The Barking Spider was typical of the much celebrated hole-in-the-wall dives that we were accustomed to. Located about three blocks down from where the Roadkill had been, it was more importantly blessed with an agreeable location. That is to say, it was the first dump we ran into.
A prestigious collection of Harley-Davidsons, El Caminos, and two beat-up Ford pickups that resembled mud plows graced the parking lot and told us we were dealing with the edge of society. Not the top edge mind you, but definitely an edge. No faux-Euro aerodynamic styled vehicles here; just basic, down home, tobacco chewing, Rebel flag flying transportation.
Neon signs in the windows of the bar informed us that Pabst, Miller, and some unknown brand called ‘udweiser’ were spoken here. Frequently and in great quantities from the smell that greeted us as we walked in.
I sidled up to the bar as inconspicuously as a stranger in an outdated hat and trench coat could and took a stool. Beverly Hills 90210 and Baywatch victim followed. We sat there looking around and nodding like three dorks who knew they had no place being here. Judging from the looks from the local clientele, there was no argument.
A tall, bearded barkeep that made Richard Marcinko look like a Broadway queen successfully ignored us from his spot on the corner of the bar. The guy had Navy Seal written all over him. Literally. Tattoos covered virtually every square inch of his biceps; a substantial amount of real estate that resembled Earl Campbell’s thighs. I had always thought the great Oiler’s running back had retired, but was now convinced that he sat leg-less in a wheelchair somewhere, this choirboy having pulled his legs out from their sockets and now wearing them as arms. Cover this guy with a shag carpet and you have Chewbacca on steroids.
Suffice to say he was a large man.
“Let me do the talking,” I whispered to Simon and Jimmy. Jimmy nodded his head, either in agreement or as notification that he was about to take a nap. Simon, of course, ignored me and decided to take charge of the situation.
“Excuse me,” he called out. “We’d like some service over here. Pronto, if you please.”
I winced. Jimmy snored. The bartender eyed his magazine for a few more seconds and then turned his massive head slowly in our direction. Metal on metal, the bearings in his neck screamed.
Oh shit. Simon, you idiot. I concentrated on keeping my sphincter securely fastened. The room became as quiet as a Sprint commercial and several people who looked like they had just broken out of prison headed for the doors. This gave me a pleasant feeling not.
When he came over and leaned on the bar in front of us, I felt like that dude in Jurassic Park that got sniffed by the big T-rex. I continued struggling to maintain control of bodily functions.
“Well now, what do we have here. ‘Couple of respectable gentlemen. And in a hurry by the sound of it.” He looked us over for a moment, then said. “What can I do for you?”
If his words sounded like an offer of assistance, the tone indicated otherwise. Simon either pretended to be an idiot or genuinely was one.
“Need some drinks, Jeeves. A draft for my friend here,” a thumb in my direction, “and a pillow for this one.” Another thumb for Jimmy who by now had his trademark drool line running into a small pool on the bar.
I shook my head back and forth. Godzilla noticed.
“What’s your problem?” he asked me. His voice had that low, gravelly, you boys got 30 seconds to live quality to it.
“No problem,” I said quickly. “I just wanted to state for the record that I’m not his friend. Never seen him before, actually.” I turned to Simon. “Who the hell are you, mister?”
“Please, Dick, don’t indulge the hired help. Know your place and they’ll know theirs.”
I could envision my place soon to be in an abandoned refrigerator in a long forgotten landfill. Whether safely tucked away in it or dead, at present I felt confident enough in that future address to go ahead and forward my mail.
The bartender seemed unaffected by Simon’s remark and if he hadn’t been staring directly into my eyes I would have thought that our chances of survival had improved. The pits of hell, however, never looked so bleak. “That’s right, Dick. I’m here to serve.”
Gravel. Lots of gravel. The bottom of a rock quarry during a landslide.
He turned to Simon and stood up to his full height, making several low flying aircraft change course. “Sir, may I recommend the house specialty?”
“That sounds fine, thank you.” Simon turned his head slightly to me and whispered, “Proper breeding exudes power over even the most savage brutes. Notice how docile he is now? Really, Dick, you have to trust me in these things.”
Dr. Docile returned in a moment with a beer, a pillow, and the house specialty. The beer looked safe enough but of course could have been poisoned, and the pillow, while seeming innocent, could certainly be used to suffocate Jimmy. But any fears that I personally might have had were forgotten when I saw what was placed in front of Simon.
“A Barking Spider. On the rocks,” the bartender said. “House special.” He leaned in close to Simon until their noses almost touched. “Enjoy.”
Whatever a Barking Spider was, it was not pretty. I found myself feeling sympathy for the ice cubes; they looked in pain. For that matter, so did Simon.
“Perhaps I’m not as thirsty as I thought,” he said.
I leaned into Simon and did him the favor of a return whisper. “You know, Simon, if you don’t drink it, the power shifts from the proper breeding back to the savage brute.” I gave him a second to dwell on that and then set the hook. “Face, Simon. It’s all about saving face. Be a big boy. Show him who’s the boss.”
A grim but resolute look set Simon’s face. The sucker was going to drink it. He glanced up where Earl Campbell’s crotch should have been and forced a smile.
“Cheerio,” he said, and kicked it back. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Set the glass on the bar. Straightened his back.
“Well, now. That wasn’t so bad.”
The bartender had a strange look on his face. I didn’t recognize it at first because I never thought it would be there. But sure enough, he started to smile. Then he started to giggle. Then he started to flat out laugh his ass off.
“What’s so funny?” Simon asked.
“I can’t believe you actually did it,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes. “I can’t believe you really drank that.”
“Why should that be so surprising?”
“Because you’re such a wimp. You have no idea what that drink is going to do to you.” He knocked his laughter down somewhat. “But I do. Hope you don’t have to operate any heavy machinery in the next day or two.” He broke out into a fresh gale of laughter. About a “7” on the Beaufort scale.
Jimmy, meanwhile, was observing everything with all the attention that you’d expect of someone who was dead asleep.
Finally, the bartender got himself under control. He seemed to be in a good mood, almost cheery. It’s strange and moderately frightening to see a man large enough to pop your head off like a zit look at you with mirth in his eyes.
“Sorry about that boys,” he said. “I don’t get to enjoy myself that often. Been a while since I had the chance to get someone to drink one of those.” He nodded to Simon. “Your boy here is in for a wallop.” He picked up the glass, wiped down the bar, and then stuck out his hand to me.
“I’m Rok Hard. I own the joint.”
Next Week: Chapter 9 (Part 2)
“I’m Rok Hard. I own the joint.”
Next Week: Chapter 9 (Part 2)