Back to the World
by James Shaffer
Table of Contents|
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
It was close to 10:00 pm when Tom arrived in Russell. The bus had stopped for half an hour in Salina and lengthened the normal two-hour trip. As Johnnie advised, he kept the briefcase by his side the whole journey. The cash comforted him. He could start over, maybe. Help his sister out on the farm. It was a good plan, a fresh start. He felt good. It’d been a long time since he felt something good.
He walked away from the Russell bus stop and saw a taxi rank in front of him. He planned to hitch, but this late at night he knew he’d have no luck hitching and, with his suitcase, it would be a long walk. Though he had the cash, he reasoned a taxi would cost more than he wanted to pay for the twenty-mile trip.
Across the street he saw a bar. A neon sign flashed its name, The Lucky Lady. He strode across the street and stopped under the neon sign. His face reflected in the heavily curtained bar window and flashed back at him in neon colors. He couldn’t see in, but he could hear the music, old school country. A sign hung out over the sidewalk from the building next to the bar. It said, Rooms for Rent. Why not, he thought, I have the cash. But first a nightcap.
He stepped into the bar. The familiar smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke relaxed him. He set his bags down next to a stool at the far end of the bar; then he sat and rested his foot assuredly on the briefcase. One beer, maybe two, was the limit he set for himself. He ordered his first. Out on the floor, two drunk floozies danced together, light entertainment for the cowboys that lined the bar, but few of them paid much attention.
A TV hung over the back of the bar. He saw a basketball game was soon to start. The warm-ups were in progress. That cozy, warm feeling crept up the back of his neck. He called the bartender over.
“What are the odds on that game?” He nodded at the TV.
“Five to one,” said the bartender, “A&M favored.” He walked away to serve a customer.
Tom followed college ball, knew the teams who were playing, had even bet on them in the past. The odds sounded good. He finished his first beer and held up his glass in the direction of the bartender. The bartender brought him his second beer.
“Tell me, where can a man lay down a bet around here?” The bartender placed his elbows on the bar and leaned across. “What you lookin’ to bet on?” he asked.
“The odds on that game sound good.” He nodded toward the TV. “How about a thousand on Texas A&M? Can you cover that?”
“Hold on.” The bartender left him and entered a door in the back behind the bar. Tom had swallowed half his beer when he saw a man appear from the doorway and give him the eye. The bartender joined him. The man said a few words in the bartender’s ear; then the bartender strode toward him.
“No problem. You’re covered.” He handed Tom a slip of paper. Tom signed it. “Where you stayin’?”
“Right next door in the rooming house,” Tom answered. He was pretty sure he could get a room. Anyway, he liked a gamble.
“You’re not gonna skip, are you?” They were covering the bases.
“No future in that.” Tom held the bartender’s steady gaze.
“Definitely not,” the bartender answered firmly.
Then Tom ordered his third beer and watched the game. He’d passed his limit.
Copyright © 2015 by James Shaffer