Trey’s day was easy duty until Madison pushed him into his crazy zone. Then things death-blossomed into black nastiness, like hot tar hitting a fan. It was his day off and he really wanted to see the matinee showing of Jackass 3-D. Maddie acted like she was all about it the night before, but when he announced he was playing golf that morning, she started ripping.
“I thought you were going to help clean the apartment,” she said.
“I will, but it’s not like a date. Not like we have to clean together. Leave the dusting and sweeping and I’ll do it later,” he said, flashing back on barracks inspections as he walked to the door. He’d ramped back from that brand of crazy clean, but he was still way neater than his buddies. If Maddie only knew. She didn’t say anything more, so he figured she was good with it.
On the course, he thundered the ball and picked money out of his buddies’ pockets like lint. Not big money, just a buck a hole, but the glory was in the pain to their egos, not to their wallets. Then, on the tenth tee, his phone vibrated. Maddie’s text said a couple of the girls asked her to go shopping. She wouldn’t be back in time for the 4:50 show. how bout 2nite? he texted back. He hit a solid eight-iron off the tee that left him an easy uphill putt for birdie. As he walked onto the green, her answer rattled his cell. not 2nite.
“Green Jesus,” he growled.
“What’s up?” Jase asked. If Trey designated ‘best friends’, Jason would be one.
“You know what they say about men with two first names?” Trey said, glancing to make certain everyone was on the green before he pulled the flag from the cup.
Jase squatted to read his putt. “Can’t trust them?”
“Yep,” Trey said, dropping the pin. “Same with women, I guess. Old Maddie Susanne stiffed me. We were supposed to go to a movie.” He puffed air through his nostrils. “And, after I sat through an evening with her work buds last night. Christ, the boredom was asshole deep.”
He missed his putt and had to endure a round of smack-mouth like the kind he loved to dole out. Then, his swing went south. He’d hit a nice sweeping draw all day, the ball starting over the fairway’s right side before gently arching left. After Maddie’s texts, nearly every shot sliced to the right. The more he tried to correct it, the worse his ball flight got. He free-fell from dollars up into the loser’s bracket.
On the seventeenth hole, his tee shot embarked on the new bad bend, and Jase yelled “Fore!” Trey fast-stepped to his left to watch his shot and saw the ball streaking toward number twelve green, where two guys were putting.
“Fore!” Trey shouted, as the ball hit a tree and narrowly missed one of the players on the ricochet. “Shit, did you see that guy dance?”
Trey and Jase shared a laugh, then Trey shouldered his bag and started down the fairway. Infantry golf, he called it. Hump your gear. Minus the IED’s.
Trey was upset. He played great until that little bitch tossed him for her girly-friends. Damn. He let her into his head and it fucked up his game. No-way-no-more, he vowed. He would rally. He would gather himself and take it to Jase and the boys. Offer them a double-down on eighteen and come out on top. He birdied that hole all the time.
As he approached the green where the two players were bagging their putters, he flushed himself in positive vibes, swallowed his irritation, and gave them a wave. “Hey, sorry about that.” The two players barely reacted, which he thought strange. The taller of the two shrugged. “By the way, did you see where my ball landed?” Trey said.
“Uh …” the taller one said, “I tossed it over there.” He used a jut of his chin to indicate the direction and turned to walk away.
“What?” Trey yelped. The guy froze in his tracks. “What the fuck did you say?”
The big guy turned and pointed. “Well, you couldn’t play it off the green, so I gave it a toss. You know, to help you out. It’s right over there by that tree.”
Jase and the other two walked up behind Trey. He couldn’t see them, but his senses were still battlefield sharp. He fed off their presence. He needed to perform. He had cred to maintain. Nobody was going to get over on Trey Bulloch, especially not with his friends watching. “You don’t touch another man’s ball when it’s in play, asshole,” he growled. “We’re playing for money here. I have to take nearest relief, no closer to the pin. I can’t do that if I don’t know where the fucker actually landed. You need to put my ball back.” The guy went wide-eyed. Trey lifted his shoulders, let them drop and when the straps slipped off, his bag hit the ground behind him with a metallic clatter. “Now,” he said.
The two players looked at each other. The bigger one was obviously feeling heat. He didn’t want to be ordered around, but he didn’t want to call Trey out, either. That was Trey’s read, anyway. The guy finally started to walk to where the ball lay in the rough. “I didn’t mean anything,” he said, sounding like a whiny grade-school kid. “I was just—”
“You were just showing off for your little pal there. Now I’m standing here, and all of a sudden, you don’t feel so fucking tough,” Trey said. “Right? Now make sure you put it exactly where it was so I can put some whoop-ass on my friends from a legal lie.” He turned and shot Jase and the others a wink on the low.
The man picked up Trey’s ball and carried it onto the green, fingertipping it as though the ball was a live grenade. He studied the area for several seconds, placed the ball carefully and walked to where his friend stood, waiting. Then without another word, the two of them began pulling their carts toward their next tee.
“Shit, man,” Jase said. “You rode him like a rented dirt bike.”
Trey couldn’t get a read on whether Jase meant his assessment to be positive or negative, but Trey picked the ball off the green and dropped it in the bordering rough. “The jerk needed a lesson in golf etiquette. I always wanted to be a teacher,” he said, pulling the pitching wedge from his bag. Confidence coursed through him like lust as he surfed the crest of his macho victory, like back in Afghan when he made the green-zone after a patrol. He set up for his shot, executed several practice swings, and hit the ball. It landed short, bounced onto the green and rolled to the hole. It hit the pin, but its velocity kept it from dropping and it ricocheted, stopping a few inches from glory. “Boo-yah!” he shouted. Jase and the others high-fived him.
On the eighteenth tee, Trey offered his deal. He was down six bucks per man. If he won the last hole, they would each give him three. If he lost, he would pay them each twelve. They swallowed the bait, and he reeled them in like carp. After a masterful drive and second shot, he lucked a pitch shot close to leave a tap-in for birdie on the long par five.
“Well, bros,” Trey said as he collected money at greenside, “the first pitcher at Busters is on me.” To his surprise, none of the three took him up on it, each having some reason to beg off. As he put his clubs in his car and changed out of his golf shoes, Trey tried not to feel abandoned. What the fuck? I’ll go alone then. Maddie was out with her friends. He was hungry. As long as he cleaned the joint up before she arrived home, it was all good.
Trey forgot how loud and freaky Busters was on Sunday afternoons in the fall. There wasn’t a wall that didn’t have two or three flat-screens, each tuned to a football game. He didn’t respond well to loud noise, especially sudden unexpected sounds. Even loud voices put him back in places that spooked the sinister out of him. His VA shrink was working with Trey on his PSTD because his worst was something no one wanted to confront. Busters was a bad choice that day, but he was there. Besides, Jase and the boys could always change their minds and decide to meet up with him. He’d grab a sandwich and a beer and be out the door. The single open seat was at the bar, which was fine. Trey ordered a beer and a menu from the tender.
It didn’t take long for the guy on Trey’s right to wear thin. He impressed Trey as being a one-time athlete who stopped training, but still ate at the training table. He wore a Detroit Lions jersey, number eighty-two. The guy was with at least one other, and they were obviously close to shitting themselves because the Lions were locked in a tie with the New York Jets.
When the Lion’s quarterback was injured with five minutes left in the game, the two wanna-be jocks went ballistic. The big lard-ass started jumping around and yelling, “We’re screwed now!” Trey was sipping his beer and the guy bumped Trey’s arm. Trigger-quick reflexes kept the beer from sloshing onto his pant leg, but it splashed his shoe.
“The fuck, man,” Trey shouted, standing on the rungs of his bar stool. “Watch what the hell you’re doing, would ya?”
Eighty-two gave him a disinterested glance and a hazy, “Sorry.”
Trey was seething, but he held himself in check, clenching his jaw until his eyes went out of focus. His shrink gave him strategies. When you relax your tongue, the other muscles follow suit. He let it go slack until his vision cleared, and looked around to see if he could move. All the other tables were at least partially full, and there were no additional seats at the bar. He slid his stool several inches from the big man and ordered a turkey club and a second beer when the bartender stopped past.
“Oh man, that fucking coach is a moron,” Eighty-two bellowed. He started mouthing off about how they should have run the ball a couple more plays to eat up time instead of trying a pass. “If we lose this game, we should fire that asshole,” he said, apparently ending his lesson on football strategy. As he did, he slammed his empty beer mug on the bar.
Trey was looking at the only screen not tuned to a football game when the mug whacked the bar top, and his skeleton nearly tore through his skin. Again, he twisted the tourniquet on his initial impulses. He slowly turned his head toward the big man and said, “We?”
Eighty-two gave Trey the kind of look you give a roach. The man was at least several inches taller, and a good fifty pounds heavier, than Trey. He straightened his back, probably to amplify the disparity, Trey figured.
“The fuck you say?”
Trey forced a grin. “You keep saying, ‘we.’ I’ve never been this close to a honest-to-God Detroit Lion.” He tried for a look of wide-eyed wonder. “The coach give you the day off so you could suck beers?”
Eighty-two leaned close. “You a fuckin’ Jets fan?”
Trey smiled more broadly. “I wasn’t born with the ‘fan gene’, to tell the truth. I don’t attach my self-worth to the athletic endeavors of others.”
“You better shut your pie-hole before I do it for you, ass-wipe,” Eighty-two shouted. The volume of everything but the flat screens dropped away.
A man who tried to look official walked up behind the bar. “What’s the problem here?” he said in a voice sounding tense, but measured, to maintain calm.
Trey matched his reasonable tone while aiming his thumb at Eighty-two. “This man seems unable to just watch the game. He’s rude and obnoxious. He bumped me and made me spill my beer. I’d appreciate being able to enjoy my lunch.”
Maybe it was Trey’s quiet demeanor. Or perhaps it was the fact that Eighty-two was big, and the beer he’d swilled made him feel even larger. Whatever, Trey could sense an emboldening building inside that Lion’s jersey. He’d learned to read enemies, and this guy was printed in neat child-like script.
“This is a sports bar, not McDonalds,” the massive guy yelled. “We’re watching a game here. That’s what joints like this are for.” He shoved his face in Trey’s again and made a fist. “So, shut the fuck up or you’ll eat this for lunch.” His fist swayed menacingly while his breath nearly made Trey’s eyes water.
At that, the manager-type scurried in an attempt to end-run the bar.
Trey lasered into Eighty-two’s eyes and said, “To paraphrase a man much better than I, go ahead, dickwad. Make my day.”
Eighty-two shoved Trey hard and he had to step off his bar stool to keep from falling. “Not good enough, Lion King,” Trey said. “You have to actually throw down on me before I can mess you up.”
Eighty-two turned to the crowd, which now formed a semi-circle rainbowing the bar; one that prevented the panicky manager from getting to where Trey and Eighty-two were squared off. “I heard that one before, dipshit,” he said. “I’m registered with the FBI. My hands are weapons,” he said with a sneer in a sing-songy falsetto. He dropped two octaves. “That shit don’t scare me.”
He punctuated his statement by spinning toward Trey with a looping roundhouse right that grazed his cheek. It hurt more than Trey expected, but the strike freed him to retaliate. Before the big man could reel his arm back in and regain his balance, Trey clamped his hand on the bundle of nerves exactly where Eighty-two’s neck met his shoulder. He dug his fingers into the meat there and it felt like home, like the handle on his favorite tool. He hadn’t used this move since Afghanistan, but Eighty-two’s brachial plexus responded as Trey knew it would—the man roared with pain as his arms and torso went completely limp, his legs buckled and a wet spot spread across the front of his Levis, urine darkening the tan material.
“Oh, Christ,” Trey said, easing Eighty-two to the floor and cushioning the man’s head as he gentled him down. “I sure hope you didn’t have to shit, too.” Trey patted the guy’s cheek and stood. “Don’t worry. Eighty-two’ll be his loveable self in a few hours. Day or so, max.” He tossed a ten on the bar to cover his bill and started for the door. “Oh, and tell him I’m sorry we lost,” Trey said to Eighty-two’s friend.
The guy gave Trey a vacant stare. “We?”
“Yeah,” Trey said. “I’m Eighty-two’s biggest fan. We sure got our ass kicked today.”
Trey walked outside and looked at his watch. There was still time to catch Jackass 3-D at 4:50. Alone. With any luck, there wouldn’t be any noisy jerks at a matinee.
Christopher T. Werkman retired from teaching high school art sixteen years ago and set about beginning his life. He still paints, but his passion is writing literary fiction. He lives on a few acres outside Haskins, Ohio with his partner, Karen, and too many cats. When he isn’t writing, he plays too much golf in the summer, too much indoor tennis in the winter, and rides his Kawasaki Ninja whenever there is sufficient traction.
Werkman’s stories have been published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. His novel, Difficult Lies, was published in 2015 by Rogue Phoenix Press. His collection of short stories, Girlfriending, will be published August 1, 2017, also by Rogue Phoenix.