Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Just Playing Around

by Wanda Morrow Clevenger

Ralph Henson's S-10 pickup barreled into Mickey's Roadhouse parking lot, kicking up a shower of white rock.  Couples groping in the shadows unclenched to witness him bolt from the truck, leaving the door hanging and ignition beeping.  His jaw set tight as a rusted vice grip, he cleared the distance to the front door faster than any young punk on the property.

Raising three girls had proved more challenging than rounding up wild mustangs.  He'd figured out early on there was small chance of keeping them corralled for long.  High-spirited, every single one.  But Ralph was still the papa, and responsible for protecting his fillies.

Good ol' boys Nick and Jake leaned against the bar.  Three shots of Wild Turkey under his belt had loosened Nick's tongue.

“Kelsey gave it up?  What is she, seventeen, eighteen?” Jake said, crooked mule teeth crowding a wide grin.  “How'd you pull that off?  Win a bet?  No wait, I know.  She lost at rock, paper, scissors.  And I'm guessing you cheated.”

“I'm not without certain charms.”  Nick pushed the brim of his custom Stetson back on his forehead an inch. “Problem is, she's calling everyday leaving messages.  Ain't no man wants a clinging ivy.”

“You done with her then?”

“Just moving to the next pond.  Plenty more fish to snag.  Catch and release––all the fun, none of the work.”

Mickey's door crashed open and twenty heads swung around as one.

Ralph took four determined steps forward, John Wayne's silver spurs jangling inside his head.  “I'm looking for Nick Butler.”  Bearded bikers scooted back from their beers and rose.  Ralph's elbows braced against his rigid torso.  “Anybody seen him?  The scrawny son-of-a-skunk wears a hat too big for his britches.”

A rodeo romeo stood.  “We're all friends here, mister,” he said, his hands outstretched in a welcoming manner.  “Nobody wants trouble.”  Three studded-shirt buddies joined him.  “Don't give us a reason . . .”       
Teeth clinched, Ralph snaked his way around the outer tables.  Tattooed toughs found their feet, outnumbering Ralph in number and brawn.  The barkeep hoisted a baseball bat as fair warning. 

“My oldest girl's name is Kelsey Renee Henson.”  Ralph spoke loud enough for the cockroaches inside the walls to hear.  “She's sixteen years and two months.”  He shoved past a frowning brute in a cowhide vest.  “I'll say it one more time.  I'm looking for Nick Butler.  Anyone has a problem with that, line up.”

“I got a daughter,” called from inside the crowd.  With mumbles and boot shuffles and bottle rattles, the room opened like the parting of the Red Sea.  “Just holler if you run out of knuckles, old man.”

Jake dove for cover.  Ralph spotted Nick, a frozen Bambi in the headlights, and charged; they hit the gritty floor in a grunting tumble.  Besting the boy to enthusiastic cheering, Ralph straddled Nick, a wad of shirt in one fist, the other poised to rearrange Nick's nose.

“Take a long look in the mirror, playboy,” Ralph said.  “Before it breaks.”

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