The Stories Alden Gardner (Part 4)
The shadows of the buildings stretched away from the approaching evening as the wind gained momentum on Sunset Boulevard. With his head down, Alden surrendered his eyes toward the cracks and the weeds that grew among the spaces of the sidewalk. As he walked, the music of words bounced in his head:
When my song is heard
mixing with the symphony of
stress filled motors, then
carried away with the humming bass
of exhaust as it colors
the sunset on Sunset.
He was upbeat from watching the tourists on Hollywood Boulevard and a full stomach—watching the tourists and wannabe actors toil shoulder to shoulder, ignoring the fact that his next destination was both necessary and unnecessary. I said I’ll stop drinking in a week and that is exactly what I’ll do.
Despite his trepidations he told himself he would write. Whiskey and gin had taken away his words. So now, when he held a pen there was only silence. Dominic is a nice guy, he thought. He’ll give me paper and a pen. As he finished his thoughts the door to the bar came into sight.
The door to Dominic’s stopped abruptly. Through a space in the door, Alden saw large swollen arms. The doorstop was much younger than any of the men Alden knew from the bar. He had dark brown hair, blue eyes that burned cold and a mustache that looked more for porn than a bartender or bouncer.
Sorry the bar is closed. The man spoke slowly with a thick British accent.
What do you mean the bar is closed? The bar has never been closed for any reason.
I mean the bar is closed. That IS what I said. The man’s voice coughed with a shared impatience.
Listen drunk, finally loosening his temper, find another watering hole. We’re closed today.
What do you mean WE are closed? Could Dominic actually take a day off?
If you don’t leave I’m going to. . . Dominic passed behind the man concentrating with his head down,.
Wanting to grab Dominic’s attention, Alden interrupted the man’s rebut, Look, I know you might think I’m a bum off the street trying to get a free bee, but…
Alden. How are you? Dominic asked as his head raised from the commotion.
You’re closed? Alden asked sheepishly.
No. . .Well, kind of. Come on in.
As Alden began to head in the door remained cracked. It’s fifteen bucks, bellowed the stranger.
To get a drink?
Take it or leave it.
This is bull shit.
Let him in Hopton. said Dominic.
Well I guess we aren’t friends then, Alden replied contemptuously with a smirk.
How am I suppose to work a door if you let every two bit in free? Hopton aimed at Alden, but directed toward Dominic. Dominic smiled and continued his work without answer. Alden headed for a dark corner booth, unaware of the emptiness. We are closed in here for a little while though. said Dominic. Hopton, lock the door. The man turned the lock, checked to make sure it was secure and folded a large wad of bills, placing them in his front pocket. Great bursts of laughter came from the back door and the voices blended into musical harmony. Alden listened intently. With no surprise he heard Guy with unquestioning clarity.
Here’s your drink kid. Dominic left a rocks glass sitting at the end of the bar counter. Take it out back with you. Dominic held a first aid kit in one hand and a bottle of scotch in the other. His face held a seriousness Alden had not seen before. It reflected worry and deep concentration. You want something to write about? This might be exactly what you’re looking for. Needing no more prompting, Alden grabbed his drink.
Outside the air was hot and stiff from the crowd of patrons who lined the courtyard. Amongst the scattered few were women grouped in pairs, with beers keeping their nervous hands busy while their eyes spoke vehement disapproval. The men rocked from foot to foot, laughing and joking, their mouths drooling with anticipation. The vast space in the middle contained Guy and Frank. Each stared at the other with searing hatred. The mob crammed the perimeter, pushing and jostling along an imaginary rope. Alden found a milk crate, tipped it upside down, and stepped up. The human boxing ring and the thralling, miniature mob echoed with violence. Everyone focused on the combatants: pushing for room, aggressive, alive. Alden took notice of his shaking hands as he watched, grasping for the cause of such fervor. The only person not reeling was Dominic. He paced like a father letting his sons work out a dispute with gloves.
Dominic wiped Frank’s face with a trainer’s attention while Guy bounced around yelling prophetic obscenities. He tried to imitate a dancing boxer, comically losing his balance on occasion. And where Guy looked more like the village idiot, Frank held an aura likened to a wounded lion: painfully alert, scrapping his lame paws across the gravel and frothing at the mouth.
The two men had yet to fight and Alden thought they looked more like two aged and beaten boxers ten rounds end. Each man owned blood shot eyes and battle worn t-shirts. Their disheveled hair and yellowed skin appeared ready for a casualty ward rather than a fight.
All right boys. You know the drill. When you’re done, you’re done. Dominic looked to Guy. No biting. Then toward Frank, And YOU watch your hands. Dominic’s voice wavered as he spoke, I don’t want any nonsense. Finally Dominic looked to the crowd, his eyes cold. And men, if one of these guys falls into you, you can keep him up, but no one is to hold them. If I see any of that crap Hopton is waiting to set things straight. If you have any questions now is the time. Dominic waited. Alright boys, it’s up to you.
There was no sizing up; no waiting for opportunities; Guy charged. His fist flew wildly at Frank’s jaw as the other man ducked. Frank was too slow to get completely out of the way as Guy cursed repeatedly at his knuckles scrapping the skull. The momentum carried him passed and left Guy facing the crowd. Frank rose from a crouch and turned toward his opponent. With his hands low, Frank lunged for his opponent, connecting with a blow to the kidney. The constant state of inebriation put Guy on one foot as he was hit, his knees buckling as the two crashed together.
The force of the blow mixed with the collision of bodies sent Guy’s temple crashing into Frank’s shoulder. There was a collective grown from the onlookers as the bodies fell upon the concrete. Dominic started for his fallen patrons, but Frank popped up staring over the body. Guy shook his head and used his knees to stand. With glazed eyes Guy glowed with rage. Frank loomed above him. Instead of pouncing on his victim Frank slowly backed away. He wore a challenging smirk for more punishment. The audience clapped along the courtyard walls as Guy rose to his feet while horror plastered itself upon the faces of the women. Alden did not believe his eyes.
There was more restraint as both men walked the perimeter of the ring, but Guy owned little patience, impetuous to the end. This time he kept his hands lower. Frank’s attempt to get out of the way was met by a fist, splitting open the eye. Blood ran into his eye and as he blinked Guy threw another punch to the same spot. Frank dropped cold, his legs a pile of limp pasta.
Guy! screamed Dominic. Back off!
Everyone waited to see if Frank was out. As Alden maneuvered for a better look, one of the men pushed back, aggressively warning him to back off. Alden accented his head to see Frank on all fours breathing deeply.
As Frank got up Guy toward him. Guy ducked low to gather momentum and throw another wild hook, but this time Frank threw a quick cross and met his enemy on the mouth in time to send the two crashing into one another again. They met with the sound of crunching bones and mixing sweat, they broke threw the ring and landed just before the edge of eager onlookers. Like stray cats they clawed at one another. Guy yelled as one rolled on top of the other and vice versa. Alden heard Guy’s commentary between blows, asking questions: “How’d you like that?” or “I know that hurt!” The only sounds coming from Frank were the sounds of wind exiting his lungs and grunts as his body flexed for impact. Every punch absorbed by a strength Alden never knew and seemingly swallowed in a kind of stoic bravery.
Once their bodies weakened and sweating and tired from alcohol, Dominic strategically exercised his placement around the piled mess and pulled Frank off of his counterpart. The two combatants heaved for what little air they could muster, their arms scratching the emptiness, trying to reattach to one another. A man from the crowd materialized from thin air and took a hold of Guy. It was Hopton. Guy’s smaller frame, drained from battle, held no chance. It took little effort, but Alden felt that Guy could physically persuade God to get out of the way. The raw aggression between the two supposedly obnoxious, but harmless drunks kept pulling them together like oppositely charged magnets. Plastered to swollen and cut faces, their blood soaked deep and heavy on their clothes. What was left spotted the concrete in a barbaric form of modern art. Their shoulders, unable to hold up their frames any longer caused Guy and Frank to fall to the earth. They sat facing each other, lungs drawing as much air as possible while hatred seethed from their eyes like fire. Their chests rapidly pulsed, Frank threw up.
Alden was taken by the intensity and absently moved himself into the doorway, caught somewhere between appalled and the entrance. As the other patrons filed back into the bar the women carried looks of disgust. The men displayed more variety, some wore shock, others held wide disbelieving eyes, while others displayed smiles at this exhibit of violence.
One by one the spectators ushered passed Alden. His shock made it impossible for him to hear the various obscenities they offered his obstruction. What’s wrong with the kid? spat out Frank threw swollen lips and blood.
Probably never seen a real fight. offered Guy over a split lip of his own.
Let him be, said Dominic. When he finished with Frank, Dominic walked over to check Hopton’s effort. Thanks Hopton. Nice work. Why don’t you go in and serve some drinks before those drunks start stealing it. With out a word Hopton got up, nodded, and went straight inside. Son, you alright?
Alden didn’t answer.
Alden, Dominic spoke up, I said, you alright?
Uh…yeah. Sorry Dom. Just very deep in thought. His voice was uneven and it cracked.
Yeah, right youngster. Hey Frank, how much this kid remind you of Ronnie? asked Guy.
A little. Frank’s words began to get harder to understand from the swelling.
Not in the face. You remember how scared he was all the time?
Oh, right. said Frank as he extended his lips as far open as he could in order to clarify his speech.
Frank why don’t you get some ice on your mouth. Alden suggested.
Why don’t you put your mother back where she goes. I already had one of my own junior. I’ll have a drink. I’ll get drunk. Then if I want I might take a cab home instead of walking since I kicked Guy’s ass. Frank’s eyes began to catch fire as he spoke.
Calm down Frank. The kid is only trying to be helpful. We can hardly hear you speak and you look awful when you talk. spoke Dominic, the previous tension in his voice no longer present.
Besides how could you have kicked my ass when I literally shut your mouth. Guy started in. You can’t see to the right and you still haven’t caught your breath.
I wasn’t finished with you pussy. If it wasn’t for Dom you’d be dead.
Boys! yelled Dominic. What did I tell you? It’s over. You both lost. Now none of us want to hear about it so get your asses inside. And Frank, put the damn ice on your face. I ain’t your mother, but I don’t wanna look at a swollen face while I work.
I ain’t your boss either. Now go. And Dominic turned his attention to a few spots on under Guy’s arm. Apparently Guy was carrying a few broken ribs and there was a large bruise on his kidney.
And you better listen before I kick your ass again. prodded Guy.
That’s it, started Dominic careful not to let Frank complete his sentence, Frank, I swear to God that if you don’t get in there I’m going to call Natalie and have her pick you up. Frank walked directly in while he held a middle finger over his head.
For the life of me I would never guess the two of you are any older than twelve. stated Alden with a smile.
Guy laughed. His smile was bright and a little charming despite the bruise on his temple. Son, Frank don’t need any of your help to even the score. You remember who got the last word in the first time you came here?
Alden felt a little embarrassed at forgetting, as well as, Guy knowing exactly what he was doing. The old man’s face turned grave as he leaned in toward Alden. And let me tell you something. That Hopton kid’s a pussy. He thinks he’s tough. Size don’t mean nothin’. It always comes down to who has more anger. You are lucky kid. Frank and I have seen enough to kill you just by dreamin’ it. I think Frank’s worthless—because of what I’ve seen entitles me to that—but if I hear you disrespect him I will wipe your ass from here to the Hilton. In front of all these ladies. I would do it now, but I want to drink and Dominic would cut me off for a month. So- AAH!” Guy jumped and almost stood on his feet. Dominic had grabbed one of his broken ribs and pinched. What the hell you go and do that for? Guy asked looking at Dominic.
Shut up and leave the kid alone. Go inside and get drunk. Dominic was smiling as he looked at Alden.
I am drunk, Guy said to Dominic. And I’ll get more drunk if I want. Then looking at Alden he continued, You remember what I said. With that he turned to Dominic before the man could pinch the broken rib again and continued, Come on in and get a drink kid. We need to talk.
He looked toward the ground as Guy walked inside. He felt tears coming to his eyes. He had been moved by the tenacity of the two men, they had something he was looking for.
It’s alright kid. The man likes you. said Dominic as he put his hand on Alden’s shoulder.
It’s always better to know where you stand, replied Alden, surprised by the affection and how he felt better as a result. Alden asked if he would give him a minute and Dominic complied, giving Alden another pat on his way inside.
Alone and ashamed Alden tried to detached himself from the situation. He walked out onto the battlefield and looked closely at the specks of blood and torn cotton scattered on the ground. You know damn well you are only out here so no one sees you cry. No man cries Alden. He continued to walk around until he got a hold of himself.
Hey, the history project over kid! Guy yelled.
Alden’s face reddened as everyone in the bar turned to see the commotion.
Come over here and take a seat. said Frank. Guy smiled and Dominic held out a hand toward the stool between the fighters. Alden aimed his eyes toward the floor as he walked toward his new spot at the bar.
So tell us what you found. asked Guy, patting the younger man on his back. His eye adorned a solid purple and his smile cracked in a new direction. He smelled of sweat and dried blood. “Tell us what new outlook on the suffering of humanity you came up with.” Alden smiled and kept his head down as Dominic poured him a drink.
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This is a critical look at one of my favorite books of all time. Even though I have a great love for Heinlein's message, I found some glaring issues in regard to gender.
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