Irma Ledbetter hired Smilin’ Arturo Diaz as head bartender because he had once killed a man. It mattered not that Arturo’s upper lip and mustache had been peeled from his face like a candy wrapper nor that out-of-towners sometimes winced when that curving line of scar tissue, gums, and white Chiclets turned its perpetual grin their way. The very reflexes and dexterity that allowed a knife slashed Arturo to blindly grasp an unopened bottle of Jim Beam and defend himself against an attacker were but a part of the skill set that made the man an ideal employee for a fetish bar like the Carry-Okie. In the rural communities of Oklahoma reputation worked like a ticket through the door or a ball and chain shackled to one’s ankle. A reputation like Arturo’s saved Irma the cost of a weekend bouncer and likewise kept the cops at bay.
Five-foot-two, one hundred and fifteen pound plumber and fix-it man Bobby Barnett spun his swiveling bar stool away from the collage of shiny bottles and busy hands of Arturo. He gazed upon the giant wagon wheel candelabra hanging by a thick anchor chain from the center beam of the bar. He closed his ears to the sound of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” blowing from the juke box and the ambient noise of laughter, banter, and clinking glass. He visualized the future. In mere moments when he kicked that little Irish ginger’s ass to win the bantam weight chicken fight title he would ride atop Irma’s powerful shoulders in a victory lap. When he passed under that candelabra he would reach up, grab the spokes of that wheel, and hang suspended while Irma tenderly removed his boots, his socks, and then consummated their love by taking his toes one by one into her wide sweet mouth.
Irma’s rose water perfume yanked him from this reverie. “Two minutes to fight time, baby doll,” she said, leaning in close and squeezing his sinewy quadriceps muscles with her large hands. He looked deep into eyes that he had fallen in love with all the way back in the seventh grade when Irma, a senior in high school at the time and a friend of his oldest sister Natalie, stayed overnight at their house. She was the state champ in javelin that year and to this day remained the largest most beautiful female he had ever encountered. The glimpse of her powerful thighs, tapered waist, pendulous breasts, and muscled shoulders in a sheer nightie under a cascading mane of blond hair had sealed a visual memory in the bank vault of his heart. That Irma loved small men so much that she opened a bar and hired only female servers stout enough to give men under one hundred and thirty pounds ten dollar pony rides gave credence to Bobby’s belief that God moved in mysterious ways.
She leaned forward, gave him a peppermint flavored peck on the lips, then offered final instruction. “Ian’s a southpaw and Lakisha always moves clockwise. The mistake everyone makes is pushing when they should be pulling.”
Ian Salisbury, exhibiting his usual flair for the dramatic, rode into the smoky, cigar smelling room atop the shoulders of his wife, Lakisha, a Caribbean accented, Serena Williams look-a-like. He reached back and lightly spanked at her leopard patterned spandex haunches with a riding crop. “Whoa, pony,” he called when they reached the center of the dance floor.
The bottles stopped clinking and the voices in the room went silent as the exotic pony girl mounted by a tweed trouser clad, shirtless orange haired rider made her way to the bar. “I’ll be having a drink first,” Ian announced.
As they approached Bobby and Irma’s position, a microphone screeched with feedback. The voice of the volunteer judge announced, “Riders up.”
Irma, dressed in tight jeans and a loose cream colored peasant blouse, squatted down in front of Bobby’s barstool. He mounted her shoulders and when she rose, he towered over everyone in the bar save his adversary.
“A Bushmill’s Single Malt, my smiling friend,” requested Ian, the three time defending chicken fight champ looking down at the barkeep.
Arturo’s lips grinned while his eyes seethed. Anticipating the drink preference, he poured a shot from a specially imported bottle and handed it up. “Bobby gonna take you down, cabron.”
“Care to make a gentleman’s wager?”
“What stakes?” lisped Arturo.
“Your peculiar lips kissing my arse should I prevail. And my private supply of Bushmill to you should I fail.”
“I’ll take that bet,” drawled Bobby.
Ian tossed back the shot, dropped the glass to Arturo, then smiled at his pony riding foe. “Let’s fight. Shall we?”
The crowd came alive with shouts as the competitors engaged in immediate contact. Rather than move to the dance floor, the men began to grapple near the bar stools where Irma and Lakisha jockeyed for position. Ian’s strength and balance were immediately apparent and only the power of Irma’s grip on Bobby’s legs locked tightly against her breasts kept him from being unseated.
“A curse on ye,” Lakisha chanted to Irma. “A hex on your womb. A curse on this man’s seed.”
“God bless America,” answered Irma, pivoting around Lakisha’s right shoulder so quickly that Bobby found himself not only flanking Ian’s right shoulder but also wresting a clean right handed grip of Ian’s ginger hair. A small man learned early in life that self defense against bullies and older brothers need not be drawn out. Violence when quick and definitive left a lasting impression. Irma coached pulling rather than pushing. But with Ian’s hair in his hand, Bobby controlled the bridle of the horse. With Irma’s staunch legs planted like tree roots, Bobby wrenched horse and rider hard toward the bar. Lakisha let go of Ian’s legs to brace herself from crashing face first, a move that threw Ian completely free of his mount and into the glasses and bottles of the bar.
As the patrons roared and the new champion extended his arms toward the candelabra during his victory lap, Irma explained conditions. “I’ll do the boots and sock thing, honey, but in my bar, you only get tickling. That stuff with the mouth, that’s private.”
“Fair enough,” Bobby agreed. He gripped the spokes and looked toward the bar where Arturo smiled back – scar tissue, gums, teeth, and a satisfied gleam in the eye.
*Titus Burley is a writer of maudlin poetry, navel gazing bloggery, stinging satire, and riveting short and long form fiction. He also authors memorable private messages to friends on social networks. His blog is viewable at titusburley.wordpress.com.