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
22: At the Lizard Lounge, Tucumcari, New Mexico
The Lizard Lounge was as advertised: a cowboy bar with all the flashing lights, cowgirl waitresses in mini-skirts and cowboys by the truckload. There were even a few horses tethered at the hitching rail out front.
Most of the cowboys carried six-shooters on their hips, ready for the night’s festivities. Two cowboys faced off in the street. It was a quick draw contest. At the drop of a hat they both drew and fired. The shots were loud. Neither cowboy fell. Blanks. We watched the next cowboy take his place against the winner then turned toward the bar entrance.
The board outside the door said the house band, Double Shot, was playing. I paid the entrance fee for everyone, glad my three companions had come to my rescue and given me a ride into town.
I looked around when we entered and saw no one paying any particular attention to me. I can’t say the same for the three cowgirls. No fewer than six cowboys turned slowly on their barstools and watched my three companions claim a table in a far corner of the room. I squeezed between two of the dumbstruck cowboys at the bar and placed the drinks order the girls had given me.
“Where’re you sittin’, pardner?” the bartender asked me.
I turned to point at the table in the back and noticed three cowboys blocking my view. The band had just started up. I wasn’t surprised. I had to yell at the bartender over the music. “Table in the back behind the three cowboys?”
“Got it.” He gave me the OK sign over the noise.
I skirted the dance floor and landed successfully at the empty table. The three girls were on the floor with their cowboy partners doing a languid two-step to a Willie Nelson tune, Did I Ever Love You. I had to admit the three Dallas gals were good. So was the band. It was the first time since I had left Amarillo that I felt relaxed, sequestered in the back corner of a cowboy bar in a non-descript town.
While I listened to Willie ask and answer his own questions about love and life, I saw a waitress cut through the circle of dancers heading to our table. With a crooked smile that could have been genuine, she placed a bottle of tequila on the table along with four glasses, sliced lemon and lime and a shaker of salt. When she sidled over next to me, I slipped a ten-dollar bill into her apron pocket. She pretended she didn’t notice. As she stretched across the table to place the napkins, I noticed her apron was longer than her skirt. I had no doubt her tips were good.
“Thanks, cowboy. Anything else?” She kept her professional distance. In a place like this, she’d have to.
“I think we’re good. Thanks.”
The song ended and the dancers returned to the table. Kelly Jo and Jamie Sue politely excused their partners, but Darlene held tight to hers and dragged him over to the table. “Guys, this here’s Brad. Be nice.”
He looked harmless. Jamie Sue and Kelly Jo sat down on either side of me. The band started up again and, before we had a chance to “be nice,” Darlene pulled Brad back out on the dance floor. She was determined.
“That Darlene will be married before the night’s over.” Jamie Sue offered her words of wisdom while tossing back two shots, one after the other. Kelly Jo was still sipping her first. I hadn’t touched mine.
A cowboy came over to the table and offered Jamie Sue his hand. She took it, and they strolled across the dance floor to the bar. I could see they started tossing back shots together.
“You don’t dance, Jake?” Kelly Jo asked.
“No, I don’t dance, but I sure can run, Kelly Jo,” I answered turning toward her. She looked back at me. I smiled.
“Well, that can come in handy,” she said, taking another sip of Tequila.
Darlene never left the dance floor after that except to drop off her car keys at our table.
“Brad’s taking me to see his ranch.” Her eyes twinkled. Kelly Jo motioned her closer.
“I never heard it called that before,” Kelly Jo yelled in Darlene’s ear.
“Me neither. Hope it’s a big ranch.” She held her two hands about a foot apart. “See ya’ll tomorrow.” She started to walk away; then she turned back. “By the way, I made him give me his phone number.” She handed the number to Kelly Jo then leaned in and whispered, “In case he’s an ax murderer, you know.” She laughed and walked away. With her back already to us, she waved goodbye with her free hand as she sauntered out of the bar. Her other hand crept around Brad’s waist.
A half-hour later, a cowboy carried a stumbling Jamie Sue over to our table and dumped her on the seat beside me. She slumped against my shoulder.
“She’s bombed,” he said. “Can’t hold her liquor. Can’t stand up neither.” He touched the brim of his hat and disappeared.
“Well, that’s a nice thank-you,” said Kelly Jo.
“I know. Whatever happened to good manners? He definitely ain’t from Texas.” The band was between songs. I turned to Kelly Jo. “You ready to get out of here?”
“Ready when you are, cowboy.”
Kelly Jo grabbed Darlene’s car keys off the table while I hauled Jamie Sue to her feet. My arm circled her waist, and I walked her out of the bar. Kelly Jo brought up the rear. We made a clean getaway.
Copyright © 2015 by James Shaffer