The Jolly Jackal was not upscale. It would have needed thousands of dollars' worth of renovation just to ascend to the level of "dive." It had a neon sign in the window, but part of it wasn't working, so it just said "ackal." When you walked in the front door, you could see straight back through the gloom to the toilet, which had lost its door some years back when a patron, frustrated in his efforts to operate the doorknob, smashed his way in with a fire extinguisher. The bar was dark and rancid with stale beer. The TV was tuned to motorcycle racing. There were names scrawled on the walls, and crude drawings of genitalia. Puggy felt right at home.
He sat at the bar, which was empty except for a bearded man at the far end, talking to the bartender in a language that wasn't English, but it didn't sound to Puggy like Spanish, either. The bartender, a thick man with a thick face, looked at Puggy, but didn't come over.
"I'll take a Budweiser," Puggy said.
"You have money?" the bartender said.
Puggy was not offended. He knew he looked like he didn't have money. Usually, he didn't have money.
"I got money," he said, and he put all of it, three tens and a five, on the bar. The bartender, saying nothing, uncapped a longneck and set it in front of Puggy. He took Puggy's five and replaced it with three dollars and two quarters. Then he went back to the bearded man and said something foreign, and they both laughed.
Puggy didn't care. He was figuring out, at a buck fifty a beer, how many beers he could buy. He couldn't pin down a definite number, but he knew it was going to be a lot. More than ten. He might even get some Slim Jims, if they had them here.
Puggy was on his fourth beer when a couple of guys came in, one called Snake, whose T-shirt said "Gators," and one called Eddie, whose T-shirt said "You Don't Know Dick." They both wore cutoff jeans and flip-flops, but their feet were black with dirt, so it almost looked like they were wearing socks.
Snake and Eddie referred to themselves as fishermen, although they did not fish. They did live on a boat; it had been abandoned by its legal owner because it had no engine and would sink if it were moved. Snake's and Eddie's actual source of income was standing in front of vacant parking spaces in Coconut Grove, and then, when a tourist car came along, directing the driver into the space, making arm motions as though this were a tricky maneuver that had to be done just right, like landing the space shuttle. Then Snake and Eddie would stand close by, waiting for a tip, which usually the tourists gave them, especially if it was dark.
Puggy figured that Snake and Eddie must have been to the Jolly Jackal before, because as soon as they walked in, the bartender was coming toward them, pointing back at the door, saying "Out! I tell you once before! Out!"
"No, no, man, no," said Eddie, holding his hands up in front of his chest, making peace. "Look, we just wanna couple drinks. We got money." He was digging into his cutoff shorts, pulling out some quarters, some dimes and pennies, putting them on the bar.
The bartender looked at the money, saying nothing.
"OK?" said Eddie, settling at the bar to Puggy's right, one stool away. "OK," he said again, because he could see the bartender was going to let them slide. Snake sat on the stool to Eddie's right. Eddie pointed at the cluster of coins, said, "We'll take whatever much this'll get us."
The bartender, still saying nothing, counted the money, sliding the coins off the bar one by one into his hand. He put out two glasses and filled them with clear liquid from a bottle that had no label, then walked back to the bearded man.
"Asshole," remarked Eddie, to Snake.
Puggy, as soon as he determined that the situation was not going to require him to duck, went back to watching the TV, which was now showing pickup trucks racing. Puggy had never thought of that as a sport, but his policy with TV was, if it was on, he'd watch it.
Reprinted from Big Trouble by Dave Barry by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Dave Barry. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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