chump

A fly appeared on the rim of Harley's glass. It saddened him at first. He stifled an urge to give the beer an open-handed slap, sending it sailing across the bar and into the poster of the fucking Coors twins. The bitches probably would have enjoyed it. If Harley had a little bit more cash in his pocket, it might've been worth it.

Maybe.

He wasn't sure how many warnings that he had left.

Harley was unhappily aware that someone was watching him.  Harley refused to watch back. It made him apprehensive for strangers to give him undue attention. He gazed out of the side window, checking to see if his bike was still okay. He glanced up at the overhead television, which was seemingly floating on air, shining down baseball highlights from ESPN. Then he turned his eyes towards the bartender, over in the corner, doing a crossword.  But he refused to look across the bar.

Harley finally snuck a quick quiet peek at the stranger. The woman was studying him. He hadn't been mistaken. Huh! Their eyes intersected briefly, and Harley swiftly switched his attention back to his beer. He counted to twenty by thousands. Then he made the rounds again; bike, TV, and on to the bartender. He let his eyes linger.

He could trust Wendy. She was cool. She knew more than she let on. They had had their conversations, and he had sold her a little weed. Small sides of coke. They were alike in some ways, he thought. Eventually she noticed him, and he gave her a small tilt of the head. A signal to warn against strangers. He finished his beer once he knew for sure that he had caught her attention.

"Nother Bud, Harley?"

Wendy pulled the draft without waiting for a reply. As long as he was seated, Harley would want another. Even after the money ran out. That was all right. He was going to pay. “This one’s on me, Harley.”

Wendy could tell that he wanted to ask her something, so she moved her face nearer to his.

"Know who that is?" he asked, not signaling a direction. He didn't need to. The stranger was the only other person in the bar. "She's been here a long time."

With the clock just now inching past 1 PM, afternoon warm and lazy, the woman had been sitting at the bar for an hour, just five minutes longer than Harley. Not a long time, but then Harley was accustomed to being the first one with a stool.

"The tab says Tina. Never saw her before. She was in here as soon as I unlocked the door." Wendy frowned. Her long brown hair had landed on Harley's wet spot when she bent over to receive his communiqué.  "Why? " she asked, reaching for a clean bar towel. She moistened it with soda water and used the towel to wipe the dampened strand of her beer-tainted hair.

"She's been staring at me," Harley replied in a hoarse whisper that was almost a panicked cry.

"Cause you’re such a stud, Harley," said Wendy, pointedly speaking loudly and throwing the towel playfully in his face. "Harley's a stud dog." She turned to face the stranger, who smiled politely. Her lipstick was a deep, deep red. 

"Harley's the man," Wendy politely told her.

"Hi Harley," said the stranger. "I'm Tina."

Harley managed to squeeze out a greeting. Goddamn Wendy. You could count on her to always do the wrong thing at the wrong time. He certainly had not wanted an introduction. He despised it when people looked at him, this one in particular because... Why? Something about her unsettled him, and at the same time, something about her aroused him. Shit. Now he was even more uncomfortable than his usual self, and he had to make sure not to look in the stranger's direction. Tina. Still a stranger.

Goddamn it. Find a solution. This place needed a pool table. Harley got up and put a couple bucks into the jukebox. When he returned to his stool, Tina was walking towards him, drink in her manicured hand. He slinked onto his stool, pretending not to notice her approach. When she stopped beside him, he turned his head, noncommittally. "Mind if I have a seat?"

"It's a free country," Harley mumbled, picking at a pimply pock.

"Yes it is," Tina said emphatically. “And I’m free, white, and twenty-one, so I reckon I’ll join you.” So cliché, so hurtful.

This was a girl that most certainly didn't belong in Sammy’s. She was dressed all wrong; it looked to him as though she were playing hooky from the office. Or the corporation. He couldn’t imagine fast enough. Tight black skirt, sheer white blouse with black bra underneath, black stockings, gold jewelry. High heels! This was a working class joint, and she was nowhere near blue collar. Even if she was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, she would've never been right. Wrong haircut, like from a... city salon or something. Makeup, lots, gooey but erotic in a way that Harley wanted traces of it left upon his face. And some sort of a drink with a cloudy white tinge to it.

"You know me?" she asked, seeking eye contact and putting a light hand on Harley's shoulder. "I know you."

Chills. Lies. "Never saw you before."

"Look at me, Jimmy. Look at me." Harley obliged. Tina sat motionless, ready to be studied. There was something...

"My name ain’t Jimmy, it’s Harley. And I don't recognize you a bit. You got me mistaken for somebody else."

"No I don't, Jimmy. You’re the one who’s mistaken. I was a friend of your mama’s." She watched his eyes widen slightly. "A younger friend of your mama's." More. "Much younger. I knew you from the time that you were a kid up until you left home. What was that - fifteen? sixteen? I left home, too. Anyway, I recognize you. Can’t erase a face."

"Didn't leave home. Just moved out. Went places." Harley was feeling sour and unsettled. "And don't call me Jimmy. My name's Harley."

"Jimmy!" squealed Wendy, causing him to nearly fall off his stool. "Harley's a Jimmy! Yo, Yo, Yo, Jimbo! Need another beer, Jimbo?" Of course Wendy was eavesdropping. Of course. Goddamnit.

"His name is Harley," Tina said coolly, slowly crossing her legs. Not bad legs, to tell the truth, he thought, and while she had his attention, she crossed them again to show him the lace of her garters. Harley blushed and jerked his head forward.

"I've got his tab, okay," Tina said, turning her attention to Wendy.

“Okay by me,” replied Wendy.

Tina gave Harley a quick scan from a closer viewpoint. Wiry kid, hair in a buzz cut. Eyes set back, darting. Complexion looked worse than it did from across the bar. Maybe 5' 7", she thought. At the most. She would dwarf him in her heels. Good. Plus side, he was muscular, and had no discernable odor beyond that of the beer. "You drink anything harder than that, hon?" she asked, rattling the ice in her glass.

He would do.

Harley had a change of heart. His dick was taking over. If she was paying, he told himself, he would tolerate the company, at least until he could figure out what she was up to. And she was up to something. Or maybe not. Harley thought that he was not too bad, not a bad looking guy, why wouldn’t she be interested? He was just shy...

“That your bike?” she asked, pointing out the window. Harley nodded.

“Nice bike. That why they call you Harley?”

“Nah. They call me Harley cause I wear a lot of Harley gear. Just got the bike a few months ago. It’s got some mileage, but I’ve got it running like factory.”

“So you’re handy. A handy man.”

“Yeah. You could say that. Know my way around a motor, for sure. When I first got that bike the gears…”

“So. Do you remember me yet?”

Harley’s face dropped. He loved to talk about his bike. He had experimented with different nouns, initially calling it a chopper, moving on to a hog, and finally opting for simplicity. “What? You not interested in my bike?”

“I’m interested. I’m interested later. Here.” Tina set a glossy photograph in front of Harley and moved right up to his face. She briefly touched his hand.

Harley moved the photo closer. His eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. There were four figures leaning against a cherry red 1969 Mustang. One was his father, dead and cold shortly after the photo. One was his mother, bitch, younger than he could ever recall her being. One was himself, fifteen years of age, defiant and sandy-haired, hands in his pockets. He stared at this figure the longest. The fourth was a heavy-set woman, perhaps twenty, biker gear, hair permed in tight platinum curls. He looked up at Tina.

“Yeah, that’s right. The hair was fake but the fat was real.”

Harley nodded densely, and motioned for a drink. He had no idea how to respond. “Uhh,” he said.

“Good response,” said Tina, and it wasn’t exactly sarcasm. She pressed a square of aluminum foil into his palm. “Now why don’t you run off to the little boys room, and powder your nose. We’ll talk when you get back.” Harley stood cautiously, and proceeded to follow instructions.

As soon as the bathroom door pulled shut, Wendy zeroed in on Tina. “Can you work with him?”

“I dunno,” Tina replied slowly. “He seems dumb enough. Is he as paranoid as you say he is? I mean, he seemed more hostile than paranoid to me.”

“Don’t doubt it for a second. I see him every day. You can twist his ass five ways to Friday.”

“Well, I’ve got myself a chump, then.”

“You’ve got yourself a chump.”

The girls shook hands, thumb to thumb, back to back, palm to palm, slappy jack.

 

© 2006, Mark Hoback