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Frank Sloan
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scorpion.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2012

Scorpion

 

by Frank Sloan

 

 

In a room in a motel off a forgotten highway, Lonnie Druhoe rubs the kinks out of his spindly legs. The air conditioner rattles the wall. The bare bulbs in the two light fixtures grate on his eyes. The television remote only calls up one channel and jangled nerves seem to be included in the room rate along with grimy sheets and lead paint flaking off the windowsill.

 

In last night’s rodeo, Lonnie clowned before a crowd of less than a hundred.  In tomorrow night’s rodeo, he’ll clown for a crowd of a little over a hundred at best. Such are the times.

 

Lonnie cracks the seal on a pint of Scorpion Mescal, his third of the night.  Any man in right mind, drunk or not, would have to face the facts in a rundown room like this one. The H.J. McPherson Rodeo and Livestock Co. stood on shaky ground. H. J. himself told Lonnie that he was losing twenty to thirty grand a year and at seventy-two he couldn’t go on losing money like that. Ranch work all over the country was drying up as old-timers sold out to rich investors. What a guy needed to survive in this new world was skills and Lonnie didn’t have any. 

 

Besides, he’s not getting any younger. Come February, he’ll check in at fifty-goddamned-six. The last four decades of drinking, drifting, bullfighting, and peon labor have left him busted up, flat broke, and sick of his own face. The McPherson Co. is the only real home he’s known in the years since his old man kicked him out of the house on his sixteenth birthday. Eleven years he’s worked for H.J. as cowhand, rodeo clown, gofer, chauffeur, and unlicensed therapist.  Longest lasting job he’s ever held.  Lonnie’s staring at another fork in an already- schizophrenic career path. He’s afraid that he’s too old to start over again.

 

Just as he tips up the Scorpion for another long pull, some crazy bastard starts banging on the door.

 

           “Open the door! Please. Somebody, open the door. I need help.” It’s a woman’s shriek. Lonnie finishes the pull. He looks at the door. He nurses another pull. Surely the woman will move on. “I can hear your TV. I know you’re in there.  Please, for the love of God, help me.”

 

Lonnie doesn’t have any pants on. He shuffles to the door and yanks it open, anyway. “What the hell is your problem?” he says.

 

The woman pushes past him into the room. “My husband, he’s disappeared.  I’ve been knocking on doors but nobody would open up. I don’t know what to do.  Please, I need help.” 

 

Lonnie sizes her up. Plain looking and a bit beefy, she doesn’t resemble any of the women that knock down his door in his favorite fantasies. On the other hand, she doesn’t look dangerous and she definitely looks freaked. “Slow down.  Did you call the police?” 

 

“I can’t. I need to find him. He could be in trouble.”

 

“Why can’t you call the police? They’d be a lot more help than I will.” She seems not to notice as Lonnie crosses back to the bed and retrieves his jeans and wrestles them on.

 

“I can’t call the police. I told you. He disappeared and there might be somebody after him and I got to find him.”

 

“What is he, a drug dealer?”

 

“Not exactly, but he’s been missing since early this afternoon. Tell me you’ll help. You look like a nice man. You got to help me.”

 

Lonnie pulls on his boots while she fumbles in her purse. He grabs the Scorpion. He gulps a deep, deep pull. He offers her the bottle. She refuses. He slugs another pull then picks up the phone on the nightstand.

 

“I can pay you,” she says. She pulls her hand out of her purse with a couple of twenties clutched in it. She turns to wave the bills in his direction. “What are you doing?” she shrieks.

 

“I’m calling the desk so they can call the cops.”

 

She hurdles the bed in one leap and pounces on Lonnie. She slaps the phone out of his hand. The bottle of Scorpion flies out of the other hand and skitters across the floor into the bathroom. She pummels him in the ribs, the blows feel like the kick of a knot-headed steer, no girly punches in this woman. She hammers at his back. She throws a knee in the direction of his balls. He twists away from that insult. “You bastard!” she screams and she runs out of the room.

 

Lonnie steps into the bathroom. He picks up the Scorpion. One tiny pull left in the bottom of the bottle.  He downs it while he moves to the door and peeks outside. The crazy broad has disappeared. 

 

“I guess I can scratch ‘private eye’ off the list of trades to shoot for,” Lonnie says to himself as he slams the door. He yanks off his boots and lies down on the bed. It’s too late to make a run for another pint. David Letterman mugs on the TV screen. Lonnie massages his ribs and tries to focus on the TV. 

 

After half an hour, just as Lonnie feels sleep coming on, a shotgun blast blows out the window next to the door. 

 

“He’s in there!” he hears the crazy broad scream. “Get him! Kill him. He tried to rape me, Harry. I asked him for help and he tried to rape me.”

 

A second twelve-gauge blast explodes the lockset out of the door. The door crashes open. Harry charges into the room. 

 

Lonnie dives off the bed and tries to crawl under it. A third blast of buck shot takes off his shoulder.

 

“I found my husband, you bastard, and now he’s gonna kill you.”

 

Lonnie neither hears nor feels the fourth detonation. 

 

The first officers to arrive don’t call an ambulance. They call the coroner and begin to tape off the scene. One of the cops notices the empty pint of Scorpion on the floor near Lonnie’s left knee. “The poor bastard drank some pretty good stuff,” he says to no one in particular.       

 

 

 

Former small town cop, cow hand and general flunky; Frank Sloan lives and writes at the Dead Rabbit Ranch where it’s either too damn hot to pray or too damn cold to dance and it’s always too damn windy to strafe the politicians with bottle rockets.

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