A chubby teenager named Corndog places an envelope on the bar next to a glass of Jim Bean belonging to Margaret Saleeby. Worried his heart’s going to bust through his chest and ruin his favorite Dale Earnhardt T-shirt, he glances at Miss Saleeby’s muscle, a pear-shaped man named Earl now fiddling with the beer taps. There’s over five hundred cash in that envelope, nearly double what Miss Saleeby’s expecting given that her bread and butter is meth and not weed, but Corndog’s piss-scared.
But he also has dreams, one of which is to get Margaret Saleeby, the scariest outlaw in Clyde, South Carolina, to look him in the eye.
“Had a good week, ma’am,” he says, staring at the gummy scar running serpentine across her saggy, wrinkled neck. “It weren’t just regulars, neither.”
The old woman doesn’t move her head an inch. Just keeps eating peanuts shell and all while staring at the TV mounted above the bar. Fox News. Some shit about terrorism in Brussels. The talking heads all have concerned looks on their faces. Same look Miss Chavis gives Corndog when he fails to turn in an English paper. As if three hundred words on 1984 is going to get Corndog out of Coker Trailer Court. Or help him pop his cheery.
To buck himself up, Corndog rubs the cash inside his pocket, and the jukebox springs to life. Country music.
Projecting his voice so he’s heard over Merle Haggard and the rednecks playing Cutthroat on the slanted pool table, Corndog says, “Some rich kids from McBee bought a quarter ounce a piece. You want, next week I drive over the county line.” Nervous laugh. “Try to make some new friends. Ma’am?”
The old woman crunches another peanut between her dentures. She nods at Earl, who jerks a thumb toward the EXIT, him, too, not deigning to glance in Corndog’s direction.
Corndog hurries out the back door, steel guitars and Merle Haggard drowning out the voices in his head.
In the alley behind the bar, Corndog leans against a rusty dumpster. Pulls out the small wad of cash he’d earned selling pot for himself. His own grow. His own product. He didn’t sell to Margaret Saleeby’s customers, wouldn’t on principle.
Corndog counts his money. Seventy-nine bucks. Enough to take Amber Holt out to the movies in Florence. Unlike the other girls at Newsome High, maybe she won’t remember how he’d scarfed down seven corndogs back in second grade and shit his pants in front of everyone in the cafeteria. Maybe she’ll be impressed when he says, yeah, I’m on Saleeby’s payroll, but I’m aiming to be my own boss. An entrepreneur.
Corndog starts walking toward Main Street lit up down at the end of the alley. After a stride or two, he hears a rhythmic swishing sound that seems to be matching him step for step, and he can almost smell Earl’s onion breath, but he’s ready to face the man, ready to plead his case or throw a punch, so he wheels around, dukes up.
No one there.
Relieved, he swipes his sweaty hands over his corduroys, eliciting that same swishing sound.
Dipshit, he thinks. It’s the corduroy. The pants he bought at Old Navy last week. The pants he bought because only skinny guys wear corduroys, and if he wears corduroys he might become skinny, too. And cool. And if he is skinny and cool and an entrepreneur with cash in his pocket, maybe Amber Holt would go skinny dipping with him over at Lake Robinson.
Got to have them.
Calm again, Corndog starts moving toward Main Street, the swish-swish of his sixty-dollar pants keeping time like a metronome. Still thinking about how he’ll grow his business and which church him and Amber Holt will get married at, he steps out of the alley and into the arcing glow of the streetlamps on Main Street.
Where the old lady is waiting, gold Zippo in one hand, envelope in the other.
And as she looks at Corndog with eyes like hollow point bullets dipped in Quaker State, he then realizes that all those stories about Margaret Saleeby are true.