It was Tuesday afternoon at Mustard’s bar. A Three Stooges clip played on the local radio station from a small radio the bartender kept on shelf next to a picture of Bukowski taped to an empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. Larry, Curly, and Moe announced the time in own their inimitable way; 3 o’clock Bolonia watch time. Roderick sat in his usual spot and ordered his usual beer. The place was empty, except for Roderick, and the bartender, Joe.
The stale air smelled faintly of beer, cigarettes, vomit, and piss, tinged with a healthy dose of self-loathing. The bar, like the city of Columbus itself, dreamed of better tomorrows from a bed of failed yesterdays. Joe squinted at his cell phone, cursed under his breath, then plugged it into a charger on the counter behind him. Rod held his beer in his hand and slowly rotated it. The soggy silver label flipped and flopped against dark green glass with every turn. Rhythm found form; form found function. Turn, turn, drink; repeat.
Half a bottle later Rod pulled out a crumpled pack of unfiltered smokes from the pocket of his flannel and tapped one out. He placed the straightest end in his mouth, lit it with matches he found on the bar, and took a slow drag. He stared at the dissipating smoke in the bar mirror. White grey faded into dark shadows.
“I had the weirdest weekend, Joe. Like… I’m talking some seriously fucked up shit, man.”
“The bartender’s expression didn’t change when he looked up from the paper, “Yeah, kid, we’ve all had those. Did it involve women, booze, or both?”
“Both, of course. I got a call from a friend in Reynoldsburg. Pete drank himself out of college. He has a new girlfriend. She’s got a good job and rents a nice little place near 270. You can hardly hear any traffic at all. We’re not great friends, you know. But he’s alright. It’s not like I don’t like the guy. We used to hang out a lot until… we didn’t.” Rod scratched his arm absentmindedly.
“Oh, yeah. I see that all the time,” Joe said, and pulled a bottle out from under the bar. “I refer to them as friends of convenience.”
“Exactly. I knew you could relate. Well, he calls me the other day… hey,” Rod looked at his beer, “give me another beer, man, this one tastes like shit.”
Joe lifted an eyebrow and looked at Rod, but said nothing as he grabbed another bottle from the cooler. “OK, but drink it a little faster. They tend to go bad after an hour.”
“Thanks.” Rod said taking a drink, “Anyway, Pete tells me they solved the food crisis. I didn’t know what to say. I never heard of no food crisis. He didn’t sound drunk. He sounded serious. Have you heard about a food crisis?”
“No, I haven’t,” Joe said while pouring Rod’s old beer down the sink before tossing the empty into a large grey plastic trash can. The bottle landed a sharp clatter. “Then again,” he added, “I don’t keep much food at home. I generally eat when I’m here.” The bartender pulled out a bottle from under the bar.
“Yeah, me neither. I hadn’t heard about it, but I congratulated him ‘cause I didn’t know what to say. He asked me to stop over for dinner Saturday. I looked at my schedule, found two beers and a moldy package of hot dogs, and told him I looked forward to catching up on old times. Food is food, right?”
“A man has got to eat,” Joe said while filling his shot glass.
“So, I went over. The place looked nice, like a blue-collar Hallmark card. Pete’s happy to see me. There’s a game on tv. The inside is also nice, real nice. His girlfriend, Tammy, was in the kitchen making a salad. I brought a twelve pack. We put it in the fridge, grabbed a few, and walked into the living room. Pete sat on the couch. I sat in a recliner. The Indians were playing the Tigers. Kluber was having a great game. The food cooking in the kitchen smelled good. They looked happy, and there was a good vibe about the place. We spent the first couple of innings catching up on old times. Pete then said something about the president, and something about immigration. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I never listen to none of that shit. That stuff bores me to death.”
“They say talking about politics and religion never ends well,” the bartender said, setting his empty shot glass down on the bar.
“I don’t know nothing ‘bout that. I’m a nobody. There ain’t no one in Washington who’s gonna do anything to help a guy like me. They always screwing us in some way. It don’t matter what they say. It don’t mean it’s what they gonna do.”
“That’s how it goes. It’s been that way for as long as I’ve been alive. You’d think we’d learn, but we never do. Not really. If politics were like drinking we’d have far fewer problems in the world.”
“Yeah, that’s why I never give them no mind. What’s the point? Anyway, we’re enjoying the game, drinking some beers. Tammy comes in, grabs one, and sits next to Pete. She said dinner should be ready in about 20 minutes. I thanked her and Pete for having me over.”
“It sounds like your friend is doing well,” Joe said while placing freshly cleaned glasses on old stacks that looked like they had been there a very long time. The glasses near the bottom had turned a dull brownish-yellow.
Rod looked at his beer, and decided he preferred drinking from a bottle, and dammit if he didn’t need another one. He tipped his empty towards Joe and continued. “She’s a stripper, and takes good care of herself. Her body is tight. Her legs are tanned and toned. They looked great in that mini-skirt. Her face was OK, but something wasn’t right. I think she would look better without all the makeup.”
“Sounds like she is a looker,” Joe said and set another beer on the bar. He then grabbed a package of peanuts, and peeled off the tinfoil wrapper. The vacuum pop sound momentarily filled the emptiness.
“Yeah, she’s fine, but I knew something had to be wrong with her to end up with a guy like Pete. And then things got really strange.”
“Strange how,” Joe asked. “It sounds like a normal weekend to me.”
“Well,” Rod said, “Pete kissed Tammy, and then says to me, ‘You know, Tammy’s got needs. She really gets turned on if someone watches us doing it, you know what I mean?’”
“You’re joking,” Joe said. “She likes it when other guys watch her having sex?”
“I wish I was joking. She said it really gets her going, but that it was hard to find someone to watch. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say nothing.”
“I would have said that I’m a virgin and premarital sex is a sin against God,” Joe said and laughed while grabbing a handful of peanuts and unceremoniously shoving them into his mouth. While still chewing he asked, “So, what’d you do?”
Rod’s eyes grew wide, “I was frozen, like a deer in headlights. I didn’t say nothing. Kluber struck out the side. The game cuts to a commercial break. They put down their beers and started making out. After a few minutes Pete starts screaming, ‘You whore, you fucking whore,’ and rips her blouse open. Buttons fly everywhere. One hit me in the arm. She begins to moan. He slaps her once… twice, then kisses her deeply. She grabs a handful of his hair and pulls his face to her neck. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable… but I can’t look away. Pete pulls up her skirt. You know what? She wasn’t wearing any panties. Tammy ain’t got no tan lines. She lets go of his hair and Pete shoves her down to the couch. They get busy. Real busy. I didn’t know what to do, so I drank my beer.”
“They started fucking and you just sat there?”
“Well… kinda. Tammy looked over to see if I’m watching, and then starts losing control. She’s writhing on the couch like a wounded snake. Pete’s shirt is drenched. He starts shouting, ‘Take this you bitch,’ and really lets her have it, if you know what I mean. She fucking loves it.”
“Talk about uncomfortable. I’d recommend never going to their place for family game night,” Joe said. He burped, and set the container of peanuts down on the bar.
“As weird as it was, yes. She’s stripper hot. Her legs start shaking real bad. Her hips start jack hammering the couch. I tell you what, Joe,” Rod says tapping another smoke from his crumpled pack with hands that trembled slightly. “I thought she was having some sort of seizure. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. She cries out and goes completely limp. Pete laughed darkly. He didn’t stop.”
“She passed out and he kept doing it? You’re right, you definitely had one fucked-up weekend.”
“Yeah, man. He didn’t stop, but he had to hold on to her hips ‘cause her legs started to slide apart. About 5, maybe 10, seconds later she starts moaning, and saying his name, but it’s a real low, guttural sound. Pete kisses her gently. I ain’t never seen nothing like it. They finished with a flourish. She didn’t move for a few minutes, then walked to the bathroom on rubbery legs. Pete grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge, hands me one and says, ‘Thanks. That was great. I owe you big time.’ He then went to the bedroom to get another shirt.”
“No shit,” the bartender asked slack-jawed. “What happened next?”
“Well, the Indians scored. The kitchen timer goes off, and my appetite returned. She called us to the dining room. The table was covered with food. There were mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, a large salad bowl, and the main dish. It looked like a huge roast. She grabbed a bottle of red wine from the fridge. It looked delicious and smelled even better.”
“I guess they planned to reward you for their hard work,” Joe said, and laughed.
“When I sat down I got a good look at the roast, and noticed what looked like a joint on one end. I asked Pete if that was the neck, and he says, ‘It’s a joint all right. It’s a knee.’ A knee, I asked, like you know, a human knee, and he said ‘Exactly.”
“He said your roast was really a human leg,” the bartender asked, taking another drink from the bottle under the table, not bothering to fill his shot glass. “Wait, let me get this straight. They fuck in front of you, and if that’s not weird enough, they then want to serve you roasted thigh? They’ve got to be kidding.”
“Yeah,” said Rod, “I thought he was joking. Ain’t no one gonna eat another person. That’s beyond fucked up, but Tammy… she said she’d been working on a special glaze for it based on some French recipes. She fucking marinated it overnight. If someone said that to you, what would you think?”
“I would have thought they were pulling my leg, so to speak. There’s no way I would have believed either of them,” the bartender said.
“That’s exactly what I thought,” Rod exclaimed, and laughed. “So I says to them ‘That’s a mighty fine slice of thigh you’ve got there. It looks like my favorite cut. Give me a big ‘ole piece.’ Pete cuts me a large piece, and we begin eating. You know what? It wasn’t bad. Pete suggested trying it with Tammy’s gravy. I did, and it melted like butter in my mouth. Pete looked me and said, ‘I like it better than chicken, and pork chops, but it’s not quite as good as a well-cooked filet. Nothing beats a filet.’”
“That’s true. It’s hard to beat a good filet. So was it, exactly, you were eating,” Joe asked, “I’m guessing some locally sourced cow. Maybe one that had been in an accident and couldn’t be sold through normal channels.”
“I figured I was eating some kind of roast,’ Rod said. “I had a second helping. It was good. After I finished my plate I relaxed with another glass of wine.”
“Wine? I’ve never seen you drink wine, before,” Joe said.
“Well, it tasted alright. I prefer beer, but it was better than water,” Rod said, and took another drink. “When they were done I asked them if this had anything to do with the food crisis, and Tammy said, ‘It sure does. We got a month’s worth of meat from just one teenager.’”
“Yeah, that’s what she said. I thought I’d heard her wrong, so I asked her what she meant, and she said they’d found a hitchhiker a few weeks ago. His name was Marco. He came over from Puerto Rico ‘cause of the hurricane. Tammy said she was real excited about having a new playmate.”
“They found a hitchhiker and wanted him to watch them have sex? I don’t think drinking was the only reason your friend dropped out of school.”
“Well… he was kind of crazy,” Rod said. “Maybe his drinking kept him sane, cause none what happened that night was normal. Tammy said Marco watched them do it for a few days, but when they asked him to join in, they found out he was a transgender.”
“So, he was the wrong kind of playmate?”
“Yeah, I guess it was a case of circles and squares. She said that by this time they’d grown tired of him, so they slaughtered him, and fed his innards to their dogs, and put him, her, ummm… whatever in the basement freezer.” Rod finished off the last half of his beer.
Joe slid another towards him, and poured himself another shot, the sat down on the stool behind the bar. “Let me be the first to say that you have the most fucked up friends I’ve ever known. Were they high, or tripping on something? It sounds like they really messed with you.?
“I didn’t believe them. Sure, they like having people watch them have sex, but this was just to much to believe, so I asks her, if you killed and slaughtered a teenager, even if it was a he-she immigrant, you just committed murder. Pete said, ‘No, that’s just a moral taboo society places upon itself; the ultimate hypocrisy against humanity. It is a denial to the reality of human nature.’ I was like, ‘but it’s still murder, Pete,’ but Pete said that America’s rich military history reveres those who have ‘murdered’ the greatest numbers of our enemies. I admitted that he had a good point, but that this wasn’t an enemy. It was just a kid. Pete said Marco wasn’t a kid according to the Bible.” Rod laughed. “I figured they were just fucking with me, pulling out the Jesus crispy crap.”
“Whenever someone starts referencing the bible, I know they’re full of shit,” the bartender said.
Rod lit his last smoke, and tossed the crumpled pack over the bar into the grey trash can. The sun began its descent. The shadows from the windows along the far wall began sliding towards the bar. “I told them I wanted to take a look at Marco, if he was still around, and they said he was still in the basement freezer.”
“Let me guess, the freezer was empty,” Joe said.