“What are you waiting for?” the girl asks behind me.
I don’t answer, but I want to. The voice is female and seductive, which is exactly the opposite of what I need right now. What I need is will-power and more of it. Will-power will help me overcome my vices, or that’s what I am told.
My vices include drinking, women, and coffee, because Brute tells me he can sit through anything if he has coffee and I tend to agree with him. The last vice isn’t a problem at the moment; I won’t overdo it, my stomach won’t take it. Of the three, I’d say it is the healthiest. An ex-girlfriend told me I need the black jet fuel to raise my blood pressure, because otherwise, she’d think I was heartless.
This leads to the second of the two unhealthy vices, women. She said those words with a scowl holding a bunched pair of panties in my face waving them underneath my nose. The blue lace wrapped around her fingers as if they would disappear the moment she let the whiteness subside from her knuckles. Needless to say, they weren’t hers.
The first of my vices, the one I’m sitting here at my sister’s bar overcoming, hasn’t been a problem anymore than headaches that don’t cripple a person, but buzz around in the background tickling the nerves.
Anyways, the women and the booze haven’t been a problem for years, but there are good reasons for the abstinence. I wouldn’t classify myself as a womanizer or an alcoholic, because I am not. I can control myself. The last year’s been rough and the abstinence has helped. Plus, without Fiona things seem pointless. Why would I fall into old habits she helped me break?
“You going to nurse that all night?” the voice asks. She means the half glass of Grey Goose that’s sitting in front of me sweating. My pop told me if you drink; drink the good stuff. So, if I was to drink- give in to the temptation and break the streak- it’d be for the good stuff, but I’m not going to drink. The drink doesn’t hold the same appeal anymore.
She’s not trying to be rude. Her voice flirts, but I only contain enough will power to overcome one of my three vices at a time. And sitting here on this stool, staring at this drink while it’s sweating on this shiny polished bar top with the puddle of condensation glistening underneath in the soft light of the joint, I can’t help myself. “Do you speak?” she asks.
I continue with non-answers. I remain silent, stringing her along the patented move of playing hard to get.
By trade, I’m not a hunter in the bars, usually I’m the prey, but in the immortal words of Admiral Akbar, “it’s a trap.” I let them come to me. Some call it playing hard to get. My ex would say once got, they wish they’d never met me.
I call it me.
Denise saves me. She usually does and has since we were kids, because that is what big sisters are supposed to do. She doesn’t understand why I do this to myself. I know she likes me being here after being away for so long. We reconnected, rebuilt old bridges, and started being a family again. She keeps a bottle of non-alcoholic beer on ice for me, but she doesn’t understand the glass of vodka.
My sister’s bar is a cop bar. Scattered throughout the bar are family photos hung at odd angles and in random places. The north wall is a complete wall dedicated to stage shots of Denise and her friends in her “uniform” from her previous profession. The south wall is Denise’s Wall of Memory. Every New Year her tradition is to decorate these walls with photos of police officers who lost their lives while on duty. She usually takes them down on Little Christmas. One-half of the wall contains photos of all the police officers killed in the line of duty in Tulsa during the year. The other half of the wall contains photos of all the officers killed in the line of duty nationwide.
Last year’s total was 127.
When Little Christmas comes around and the photos come down, she throws a party to burn last year’s fallen. The Wall of Memory resets. At the end of the party, if the year has already claimed new victims, those photos are added to the wall in the closing ceremony. It’s like Ground Hog’s Day, if there are new ones there will be six more weeks of winter and she’ll play Another One Bites the Dust off the jukebox, because she doesn’t do sad. At end of the night, Clash rains in the bar with a soaring angry yet happy chorus of, “I fought the law and the law won,” by several dozen drunken off-duty police officers as the pictures burn to nothing in the fireplace.
Not many bars in town have fireplaces.
Denise fought to get a fireplace put in her bar. The city fought her on it, but when she told the Chief of Police what it was going to be utilized for and whose daughter she was, she got her fireplace. My father’s a police legend and I’m my father’s son.
Behind the bar, my academy class photo hangs. Underneath are the names of each officer listed from left to right. Denise circled my face in the photo with a big fat red Sharpie. Next to that photo is a uniformed “bust shot” of me in my dress uniform, which was used for my first department I.D. My photo is the sequel thirty years in the making to my father’s graduation picture, which hangs next to mine.
To the left of the bar, combination lockers frame the room’s corner, Denise uses them to stash customers’, who are too drunk to drive, keys and other belongings.
“He doesn’t drink,” Denise tells the girl. Denise rubs the inside of a glass with a towel as if she’s polishing a mortar round.
The owner of the voice sits down next to me. I feel her presence. The aura feels good, intoxicating. Through my peripheral, the hem of her skirt jilts up her thigh as she kicks her leg over the stool to straddle it, as if the hem is frightened of her knee.
“I’m Jewell,” she introduces herself. Not sure if she is telling Denise or myself.
“What can I get ya’?” Denise asks. She is kind. She’s paid to be, and she needs to make money for the twins.
Jewell takes a deep intake of breath, the opposite of a sigh. “What’s he not drinking?” her thumb points to me like a hitchhiker trying to pick up a ride. She wants me to pick her up.
Her signals aren’t subtle.
“Grey Goose,” I say, “straight up.”
My words are not loud enough to overcome the music that blares just under ear-damaging levels. Denise wears ear plugs. When I get home, she berates me via text message about not taking the ear plugs she offers. She says dad can’t hear, because of all the gunfire and she doesn’t want me ending up like him.
“It speaks,” Jewell teases. “I’ll take that.” Again, I’m not sure if she is speaking to Denise or me.
From the other end of the bar, a customer whistles and shouts an order. Denise turns to grab a bottle out of the mini fridge under the bar, but her eyes don’t leave Jewell.
I raise my hand like a sheepish kid in class. “Here, take this one.”
“You sure?” Jewell asks.
I slide my drink across the bar top to her. “Yes,” I say.
“What are you?” Jewell says. She takes a swig of the vodka. “An Alcoholic?”
“Something like that?” Denise says.
From the way Denise says it, I’m inclined to think Jewell questioned my response. “He doesn’t drink.”
“Ever?” Jewell asks.
“Ever,” Denise says. “It’s like he’s broken or something. He used to drink. Hell he could out drink more than most, but he calls me up one day and says, ‘Dee, I’m done drinking’.”
She doesn’t explain to Jewell what happened that day.
“Just like that?” Jewell asks..
“Just like that,” Denise repeats. “He said, ‘I won’t ever take another drink if I can help it’.”
They speak like I’m not next to them. “He really say ever?” Jewell inquires.
“Yup, like he’d hit rock bottom or something,” Denise explains.
Jewell’s voice turns to me. “You hit rock bottom?” She nudges me with her elbow.
Denise answers for me. “Nah, he just quit. He never explained it. He never had a problem. It’s the damnist thing. He never had a problem with it.”
Denise lies. I did explain it. I explained it in detail, while in tears.
“Can you hand me a napkin?” Jewell asks me. The caddie’s to my left. I don’t budge. My not moving doesn’t bother Jewell too much, because she leans forward stretching across me. She’s intimately close.
Her perfume invades my nostrils. I put my hand on her side and say, “here,” beating her hand to the caddie. “I’ll get it.” I’m on the verge of the bowl swirling in the water not fighting the encroaching mist. I want to give in to her. I’m not ready, but she’s the type of girl no one is ready for.
I know she made a play to see my left hand. She wanted to see if there was a ring on my finger. Part of me doubts if it would matter to her. The ring hasn’t been there for a year.
Denise says, “He’s just weird.”
Jewell senses the familiarity, but not the jealousy. “Who are you to him?” The girl is bold. She smells like fresh laundry mixed with roses. “You all a thing?”
Denise cracks a wide smile. I haven’t seen it in a while. It is nice to see her genuine smile stretch across those cheeks after seeing the painted mask she puts on for all those drunken college boys, who are not yet men. “Nah, honey. We are not ‘a thing’.”
“You like fuck buddies?” Jewell asks, “Friends with benefits?”
I’m not sure if it’s the crassness of her language or the fact I didn’t expect that out of her, but I shift my attention to Jewell and look at her. She wears a gray thigh high, tight skirt with a black blouse with low buttons. I know her type. I’ve seen her type before. She’s a green-eyed office worker with strawberry blonde hair.
“It lives.” Jewell says.
“She’s my sister,” I say.
I point at Denise. “She. Is. My. Sister.” Denise gives Jewell a small beauty pageant wave.
“You let your sister dress like that?” Jewell asks.
Denise is wearing a small black halter top with short jean shorts, which in all reality could cover a little more, but Denise uses what she’s got. She brings her shoulders together, leans across the bar top toward Jewell, and lets the bold lady take a look. A sly seductive smile appears on Denise’s lips.
“I didn’t say I was a good brother.”
“I own this place,” Denise says. Her tone starts and ends with the word “bitch”.
Either Jewell didn’t get the veiled gesture or she doesn’t let it bother her. “But you all aren’t from Arkansas right? Not that type of brother and sister?” Her question sounds so innocent.
Denise and I laugh loudly. We both reply “No!”
“I wouldn’t judge if you were, you know,” Jewell utters. “You know how it is these days …you just don’t know, you know?”
No, I don’t know.
Denise caters to a man down the bar that had waved her over with a heavily golden hand. Watching her go, I swear if she didn’t wear those high heels with her granite like thighs, her ass would fall out of those shorts.
Denise is the outward expression of my inner vice and the complete opposite of my old hound dog ways. She reaches the golden hand man and reenacts the performance she just gave for Jewell. If it weren’t for the reflection of all the gold on the man’s wrist I’d swear he wasn’t looking at her eyes.
Jewell says, “What’s your name?”
“Paul-Wayne,” I say, “but you can call me Paul.”
“I’m Jewell.” She stretches out a delicate hand.
“So you said.”
“You’re not much of a talker are you?”
“Depends,” I say, turning to face her, getting my second, but real look at her that wasn’t though a mirror. I like what I see, but I usually do. Generous curves, that black blouse, strawberry blonde curls and a striking face, she’s pretty but not sexy; yet quite alluring. I smile at her and take her hand.
She plays the game well, and with pouted lips says, “Depends?”
“Yes, depends on which part of my body I’m speaking with,” I say and cast my net.
An hour passes, Jewell is still sitting next to me and I’ve opened up a little more to her.
I call it suggestive thinking.
She’s two drinks in and having a good time. She finishes her current drink. Her hand’s found its way to my thigh.
Without reacting to her touch, I lean into her, until my lips are next to her ear and whisper, “You going to buy me a drink first?” I ask.
She leans back. “You don’t drink,” she says. “Plus, I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be the other way around. You buy me that drink.”
I ignore her correction. “I don’t drink liquor, or alcohol. But, there are things I’ll have.” I proceed to explain the fake beer.
“Does your sister charge you?” She asks.
“Usually it’s more of a pay what you think is fair with us. She keeps some here for me when I visit.
She mimics my earlier move. She leans into me until her lips are close to my ear and whispers, “How often do you come in here?”
“When I’m not working,” I answer, giving my first reference to a life outside of here.
Denise walks by us. Jewell changes the subject. “Does she always dress like that?”
“Since we were young.”
“She’s very pretty,” Jewell says. “If I played the other side, it’d be her I’d be talking to. It bother you, her kid brother, her dressing like that?”
Jewell’s fingers dance on my inner thigh like she’s playing a harp, and my mind’s having a hard time trying to figure an out to this conversation about the overt sexuality of my sister, which isn’t something I normally talk about with women trying to pick me up. I say, “my sister isn’t like that.”
“Oh, what’s she like?” Jewell asks. “You haven’t had her.”
I roll my eyes.
I explain. “She’s very old school about sex.” As I speak, Jewell’s eyes glare Denise down like a mongoose eyeing a cobra. “Sure she could have picked up on the other passages in Sunday school about modesty, but she’s tighter than a nun when it comes to men.”
“Oh you’re the big expert there, huh.” Jewell says.
I sigh. “She used to strip… like everything. I hear from some of the guys I work with she’s got a cam thing on the side.” I point to the poster on the wall. “That’s hers, but I’ve not cared to look. As far as I know she’s only had three men in her life.”
“As far as you know?”
“Joey from grade school took her to the freshman dance and later a park after hours, where the police busted in on them.”
“Second, my buddy Donny got with her when I was away at college. She wasn’t in school.”
“You bust his face?”
“Nah, he called and confessed it all to me. He was like a husband telling his wife that a coworker kissed him. He called it bro code, which I don’t believe in it at all. I tell him it’s OK. I understand, but I didn’t like it. He asked for permission to keep seeing her.”
“You give it?” Jewell giggles.
“I did, but it didn’t help him any.”
“And the third,” she smiles.
“The third, her ex-husband, Kevin gave her twin boys.”
“She,” Jewell points to Denise’s hips, “has twins?”
“Good genes.” I reply.
Jewell’s hand grabs hold. “Very good genes must run in the family. Glad I found the right family member.” She squeezes me.
The waters of temptation surge against the banks.
“Girl, what are you doing?” I ask.
“I have to confess,” she says.
“I lost a bet.”
“My friends and I watch the bachelor,” she says. “We bet on which one he would take home.”
“You looking for adventure in your life?” I ask.
“Don’t interrupt,” she spouts back.
“You picked the wrong girl?”
“Seems now that you and I should have been betting on the bachelorette.”
“Seems I picked the right guy.”
“The wager?” I ask.
“You,” she answers, “I had to come say hello to you. Get you to smile.”
“Oh? To what end?”
“Flash you if I had to.” She leans back on the stool. “I was going to make good.”
“Big bet,” I say, slapping the bar top.
“We are an adventurous group.”
“You sure you’re looking for adventure. Who is we?”
“Behind you near the pool table are a group of girls, my office coworkers. We come here every now and then for happy hour. We’ve seen you here before. They thought you were dreamy.”
“Seems you won your bet,” I remark.
“I sure as heck don’t like losing.”
“You goin’ to make good on the bet?” I ask. “Go to the extreme?” I throw her a wink and my patented half smile.
“You’d like that wouldn’t you?”
“So would you.”
Her eyes agree.
This is where things get a bit awkward. Like a pale of ice-cold water thrown on the whole scene, a guy comes up to the bar next to us. He sits. My job teaches me a thing or two about reading people. I take him in. He’s good looking for sure. He’s mixed or a light skinned black guy, which might be racist of me to say but it’s the only way to explain his milk-chocolate skin and piercing blue eyes. He might have a bit of Puerto Rican in him. There is a scar running down the left side of his face. It sure doesn’t make him ugly. He dresses well, but his colors are dark and dull.
“Hello, there,” he says to me as he sits.
“Hi,” I say with my eyebrow impersonating the Saint Louis’ famous landmark.
“Jewell,” he says, which suddenly makes me very aware he didn’t chose a random seat at the bar, “Who’s this guy?”
“Remember me telling you about the bet,” she says.
“The bachelor thing,” he says.
“Yes, the girls told me I had to.”
He asks, “Did you flash him?”
“Would it bother you if I did?” she asks, retracting her hand from my thigh.
“Doesn’t bother me babe, but you know who you’re going home with.”
With that statement, I know it’s not going to be me. She says, “Jon, you know I don’t like when you get all possessive on me.”
“Well if you didn’t flirt with doing things ‘on me’,” he says. “I wouldn’t have to be that way toward you.”
I throw my hands up. The mood’s officially killed.
Something seems off about the two, but I am not sure if it is the fact that she was willing to jump in to bed with me just a few moments before, or his intense possessiveness.
Jon turns to me. “Like what you see?”
“Sure,” I say.
“Good,” he smiles like he’s not bothered with me at all, “name’s Jontavious Dill, but you can call me Dillinger.”
I think what sort of adult still uses a nickname? But, I say, “Like the outlaw?”
“Yup, that’s me.” He orders a drink. Denise gets it for him. He finishes it in one gulp. “And, she’s with me.”
Jewell pouts, sticking out her lower lip.
“We need to go,” he says, grabbing her arm. Jewell pulls her arm free.
Dillinger takes Jewell’s hand. She accepts this attempt at control, and they stroll out of the bar. I’m glad she drank my drink; otherwise, I’d need it to sooth the burn, but I’m feeling the sting.
Before she left, Jewell slid a folded napkin under an empty shot glass in front of me. I stare down at the glass daring myself to ask Denise for another drink to stare at, but I don’t. In the clear glass, I make out the blue words on the napkin, READ ME.
I pick up the glass, sit it on the bar, and unfold the napkin. My phone rings as I read the contents. I fish the phone from my back pocket and answer.
My partner is on the other end. She tells me we have a case. My robber has struck again and this time a security guard died. I half listen, because I find the napkin more interesting.
Jewell left me her number.