Two Men in a Pickup
Danny hangs up the phone and comes walking back to the truck. The first thing he says when he gets in is "Your wife wants you to call her."
Don sinks back behind the wheel. "Is that all you got to report?"
"Thought you might like to know."
"Well, thanks," Don says, not too happy.
Danny looks like he's about to say something more and then changes the subject. "Mike says we should hit all the bars in town. If Frank's around, he's likely to turn up in one of them. Or somebody should know of him."
Don moves his knee and reaches for the ignition. "OK, let's do 'er," he says, and the engine rolls over.
The sun has set behind a bank of clouds in the west, but the sky overhead is still full of light. They go up and down streets wide enough to drive a herd of cattle through. A few cars and trucks are parked diagonally against the curbs, mostly around the front doors of the bars, which makes them easy to find.
They count six bars, looking all the while for Frank's camper, but it doesn't turn up. Neither does the Fairlane. The evening air rolls in the windows, still warm from the day, and lights flicker on in the globes of the street lamps.
Don finally pulls into a spot across from the Diamond Bar and kills the engine. They sit for a moment, staring past the stone chips in the windshield at a hand-lettered sign in the store window of Young's Western Wear: "Boots - Jeans - Saddles."
A car full of high school boys comes up the street at a good clip and jolts to a stop at the corner, where some other boys and a couple girls are hanging out on the concrete steps of a bank. Their voices carry on in a quiet murmur, until one of the boys barks out a jeering protest, and someone else laughs.
"I'd give just about anything to be that age again," Don says, watching them.
"Not me," Danny says. "Not at the point of a gun."
Don just shakes his head. "You're still young. You'd feel different if you was married."
"I don't think that's gonna happen."
"Consider yourself lucky," Don says.
Danny pulls himself together and reaches for the door handle. "What say we do what we came here for."
They step out of the truck and head across the street.
Inside the Diamond Bar, it's all regulars, no mistake. Don recognizes the crowd. Same guys you'd find at the Silver Bullet -- no other place to be at the end of a day -- a wife at home waiting a cold supper, a girlfriend on-the-outs-with and who knows where, or no girlfriend at all and just an empty room to go home to, with an unmade bed.
Danny spots a cigarette machine at the back and walks over to it. He's looking around while he's dropping in quarters for a pack, then comes back to Don.
"See him?" Don asks.
"Naw, he's not in here," Danny says. Except for their own, there's hardly a cowboy hat in the place.
The lights are dim. Neon beer signs on the walls. They stand at the bar and order drafts. The barkeep is a bald man in a plaid shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbows. A girl in a pony tail and tight jeans is serving drinks. She glances at Don for a moment and snaps her gum.
Don eyeballs her as she walks away with a tray of beer bottles. "Now there's some action just waiting to happen," he says loud enough for Danny to hear.
"What?" Danny says. He hasn't noticed her.
Don turns his attention to his beer and waits for her to come back. Which she does, standing beside him and sipping on a coke as she waits for the bartender to fill a pitcher.
"Wonder if you could help us a little," Don says to her, and her eyes flick to the wedding ring on his finger.
"Depends," she says without returning his look.
He turns to face her, leaning into the bar and letting his hips swing a little loose in his jeans. "We're looking for a man. Name of Frank."
"Lotsa Franks," she says. "Who wants to know?"
"Me and my friend here," Don says, then leans with his back against the bar, cocking one knee and resting a thumb on his belt buckle.
"Big guy," Danny chimes in. "Kinda loud and obnoxious."
She steals a look at Danny. "That covers about everybody in here."
"We think he's with a boy, about eighteen," Danny says. "We believe he might be a bad influence." Danny sounds like a regular Joe Friday.
Now she's interested. And Don is wondering why a guy with a busted pair of glasses rates a second look.
"Sorry," she says. "I'd like to help. Just doesn't ring a bell."
She takes the pitcher across the room to a table of men in a storm cloud of cigar smoke. There's a dispute over who's to pay, and one of them pats her on the ass before she can shove his hand away.
When she returns, her cheeks are burning, and Don feels the old excitement of talking to a woman he's just met. More than anything, he wants to feel that he has the old magic, when all he had to do was smile at a girl and he knew she wanted more.
But she's having none of it. Just waiting for change to take back to the table.
"Somebody told us to look for a bar called The Windmill," Danny is saying.
"No bar by that name in this town," she says, gets the change, and walks away.
Now the bartender takes an interest. "The Windmill? It's not a bar. It's a diner," he says studying both of them. "Outside of town on the highway."
"East? West?" Danny says.
"West a ways. Truckers like to stop there," the bartender says.
"Truckers," Danny says. "That doesn't sound like Frank. Any bar in town where cowboys like to hang out?"
The bartender cracks a smile. "You lookin' for cowboys, you gotta wait till Saturday night. That's when they come in."
"Well, every night's Saturday night to this guy," Danny says.
Don, who's never met Frank and is really only along for the ride, lets his attention drift back to the barmaid. She's at the jukebox, dropping in coins and punching buttons. The colored glow from the machine lights her in an appealing way. He thinks of how his hand on her breasts would be just the ticket about now, and he shifts his weight in his jeans, letting his dick stir into life.
"One of those," the bartender says. "Well, if we got any of them in town, they'd like as not be over at the Branding Iron."
"Where's that?" Danny says.
"Just up the street here," the bartender says, pointing, and says howdy to a couple of men who've settled at the other end of the bar.
"Finish your beer," Danny says. "Time to move on."
Don takes a last look at the barmaid, who's waiting as a 45 rolls into place and the jukebox starts playing a Patsy Cline song, "She's Got You," still pretending to ignore him.
Danny catches his look. "She's not pretending," he says. "She's really ignoring you."
"What would you know?" Don asks.
"I can tell one thing. She's more interested in me than you. And she's not all that interested in me."
Don is shaking his head again as they hit the street. "I don't bat zero. Not that easy."
They head out the door and walk past the Shuffle Bar and the Corner Bar, toward a neon branding iron poised over a doorway up ahead, glowing red in the last light of evening. From inside comes the sound of rowdy laughter and loud music.
The bar, when they enter, is full of cigarette smoke, and standing around a brightly lighted pool table, several cowboys are drinking beer and leaning on pool cues. One of them is bent over the table, arms stretched out, poised to make a shot. Roger Miller is on the jukebox singing "Chug-A-Lug," and one of the cowboys is singing along, nodding his head and grinning at something.
There are other customers in the back, sitting in dark varnished booths, hard to see in the gloom. A guy in a black hat at the bar is already glassy-eyed and feeling no pain, shouting to someone across the room, or maybe to no one at all. He's big and rangy, needs a shave, either a wide gap between his front teeth or one tooth missing.
Danny strides up to the bartender, and Don hangs back, still feeling the tug in his jeans for the gum-chewing barmaid with the pony tail and the attitude. The cowboy on the pool table makes a quick stroke with his cue, and there's the click-click of the balls rolling on the green felt, then a round of hoots and cheers from some of the men standing around him.
"Frank?" the drunk man at the bar is saying to Danny. "I know that bastard."
Don walks over and calls out to the bartender for another draft.
"He was in here the other night," the man is telling Danny. "Had somebody with him, all right, but it warn't no kid."
"Do you know where I could find him?" Danny asks.
"Hell, no," the man says, "he's like to fetch up just about anywhere." He makes a swinging gesture that almost throws him off balance.
"Do you know the other guy?" Danny says.
"I guess I do," the man says with a dopey grin. "He's some sorta shirt tail relation of mine."
Don pays for his beer and takes a long gulp. He's getting the feeling that a six-pack of this stuff might be in order. It's turning into that kind of night.
"His name's Lyle," the man is saying, leaning now toward Danny and trying real hard to look sober.
"Where would a person find him?" Danny says.
"Last I knew, he's workin' at the Windmill."
"The truck stop?"
The man gazes at him wide-eyed. "He's a cook out there."
Danny turns to Don, who is behind him, bellied up to the bar, stroking the sweat off his glass of beer. "Did you hear that? Let's go over there."
"Won't do you much good," the man is saying, raising his voice. There's another burst of hooting and cheering from the pool table.
"Why's that?" Danny wants to know.
"He won't be there now."
"Well, where does he live then?" Danny says. Don bottoms-up his beer and signals the bartender with two fingers for another.
"Danged if I know," the man says, easing back into a barstool and slapping his knee with one beefy hand. "I think his landlady threw him out."
Don listens to all this with a measure of disbelief. He wouldn't put much stock in anything from a man who's drunk as this one.
And anyway, he's kind of losing interest in this whole adventure. Starts thinking about what he's doing next. A stroll back to the Diamond Bar appeals to him, and trying a little more charm on the barmaid. Then there's the darkening highway running west out of town -- as far as it will take him. There's a lot of Wyoming once you cross the state line. And from there it's your choice of Idaho, Montana -- hell -- even Alberta. Either way, he feels a tension rising in his groin and a yearning in his chest. He knows only one thing for sure; he's not ready to go back home.
The bartender is putting another beer in front of him. "One for your buddy?" he asks, kind of dead pan, just his eyebrows moving.
"Yeah, and one for his friend, too," Don says, reaching to the billfold in his back pocket.
"Don't you think he's had enough?" Danny says.
"Seems only fair. He didn't tell you all that bullshit for nothin'."
"What, you think it's bullshit?"
"I sincerely doubt he knows what the hell he's talking about," Don says, pulling out a couple bills and laying them on the bar. "Ask him something."
"What do you mean, something?"
"Do your Sherlock on him. Check his facts. Hell, don't they teach you anything in college?" Don picks up his beer and sucks down two-three swallows of it.
Danny turns to the drunk and leans forward to ask him a question. Someone finishes off the game at the pool table, and there's a round of loud comments and collecting of bets.
The drunk says one word, "Underwear?" and darn near falls off his stool laughing. Now he's bent forward, pounding his chest, wheezing and practically coughing up a lung. Danny reaches out to him as he teeters to one side and helps him get settled upright again on both feet.
Danny turns back to Don. "He knows him."
The sign for the Windmill out along the highway is turned off. So is the one over the roof, and the only lights in the windows are reflections from the gas station across the way. Overhead the night sky is an ocean of darkness.
There's a diesel pump at the station, and the only business this time of night is a truck now and then, mostly 18-wheelers. Pulling up to the pump, each set of wheels sets off the bell that rings inside the station. A young man in coveralls jumps up from somewhere and ambles out the door to gas up the truck and, while the tank fills, stand on a step stool to scrub the bugs off the windshield with a bucket of soapy water and a long-handled sponge.
The drivers get out to stretch and check the load and the tires, then walk over to the station to use the men's room. On the shadowy edges of the big gravel area out back, several trucks are parked, one or two idling, running coolers for the freight.
There are truckers who come by the stockyards where Don works to haul cattle to Omaha. They're a breed unto themselves, wielding cattle prods and turning the air blue with their own brand of cussing. Sometimes kind of scrawny-legged and pot-bellied, they can still have a king-of-the-road attitude, showing off by maneuvering their huge rigs through tight spaces and then gunning the engine as they shift up through the gears and roll out onto the highway with a full load.
Don's thinking about all this as he watches the trucks come and go. He'd like to have been a long-distance trucker. Riding high in a big cab, hauling a payload down the open highway, with places to go where there are mountains with snow on the horizon, deserts and cactus, or palm trees along California beaches. He loves the song "Six Days on the Road"; the idea of it gets him right by the seat of the pants.
He and Danny are sitting in his pickup, steadily drinking up two six-packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon and waiting for morning when the Windmill is supposed to open. Danny, in his short sleeves, has taken a chill in the night air, and Don has pulled a dusty old blanket out from behind the seat for him. Danny sits now wedged into the corner against the door, the blanket up to his chin, his hat pulled down over his glasses.
Don is slouched in the seat, wearing his denim jacket, his knees spread on both sides of the steering wheel. He lights a cigarette and pops the top on another beer.
"You still awake?" Danny says from under his hat.
"Looks like it."
"I have a suggestion," Danny says.
"What would that be?"
"If we don't turn up Frank and Kirk pretty soon we head back home. I've just about had enough of this."
"Feel up to hitch hiking?" Don says.
Danny lifts the brim of his hat and peers across at Don. "Why's that?"
"I'm not ready to go back just yet."
"Care to explain?"
"No, I don't," Don says.
Danny shrugs. "Suit yourself."
It's quiet for a while, and Danny shifts himself under the blanket, finally pushing it aside and opening his door. "Gotta go to the can," he says and steps out onto the gravel. "Gonna get something to eat if they have a machine. You want anything?"
Don takes a slug from the beer. "No," he says, and his voice ricochets around the inside of the can.
Danny swings the door shut and heads off across the lot toward the lights of the filling station.
He doesn't care to explain, Don thinks, because he's not sure himself why he has no desire to go home. He imagines his three boys tucked into their beds, sound asleep and not wondering where their daddy is. They are so much consumed in the constant shower of attention they get from Carol and her parents, would they miss him at all? He's just the man who raises his voice and has to give lickings when they've been acting up. It's Carol they run to for everything, and she spoils the hell out of them.
As Danny disappears into the lighted entrance to the men's room, another truck has parked on the far side of the lot. The driver's door opens and a figure drops to the ground, heading toward the station.
Don thinks again of the girl at the Diamond Bar. He closes his eyes, remembering in the tips of his fingers the touch of a woman's breasts, and lets one hand drop into his lap to rub the end of his cock with his thumb. He thinks of Danny and can't imagine having no interest in women, their smooth skin, the way you can lift them off their feet without effort, get your arms clean around them, and best of all the sweet, silky opening between their legs that fits a man's cock so perfectly.
He sucks in his gut and reaches into his jeans to make way in his boxers for the hard-on that's pushing out and along his belly. His curly pubic hair tangles around his fingers, as he strokes the warm, stretching skin with his fingernails. He remembers her again, the back of her neck as she stood at the jukebox, the curve of her butt in her jeans. He could show her such a good time.
He's never been unfaithful to Carol. Not counting the phone operator in Hastings or the wife of his dad's foreman at the foundry, little farewells to being single after the wedding invitations went out. But Carol is Carol. She's always getting him pissed off over something, and when he's not pissed off, she is. What used to be a kind of electricity between them, making sex something fun and unpredictable, has turned into boring routine with long stretches of angry distance.
"I've known when six inches made a big difference," a guy at work likes to say. But it takes a helluva lot more than that to bridge an angry distance.
He still sees Nora around town, the wife whose husband works at the foundry. And he still gets a sly smile from her; she hasn't forgotten him. Even at a Friday night fish fry, with her husband Edwin, she'll make a detour by Don and Carol's table to fuss over the boys and mom-talk with Carol, while Edwin stands like a fence post making awkward conversation with Don.
And as the two of them leave, finally letting her eyes fall warmly on Don, she pats his hand still holding a fork -- the same hand that had touched her breasts and slipped between her legs -- and bends down to him saying, "Don, you have such a beautiful family." And he would be swept up in the memory of her soft, naked body pressing against him, her sobbing cries, and his cock buried in her as deep as he could go.
No one ever knew of this. Not even Mike. There was something not quite right about it. Almost like fucking one of his aunts. And if word got out, Edwin was not somebody he wanted to get on the wrong side of. A man of few words, who'd break your neck before giving it a thought. But, good golly miss molly, she was hungry for him, and he kept coming back for more. The last time he snuck out the back door, as Edwin was pulling into the driveway, his heart sank, knowing it would never happen again.
Don hears the door open on Danny's side of the pickup. His eyes fly open and he's jerking his hand out of his jeans. Danny steps in, not seeming to notice. He's got a bag of Planter's peanuts and is popping them into his mouth, two at a time.
"Want some?" he says.
And with his hand still warm from his cock, the same hand he used to slip between the legs of his dad's foreman's wife, Don opens his palm for Danny to shake some out for him.
When they finish the bag, Don decides to get some more and heads over to the station. It's time to take a piss anyway. Beer goes right through him. Thinking about sex has got his shorts wet already.
It takes a while to walk the stiffness out of his legs, his boot heels scuffing across the hard-packed dirt and gravel. He hikes up his jeans by the belt and reaches around behind him to stuff his shirt tail back in over his butt.
The men's room is a cinder block extension of the filling station, painted white and navy blue. He steps onto the slab of concrete at the entrance, and there's the sharp sound of sand scraping underfoot. He strides around the partition that opens into the restroom, and he's aware of the hum from the bright lights on the ceiling, flying insects dashing themselves against the bulbs over and over.
He steps to a urinal and unzips, fishing around with his dick for a while to get it out through the fly. He's still half hard. Waiting for the piss to come, he realizes he's not alone, and glancing down to one side, he sees boots on the floor in one of the stalls. Not two of them, but four -- toe to toe. And there's one hand clamped over the top of the door, holding it shut, or just holding on.
Then something he remembers hearing as he walked in starts up again, heavy breathing and sighing. The boots in the stall move a little on the floor, rocking forward and back. Don looks straight ahead of him at the wall, holding his dick with both hands. He knows what's going on. He wasn't born yesterday.
The sighing continues rising in volume until it's a kind of gasping that quickly drops into a stifled groan. The walls of the stall are shaking and rattling. "Holy crow," comes a whispered voice from the other side of the door. "Hoe. Lee. Crow." Then the sighing dies down, and quiet slowly returns.
There's a long pause, and finally the door of the stall creaks open. Out comes a young guy little more than a teenager, pulling his hat down to his ears, and jerking up on his zipper, where a bit of his shirt is caught in the teeth. He weaves a little, and over the sharp tang of urine and antiseptic in the room, Don can smell the alcohol rolling off him. He stops in front of a mirror, uncrossing his eyes, and adjusts the front of his wranglers. Then he stomps out into the night.
Don glances down at his dick, still half-stiff between his fingers. He gives it a shake and sucks his butt into the seat of his jeans to slip his dick back into his boxers. Zipping up his fly, he steps to the sinks, to wash his hands and his face, and to look in the mirror to the stall behind him, if he wants to.
When he and Mike were younger, they'd once hitchhiked to Wichita. A salesman had picked them up just across the state line and given them a ride all the way, taking a shine to them and offering them money to suck their dicks.
When the man stopped in a state park, Mike went with him behind some bushes, but when it was Don's turn he didn't want to go. Just sat in the back seat, staring at his shoes, not looking at Mike.
Don had been laughed at as a boy, when two of his older cousins and a friend of theirs thought his uncircumcised penis was the funniest damn thing they'd ever seen. That summer, they showed him off to other boys for quarters, holding him and yanking down his pants, making him feel like a freak. Years later, he made sure his own boys were circumcised. He never wanted them to hear that laughter or feel that rush of shame.
After Mike and the salesman came back to the car that day, there was not another word spoken about it, but for weeks and months he kept wanting to ask Mike what it was like. And he wished he'd done it, so he'd know.
Paper toweling his face now, he glances into the mirror, and looking back at him is a man standing just inside the stall, leaning against the wall with his arms folded. He's wearing jeans and workboots, a baseball cap, and no shirt. His eyes are dark and bright, and his face is covered with a thick beard. He grins as Don's eyes meet his in the mirror.
Afterwards, walking back to the pickup, he tries to recollect what just happened, and for a while there are just snatches of sensations that whirl around like a flock of noisy starlings flying against an evening sky. Coming together then breaking apart again.
How he crossed the room to the guy standing in the stall is already vague, like a memory from yesterday. The smile still unchanged on his face, eyes never moving from Don's, the guy had let one hand drop to meet the front of Don's jeans as he stepped in front of him. Then he'd shifted his weight squarely onto both feet and pulled Don closer to let the door swing shut behind him.
Perspiration glistened on the guy's shoulders and in the dark hair that covered his chest. Black curls of hair crept out from his armpits. In close quarters, there was the sharp smell of sweat, and Don wondered how any of this could appeal to Danny or any other man.
The guy then squatted, the toilet seat creaking under his weight, pawing Don's crotch for his cock and starting to stroke it with one hand. With the other, he slipped his fingers under the flap of Don's fly and ran his fingernails along the zipper, then forced his thighs apart, pushing his hand along the seam between his legs, pressing the denim up into his crack and grabbing at his butt.
Don remembers closing his eyes and feeling his zipper being tugged down, his jeans opening as his arms hung loose at his sides. A rough hand glided into his shorts to grasp his cock and pull it out through his fly. Then there was a moment while he waited for the next thing to happen.
"Damn," the guy said, drawing out the word. "Hot damn."
Don opened his eyes to glance down, and there he saw his penis, held in the broad open palm of the other man. He was not quite hard; only the tip was peeking out through the foreskin. With his other hand, the guy softly stroked the length of his cock, fingers dropping in a little ripple of sensation off the end and going back to stroke again. He was petting Don like a baby bunny.
"Beauty," he said with each stroke. "You got yourself a beauty here, cowboy."
Don just wanted the guy to get on with it. This was not what he wanted.
"I'll say something else," the guy said and began playing with Don's foreskin, pushing on it to open over the pink, wet head of his dick, then letting it slide back into place. "You gotta thank your mama and daddy for letting you hang onto this little wonder." Then he looked up at Don. "I always say a man ain't all man without his original equipment."
Don gets to the truck and yanks down on the door handle to climb inside. Danny is playing possum again, hat over his eyes. Don looks back toward the lighted doorway of the restroom.
He's never let any girl take a good look at him with his pants down. Not even Carol.
"Why you going all modest with me," she'd say. "We're married now." But he kept a towel around him after his showers because she'd walk into the bathroom without knocking.
And in bed, while he dove between her legs with his tongue at the drop of a hat, enjoying the bush of her hair against his nose, he kept her from doing the same to him. Not that she'd ever shown much interest, but in the early days, in the heat of passion, she was game for pretty much anything.
In the restroom, he'd pulled away from the guy and reached behind him for the stall door, but jumping up from the toilet, the guy had grabbed his belt and held onto him.
"No, no," the guy had said softly, and as Don's dick swung around to him again, he'd popped his lips around the end of it, working around the edge of foreskin with his warm tongue. The sensation had so startled Don that he froze and just let the guy hold him, one big hand hooked over his belt, the other pressed against his fly, thumb and one finger wrapped around his dick.
From this point on, his recollection of what happened slithers into a kind of kaleidoscope, like the ones Carol bought the twins for their last birthday. Pieces of memory falling up against other pieces.
There was the feel of nibbling around his foreskin and then a hot palm pressing flat along the teeth of his open zipper, the head of his dick against his belt buckle, and long strokes of tongue and wet lips gliding up and down. This kept up for a while, and then he felt his dick bob free as the guy let go of him.
The guy's hands were now fumbling with his belt buckle, and Don stopped him, gripping his fingers and shaking his head no. He wanted to draw the line somewhere. The hands loosened from under his and let go, then settled on his hips. After a moment, he heard an intake of breath, and then suddenly it felt like he was being swallowed whole.
His eyes popped open as his head fell back, the brim of his hat catching the top of the stall door and tipping forward onto his forehead. Or maybe that came later. What comes back to him now is the way his dick was clamped tight with suction into the guy's mouth, and then the guy slowly rocking back, pulling hard on him, the wet skin tingling as soon as it hit the air, the tugging pressure reaching all the way into him, like something being uprooted. The guy's lips closed now in a wet kiss on the end of Don's dick. He took a breath and then swallowed him again.
There was nothing in his memory of sex with Carol that felt anything like this rough, hot energy pulling on him, driving into him, almost knocking the breath out of him, like he was being wrestled into submission and then eaten alive, devoured.
He felt the urge to take over, pumping with his hips to set up his own rhythm, driving his dick into the man's mouth. But the guy's hands had now reached around to his butt, gripping his ass and grinding his jeans pockets against the skin, fingertips shoved into his crack and pulling him forward, off balance.
That he might come, almost overpowered like this by another man's strength, seemed so unlikely, he began to wonder that he was hard at all. But hard he was, and he didn't have to look to know.
"Did you get peanuts?" Danny asks him from under his hat.
Don has to stop and think. "What?"
Danny lifts his hat and looks at him. "Peanuts. Did you get any?"
"No," says Don and doesn't explain. He's already remembering how the cum surged up in him, the zinging starting in his groin, that falling over the edge, passing the point of no return, and wondering, how is this happening? Eyes squeezed shut, stomach muscles tightening, legs going wobbly, steadying himself with both hands pressed against the walls of the stall. And then the flood of himself pouring out in burning jolts.
There's that after-sex feeling in his jeans now, the warm, sweet numbness radiating from his crotch into his legs. He feels his heart still beating in his chest.
"Beauty," the guy had said. "Beauty."