Mercer Evans saunters into Tammy’s Tavern at his usual time, just shy of 7:30. He’s been working third shift as a document specialist for over eight years and is fully entrenched in his routine: leave work, stop at Tammy’s to pound a few beers and eye-fuck some big ol’ titties, and then head home to sleep.
Just a few hours into her standard work day, Tammy gives Mercer her typical flirty greeting. Mercer is aware of Grill’s hulking presence, waiting to see if Mercer will need a heavy hand to encourage him past the bar. The memory of getting banned from the primo ogling spot after he tried to grab Tammy springs to vivid life for Mercer, but he ignores it. He also ignores Tammy, heading right to Tucker Campbell’s table. In Mercer’s mind, giving the cold shoulder to the curvy bar owner causes her and the rhinoceros of a bouncer to gape in wonder at his cockiness; in reality, they exchange an indifferent glance, each shrugging before turning their attentions back to the patrons whose personalities they actually enjoy.
“Dick stain,” Tucker says with a grin, raising his beer. “How the fuck are you today?”
“I’m solid, you ugly bastard,” Mercer says as he takes a seat. “Solid as Tammy’s ass.”
Tucker sleazes out his agreeing chuckle. “That’s pretty fuckin solid, Merce. Things heating up with Karen?”
“Yeah, Tuck. You could say that. She’s playing hard to get, like bitches always do, but yeah — it’s heating up.” Tucker gives another slimy chuckle before taking a long chug from his tall draft.
A man a few years older than Mercer and Tucker sits three tables over. Mercer doesn’t recognize him, but the man glances at the friends, meeting Mercer’s eyes for a moment. The man’s brow is furrowed, and he shakes his head as he turns his gaze back to the nearest television.
Who the fuck is this piece of shit dick faggot? Mercer wonders, staring. His line of sight is broken by Shirley’s melons, which bounce slightly as she comes to a stop at their table. Mercer soaks in every inch of them, meeting her eyes just as she clears her throat to get his attention. Her eyebrows are high with indignation.
“Whatcha want to drink, Mercer?”
He just smiles and stares at her.
“Well?” she says. “If you don’t want nothin, I got other customers.”
Glancing at the other twenty or so patrons scattered around the massive tavern, Mercer shrugs. He turns back to Shirley and holds her eyes for a long moment before finally saying, “Draft. Whatever’s cheap.”
“Uh huh,” Shirley says, walking away. She mutters something that sounds like “asshole”, but Mercer can’t quite hear it over the combined babbling of the scattered televisions and the rock music that plays at a mellow volume.
“That bitch say something?” Mercer asks Tucker.
“Maybe, Merce. Shit, I don’t know. Tell me more about Karen.”
“Karen. Yeah. Like I said, she’s playing hard to get, but I know she’ll come around soon. Real soon. I bet she’ll be riding my steel within a week.”
Tucker gives his slimiest grin. As a particularly crooked used-car salesman, it’s slimy as a sewer. “Nice. Get that pussy.”
“I always do, Tuck. You know I always do. Sometimes bitches need a little encouraging, you know, get a little rough with ‘em, but eventually—”
“Hey, watch it,” a voice says. Mercer turns, his mouth still open, his eyes narrowed. It’s the same ass hat that glanced at him before Shirley took his order, now staring at Mercer with cold righteousness.
“The fuck you say?” Mercer replies, almost indifferently, holding the leash on his struggling fury. Yeah, he thinks, this guy is DEFINITELY a shit dick faggot.
“I said watch it.” The man moves one leg out from his chair and turns his whole body to face Mercer. “I don’t like the way you’re talking about women.”
“Merce,” Tucker urges in a voice the man likely can’t hear, “don’t start some shit. You want Grill to thump your head again?”
“I’ll control myself, Tuck,” Mercer grumbles.
Speaking up again, Mercer says, “How about you mind your own fucking business.” He barely fights off the nervous urge to swallow, ever seeking conflict but never truly comfortable with it.
The man stands up.
With effort that nearly causes muscle spasms, Mercer stays seated.
The man walks over.
“You need to learn some respect,” the man says, holding Mercer’s eyes, fully self-assured. “Especially for women.”
“That’s hilarious,” Mercer says, feeling like a scared boy even though the man appears to be a bit smaller than Mercer. “You say that in a place like this, with huge tits all over the place. That’s the whole point of his place. Tits and beer.” He laughs once through his nose, hoping the man will just leave.
In Mercer’s peripheral, he notices Grill approaching. Hold it together, Mercer tells himself. Let the gorilla put shit dick faggot back in his place. At the same time, he struggles with the powerful urge to punch the man right in his nutsack.
“There’s nothing hilarious about this,” the man says. “Keep your misogynistic comments to yourself or we’re gonna have a problem.” He calmly walks back to his table; Mercer takes a reassuring drink as soon as the man turns away. The man sits down and looks back at the television, calmly folding his hands on the table.
Mercer is wondering what the hell kind of fairy-ass word “misogynistic” is when Grill stops at the table and crosses his arms. Mercer glances up at the bouncer’s implacable stare, over at shit dick faggot — who seems completely ignorant of the fact that he just told off Mercer — and back at Grill.
“Problem here?” Grill rumbles out.
“Nope. We’re good,” Mercer says, trying to put on a confident smile that barely succeeds in twitching his mouth before dropping his gaze to the table.
“Good,” Grill says. “Keep it that way.”
As the bouncer saunters back toward the front door, Mercer’s face burns, humiliation coursing through him as he struggles to think of something to say to Tucker. He must think I’m a huge fucking pussy.
“Don’t worry about those guys,” Tucker offers, his voice still low and uncarrying. “They probably knock each other’s turds around.”
Mercer chuckles, daring to meet Tucker’s eyes even though he still feels so vulnerable that part of his mind wants to cry. There there, Mercy, his mother’s voice says, it’s okay to cry. Come here to Mommy and let it out. He expels her without hesitation, chugs the rest of his beer, and quietly laughs with light-headed exultation, feeling momentarily powerful.
Tucker smiles, raises his own glass, and also downs the rest. A few minutes later, Shirley brings them each another draft. Mercer feels more like a man again, his mind full of bouncing titties, his self-consciousness abated by the alcohol. Still, for the final hour of his visit to Tammy’s Tavern, Mercer doesn’t raise his voice to the level that shit dick faggot can hear it.
* * *
Karen Raylor walks into Ray’s, the restaurant Rochelle suggested. She’s never been there before, but she likes her first impression: mellow. The lighting is mild without being dim, and it shows plain tables of deeply stained wood that lounge on a thin carpet of interwoven, dark golden pipes on a field of maroon. An unassuming song with a dominant bass line ambles from hidden speakers.
Rochelle is seated and waiting peacefully. Karen is impressed that she’s not flicking through content on her phone the way most people would be. Raising one hand to the level of her face, Rochelle smiles, and Karen joins her.
“Glad you found the place,” Rochelle says. “Have to drive far?”
“Not too far.”
“Good.” Rochelle opens her menu; Karen picks up her own. The food is heavily cajun and creole. Not styles Karen eats often, but she’s enjoyed the few dishes she’s had. When the waitress comes, Karen goes with mushroom tacos, and Rochelle orders cajun pasta. Both get plain water.
“What do you do for a living?” Rochelle asks.
“I’m an executive assistant at an insurance company. Great work and even better people.”
“Nice. Been there long?”
“Over ten years. I really like the company.” Karen briefly reflects that she does feel strongly about her career, even though she hasn’t reflected on it in a while.
“Thanks. How about you?”
“A photographer. At least, that’s what I tell most people, and it’s true, but I’m also a private investigator.”
“Wow,” Karen says. “That must be pretty cool.”
“I like it. I’ve always enjoyed solving mysteries, but I didn’t want to become an officer or detective. I like doing my own thing too much. But I also don’t have the special authority of law enforcement. I’m just like any other citizen, except maybe that I know the laws really well.”
“What kind of stuff do you actually do?”
“Very little of the cloak-and-dagger stuff like following people and taking pictures of them having affairs, but I do that now and then. Mostly it’s collecting information from the internet, searching records, verifying facts, interviewing people, that sort of thing.”
“Piecing puzzles together, only you don’t know when you start what the final picture is supposed to look like or which pieces will actually be part of it.”
“Yeah, you got it.” Rochelle smiles, her brows drawn down in appreciation. “Very insightful. The PI life might be a good career if you ever get tired of the corporate thing.”
Karen looks down at the table. She enjoys the compliment, but also feels a little embarrassed.
“So,” Rochelle says, “what did you think of the class?”
“It was great. Even though it was my first day, I felt really connected.” Karen gets a surge of strength and resolve just thinking about it.
Rochelle nods. “Glad you thought so. Most women have that kind of experience. Mrs. Draver creates an awesome atmosphere.”
“Like I said at the end of class, I wanted to share a bit of my history with the dojo. I’ll try not to ramble.” She chuckles.
“Well, I was with this guy for a long time. We’ll call him ‘Joe’. Joe and I started out great, but over time he changed. Got weird, obsessive. Always asking me when I’d be back, then who I’d been with, then who I was going to be with, and then he started objecting to certain plans and people. I was weak back then and I caved and let him control me. Eventually he started hitting me.”
“Damn. Sorry.” Karen was rapt, giving Rochelle her full attention, but she had the quick thought that she might have gotten into the same situation if she hadn’t ended it with Mercer.
“Yeah, thanks. So Joe’s abuse got worse, landed me in the hospital a few times. I alway made up some excuse about what happened, but I was trapped. Even thinking about calling the police would make me feel like throwing up.”
“How’d you get out?”
“The bad way. The wrong way. The police got involved after Joe had a fit of rage and killed our dog in the backyard right where the neighbors could see. Just kicked him until…” Rochelle pauses, looking away as her eyes water slightly. She simply breathes for a few moments before looking back to Karen. Rochelle’s eyes are still glistening, but she seems unashamed. Karen realizes her mouth is open, her mind trying and failing to find words. She closes her mouth.
“So, that was that.” Rochelle says. “Suddenly I went from being with a man who hit me but I relied on anyway to being alone. And I loved that dog more than anything since I was a kid. It almost destroyed me, but after a few weeks I went to a rescue shelter and got another dog. As I got to know him, I figured he’d been abused too. Over several years, he learned to trust me and we each gained confidence from each other. I decided to take a self-defense class. That was only a few months ago, and I’ve never felt stronger in my life.”
Karen can see the steel in Rochelle’s gaze, the core of unfaltering strength. She smiles and nods, still not finding anything to say.
“I know we just met,” Rochelle says, “and I’ve been sharing a lot of personal stuff with you. I don’t trust people easily, but I can tell when someone is worth it. You don’t have to share anything like that with me if you don’t want to, but if you do, I won’t tell another person. I’ll put anything you tell me in my PI vault. But, we can also talk about stuff that isn’t personal, or nothing at all. Despite my ability to ramble on, I’m perfectly okay with silence.” She gives Karen another of her easy smiles.
The waitress brings their food, providing Karen a moment to gather her thoughts.
Chapter 6 Choice: What should Karen share about herself with Rochelle?
- Brad: Their ten-year marriage. (25%)
- Mercer: Their brief relationship fifteen years ago. (50%)
- Nana: Why her grandma was such an important part of her life. (25%)
- Nothing: Eat in silence. (0%)
This poll closed on November 20th, 2017.