Sunday, November 29, 2009
Fisher had no business working at the restaurant and Jo knew it. But when Jan (or was it Pam, Fisher could never keep the waitresses names straight ) called in sick, Jo needed Fisher to jump in and help her get through the high tide at lunch. In less than an hour Fisher had dropped a plate of steamed shrimp, fought with the line chef over an incorrectly written dupe and tossed a customer out for whistling at him for a beer. At that point Jo guided Fisher to the door. "Go. You're not helping,” she said, before buying drinks for everyone in the restaurant Fisher had offended. “Go? Damn right, I'm going,” he told her. “God damn right.” He took the car and drove straight to his real home.
Christ on a bike, thought Fisher when he saw that his usual seat at the racetrack bar was taken by a woman with short blond hair. It was turning into a shit-ass day all around. Earlier, when he opened the stall in the clubhouse men's room, he found a thin man crouched on the floor as if praying.
“Scuze me,” the man said revealing two rows of piss colored teeth, “this is my lucky stall.” Fisher backed away and found the next available toilet. “Lucky stall,” he muttered.
Fisher well knew that horse players clung to their superstitious like life rafts. If you were on a winning streak you'd repeat everything you could possibly think of; you'd bet at the same mutual window with the same teller, you'd watch the race from exactly the same spot even if it meant you had no clear view of the race, you'd wear the same clothes, eat the same food, buy your program with exactly the same amount of cash and change, you'd stand on one leg like a pelican and whistle "Saint Stephen" if it had brought you a winner. Finding a man facing the shitter as if it was Mecca was well within the bettor's boundaries. Fisher's luck had been running cold for a week, so fine, he thought, maybe he could use a change in toilets and bar seats.
The blond woman was deep into a discussion with the bartender.
“They shot her?”
“Had to,” said the bartender. “Leg was broken in four places.”
“And she was the favorite?”
“Pick of the field. Leading by two lengths when she went down.”
“Ominous shit, man,” said the woman. “I mean a rank horse, then you could see it. But when the favorites start to go down... Ominous shit.” She pulled a Marlboro out of the pack and turned to Fisher. “Got a light.”
“Uh, yeah,” he said. The was something vaguely familiar about the woman, and she smiled in recognition as he lit her cigarette.
“I know you! You're David, right?”
“I'm Sarah. Sarah Dupre. We met in Rosehill.”
“Probably didn't recognize me cause I cut my hair. What do you think?”
“Don't know. I'm kinda a long hair guy.”
“Yeah. But it's too hot down here to wear it long. Too hot.” For emphasis, Sarah flapped the top of her jersey.
If Sarah ever wore underwear, Fisher had yet to see it.
“I thought you were a northern boy," Sarah said. "What are you doing down here in the land of the orange juice?”
“Oh, I don't know about that. I think you're looking pretty... ripe. Look at that tan. And me, white as a ghost. Boo!” She laughed and Fisher smiled. She was a world class flirt. “So, are you still writing for the newspapers and everything?”
“Uh, sort of. Kinda between stuff. Thought I might start on a book.”
“A book!” Sarah shook her head. “I don't know how you do that, being a writer. You always hear...,” she said dropping her gaze between his legs, “...how hard it is.”
“Yeah, tortured geeks standing in front of a mirror pulling away at Mr. Happy.”
“And then they go blind.”
“Yeah,” said Fisher “Then they go blind. Sarah slowly raised her eyes to meet Fisher's. "So...", he asked her, "...you're living here or...”
“I'm in clown college.”
“Yeah, aren't we all.”
“I'm serious. Ringling Clown College. It's world renowned. I was in before, but I had to drop out.”
“Clown college drop-out.”
“It's not funny,” she said putting on a mock frown. “They make you start all over. Floppy shoes 101. Basics of pies-in-the-face.”
Fisher laughed out loud. He realized he hadn't laughed in weeks. Sarah smiled, playing again with the top of her jersey. The day definitely seemed to be turning around. The track announcer called, “Five minutes to post.”
“So, who do you like this race?” asked Fisher.
“I like to bet names. Honey Pot, Chief Longdong.”
“I didn't know he was running.”
“Or numbers. Especially number seven. I love seven.
“Is that right?”
“Uh-huh. So who do you like?
“As a matter of fact... number seven”
“Yeah. I know this horse. Made some money off him.”
“Twice Told Tails?”
“That's the bet,” he said.
Daylight poked through the venetian blinds of the motel room. Fisher, his head throbbing, sat up on the third attempt and managed to get his feet on the floor without waking Sarah. He blinked at the clown masks and wigs hanging from the bedpost.
He dimly remembered wearing one of the wigs the night before, letting her cover his face with clown-white, while he finger painted orange tiger stripes across her jiggling tits and drank cheap tequila straight from the bottle. This was followed by an extended ritualistic act of sixty-nine, followed in turn by his mounting her from behind and cracking a riding crop across her ample ass.
"Harder," she begged. "Hit me Harder." And like a jockey urging his steed across the finish, Fisher complied.
But now came piper-paying-time, and if his aching head was any indication, he'd be paying in spades.
The bathroom was tiny, with the shower in the mini-tub. Fisher pulled on the control knob, and a torrent of brownish cold water shot from the spout forcing him up against the tiled wall. He tried to adjust the spray and temperature, but managed only to unscrew the handle as icy water cascaded into his face. Ducking in and out of the downpour, he finally screwed the handle back on and shut the water off. Shivering, he reached for the rack to find only a hand towel.
Sneaking back into the room, he hoped to get dressed without waking Sarah, but she was already sitting up in bed, her striped painted breasts bouncing as she fended off a coughing fit by reaching for a cigarette.
“Got a match?” she asked. Fisher dug out a pack from his pants and tossed it her.
Sarah lit up, and studied the boat on the matchbook. “Slop John B?”
“Sloop. Sloop John B.”
“A restaurant.” He pulled on his pants and searched for his shirt.
“It's a dump.” He found his shirt on the floor, the sleeves inside out.
“There's a place in Martinique called 'Le Sloop.' 'La Sloop'? Something. It's right on the water. Waiters bring le drinks right up to you on le beach. Ever been to Martinique?”
“Uh, no,” Fisher said.
“Oh man, it is so beautiful. Volcanoes, black sand beaches, casinos, the Caribbean staring you straight in the face like a dare.” Sarah climbed out of bed and stretched. There was no getting around it, her body demanded to be looked at.
But there was something about her, something a soap and shower couldn't wash off. He had one shoe and scrambled on his knees looking for the other.
“Soon as I get enough money I'm going back.” She smiled and swayed back and forth as if trying to hypnotize him with her nipples. “Want to come with me?” Fisher laughed, and she looked hurt. “You think I'm kidding?”
“Uh, it's not that great a time right now.”
“Why not? You can work on your book there. You should think about it. You really should.”
“I'll think about it.” If he could just get out the door.
“Promise? Couple more days at the track like we had... We can write our own ticket.”
"I will definitely think about it.” He smiled, backing out of the motel room, sprinted for his car and drove north without looking back.
To hell with Jo, he thought. To hell with the "Slop" John B. What the hell did he need with a restaurant? Kidding me? He had seven thousand dollars in his pocket, about six-and-a-half more than he had when he deplaned in Florida last fall. Time to start over. Why the hell not? The south was filled with horse tracks. Drive, baby, drive. But as the day drifted into night the Floridian panhandle looked like the gateway to nowhere. Fisher, feeling a hole growing in his gut, pulled the car off the road. What was this? It felt as if he'd lost... lost what? It felt like... like homesickness? How could he be homesick when he had no home?
He turned the car around and headed back south.
Jo was totaling out for the night when Fisher entered the Sloop's office carrying a huge bouquet of tropical flowers. “They're beautiful”, she said staring at the heliconias, African tulips, orchids and birds of paradise.
“And...,” said Fisher, counting out from the stack of hundreds he pulled from his jacket, “...here's the money I borrowed the other day, and the day before, and last week.” He kept counting. “Here's the interest, and here's the bonus... Why?” He beamed. “Just because.”
Jo shook her head. “Very impressive.”
“I was on fire. I won the fifth race, the seventh, hit the exacta on the feature, and the ninth! On fucking fire. You should have seen it. You know how it is. Suddenly it's all so clear. Horses leap at you off the page. Everyone else is sweating it out, you're sitting back, relaxed, like some blessed minister. Doesn't matter if your horse is running last, or boxed at the turn... he is gonna come in. Such a God damn wonderful feeling. You know how it is. You remember. That time we hit seven days in a row?” Jo nodded. “So, come on out. We can do it again. Come out with me.”
“You can. You can, Jo.”
“I'm trying to run a business,” she said spreading her arms out over the desk full of receipts, credit-card dupes, bar checks and inventory print-outs.
“So run a business. Nobody is stopping you. But take a day off, for Christ's sake. You deserve it. Tomorrow is Monday. We're closed.
“Fish, I have so much to do...”
Jo, you need a break. One day. Come on out with me. It'll all come back to you. I need your handicapping. No one can pick them like you.
“Don't say that. You can. You can. When you were at Edgar's you got your work done. But you lived. You, you went to the track. We went out, we stayed out all night. Remember?”
“It's not the same.”
“I didn't care about Edgar's.”
“Why do you care about this? This is the same thing.”
Fisher was getting angry. He was trying to understand, but if what she was saying what he was thought she was saying... “It is the same, Jo. The smell of it, the people crying for this, wanting that... It's the fucking same. It's just a God damn restaurant! The deal was...” He had to double clutch to fight back down the bile rising in his chest. “The deal was to set it up and sell it. Get the place on its feet. That was the agreement. I don't get it. All your life, this is what you've been doing. I thought you wanted to...” Didn't she realize? They had gotten away with it. They should be so happy.
No, he wasn't going to lose. He played one more card. “Hey, you know what horse turned it around in the fifth? 'Twice Told Tails.' Remember him?
Jo smiled. A sad smile. “I can't Fish. I can't.”
One of the waitresses, Jan, or was it Pam, entered the office with the final take from the register. Staring at the bouquet she said “Who died?”