I stepped into the bar not knowing what to expect. I never knew
what to expect. All I did know at the time was that it was late,
I was thirsty and damn near broke, and the lights in the small
tavern were the only lights in town. Standing inside the doorway,
I surveyed the interior of the hooch parlor.
At the bar sat a trio of rough looking men, one of them with
graying hair and glasses, another with broad shoulders, small
piggish eyes and a brutish chin. The other had his back to me and
all I knew about his appearance was that he was chubby and
wearing a red hat with netting in the back and a blue flannel
shirt. Brute chin looked across the bar at me and I saw him turn
to Goggles and say something that brought his face up in my
direction. He said something back and then they were both
laughing. I ignored them and made my way to the bar, noting four
middle aged men and a chubby woman of about thirty at a table in
the corner. They looked up at me as well, but apparently didn't
find me worth commenting on.
At the bar, I leaned against the counter with one foot on the
chair rail and waited for the tender to emerge from the open
doorway behind the serving area. I heard one of the guys down the
bar from me saying something about my haircut and they all
started laughing loudly. I cast them a quick glance, saw brute
chin's smile fade and looked away. The laughing died away and I
could feel the men tensing and told myself to just leave before
there was trouble. Then the bartender came out of the back and I
forgot about them.
She was short with short brown hair hanging in curls around her
head like a halo. Below that head of hair was a face with high
cheekbones, a small straight nose and green eyes. Even farther
south were the lines of well-rounded womanhood that would make
any man feel a tug of desire. I looked back at her face and felt
my eyes drawn to her hair. I could imagine those curls spread
out over a pillow and suddenly had the desire to make that vision
a reality. She spotted me, graced me with a smile that would have
pulled a ten dollar tip out of me if I wasn't so low on cash, and
skipped over to where I was. She actually skipped. I felt a goofy
grin spreading across my face and her eyes twinkled, she was
probably used to it.
"What'll it be cutie?" She asked in a surprisingly low voice that
had honey edges. I stuffed my right hand in my pants pocket and
drew out two crumpled dollar bills and slapped them on the bar.
"Just a coke."
She held her smile and slid the money off the bar as she turned
around. I watched as she dropped both bills into her tip jar on
her way to the soda station where she pulled a plastic cup from a
holder before filling it with ice and filling it from a hose. She
wiggled back and placed the coke on the bar in front of me. I
reached out for the soda and closed my hand over hers. Her smile
faded and she stared me down, but I was still smiling.
"On the house?" I asked with a nod toward her tip jar. Her smile
came back and she nodded once before withdrawing her hand, which
she kissed and patted my lips with.
"More where that came from honey." She told me, before turning
away and wandering down to the trio at the other end of the bar.
I followed her with my eyes, watching her trim, well-rounded
figure as she moved. Brute chin laid his hand over her wrist as
she leaned over the bar and smiled at him. They both turned to
stare at me and I raised my coke to them and she was laughing as
she pulled away from him. He wasn't laughing though. In fact, his
face was dark, his brows lowered and his pig eyes squinted with
anger as he glowered at me. That little honey of a bartender made
her way over and bounced to a stop in front of me.
"So what's your deal?" She asked as she idly ran a washcloth over
the clean surface of the bar in front of me.
I smiled at her as I spoke, I couldn't help it. "I'm on the road
doing music. I got a date in Des Moines tomorrow but I'm running
low on cash." I paused, feeling stupid admitting I was broke but
went on. "I was gonna see if I could come in and play for tips
but," I turned and let her watch me take in the room. "It doesn't
look to promising here."
She surprised me by letting go of the washrag and leaning against
the bar with her chin on her hands. "Really? What do you play?"
I shrugged. "Lots of stuff. Mostly country."
"Well I don't know if anyone would tip you, but I'd love to hear
you play." And then she was leaning farther across the bar and I
was just naturally drawn to lean in toward her. "Why don't you go
get your guitar and bring it inside?"
I was nodding stupidly when I heard a glass slam down on the bar.
Turning my head, I saw Brute Chin glaring at me again. For the
first time, I noticed just how big he really was. Even sitting in
his stool he was taller than I was standing. Not that that was
saying much. I was barely five seven and weighed a scant one
thirty. He had to be pushing two thirty, maybe two forty and not
much of it anything but muscle. I let my eyes drift up and down
over him and felt the air in the room turn electric. A sharp tug
on my shirt collar brought my attention back to the bartender.
"Please go get your guitar and play me a song." She was saying. I
just stared at her a moment, struck by her beauty.
"Well, I guess I can handle that. But you've got to do me a favor
first." She raised her eyebrows. "What's your name doll?"
"Britney." She told me before turning around and hitting the
remote to the jukebox and shutting it down. She cupped her hands
around her mouth and called out to the nearly empty barroom as I
headed for the door. "Alright everybody, we got a treat for you!
Hey what's your name sugar?"
I turned around and smiled at her. "John Tonk Baby. You can call
"Honky's gonna bring his guitar in and play for us. You can help
him out by tipping him if you'd like, he's trying to get to Des
Moines tomorrow for…" And I was out the door, her words cut off
as I crossed the parking lot to my truck.
When I came back inside, everyone watched me as I selected the
nearest table and slapped my guitar case down on it. Undoing the
latches in rapid succession I flipped the lid up and snaked a
hand in to pull the guitar out and slide the strap over my
shoulders. Fishing a pick from my back pocket, I ran it across
the strings to check the tuning. Satisfied, I glanced around the
room with a small smile. Everyone but Brute Chin was watching me
with expectation; he glowered with open contempt.
"How you folks doin'?" I asked. "As you heard my name's John
Tonk, I go by Honky, some call me Honky John Tonk and you can
call me what you like. Here's the deal. I'm gonna play you some
songs and if you like them you can help me put some gas in my
truck to get to my next show. I'll do a few than take requests
the best I can. Now, you know who I am. I'd like to introduce my
partner Phillip." I indicated my guitar case with a nod of my
head. "Phillip the case."
There were a few appreciative chuckles from the table with the
fivesome. Britney came out from behind the bar and took a seat at
the table where my guitar case lay open. I winked at her, spread
my fingers over the strings in a D chord formation and started
Halfway through the first song, the five at the table had gotten
up and the men were taking turns dancing with the chubby lady.
They were laughing and trying to sing along with the chorus.
Britney was on her feet and dancing with Goggles from the bar and
the hated fellow with Brute Chin was smiling and tapping his hand
on the bar top with the music. When I finished, everyone except
Brute Chin clapped and laughed. Britney bounced over and kissed
me on the cheek. I smiled down at her as I started the next
While I worked my way through the slower tune, two of the fellows
from the table came over and dropped some bills in the case.
Britney went behind the bar and fished my two bucks back from her
tip jar and dropped it in the case. I didn't know what kind of
folding money the other fellows had put in and decided I was at
four bucks, or at least that was all I could count on. Glancing
toward Brute Chin, I noticed that he was wearing an increasingly
pissed off expression. Nothing I could do about it, so I kept
playing. When the song ended, Goggles came over and dropped a
fiver in the case and offered his hand. I took it and he offered
to buy me a drink.
"Rum and Coke." I told him and he went to the bar to fill the
order. Wandering over to the table with the four older men and
their lady companion, I inquired after what they would like to
hear. One of the men opened his mouth to speak and then his eyes
darted over my shoulder and his expression went blank. I felt a
hand gripping my shoulder and was spun roughly around to face
"Why don't you just pack up and get on out?" he demanded roughly.
"Leave him alone Brad!" Britney called from the bar.
"Shut up!" He growled at her over his shoulder. He turned back
around to face me. "Like I was sayin', you need to get out of
"What's your problem Meat House?" I demanded. He laughed.
"Suppose I just don't like fags."
"That's great, why don't you just get off of me." I shrugged away
from his hand and took a step back.
"Just you leave him alone Brad" It was Britney again.
"What's it to ya slut?" He barked harshly at her.
I glanced over his shoulder and saw her coming around the bar. He
half turned toward her and I took the opportunity to back up a
few steps and slip the guitar strap from my shoulders. I looked
sideways toward the woman sitting at the table and held my guitar
to her. She took it wordlessly, her attention rapt to the
developing scene in front of her. Brad turned around and grinned
at me, a wolfish gesture. I went up on the balls of my feet and
rolled my shoulders as I took a few bouncing steps toward him. He
ran his tongue over his lips and rolled his neck.
"Don't even think about it Honky, he'll tear you apart." Britney
told me. I cast her a quick glance and blew her a kiss. Brad came
on and I ducked under his arm as he threw a powerful haymaker for
my head. I rolled under his arm and spun, ending up behind his
shoulder. He recovered and turned but I was halfway across the
bar from him, an idea beginning to form in my head.
"Hold up Brad." I told him from across the room. Britney's hand
was on his arm then and he halted, looking at me. "I only stopped
by here for one thing and one thing only. I didn't come in here
looking for trouble with you."
"Well you got it queer!" He told me. I shrugged.
"Well if it's trouble so be it. But I came here to get some
cash." He stared at me, uncomprehending.
Britney's face went white and she shook her head fiercely at me.
Two of the men at the table stood and one of them shook his head
at me as well. I didn't pay them much attention. Something dark
and familiar was rising up inside of me and was beginning to fill
my veins with fire. I let the feeling come on, an old raging
violence that had filled me many times before. It came into me
like a driving howling wind and then that feeling passed, leaving
me with a coldness that I was only too accustomed to.
"How about it Brad? What have you got?" He blinked slowly then
shook his head and took a few steps toward me. His buddy Goggles
came across the room and caught him by the arm and he turned,
"He called you Brad." He stated flatly. Slowly, Brad lowered his
fist and his face went blank. Britney crossed the room and was
standing in front of me, her hands clutching at my shoulders.
"What are you doing? He'll kill you! He'll tear you to pieces! Do
you see him? Have you seen yourself?" I pushed her hands away and
"What about it big man? You wanna put some money on it? Match
what I got in the case and you got yourself a fight."
"Fuck you, I don't got to put up no money you little sawed off
son of a bitch!" He exploded. I smiled at him.
"Afraid you're gonna lose it?"
He smiled then. Turning, he nodded at Goggles who pulled the
bills from my case and counted them.
"Sixteen bucks." He said. Brad dug into a pocket and hauled out a
wad of bills. Peeling one off he grinned at me. "You're four
bucks short junior. All I got is twenties."
"How much?" I asked. He counted.
"Hunnert and twenty." That would get me to Des Moines and a hotel
for tonight. I wanted it bad and I wanted to break that hulking
bully as well.
"Wanna give me odds?"
"I'll give you five to one, but to be honest you ain't got a
hunnert in one chance." It was good enough.
"Alright, you said it." I turned to Britney. "You hold the money
doll." She was looking at me with an expression that I read as
anger mixed with disgust.
"I'll call the cops." I shook my head.
"Why would you do that to me? I need that money."
"You're gonna get dead is what's gonna happen."
"Let him at it Brit." Brad said. "He's been warned."
"Come on, just drop it Honky. You can come home and stay the
night with me."
I looked her over appreciatively but shook my head no and she
turned around, anger flashing across her face at the rejection.
She snatched the money from Brad's hand and went to the bar and
Brad and I eyed each other across the room. We started toward
each other when Goggles called out.
"Hold up! Let's do a shot first!" He turned and looked me up and
down. "May be your last drink partner." He added.
Shrugging, I went to the bar and stood next to Brad. Britney eyed
us both with disgust as she measured out shots of Jimmy Beam.
Brad turned to face me and I did likewise. Raising his glass he
"To the dead man." And he threw his shot back. I held my glass up
and smiled then turned to face Britney.
"Can I still spend the night?"
She gave me a weak smile. "If you're not dead."
"Here's to living!" I threw my drink back and raised the empty
glass in front of me, my hand hovering above my head and in front
of Brad's face. Instead of returning the glass to the bar I let
it go and brought the flat of my hand down hard on the bridge of
his nose, felt a satisfying crunch, and skipped backward.
Brad howled and lunged at me, his head down and both hands
outstretched. His arms were longer than mine but I leapt, kicking
my legs up behind me and got over his arms slipped my arms around
his neck and sprawled. We went down, his head smacked against the
floor and I scrambled over his back, clipping the top of his head
a good one with my knee on my way. He bucked and sent me rolling.
I caught up against the bar and was scrambling to my feet when he
grabbed me. Jerking me towards him, he enfolded me in his arms as
he rolled on top of me. I squirmed under him, trying to free my
arms and he butted the back of my head with his forehead and
lights burst behind my eyes. I jerked an arm free and then he was
kneeling on top of my back hammering away at my ribs with jarring
blows. Something snapped and I felt pain stabbing my side. With a
desperate lunge, I drew my legs up under me and tried to stand.
He toppled off my back and threw out a foot that caught me in the
spine and sent me sprawling forward. I rolled over as he was
coming to his feet. Bringing my legs up to my chest, I lashed out
and caught him in the knee as he aimed a kick at my side. He
staggered and fell against the bar and I scrambled to my feet.
Standing a few feet apart we eyed each other. His nose was broken
and dripping blood over his face but his breathing was even and
his eyes held murder. My own breath was coming ragged and the
pain in my side was making me grit my teeth. I pulled myself
together and we came in at the same time.
He threw an overhand right that grazed my ear as I went
underneath it. I unloaded with a right cross to his wind and
followed it with a left hook to a kidney. He hissed in breath and
then brought a fist clubbing down on the back of my head. I
staggered forward and just managed to avoid his knee as it came
up to meet my face. Grabbing the leg he was posted on behind the
knee, I sat down, slipping my own leg around his. He fell
backwards and kicked with his free leg and caught my side.
I held on for dear life and rolled over, twisting his knee as I
did. He howled in rage and pain and sat up smashing a wicked
right into my lips and I felt them split under the impact and saw
stars. But I held on and twisted harder. Something strained but
didn't break and he clubbed me on the ear and I felt darkness
rushing up to take me, but fought it. Letting go of his leg, I
jumped to my feet and backpedaled, gasping at the pain stabbing
my side as I did.
He scooted backward on his butt and put a hand behind himself to
stand up so I ran up and tried to boot him like a place kicker
would a football. He threw himself to the side and my kick missed
his face and caught his shoulder instead. Something cracked and I
felt a thrill run through me. It was short lived.
He recovered quickly and his hand snaked out and he snagged my
pant leg and jerked. I went down on my back and he scrambled on
top of me, his legs to either side of my torso, and went to work
throwing punch after punch, left right left right. I rolled my
head and held my arms in front of my face. Most of the punches
took my arms and they were badly bruised and hurting like a son
of a bitch, but only one caught me in the head. It was enough
though. His fist smacked against my forehead clean and drove my
head down and against the wood floor. It hit with a loud crack
and I felt the skin split on my scalp.
Bucking crazily, I threw him forward and he sprawled on top of me
and I wrapped my arms around his head. He planted his feet and
started to rise. I knew if he got up he would just throw himself
down on top of me and keep doing it until my grip was broke and
then pound me to a pulp so I started throwing my head forward,
trying to smash his face with my crown.
He was expecting it and had his head down, buried against my
chest. I dug in under his ears, right at the jawline, with my
thumb knuckles and he gasped in pain. He slammed me back to the
floor and I let out my breath with a whoosh. He started to rise
again and I hooked the back of his jaw with my fingers and pulled
for all I was worth. Something popped and he fell forward and lay
on top of me howling. I pushed him off of me and rolled over. I
staggered to my feet and pulled my foot back and kicked him in
the ear then stomped down on the back of his head and he went
Everyone in the bar was staring at me as I staggered forward and
collapsed against the bar, holding onto it to keep from falling.
Goggles was on the floor next to Brad examining him and Britney
was coming around the bar. I smiled at her through my smashed and
puffy lips. She was smiling and I nodded.
"Like a good fight don't you sweetie." I said through my bloodied
She handed me the wad of bills and slipped an arm around my waist
and started walking me toward a door that I assumed led to an
office or storeroom. Looking behind us, I saw brad being helped
up and was glad I hadn't killed him with that final stomp to the
back of the head.
"You surprised me Honky." She told me as we went through the
door. It was an office with a large cluttered desk commanding
most of the room and a couch along one wall. I nodded agreement
with her statement. It hurt to talk. "Anyways, you can rest in
here until we close up. I'll bring in your guitar."
She turned to walk away and I snagged her arm and drew her to me.
She stiffened at first then yielded as I pulled her against my
chest and leaned down to kiss the top of her head. She looked up,
put her hand behind my neck and pulled my face down to hers, her
lips parted. We kissed, the blood from my smashed mouth smearing
on her as we did. When she pulled back, she looked like she had
just eaten a live animal. With the back of her hand, she wiped at
the blood, laughed, and then squeezed my bicep.
"Still staying with me tonight tough guy?"
"I'm still alive
ain't I?" I asked before everything swirled around me and I fell
to the floor unconscious.