You hear all kinds of things in a bar at night, but the truth is relative when you’re drunk.
Danny’s eyes widened with glee, as he held the shot of rye over the beer. Plop. Gulp. Third time’s the charm because it leads to the fourth. Danny tapped the bar top, signaling the bartender to get another boilermaker on deck.
Ezra, seated beside Danny and in front of an untouched glass of beer, raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips at the drinking prowess of his friend.
“You still throw them back just like in the old days?” Ezra said, as he used his index finger to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“Well, not every day. Just most,” Danny laughed. “You know, like the days when I wake up breathing.”
“Let’s not keep that from happening.” Ezra raised his arm in the air. “Bartender. Keep them coming.”
“You’ve barely touched yours,” Danny said, eyeing the sudsy delight.
“That’s alright. As long as you’re choking on your own bile by the end of the night, I’ve done my job.”
The two men raised their glasses and brought them together in a silent toast.
“You ain’t much of a drinker anymore? How come?” Danny asked.
Ezra looked down at his lap. He slouched forward, his shoulders folded inward towards his chest like broken wings.
“What’s up?” Danny asked.
“I shouldn’t even be here – in a bar. It’s just that we haven’t seen each other in so long,” Ezra said. He then looked at Danny out of the corner of his eye as if to say, brace yourself. “I drove home drunk from a friend’s wedding six years ago. I was plastered. I knew it. I didn’t care. Hell, I was purposely driving through red lights and stop signs. At one point, I drove up on the sidewalk and ran over a couple of tents. Till this day I still don’t know if there were any homeless people sleeping inside of them.”
“What the fuck! Couldn’t you feel if you were hitting anything?” Danny asked.
“At the time, I was driving a Ford F-350. I could have hit a grizzly and wouldn’t have noticed. But that wasn’t the worst part. After that I blacked out. I don’t know for how long, but probably no more than a minute. When I came to, I was driving in a park and careening toward a playground. Normally playgrounds are empty at two in the morning except for teenagers.”
Danny’s eyes remained glued to Ezra’s lips, as his hands groped the scene for a liquid prop. The tepid carbonation of Ezra’s beer upon his tongue bolstered Danny’s enthusiasm for the moment.
“They never saw me coming. Two fifteen-year-old girls – I learned later from the coroner’s report. They were on swings with their backs to me, smoking a joint. One of them was crushed beneath the wheels of my truck, the other was catapulted 250 feet into the night sky.” Ezra moved a hand up to his face. Soft sobs emanated from between his fingers.
Danny laid a gentle hand on Ezra’s back, “I’m sorry man.”
“That’s not all.”
“The girl who was sent flying didn’t land inside the park. The playground was encircled by houses. Her body flew into someone’s yard. Someone’s yard where someone’s pregnant wife couldn’t sleep that night, so she decided to go out back to sneak a smoke. The girl landed on top of the pregnant woman – killing her instantly.”
Ezra’s body shook. As did the bartender’s. Their voices bellowed with laughter.
“You effing jerk!” Danny said.
“You’re a real gullible puss,” the bartender said.
“Yeah, well, there goes your tip.”
“That was better than any tip you would’ve left – puss.”
“Even as drunk as you are, do you really think I’d be sitting next to you right now if even half of that was true?” Ezra said.
“Well, maybe half. Your parents have money. You hear of people doing terrible stuff all the time and getting a slap on the wrist.”
“Not people like us.”
“You should’ve told him they found the girl’s body on the moon. Only after it was reported by a cow,” said the bartender.
“Go serve some drinks, wench,” Danny said.
“Name’s Bill, sweetheart,” the bartender said.
Danny rolled his eyes and scoffed, while at the same time his posture became more diminutive. He disappeared behind his beer. Having felt the sting of embarrassment, Danny proceeded to study the historical record of drinks past that were laid out on the bar top in the form of water rings. They formed a miniature solar system that soon morphed into faces. A normal mental phenomenon. We’re hardwired to see faces everywhere. Something he remembered reading from Carl Sagan. A random factoid acquired around the time he and Ezra were in each other’s lives on a daily basis.
Danny remembered another embarrassing episode from around that time. One that was worse. He was younger and more vulnerable. The audience was larger and more desirable.
“What are you, stupid?” Danny said, as he slapped his knee, trying not to hyperventilate.
“I have a learning disability,” said Ezra. “There’s nothing funny about disabilities.”
“Yeah, Danny,” Ginger said. “You’re such a jerk.”
Ginger was one of those girls on campus, a campus of ten thousand, who could be described in a few phrases and every guy knew exactly who you were talking about – “You know that girl with red hair, capital knockers, always jogs in the quad.” “Oh… her.”
The offshoot of the party that had formed around Ginger and her friends, who bogarted the furniture, watched as Ginger made room on the couch. Ginger, with her slender porcelain hand, patted the cushion next to her. She batted her big doe eyes at Ezra. He got the signal and plopped his tuchus onto the cushion.
Danny’s mouth fell open as he watched Ginger take Ezra’s head and rest it upon her ample bosom. “What – the?!?” Danny proclaimed as his hand reached out, palm upwards, towards the pair, as if presenting evidence of a crime against nature.
The jury, however, wasn’t buying it. The jury being Ginger’s equally attractive friends. With vacant eyes and gaping mouths, they looked at Danny as if they’d just been told he had syphilis.
Danny was jostled forward, as if the chair he was sitting in was privy to the same medical information.
“Hey! What gives?” Danny said, to the large athletic party goer who stood beside him.
“You’re a D-bag. You shouldn’t make fun of people with needs,” the athlete said.
“Needs? He said he thought Lincoln was president of the United States when Columbus discovered America. He thought that until he was in the 8th grade. That’s nuts! That’s not being disabled. That’s moronic!” Danny said.
“Yeah, well you shouldn’t make fun of morons,” stated one of the attractive jurors.
“Besides, there were kings back then. Kings are like presidents,” Ginger proclaimed.
As word got around campus about Danny’s disdain for people with disabilities, the following weeks of his college life were the most uncomfortable he would face, despite the fact that he could be seen on a daily basis paling around with the target of his ridicule. But the sucker punch came when he learned that Ezra had scored perfect on his SATs and was attending the college on a full academic scholarship – not a fencing scholarship as he originally claimed. The closest thing to a fencing team the college had ever seen was a stage production of Zorro the Gay Blade back in 1992.
“You ever hear from Ginger ‘what’s her name’ anymore?” Danny asked.
“Ginger?” Ezra said.
“Ginger “big tits,” Danny said.
“Oh, her. God no. What made you think of her?”
“Eh, just thinking ‘bout how you’ve always been a jokester,” Danny answered.
“Yeah, a jokester,” Ezra responded, as his index finger went to work pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
20 Minute Lull:
Danny: Gulp, Burp, Gulp. Coupled by intermittent scratching of testicles and a visit to the men’s room.
Ezra: Glasses adjusted six more times. Sipped six ounces of beer. Texted six different females.
Danny reached the moment of truth – one more? Or call it? His mind made the slow calculations as his body remained frozen in place – eyes stared vacantly into the vacant receptacle that would determine his fate. But the bartender had been watching from the opening bell. He kept his eyes locked on Danny. He approached holding a bar mop, which tumbled between his beer soaked hands. If Danny didn’t start showing some signs of life, he’d throw in the towel.
Static crackled in the air. The juke box had woken from its slumber. Unsatisfied by The Replacements had begun to fill ears.
Danny snapped to. A twenty appeared on the bar. “Another, good sir,” Danny said, showcasing his pearly whites. The bartender stopped in his tracks and placed his arms on his hips, standing akimbo. Alright, cunt. Have it your way – the message his posture displayed loud and clear.
Danny turned and shook his empty glass in Ezra’s face.
“I’m still working on mine,” Ezra said, holding up a glass of beer containing 10 fluid oz.
“That works. Gives me time to kill one more.”
“You know, you can stay even if I leave,” Ezra said.
“Sorry if I’m keeping you. Feel free to kick rocks,” Danny responded.
“No, I’m just saying, I don’t understand why people always feel the need to leave at the same time.”
“I don’t know – I guess it’s polite?” Danny answered. “Eff it. It’s been good to see you. You know who else randomly popped into my head – your cousin Kristi. How’s she doin’?”
“She’s dead,” Ezra said.
“Come on! Really? What happened?”
“She was killed by a pack of wild dogs,” Ezra said.
“Yeah, okay. Right after she was raped by Big Foot and anally probed by space pirates,” Danny said.
“That’s not funny. It was a pretty awful time for my family. She was only 26 years old. We had to have a closed casket because the dogs ate off her face,” Ezra said.
“Ate off her face? See? Why do you describe it like that?”
“How else am I to describe it? They dined on her face?” Ezra asked
“I’ve never seen a stray dog around here, never mind a pack of roaming hell hounds,” Danny said.
“Uh, dumb ass, people move. She was living in Houston. There was a tropical storm that caused a ton of flooding. A crap ton of animals were abandoned or lost. Some of those were dogs that formed packs and went around fucking shit up. Do those facts work for you?” Ezra said.
“They ate off her face?” Danny said, in such deep contemplation that it caused him to grimace. The facial contortion made it look as though he was trying to suppress a fart.
Ezra looking on, cracked a smile. Danny glimpsed the facial gesture out the corner of his eye.
“What? No I’m not.” Ezra said.
“Why are you smiling? You’re a god damn liar.”
“Kristi is dead. I can’t change that. Hell, if I knew where she was buried, we could go dig her up.”
“See, why would you even joke about something like that?”
“Because it’s just that – a joke,” Ezra said. He brought forth his phone. “You don’t believe me, let’s call my mom. Will you believe her?” Ezra said, tapping the screen.
“You’re not gonna call your mom,” Danny said.
“I’m calling her right now,” Ezra said, as he held up the phone. The screen displayed the words MOM and calling… along with a red phone icon.
“Here, it’s for you. You better take it. Don’t leave my mom hanging. She’s going to think something is wrong,” Ezra said, as he pushed the phone into Danny’s face.
“Screw you man,” Danny said, pushing both Ezra and the phone away. Danny snatched his beer from the bar – spilling half of it. He followed it up with an awkward dismount from his stool – causing it to wobble like a weeble. Then he ended the trifecta with elbows to ribs, livers, and spleens as he made his way towards the exit.
“That beer doesn’t leave this bar!” the bartender declared.
Danny stopped in his tracks, tossed the beer down his throat and then slammed the glass down onto the nearest table. He stumbled out the door.
Danny’s face wrinkled up and his body stiffened as he was assaulted by an arctic blast of air. He looked as if he was on the business end of a leaf blower juiced up on uranium. Once the sensation of cold loosened its grip on Danny’s physiology, his anatomy took over and countered with its own sensation of warmth. Danny was alone in a dark warm place. No worries. No concerns.
“Bah, ha, ha!”
Danny opened his eyes and found himself at the top of the steps leading into the bar. Down on the sidewalk, about to ascend the steps, Danny spied two young couples looking up at him with mocking grins. Their eyes were zeroed in on his crotch.
“Oh shit,” Danny said, as he looked down at his pants.
“Looks more like piss, dum dum,” said one of the young men, with an arm draped around the shoulders of one of the female companions, pulling her in close, as they laughed cheek-to cheek.
Danny threw his hands up in the air, where they remained. He looked like a waiter who had just dropped a tray of food and was looking down at the aftermath wondering, what do I do now? He reached down into his pants.
“Watch out ladies, he’s about to whip it out,” the young man said.
“Didn’t you finish, pal?” his friend asked.
“Ewwww,” the two females responded.
Danny didn’t whip out his junk. Danny whipped out his Glock. He held it upside down by the grip like it was a dirty diaper. He begun to twist it in the air, examining its condition. Satisfied, he placed two hands on the grip and began to wipe the gun down using his shirt, doing his due diligence to make sure it was free of impurities.
Lost in his task, Danny had plumb forgot about his audience. It wasn’t until he checked the gun’s sights, Danny lined up four petrified faces staring back at him behind a red dot.
“You still here?” Danny said, slurring his words.
The two couples were so quick to react to Danny’s words, had they been cartoon characters, their feet would have been running on air accompanied by the sound of bongos – a split second later, vanishing and leaving behind a cloud of dust.
Danny looked on as if dumbfounded by their actions. He shook his head and snickered. Danny shrugged his shoulders and turned his attention back to his Glock. Satisfied with its condition, Danny was about to return the gun to its holster when he was nudged from behind.
He saw the steps and the sidewalk he previously had a bird’s eye view of, moving upwards towards his peepers. But before any of his orbital bones could be smashed, he was jerked in the opposite direction.
“Watch your step there, Baryshnikov,” Ezra’s voice said.
Danny spun around with both arms spread out wide. His Glock, like in a game of spin the bottle, came to a stop pointed directly at Ezra.
“Jesus!” Ezra said, crouched low to the ground using his arms to shield his face.
“Oh, it’s you,” Danny said.
“Where’d that come from?” Ezra asked, still assuming the position.
“My pants. It’s my CCW. It’s always there. Except I had an accident,” Danny said.
“Oh yeah, looks like you made a pee pee,” Ezra said, examining Danny’s crouch. “Mind putting it back there?”
“Sure-,” Danny said, as he turned around and began to take slow exaggerated steps down the stairs. “Anything for you pal.”
Ezra got to his feet and adjusted his clothing. Despite the scare, he followed Danny’s trek down the stairs, keeping his distance through mimicry – stepping only when Danny stepped, where he stepped – becoming his shadow.
“But you gotta do something for me, buddy boy,” Danny said, reaching the sidewalk.
“Sure, want me to call you a cab? An Uber?” Ezra asked.
Danny, now walking down the sidewalk, which was lined with parked cars, kept his back to Ezra.
“No, I’m good to go. What I want from you – what I want from you, amigo, is the truth,” Danny said, as he turned around with the Glock pressed against the temple of his head.
“What the fuck man? Aren’t you a bit too old for such shenanigans? Put the gun away. You’ve had too much to drink.”
“Shenanigans? No, no. I’m not the liar here. I’ll pull the trigger. I don’t necessarily care about waking up tomorrow,” Danny said.
“What is it you want, man?” Ezra said with a lump in his throat. He raised his arms in the air as if to say, here I am.
“Kristi – is she dead?”
“Yeah. Dead as can be. No coming back. I mean, some of the dogs weren’t exactly dogs. I heard that coyotes were mixed in there, somewhere, but still canines,” Ezra said.
Danny shook his head side to side. “I don’t believe you.”
“Why should I? Why should I start believing you now?” Danny asked, still shaking his head. “Why!”
“Hey, don’t take my word for it. We can still talk to my mom,” Ezra said, as he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his phone.
Danny’s face transformed from angry to inquisitive. He had begun to slowly lower the gun away from his head. His eyes widened and his lips puckered up as if he was on the verge of asking a question.
Then he hesitated.
“Give your mom my regards,” Danny said, as he swung the gun up to his temple.
Danny’s laughter could have woken the dead. He was bent over with one hand against his chest, as the other wavered in the air, flagging Ezra with the muzzle of the gun. Ezra, likewise, held his chest with one hand pressed against it, while the other held his phone out like a shield in front of him.
“You –,” Ezra tried to get the words out, but he was still reeling from the moment.
“Oh, man. Well, that made up for the twelve dozen times when the roles were reversed,” Danny said.
“Bull, man! I’ve never done anything this shitty. And stop pointing that damn thing at me! Even if it isn’t loaded,” Ezra said.
“It’s loaded,” Danny said, releasing the magazine and showing the rounds. “I don’t keep it chambered – I’ve had a few negligent misfires,” Danny said, shrugging his shoulders. He slammed the magazine back into the mag well and racked the slide. “Now it’ll fire,” Danny said.
“I’m outta here. This has been terrible. And don’t trouble yourself with wearing a seatbelt,” Ezra said, moving his hands as if they were controlling a steering wheel.
Ezra turned away from Danny and started walking. He could still hear Danny’s laughter, which was simmering down, as the two of them covered equal distance in opposite directions. About a minute later the laughter was replaced with the slamming of a car door. Tires screeched.
Ezra turned to see the commotion – due more to impulse than concern. Down the street, a car, with no lights on, spun out into the middle of the street where it sat revving its engine.
“What are you doing?” Ezra said, in a soft voice.
The revving continued. The tires spun as if trying to reach the Earth’s core. The sound was like nails on a chalkboard. Then all that remained was a small cloud of exhaust.
“Won’t be seeing him again,” Ezra said, as he shook his head.
Ezra continued the trek towards his car. His footing and balance were clutch – the buzz he had achieved was pretty much annihilated thanks to Danny. But then he nearly tripped as his hand began to buzz.
“What – the?”
Ezra took a look at his buzzing hand and saw his phone. His mom was calling. He stared at the screen.
“Hey – mom. No. Yeah, everything’s okay. I must have pocket dialed you. Sorry about that,” Ezra said. He scratched his head and listened. Ezra turned and looked back down the street. Skid marks could be seen beneath the light of a street lamp. “I was just out with a friend for a few drinks. Hey, cousin Kristi came up in conversation. I couldn’t recall how she died,” Ezra said. “Ohhh, Lupus. I can’t believe I forgot. I thought it was Crohn’s -. Aunt Lucy had Crohn’s. Got it. Well, I guess I misspoke,” Ezra said.