by Thomas Humphrey

Even though my girlfriend Mel and I had pulled this scam off a couple times before, we’d promised ourselves that we
were done with it.  We were pushing our luck and we knew it—so we wanted out before it was too late.

But then we got into trouble again.  We’d done most of the crystal that Shane had fronted me and I was supposed to
have moved—but didn’t—and that meant that I still owed Shane five hundred bucks I didn’t have.  Sure, I’d unloaded
about a half ounce on the lawyer and salesman assholes that come over to our part of town to get their dope—I wasn’t a
complete idiot—but we did the rest ourselves, leaving me with a shortfall I had no way to cover and a dealer with no
sense of humor.

So there we were¾we had to do something.

We planned it like we’d done before.  We went down to Allie Katz, the strip club we like, and Mel finds a chump sitting at
the rail drooling over the dancers onstage, throwing money at the girls like it was confetti.  Mel sits down next to him,
gets him to give her a twenty to give to the dancer by putting it between her teeth.  Guys eat that shit up.  She keeps
flirting with him—giving him ideas—then says she’ll be next door if he wants to buy her a drink.  The rest was easy.

Well, at least it was the first time.  He was this old dude, looked sort of like Hank on King of the Hill, told her he owned a
siding business, probably hadn’t gotten any off the wife since the honeymoon.  He didn’t have a chance.  Mel takes him
to the bar next door, liquors him up, and then says she’ll make his dreams come true if he’s willing to pay for it.  He
agrees, of course, and she takes him back to her place.  Ten minutes later I burst through the back door playing the
lunatic boyfriend, saying I’m gonna kill them both.  Hank was so freaked out that he breaks down, claims Mel tricked
him, and offers up another hundred bucks if I would just let him go.

So I did.

They call this set-up a badger game.  I saw it on one of those old black and white movies on cable.

The second guy wasn’t so simple.  He told Mel at the bar that he was a farrier.  I didn’t even know what that was.  It turns
out—I googled it afterwards—that a farrier is someone who takes cares of and shoes horses.  I charged in like before but
that’s where it got tricky.  Since he was used to horses, he didn’t even blink at a guy like me.  Instead, he charged right
back, breaking one of Mel’s chairs over my head and knocking me against the wall.  I eventually rebounded and got in a
few licks of my own but it was rough going.  If Mel hadn’t handed me one of her kitchen knives during a break in the
action, he might have taken me.  As it was, he saw the knife, looked back between the both of us and, wiping some blood
off his lip, said, “Oh, I get it.”  He threatened to call the cops as he was leaving, but of course, he didn’t.

It was after that we decided to retire.  This game was every bit as risky as slinging dope and turning out to be a lot more
hazardous.  Besides, we didn’t want to get caught.   Neither one of us had any kind of criminal record to speak of—
amazing but true—I had a string of speeding tickets that I’d let slide but that was it.  We still held out hope that we could
get out of the drug world before it was too late.  Start over.

But then we stayed up for three days, doing all our dope¾all Shane’s dope¾and we didn’t have a choice.

So here we were again.          

“It’ll be okay,” Mel assured me while we were smoking the last bowl off the glass dick.  “We just got unlucky last time.  
That’s all.  This time I’ll pick a guy who’s a florist.”

“If he’s a florist, then he’ll be gay.”

“You know what I mean.  It’ll be fine.”           

Mel’s confidence came from experience.  She’d been hustling since she was a kid.  She’d even danced up on the stage
herself—not at the lame skin bars in this town though—at Cheetahs, down in Vegas.  She may have been a little skinnier
than she was in those days but she was still hot—hotter than any of the skanks that dance around here—curly brown
hair down past her shoulder, brown eyes and pouty lips that made your mouth water.  She’d get noticed.   

So we went back to Allie’s.  It was Friday night so it was packed and the music, an old Bloodhound Gang song, was too
loud.  I worked my way through the crowd and found a corner seat where I wouldn’t be noticed.  Mel headed straight
for the rail and started fishing.  There weren’t any bites.  Either she would find a guy that was only tipping one dollar
bills (not worth the effort) or a guy that was too busy gawking at the girls on stage to notice the babe sitting next to him.  
I started thinking that maybe this wasn’t going to be our night, wondering if we even had a Plan B, until finally she lit on
a guy that had some promise.

He was a Geek; he had big thick glasses and short Poindexter hair, making him look like one of those guys that go to
Anime conventions¾but you could tell he had money—he was wearing a dark blue pricey-looking suit and what looked
like a Rolex on his wrist.   He was going wild too; he’d been drinking way too much and he was loving these girls.

And Mel.  He took one look at her and thought it was Christmas morning and Santa had just brought him a present.  She
toys with him for a few minutes and then pats him on the arm and tells him to give her some money to give to the girl on
stage.  He took the hook instantly and starts automatically giving her money each time the dancer came around.  One
time she stands at the stage facing the girl, the next, she leans back so the dancer can bend over her and take the
money, the third time; she sticks it out of her shirt.  Each time, he peeled another bill off a clip and gave it to her like it
was a piece of chewing gum.  He was our man.  Finally, Mel whispered something into the Geek’s ear, no doubt telling
him she’d be next door.  She got up, kissed the dancer, making all the guys go wild again, and headed towards the front
door, giving me a conspiratorial wink as she left.  He got up less than a minute later, dropped a fifty on the stage and,
buttoning his suit and slicking back his hair, tagged on after her.

As I watched him trot out the door, I promised myself that this would be the last time.

Strip clubs in this town can’t serve alcohol, not if they want to go completely nude.  The way they get around it, there’s
always a full liquor bar next door so the guys can go back and forth.  That’s how the Geek got so drunk.  Charlie’s, the
bar next door in this case had a constant stench of stale beer and dead cigarettes that always jarred me when I walked in
the door.  But it served our purpose.  It gave Mel a way to get the guy away from the dancers so she could make her
play.  I slid into Charlie’s a few minutes after they had and found them giggling and cooing at each other in the far
corner of the place, Mel practically sitting in his lap.  She was good.  They went on like this through three rounds of
drinks before the Geek finally had to relieve himself.  He teeters up and stumbles into the Men’s.  The guy was plowed.  
Mel waits for him to get safely inside and then comes over to my corner of the bar.  I was already on my third Turkey
and schnapps myself and, feeling the booze, asked her if they were planning to elope.

“No jokes, Jason,” she said.  “This guy’s weird.”

“You look like you’re doing okay to me.”

“Listen to me,” she said.  “There‘s something not right with him.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s just giving me the creeps.”

“You want to call it off?”  I meant it.

“I’d like to . . . but he’s already offered me five hundred bucks.  That’s what we owe Shane.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“He’s just weird.  That’s all.”

“There’s got to be more to it than that,” I said.  I wasn’t sure whether to argue with her about this or not.  After all, this
was her area of expertise.  But I was having trouble giving up on all that money so quickly.

Mel started to say something then stopped in mid-sentence.  She looked down at the ground and her face went pale.  
Before I could even ask her what was wrong, she said, “Never mind.  I’ll go through with it.  Just don’t be late.”  She
quickly turned and started back for her table.

I leaned back on my stool, scratching the stubble on my chin.  What made her change her mind?  I turned around and
got my answer.

Shane. He had just waltzed in behind me, smiling and greeting the other customers—acting like he was running for office
for Christ’s sake—and sat down at the other end of the bar.  Shane was a full-patch member of the Road Agents, the
motorcycle club, and like every other time I’d seen him, he was wearing his “colors,” the club vest with the Road
Agents patch on the back.  He barked an order at the bartender and then looked back at me, giving me a half-ass salute
to acknowledge me, letting me know with that one gesture that he was here on business.           

I saluted back, swearing under my breath.  I drained my shot and walked over to his end of the bar.  Looking him in the
eye—it’s always important to look Shane in the eye—I started in on my pitch to plead for a few more hours.

He cut me off short.  “How are a couple hours going to make a difference, Sport?”  I swear I could see the blood vessels
bulging from his forehead.

I told him our plan.

He thought about it, taking a long pull off his beer.  He looked over at Mel who was just sitting down at the Geek’s table
and looking back at us.  Shane knew Mel.  He knew we’d done this before so he knew I was telling him the truth.  More
importantly, he knew that he would get his money this way.  After a moment, he shook his head and said, “Alright, you
got till closing time.”

I exhaled.

“But that’s it.  Next time, we’re not having this conversation.”    

I got the message.

A minute later, the Geek came back and finished his last drink without even sitting down.  He was steady on his feet too,
acting more sober now than he had the whole night.  He grabbed Mel’s arm, making me wince a little, and they headed
towards the front door.  As Mel reached the door, she looked back at me, glaring.  The door swung shut and she was

I threw a ten at the bartender, nodded to Shane, and hustled out the side door.  My stomach hurt.  

By the time I got out to my car and pulled around to the front parking lot shared by Charlie’s and Allie Katz, Mel was
already getting in a black Mazda and the Geek was already in the driver’s seat, starting the engine.  My plan was to lay
back, wait until they got on the street and then follow, leaving maybe a hundred yards or so between us until we got to
her apartment.

It didn’t work out that way.

Instead, just as they were pulling out of the parking lot, a pickup backed out of a parking space between me and the
curb.  I slammed on my horn but it didn’t do any good.  The pickup backed up slowly, more slowly than necessary
probably because he was too drunk to drive.  Then, taking an agonizing amount of time to do it, he delicately put the
truck into first gear.  I slammed on my horn again.  That just pissed him off.  He hit his brakes again and flagged me.  He
then carefully looked both ways, flagged me again, and turned right when he got onto the street.  I was so irritated when
the pickup finally got out of the way, that I gunned my engine and charged out into the street.  I was pissed but I was
anxious too, my heart was pounding, not wanting to get too far behind them.  I was already worrying about what was
going to happen when I got there, if we were going to have another brawl.  I was thinking too far ahead.  I wasn’t
thinking about the road.  I wasn’t looking to see if there was an oncoming car.  

There was.  It was a cop.  I came inches from hitting him before I swung the car wildly around and got to the other side
of the road, going up on the curb before I regained control.  That cop flipped a U-turn so fast that he almost sideswiped
a parked car himself, his lights flashing, his siren blaring.  I thought about outrunning him for a moment I really did I
felt my foot on the pedal, itching, ready to push it through to the floor.  But where was I going to go?  So I pulled over.  I
turned off the engine, screaming inside, trying to think of what to do next, how to get out of this and how to get to Mel’s
place in time.

I looked ahead down the road, to see if I could still find the black Mazda.  It was there, maybe two blocks ahead¾but it
was getting smaller … and smaller.  I watched it until it was gone.  I had to do something.  I decided to speed things up,
get out of the car and go back to him, tell him some story and get back on the road.

Bad idea.

No sooner had I planted both feet on the pavement, than the cop opens his door, his head peering up from the top of
the window and says through a loudspeaker, “get back in your vehicle!”

I shrank back down into my car seat.  I started rifling through my jockey box, randomly pulling at papers, the auto
emission certificate, receipts from Rite-Aid and Albertson’s, one of my old speeding tickets, before I finally found my
registration and insurance.  I was frantic.  I was worrying about Mel, of course, hoping she had seen what had
happened, and, if not, that I could still get there before it was too late.

Eventually, the cop appeared at my window, a little in back of me like they do, and said, “License, registration, proof of
insurance, please.”

I pulled my license out of my wallet and dumped it along with my papers into his hands.  “Could we move this along,” I
said.  “I’m in kind of a hurry.”

Another bad idea.

He tore into me like he’d just caught me banging his sister, lecturing me about my driving, about getting out of the car
when I did, about putting the public at risk, the whole bit.  After he had got that out of his system, he went on back to his
police car so he could write me a ticket.

I sat in my car—trapped—with nothing to do but think.  I watched the clock on my dash change from one digital number
to the next.  I watched it do that nine times, from twelve thirty-four to twelve forty-three, praying each time that he‘d
get out of his vehicle before it moved to the next number.        At twelve-forty-nine, the cop stepped out of his car.  

I did some quick calculating.  I was thinking I could sign for the ticket and be on the road in three minutes.  I’d get to
Mel’s place in another five minutes, knock the door down, knock the guy around, scare him off, explain to Mel what
happened, get the money and get back to the bar and pay Shane.  We were going to be okay.  

The cop got to my window and said, “Mr. Whitley, did you know that you have outstanding traffic fines?”

The old speeding tickets.  “I forgot all about those things,” I said.   This was true.  They hadn’t crossed my mind since I
got them.  “I’ll go pay them tomorrow,” I said.  “I promise.”

“I’ll need you to step out of the vehicle, Mr. Whitley.”

“What for?”

“Your license was suspended and a bench warrant has been issued.  Step out of the vehicle.”

I was going to jail.

On the way there, I was still calculating, scheming—thinking I could get out that night.  No dice.  I called Shane when I
was in booking, I called my other suppliers, I called the bartender, I called every person I could think of—I called Mel
about twenty times, in fact, mainly to find out if she was okay¾nobody answered.  In my world, your friends don’t pick
up when they see “county jail” on the caller ID.  After an hour and a half, the deputies made me dress down in orange
and go back to the dorms for the night.

That’s where I sat for two days.

On the following Monday afternoon, I got in front of a judge who told me I was an idiot, the court reporter taking it all
down, and then credited me with the time-served against my outstanding fines and let me go.  Once I got through those
steel doors, I took the bus to where my car was still parked and then headed directly to Mel’s apartment.  She wasn’t
there.  What was worse, the place was even more trashed than the night I had tangled with the horse guy—furniture was
upended, a window was broken, there was a fist-sized hole in the living room wall.  My heart was racing.  I got on the
phone again, calling her parents, girlfriends, and a lot of the same people I called when I was in jail.  No one had heard
from her since last week.

I didn’t know what else to do so I went back to the bar to find out if anyone has seen her.  I walked in and the first guy I
saw was Shane.  Sitting at the bar, drinking a beer.  That hit the pit of my stomach like a two-by-four.  I still hadn’t paid
him, of course, and by then he would have assumed that I skipped out on him.  My first instinct was to run, get the hell
out of there.

Too late.  He saw me and waived me over.  I was still thinking about that running option.  I turned around to do just
that, in fact, but one of his biker brothers, Thor, or something like that, was behind me, blocking my exit and giving me
a gotcha grin.  Shane waived me over again.  I looked back at Thor.  He wasn’t moving.  There was nothing else to do so I
walked over and sat down next to him and said, “I don’t have your money, man.  It doesn’t look like I’m going to get
your money.  You might as well kill me now.”

Shane just smiled and said, “We’re all good, Sport.  Let me buy you a drink.”

This had to be a trick.  I didn’t need a roadmap to figure what would be next.  A one-way trip to the desert.  I tried to
think of another way to get quick cash if Shane would just give me the time to do it, steal a car, knock off a 7-Eleven.  
Anything.  I remembered the old lady that lived upstairs from Mel had some gold jewelry, a bunch of pain killers that I
could sell, who knows what else might be up there.  Then I remembered the landlord evicted her because the Animal
Shelter had discovered she was keeping 27 half-starved feral cats in there and only one litter box.  It was on the news.  
Besides, I couldn’t steal from an old lady.  What was I thinking?  I was a complete failure as a criminal.   I took a deep
breath and told Shane what had happened, that I went to jail and that I wasn’t there to help Mel when she needed me
and now she was gone.  She might have been kidnapped.  She was probably dead.

Just as I said this, I heard a female voice behind me say, “Hi Jason.  I’ve been meaning to call you.”   


I spun around and there she was, alive—very much alive—and looking better than ever.  I reached out to embrace her,
hold her tight, tell her how sorry I was for not being there.

Before I could do any of that, however, Shane stepped in between us.  “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,
Sport,” he said.   

I looked to Mel, still not getting it.

She gave me a sheepish, pleading frown and then said, “You never showed, Jason.”  She was almost crying, but not
quite, sounding like a little kid.  “I thought I was actually going to have to go through with it.  He might have killed me.  
Or worse.  You never know about guys like that.  It was awful.”  Then her face brightened as she said, “And then Shane
shows up out of nowhere.”  Mel went over and sidled up to Shane, taking a sip from his beer and looking into his eyes,
“Shane took care of it.”  

I didn’t know whether to scream or puke.

“Oh yeah,” Shane said, giving me a shrug.  “I got your message about going to jail the other night.”

“And then when it was all over,” Mel continued, “Shane took me for ride on the back of his bike.” She caressed the skull
tattoo on his arm.  

I stared blankly at them.   

After giving me a moment to digest this turn of events, Mel looked at me and asked “Jason, have you ever owned a

She knew I hadn’t.

“You definitely need to get one.  Girls love them.”