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Pot Roast from Vance Godbey's
The Hayloft on Jacksboro Highway didn’t have an outside light over the door, let alone a pole light in the parking lot. The sign atop the dilapidated building was barely recognizable as a sign at all, being as it was only half a sheet of rotted plywood on which Inez’s third husband, Dick, had scribbled ‘Hay Loft’ in black paint with a four-inch brush.
Dick had caught hell for the misspelling and Inez had kicked his ass to the curb less than two weeks later, not for that specific transgression, but it had been the next to last one she allowed. It was best for all concerned if one did as Inez instructed, exactly as Inez instructed, not part way or close.
It was a one ambulance night on Jacksboro, unusually slow for a Tuesday, and even more so in the Hayloft. Inez was behind the bar reading yesterday’s editorial page of the Fort Worth Press and smoking an unfiltered Camel which was, at this point, more curved ash than tobacco and paper. Inez was 4’ 11” and of unknown weight, but she had to be under 100 lbs. She wore whatever the hell she wanted, and her beehive was a full 15 percent as tall as she.
On the bar to her right a mostly eaten plate of pot roast, mashed potatoes, corn, and pea salad, sat congealing. Buddy, who spent almost as much time in the Hayloft as Inez, had brought the food to her from Vance Godbey’s Barbecue, which was up Jacksboro, almost into downtown. Truth be told, Godbey’s barbecue wasn’t much to write home about, but his wife’s pot roast was better than your mama’s pot roast and I don’t care who your mama is.
Willie sat at a table picking strings and bits of songs nobody knew. Buddy was molding his butt to his regular barstool and a first timer sat at a table in the furthest corner of the room. Inez was suspicious of first timers, so she kept her radar on him. She knew he sat where he did just to make her hike his Pearl across the room. That put him two strikes down and he hadn’t been in the Hayloft 45 minutes.
“Don’t you know any happy songs, Willie?” said Inez.
“No, ma’am,” Willie sang. Even when he talked, Willie sounded like he was singing. “But I’ll make one up for a Jax.”
“Hell,” the man in the corner interrupted, “I’ll buy you a beer and a shot if you’ll shut the hell up.”
Everyone turned and stared at the stranger in the corner except for Willie, who put down his guitar, and sat up straight in his seat.
“I’ll give Willie his beer and back but only to make you pay,” said Inez. “and I’ll thank you to be more cordial to my customers.”
“I drove into Fort Worth from Mineola for the Fat Stock Show and heard tell this was the place to meet rasslers and ain’t nobody here but a midget barkeep and two alchies,” said the man.
The Hayloft was not lit up like Christmas because it had its own built in clientele, mostly wrestlers, roustabouts, and carnies, both from here permanent, and those traveling through. Inez hadn’t meant for the Hayloft to be a home for wrestlers and roustabouts, it just happened. She didn’t mind because they always had cash, had already got fighting out of their blood before they came in the door, and most were more polite than you’d think. They all liked Inez because she served full drinks, made fair change, and treated them like they were regular folk.
Inez drew Willie’s beer and poured his shot. Willie knew better than to make her bring the drinks to him, so he stood, grabbed his guitar, and walked to the bar.
“Don’t pay him no heed, Willie. I like the way you play.”
“I know you do, Inez.” Willie threw back the shot and shook. He wasn’t used to anything but rotgut whiskey and Inez had poured a shot of the good stuff since the man in the corner was paying the tab. “He’s right though.”
“I’m willing to bet that asshole hasn’t been right since he was shitting himself in diapers,” Inez cut her eyes at the man in the corner. “You’ve got talent, Willie, that isn’t the question,” she looked back to Willie and gazed into his sad, hazel eyes. “Maybe the nightlife just isn’t for you.”
“It ain’t no good life, that’s for sure.”
“It’s no way to live, Willie, out here playing songs for drinks, especially when you’ve got a good woman like Martha at home.”
Willie stood a full head taller than Inez, but that didn’t put him much more than 5’ 6.”
“I get restless when the evening sun goes down,” he said. “There’s no place for me, so I guess this is my life.”
“Well, I’ll repeat what you said back to you. It ain’t no good life, Willie, bumming around on Jacksboro. You ought to march your ass home, get Martha, and take her to the courthouse first thing in the morning and marry her before she comes to her senses.”
“Marriage hasn’t done you much good, Inez.”
Inez laughed, raised her hands in mock protest, and said, “It’s done me a world of good, that’s why I do it so often.” They both laughed. “And I'm looking to marry again. It’s hard running a bar by yourself.”
"How many husbands you already had?" Willie asked.
"Four," she replied. “If you don’t count one repeat and two licenses I didn't use.”
The man in the corner suddenly began to belt out the first verse of ‘If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time.’
Inez cut him off, “What in the hell are you doing?”
“I need a drink and I figured the only way to get one around here is to squeal a country song like a stuck pig,” bellowed the man in the corner. “I’m the paying customer and I can’t get another round?” The man in the corner raised his empty mug and slammed it on the table for emphasis.
Inez pulled a Pearl from the cooler, snapped off the top, and began to head around the bar. “I’ll get you another beer, but I think you best settle your tab and drink it on the road.”
“I’m not going anywhere until I meet a rassler,” the man insisted.
“It’s Tuesday,” said Inez, “we don’t get many of those boys in on Tuesdays.” Inez slapped the bottle on the man’s table. “Some are family men, home with their wives, or they’re on the road traveling to next weekend’s match or healing up from last weekend’s injuries.”
“Healing up,” the man snickered. “Ain’t none of them Nancy boys healing up.”
Inez raised up stiff as a board, it might have been the only time in her life she stood a solid five-foot tall. She was taken aback. Inez is never taken aback. “What the hell did you say?”
“You heard me,” he stared Inez dead in the eyes. “None of them Nancy boys is healing up because none of them is hurt. You don’t get hurt fake rassling.”
Buddy, who had been doing the crossword out of the paper, put down his pen and slowly looked around. “Sheee,” he exhaled. Buddy ran out of breath before getting around to enunciating the ’t’. Willie grinned and pick up his guitar and softly started strumming what sounded like a cross between a hymn and a dirge.
Inez loomed over the man’s table, “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about, so I’m willing to let it go.”
“I wrestled in high school and I watch a lot of TV rassling, so I do know what I’m talking about. It is fake and I’m pretty sure at least some of them just enjoy rolling around with other men and get paid for it.”
“The name’s McGill,” the man said. “If you’d cared to ask.”
“I don’t care and I’m not interested in your name, buster,” Inez continued.
Willie’s eyes glowed as he continued to play. Buddy slid off his stool and slowly walked around behind the bar and hunkered down.
“Sure, a man can be a face in one town and a heel in another, that’s part of the show, and some are pushed more than others, but what goes on inside the ring is real.”
“That ma’am is pure manure.”
“Is this manure,” said Inez. She then proceeded to grab the man and execute a perfect falling arm drag, landing the man on the bare concrete floor.
“Ooof.” The suddenness of the landing had expelled most of the air from the man’s lungs.
Inez was just warming up.
“I learned that from Ruffy Silverstein.” As the man got to his knees, she followed up with a textbook karate kick. “That ain’t exactly the way Duke Keomuka showed me but I ain’t got the heft he does.”
The man was laid out face down and slid a good four feet across the floor. Inez calmly walked over and grabbed the man’s right leg and placed his ankle between her thighs. She then laid on top of his back and locked his arms around his head. She pulled back stretching the man's back, neck, and knee in a most unnatural way. The man had no time to refill his lungs with air, so his scream was silent but written all over his face.
“This rassling move is called the stepover toehold facelock,” Inez wasn’t even breathing hard, but her eyes betrayed her rage. “I learned it from Lou ‘Iron Man’ Thesz, and I know I’m doing it mostly right because he invented it.” She gave another fierce tug on his leg. The man inhaled, gasped, and screamed all at the same time, which seems like a physical impossibility, but it happened.
She let go his leg and he moaned and rolled over. He was attempting to get up, but he just wasn’t able. Inez rose to her feet and took four deliberate steps away. “You’re not selling the moves, buster, but that’s alright.” She turned on her heels, swung her arms back and strode towards the man, on the fourth step she leapt high in the air, slightly tucking her knees on the way up, causing a rotation of her tiny body. She landed solid on the man, her back to his stomach.
At that point it was over and too gruesome to describe.
“That fake move is called the bombs away,” Inez said getting back to her feet. “Jack the Giant Killer learned me that one.” Inez checked that her beehive was still straight on top her head as she walked back to the bar. Buddy, sensing the all clear, peeped up, and Willie changed his tune to a slow country waltz.
“Now, I ain’t saying there isn’t some show in the show,” Inez continued. She grabbed her Camels and shook one out. Buddy slid a pack of matches down the bar. She caught it, extracted a match, struck it, and lit the cigarette. “There’s jobbers who’ve only ever taken a squash and they’ve made good money and had long careers, but if you don’t think the rassling is real,” she paused and looked at McGill. He had not moved in a while. “Say, are you still with me?”
A low moan was all he could muster to indicate that Inez had his attention. “Okay, good. I thought we might have lost you. As I was saying, there might be a push for one man over another but if you think the rassling is fake, well, you’re plain wrong. And if you want to see ‘real’ rassling, catch a rassler after a screwjob,” Inez chuckled heartily. “That’s some rassling. A real smark can tell.”
McGill’s voice was weak and cracked. “I don’t know what you are saying, but please believe me when I tell you I know what you mean.”
Inez took a long drag on the Camel. “I believe you do, Mr. McGill from Mineola.”
The bar was silent for several moments. Buddy went back to his crossword and you could almost hear Inez’s Camel burn to ash.
“You going to drink that, mister?” Willie asked politely, pointing to the man’s beer.
The man did not speak but managed to shake his head ‘no.’
Willie looked to Inez. Inez shrugged. Willie quit playing, stepped over the man to get to the table, and picked up his Pearl.
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The Cat had been Calico
Previously published in Exhuming Alexandria