"I'm between addresses right now," he said.

"Not any more," Mary Lou said and rolled over on top of him.



XXXXI




When the call came into the station everyone recognized the address as the Chief's saloon. He was notified by beeper, and Dineen and Gonzales were sent out on the call. Since it was the Chief, Detective Brown left his desk and drove over to the bar also.

"What's the problem here?" asked Gonzales.

"Someone keyed my car," said Larry, almost in tears.

Meanwhile, Dineen and Mary Lou were discussing the possibilities of who could have done it. "I've seen her somewhere before," thought Dineen.

He asked her if she could list any of the people she remembered from the bar the previous night. They went inside and sat down while she listed names. She poured him a coffee, and soon the discussion was past the business question stage and into the personal realm.

"How do you feel about leather?" Dineen asked.

"Leather," Mary Lou said. "I knew it. I especially love leather underwear on a man," she told him.

Chief O'Hara walked into the bar and said, "I see you've met my daughter already, Dineen."

"This is your daughter, sir?" he asked.

"This is the young lady that I've been trying to get you to meet."

Mary Lou looked at Dineen and smiled.

Dineen smiled back and they sat at the bar talking.

Detective Brown pulled up in his unmarked and walked over to the congregated. When Larry Dumars saw him, he flashed back to a face peering up at him from atop his wife. Detective Brown barely paid attention to the man. Brown was wearing a sport coat, tie and razor-sharp pleated slacks. Before anyone knew what happened, Larry sucker-punched Detective Brown, and Gonzales stepped in front of him before he could hit the Detective again.

"What the hell is going on here?" asked Chief O'Hara.

Larry Dumars stared at that thick white mane and suddenly he knew. It was payback time for him. This nightmare was never going to end. "I have to get back inside with Mary Lou," he thought. "Then everything will be alright."

He turned and quickly walked back into the bar in time to see Mary Lou and Dineen making out like teenagers.

Gonzales followed Larry Dumars and threw him against the bar and cuffed him.

"What's that for?" he demanded to know. "I'm the victim. Someone keyed my car."

"You just slugged our Detective, pea brain," she said. "And although we'd like to give you a medal, we can't. So please accept these cuffs with our thanks."

Gonzales pushed Larry Dumars out of the bar and into the morning light. Detective Brown was standing next to Chief O'Hara rubbing his jaw. The motion was to Larry, just like he saw the white haired man do earlier. Confused, he took two quick steps and charged headfirst at the Chief.

Larry was taken downtown in the black and white, booked, and thrown into a cell where he had his first good night's sleep in days. He refused to put up bail or to call anyone until he was fully rested. He thought that this might take him several weeks.



XXXXII

Tommy Birdwell walked into O'Hara's Bar and looked around. Someone was sitting in his usual seat at the bar, and yet there were plenty of other seats available. "Excuse me," he said to the man in his seat.

"Why?" asked Dineen.

"You're sitting in my regular seat and I wonder if you'd move to another seat. I sit there every night and I wouldn't feel right sitting somewhere else."

"Life sucks," said Dineen.

"Mary Lou, tell this man that this is my seat," beseeched Tommy.

"Tommy, it's only your seat when you get to it first. We only have reserved seating on New Year's Eve," Mary Lou said.

Tommy walked around and sat on the other side of the waitress station. "This doesn't feel right," he thought.

"Hey fella," said Tommy to Dineen. "Wanna trade seats?"

"What's with you?" asked Dineen. "Are you some kind of a seat pervert?"

"Once when I was drunk I was in the men's room when they locked the bar up," Tommy said. "When I came out I turned on the TV and got aroused watching a late night movie and came all over that bar stool. I never wiped the seat - I just let it dry and always figured that I marked my territory. That's why no one else sits there. So if you don't mind sitting on my gism I guess that I shouldn't mind either," Tommy continued. "I'll take it as a compliment."

Dineen, with a thoroughly disgusted look on his face, got off the stool, smacked the ass of his pants with his hands and walked into the men's room. Tommy stayed put. When Dineen returned, he said to Tommy, "You are a seat pervert," and then he walked over to Mary Lou, touched her on the chin and left the bar. Tommy moved back to his regular stool.

"Tommy, why did you have to be such a dork with Dineen?" Mary Lou asked.

"You know, Mary Lou, dorks don't get nearly the recognition that they deserve."

"Trust me," she said. "You have nothing to fear on that account."


XXXXIII

The wedding reception for Mary Lou and Dineen was held at O'Hara's Bar. Brenda was the maid of honor and Gonzales was the best person. The Chief gave his daughter away, and after he brought Arlene back home he returned to the bar and to Brenda, who, wearing her tightest and shortest dress, turned the Chief on and made him promise to spend the evening in Mary Lou's apartment with her since it would be vacant. It really didn't take much convincing.

Brenda had neglected to tell the Chief that Mary Lou and Dineen left for Dineen' place only for the night and they were planning on coming back to the apartment for her things early in the morning before they left for their Pocono's honeymoon.

The Chief slept like the dead, but Brenda, anxious for her morning payback to Mary Lou, hardly slept at all. She kept plotting different scenarios on how and where she would have Mary Lou find her and the Chief.

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