The four women seated at an adjacent table laughed and prattled on like they were sharing a deep secret—a secret of forbidden love. The blonde waitress—she must have been half their age—stood over them and fingered-twisted her hair as they poured over the wine menu. After a long, awkward pause—the kind of pause where you can witness your arm hair growing—the woman working the suppressed southern drawl and donning Walter Cronkite-style glasses put down her menu and asked, “Do you have a quaint, aromatic Merlot?”
“All we have is Blackstone.”
“That’s it? Okay…I guess that will have to do,” she said. “Make it a bottle…no, two.”
The waitress turned and pranced off through the empty tables like a Greek goddess. Two of women ogled her rear visage until she disappeared behind the heavy oak brass-lined bar.
“She’s way out of your league,” one of them said.
“Yeah, but not my imagination.”
I thought I really shouldn’t be hearing this. I waived my mug in the air like a shipwrecked seaman, trying to catch the eye of the fleeing waitress. Nothing. My throat was dryer than a rattlesnake crawling across a Texas two-lane at high noon in August. I was parched—spittin’ dust.
Then a frantic frost fell over the room. A dark shadow swallowed the scalloped wooden floor, as the beaming afternoon sunlight from the doorway disappeared into a black hole of impious misery.
In walked Jelly Bob Claxton.
Jelly Bob was a Southern Baptist preacher and part-time chicken farmer with a temper that would make the Tasmanian Devil appear like it was on heavy scripts. The whole town knew what transpired the prior week: Jelly Bob was arrested for—and I quote from the police report— “having sex with a live chicken in broad daylight.”
It’s not clear why the arresting officer felt the need to include “broad daylight” in the report, as if that was a necessary condition of a local ordinance. The only event was more embarrassing than the “chicken incident,” as they called it, was the assistant pastor had to take up a special collection at church that next Sunday to bail Jelly Bob out of jail. Hate the sin; love the sinner—the assistant pastor just kept repeating that to himself.
Evidently, the church raised enough bail money on faith, and Jelly Bob found his freedom. But from a cursory glance, Jelly Bob didn’t look like he was out seeking redemption because vengeance beamed from his bloodshot eyes.
“Oh shit. He’s here,” someone mumbled from the back of the room. A discreet, coordinated ruckus ensued at the table next to me, as the sardonic assembly gathered their effects and scurried out the back door like Usain Bolt at an Alabama Trump rally. Jelly Bob ambled across the room towards my table like a sailor to a swig. Jelly Bob’s once-booming voice creaked from his throat, as the aroma of moonshine, microwaved burritos, and chicken excrement permeated my perimeter.
“Where they at?” he said.
I glanced up, and our eyes locked like Frazier and Ali at Madison Square Garden. “I’m just trying to order another beer,” I said. I trained my gaze across the room like I was anticipating the arrival of a long-lost friend. The blonde, bouncy waitress appeared with two bottles of Blackstone and four wine glasses.
“Where’d everybody go?” the waitress asked. I just stared down at my empty mug.
Jelly Bob angled towards the rear exit, and a shadowy bouquet of degradation trailed closely behind his towering frame. As he turned, a lone white chicken feather took flight from his high-plains-drifter brim and hung in the air like a cinematic omen from a b-grade horror flick.
“What was all that about?” asked the waitress.
“I think it’s a secret,” I said.