Remember that song, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places?
No question in our minds, the Gutter is definitely the wrong place.
No question in our minds, the Gutter is definitely the wrong place.
Lady's Man by William E. Wallace
The loud blonde sitting near the jukebox looked pretty put together: dark lipstick, heavy liner, thick black lashes.
That's why they keep bars dark.
Up close you could see she was neither pretty nor put together. The skin around her neck quivered when she laughed, a sign she was on the downhill side of 40. The lashes were fakes. The heavy liner covered up little cracks at the corners of her eyes.
She had an inch of mousy brown at her blond roots and the spandex leggings she wore not only showed off the cellulite dimples in her thighs and ass, but were short enough to expose the spider veins above her ankles.
Louis Henley pulled at the PBR he had been nursing for the last 45 minutes and watched her tease the dude with the pony tail sitting next to her. The stud keep grinning at her and pawing her rear end. The guy was so eager to get her in the sack, Henley was surprised he didn't drool all over her
Enjoy her company while you can, asshole, he thought to himself. I'm going to be the guy she's with before the night is over.
Mr. Pony Tail had arrived on the Harley shovelhead that was angled against the curb in front, wearing a jacket like the one Brando had on in The Wild One. He pulled it off and laid it over the duck-taped rip in the stool before he sat down. His wife-beater exposed tats he'd picked up at some mall shop, probably the surgically clean type that puts snakes around fat teenage girls' ankles.
Louis avoided skin art because it was too memorable. He wanted to be invisible: clean cut, no ink, hair parted on the side, wearing gabardine slacks, a dark polo shirt and a nylon windbreaker.
He was the sort of guy who wouldn't draw a second look and that suited him just fine. If looks could kill, second looks could damned sure put you in prison.
The pony tail guy was the opposite. Louis could see women would find him attractive: he looked a little bit like that singer from Poison who wears eye liner. He was ripped, but his muscles were the kind you get from machines in a yuppie gym, not the long stringy strips that come from pounding a heavy bag or the hard bulky lumps you pick up hefting free weights in the state pen's exercise yard.
Louis had a different kind of body: one bulked up by doing 20-mile humps with 45 pounds of field gear, a weapon and ammo. The kind you get from advanced hand-to-hand training and killing people with a Becker Utility Knife up so close you can smell the garlic on their breath.
He looked back at the blonde's big breasts and saggy buttocks. Her body was the result of sitting in front of the TV with a pound box of Russell Stover and a bottle of whisky.
All the same, she had everything he was looking for tonight: two tits, a hole and a heartbeat. To another man she might be a woofer, but Henley didn't care. He expected to thoroughly enjoy the time they spent together.
Each time Louis took a hit off the long-neck, he let about half of the beer slide back into the bottle before he lowered it. It made the brew warm and nasty, but it was necessary: he didn’t have enough money left to get a righteous buzz.
He'd been flush when he hit town four and a half weeks before. He had a little more than a grand in his pocket and he got $200 from some kid in a bar for the Chevy pickup he'd driven in from Laytonburg.
He'd been feeling generous enough to warn the kid he was going to have to change the plates on the truck if he was going to keep it himself. Even the dumbest hick cop can read seven numbers off a hot sheet.
By paying for his room a week at a time instead of the hourly rate most customers ponied up, he'd managed to make the money last, though he was down to his last few bucks. He'd had good luck with the ladies during that time, too, enjoying a new one every other night.
He did love the ladies. They were his biggest weakness.
Anyway, Henley didn’t want to get a heat on. He intended to be completely sober when he hooked up with the blonde later.
For her part, the blonde was banging down Ancient Age like she’d just spent a week in Death Valley without a canteen. She’d tossed back a shot of well bourbon every ten minutes since she walked through the door. If it'd been Louis, he would have been completely glassy-eyed.
From the come on she was giving Mr. Pony Tail, he gathered she was one of those ladies who likes to chase men that are half their age. What was it they were called?
Cougars, that was it.
Louis smiled to himself. He’d enjoyed a lot of pussy, but he’d never been with a cougar.
The loud blonde scooped up a handful of change from the little pool of water on the plank in front of her and slid off her stool. She stumbled as she did, and the Harley stud had to help her remain upright. She giggled into her hand, dropping a couple of coins on the floor and supporting herself with the stool when she bent to retrieve them. After recovering the money, she reeled to the music machine and fed it, punching in numbers without even looking.
Louis shook his head as he watched her. He didn't mind a woman who liked to party, but too much booze and they weren't as much fun. He hoped this one hadn't overdone it.
The jukebox whirred and slipped a CD into the tray. Patsy Cline began walking after midnight. The blonde used her hand to pat time on the jukebox, then pivoted and did a few perfunctory steps, front to back, side to side, as she returned to her seat.
Henley liked the way she wiggled her ass when she sashayed.
When Patsy got finished, Hank Williams would sing “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” Then Patsy would do “Crazy” and Eddie Arnold would warble “On the French Riviera.”
Louis knew this because the blonde had already gone through those four songs three times, stacking the change from her shots of whisky into little piles of jukebox money until she had enough to spin the quartet of hillbilly weepers.
Louis preferred metal bands like Metallica, AC/DC and Anthrax. His bunky buddy Slim Cassidy had turned him onto metal during the four years they'd spent in Al Anbar, killing Ali Babas for the 101st Airborne. He'd probably still be there except a rag-head sniper had sold Slim the farm toward the end of his second tour.
Iraq wasn't much fun with Slim, but it was like one of the outer circles of hell without him. That's when Louis decided it was time to get back to the world and see how a civilian could use some of the skills the Army had taught him.
He might have been able to find steady work, what with his letters of commendation and the chest candy he'd picked up during Iraqi Freedom. But the ladies always seemed to get in the way.
He just fucking loved the ladies. Probably more than was good for him.
If his wallet had been fat, Louis would have been feeding the J.P. Seeburg himself. But he had been in town for more than a month and he was running out of cash; flat, warm beer and other people's music was about all he could afford these days. That's part of the reason he was planning to leave town.
The other was Jackie Willoughby.
Yesterday morning he'd been sitting in a coffee shop on Main, finishing his second cup when he spotted a guy in a soiled suit and stingy brim on the other side of the street. He was certain it was Jackie.
Willoughby, his nemesis: a private dick from Pittsburgh who had been hired to track him down by the parents of a girl Louis had picked up there.
Louis had enjoyed the night; the girl, not so much.
Her parents, not at all.
If Jackie Willoughby was in town, Louis wanted out of it, ASAP. Willoughby was easy to underestimate. That's how Louis had almost ended up under arrest in Scranton. And Detroit. And Miami.
By the time he narrowly evaded getting grabbed by the rollers in Atlanta, Louis realized the shabby little peeper was tipping the cops where to find him. Willoughby always seemed to know where that was. Louis's latest layover was the longest he'd stayed anywhere before Jackie tracked him down.
Louis hated Willoughby as much as he loved the ladies. Jackie, though short, bald, gimpy and overweight, was the only man on earth who actually frightened him.
Henley watched the stud get up and fondle the blonde's ass as he whispered something in her ear. She grinned like she'd just hit the Superlotto and watched Mr. Pony Tail cross the floor to the men's room.
Louis waited about 30 seconds before he followed him. In his experience, thirty seconds was the maximum attention span of the average bar fly. It was just long enough that nobody would remember him later when the cops started asking around.
The shitter was typical dive bar material: a sink with black showing through the chipped enamel, two stalls with piss-stained toilets, a broken dispenser with loose towels piled on top, and a bucket with a brush and plunger in two inches of gross-looking water.
The biker was standing at the sink, peering into the cracked mirror while he used both thumbnails to work on the blackhead on his chin. He glanced at Louis with disinterest and went back to work, digging at the waxy plug in the pore.
It popped loose suddenly in a little blob of yellow pus that glued it to the mirror, right below the crack. Mr. Pony Tail leaned forward to examine the tiny crater it left in his face as a drop of blood began to well.
"Nasty," Louis said, making a face.
The biker stud turned to him. You didn't have to be a doctor to know he was tweaked to the hairline: his eyes were so dilated they looked like manholes and the big vein in his temple was throbbing.
Louis buried all four inches of his switchblade into the biker stud's six-pack, angling the steel up under his sternum and directly into his heart with one stroke, then turning it slightly to his left. Death was instantaneous, as the coroner would later say.
It was better that way: when the heart stopped beating, the blood stopped pumping. Louis didn't want to skate around in a big pool of Mr. Pony Tail's gore as he rifled his pockets, tucked him into one of the stalls and locked it from the outside with the edge of a quarter.
He pressed the button in the knob to lock the door and turned out the light as he left, just to make sure the body wouldn't be found too quickly. With a Sharpie he wrote OUT OF ORDER -- USE WOMEN'S on a paper towel and used the Dentyne he'd been chewing to stick it to the men's room door.
When he got back to his stool, he noticed that the bartender had removed his beer bottle. Louis didn't care: he wouldn't be staying much longer anyway.
The blonde craned her neck to look for the biker. Louis studied her in silence, watching her irritation grow as Mr. Pony Tail failed to reappear. Finally, she gathered her bag off the counter, rose and walked to the bathroom herself, only to return a moment later, angry crow's feet lined up next to her eyes like tracks left by her fake lashes.
The bartender said something to her that Louis couldn't hear.
"The sonofabitch left," she said, her voice cracking. "He must've gone out the back or something. Fucking bastard!"
She looked like she was going to be sick, but managed to hold it down.
Finishing what was left of her Bourbon, she slung her bag across her shoulder and dropped a couple of wrinkled bills on the table before walking out, listing slightly to her left. Louis followed his 30-second rule then slipped off his stool and walked out. Nobody noticed.
He spotted the baggy blonde under a streetlamp a half block away and closed the distance during the time it took her to reach a little alley and turn in. His Johnson was so hard by the time he got halfway to her that he found walking painful. He hoped she wasn't too drunk to respond.
Just inside the opening, she was stooped over and retching. The puke gushing out with each spasm was light brown and mostly clear: there was probably nothing in her stomach but liquor. Louis looked at the size of the pool at her feet and was surprised she hadn't blown chunks back in the bar.
He squatted beside her as her right leg went out and she sat down heavily next to the puddle of barf she'd made.
"You okay, honey?" he asked, touching her gently on the shoulder. He was afraid to apply too much pressure: it might flush out another belly-full of puke.
She looked at him with that blank stare people have when they're so drunk they're almost unconscious. It was clear she hadn't noticed him in the bar earlier, even when she first started drinking.
"Hunghh!" she mumbled, wiping threads of mucous from her lips with the back of her hand. "Jus' a little sick, tha's all. No problem."
Then she retched again, spewing a stream of clear liquid onto the ground.
"Let me help," Louis said, using his hand to gently sweep her hair back from her face. She was flour white from nausea, but his voice comforted her and she gave him a weary smile of thanks. When he touched the side of her face with his palm, she nuzzled it gratefully.
Usually he spent a lot more time on his "dates;" The girl in Pittsburgh -- the one whose parents had hired Jackie Willoughby -- lasted nearly the whole night long.
But he was worried someone would find the biker in the toilet before he could start the guy's Harley and hit the road for Mississippi.
So he pulled the blonde's head back and slid the blade of his switchblade across her neck, severing the hyoid and slashing through the carotid and jugular on both sides.
Her eyes widened with surprise and she made a gurgling sound as blood surged into her throat. Louis gently held her head until her spasms ended, cooing to her with his mouth only inches from her ear.
"There, there, honey," he murmured, his voice a hoarse whisper. He legs trembled with excitement as the life pumped from her body onto the pavement. "It'll all be over in a minute or so."
She wheezed and sagged back against his chest, her eyes staring at nothing. As she shuddered and took her last breath, he felt himself climax, pumping his trousers full of warm, sticky fluid that left his crotch dark and wet.
Louis lowered her carefully, straightening her legs and wiping the switchblade on her animal print blouse. He folded the knife shut and put it in his pocket, then gently closed her eyes with his fingertips.
Smiling, he looked down at the blonde. It was hard to tear himself away from her but the highway called him.
"Thanks honey," he whispered, kissing her gently on the forehead. "You sure know how to show a guy a good time."