NIGHT FRIENDS, Part 1 of 3 Parts
dontravis.com blog post #410
Courtesy of mentalfloss.com
Good reception for last week’s post, Chapter 2 of Mark Wildyr’s Wastelakapi… Beloved. Thanks, Mark, for your help.
Let’s descend into darkness this week.
Let’s get a couple of things on the record right up front. I’m smart, good-looking, sexy as hell, and straight! All five feet eleven inches, one hundred seventy pounds of me…straight, heterosexual. But I’ve got this funny quirk. I get a kick out of teasing the fags, so you’re apt to find me in at the Low Brow—a local rathskeller that’s gay friendly. letting them drool…and even paw a little. Just by spreading my legs at a table I’ve outed so many queers that when they refer me as an ‘outie,’ they don’t mean my belly button, which is an ‘innie,’ by the way.
Accordingly, I divide my acquaintances into day friends and night friends. My night friends are those who haunt the bars, and my day friends are everyone else.
At the Low Brow, the line blurs between straight and gay. Patrons of both persuasions frequent the place, and I can go in, claim a vacant booth, lean back, stretch my legs, and never pay for a drink. My money’s no good in there… as long as I let them feel me up.
Moose Milltower, one of the bar’s regulars, is a big trucker type, and nobody in the place, including me, has quite figured out where he fits. He’s brutally manly, but after a few drinks, little giggles and androgynous gestures kinda slip out of him. But in the year I’ve been coming here, he’s never made a move on anyone, man or woman. Also, he’s never tried to feel me up.
Anyway, this one night he walked in the door and took a seat at my table. “Chad Quarles!” he boomed. “What chu up to?
“Moose,” I answered quietly. “You know youre scaring away my drinking money for tonight, don’t you?”
“Hell, they’ll be back. The minute I get up, they’ll fly right back over on them fairy wings with them little silver slippers tinkling. Don’t know how you do it, Chad,” he exhaled noisily, blowing out the candle in the red, decorative bowl on the table. “They know you ain’t gonna give it to them, but they come fluttering around like they’re about to pluck the golden goose.”
Before I could respond, he sent a hard look over my shoulder and pulled his ugly face into a grimace. “Be damned! Antonescu!” he half-whispered. “When did he get back in town?”
I turned to look.
“Over there. In the far corner. By hisself,” Moose said. “That’s where he belongs, off by hisself!”
I spotted a figure in black cloaked by the darkness in a remote corner of the bar. “I’ve never seen him in here before. You know him?”
“Yeah. I know the son of a bitch! He quit coming around a year ago.”
I noted that Moose’s usual sarcastic, smart-ass tone had disappeared, replaced by something else. I’d have said it was fear if I hadn’t known how mean he was.
“Who is he?”
“A fucking vampire, that’s who he is!”
I laughed. “Come on! You don’t….”
The big man leveled a glare. “You don’t believe me?”
“I don’t believe in vampires, if that’s what you mean.”
“I didn’t neither,” he said, his eyes flickering to the corner.
I shifted in the booth so that I had a view of the man and found him watching me from across the room. So what else is new? Everybody always watched me. I was the star attraction in this armpit.
“Tell me about him.”
“Name’s Ariel Antonescu. Nobody knows anything about him. Claims he’s American, but he’s got an accent… a little one. Showed up here at the Low Brow about two years ago and give everybody the willies.”
“He a troublemaker?”
Moose hesitated. “No. He just stirs things up.” The big man’s sudden frown pulled his eyebrows together. “Ain’t that it exactly, neither. I mean sometimes he riled people up, other times he just kinda shut them down.”
“You’re not making any sense,” I snorted.
“That’s just it, it don’t make no sense. None at all. Then the guy just disappeared.”
“Did he ever hook up with anybody?”
Moose shook his head. “Never seen him leave with nobody. Hell, sometimes I didn’t see him leave at all. There one minute, gone the next. Spooky!”
I laughed aloud this time. “Half the people in this joint are spooky.”
“Not like Antonescu.”
“So what makes you say he’s a vampire?”
Moose didn’t answer my question. “Look! He’s getting up. See that table over there by the jukebox? The loud one? Bet you a beer that’s where he heads.”
“Cause that’s where things is happening. All that laughing and talking. Them guys is wired. You wait and see. In two minutes it’ll be quiet as a churchyard over there. He’ll kill it for them.”
We watched as the man moved across the room. Although I could not see clearly through the smoky half-light, he appeared to be a tall, slender man who didn’t belong in a joint like this. He projected a sort of class that you don’t often see in a blue-collar pub. He walked like a man, not a fairy, but there was a slow, elegant grace about him that raised a question in my mind.
I knew the guys at that table. They were good ole boys who ribbed me about stringing the queers along, but usually stopped by to shoot the shit at least once before closing was called. They’d send a cultured peckerwood like Antonescu packing in short order.
Didn’t happen that way. The stranger interrupted the levity, shook hands all around, and pulled up a chair. The four men shuffled around to accommodate a fifth and started telling their stories again. It appeared that the stranger joined in occasionally, but for the most part he just listened. But Moose had been right about one thing. The raucous noise died within five minutes. Even the light in that corner of the room seemed to have lost its energy. Shortly thereafter, Antonescu rose, shook hands again, and ordered a round of drinks for the table before moving on.
“See what I mean?” Moose asked, nodding his head sagely. “You ever seen them guys so quiet? They usually full a piss ‘n vinegar. Noisiest table in the joint!”
It wasn’t now. The four men put their heads together and spoke in hushed tones. Before long, they broke up and left.
For the next hour, we watched Antonescu work the room, leaving strangely subdued tables behind him when he left. As he headed our way, Moose rose suddenly, mumbled something unintelligible, and moved away. Then the stranger was at my side.
“Ariel Antonescu,” he announced, holding out a manicured hand.
“Chad Quarles,” I responded, accepting a cool, steely shake.
“May I join you for a few moments?” he asked, the slight accent Moose had mentioned evident. I’m no good at accents, so I had no idea where it originated. Eastern Europe somewhere from the sound of his name.
“Sure. Free country,” I said expansively, taking his measure as he pulled slid onto the bench seat. Probably about five years over my own twenty-eight, a ‘look-down-the-nose’ kind of haughty elegance, and an ethereal handsomeness. But he was no porcelain doll; there was a suggestion of power about him.
“Thank you,” he settled himself and waved to the waitress, making a circle with his forefinger toward the table. She nodded her understanding and raced off to fill his order.
The man flat wore me out! He sat with me for an hour, keeping a steady supply of beer flowing while we talked about everything and nothing. He did not ask one single personal question beyond my opinion on things. But talk, we did! About city, state, national, and world affairs. About the merits of hounds over setters, a pump shotgun over an automatic, about every damned thing on earth… except anything personal.
At last, he rose, thanked me for the company, and then paused. “You’re different,” he said quietly. The way he said it wasn’t a come-on, a criticism, or even a compliment. It was just a statement that defied contradiction. “I think we shall become very good friends.” With that, he walked toward the men’s room while I leaned back in my chair, exhausted.
Two of the younger queers scooted over and had a field day feeling me up because I was too worn out to put a rein on them. When one started working on my zipper, I roused enough to get out of the place, staggering as I made for the parking lot. I never staggered, even when I was blasted on my ass!
As I shoved my key into the car door, I froze. The hair on my neck stood. My arms pimpled. My back felt exposed, vulnerable. I whirled. There was no one there. The half-filled macadam lot was better lighted than the bar so I could clearly see that there was no one there. Unless… There was a shadow at the corner of the building that looked deeper than natural. Suddenly frightened, I fumbled the car door open and fell inside. Slamming the lock behind me, I fought a bone-chilling fear with a shaky laugh.
“What the fuck?” I asked, mentally shaking myself in the isolated semi-darkness of my own automobile. The night air seemed downright cold. “You that drunk?” Momentarily, I considered whether or not I was over the limit. The cops are death on DUI in this town. Naw! I’m okay. I turned the key in the ignition and took comfort in the sound of the motor. Still, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I felt like I had just chickened out. I didn’t want to leave the safety of the car to call my brother for a ride. I took the back roads home. Once, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of something among the trees. Goosebumps swept my back like a cold breath.
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