THE SORRY-EYED BLONDE - JAKE HINKSON
When I walked into Rudy's Beers & Steers, I found Lia Shannon sitting at the bar with a gin and tonic in her hand. It was her sixth of the night, and according to my watch it was only about nine o'clock. I didn't have to buy her a drop to get her drunk.
I walked over and sat down next to her.
She stared at her drink.
The bartender was a skinny guy with long hair and a faded Rush tour t-shirt. He put down a Robert Asprin paperback, balanced his cigarette on the edge of a whiskey-tinted ashtray and came over. "What'll it be?"
I pointed at the nearly empty drink in Lia's hand and held up two fingers. The bartender moved off to get our drinks. Beside me, Lia Shannon stared at her glass for a moment and then, as if someone had kicked her under the bar, she jerked and looked at me.
"You say something?" she asked.
"What'd you order?"
"Couple of G&Ts."
"Thought you might like one."
"Name's John. Did you want another drink?"
She stared at her empty glass like the answer was written inside. "Had about six so far."
"Nothing like the seventh."
She nodded like a woman grimly accepting a death sentence.
She looked rough, no doubt about it. Her long, straight hair was pulled back into a ponytail, pulled back far enough to show some gray roots under the blonde dye-job. Her eyes were pink with alcohol and last night's tears. Even tired and wasted, though, she wasn't ugly. She had a wide, open face, and you could see a striking woman in those high cheekbones and full lips. Two days ago, she had looked great.
The bartender brought the drinks. "Start a tab," I said.
Lia Shannon picked up her drink. She lifted it to her lips, but before she could take a sip she placed it back on its napkin. Then she turned to me, turned all the way on her barstool to face me. She rubbed her eyes slowly.
"I'm drunk," she said.
"I can see that," I said.
"You're buying me this drink?"
"Why? You gonna want to fuck me for it?"
"Cause I'm not. I'm not gonna fuck you for this drink."
"Then that works out fine for both of us."
I sipped my drink. Talking to a drunk is like talking to someone else's stupid child. "I don't want to have sex with you," I said. "I'm just buying you the drink to be friendly."
"That a fact?"
She stared at me. She was still dressed in business attire. She'd probably been wearing the same sleek, all-business blouse and slacks for two days. As she stared at me, her face seemed to darken. For a moment, the alcohol in her eyes cleared up a little, leaving nothing there but things she wished she didn't know. She had figured it out.
She said, "You're from my husband. Aren't you?"
I took a sip of my drink. I looked at her. "Yeah."
I eased over a bowl of trail mix and took a handful.
"What does he want?" she asked.
I tossed the mix back in my mouth and thought about her question. Crunching, I said, "He wants you back, I guess."
"Hired me to find you, that's all I know. If he wants anything other than to have you back, I don't know about it."
"Is he okay?"
"What do you mean?"
"There was an alter…altercation with a gun. Neal got shot in the leg."
"Yeah. He doesn't care about his leg."
"He tell you why I left?"
"He caught me with someone else."
"Yeah. Jesus." She rubbed her face. The last vestiges of yesterday's make-up caked the crow's feet around her eyes. "It was horrible," she said. "He walked in and caught me in bed with another man. Neal had a gun. I don't think he meant to hurt anybody, but then they wrestled over the gun and it went off. I was half naked when I ran out of there." She took a gulp of her gin like she was trying to wash the words out of her mouth. She shook her head. "Goddamn it. I can't even cry anymore."
"Are you?" she asked . She pushed her drink away. "Why the fuck should you be sorry?"
"I don't know."
"So you going to take me back to him, or are you going to just call him?"
"I'm supposed to take you back."
"What if I don't want to go back?"
I shrugged. "Why not go back? You can't run forever."
She said, "Wouldn't you be furious if you walked in and found your wife sitting naked on another man?"
"I don't have a wife."
"But if you did, wouldn't you be incon…inconsolable?"
"Would you want her back after that?"
I shrugged and helped myself to some more trail mix. Lia Shannon pulled her drink back toward her, looked at it a moment, and lifted it to her mouth. She did it with such an air of finality, as if she was ready to drink away the remainder of the night. I decided I was hungry.
"What's good here?" I asked.
"Steaks," she said. "It's all they do well."
I nodded at the bartender, and he came over. "Get her another drink and get me a steak. Medium rare. Baked potato with sour cream and butter." I asked Lia, "You want a steak?"
"No, I can't eat."
The bartender walked off.
Lia asked me, "You ain't married?"
I shrugged. "No one ever loved me."
"That a fact?"
"I loved Neal," she said. She took a sip and looked over at me sheepishly, like a nervous kid might. "You believe that?"
"He tell you what happened?"
"He walked right into that motel room and found me in bed with another man. One second I'm…riding some guy and then the door flies open."
"Who was the guy you were in bed with?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Just a guy I met. Things haven't exactly been good between me and Neal for a while. Hell, things haven't been good between us since we were twenty-three fucking years old." She finished her drink just in time to pick up the eighth one the bartender set down in front of her. "We married young, me and him. We've been together a long time."
"You still love him?" I asked.
She stared at the bar top a moment. She rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand. "I guess, but it's all based on memories now. There's nothing left of us anymore except our memories. So I love him because of our memories, because he's been my whole life for twenty years, but that's it. There nothing left of us except the past. And now even that part is all wrong. Especially now that…"
She started to cry. I patted her shoulder.
"You sure you aren't hungry?" I said. "Might make you feel better to eat something."
She shook her head.
My food came a few minutes later and while I ate it, Lia Shannon nursed her final drink. When I finished, I paid for everything, including her eight drinks. She wanted to go to the bathroom. I waited by the door. I had scoped out the place before I sat down at the bar, so I knew there wasn't a window in the bathroom.
When she came out, I showed her to my heap in the parking lot. Even drunk, she looked offended by it.
"It doesn't look like much," I said, "but what it lacks in custom body work, it makes up for in heart."
She shrugged and got in the truck. I drove us back to the city.
She slept the entire way. She didn't even wake up when I pulled up to the police station. The detective was named Jennings. He was a young guy with caramel-colored skin that freckled around his clear green eyes. "You're back so soon," he said.
"I have Lia Shannon passed out in my truck," I told him.
He smiled. "Good thing for you."
We walked out to my heap. Lia Shannon was pressed against the bench seat, a line of spit hanging from her mouth.
"What'd you do to her?" he asked.
"Bought her a drink. She was holed up in a little backwater called Gator, out near the swamps, drinking her problems away. I bought her a drink and put her in the truck."
"She fight you?"
I shook my head. "No, she thinks the husband hired me."
Jennings turned and looked at me. "The husband? She doesn't know?"
I shook my head. "She saw him get shot in the leg, then she ran out. She doesn't know the bullet hit an artery."
"And you didn't tell her?"
"She know you're the dumbass private eye who let him into the room?"
"No, she doesn't know that, either."
He crossed his arms. "You're still in deep shit because he had a piece on him, you know. Don't matter that he shot himself in the leg and died like a damn fool. You're still gonna have to explain to a judge why you let him into the room in the first place."
"I told you I didn't know he was packing. You think I want to lose my license?"
He looked back at Lia. "Tell it to the judge, man."
"At least you tracked her down. Saved the department the trouble."
"Think that'll win me any points in court?"
"Who knows? Can't hurt you, I guess." He watched her sleeping.
"Shame to wake her. She's gonna feel awful when she wakes up."
I watched the woman passed out in my truck as she slept away her last night as a normal person.
"She's not the only one," I said.
BIO: Jake Hinkson is currently at work on a book on film noir. You can learn more about Jake and his projects at his own blog, The Night Editor.