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Today's Story by Steve Lambert

She looks so sexy standing there holding that gun.

The Future Mrs. Crenshaw Asserts Herself to Good Effect

I’ve got it bad for Peg Vernon, head bartender at the Dew Drop Inn and champion of the Sahwoklee Catfish Festival Wet T-Shirt Contest, 1988 through 1991.  Things that have nothing to do with Peg remind me of Peg.  Just this morning, as I am shaking Navels out of a tree with a shiner pole, I watch Randall Ginny, two rows over, pelt Zeke Talbert up-side the head with an orange, which gets me thinking about the time Peg caught Duke Richards in the back of the head with a full mug of beer, and how Duke didn’t do nothing but curse and hop around, holding his head until the pain subsided, and then ordered a fresh beer on the promise that he’d behave himself for the rest of the night, and  next thing I know I’m jolted back into the hot and muggy moment by one of Randall Ginny’s overripe navel oranges, this one the size of a baby’s head, breaking against my right shoulder blade.

“All the loose ones is shook off, fool!” He chucks another, but it misses me and breaks against the trunk of a tree.  Randall Ginny, ignorant bastard extraordinaire, is my first cousin.  He’s been throwing shit at me for twenty years.

Picking fruit is okay for the Randall Ginnys of the world, but it’s no job for a man with love on his mind.  It’s hard-ass illegal-Mexican type labor.  Me, Randall and Zeke are the only non-Mexicans on our crew, and we’re only there because Zeke Talbert’s uncle, Jasper Talbert, runs the crew and pays us the same wage he pays most of the senior-level Mexicans.

But I got other prospects.  Got a black suit too.  The manager of Foodex Supermarket # 032 said he was impressed with me, and I’ve got apps in at every other reputable place in town.  It won’t be long before I latch on to something good, and when I do, I’m going to ask Peg out on a bona fide date.  I’ve been thinking of taking her to Hog Heaven, the best pit BBQ joint in Sahwoklee.  They got a two-for-one special on margaritas from 4 till 7 every day, and the best baby back ribs I ever ate.  Women love margaritas.  Peg loves ribs.

But on this particular Friday afternoon, I’m right where I should be, cozily settled into my favorite centrally-located bar stool at the Dew Drop Inn, talking to my future wife.  The place is empty except for me and Peg, which is the way I like it.  She starts pulling me a Natty and I tell her about my latest prospect: “Frank Moore, the top-head guy down at Foodex said he was impressed with my application.  I got to get out of them groves, Peg.  I’m determined.  I’ve got plans for the future.”  Peg, being a good one for brevity, just says, “I reckon you do,” and slides my beer over to me.  Peg’s hair is so blonde that when the light hits it just right it almost looks neon yellow.  She sticks it up in the front with hair spray and you can tell by looking at it that it’s the texture of insulation.  Today she’s wearing a black Skid Row tank top and stonewashed jeans with slyly located cuts and tears in them.  She looks hot.  I don’t mind that she’s a little older than me.

She’s wiping down the bar, and I’m telling her about my five-year plan, when this dude walks in and sits down at the stool to my right and looks around the room like maybe he’s being followed.  But he’s cool about it, like if he was being followed, it wouldn’t really matter to him.  He stares at me good and long, and nods, holds out his hand.  He looks like he works at a law office or something.  He’s dressed in a dark blue suit and has a fresh haircut.  He’s just about perfect in every way.  I’ll admit it, he looks sharp.  Peg makes eyeballs at him like he’s some kind of hunk from heaven.  I don’t like the way things are shaping up.

“Name’s Roger Firestone,” he says.

I give his hand a tug.

“Name’s Doug Crenshaw.”

Roger orders a top-shelf double vodka on the rocks and while he waits for it he examines a red plastic cigarette lighter.

Peg slides his drink to him and he nods and puts a twenty on the bar.

I watch this guy and take an occasional swig of my beer.  Once I get low, Peg fills me up again. I’m not comfortable with the way Peg is behaving towards this Firestone individual.  She’s got a newfound flirtatious way about her that I’ve never seen before.  I try to subtly pull her attention away from Mr. Top-Shelf by jutting my elbow in the guy’s direction and clearing my throat, but it’s no use.  This asshole’s got her mesmerized.  I wish I could do that, mesmerize.  Peg was married once, by the way, to Lucien Nix, the King of All Mesmerizers.  At one time or another, he’d mesmerized just about every eligible woman in Greater Cortez.  But they was common law, actually, he and Peg.  They never did officially tie the knot at the courthouse like most people, like I hope one day to do with Peg.  Lucien was just too hot for “strange,” as he called it, to officially get spliced up with just one girl.  They’ve been split up for years now—five, I think—and she’s up for re-mesmerizing.  But I just can’t seem to get the hang of it like this Firestone dude, like Lucien Nix.

Firestone swivels his barstool around and surveys his environs.  He has his drink in one hand and the lighter in the other.  He holds the lighter up in front of him and gives it a flick, moves it slowly from right to left across the room like it’s a torch and he’s in a cave.  And I guess it is kind of like that inside the Dew Drop because it’s only now that I notice there’s one other person in here besides me, Peg, and this Roger Firestone joker.

Noob Pierson is hunched over half a mug of beer at a table in the corner by the warped old dart board that no one ever throws anything at but empty beer cans.  Noob is old, but probably not as old as he looks.  He picked fruit his entire working life so he moves real slow and awkward, like a sloth.  It’s painful to watch him walk.  You think you can hear his joints creaking.

Roger stops moving his little torch once he sees Noob.  Noob holds his arm up over his eyes like he’s shading them from a bright light.

“The hell, son!?”  Noob picks up his beer and turns his chair towards the corner.  He looks like a wounded old dog.

Roger turns back to the bar, puts the lighter down and drains the rest of the vodka.

“I’ll take another, please,” he says.

Peg hustles over and gets to work on one.

Roger takes a cigarette out of a little golden box and lights it.

“That man in the corner there,” says Firestone. “His name’s Pierson.”

“That’s right,” I say. “They call him Noob, Noob Pierson.”

This Roger character puts his lips around the filter of the cigarette and gives it a long, elaborate suck.  It’s like he’s making love to the damn thing. Peg slides him his vodka, and I’m pretty sure she winks at him.  I’m not comfortable with this guy.  He’s cutting into my quality time with Peg.

“Want a smoke?” he says.  “It’s a real pleasure, to smoke.”  He looks at the cigarette like it’s the best one anyone’s ever had.

I tell him no thanks and he points the golden box at Peg.  She takes one, and he lights it for her in a way I can only say is perverse.  I’m feeling territorial as hell now.  I can’t recall ever having seen Peg smoke.

After a minute or two Noob pounds on the tabletop with his empty mug, the way he always does, and Peg gets him a fresh beer and walks it over to him.

Firestone quietly drinks his vodka.  Everything this guy does he does like maybe he won’t be able to do it again for a while.  He closes his eyes when he drinks his vodka, swallows slowly like he’s savoring every molecule of it.

“I don’t think I ever seen you here,” I say to him, hoping to make him feel uncomfortable, hoping I can get him to leave.

“My first time,” he says.

“You from Cortez?”




“He aint much for conversating, is he, Peg?”

“Guess not,” she says.  She does her hand like a mouth, opens and closes it a few times, “But, then again, I can’t stand a yapper.”

“Me neither,” I say, and smile at Peg.  She rolls her eyes, but I can’t figure out why.

“You just leave a funeral or something?” says Peg.

“Hate funerals.  Never been to one.  I’ll take one more,” he says, holding up his glass.

“Must travel for work then…” I say.

“I do,” he says.  “A lot.”

“I been looking for a more suitable form of employment myself,” I add.  “They’s some prospects….” I glance at Peg and wink at her and she sighs at me (a sigh of affection, no doubt). “But I wouldn’t mind doing a little traveling.”

He takes a slow sip of his fresh drink.

“Well, there’s a real low turnover in my field,” he says in a condescending tone that don’t sit well with me, not in front of my lady like this.

“What field is that?” says Peg.  That’s it, I think.  Interrogate this asshole, Peg.

“Basically,” he says, and then pauses, “collections.”

“I though they was always hiring in the collections field,” I say.

“Like anything, it has its pros and cons,” he says, kind of answering me, kind of ignoring me.  “For instance,” he continues, “what I collect, people don’t want to part with.”

“Especially not vehicles,” I say.  “People on the TV shows don’t ever let their vehicles go without a big fuss.  So you’re a repo man, then?”

Again, he don’t answer me.

“Some think it’s wrong, what I do,” he says. “Some call it stealing.”

“Well,” I say, “as long as you can square yourself with it at the end of the day.”

“Precisely.” He points at me, which kind of startles me. “I don’t take anything that I don’t have a right to.  Right Mr. Pierson?”

Noob does not respond.  Peg stands behind the bar and dries her hands off with a little towel.  She’s looking agitated, now, completely unmesmerized, like she did that time before she threw the beer mug at Duke Richards.

“I don’t trust the way you’re beginning to talk, mister,” says Peg.  Peg don’t put up with people who aint straight talkers.  After tending bar for all these years, she’s developed a special kind of wisdom about that type of thing.  Firestone has veered off track.  This ain’t the way with Peg.

“You said you’ve never seen me here before,” he says.  “That’s because I’ve never needed to come here until now. Mr. Pierson over there has something it’s my business to collect.”  He says this as if it explains everything.

I find it hard to believe that Noob has anything anyone would want.  He’s just a retired old drunk who lives in a singlewide behind the bar.  He don’t own nothing but a black & white TV and a rusty bicycle with two flat tires.

“You sure you don’t have Noob mixed up with some other old-timer?” I say.

“I can’t get mixed up.”

“Noob’s got shit,” says Peg.

“That’s right,” I say. “Noob’s got shit.”

About this time Noob speaks up, “I got something.”

Firestone looks at me and smiles, and then looks over at Peg.

“See there? Mr. Pierson’s got something.  He aint got much as you.”  Roger points at me with his cigarette.  “Much as you.”  He points at Peg. “But he’s still got something.”

“Look,” says Peg.  “You better not start no shit in my bar.”  Peg keeps a sawed-off under the bar above the tap kegs.  She moves closer to the edge of the bar.

Roger smiles and lights another smoke, takes a long, handsome toke of it.

“You’ve got to understand,” he says, “Mr. Noob Pierson, here, is almost burnt up…on the inside.”  Roger exhales slowly.  “He’s nothing but embers.”  This strikes me as an unpleasant thing to say.  I look over at Peg and she’s welling up.  She looks like she’s about to burst open. I need to do something.

“Maybe it’s time you took out of here,” I say.  “There’s plenty a watering holes in Cortez.  Elbow Room’s just two miles up the road.”  I stand up, try looking intense and aggravated.

Firestone puts his lighter down and before he can take a drink of his vodka, Peg’s pointing the shotgun in his face.

He just sits there grinning.

“Boy’s right.  Time for you to go, mister.”  Her body has a little tremble to it.  Her face is blotched red.

“She’ll shoot you, my man,” I say.  I’m feeling anxious as hell, lit up, like my skin is burning.  My girl Peg is on fire.

Roger stands up and extinguishes his cigarette.  He puts his hands in the air.

“You’ve made me waste a cigarette,” he says. “Let’s go, Nelbert.”  He motions his hand toward Noob.

“You leave old Noob alone,” says Peg.  “He aint got nothing nobody wants.”

“That’s right,” I say.  “Noob stays.  You leave.”

“If you need to, look at it this way,” says Firestone.  “I’ve got something Mr. Pierson wants.”

By now old Noob is standing next to Roger.

“I guess you want to get your face blowed off?” says Peg, looking so sexy standing there holding onto that gun.  I’d like to leap on top of her.

“I’m just doing my job,” says Firestone, his hands still in the air.  “I’ve got all the permission I need.”

“It’s all right,” says Noob.  “I’m a go with this feller.  Put the gun down.  I know this feller.”

Peg slowly lowers the shotgun, looks hard at old Noob.

“As long as you know him, Noob” she says.  “I guess it’s all right.” Her cheeks are streaked with black tears but she looks solid, resolved, perfectly willing to shoot this man.

Roger Firestone walks towards the door.  Noob is right behind him, moving more smoothly than ever.  He no longer looks like you can hear his joints creaking.  Peg and I watch until Firestone opens the door and the sunlight rushes in, and they both disappear into it, and the place goes dark inside again.

“What the hell just transpired here!?” I say to Peg Vernon, professional bartender and woman of my dreams.

“Hell if I know.”

“He wasn’t no collections agent.”

“No, he wasn’t.” She looks at the front door.  “But he was a handsome devil, wasn’t he?”

“Sure as shit was.”  I can’t deny it.  The guy is my hero, smoothness wise.  I’m just glad he’s gone.

The twenty dollar bill, the lighter and the golden cigarette box are still sitting on the bar.  I take a cigarette out of the box and light it and hand it to Peg.  She takes it with a shaky hand.  She looks kind of crazy with mascara streaks down both cheeks, still holding onto the shotgun with one hand.  She takes a drag of the cigarette and when she exhales it’s like all the tension and anxiety inside of her go out with the streams of smoke.  She looks insane as hell to me, the future Mrs. Crenshaw, and I like it.


Steve Lambert lives in the uncool, unhistorical part of Saint Augustine, Florida with his wife and daughter, and works in a public library.


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