The call came shortly before 10 p.m. after a slow evening alone at Baker Street Bar over in the Medical District of San Antonio where Jack doubles were only $2.50 all night, Dos XX the same, and the Lone Stars were always a buck half. My old flip cell lit up and he says, “I got two women over here looking to party big time,” but I had my suspicions because by here he didn’t mean his apartment over by the community college but some obscure address far out on the west side of town, out beyond loop 1604, where there are more jackrabbits than driveways or red lights.
It took thirty or so minutes to find the place, a white stucco in an ocean of white stuccos. I sat in my car with the windows rolled down for a lot longer than I would have if I didn’t feel so off about the whole thing, a quiet residential neighborhood, too quiet for a party, the dome of orange lights of San Antonio to my right blotting out the stars. Something tugged on my insides and told me to follow the lights back home. I didn’t, and he greeted me at the door looking far too happy, like he was trying to convince me that I should be happy too, which made me very unhappy.
He led me inside and the music got louder. The women were in the living room, a couple decades older than us, and they were half dancing to Bon Jovi from a stereo on one of those large floor-to-ceiling entertainment centers you used to find in people’s houses in the 80s and 90s when TVs were more like super-sized microwaves and weighted as much as a small car—that kind of entertainment center. They danced and laughed while trying to steal precarious sips from overfilled margarita glasses brimming with a clear liquid, which I later discovered was straight flavored vodka. They were over-tanned and tattooed and he introduced me to the one who wasn’t reaching for him to come dance with her.
“Mine” had the same name as my estranged aunt, which felt like a final straw in a factory full of ‘em.
She wanted to dance, but I kept trying to get alone with my friend to ask him what the hell was going on, but he was fairly exploratory with his female companion, while my predatory pseudo-aunt with a tiger tattoo smelled blood and swayed toward me. I smiled and pointed at her drink and then thumbed my way to what I saw was the kitchen to see if I could gather my thoughts alone but she followed me in, her heels clacking on the tile floor.
“You don’t want to dance?” she asked. “Yeah, that’s it, have a beer!”
“Thanks but I can’t stay all night.” I popped the top off a Carona Lite just to keep the illusion that I wasn’t going to bolt the first chance I got. “Nice place.”
Her dog trotted in, saw new people, and began yipping and jumping on my leg.
“Mister Peppers likes you!”
I grinned and backed away from the little dog and the cougar with a tiger tattoo as she approached, trying to wrap her hands around my hips. I explained I wasn’t much for dancing and asked if she was throwing a party, that I’d heard this was going to be a big party. She said life was a party and she was always the hostess with the mostess, then she laughed and stumbled over the dog between us and her margarita glass full of vodka crashed into the tile floor. Mister Peppers danced around the mess and Aunt Handsy moaned and knelt down over the glass and booze. I handed her paper towels and looked through the doorway to see my friend grinding with his lady to some Cyndi Lauper on the stereo.
He’d been a bar friend, met at a small place called Hemingway’s, both of us waiting for a pool table to open and we decided to play doubles against some college kids with popped collars and Fossil wristwatches. We won. He was a big guy, always wearing metal band tee shirts and looking unshaved but as I grew to know him better over the months I found he was pretty soft, a real emotional guy who broke up with the same serious-relationship girl at least three times in the nine months I knew him. He always took it bad, and he always ended up partying with the wrong women afterward, anyone who’d take care of him, treat him to drinks and food, usually older women. Which was weird because he was obsessed with the serious-relationship girl and she was at least eight years his junior, barely in college, or so he said. So I hoped. It was all a mess. Life is always a mess, and coming here, I should have known not to.
Tiger Lady was still cleaning up the vodka with one hand and taking shots from the Absolut bottle with the other when the front door opened in the hall and three college-aged guys who looked like they bailed in 8th Grade and skipped straight on down to the tattoo parlor walked in. They paused when they saw me. I nodded. They nodded, not smiling, but neither was I. I think we were both wondering what the hell the other was doing there. Aunt Jovi stood up and got real serious all the sudden said, “I’ll be back in a few,” and they nodded again and headed down the hall to a bedroom. I heard my friend laughing and a loud thud. They’d both fallen down halfway on the couch and halfway on the floor. My special lady friend caught me off-guard with a kiss and said she’d be right back and stumbled down the hall with her bottle. I didn’t wait and walked to the door, opened it, and saw two more skinny younger guys with leather jackets and chains and shit standing in the driveway beside a beater Acura. One guys was smoking and leaning against the car and the other guy was doing a weird jig half-dance and saying, “Gonna do a line off that dog’s back, and maaaaan, she gives me shit about getting head again I’mma eat that damn dog,” and then he started laughing.
I shut the door and walked into the kitchen where Mister Peppers was standing in silence. I felt like the two of us knew, looking at each other in that moment, we both knew it was time to get the fuck out of there. I picked him up and he didn’t make a sound, and I slid open the glass door to the back porch just off the kitchen and walked into the silent night, the stereo now playing Eddie Money and fading fast behind us. I peered over a shoulder-high wooden fence, saw an empty yard, dropped Peppers down and hiked myself over, did it again across that yard, and slowly worked my way back to the car. I was thankful I parked on the street, a house down from the party house. I saw the two guys out front were just going inside and I considered calling my friend to let him know I was bouncing, but to hell with him. Peppers and I rolled out.
I didn’t want a dog and I didn’t like small dogs and I didn’t know what to do with him. But I knew he didn’t belong there. I’d have felt real bad if I left him. I reached over at a stoplight and tugged off his collar and at the next stretch of highway where it was dark and all bushes and countryside I tossed the collar into the void. We got back into San Antonio proper and I passed a PetSmart and considered stopping for a moment, maybe letting him run inside the automatic doors and then driving off, but I didn’t know if he’d run back out, or if they’d really take care of him. I kept debating on what to do until I got back to Baker Street Bar on Warzbach Road and I took Peppers inside.
I sat in my still empty stool and set Peppers on the bar top, where he sniffed around and licked at a pool of water, or beer, or whatever. The two bartenders, Alicia and Megs, spotted us and they both came over and fawned over him. Megs asked his name and I told them it was Eddie Money, and that a drug-addict friend abandoned him and he didn’t have a home. Megs immediately offered to take him in and carried him around half the night, cooing into his ears and calling him her Money Man. I kept on with the Jack specials for another hour and when my phone rang as I was paying up to leave I turned it off, stuffed it into the deepest recesses of my pocket, and gave Eddie one last pet on the way out the door.
James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review and the author of What Lies In Wait, Berlin, and Dealing With the Devil in the Middle of the Road, among other books of short fiction and poetry. He also has two collections impending from Dark Heart Press and Epic Rites Press, so stay tuned. More at www.jameshduncan.com.