Say, hey there, Doc, my old backs actin up somethin awful . . .
Not now, Hank, Doc said out loud and the sound of his own voice was all that was needed to weigh him back down to earth and the business at hand.
Oh, well. It was only a taste to get him straight enough to work. The beer joint was dark, if not cool, inside, and this time of day it was quiet because only the most hard-core alcoholics came in this early and they never wasted their money on the jukebox or the pool table in the back. Doc ordered a draft, and Teresa, the barmaid, dutifully drew it and took his money, though they both knew good and well he couldnt choke it down on a bet, at least not until he got a little more dope in his system. The two bits was more like a rental fee on the little table in the back of the joint where everybody on South Presa knew Doc could be found every day between eleven and five.
Business had been slow lately and there were days that Doc resorted to petty theft and short-change scams to support his habit, vocations that he considered beneath him and that he was never very good at. By noon that day he was beginning to get more than a little discouraged. No one had so much as looked in his direction all morning long and it was only Tuesday; the week ahead loomed like a long, dark tunnel. Then the screen door creaked open, announcing a new arrival, a stranger, and things started looking up.
The tough-looking pachuco clicked and clacked noisily across the room, the metal taps on his brilliantly polished tangerine shoes announcing that he was a big man in his barrio and not afraid of anyone in this one. A sad-eyed young girl followed a few tentative steps behind. He ordered a bottle of Falstaff, and when Teresa reached for the dollar bill he laid on the bar, he covered it with a cross-tattooed hand and leaned over to whisper in her ear. She nodded in Docs direction, and the youth clattered across the room to stand threateningly over Doc, a dark little cloud ringed in fluorescent light. The girl waited by the bar.
This girl - the boy motioned behind him with a cock of his head - is in trouble. Up close the chico didnt look so tough. All the hair grease and attitude couldnt hide the fact that he was just a kid, at most nineteen or twenty. Doc gripped the edge of the table to steady himself and leaned sideways to peer around him at the girl, who was even younger.
You the daddy?
The boy only stared coldly back.
Well, Slick, where I come from a gentleman never leaves a lady whos in the family way standing around on a hard concrete floor. Doc waved at the girl. Honey, why dont you come on over here and take a load off your feet?
The kids fierce features instantly darkened but he still said nothing, and the girl didnt move.
Okay, Slick, its up to you. But if you want me to help you, then I need to ask your gal some questions, or maybe you can tell me what I need to know. When did she have her last menstrual period?
That did it. The boy motioned the girl over to the table. Doc pulled out a chair for her and began talking directly to the girl in low, reassuring tones, though he knew she couldnt understand a word. He eyeballed the boy, who grudgingly interpreted the girls obvious terror into impatient, condescending English. A big tear that suddenly escaped her eye, trailing down one cheek, confirmed Docs suspicions that his bedside manner was being lost in the translation.
Doc stood up, and the boy suddenly shrank beside him as Doc threw a surprisingly strong arm around him and escorted him toward the door
Excerpted from I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle. Copyright © 2011 by Steve Earle. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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