Fiction - Richard's Ribald Romances #1

"Don't Call Me a Hero" or, the Misadventures of One Young Rogue on a Cold Winter's Eve

By Richard Costello (as told to David Merrick)

December 16th, 2008

The Rodeo, whose name I automatically process as the “Hoe-deo” for its largely sleazy and easy female patronage, is a cheap C&W-themed bar located in the heart of Vanier. On any given night of the week you can step onto its hardwood dance floor and be grinding up against a drunk chick to the sound of “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” in ten seconds flat. Its head bartender, Jacques, sports a mullet and worships at the feet of Billy Ray Cyrus. And every Tuesday—Karaoke Night—there’s bound to be at least one girl belting out a particularly sloshed rendition of a Dixie Chicks tune. It is, to be blunt, a redneck dive.

Two years ago, stepping out of my high school’s auditorium with my diploma in one hand and a fake I.D. in the other, I would have glanced at the mural of silhouetted, lasso-twirling cowboys stencilled along the building’s façade and dismissed it without a second thought, preferring to spend and get smashed at a classier establishment. Since then my standards have plummeted, both in regard to decorum and the kind of women I like to fuck. So when I stumbled in front of the Hoe-deo one fateful spring evening, reeling from a bad breakup and a three-day bender, its front doors seemed like a mother’s embrace.

I’d made the Hoe-deo my home away from home every weekend since, less so in the fall, when I was going to school and had to conserve more of my mental faculties than my summer job at the frozen food plant required. This week, however, I’d just said goodbye to winter semester and hello to the Christmas break. As soon as I’d tucked away my last exam (post-French Revolution Europe—bitches love the Reign of Terror) I put my ass on a train headed for home, with the first goal on my list being a round of drinks at the old watering hole. By which I meant I was going to get absolutely fucked on Moosehead and rye and then see where the night would take me.

In tow that evening was Ray Matheson, a high school dropout who worked full time at the frozen food plant and who had made my summer there a lot more bearable than it might have been otherwise. Working on the line, he had a tendency to react to any and every shitty joke with a barking, oddly high-pitched laugh, earning him the nickname “the Seal.” Ray being Ray, he took it in stride and had adopted it as eagerly like a knight would his title, unironically referring to himself by the moniker whenever he saw fit.

“The Seal’s gonna get his bone on tonight!” he shouted, oblivious to the bemused expressions worn by close to every other passenger riding on our bus.

I glared back at one elderly woman who was giving us a particularly dirty look. Once she had been thwarted, I slouched in my seat, grinning from ear to ear. “I can’t start to describe how much I need this, Ray. I’ve been wasted only four times over the last three months. The scales must be balanced.”

Ray snuck a sip from his hip flask—another item he always kept on his person—and went on: “Shit, you’ve been missing out. You missed the September Burst.”

“September Burst?”

“When school’s back in and all the fine, newly-minted 19-year-old ladies give their driver’s licenses a spin,” he explained.

“What the fuck are these ‘newly-minted’ ladies doing all the way out in Vanier?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I never said they have good judgement.”

The bus stopped a block from the Hoe-deo, the snow-laden path from the shelter to the bar’s front doors made brilliant from the glow of the streetlights. Ray traversed most of this picture-perfect lane at a shuffling, lopsided gait, already half in the bag from the contents of the flask he’d been sucking on for most of the afternoon. I, on the other hand, was completely dry for the time being, wanting my first sip of beer that night to be like the tender kiss of a long-absent lover… before I ploughed into the next round of drinks as one would with said long-absent lover.

The place was packed. Packed. Ray and I stood just on the other side of the threshold, agog—well, Ray slightly less so—at the sight of countless, writhing, wall-to-wall human bodies. It was like a Roman orgy, but with far more clothing and with a couple of drunk assholes slurring their way through an early ’80s power ballad over top of it all. Ah yes, I realized. It was Tuesday, and thus Karaoke Night.

There was a tap on my shoulder. I turned to my left to see friend and old schoolmate Xavier Joyce—“Joycey,” as we called him—sitting in the booth adjacent to the front doors, twiddling his fingers in a decidedly fanciful wave. “Evening, ladies!” he said loudly over the din of the bar.

“Motherfucker!” I yelled back, squeezing past the bouncer—evidently too occupied to notice either myself or the clearly buzzed Ray—and into the booth next to Joycey. He was nursing a bottle of Labatt Blue in one hand, idly peeling off the label with his fingernails. Held between the thumb and index finger of the other was, I was shocked to see, a half-smoked cigarette. Staring at its glowing tip, I watched as Joycey casually took a drag off the coffin nail and then tapped the ash into a tray on the table. Catching the shocked expression I had to have been wearing, he smirked and nodded toward the bouncer.

“The doors are opening too frequently for any of this shit to linger,” he elaborated, indicating the blue line of smoke rising from the end of his cigarette. “He said as long as I’m not blowing it in anybody’s face he won’t kick me out.”

“You have to be breaking a bylaw,” I said.

“Oh, several!” he corrected with a laugh.

“Fuck, I love this place! It’s like once you step through those doors you just forget every law that binds society together.” I sighed, energized yet paradoxically relaxed, making no attempt to hide my amusement as Ray wormed in next to me, the oaf slipping and sliding as his hand-eye coordination abandoned his body like a negligent father would his child. Turning back to Joycey, I asked, “What’re you doing here?”

“Enjoying myself,” he grunted through the cigarette currently clenched between his teeth. “Not to mention keeping an eye on these jackasses.” With his bottle hand he motioned toward the stage, where I spotted not one but two of my old classmates standing next to the microphone, each wailing the chorus to Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” in a different key. Steven Bourque, on the left, had fronted for a couple of garage bands throughout high school and as such was doing a fairly faithful rendition of Lou Gramm’s vocals in spite of his apparent inebriation. Todd Mudford, on the right, looked and sounded a little worse for wear and wasn’t as audible in the mix, possibly because he was shouting the words into a glass of beer.

“Does he realize that’s not the mic?” I asked Joycey.

The other man tilted his head from side to side, unsure. “Maybe, maybe not. That’s his fifth, so on a purely cognitive level he has to be out of touch.” The song reached the brief instrumental chord change between the chorus and second verse just as Joycey finished speaking. As if in answer to our question Mudford took a huge gulp of his beer, only to continue crooning into the mug when the verse started up a second later.

“Huh,” we said at once.

A server approached our table, flipping to a fresh page on the notepad she carried. Her top was cut so low there was really no point in her wearing it. Not that I had any problem with that, of course. As she came up to the edge of the booth I did my level best to avoid looking at her chest. That quickly failed.

“What’re you having?” she asked, either oblivious to my stare or immune to it after years of being subjected to drunk jackass after drunk jackass. I felt kind of offended.

With a flourish, I slapped my wallet on the table and withdrew a stack of twenties, displaying them like a magician would a hand of cards. If the gesture impressed the server, she didn’t show it. “If you’d be so kind, I’d like to order three pints of Moosehead,” I said, showing her a winning smile.

I watched one particular part of her body as she scribbled a note on the pad and clicked the button on the end of her pen. She muttered, “You can pay when you’re ready to go,” and then turned on her heel to leave. The woman had waded back into the crowd before I could even compliment her on her appearance. I frowned. The service wasn’t as good as I remembered. Perhaps the crowd had brought down her spirits.

“Three?” Joycey repeated. “There’s fuckin’ five of us, man.”

“Oh I know. These three are for me.”

The end of his cigarette jabbed upward as his mouth contorted in discontent. “Really?”

I gestured toward the stage flippantly. Stevie and Mudford swayed drunkenly next to the mic, the latter gazing into his now empty mug with a look of childlike disappointment. “Do they look like they need any more?”

“Obviously not, but I might.”

“Buddy, I’ve been saving up all semester for a night like tonight. Guess the last time I got drunk.”

A moment’s pause. “Last week.”

“Well, yeah, this is true, but that was just studying-my-ass-off drunk. I want to get so utterly destroyed tonight that when I wake up tomorrow afternoon, I’ll have to relearn my tenses.”

“And what about him?” he asked, indicating Ray, who was currently leaning over the side of our booth. The man’s glazed, thousand yard stare was aimed with a laser’s focus at the ass of a girl standing in the coat check line. When I poked him in the small of his back, he didn’t budge.

“Hey, buddy, you want anything?” I hollered.

A full second passed before Ray responded, his tone of voice taking on the monotonous, detached drone of a lobotomy patient: “The Seal’s good for now.” While I couldn’t see his face from where I was sitting, I doubt if he even blinked.

“See?” I said to Joycey. “He’s good.”

I looked across the room, over the heads of innumerable cowboy hat-wearing douchebags and their slutty girlfriends, past the stage Stevie and Mudford were now leaving—Stevie making a masturbatory motion with his hand at someone who’d apparently taken issue with his choice of music—and saw our nameless server heading our way, precariously balancing a tray displaying three glasses of beer, all of which glistened with the sublime beauty of a trio of Holy Grails.

She stopped at our table, swiftly deposited the trinity without spilling a drop, and once again left before I could compliment her chest. I shrugged at missed opportunity and reached for the closest glass.

I admit I don’t have the best recollection of what followed over the course of the next hour. I can clearly recall that first, savoury sip of beer, but in its wake came the mental equivalent of a French New Wave jump cut and suddenly I found myself gazing at three empty glasses, all of them reeking of hops, all of them mine. My hand shot up almost on its own in an attempt to get the attention of our nameless, impatient waitress. I found myself peering up at my newly-independent appendage, feeling not betrayal but… well, whatever I felt, it was disquieting. Disquiet! That was it! I spent the next minute marvelling at that word’s sublime beauty, all the while feeling the blood drain from my arm.

Smoke wafted into my nostrils. My head swivelled with the oiled grace of a rusty bike chain and I came face to face with Joycey, who was sucking on what looked to be a newly lit cigarette, judging by its length.

“Yo,” he muttered.

I grabbed his collar with both hands, bringing him and his cigarette what I later considered to be uncomfortably close to my face. “What year is it?” I interrogated.

He blew a cloud of smoke with the intensity of a sawn-off shotgun blast into my eyes and mouth and grunted, “Two minutes since you last asked me that.”


His cigarette dipped. “You’re not looking at another round, are you?”

Glancing at the triumvirate of empty glasses, I bit my lip and said, “I dunno. I’m thinking that one hit the spot.”

“That was your third.”

I cocked an eyebrow. “Come again.”

“That was your third round.”

A cloud of confused protests whirled about my muddled brain, colliding into each other like a twenty car pileup in Times Square. The only one to come out unscathed (read: the least abstract) was “No fucking way.” I could work with that. “No fucking way,” I said.

Joycey nodded, reached awkwardly with one hand to pluck the cigarette out of his mouth, and went on, “I thought the very same thing. So, with that in mind, let’s consider the possibility of, oh I dunno, easing off for the rest of the night.”

I considered this. “Maybe.”

“And perhaps taking your hands off me.”

“Can do!” I said cheerfully, releasing the nonchalant bylawbreaker from my grip. While he eased back into his seat, readjusting the angle of his cigarette between his teeth, I surveyed the room, feebly trying to get my bearings on what changed in the last… shit, how much time had actually passed?

On stage, a fake-tanned bimbo was letting loose with a warbling take on the Dixie Chicks’ “Landslide” cover. Figures. Our server looked to have abandoned us for the evening, being nowhere in sight amongst the crowd or against the bar. The bouncer seemed to be as ignorant as ever, waving through two guys who looked barely older than me and a blonde chick who had to be fresh out of high school—

My mental processes jerked to a sudden stop. Again, all that remained was that single concrete thought: no fucking way.

Megan Barrie. Another fellow high schooler. Christ, tonight was turning into one fucked up reunion. I’d acted alongside the girl in a couple of school drama productions—her as some nameless extra, me in the lead of course—and she didn’t look like she’d changed much since: still skinny as a rake, blonde hair still streaked with black, and wearing perhaps a little more shadow under her eyes than I remembered.

And, it needed to be said, still two years younger than I was. Me, who had just turned 20 that summer and who was still getting carded at every other licensed establishment because of my boyish good looks. So unless she’d been kept back a grade and hadn’t told anyone, it was mathematically fucking impossible for Megan to be allowed in here. But there she was, waltzing past the bouncer who I was now certain was in the throes of soul-crushing ennui.

I had tolerated our server’s negligence, as I had Joycey’s persistent illegal smoking, but this I couldn’t stand for. Something had to be made right in this world. Rising up on my haunches I hollered, “Hey, Barrie! Who’d you fuck to get in here?”

Jean-Luc Godard must have high-jacked my brain once more, because the next thing I knew Megan Barrie was splayed across my lap, her back shoving Joycey against the leather cushion of our booth, her legs holding the mostly-limp Ray in place.

“Richard!” she screamed with girlish glee. My eardrums recoiled, threatened. The frequency of her voice managed to do what pounding bass and God awful karaoke hadn’t and roused Ray from his semi-slumber. When his eyes regained modicum of focus, they had the dilated-pupil cast of a trapped animal’s. He mumbled, “The Seal don’t like this.”

I ignored him and turned my attention to Megan, although it wasn’t like she was giving me much of a choice in the matter. “Hey, long time, no see—” By the time I’d uttered that last syllable she’d wrapped her arms around me and her tongue was busy seeking out some hidden treasure in my mouth. Huh. Unexpected. Back in school I figured she’d had something for me, but then again who didn’t? I shrugged and went with the flow. Getting it on was getting it on. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Joycey cough and turn away, seemingly attempting to give the two of us as much privacy as was physically possible. I silently applauded his efforts.

There was another jump cut at this point and suddenly I was standing outside, my left hand shoved in my coat pocket, my right around Megan’s shoulders. Ray stood across from me, his glare still mostly unfixed but looking at the girl in the same way a small animal would regard a potential predator.

“The Seal’s gonna be honest,” I said. “Waiting around outside while you to do the nasty isn’t any fun.”

Evidently I had agreed to sleep with this woman during my last blackout. I was about to feel violated when I gave her a once over and figured, yeah, I could live with that.

“Then what the Hell are you going to do?” I bellowed.

Ray nodded down the street. “There’s a Tim Hortons down that way.”

Megan reached into her pocket, producing a pencil and a dollar store receipt. She scribbled something and handed the scrap to my semi-conscious wingman. “That’s my address,” she said. “Meet up with us there when you’re done.”

Ray snatched the slip out of her hand, looked lazily over its surface, and pocketed it without a further protest. He pivoted and made straight for the coffee shop.

“Well then,” I said to her. “Shall we be off?”

A philosopher once said that a man has a penis and a brain, and only enough blood to use one at a time. Said philosopher did a whole lot of coke in the ’70s, though, so I doubted the accuracy of his observations. As Megan led me by hand down Montreal Road, I was mildly concerned  my higher brain functions weren’t operating to the best of their abilities but I was also pretty sure my wang wasn’t calling the shots. Or at least not yet. In any case I was able to selectively ignore most of Barrie’s prattling as we weaved down several side streets, each visibly seedier than the last.

After ten minutes of cold, drunken loping, we came to a sudden stop—well, I did, my momentum grinding to a halt just before I could slam into Megan at full tilt. In front of us stood the filthiest looking townhouse I’d ever laid eyes on outside of an episode of The Wire. The screen door hung loosely on rusty hinges, its metal chassis banging hollowly against the frame every few seconds. When it swung, the resulting screech felt like someone was working over my balls with a sponge made out of steel wool.

“Here we are!” Megan said, chipper.

I leered at the building’s unkempt two-storey bulk, wary. “This is where you live?” I asked, aware of several notes of apprehension lingering in my voice.

“For the moment. My mom and I got in a fight a couple weeks ago and a friend of mine had an extra room. Sweet digs, if you ask me.” She stepped forward, grabbed the door by the handle and yanked it open. I winced at what was probably the worst-sounding screech yet. She beckoned with her hand. “Come on in, monsieur.”

My mouth stretched itself into an ear-to-ear grin, in spite of myself. I followed her inside.
Ever seen pictures of the now-demolished Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis? Who the fuck am I kidding, of course you haven’t. But the interior bore an uncanny resemblance: exposed drywall, hastily-rendered graffiti, trash piled near the door—the works. An incandescent light bulb very obviously near the end of its life cast a sickly yellow glow over the entrance hall. At the very rear of the foyer, where this ring of illumination met shadow, an unnervingly tall and skeletal man with several tattoos and three days of beard growth stepped into the barely-light, nodded ever so slightly in our direction, and disappeared down the adjacent basement steps. He made not a sound.

“That your friend?” I asked.

“No, that’s Hawk. He pops in every few days.”

A few seconds passed in uncomfortable silence, and then, echoing from the bowels of the house, came the vacant drumbeat and churning synths of “Goodbye Horses.”

“Huh,” I muttered. That settled it: either Megan lived just above the den of a serial killer, or this place was a crack house. Since Hawk hadn’t returned with a shotgun in hand I assumed the latter. For most people, this realization might have set off a few warning bells or even deterred them from seeing the night through to its bitter end, but I pride myself on not being most people. Hell, I’d hooked up in worse places. With a cock of my head and a click of my tongue I said, “Lead on.”

Megan started up a narrow, rickety staircase, the tenacious young lady avoiding the crushed cardboard boxes and the occasional beer can scattered along her path. Too lazy and too drunk to be as careful, I stomped up the steps, crushing card and aluminum indiscriminately. The upstairs hall was no less neglected than its downstairs equivalent though it had the distinction of reeking of ozone. A wraithlike girl with her hair in cornrows stood in one of the doorways, staring aimlessly out into the hall, her pupils the size of dimes. She made no gesture suggesting she perceived us, let alone recognized us.

Megan’s room was the most Spartan chick’s domain I’d ever laid eyes on. An aging mattress adorned with a moth-eaten comforter and a seat cushion for a pillow served as her bed. Clothes were either piled in a corner or at the bottom of her closet. The room’s sole light hung from the ceiling on a chain, and the miniscule vibrations our footsteps sent through the room made the bulb flicker, creating an eerie strobe effect. On top of all this, the room lacked anything resembling a door. My eyes searched the area for an alternative, but the only object tall and wide enough to block off the entranceway would have been the only thing preventing me from screwing on the hardwood floor. This would not do.

“Do you know if there’s anything we can prop up against the doorway?” I asked. Megan was busy pulling off her shirt and didn’t hear me, so I asked again, adding, “You know, so we can be more discreet.”

She shook her head. “It’s cool, though. My roomies won’t mind.”

I suddenly pictured Hawk standing at the threshold, wearing a woman’s scalp, staring down at us as we got busy with the mambo funktastic. The thought chilled me to the bone, and in more ways than one. I might even have shuddered. “Let’s phrase that differently: does any room in this fire hazard have a working door?”

She paused for thought, her bra halfway off. After a second, she said, “The bathroom.”

Something like icy fingers crawled up my spine and reflexively I whirled on my heel, ending up looking out into the hall. Branching off the opposite side of the corridor was the darkest, dingiest bathroom I’d ever had the misfortune of seeing. It could have been used in an early David Cronenberg movie with hardly any set dressing. The medicine cabinet mirror was marred by a long, jagged crack. The grout between the floor tiles was the blackish-brown of grease. It may have been a trick of the eye, but I swear I saw something bony and pale skitter into the darkness behind the dilapidated toilet.

But, it had a door.

“Fuck it,” I said, and tore off my shirt.

I’m going to skip the next bit. It’s not that I’m ashamed of what ensued—my shame glands never developed, see—but the details might shake one’s faith in a higher power. So I’ll be considerate and sum it up as such: I’ve had better; I’ve had worse.

For now, I’ll take a brief detour and try to the best of my ability to outline the journey of Ray “The Seal” Matheson from Hoe-deo to Megan Barrie’s crack house hostel. It’s necessary partly because what follows might not make any sense otherwise, but mostly because it’s better than the alternative (i.e. my dirty deeds, done real dirt cheap). So, cobbled together from what I heard and from what I was able to extrapolate, Ray’s voyage:

Five minutes after parting ways with the would-be underage drinker and yours truly, Ray half-walked, half-slid down the road until he came to a Timmy’s where he hoped to score, in his words, “a double-double and a three of my vanilla dip homies.” Alas, a trucker snatched up the remainder in the case and Ray was forced to settle on chocolate glazed to get his sugar fix. Just as he stepped back out into the cold so he could smoke a cigarette while wolfing down his donuts, two police officers pulled up in a squad car.

Ray said he then pressed up against the store’s windows, hoping to avoid drawing any attention to his less-than-legally inebriated state. The cops were almost to the door when the cigarette smoke trapped inside Ray’s mouth from holding his breath triggered his gag reflex, and a second later he vomited the partially-digested remains of the donuts, his half-drunk coffee and the flask full of whiskey he’d consumed onto the new fallen snow, right in front of two of Ottawa’s finest. Ray swore they made a move for their cuffs, but I know Ray, so it was more likely the officers asked if he was okay, only for the paranoid jackass crouching before them to shout “IT’S THE 5-0!” and book it into the night.

Perhaps they wanted to take him in. Maybe they were genuinely concerned for his well-being. Regardless, the cops got back into their car and drove off after him. Ray said he ducked onto a side road, whipped the slip of paper Megan had given him out of his pocket, scanned the address, and made a beeline in the general direction of where he figured her house was located. As the saying goes, “any port in a storm…”

Ten minutes later, and about five minutes after Megan and I stumbled into the bathroom, our lips locked (me taking special care to shut and lock the door behind us), Ray came upon the crack house. He bounded up the front steps, tore open the screen door, and darted inside. At this time I knew something was up, because I dimly heard my name reverberate throughout the house’s slipshod frame. Despite being in the heat of semi-passion in the (thankfully drained) bathtub, I broke away and looked up. “Ray?” I called back.

I heard someone climb the stairs at a rapid pace, the steps groaning under their weight, and suddenly they were outside the bathroom door.

“Rick, is that you?” he asked.

My mouth twitched angrily. “Who the fuck else in this dump would know your name?” I spat.

Below me, Megan whined, “Hey, this is my house—”

“Shhh,” I hushed her. “Grownups are talking.” I barked through the door again, “What’s going on?”

“Uh, the Seal got himself into a bit of trouble.” I rolled my eyes. Christ, what else was new.

“Is that so,” I sighed. “What do you want me to do, then?”

“Go downstairs and keep an eye out?”

I couldn’t stop myself from growling. “Ray, I’m kind of busy.”

“Just for five minutes, man!”

Beneath my breath, I grumbled, “The nerve he has to bring up five minutes.” I cleared my throat and shouted, “Five minutes. Right on.”

Megan’s brow wrinkled. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Bracing my hand on the tub wall, I pushed myself upward and clambered out onto the bathroom tiles. “Five minutes. I’ll be back in a jiffy,” I grumbled, pulling on my pants and stepping into my boots—there was no way in Hell I was going to walk on these floors in my bare feet. Turning the knob and wrenching the door out of its frame, I heard Megan murmur, “I love you—”

I slammed the door shut behind me. Ray was standing near the top of the staircase, peering edgily down into the foyer. When I caught his eye I threw my arms up, bemused. “Really?”

“Yo man, the Seal’s in trouble here!” he pleaded.

I waved him off. “Fine, fine. I’ll keep a lookout for the Nazgûl for you.” I turned toward Megan’s bedroom, intending to grab my shirt and jacket, but the wraith girl was inside, sitting on the edge of the mattress and carefully rolling a joint. Resigned, I went down the steps, jumping over the last two and into the foyer. Ambling out the screen door, I called, “So, who exactly am I looking fo—”

That’s when the cop car pulled up out front. Siren silent, flashers dim, but a cop car nonetheless. The two officers within opened their respective doors, stepped out and looked up to see me aglow in the headlights, naked from the waist up, pants barely on, and standing in front of what was probably the most notorious crack house in the National Capital Region.

They froze, I froze.

It was Ray who broke the ensuing silence, creeping up behind me, catching sight of his pursuers, and shouting “RUN BITCH RUN!”

Needless to say, I took his advice. I spun around, nearly sending Ray flying, and sprinted down the main hall toward the kitchen and what I hoped was the back door. I just managed to avoid Hawk as he stalked out of the basement, clutching a roll of tin foil in one hand and what looked like a live quail in the other. I heard it coo softly.

Ray and I charged into the kitchen, each of us trying to squeeze past the other, and burst out the rear door into the backyard. The five by five metre lot was packed full of standard white trash fare: garbage bags, rusty garden tools, even a wreck of a car up on cinder blocks. The last item caught my eye and I made a dash, jumping onto the old Geo’s hood, hopping onto its roof and—after uttering a quick prayer—vaulting over the fence and into the adjacent yard. When I recovered from a duck and roll, I looked up to see Ray execute a similar stunt, though he didn’t make the landing quite as well. Nevertheless, he was back on his feet in a couple seconds, and the two of us raced around the side of the house this yard belonged to, hearing shouts of “FREEZE! POLICE!” echo throughout the surrounding buildings.

In spite of the fear coursing through my veins, in spite of the icy air bathing my shirtless body, and in spite of my balls oh so blue, I felt alive. I caught a second wind with this realization, the adrenaline pushing me to twice my original speed—though I made sure to let Ray catch up at the next intersection; I wasn’t that heartless. We made it back to the main road in short time, ignoring the stares from the few pedestrians who caught sight of my bare upper half and the vomit stains on Ray’s jacket. Slowing our pace to a jog, we glimpsed Hoe-deo in the distance.

I looked at Ray. He looked at me. He shrugged. We made tracks for the bar.

Joycey was standing outside, enjoying another cigarette. Evidently the bouncer had found some purpose in his life and kicked the man out before he could do any further respiratory collateral damage. As we came within a block of the bar, his eyes narrowed.

“What. The fuck,” he uttered, looking down at the two of us as we bent forward, trying to catch our breaths.

“Just. A head’s. Up,” I said between breaths. “We might. Be fugitives. From. The law.”

Joycey took a drag off his cigarette. “And this is surprising how?”

Huh. Fair enough.

A bus pulled up out front of the bar right then, its doors sliding open with a hiss. Without consulting me in the slightest, Ray made his way over and hopped inside, already counting change. He probably had the right idea. I was about to follow when I noticed the signage out front prohibiting my current shirtless status.

I turned to Joycey. “Can I borrow your jacket?”

The man paused, took another drag, blew smoke in my face.

I tried an alternate approach. “Can we share a cab?”

Another pause, this time followed by a nod. “Sure.”

I clapped Joycey on the shoulder, the grin on my lips nearly splitting my face it was so wide. “That’s my man.” I whipped around to see Ray standing in the open doorway of the bus, the driver growing impatient behind him. “Same time next week?” I called to him.

“Same time next week!”

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