Audrey’s first thought when Ricardo came into Bar & Grill- her first impression from the color of light in his eyes and his cock strut stride- her first thought was that he was a criminal, probably a killer, a sociopath and scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, and that the man belonged bolted behind iron bars or made to sizzle pretty on the hot seat of the electric chair.

And it made her spill her water.

She picked up the glass and took her tray- Manhattan neat and Rum and Coke- to the table with the boys from the bowling league. It was the first hour of a long night, and she could feel her head throbbing low from the shots knocked back on yesterday’s shift. She had promised herself today that she was gonna get up early, get downtown and buy that dress pattern her sister had told her about, see the new picture the paper said was so good, but here she was, back at work, barely make it on time, hung over the hard way and nothing to show for the day. She promised herself she would get it all done tomorrow, maybe stop by and see her little nephew Joey too.

There wasn’t much in the way of customers tonight- just some of the regulars- arguing about Ike or taking gin slow and steady, a muscular lesbian couple hiding in the back to lick their fingers away from buying eyes. It was a dusty bar in Gallup off Route 40, and every time one of the customers asked Audrey how such a beautiful young blond came to work in such a dive she said the same thing: “Buy me a bottle of champagne and I’ll tell you the whole story.”

That always ended the questions.

But this man who just walked in, this Ricardo, he was different. She smelled the danger. She liked the smell.

The boys from the bowling league were at the table in the corner, and Audrey had been trying hard to learn their names- Barney and Martin or maybe Bobby and Marvin- but they were so boring it made her head throb. They had been coming in for six weeks, same drinks, same conversations, same pantomime flirtations, same terrible jokes, but their names... she just couldn’t. She wouldn’t. They both looked like oranges been sat out too long in the sun.

She served them their cocktails, her blond hair spill over her shoulders and onto her warm breasts- exactly why she didn’t wear her hair up- and Benny and Melvin’s eyes took the ride from the silky strands of lemon to the powder-white skin of her cleavage, veins visible in the sweet of the meat, their eyes melting in the happy valley between, their minds trying in vain to guess the color of her pink.

Audrey laid the order out the same way she always did, the way she was taught: she picked up the empty glasses first, put them on her tray, and set fresh napkins down on the warped wood of the table. Only then did she place the new drinks down on top of the white squares, and it worked as it always did, that perfect moment between the empties removed and the next round landed when the boys looked at the table bare before them, helpless, out of color and conversation, waiting for the cold of liquor dull. She watched Bobby and Marvin’s faces, pupils dilate in anticipation, and she caught the relief on their faces when the glasses touch down. The boys smiled, and said something cute to Audrey that she forgot immediately.

‘They’re all just dogs,’ she thought, and then: ‘Good god I need a shot.’

She left the gutter boys to their alley babble, crossed the bar like a tiger taking attendance, rub her shoulder slow against Ricardo, who had sat himself at the bar, next to that suit salesman who was always in here. The salesman’s name was Carl. Or Mike. She stepped behind the bar.

Ricardo felt her brush by, touch her body to his, and he give her a dirty look like she was a housefly at a church picnic.

He hated her. And it gave her goosebumps.

“Business keeps me on the road,” Carl or Mike said to no one in particular. “Always business.”

Ricardo didn’t even look over, he just called to Gus, the barkeep with his face in the funny papers. Gus stood up from his stool.

“What’ll it be?”

“Whiskey,” said Ricardo, and Audrey mouthed his next words as he spoke them: “And leave the bottle.”

She checked herself in the mirror behind the bar, made pucker with her mouth and a frown at what appeared to be the birth of a wrinkle around her eyes. She slow paint a fresh coat of red on her lips glossy as she wondered what would it take, how much it would take to get this guy at the corner of the bar to fuck her hard in the back room. He was a thin man, angry hard, his clothes hang off him like they were borrowed- or stolen- and the jacket he wore over his work shirt looked worn. Beaten. There was spice in his blood- definitely Latin- Audrey could taste it from here, and his dark hair cast a black shadow over his eyes.

She walked over to Ricardo- less swing in her strut this time- and watched him take the shot glass to his stubbled face. Carl/Mike was clicking on the stool beside him, still casting his net.

“In my line of work you find yourself working around the clock... tick-tock.”

Ricardo, without looking over: “That’s wonderful.”

He downed the rye. She could see the shot hit his stomach. He needed it like she did.

“Buy a girl a drink, Mister?” She stood before him, looked at him with eyes open, no pretense, no games for this man who obviously didn’t play them. Her legs in black nylons made jangle as she tried to find the balance... she couldn’t hide the itch.

Ricardo looked over at her, cautious, for a long moment. Then his eyes fall back down to the bar.
“Get a glass.”

Audrey pull a rocks glass off the shelf, opened the icebox where she was greeted with a solid block making vapor. Gus was supposed to break it all down at the start of every shift but as usual he had more important work to do: he was sat back down in his chair, his head buried in the paper, his combover greasy falling down across his forehead.

Audrey took the ice pick and drove it into the glacier, chipping away, her honey behind making sway to the music of the jukebox. She knew he was watching- she could feel him between her cheeks. When she had cracked a few good cubes she used the tongs to drop them in her glass, turning around to put the glass in front of Ricardo.

She put her icy finger in her mouth. And she sucked.

Ricardo looked up at her, the fire ignite, traces of a smile at the sight of her lips going to work. Or maybe just the whiskey kicking in.

Audrey got bold as he poured her a generous shot. “What’s your name, Mister?”

Ricardo refilled his shot glass. “Ricardo. But you can call me JD.”

She held up her glass, let the ice cubes knock and spin in liquid orbit while they make the whiskey chill. She looked at him through the amber of the liquor. “Okay Ricardo."

He looked at her then, awake, alive again, and in that moment Audrey heard the pitch change, the record on the Rockola suddenly come up to speed, now the music playing right and bright and loud. She looked at Ricardo hungry and ready to be fed, and she thought to herself: ‘Gotchya.’

Ricardo raised his glass. “Here’s looking at you, doll.”

Their glasses met in mid-air, said hello in chime, and they drank together.

They both took the booze.

“Busy. Busy. I don’t even get to see my wife and kids.” Carl/Mike probably kept selling in his sleep. Cheap suits don't move themselves.

Ricardo turned to him, a dirty look, and then as an afterthought: "Shuddup." He turned back to Audrey.

She downed her drink and set the glass down. “Would you help me with this box in back?” She turned and headed to the back of the bar without an answer, leaving a perfumed sillage for Ricardo to follow, the first drops of anticipation already leaking down her thigh.

Ricardo waited until she was all the way back, until he could smell the seafood buffet, waited to make sure that fat barkeep didn’t see them go off together. He wondered in passing if the old man had any idea that he had only minutes left to live, and that he was wasting them reading the birth announcements in the local rag paper.

Before he went to the back he turned to the man next to him at the bar: “What’s your name?”

“Me? Carl.”

“You got a car, Carl?”

He nodded.

“Stay here. I think we can do some business.” Ricardo stood, left Carl at the bar, smiling into the bubbles of his 7-Up, took the walk to the back room of this strange bar, took a detour to take this waitress, to take her body to his, to commit acts of loving violence and violent love so profound they would require photo documentation.

In the back room, in the dark, amid the stack of liquor boxes Audrey was unpeeling her clothes, wondering if she would survive. She smiled.

If she did she’d make him buy another drink.

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