All Stories, Crime/Mystery/Thriller, General Fiction

There’s No Bars in this Town by J Saler Drees

We were bored when we started drinking and bored when we got too drunk and bored when we stole Adee’s pickup and drove it down to the riverbank. What a joke. We laughed the whole way, that forced, bored kind that sounds like a fraud. How we mused, won’t this be funny when Adee gets off her shift and finds her truck gone.

Since no one ever locked their cars, or their doors, stealing came easy. Only problem in a town this small, you’d get caught. Didn’t matter. Stealing was more a game than a necessity, so catch us if you can, Adee.

Whose idea was it? No way to know for sure. After passing around a bottle of Jack stolen from Double D Sports and Spirits, we four were feeling cool as Jonny Cash, look at us. Saturday afternoon, drinking in public, swaggering down 2nd Street, past the abandoned Headway Market, windows all boarded up, and past Riley’s Car Lot, gutted shells and piles of tires baking in the sun. We spotted the pickup, an ‘87 Ford Ranger spray-painted pink, who knows, in an attempt to be more girly or hip, maybe, but there it was, parked outside Logger’s Café, the only restaurant in town besides Pete’s Piece-a-Pizza.

Her truck. Adee, the preppy, Adee, the nark. She’d been a cheerleader in high school, dated all the football players, voted most popular; friendly and fearless, and so nobody risked getting on her bad side. Until she accused Craig West of rape, that is. Craig West, our star quarterback with a free ride to San Jose State to play for the Spartans, and hopefully get recruited, and put our mill town on the map. Craig West, the one luckiest enough to leave, to become somebody. We envisioned boasting, yeah, we know Craig West, famous NFL quarterback.

Hell, who didn’t want to claim him? The idea he’d be big?

You bet the scandal nearly wrecked his career. His family and coach tried everything to get Adee to shut up, offered money, even threatened her. Adee though, she’s a stubborn one, headstrong enough to take him to court. It all fell through, of course, no evidence, and no one believed her anyways. Slut, liar. Vengeful bitch. And the girls, they called her the meanest things. Afterall, she slept with everyone, didn’t she? Except us, freshman at that time. Four years ago.

Now we were the seniors, class of 1995, but we sure didn’t feel our futures. The mill had closed and stayed that way ever since the Clinton Administration banned logging in national forests. So no more jobs, the bars and stores gone belly-up, and Craig West still not recruited, but hey, he graduated with a degree in Business and never came back.

Adee, she became a waitress married to Indiana Montague Everest, bulky fat guy, fat mouth, who lost his job when the mill closed and received unemployment checks ever since. He’s the one went against Craig West, probably ‘cause Adee fucked him on over to her side. At least that’s how the story goes. Truth told, we secretly liked her. She gave us free coffee whenever we visited the café and talked real cheery to mask the sadness we all felt at times.

But there was her truck, with its uneven pink paint-job, some of it so thin, you could see the blue underneath, some so thick, it looked like dried cottage cheese. Our heads seemed to turn at once.

“Let’s have us a little fun,” said Ramsey. Ramsey, freckled, wiry, on the verge, a guy you didn’t want to fuck with, a bad-ass snake with venom in his eyes. He rubbed his hands together, crowing, “Don’t that look like the sweet joy ride we need?”

Took-Took, a soft-bellied giant, and one who was easily led, said, “What you sayin’?”

“I’m saying I could use me a little fun,” Ramsey said, and snickered as he headed toward the pickup.

Took-Took started giggling, which meant he was in. Later he’d end up dead after booty-bumping speed, but this was before all that, when we just drank. We stumbled our way toward the truck, a little wary, yet grinning like drunken goldfish. If there was one thing we knew, it was Ramsey never let us stay bored for long.

He walked right up and tried the driver’s side door. Sure enough, unlocked, and he laughed. “Well, what ya know?”

He slid behind the steering wheel, and Took-Took saying, “Holy shit, holy shit,” and Zane saying, “Now wait a minute,” but Ramsey, he told us, “I’m gonna hotwire this baby.”

At first, we didn’t believe him, but when he took out his flat-head screwdriver, the one he used to pry open gas tanks to siphon, we knew he was dead serious. He cracked open the steering column, Took-Took still giggling. Did some of us think of Adee? Adee smelling of grease and brunt coffee and loneliness, coming out to discover her truck missing when all she wanted was to go home, throw her feet up on the couch and drink a cola.

Perhaps this made droopy-eyed, perpetually stoned-looking Zane turn protective and, emboldened by the Jack, come at Ramsey who’d yanked the tangle of wires out, and was already stripping the plastic off the red starter, revealing the coppery vein beneath. Zane grabbed him before he could fuse them together.

“The fuck,” Ramsey cried, pushing Zane back, and, being half in the bottle, he fell on his ass. You could see the flash wake up those sleepy eyes as he leapt up to meet Ramsey who raised his screwdriver, but the rest of us, we started shouting, and pulled Zane back as he kept yelling, “I’m going to tell her. I’m going to rat you boys out.”

“Shut up,” we told him. “You’ll get us in trouble. And the fun, it’s over.”

“Why you care about that ho anyways?” Ramsey shook his head, got back in the driver’s seat. “It’s just a prank. Imagine the look on her face.”

He twisted the wires together. A spark flew, and the truck rattled to life.

“Hippity hop,” he said, and we climbed into the truck bed, dragging Zane with us. It’s all a joke, all a joke. And Zane, he’d gone complacent, can’t be a traitor, siding with Adee like that, since, according to Ramsey, if you’re a traitor, he’d make your life hell. Hadn’t he slashed Indiana’s tires once, hadn’t he egged Indiana’s trailer, and stolen Indiana’s tackle box? While we never knew the exact origin of Ramsey’s intense dislike for Indiana and Adee, we speculated it had to do with some sort of rejection and jealousy.

Either way, we couldn’t resist, and Ramsey peeled out of the lot, just as Adee burst forth from the door in her grease-smeared apron, her hair escaping from her bun. She screamed, “Fuck you, you shitheads,” and then bent down, scooped up a handful of gravel and chucked it at us, while we hooted and pumped our fists in the air.

Ramsey, blaring country music, tore out onto Hwy 96, the truck skidding around bends, weaving into the opposite lane, nearly sliding into a ditch while the smell of the river swelled closer. We continued to swig from the bottle, some of its contents splashing onto our chins and down our shirts, our bodies sliding this way and that with Ramsey’s every jerk of the steering wheel. It was a time when thrill made you numb to the truth. Even Zane was smiling by the end, and when Ramsey shouted we were running low on gas, we all agreed to go down by the river and smoke a joint.

It wasn’t long after we’d parked, Took-Took licking the joint paper closed, when, well, well, well, what we got here, just good old Indiana driving up in his Toyota Land Cruiser, and Adee in the passenger seat. We should’ve had sense enough to back off but, hey, after the ride, the wind flat on our faces, the silted sigh of the river nearby, and the whiskey still hot in our blood, we welcomed confrontation, and goaded, “Look who’s here, Ramsey, tell ‘em to fuck off.”

Ramsey, taking the bait, of course, sauntered up to the Land Cruiser before Indiana had even killed the engine. Ramsey cracked his head side to side, rolled his shoulders, planted himself before the grill, and glared, like dare cross me, and boy, did we whoop and slap our thighs at this.

Indiana, fat and balding, and wearing a dapper cap, heaved himself out of the Land Cruiser and, near out of breath, shouted, “Just what the hell you boys think you’re doing?”

We busted up laughing, circled and jumped up and down around him. Even Zane did too, while Ramsey stood his ground in front of the grill. Adee leapt out, her hair wild about her face, and said, “Give it up, boys. Show’s over.”

We wiggled our fingers at her, whistled, as she swatted at us, cussing madly, and we were getting a little tired of the game ourselves. But Ramsey didn’t move, and for sure we couldn’t abandon him, and be known as the town cowards, unable to finish what we started, though none of us could really recall what that was, the purpose of it all.

When Took-Took leaned in and gave Adee a peck on the cheek, she clocked him in the nose, and that’s when Indiana whipped out the Colt .32. Plop a gun in his hand and poof, he goes from Adee’s bitch to Adee’s bodyguard. We immediately ducked behind the pickup, except for Ramsey who held his ground, and made us all look like fools.

“Yeah, right, that pistol ain’t even loaded,” Ramsey said to Indiana, who was sweating a boatload, his outstretched arms holding the pistol with both hands like it weighed a hundred pounds.

“It’s loaded,” Adee said. “I loaded it myself.”

 “Well, too bad you ain’t holding the gun,” Ramsey sneered. “Your boy here, he don’t got the balls to pull the trigger.”

 “Just step aside, Ramsey,” Zane said, crouched beside the back tire. “The joke’s over.”

Took-Took giggled, and feeling invincible, we all hoped, aside from Zane, that Ramsey would not step aside, that such shenanigans would continue for our sake, provide us something to blab about, something that seemed serious but really wasn’t. In fact, we had nowhere to go but sink back into that tireless boredom and hopelessness, and we just couldn’t go there, not yet. So we began hollering at Ramsey, rooting him on, yelling, “This truck is ours now. That pistol don’t scare shit. Adee’s a whore. Indiana a cuckhold.”

Buoyed by our chants, Ramsey stepped forward, toward Indiana and the gun, while Zane jumped out of his crouch, and Adee leaped, and how fast it all was, how fast, Ramsey grabbing Indiana’s wrist, Zane hunkering down hard on Ramsey’s shoulders, and Adee waltzing before them as Indiana dropped the gun, which hit the river rocks, and spat out a bullet that hit Adee square in the stomach.

We could all try to imagine what it’d been like for Adee, the once popular dish shamed for her testimony, and how, when she saw us boys driving off in her pick-up, it must’ve been another slap in her face. There goes her pink truck, crammed full of cretins, all laughing at her. No wonder she dialed her husband, the one person, loser that he was, who’d always been there for her. Hefty, hair-thinning Indiana, not named after Indiana Jones, heard Adee wail into the phone, “Bring your gun, Indy, the boys done think it’s real cute to steal my truck.”

And fortunate world, he came roaring up to Logger’s Café in his Land Cruiser like Superman himself, and before anyone knew it, Adee had him driving to the riverbed, where she’d bedded so many before, including our scorned and defiant Ramsey. Info none of us found out about until later, while in court, where we faced a truth we never wanted to admit. Adee was dead, and no amount of shame or guilt or testimony would ever change that.

She clutched her stomach, her mouth gone silent. No cursing, no screaming, the sound of the Colt .32 still in our ears. It took a minute to realize what’d happened, to see the blood seeping between her fingers as she clutched her belly, and then hunched over, gasping, the voice taken right out of her. Indiana was the first to move, rushing to Adee’s aid, blathering, “Adee, you okay? Adee? Oh God, Adee.”

He lifted her up, her body limp yet alive, the sort of alive that slips through your fingers, and while Zane flapped around, “Oh fuck, oh fuck,” and Took-Took collapsed to the ground in shock, and Ramsey leaned stunned against the truck like an eclipse in front of the sun, we all let it happen. Let Indiana place his wife into the front seat of the Land Cruiser, crank it down to a slant, then hop into the driver’s seat, reverse on rock spewing wheels, and finally hit the pavement. But the nearest hospital was in Yreka, an hour away, if you know how to drive Hwy 96’s curves fast and accurate, and as for phones? Well, you can forget that, especially in 1995 in a town like this where even a pay phone didn’t exist.

Adee bled out, her iliac artery perforated, and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. And Indiana later arrested. He cooperated, so we heard. Was on bail for $200,000 and charged with involuntary manslaughter, and unlawful possession of a firearm. Ramsey, at seventeen, was thrown in juvie for grand theft auto, while the rest of us were charged as accomplices and put on probation and sentenced to two-hundred hours of community service. Like planting trees, and helping build the new computer center, which was to be placed in the old high school music hall. So we had to clear out bashed-in bass drums, and rusted sousaphones, an out-of-tune piano, plus plenty of mice nests and strange drama props, like a rotting papier-mâché Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors. But the jobs weren’t bad, nothing compared to the guilt of Indiana and Ramsey, even though this did little to assuage our dreams. Didn’t we keep seeing her, Adee, the once brave, daring girl, willing to risk her name for justice, but silenced by the bullet discharged from her own husband’s gun? We can see her waxen face, her wild hair sticking to her cheeks, her mouth agape as she careens forward, as Indiana runs to her, as we face the world trapped in a heat thick as sludge.

These days the matter of who’s to blame is moot. How can we know when the faults appear so blurred? Even so, if only we could point a finger smack dab on one target. Either way, it’s not like Adee’s going to come bouncing back, her ponytail swinging, pompoms fluffed, cheering, Go team!

J Saler Drees

Image wikicommons: Pom-Pon *Photography person : MASA *Photography day : September, 2004 *Photography place : MASA’s Home

6 thoughts on “There’s No Bars in this Town by J Saler Drees”

  1. Loved this – reminded me a lot of Cormac McCarthy, or more modern day Steinbeck. I really enjoy more working class stories about real people. Your style remains consistent throughout and true to the setting. I also think you built great sympathy with Adee in the story and the pace was great. Excellent stuff!


  2. Hi J,
    The voice never wavered once.
    In a strange way it reminded me of the beginning of Lorenzo Carcaterra’s ‘Sleepers’.
    Like your story, that book never wasted a word.
    You brilliantly played with our sympathies by simply telling the story and not laying any emotion on too thick.


  3. The intro drew me right in…shades of the Old West, with the lawless Coen Brothers style vibe – Ramsey the rather psychopathic outlaw…the dynamic between Zane and the others and the standoff with the gun. Americana atmospheric story…I liked that community service piece at the end….


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