Bobby worried at killing the man.
He intended to put the fright into Tony Falcon, nothing more. It shouldn’t have been difficult, Bobby clearing six four and two thirty, Tony Falcon five ten in heeled shoes and a hundred seventy pounds after a big meal. Looking at him across the dim bar, surrounded by laughing women, Falcon seemed more. He wore a fitted black button-down shirt in alternating stripes, shiny black and dull black, tails out over skinny jeans and pricey-looking shoes. Bobby bet any one item cost more than his entire outfit. Probably the haircut did, too.
It wasn’t the clothes. Maybe the coke kept Tony Falcon lean, but he looked fit. Tough. Bobby hadn’t expected that. In truth, Falcon looked like the kind of cocky runt who used to bully him in school, trying to prove his manhood by picking the biggest target.
Tony liked nineties grunge rock. He had an ex-wife and a four-year-old son. He drove a BMW. He shaved meticulously and took Rogaine for his receding hairline. Sometimes, he wore rectangular, black-framed glasses. He voted republican. His real name was Anthony Falconetti. He did something in film, not backing them with money or carrying equipment or working directly with talent. Editing, maybe. Or marketing. Bobby hadn’t caught that part of his wife’s description of her old High School pal.
Except pal didn’t cut it. They’d dated three months. Bobby didn’t need to ask if they’d fucked because his wife had fucked all her boyfriends since the age of thirteen. The kicker came when Bobby heard his wife had been Tony Falcon’s first.
Something clicked in his mind. She’d found a whole clan of her high school buddies online. This clan included a boyfriend, one she hadn’t much cared for if she was to be believed. But Bobby knew something was off with this Tony Falcon. Falcon didn’t just want to spend time with the first woman he’d ever fucked, he wanted to show her everything he’d learned during the years in between. When Bobby voiced this opinion to his wife, she found it hilarious.
Bobby didn’t care much for fighting. His brothers and his old man did, but they hadn’t toughened him any. They’d beaten the fight right out of him. Bullies had a knack for looking past his size and seeing that passiveness, that weakness. Maybe Falcon would, too.
Beneath Tony Falcon’s baby-smooth face, high, bookish forehead and deep set eyes, he’d say anything to get what he wanted, even if it had nothing to do with the truth. Bobby blamed himself. His wife had been with him for so long, she’d forgotten what men were like. Tony Falcon told her how beautiful she was, how lucky Bobby was to have her, but his goal was to get his dick wrapped in warm flesh. Bobby saw this truth in the blackness of Tony Falcon’s eyes, in his boyish, arrogant good looks, in his calculated outfit. The women around Tony Falcon found him bad-boy charming. Bobby only saw the bad.
None of the women were as beautiful or put together as Bobby’s wife. He knew he was way out of his league with her, but he spent his days romancing his wife to be sure she only had eyes for him. Then this Falcon comes along-
Bobby hadn’t touched his beer. He worried at killing Tony Falcon.
6’s and 7’s was half restaurant and half dive bar. Bobby had never seen the restaurant side, never been to 6’s and 7’s during the day. He came on Thursdays and Saturdays for live blues and because he could smoke inside. As a bonus, it was one of the few places in this city to buy beer for less than seven dollars. Bodies, alcohol, and smoke never quite masked the faint sewer smell. One of the bathrooms always got stopped up, so men and women ended up sharing. The women liked to give the guys a hard time about being perverts, lurking around while they peed. Because of this. the bushes surrounding the parking lot smelled like a public bathroom. Bobby hated pissing outdoors but he hated being called a pervert even more, so he usually used the bushes. After enough beers, he thought of the bad plumbing as part of the place’s seedy appeal.
Bobby, who came from a northeastern, Scotch-Irish family, usually downed three for every one these west coast guys put away. But tonight he kept Tony Falcon in his eye line and barely heard the music. He didn’t think about a buzz to calm his nerves, or worry about his drink getting warm.
Bobby hated fighting but he was not without violence. He had punched through a car window. He had smashed a coffee table. He had erased the skin from his knuckles on numerous occasions, punching walls and floors until his rage was spent. He didn’t think it was right to take his anger out on living things. He also tried to do these things in private so no one would be upset, but the aftermath always gave him away. Shattered windows needed replacing. Missing tables turned up as splinters swept from hidden corners. He couldn’t hide scabbed flesh livid with bruises, swollen to the point where knuckles disappeared.
He worried about chickening out.
He worried about losing his grip and beating Tony Falcon to death.
He would push the beer away and order a double-shot of Jack Daniels. He would down it in a gulp. The crowd would part as he walked over to Tony Falcon’s table. The four women flirting with him (all of them likely married, too) would look up. Bobby’s height and wide shoulders and big hands would be mitigated against his baggy jeans and bare wrists and black t-shirt and doughy waist and cracking shoes and they would dismiss him. Tony Falcon wouldn’t dismiss him. As Bobby saw Tony Falcon’s usury of women in his smirk, Tony Falcon would see the violence in Bobby. Bobby would point at Tony Falcon, then the door. He’d walk out swiftly, knowing Tony Falcon would follow. Maybe the women would follow, maybe Tony Falcon would ask them to stay. Maybe Bobby would ask, “You Falcon?” then say, “Outside,” like something out of a movie.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. If he started out antagonistic, Falcon would get defensive. Bobby would respond by attacking him, maybe verbally at first, but violence had a way of beating with its own heart. Bobby had a cousin who’d killed a man in a bar fight. He got twenty five years in prison.
He would forget confronting Falcon. It might save both of their lives. It wouldn’t be chickening out, really. Bobby was a happy drunk. He never put alcohol in his system to cope or to quell anger. If he started drinking now, those would be the reasons. If he started drinking now, he wasn’t sure what would happen.
His wife had said she was having a mid-life crisis. Bobby was everything to her, but somehow this scrawny little republican coke head had caught her imagination. She knew if she cheated again Bobby would leave her, and the thought was more than she could bear. If Bobby wanted her to stop seeing Tony Falcon, she would.
Bobby refused to play those games. He told his wife she had to do what was right for her. He told her she might not be in trouble yet, but that she’d taken the first steps. When she hit where she was headed, neither would be able to fool themselves into thinking it was an accident.
In the manner of modern relationships, his wife killed Tony Falcon. She removed him from her online friends, marked his email as spam, and deleted his number from her cell phone. She told him it had been fun catching up, but it wouldn’t be a good idea for them to see each other any more. She announced all this to Bobby with the breathless tone of a lover, not a wife. She found fidelity sexy again.
His wife didn’t understand his ultimatum. It wasn’t her he couldn’t live with if she cheated again, it was himself.
Tony Falcon was a symptom. His wife’s tired gaze was the problem. The love and contentment that used to fill her eyes had been replaced with love and sadness, a melancholy she showed when she thought Bobby wasn’t paying attention. He didn’t understand how loving someone could be so sad, but then he’d never longed for anything else. Maybe his needs were too simple.
Soon enough, Falcon rose from the virtual dead and appeared in the flesh. It took him two weeks to fuck Megan, and he got a piece of every body part she had to offer. When it was over, Megan confessed. in a fit of remorse, she’d ticked off the activities on the fingers of one hand, each sex act like a hammer to Bobby’s heart.
That wasn’t even the worst part. The worse part was feeling pity for his wife’s depleted heart, destroyed when Tony Falcon dumped her. She was so sure that Bobby wouldn’t leave. Her pain came not from losing her marriage, but from losing Tony Falcon. It was finally more than Bobby could take. He left, driving for hours, tears rolling down his cheeks. He returned home because he really had nowhere to go, all his family still back east and none of his friends being the crash-for-a-few-nights type. He hadn’t returned to their bed, though.
He couldn’t beat whatever had gone wrong with his marriage, but he could beat Tony Falcon. For one night, he could be the type of man who found satisfaction in the violence his fists caused against people instead of objects.
Bobby worried at how much bloodshed it would take to find oblivion.
Bobby grabbed his bottle off the bar and drained it in several long pulls. He signaled Marnie for another so he wouldn’t have to wait. Marnie – a short, thick black girl with a bare midriff and a low-cut top – was ready because he tipped well, and he was always a gentleman. He wondered if Marnie liked tall white dudes. The thought was depressing.
Slowly, noise filtered back into his awareness. Snippets of conversation, laughter, bottles hitting the bar, glasses clinking together, and the band, Dilapidated Dives, pounding rhythms into the night. Bobby’s thoughts and the blood beating in his ears had drowned everything out. The more alcohol he poured on his anger, the more he did not flirt with the lovely black bartender, the better the music sounded. Violence felt like a distant, bad memory.
On some level, he knew he was angry at Megan. Only two generations removed from a wife-beater, Bobby didn’t feel comfortable expressing it. Grandpa beat grandma right in front of his father and uncles and aunts, beat her deaf in one ear, beat her crooked nosed and lazy eyed. Before Alzheimer’s took his mind, Grandpa would ask Grandma what happened to the beauty he’d married. It was both mockery and warning.
Bobby never saw the beatings, but when he was deemed old enough, he heard the stories.
Lineage is funny. Bobby’s father never raised his fists to Bobby’s mother, but all that rage poisoned his tongue. His tone withered cheer, his eyes radiated disdain. He also beat Bobby and his brothers from time to time, usually for reasons no one could name. Bobby spent his childhood looking for his father’s rage the way Midwesterners are always alert for tornadoes. He almost envied his father’s childhood. At least with his Grandpa, you knew what you got.
Bobby knew he should vent his anger at Megan. They’d talked and talked until his mouth and ears ached with it, but even expressing his deepest hurt and confusion hadn’t melted that core of anger. He’d never yelled at Megan, barely even raised his voice. Tonight he should. He had to scream at her or go mad keeping it in.
But what if he lost it completely? What if he let his anger loose and couldn’t stop himself from shaking her, slapping her?
And what about Falcon? He destroys a marriage and just goes on like it was nothing?
Bobby couldn’t say how many bottles he drained. Enough to solve his problem with drunken logic, anyway. He decided to empty his rage on Tony Falcon. Then he’d go home and tell Megan how angry he was without worrying about it traveling to his fists.
Foregoing the shot of whiskey he’d imagined, Bobby pushed away from the bar. He stumbled into a group of college kids standing behind him. They ribbed him for being unsteady, the boys scoring points off him to impress their girls. Bobby smiled and apologized. He realized he needed to use the bathroom.
He made his way to the back room, an alcove with pictures of old employees on the walls, a cloudy jukebox, and some kind of video poker game. The hallway beyond led to the restrooms, but the line snaked out of the hallway and around the video poker. When Bobby peeked around the corner, he saw the closed women’s room at the end of the hallway. The men’s room door was wide open, the line barely moving, women texting, laughing with their friends, or staring into space wearing don’t fucking talk to me looks. Three men wandered up and down the line, trying to chat them up. Bobby felt sorry for the women, trapped by anatomy in this smelly hallway, chum for drunken fools.
If he was new to 6’s and 7’s, Bobby would have squeezed his way past the line to get to the closed door and see the damage for himself. He’d learned that following the crowd in this case was not a bad thing. Now that he knew the men’s room would be a mission, his bladder pressed even more urgently below his belt.
The emergency exit door was chocked open as usual. Bobby pushed through, crossing the patio area outside. It wasn’t a built up patio, just part of the wrap-around parking lot where they’d put out lawn furniture. Thankfully, most of the plastic tables and chairs were empty. Some nights the men had an audience, and the drunk women weren’t shy.
From outside the music was reduced to throbbing baseline, muffled lyrics. Darkness cooled the summer air enough to wear long sleeves and pants, but it was still a fairly warm and sticky night. He made like he was walking to the parking lot beyond the patio area, frowning at his cellphone, jiggling his keys, but he saw a group of men already lined up at the edge of the parking lot and stopped pretending.
He took his spot at the end of the hedge. He didn’t want to get sucked up in their drunken, boisterous blather, the small talk men made while they had their dicks in hand, so he looked back over one shoulder. A lone bouncer sat on a stool outside the front door, checking IDs. Stupid, when anyone could go in the back. He wasn’t much of a bouncer, anyway. Shorter than Bobby, drinking a beer, wearing sunglasses, obese rather than muscular. A solid punch to the gut would have put him down.
A few other people milled around, smoking, drinking, talking on cells. The bouncer was talking with two women. They looked heavy but sexy from Bobby’s distance, probably middle-aged like him, but you could never tell. Maybe overfed college kids. Megan had looked like that, all those years ago when they’d first met. Not fat at all, but voluptuous. Soft and chubby like a bear cub. As she’d matured, the extra layers whittled from her frame, leaving a tall, lean, hourglass shape that drove Bobby wild. These women were probably headed in the other direction. Megan’s appetite had simply leveled out, but these women were trying to fill an emptiness-
At last, his bladder let go. He was about to face forward when he saw Tony Falcon come out the front door, his hand on the upper arm of one of the girls from his table. Caught by his streaming urine, Bobby could only watch as Tony hustled the girl across the parking lot. His car was a Cadillac Escalade, black with gold chrome. The alarm chirped and Tony opened the door for her, a blonde in a loose, low-cut dress. He closed her in before jogging around to the driver’s side, still wearing that stupid smirk. How Bobby wanted to end that smirk.
Just as well, he thought. He turned back to the hedge as he finished, surprised to find himself alone. There was vomit on the bush as well. Bobby couldn’t believe the greenery survived this kind of treatment, but it did. The world was full of wonders.
He turned around, thinking of the backdoor, debating whether to pay his tab and take off or watch the rest of the set. There were other ways of working out anger. The only place for domestic violence is in the bedroom, Megan liked to say. Isn’t it healthier to fuck hard than fight? Bobby didn’t know if this was true, but he was just angry enough to play it her way, just drunk enough to do it without feeling like a fool.
Falcon’s Escalade was still there. Bobby sat at one of the patio tables and pulled out his cell phone. He put it to his face, nodded and said “yeah” a lot. Once in a while, he’d mouth something he needed at the store so it would look like he was talking. I think we’re out of milk.
The Escalade had tinted windows.
We only have a few eggs left.
Tony Falcon couldn’t use the bathroom to snort, so he’d need his car.
If you get bay leaves, be sure to get the whole ones, not that ground stuff.
The girl, either she was snorting with him or blowing him. Or both.
I’m not sure we have olive oil. Better check before you go.
Knowing what they’d down together made filling in the details that much worse. Had Megan’s blowjob happened in Tony’s Escalade? Her head bobbing in Tony’s lap between Bobby’s suspicious phone calls, Tony and Megan trying not to laugh at Bobby’s gullibility?
Tony and his date emerged with the calculated nonchalance of drunkards feigning sobriety. They went back inside, Tony Falcon’s hand at the small of her back.
Bobby was drifting. He didn’t picture his wife performing sex acts on people other than him. He didn’t hit people. He didn’t imagine fucking bartenders. Who had he become? It was time to pay his tab, go home, and tell Megan it was over. Without trust-
Tony Falcon walked out of the back door, a dark-haired girl with him this time. She wore an outfit similar to the first girl, stripper heels, strap dress of some light material that flowed over her body, tantalizing with the promise of hidden flesh that never quite came into full view. They sat at a table in the corner, diagonally from Bobby. The parking lot lights didn’t reach them. They huddled together in the dark, faces in proximity, heads dipping low, one after the other. The muffled music drowned out their snorts, but Bobby could tell they were doing coke. He had worked in enough restaurants where the whole staff blazed off it, ending with bloodshot eyes and vibrating hands past three am, coming down with drinks after hours so they could sleep when the sun came up. Bobby hung out, but he only did coke once. It tasted like failure.
If he sat there long enough, would Bobby see Tony Falcon come out twice more, with the other two girls?
“Tony?” Bobby’s heart pounded as he rose to his feet. He waved a hand in greeting, walking toward them. “Tony Falcon, man, hey – is that you?”
“Hey, man.” His tone made it clear he wasn’t sure if he should recognize Bobby or not.
Tony’s eyes, the brunette’s eyes, crawled over him, weighing him as he’d known they would.
“It’s me, Bobby. Megan’s husband?” He was careful to keep his tone playful. “Whatcha doing back here, Tony?”
“Bobby, right.” He didn’t sound pleased.
“Hey, let me get in on that, Tony? Just a bump, what do you say?”
Now that he knew what Bobby wanted, Tony Falcon was all smiles.
“Shit, yeah, man, this shit’ll blow the top of your fucking head off.” He held up a small, plastic film canister about two thirds full of white powder. He made no move to hand it over, so Bobby took his keys out. With all the digital cameras out there, he wondered where Tony even found a film canisters.
Bobby stuck the key to his truck forward, reaching out like he was going to scoop some coke on the end. With his other hand, he swatted the bottom of the canister. Tony didn’t see it coming. The canister flew from his hand, hit the back wall of the bar, and bounced to the pavement. Powder sprayed the table, dusted the brunette’s dress and face and hair.
“What the fuck?” Tony’s plastic chair hit the pavement as he stood up. He frowned at his hands as if wondering where his coke went. The brunette sat there, hands raised, jerking with quick snorts of laughter but looking like she might cry.
Tony pointed at her, dark eyes shining in the dark. “Don’t fucking move. Pick that shit up.”
If he understood the contradictory nature of his commands, he didn’t show it. The brunette just looked at him, her amusement growing.
“Oh, fuck’s sake, here.” He stepped behind her, picked up the canister, and swept what he could from the pavement and the table. He gave her the canister. “Think you can handle the rest?”
She pulled the lap of her dress forward, shaking to get what she could to collect in her lap. Giggling, she raised this to her face, dipped her head, and snorted hugely. Bobby laughed, looking at her red panties, the slight pooch over her waistband, the silver ring piercing her belly-button.
“What’s so fucking funny, dipshit?” Tony Falcon pushed Bobby’s shoulder with one hand, leaning over the table to do it. For some reason, this struck the brunette as funny, she leaned her head back and laughed, powder sticking to the sweat on her face, tears streaking the powder. Tony came around the table, pushing Bobby with both hands. “That was three hundred bucks worth of coke. You owe me for that, you hear me?”
With every backwards step from Tony Falcon’s pushes, Bobby felt five years of his life drop away. Soon he was back in high school, the runty short stop pushing him in the locker room, Bobby looming over him, doing nothing to fight back. He was in junior high, dreading the bus ride which meant a punch in the face from his neighbor, half Bobby’s size but one year older and cocky. He was in middle school, tormented by a small boy with shoulder-length blonde hair and a leather jacket, a boy who barely reached Bobby’s chest.
Unlike those bullies, and this Tony Falcon, Bobby never had anything to prove. His size spoke for him. He didn’t need to fight.
“What is this about, Megan? Huh? Is that what this is?”
He spat the word Megan, making it sound like something repulsive. He punctuated his words with more pushing. Bobby’s back struck the chain link fence at the back of the patio. He had nowhere left to go, but Tony kept pushing him anyway.
“Bobby, let me tell you about Megan.”
He pitched his voice low, just us guys. Hearing his wife’s name on this odious person’s lips made Bobby realize he didn’t want to hear anything more.
Bobby leaned forward and smashed his fist into Falcon’s face.
He flew backward into a set of tables and chairs, knocking everything down with him. Blood poured from his nose. He tried getting to his feet and got tangled up in the chairs. Between asking if he was okay, the brunette couldn’t stop giggling.
Bobby hoped that Tony would stay down. All of his anger went into that punch, and now he just felt like crying. His marriage, his Megan, were not worth fighting for. He could keep pretending they had merit because they were his, or he could grow up and end it. Facing the future without her terrified him, but he had to save himself.
He stepped forward and offered his hand to Tony Falcon.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ll pay you for that coke. But how about I buy you a beer first?”