“He insulted me!” she told Max, staring at me with a look of hatred that was irreversible.
“We don’t insult the ladies here,” Max said. “You owe this girl a drink and an apology.”
“I don’t want any trouble, I’m just waiting for my friend who went in back.
“You can’t stay unless you drink.” Max smiled the way enemies smile.
“I’ve got a drink.” I held my bottle, showing it was still half full.
“But Angel’s glass is empty.” Max bent forward with his hands flat on the table’s edge. A closer look at his tattoos: a pinup girl, a heart, an anchor, and the letters, M A X. Biceps asbig as coffee cans. The veins in his thick neck begin to swell.
“I’ll have to wait until my friend gets back,” I told them. “He’s got all the money.”
“Shouldn’t come here broke,” Max said. “You’ve been here long enough. Drink up and then vamoose. Wait for your friend outside . . . or I could help you out. You want it that way?”
Max’s face was close enough that I could smell his fetid breath. My heart begin to hammer in my chest.
“Just let me wait here for my friend. I’m sure he won’t be long.”
“He’ll be gone long enough for you to have another drink.”
“Okay. I’ll leave.” I slid out carefully, holding my bottle, knowing that it offered no defense. I gulped the last of what was left and headed for the door. I could feel Max’s eyes glued to my back until I stepped outside onto the sidewalk. I’d escaped unharmed, but what if they slipped Frank a Mickey, like those bastards did to me at Jimmy’s place? If he did not return, should I go looking look for him, take a chance of getting whacked myself? Or go home with a load of guilt to take his place? I could hear Dearie doing Charlie Chan inside my head, ‘If befriend donkey, must expect to be kicked.’
The only thing that I could see to do was wait for him inside my car. I found a parking ticket underneath the windshield wiper. Shit! The fine was fifteen bucks! I put the ticket back and shoved five nickels in the meter, got my keys out, and had started to unlock the door when Frank rejoined me.
“That was fast.” I was relieved that nothing bad had happened to him, glad to have his less than welcome company again.
“I changed my mind,” he said. “She wanted too much money, and they made me pay for your last beer.”
“I didn’t have a last beer.”
“Well, they said you did.”
“Max kicked me out. I only had one beer.”
“Well, now you owe me one,” he said.
“Yeah, right.” In less than thirty minutes we had gone through over thirty dollars, with the parking ticket . . . almost one week’s pay for me.
“We’re not done yet,” Frank said. “The night’s still young—like you. Come on. You’re going to get a State Street education. There’s a lot of other places.”
“Maybe just a couple more.” I could hear Dearie doing Charlie Chan again, ‘Smart rat know when to leave the ship,’ but some of my still youthful curiosity remained.
As we moved on it seemed the bars had been arranged in a descending order. Beer got cheaper, and the women fatter, older, less attractive. Now a streetwalker approached us, dope-eyed, fuzzy and unfocused, maybe drunk inside a short skirt and a loose, white, halter top.
“You’d probably give us both a dose,” Frank told her.
“Fuck you!” she said.
“Slut!” Frank called after her. She teetered down the street, still cursing us.
I worried some avenging pimp might find us next.
“I think it’s time to go, Frank.”
“Nah, still early, and need to get our ashes hauled.”
Not me, I thought, but tagged along. We took a look inside the ‘Chances R’, a bar with slot machines, crap tables and a roulette wheel. We were the only customers. I lost a dollar-fifty betting fifty cents a spin on red. “I’m good for one more stop,” Frank. “This is it. I’ve had enough of Calumet.”
“You’re such a drag,” Frank told me as we left the place.
We passed a few more bars that didn’t seem worth looking into, and were now beside a flickering neon sign, ‘The Last Chance’. Seemed a fitting place to end our tour. “Let’s go in here.”
“Okay,” Frank shrugged. Inside, behind the bar, a time worn metal sign announced, ‘Cal City Beer. Three working girls on bar stools looked a bit like Eskimos, high cheekbones, short-cut straight black hair, black eyes, and overweight. I checked my watch, one-thirty. I was tired and there was work tomorrow, Monday morning.
The three Eskimos were less aggressive than the pair who conned us at the Paddock. There were no champagne suggestions as we ordered beers, a dollar each. I paid, and saw Frank give five dollars to a girl with a small scar below one eye. “I’ll be back,” he told me—wait.”
They disappeared behind a faded curtain stretched across a doorway and the two remaining bar girls asked for drinks, but I refused. They didn’t make a fuss about it, and ignored me as I lit a cigarette nursed my beer ‘til Frank came back some fifteen minutes later, followed by his whore.
“She’s good,” Frank said. “You want to take a ride?”
“I think I’ll pass.”
Frank shrugged “Okay with me. I thought that’s what you came for.”
“I’m for going back,” I told him. “You can go with me, or take a bus. I’m leaving.”
“Bus don’t run on Sunday. Christ, I only made this trip for you.”
“I’ve seen enough,” I told him as we left and started walking back toward the car. It felt good to be in charge for once, but Frank was pissed. A few more weeks and I would never see the jerk again . . . but until then it might be wise to keep us more or less at peace.
“God Damn!” My right rear tire was flat.
Frank said, “You must have hit a nail, or broken bottle.
I squatted down and saw someone had stabbed the sidewall with a knife. The hooker’s pimp? Who knew? I popped the trunk, removed the spare, and jack, and tire iron.
Frank just stood there like the useless shit he was as I sat on the grimy curb and knocked the spinner off the hub. Thank God my spare was good. I bumper-jacked the right rear end up high enough to pull the flat off, and began to shove the spare on as two guys came up to watch.
“Looks like you had some trouble,” one told Frank.
“Somebody slashed our tire,” he said.
“You need some help?” One of the two hunched down beside me in a dirty dark-gray sweatshirt and torn khaki pants. His words were more an order than an offer. “Won’t cost you much.”
I had the tire iron in my hand, but wondered what the two of them might carry as persuaders.
“Got a cigarette?” the other one asked Frank.
Frank gave him one.
“Ran out of gas,” he said as Frank got out his lighter. “Need a couple bucks to get us back to Indiana.”
Frank told him, “We’ve already spent the money we brought with us.”
I could hear the worry in his voice. This wasn’t good. I got the spare on, slammed spinner back in place, and backed the jack down with the tire-iron, keeping it in my right hand. I threw the jack and ruined tire into the trunk. Could Frank be counted on if trouble started? Maybe . . . maybe not.
A black & white approached us, but the cops just looked the other way and passed us by.
“The bulls don’t care too much what happens here.” The guy who’d hunched beside me stood. His teeth were yellow and he smelled of sweat. His clothes looked like he slept in them.
I kept the tire iron in my hand and I slammed the trunk lid shut as our new found friends stepped back a foot or two, eyeing the tire-iron warily. They didn’t look as though they could afford a gun, but knives were cheap.
“I got a dollar left,” Frank passed it to the jerk beside him.
“Thanks. That helps,” he said. “You two be careful. Lots of shit can happen here.”
They walked away and we got back into the car, I slid the iron below the driver’s seat and locked the doors. There was no way to wash my grubby hands and I had gotten something on my pants.
We drove back in silence. I was pissed, and disappointed. Thirty minutes later I pulled up in front of Frank’s apartment building. He was staring at a car parked at the curb. “She came back early.”
“Good luck,” I told him, holding back a grin.