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Tuesday Teaser 11/28/17 Strong Hearts

Here is another little snip from my current work in progress.  I feel like I’m really making progress on this one.  And I really, really love Brutus and Denise.

 

The great thing about Billie’s Bar and Grill was that no one ever dressed up. Denise, wearing jeans covered with dog hair stuck to the dog slobber embedded in the denim, pushed opened the door, and stepped to one side. She paused there for a moment to let her eyes adjust. After the bright sun, she was nearly blind in the lower light in the bar. The delicious smell of greasy burgers hit her nose and woke a growl in her stomach. The clack of pool balls and the whoop of men told her at least one game was in progress. She might head back that way later, but for now she wanted a beer, a burger, and some information. All of those could be found at the bar. She made her way through a scatter of tables and parked her butt on a tall stool.

Billie herself was working the bar and she greeted Denise with a nod and something close to a smile. For Billie, that was a warm welcome. The bar owner was a trim fifty-something with short salt and pepper hair and a brisk, no nonsense manner. Even if Denise hadn’t known it, she would have guessed Billie was retired military. Billie had put in her twenty-five in the Marine Corps, and was now enjoying retirement as the owner of a neighborhood bar. Military and ex-military were always welcome here.

“Hey, Chickie,” she called as Denise hooked the heels of her boots over the bottom rung of the stool. “What’ll it be?”

“Beer and a burger basket,” Denise replied. “You know how I like it.”

Billie hollered the order to the back where her husband, Big Joe, manned the grill. She grabbed a longneck out of the case and placed in on the bar in front of Denise. “We haven’t seen you in here for a couple of months. What have you been up to?”

“Just the usual. Work, school, and more work.” She downed a swallow and let it roll, fizzing, down her throat. “That’s good.”

Billie nodded. “Nothing like a cold beer on a hot day. So, what’s up with you and what’s-his-face? That sailor you were seeing last year.”

Denise drank some more. “That’s done. He wanted me to spend more time with him, but you know.” She shrugged wryly. “Work, school, and more work.”

Billie didn’t say any of the usual sympathetic words, just nodded. “When will you be done with school?”

“This is my last year. God willing and the crick don’t rise, I’ll graduate in the spring.”

“You will.” Billie sounded sure. “You work harder than anyone. That’s just who you are.”

Another patron down the bar waved for Billie’s attention. Alone, Denise nursed her beer. The big, flat screen TV mounted in the corner showed a baseball game. The Rangers were down by one in the bottom of the eighth. She hadn’t been to a single game this summer. She loved baseball. Why hadn’t she made the time before school started?

“Hey, sweet cheeks.”

She turned to see Dale, one of the regulars, slide onto the stool beside hers. “Hey, Dale. You do know that anyone else who called me sweet cheeks would regret it, right?”

He laughed and raised a finger to catch Billie’s eye. Billie nodded and went to the cooler. Dale turned to grin at Denise. “I know, but you like my wife too much to hurt me.”

That was true. Dale might act like a flirt, but he was a safe flirt. He was utterly devoted to Marilyn, and had been for the last twenty years. “You’re lucky to have her.”

The creases that age and sun had put on his face shifted in a small, soft smile. “Don’t I know it.” The smile grew. “I saw you here last night, with some high stepping looker.”

“My sister,” she confirmed. “She’s moving to Dallas from Mississippi. She’ll be staying with me for a little while until she finds a job.”

Billie joined them and gave Dale his beer. “Yeah, I heard you were here last night with a woman in a cocktail dress.” Billie shook her head. “A cocktail dress,” she repeated, in something between disgust and wonder.

“I know.” Denise winced. “My sister asked me to take her to my favorite place to hang and get a drink. I guess she meant a club.”

Dale hooted with laughter, and Billie chuckled.

“I don’t go to clubs.” Denise waved her arms around to indicate her surroundings “When I want to go out for a drink, I want to go somewhere that I can relax, maybe shoot some pool or throw some darts. Somewhere like this.” Denise took another sip of her beer. “Last night was interesting. There was a fight back there.” She jerked her chin toward the back where the pool tables were. “The guy who was in it tripped over my sister on his way out.”

Billie muttered something that Denise didn’t catch. Trying to act casual, she asked, “I don’t think I’ve seen him around here before. Is he a regular?”

Billie’s expression was a mix of exasperation and fondness. “Gunnison. He’s trouble. No one you need to know.”

Denise’s mind went to armed robbery, drug dealing, and breaking kneecaps for a crime lord. “Trouble with the law?”

Billie shrugged and wiped her towel over the bar. “Not that kind of trouble. He fights. The man will fight at the drop of a hat. Hell, he’ll drop the hat himself.”

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