Several days after the big poker game had come and gone, the first sunny spring-like day of the year hit town. And wouldn’t you know it, man, I had to work my other job: clerk at goddamn Wadena Book, the Twin Port’s only dirty bookstore.
About ten-thirty on a Saturday night and things were pretty slow. I had the glass front door propped open a crack to let in the soft night air. The juices were beginning to flow again and I was feeling pretty good. I leaned back on the rear legs of the hard and uncomfortable chair and sensually fondled a Dunlop red-stitch softball. My eyes flicked restlessly around the brightly lighted room. All the gash and dick and plastic genitalia burned the mucus on my eyeballs and I couldn’t rest my gaze.
I was rubbing my eyes with my knuckles when Sammy Cross walked in arm and arm with a gorgeous girl, the babe about five-six or seven, medium length auburn hair, a gorgeous slinky bod and dreamy brown eyes. Kind of girl that makes your dick hard, your heart soft and turns your brain to mush—just the way I liked it.
My mouth must have fallen open or something because now Cross and the girl were both grinning up at me. Then the light bulb went on in my head and I knew it was the girl from the cab and the Castaway and my dreams, this time without the tortoise-shell shades.
I said, “Sam—what are you doing here? And who’s your friend?”
And now I was embarrassed by my surroundings.
Her blue painted eyelids were at half-mast. A cigarette dangled from her long fingers. She looked me over with an appreciative smirk. My heart thumped like a big bass drum. Surely she must remember me, thought I, but she didn’t let on.
Sam was grinning like a satanic Teddy Bear. “Keith,” he said, “Let me introduce you to Mary.”
Always had manners, that guy.
I said, “Hi,” and a thousand worms wriggled in my gut.
“Hi,” she said, with a sexy half smile.
Then she took a walk around the shop, checking out the fuck-and-suck rags in a wave of perfume and tobacco smoke. I couldn’t keep from staring. Her expression remained the unreadable half smile. Crimson nails, a silver and turquoise bracelet on one wrist and no rings. Breasts pushing firmly against a thin black sweater, butt moving sweetly in tight flare jeans. Some funky platform shoes, an oversize Levis jacket and the picture was perfect, like I’d seen in a dream or maybe an album cover.
“Jesus, Sam,” I said in a whisper. “Where’d you find her?”
“Right over in your back yard, Keitho my friend. She’s a peeler at the Castaway.”
“Jesus—she is the one. She was in my cab. You’re dating her then?”
“I’m trying to—but not tonight—she just dropped in over at Delaney’s with a couple friends while I was sitting there having a few pops. I’ve been trying all night to get her to go to this big party with me, but she says she won’t go with just me alone. Unresolved issues of trust, I suspect. The little girl is not as easy as I had hoped—and after all the cash I’ve stuffed down her g-string.” He peeked up at me for a reaction and got none. “No, I’m kidding,” he said, “really what the deal is, she’s got two friends with her over at the bar and we thought you would be the perfect escort. I told her Carla and Charlene would think you’re dreamy.”
“Fuck you. What do these other chicks look—”
“Why do you work in this place?” Mary said, wide-eyed and innocent, upon her return to the front of my lofty perch above the sea of smut.
I was on a raised platform, two feet above the rest of the floor, sitting behind the cash register at a small lectern. Everybody had to look up to me to pay for the porn. There was a sense of power in that chair. If the customers were feeling guilty when they looked up at you, you were the High Priest of Porn about to pass approval on their sins.
This girl had somehow turned the tables on me.
“Cause I know the manager and the pay is good,” I said, and felt my face reddening.
“How much do you make?” she asked, still with the same expression. I loved the way her hair swept back in wings.
“Five dollars an hour, cash.”
“But minimum wage is only two and a quarter.”
“Well, actually I get three bucks an hour, but I ring up at least a ten dollar no sale every shift and put it in my pocket. Hell, the cops could walk in and bust me at any minute. I deserve a little hazard pay, you know? And besides, this place is owned by Ferris Alexander—I should steal more.”
“Yeah, Waverly is a real prince,” Sam chimed in. He put his hand on the girl’s sexy shoulder. “See what I told you, Mary, have you ever seen such an innocent, honest, trustworthy boy as Keith. Just look at that boyish face. Why, the boy won’t even steal too much from Minnesota’s pornography king, who’s so rich he shits quarters. What a guy you are, Wavo.”
And then two forty-something men in worn trench coats came through the door. Yes, it’s true, men in trench coats. At the sight of Mary they tensed up and began to paw around the room like water buffaloes at an occupied water hole.
I lowered my voice. “What’s this party you’re talking about, Sambo?”
“Over in Bay City at Tony’s Cabaret. Then a private after-hours bash at Peter McKay’s digs. Big party, man. All the hipsters will be hanging.”
“Are you kidding me? Tony’s Cabaret is a gay bar. And fucking Peter McKay—what’s his deal? And how did you manage an invite? McKay didn’t look too enamored with you after the poker game, if I may say so. In fact, it seemed like he wanted to bust open your wise-ass skull, if my perception was at all accurate, you low-life sonofabitch.”
“That maybe so. That maybe so, Keith, my man, but big Peter has seen the error of his ways. I’ll have you know that we are now business associates. Time moves along, my son. By the way, he mentioned you. Said you should come to the shindig, if I saw you. Said he might have a few ideas for you.” Sam paused and stared at a plastic vagina hanging from a peg-board on the west wall. “Um, ah, and y’know, Nick is getting a little anxious to see some kind of positive sign from you, if you know what I mean.”
“Fuck Nick,” I said.
A party given by the powerful Peter McKay, beautiful women at my side—now here was the start up the ladder I’d been waiting for. Nothing was going to bring me down.
Sam gave me a look, said, “Big talk.”
“Fuck you, too,” I said.
Mary stood with her hip cocked to the side. “We have to get the girls, don’t forget, Sam,” she said. Looking up at me with those fascinating, heavy-lidded peepers when she said it.
“How could I forget those two,” Sam said, as he took Mary’s arm and sashayed toward the door. “See ya, Waverly,” he said. “Be there or be square.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” I shouted after them. “Don’t leave without me.”
The clock said 10:45.
“You’ll have to make up your minds, guys,” I said to the water buffaloes as they relaxed and approached the desk “We’re closing in five minutes.”
“I thought it said midnight on the front door,” said the guy with an oval head made me think of an egg. Had a soft-boiled look about him.
“Yeah, we just got here,” whined the other one, his skin the color of bone. “I’ve got a whole pocket of quarters here for the movies.” He lifted up the side pocket of his gray overcoat and jangled it at me. He had long dirty fingernails.
“Boss has to come in and do inventory tonight, guys. Sorry.”
“Well, all right then,” said the guy with the fingernails, looking around. “I’m gonna buy a magazine. Wait a minute, would you.”
He picked out a spectacular photo collection of extra-large breasted women entitled Big Mamas. I rang up No Sale and set the ten-spot on the counter in front of the register. Fuck Ferris Alexander. A man needs a few bucks in his pocket when he’s going out with a pretty lady or two.
(To be continued)