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American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
01-01-2015
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
01-11-2014
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
01-04-2014
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2014
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
10-01-2013
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
07-01-2013
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
04-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
10-01-2012
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-07-2012
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-04-2012
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
01-01-2012
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
01-10-2011
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
01-07-2011
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
01-04-2011
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
01-01-2011
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
10-01-2010
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
07-01-2010
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
04-01-2010
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
01-01-2010
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
Side Photo for The Big Stupid Review

The Memphis Showdown

By Gabriel Ricard

Gene watched Lydia for her reaction. She was beautiful, so it was fun and a thankful distraction at times to watch that beauty twist, turn and react to everything outside of its element.

“As far as real shits go,” Lydia said, making it clear she was talking to Hector even though she was walking a few steps ahead of him, “You’re one of the all-time legends.” She used the cigarette in her hand to emphasize certain points over others. She was good with body language. It came quickly to her and was never wasted.

“You’re a goddamn pervert,” Lydia said. “And that’s at least one of the reasons why you’re going to die alone.”

“You think I’m gonna die alone eh?”

This was all for show. Somewhere along the way people had obviously told Lydia that being brutal was cute on her. “It’s obvious,” she replied. “Even Gene can see it.” She stopped. “Where the hell is this bar?”

He gestured up ahead and didn’t stop walking. “It’s just another block.”

Another cigarette was lit. “I thought you said it was right around the corner.”

That smile never left that face, so it looked strange for a moment when he sighed. “Some people would consider two blocks to be right around the corner.”

“Some people are idiots.” Lydia grinned when she said this. A certain amount of exhaustion looked good on her. She knew how to keep it from rising above those sharp, quietly passionate eyes. But that talent like so many others could only be bothered to keep itself together for so many miles.

“You’ve got me there,” Hector agreed.

It seemed like a good idea to just keep quiet until they got to the bar. Gene felt he and Lydia had talked quite a bit between meeting in Gainesville and when Hector joined up in Richmond. They had met over cigarettes. This was generally accepted as the fastest way to meet people and have someone to look for at each stop. Smokers with a long ways to go on Greyhound always wound up getting together sooner or later. Most people couldn’t take that weird kind of solitude that still kept you surrounded by card-carrying members of the living, so they looked for anything that might get a conversation started. Cigarettes were always a popular one. From there you could talk about stuff like where you going and what you might do when you got there.

Lydia was going all the way to Tempe. That was a long stretch, and Gene knew it from entirely too much experience. He felt grateful to only be going as far as Chicago. That was a ways from Memphis, but the last stop on his ticket at least felt real at this point. He could close his eyes and feel that impatience building. This was Lydia’s first time making such a long run from one part of the country to another, and Gene could tell just from looking at her that it was already starting to take a toll.

She sighed a lot and checked her phone a lot more than she needed to. That was a dead giveaway. He knew what those dead giveaways looked like because he had been through them himself at least a couple of times. In fact it was taking everything he had not to give them the time of day now. Really useful distractions controlled by the general compassion of the universe were few and far in between. Just staying awake to be aware of them as they came could take more energy than most had to give.

It was another reason to be glad Chicago was only but so far away. He wasn’t sure he could make it any further than that. Arizona or even some foreign land like California was just unimaginable right now.

Stop thinking about it. Grow up or whatever it is people do in these situations. He lit a cigarette and tried to worry instead about whether or not his stuff would be safe in that storage locker back at the bus station.

Hector pointed up ahead to a place at the end of the corner. “Here we are,” he said. “This is a good place to kill an hour.”

“Two,” Lydia corrected.

“Two,” he agreed.

It looked completely unremarkable from all points. The entire street was kind of like that. Memphis was one of those cities that didn’t try very hard to hide the growing parts of its locale that were in desperate need of substantial repairs. Some fresh paint was the least of it. Half of what he had seen looked like the world’s largest outdoor flea market.

“First round is on me,” Hector said as he opened the door for them. “Get whatever you want.”

Drinking on a long layover was a new one to Gene. Although he sure as hell wasn’t against the general concept of any time being a good time for a drink. It was a good idea. He wasn’t going to complain or imagine he could think of something better.

The interior was the same as the outside. The bartender was younger than the four people drinking at the bar by about thirty years. He barely glanced at them before going back to watching some early afternoon court show. The four guys didn’t even bother with that.

“What’re you getting, kiddo?” Hector asked, patting them on the back once as they moved towards three stools at other end.

He had been thinking about that ever since Hector introduced the idea while they were all having a cigarette. Something strong seemed logical. “What do you recommend?”

Hector had to be somewhere in his fifties. He was one of those guys who knew better than anyone that there was still plenty of weirdness from one end of America to the other. As traveling companions go, he was someone Gene could imagine putting up with for the long haul. “The alcohol here is pretty good,” he said, gesturing as they sat down for the bartender to come over.

It was hard to tell when Hector was joking around. Every line was delivered in that same quiet tone. “I’ll have a Bud Light,” he said.

“I’ll have the same,” Lydia said. She reached for a nearby ashtray and crushed the cigarette out. It wouldn’t be long before she lit another one.

The moment of commonplace truth had arrived. He had suddenly started arguing with himself that it was a waste of time to see if there was an outlet nearby where he could plug in his phone and finally see if there were any text messages from Chicago. Remaining calm called for constant vigilance on his part. “A whiskey and Coke,” he said. It was at least part of the reason why Hector was always on him for being too quiet. “Whatever’s cheap.”

If the bartender thought for even a second about whether he and Lydia were of legal drinking age he didn’t show it. He simply went about getting the beers and fixing the drink. It had to be a relief to Lydia, who was only nineteen. Eventually something in some way would be an emotional relief to her. She was trying so hard not to let even the most insignificant act of man and/or God break down the resolve she clearly couldn’t imagine living without. Her entire life was played close to the chest. It was as though she wanted to make sure there was just enough of her personal history related to exclude her from any possible murder investigation. Should that kind of thing happen at a Greyhound station.

That was a good joke. He had thought of it a few hours ago and had wanted to share it with her ever since. Not knowing how she would react stopped him every time.

The drinks came. He sipped his, patted himself on the back for not asking the sullen bartender about a nearby outlet and waited patiently for Hector to get them all talking again.

“You’re going to Chicago right?” Hector asked.

There he was. “Yeah,” he said. He sipped the drink and almost made a face. Someone here was taking out his revenge on the world with a long-term plan to destroy as many livers as possible. It was whiskey with just a suggestion of Coke. “Third time I’ve ever been there,” he added for no real reason.

He nodded anyway. He was polite like that. “I’ve been to Chicago a few times over the years. Different kinds of work.” If anything was boring to him, he did a quiet, unassuming job of not revealing this. He sipped his beer and looked around the bar as though he was waiting for something to jostle something from his memories into the open air. “There’s a few small towns all around Chicago that I used to spend a lot of time in,” he went on. “As I get older I think I liked those more.”

“You don’t like cities?” He was glad Hector had taken over the conversation yet again. He felt the weight of his cell phone in the left pocket of his leather jacket. It was a record-breaker for heaviness in spite of its size.

He shrugged. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Maybe I did when I was a young man, but over the years I’ve been more and more grateful when I can go somewhere that doesn’t have much more than a couple of gas stations, a hotel and a grocery store.”

After sipping his drink again Gene wondered how much he could get away with spending in this bar. Chicago was going to cost money, and not just for the obvious reasons. “That sounds like the town I live in,” he said. “And it gets pretty damn boring after a while.” Budgeting this trip had been a couple of long nights spent crunching numbers and then pretending to sleep on their restless chatter of indecision and fear. Then there could be some money in Chicago. Then again maybe not. Too much debate to go one way or the other and then stay put.

“God yes,” Lydia said. Until now she had been pretty absorbed with her cell phone after sitting down. It didn’t even seem like she had been listening. She brushed aside that dark hair that did a hell of a good job enhancing skin that was shockingly pale for where she supposedly came from. “I’ve spent most of my life in those little fucking towns, and it’s seriously gotten to a point where I’m just going to blow my brains out if I’m still living in one when I’m twenty-five.” She scowled at her phone. “There’s too much bullshit in small towns, and I can’t take it anymore.”

That got a small laugh out of Hector. He gave a little too much away though when he looked over at Gene as though he had expected someone else to be sitting there. The switch from a bright, overwhelmingly amused face to something much more low-key had an abrupt shift to it. “That’s totally reasonable,” he said. Out of nowhere he took another sip of his beer and already drained more than half of it. “I was probably the same way at some point.” He chuckled carefully. “I guess I just choose not to remember anymore.”

“That must be nice,” she said.

Another one of those sips that put away more alcohol than an average drink did. “It’s a magic show that never ends,” he said. “And at times it can be very tiring indeed.”

Seeing that change on Hector was weird and completely unexpected. He had gotten used to it from Lydia and just came to expect it from himself. Hector on the other hand had until now had portrayed himself effortlessly as someone who would talk about anything. Nothing was interesting enough to hide. Nothing more than the nature of his life’s work made him such a surprising expert on so much of the country. The things most people didn’t know about unless they watched too much TV. There wasn’t much else to do about that but have another sip of his very strong drink. He was planning to definitely have at least a couple more. Maybe even go for a shot.

“So, Gene,” Lydia asked. For the moment she had put the phone away in her purse. “You still really haven’t told me why you’re going to Chicago.”

Every few hours or so she would bring this up, so he just went with the same answer he had been using. “You still haven’t really told me why you’re going all the way to Tempe.”

“Because it’s boring,” she argued yet again. “I swear to God, there’s nothing exciting about me or why I’m moving.”

So she said. It was actually kinda funny that she could be so defensive so quickly. “That’s kinda presumptuous,” he said, grinning. “How do you know what I’m gonna find interesting?” He was glad she had put the phone away. The reminder had worn thin a while ago.

Her beer was about half-empty. She reached into her purse for a cigarette. “It’s a gift,” she said after lighting it quickly. “Let’s just call it a gift okay?”

For the most part she had been good company. Sometimes she was a little caustic, but Gene had always liked that in a woman who also happened to be beautiful. It made the back-and-forth movie dialog fun, and it gave him a chance to think of something clever to say. Not even a few drinks from this bartender could ever make him feel like he was good-looking enough to be entitled to think he had a chance with girls like Lydia. Having a few smartass, hopefully memorable comments on hand leveled the playing field a little. He finished his drink and put up a hand in surrender. Right now he couldn’t think of anything, but it wasn’t like she was going anywhere. “Okay,” he said, signaling the bartender to come over as he was getting a beer for someone else. “Okay, okay. You don’t have to shine up the plate you want to put my head on.”

All of this was pretty amusing to Hector. He simply sat back and enjoyed the show.

“Don’t worry,” she said as the bartender took Gene’s drink order and nodded at Hector gesturing for another beer. “When I want to kill you I swear you won’t see it coming.”

On a lot of other people that line was a red flag with loud music. Lydia had a way of making it sound interesting even if she was serious. He had chosen to back off. Bugging her was an easy gimmick for getting flashes of anger that threatened to get worse if things continued along as they were going. “As long as there’s sex involved.” He smiled and nodded as the bartender brought the drink. It was as strong as the other one.

Cigarette smoke wanted nothing more than to wrap itself around her hands. Instead it simply died a quick death before it even touched the high ceiling. “Of course there would be sex,” she said. “What kind of raving psycho bitch would that make me?”

He nodded and smiled. Of course Lydia didn’t live anywhere near him. Not that it would have made any difference. Not right now. “That’s true,” he agreed. “Your dedication to the field is consistently extraordinary.”

“Goddamn right it is,” and she almost finished her beer. Clearly she was not in any way a novice.

Hector was chuckling by now. Shaking his head and taking another one of those short sips that still cut the contents almost in half. “I miss being young.” Right then he sighed and for just a second almost seemed as though he wanted to lxpress something different from how he looked. “I really do.”

This was the kind of energy Gene wanted to keep alive. It made them good traveling companions in general, and it kept him from doing something stupid when either no one was watching or no one whose opinion mattered was watching. “You’re not that old,” he said.

“Old enough.”

Lydia rolled her eyes and took a drag from her cigarette. “What?” the smoke exhaled around that word with a careful attention to leisure. “You can’t be more than like fifty.” She was probably glad to not be the center of conversation anymore.

The figure was about what Gene had guessed, too. “I was even gonna say something like forty-five.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Hector emphasized.

Knowing the time would have been nice. There was a certain kind of slowness to the way things were passing by.

“Come on,” Lydia said, leaning a little on the bar since she was on the end of the trio. “I’m curious now.”

He answered by finishing his beer and putting the bottle down with just a tiny bit of force. He looked at them both and gave away nothing in his features. It was a careful manipulation on his part that was laced with decades of experience. “I’m as old as I feel,” he said abruptly. “Let’s just leave it at that.”

The silence dropped on them had the same punch as the sound of that beer bottle times a few thousand and change. Gene couldn’t speak for Lydia and definitely couldn’t speak for Hector being all full of surprises all of a sudden. But where he was concerned he was now more aware of the minutes than ever. Memphis was one of those places that had so many riotously different concepts of time that it was kind of dangerous to stick around for more than a day. Maybe it was something to do with the south. He always felt that vibe in this part of the country. Some locales were more fervent in laying out this energy than others.

After a few minutes it was obvious that Lydia had been counting on others to keep her entertained and distracted, too. She had started a second cigarette, switched from beer to a screwdriver and had brought out her phone again. Her small fingers were a wunderkind blur of words per minute. Her eyes and the corners of her lips revealed tone and how that changed its intensity from second to second.

Because he had barely eaten in the last twenty-four hours the first drink had starting kicking in early. It wouldn’t take a whole lot to get drunk, and it wasn’t a good idea to go that route. He drained the second drink, glancing from Lydia to Hector and then back again. Nobody wanted to talk anymore. He ordered the same thing a third time and thanked the bartender when he plugged the cell phone charger into a nearby outlet that was just under the counter on his side. Taking out his phone he powered it first and then hooked in the charger.

Six text messages. It was a feat of modern psychology that he didn’t look at them. He snapped the phone shut as though it was a small animal trying to take one or all of his fingers away.

The time at the bus station when they left was put against the current time on his phone. He sighed loudly because they still had a ways to go. Drinking alone at a bar was fine, but it didn’t feel right when there were people in both directions with a history however brief of talking to him. If this kept up he could see himself doing something desperate like talking without first being spoken to.

Now the little game of ignoring the text messages had gone from difficult to impossible.

Hector went through two more beers in the time it took Gene to finish his third drink. When they both went to order Hector opted for a shot of vodka on top of the beer.

That was the best opening anyone was ever going to give him. “Want somebody to do a shot with you?”

Apparently he didn’t even need to think about it. “Sure,” he said, getting the bartender’s attention and asking for another shot. “And sorry for the silence. It’s been a long year, and sometimes I have way too much fun thinking about that.”

Gene wanted to point out that it was only March, but that probably wouldn’t be a good idea. The second shot arrived. They were talking again, and that was enough to keep him alive for the rest of the time in their layover. Those texts could be from anybody. It wasn’t a done deal that each one was news from Chicago that went from bad to worse and then back again like some kind of wheel that ran on troubled times. “It’s no worries, man,” he said. “Everything okay?”

The shot was still sitting there, and he was starting to sip his beer. “Fine,” he said. “Fine enough.”

His social circle was in pretty good shape. It didn’t end at just a couple of people. And it stood to completely rational reason that some of those other people could have texted him. After all, the phone had been dead for a while. People were known at times to try and reach him for all kinds of different reasons. He looked at his phone while he looked for something to say to Hector or maybe even Lydia. This was a battle of wills. This was a coke fiend sitting in a small, empty room with a Christmas bonus piled high on the table. “So do you just want to ride out the rest of our layover here?”

“I guess so,” he said simply.

He turned to Lydia. “How about you?”

Just then she had finished texting and had also just taken a generous drink from her screwdriver. She was still making the face most people made when faced with a strong beverage. “I don’t give a shit,” she said flatly. “As far as I’m concerned I’d just as soon stay here until the end of time.”

Somehow he smiled at that. Time was definitely a distinct spirit who refused to budge on any terms that didn’t agree with its own. Not even possibility existed here. Hell of a thing to find humorous with the mood he was already in. He gently reached for his shot and turned to Hector. “Wanna do this thing?”

Hector put his beer down and nodded. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do more,” he replied.

There was a certain tone Hector often took that lent a weird comedic edge to things that wouldn’t be funny on paper. He turned to Lydia and the way she scowled at her phone as though it was an arrogant friend who refused to keep quiet. “You can join in if you want.”

She shrugged, stared at him for a second and then picked up her drink. “Why not,” she said. “Maybe I’ll get fucked up enough to sleep until the next stop.”

“Wouldn’t that be the dream,” Gene agreed.

“Ready?” Hector asked.

“Yep.”

“Sure,” Lydia said with as much enthusiasm as the rest of them.

A thought occurred to Gene. “Should we toast or something?”

“I’m good,” Hector said.

“Let’s just do this,” Lydia said.

That was fine, too. “One, two and a-three.”

Both of them drank their shots without flinching. It took Lydia a couple extra seconds, but she managed to finish off the screwdriver. Her entire face twisted for a moment and then settled. She lit a cigarette.

One shot was always fun. No matter the circumstances. Two shots were even more fun. Gene took a deep breath as the vodka threw a burning left hook at his chest and then disappeared. He chased the shot with his whiskey and Coke. He jumped when the phone vibrated to announce a seventh unread text message. For a moment he just stared at the phone and found it difficult to come down from that jolt of fear and worthless energy.

“You got a text message,” Lydia announced with deliberate attention to the evident.

“Thanks, Captain Obvious.”

“That’s Mistress Obvious to you,” she said and went back to staring straight ahead. With one hand holding the cigarette she put the other to her chest. “I think I might be good for drinks,” she said. There was a pause. “At least for now. I don’t know.”

Gene raised his hand to get the bartender’s attention. “I think I might do one more.” He tapped the shot glass.

Hector finished his beer. “I will, too,” he said and repeated the order. “We still have a good deal of time here,” he added.

No one had actually decided it was time to go. No one seemed to want to go either, but that was apparently the direction they were going to move in anyway.

As the bartender came back Gene looked back over to Lydia. “Are you sure you don’t want to do one more?”

She sighed into her empty glass. She took a sleepy drag from her cigarette while her other arm tried to melt right into the counter. “Why not,” she said. “Why not.” It wasn’t that she was drunk already. It just seemed to be hitting her hard. No one had really eaten in several hours. “Vodka?”

“Yeah,” Hector said.

Maintaining a vow of judgmental silence that had been in place the entire time the bartender poured three shots of vodka. They did a silent, brief raise of the glass, and that was all they did in the way of a toast. Lydia coughed once but with so much added violence that she almost dropped her cigarette. The punch of the vodka woke her up for a second. “Jesus,” she said. “Sometimes I really do forget why I don’t do shots very often.”

“They’re known to do their job,” Hector said, reaching into his wallet. “I can respect that.” He waved the bartender over and produced three twenties. He handed them over and looked to the other two. “Are we going then?”

A long moment of silence stretched between the question and Lydia sighing. “Probably a good idea.”

Gene only faintly noticed that Hector had just paid for everything. His phone was open, and the charger was in a sprawled mess on the counter. The first two texts were just pure anger. Most of the spelling was pretty atrocious. Two were from the rest of the social circle. Two were lesser evils of the anger from the two pure ones. The last one was sober enough and tried to explain in as few words as possible why coming to Chicago was a bad idea. For that one he finished his drink.

Nobody paid attention to what he was doing. This he was faintly aware of, too.

“Are you gonna be okay to walk?” Hector asked Lydia.

She nodded and checked the counter to make sure everything was in her purse. “Yeah,” she said. “I just want that bus to get here, so we can get the hell out of Memphis with our dignity intact.”

Hector cracked his knuckles as he walked towards the door. “I’m sure we’ll be fine.” He turned around with one hand keeping the door open. It was then he noticed that everybody was not coming right behind him. “Gene aren’t you coming?”

Until now he hadn’t really thought about it. Since Hector had paid for everything, he still had a good chunk of money that didn’t need to do anything but enjoy itself. In fact now that amount may have just doubled. “No,” he said. “I’ve gotta make a couple phone calls, but I’ll join you in a few.” That was probably going to turn out to be a lie. He wasn’t sure yet.

This stopped Hector at the door and Lydia just a couple feet away from him. “Are you sure?” he asked. “If you don’t want to leave we can stay for another round.” He looked at his watch. “There’s still a bit of time.”

His phone was stuck on the first text message. Whatever the next move might be he wanted it to start from the first text. Of the seven it was the least intimidating. Of course two of the seven didn’t even count. “Nah,” he said. His tone wanted casual assurance, but he didn’t know if that was actually coming across. The room had an intrusive echo all of a sudden. “You guys go on ahead, and I’ll join you before the bus supposedly leaves.”

Almost a minute went by where Hector simply hung on that thought. He was at a complete loss. “Okay,” he finally said. “We’ll see you in a bit.”

“Yep.”

Even then they hung around for a few more seconds. For separate reasons both Lydia and Hector wanted an excuse of their own to stay. However they were stuck in the process of leaving and finally did so without saying another word.

Gene sighed as though the text message was an actual person with a fondness for sympathy. He ordered the next whiskey and Coke and took his time thinking of how to respond. Beating the clock for the bus that would be leaving Memphis in a short while was dependent on a couple of things. It relied on what he was going to type and whether or not anything came back from that. It was wide open and would probably be cutting it close to the scheduled departure if it was going to cut at all. He didn’t know just then.

© Gabriel Ricard 2011