The Last Time I Saw Jack

 

 

Poor Man's Country Club was in our neighborhood just this side of Rice University, with the Houston Med Center and the park on the other side. Poor Man's was an icehouse where they kept longneck bottles of beer submerged in ice cubes in old Coca-Cola freezers. The icehouse was the living source of all good bullshit in Texas. Good bullshit was when you were firing on all cylinders and heaven or hell did not matter.

In heaven they have no beer,

That's why we drink it here.

We just got back there from the gun show where there were about a million guns and Jack was telling me about Teflon coated bullets.

"Yeah, man. Go right through your flack jacket."

I got us a couple of beers.

"We were holed up once in this paddy, waiting to burn Charley out of some trees, and one of those bastards put one through our corpsman at about eighty yards. He was standing up too much and that sucker went right through the front of his jacket. It fell out of the other side when we put him on the chopper. Fucking Teflon."

Jack was carving his name into the table.

"Hey, Jack, how many knives you got?"

"Always one more than I'll show you."

Jack was one of those wiry guys who could eat as much as he wanted and he would just get more wiry. He could drink as much as he wanted, too, because nobody was going to stop him, and he would just get more drunk, but not as drunk as you.

Remember Salvador Sanchez, the magnificent lightweight boxing champion who got killed when he crashed his sports car in Mexico or somewhere? That was what Jack was like when he turned it on. Good. Real good. One night he really clocked some guy who was giving Mick some shit and had Mick in a choke hold. Jack just came over the top even before Mick's brother Dub could get there and that was it. The guy let go of Mick and took a swing at Jack and Jack jabbed him a couple of lightening lefts and then clocked him with a right. He didn't need to but Jack gave him a left hook to the liver on his way down and after a few minutes on the floor the guy kind of crawled out leaving a trail from his bloody face like a snail on a dirty window.

One night Jack and me and Terry and Mick and Dub walked the check and got thrown out of Yamoto's after about forty sakes each and some sumo judo jitsu bouncer was going to show us the door and Jack stabbed him with a chopstick.

"I think you put his eye out, man."

"Fuck him if he can't take a joke."

This afternoon that we got back from the gun show Mick and Dub already went off to play their softball tournament tonight with the black guys who worked at the Palladium Ballroom. We went to the Palladium whenever somebody really cool was there, like B.B. King last Christmas Eve. We were the only white guys in the place and there was some incredible dice and cash going down in the men's room and B.B. came on with his organ combo and said "I'm B.B. King and I'm drunk!" and they rolled right into "Every Day I Have the Blues." Jack was going to go over to the ball yard and see how it was going and maybe pinch hit for Dub who had a pretty bad knee from when he wrecked his Vette.

Jack stood up and got his keys.

Beyond the shuffleboard by the big storefront plate glass window I could see Terry coming across the parking lot.

"See you later, Bubba."

"You bet." Jack dropped his empty bottle into the carton by the door on his way out.

Some people went, and some people came. Here came Terry.

Terry was about thirty with gray-green eyes and thick sandy hair to her strong bare shoulders and she was the handsomest woman you saw at Poor Man's. She was her own woman and she knew her space and how to move in it. Her blue jeans were the closest I was ever going to get to paradise. She looked so good in those jeans because she didn't wear anything underneath.

I had known her for a while and she was with Mick, but something strange passed between us when we got close.

We were simpatico.

Terry got herself a beer and got me one. Standing, she sat back against the shuffleboard and lit a cigarette, facing me about six or seven feet away. With that sunset still bright in the window behind her she had this Maitreya Buddha aura that reached across that space and tore my mind from its none too well-tied moorings. Her center was deep and dark and smoky and I was falling through it.

Terry was not going to leave Mick. She was working something out inside her and I was part of the spell. I knew it and I went with it.

"You want to take a walk?"

"Yeah," I said. "We can get some oysters over at Captain John's."

"Sounds great."

She tossed her stuff into my ragtop parked over on the street and we set off on foot across the Rice University campus. Captain John's was over near the Med Center. The campus had a lot of woods where you could be alone when the sun set and the moon rose.

We were gone a while, but we did not get as far as Captain John's.

Our lips just fit together. Our spirits fit the same way. Not in love. In a very wonderful and selfish lust.

You could see the full moon through the trees, rising over downtown Houston.

Terry touched my throat, her fingertips following my chin until the side of my face was in her palm. She kissed me.

"Tonight could be the night you kill me."

"I will not do that, Beautiful."

We walked back to Poor Man's Country Club. Jack and Dub and Mick were back from the game.

Mick was pretty mad. Even though he must have known before about Terry and me now he wanted to kill me. Maybe he was pissed because the brothers from the Palladium whooped them real bad, like 12-3.

Before I could get a swig of beer down Mick got into my face.

"I am going to kill your fucking ass!"

I saw agony in his eyes. Terry saw it too. Mick was really hurting.

"Put a little love in your heart, man."

"No, I'm gonna burn your fucking house down!"

Mick was about to grab my neck. I thought I was going to have to knee him in the groin or break his knee and then hit him with a chair.

Then Jack stepped between us from my right, his open quarter stance toward Mick, his open left hand between our hearts, palm open to Mick.

"Everything's cool, Mick."

Mick was not going to mess with Jack.

Mick turned to Terry.

"Let's go."

She seemed distracted, but not unwilling. She was not a junkie, so maybe this was part of the spell too.

"I'll get your stuff," I said.

I went out to my car, parked near a broken street lamp.

I was in the passenger's bucket of my Mustang ragtop, hunched into the foot space getting her stuff, one leg out of the car.

This Mexican kid came out of nowhere. He stood behind the door, where he could crush my leg with a quick shove. I could not see his hands. I was leaned way over and my belt knife was beneath me where I could not get to it without a big move.

He had me dead to rights.

If he has a gun, this is it.

"You got any money, jefe?"

"Yeah."

I left Terry's stuff where it was and got squared away and up out of the car. The Mexican kid took half a step back to give me room. His hands were empty. Now that we were face to face, he looked more hungry than mean.

I gave him five bucks. I wish I had given him twenty.

When I got back to Poor Man's, Terry and Mick were gone.

Jack had us a couple of ice cold beers ready.

"You know what, man?" Jack held his beer out to me.

"No, what?"

Jack got this way. If he was your soul queer, every now and then for some reason of his own he wanted you to know it.

"I may be a confederate, but you are a rebel, Bro'."

We clinked our longnecks.

"To Marse Robert."

We had a long good pull on those beers.

About this time there was a tremendous screeching of tires and hard braking out front, then a fat car door slammed and this big distraught guy with a jerky walk came rushing into the icehouse. He must have been out of his skull on crystal. His eyes and cheeks were streaked like he was crying and he was whipping around a bulky dispatch satchel.

"Gimme a goddamn coke!" he yelled at Eileen who was behind the cash register. Eileen was about seventy with a cigarette always going and cotton candy hair and rosy cheeks and she reserved the right to refuse service to morons.

"Bullshit!" she snorted.

Jack and everybody else in the place stood up.

"Oh fuck you!" the big distraught guy turned to leave already.

"Yo!" said Jack. "Be nice."

The big distraught guy was out of his head.

"My wife's dying!" he screamed. He shook the dispatch satchel off his arm and heaved it at us. I picked it up.

Jack and Dub were moving toward the big distraught guy, forcing him toward the door. He picked up a bottle and swung it at Jack's head. Jack dodged that and came back with a sweet uppercut that sent the guy reeling through the door. The big distraught guy fell back on his Mercedes and the alarm went off. He came up in a bull rush and Jack gave him an ole' and the guy headed through the plate glass storefront, knocking himself out on the shuffleboard. He was cut bad.

There was about a kilo of weed in the dispatch satchel.

The only thing left to happen around Poor Man's Country Club that night was cops, so Jack and I took the dope and bailed for Galveston.

 

-Pete Ahrens June 2003




Nexial Quest (c) Pete Ahrens 1999 - 2004