The tan of Duane Jacobs’ face was not the tan of a Hawaiian vacation, it was one of years of abuse by sun, wind, and cold from working long hours outdoors that leaves skin tough and marred by deep wrinkles. Everything about Duane bespoke his years doing heavy work in construction, he was of medium build and every motion showed strength and agility and there was an edge in his manner. That edge had to do with being good at dangerous hard work accomplished in adverse conditions, it was a confidence and a disdain for hazard. One of the kids just starting out watched him walk a five and half inch wall thirty feet above the ground and asked him, “What if you fall off that?” Duane looked at him with a bit of a squint, “Well, I won’t and if I do I’ll catch the wall.” The guy wasn’t satisfied, “Yeah, and what if you miss?” Duane half laughed from his perch above, “Shit ya dumbass, then I’ll get broke, won’t I? And I wouldn’t much like that so I won’t do it.” Some people will just persist, “So you aren’t the least scared?” “Damn!” Duane exploded, “Ain’t you got something you’re supposed to be doing? Scared … I reckon the time to get scared is right before you hit the ground ‘cause that’s when it’s gonna hurt. Like the boss is gonna hurt you if he catches you standing around with your thumb up your ass.”
Duane liked people in a general sort of way; and he kept on liking them by not being around many of them. He’d always worked small crews and his pastimes like hunting, fishing, and riding his motorcycle involved only a selected few. The bike was his passion, when a friend remarked that he liked the Harley more than sex he’d responded, “Nah, screwin’ don’t take that long.” His wife had died years ago, too young, of cancer and he’d had no lasting relationships since. The people he kept around him weren’t the type to try to fix him up with somebody and the occasional newbie on a crew that tried it didn’t repeat after something like, “Do you suppose I think I need your help with that?” Duane did have friends and to them he was fiercely loyal, in the respect of brothers, before that word became so devalued by overuse. He knew of his friends that they’d never ask of him something he wouldn’t do and they knew that anything they asked would be done.
Just after 10 on the warm summer evening Duane rolled up on The Main and backed his Harley into the curb followed by Jamie Farhney’s big Twin. They sat idling for a moment, shut the bikes down, and hung their goggles on the bars. Since work they’d logged just over 150 miles out in the country playing a going nowhere game of left-right. “Damn Farhney,” he grinned, “that pheasant sure had a bull’s-eye on your ass didn’t it?” Jamie laughed, “If it hadn’t been for the mess blood and birdshit would’ve made I could’a had dinner right there, eh?” “Didn’t know you’d bought a tag…” They walked through the propped open door of the bar, vests over T-shirts, chaps over Carharts, pulling off their summer weight gloves. Rupe, at the end of the bar, looked at them a bit blearily and asked, “Been riding, boys?” Jamie laughed, “Nah Rupe, trying out early for Halloween. So how’re you?” They passed up the bar and the dozen patrons exchanging similar pleasantries.
The Main was brick, inside and out, with the ornate bar and back bar it had come equipped with when it was built at the turn of the twentieth century. It was downtown in the city but it had a neighborhood bar atmosphere with a steady clientele who for the most part never got drunk, or at least very drunk. Duane and Jamie were well known and at home in the place.
Darla was tending bar; she’d seen forty and kept her figure in a womanly way. She liked her job most of the time and had a knack for making customers feel like she was glad they were there. As Duane and Jamie made their way up the bar she wasn’t enjoying her job much. Two guys pretty freshly into drinking age were persuaded that they were both more charming and clever and attractive to a bartender than they actually were. “Look boys,” Darla snapped, “I serve drinks in here and then I go home … alone.” Not willing to let that be the end, the one on the right tried again, “Yeah well a nice piece like…” Neither had noticed Duane and Jamie’s approach until they found themselves crowded up against the bar. “Hey,” Duane growled, “This lady, and I did say lady, is a friend of ours and we’re thirsty and you’re bothering her while we’re thirsty. You want to stop doing that.” The bluster that came was an on autopilot sort of thing, “Yeah, and who’re you.” The tension and threat in Jamie’s voice was like a jolt from a battery, “He told you, we’re her friends and I don’t care who you are; what you are … is done. Like right the fuck now.” The one on the right was very red in the face and starting to get up when his friend snagged his arm, “I think we oughta go. Really. Let’s go,” and he nodded his head. Duane and Jamie watched as they walked out and turned up the street. “You two assholes,” Darla snapped, “I can take care of myself.” “I know, Darla,” Duane grinned, “but we’re thirsty and you were taking a long time taking care of yourself.” “Oh shit,” she laughed, “I don’t know why the hell I like you two. The usual?” She brought Jamie his iced tea with a lemon and Duane his large Miller draft and a water glass with a double Jack Daniels, “You two know I’d have to call the cops if you’d kicked their asses?” Duane smiled, “You’d have let us finish first, wouldn’t you?” Darla frowned and he hurried on, “C’mon Darla, we weren’t gonna hurt ‘em, we might’ve got a bit … enthusiastic helping them find the door, but we wouldn’t tear your place up, now.” Darla walked off shaking her head.
Duane sipped his Jack and took a drink of Miller, “You still planning on poker tomorrow night?” “Yeah,” Jamie smiled. “Man, Little’s an asshole,” Duane shook his head, “you know that?” “That’s what makes it fun.” “You should have back up, I’ll go with you.” Jamie shook his head, “Look, mother hen, you can shoot the eye out of a tree frog at two hundred yards but you ain’t for shit at poker. I’m good, you know me.” “Yeah? Then why ain’t we havin’ pheasant for dinner?”
Mid-morning Saturday Duane’s phone rang and when he answered, “Hello,” a woman’s soft voice asked, “Is this Duane?” Duane was thoughtful for a moment, “What’s this about?” “Jamie asked me to call you,” she answered. Duane’s voice was tense, “Go ahead.” The woman’s voice was anxious as she explained that Duane was to take a cab to an address in an alley and have it wait while he came upstairs. She paused and then said, “He said you’re to bring two bills, and to hurry up.”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he said out loud as he dialed the cab company. He checked his wallet, withdrew two one hundred dollar bills and put them in his shirt pocket with his cigarettes. They were Camel straights, he’d run out of his Marlboros one day and bummed one from Jamie. He’d never smoked one before and nothing else since. ‘Funny,’ he thought, ‘long as I knew him, never smoked one of his butts and never knew him to smoke anything else.’ He walked out of his bungalow to wait at the curb for the cab.
As the cab rolled to a stop in the alley next to the appliance store Duane shook his head fiercely, ‘I knew the son-of-a-bitch shouldn’t come down here to play.’ He told the cabby to wait and went up the stairs two at a time and knocked at the door. “Who’s there?” came through the door, “Duane,” he answered and the door was opened by a middle aged heavy black woman. Behind her stood a wobbly sick looking Jamie dressed in khakis and black and white plaid shirt. He wagged his finger at Duane and held out his hand. Duane put the two bills in it and Jamie handed it to the woman saying, “Fawn, take this and my deepest thanks and good-bye.” To Duane he said, “You’ll have to help me down the steps and we’re out of here – now.”
Duane kept his peace down the steps and through the cab ride to his house and while he helped Jamie through his door. After he shut the door and got Jamie onto the couch he exploded. “I goddam told you. I good and damn well told you not to go down there alone. But nooo, ‘I’m good,’ you said. Yeah well, you ain’t lookin’ so damn good right now.” Jamie grinned at him, “Well I’m sitting right here smiling at you aren’t I?” “Fuck you,” Duane grinned back, “What the hell happened?”
“Well, like I figured Little stacked the table with his punks but they weren’t any good so I took them out, though he got some of what I figure was his money back out of them, too. So I whittled on him for awhile and thinned him pretty good and he went all in with a good hand that wasn’t good enough. Seems nobody liked that so it turned into a brawl and the bastard shot me. I figure it was a .357 snub he had in his jacket pocket.” Jamie pulled up the plaid shirt and showed Duane a red stained cloth wrapped around his belly. “Grazed me is all but I guess they saw all the blood and thought I was done since I whacked my head on something when threw myself out of the way of it and got cold cocked. Don’t know, it’s pretty hazy after that. I crawled out and wound up in some kind of box, refrigerator packing or something and that lady, Fawn, found me.”
Duane frowned and glared at Jamie, “That should have killed you, dumbass.” Jamie winked, “I told you I’m good.” “You’re stupid lucky is what you are,” Duane snapped. Jamie cocked his head, “There is always that.” Jamie stopped smiling abruptly, “I’m worried about Fawn. If Little finds out she helped me he’ll feel like he has to do something about it. That, and did you see that place? She’s got nothing and keeps it like a palace. You didn’t see how I looked, clothes all torn up and bloody and stinking of booze and she took me in.”
Duane shook his head in amazement, “You fall in shit and roll around and come out smelling like a rose. I’ve never seen anybody like you, you’re the only guy I can think of that wouldn’t have got left in that box to die or had the police called. Maybe that’s why I hang around with you; I keep hoping some of that stupid luck will rub off on me. You’re right about Fawn though. You’re gonna have to do something about Little, for her sake … and hell, your own.” Jamie looked at Duane intently, “I don’t much like getting beat, shot, and robbed. And maybe you don’t need to know anymore than that.” Duane looked back just as intently, “Oh, OK. You figure you’re just going to go start some real shit and if I don’t know about it … what? I already know about it, you dumbass. I’m already in, I asked to be in the other night, but now I’m in ‘cause you called me … remember? What? I’m supposed to be some kind of amnesiac? I’m in, and so what’s up?”
Jamie laughed and pointed his finger at Duane, “OK. Nothing’s going to happen until I can walk upright. That bastard got some muscle along with the skin so I’m going to be stove up for awhile and I can’t be showing off this and getting noticed. I’ll have to take time off work and stay away from folks, flu or something. You really want to do something for me, find me a couple Browning Auto 5s in 12ga magnum. I don’t care what they look like and they’ll never be seen again, just need to work well – and not come back to either of us.”
“I know some guys,” Duane said, “They ain’t real upstanding sorts, you know. Hell, I even know somebody that knows about Little’s pad.”
“No. Leave that alone, I know where it is and that’s enough. Asking around is asking for blowback, don’t need it.” Jamie sighed. “I should have known there’s no cutting you out, but I’m not happy about it – well I am, but I’m not. I don’t know why you ever started hanging around with me, must be the luck thing.”
“Hanging around with you? I felt sorry for your dumb assed self and let you hang with me. OK? By the way, you owe me two hundred and the cab fare, just so’s you don’t think I forgot.”
The following Saturday Duane stopped by Jamie’s house with a long box. Inside he opened it and handed Jamie two long shotguns. Jamie looked at them thoughtfully, “Damn, I forgotten just how long these bad boys are. This is gonna take some work. Well, you’re better with guns than I am; let’s see what we can come up with.
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