No one else to call - Episode 3 - Meeting Trixie
An underworld fixer stages a daring escape to start a new life as an upright citizen and private eye. The more he tries to do good and find happiness, the more he finds his old skills in demand, especially when there is no one else to call.
The bar’s neon sign blinked every few seconds, most of its letters still glowing red and spelling out a double entendre if there ever was one: Fishnets & Poles. Two high-end motorcycles, one a customized Indian, the other an old school bike, a Royal Enfield by the looks of it, sat neatly parked a few feet from the entrance. They stood in stark contrast to the gaggle of old pickup trucks and beaters parked haphazardly closer to the dock behind the club. A six-foot three goon leaned against the dark green wooden front door, a half-smoked cigarette dangling from his left meat-hook of an arm. As I walked up, I couldn’t tell if he was guarding the door or the bikes. Either way, he didn’t exactly exude a welcoming attitude.
The boats were still out. In a few hours, the tidewaters would flow back into the channel, enabling the fleet to safely return from their day’s work on the Chesapeake. The crew would be thirsty for well drinks, and the skippers would be ready for a shot of whatever bottle resided on the top shelf. If I played my cards right, I’d pay for those shots, and more if needed, in return for passage out of Newport News. No TSA pre-check required. No boarding pass needed. No questions asked. In the meantime, I was the one in need of a drink. A sandwich wouldn’t hurt, either.
“Bar open?” I asked. That was a silly question given the flashing sign, but the bouncer was bigger than me and I didn’t want to walk right by him without at least acknowledging his existence. His size mattered only slightly, that is to say it only mattered if I planned to lift him back up after I took him down. A quick kick to his left meniscus would put him down to my level, and a left jab to his eye followed by a throat punch would disorient the human brick long enough for me to pull the stun gun from its holster on the man’s belt. You can guess the rest of that story. But as of today, my life started over. I wanted to give this my best try, at least. Adulting? Isn’t that what the kids call it now? No more using violence as the first option. No more hurt them now before they hurt you later. I looked up at the man and waited for his reply. That’s what normal people do. I think.
“Can you break a hundred?” The man held up a crisp Benjamin, folded lengthwise. I knew the game. If I said yes, he’d let me in with a nod to the bartender to take me for every penny. If I claimed poverty, the bar would suddenly be closed for the day. He twitched the cash, still waiting for my answer.
“You got any sammiches in there? Corned beef? Pastrami? Hell, even fried Spam on toast would suffice.” I fumbled with my newly acquired wallet, intentionally, letting him see the ample cash inside. Mardi Gras never spent his last bribe, and for that I was thankful. My playing the part of the bumbling fool disarmed, figuratively, the bouncer. I lifted a twenty out and handed it to him. “That should take care of the cover charge.” I looked him square in the eye. He thought he saw fear. I saw just a guy who bullied his way through high school, probably played football in order to graduate, and then learned the hard way that the most likely career progression awaiting him was moving from the deep fry station to the grill. Front counter was out. Simple addition and subtraction was beyond his scope, let alone making correct change for a customer.
The man snagged the cash and tipped the door open with his foot. “Two drink minimum.” His left hand crumpled my offering, slowly pocketing it. “Per hour.”
I stepped inside, the windowless structure a throwback to the golden age of tacky lounges found on the outskirts of most military bases. Whomever did the decor, it was clear deep red Naugahyde was on sale that day. Two pool tables, five quarters per game, sat vacant off to the side. A jukebox silently watched from a dark corner. The runway, complete with two chrome poles, caught my eye. This was my kind of place. The stench of stale beer and nicotine was so strong, the only way to really clean the joint was to burn it down and start over. You could taste the sadness.
“No dancing until the ships come in. You’re too early, slick.” The voice, a conundrum of sweet, lyrical tones laced with a hardness that only comes from years of slinging hootch to married men trying to forget that fact, sang out from behind the counter. “Unless you’re here to fix the head?”
My getaway disguise. I had forgotten. The plumbing coveralls did the trick when I escaped the courthouse. Now? I guess it was time to pony up the truth. New life, remember?
“Got laid off from the shipyard today. Just need a drink or two, maybe a sandwich if you have any.” Okay, so much for the truth. As she opened the mini fridge under the cash register, I threw out another nugget in my tall tale. “I don’t suppose you know if the boats are hiring? Not plumbing, Deck hand, maybe? I’m not choosy at this point.”
The lass, a woman, really, a nice looking one at that, about on the low side of her forties according to the crows feet at the eyes, slid a prepackaged turkey and cheese on white across the oak bar toward me. A beer, in a red Solo cup naturally, came next. “I’m Trixie, except when I’m dancing, then it’s Bubbles.” She gave me a wink. “Can’t let the usual idiots know my real name. Could get dicey if they decide to stalk me online. Anyway, this round’s on the house, Shipyard.” She turned away and grabbed a towel to wipe down the far end of the bar. That’s where all hell would soon break loose.