Harry opened the door.
Jules stood on the porch holding a brown paper bag. “Thought we could throw back a few.” He looked past Harry into the dark apartment. “You alone?”
Harry nodded and stepped away from the door.
Jules came inside and went straight for the kitchen. “Mind if I put these in the fridge?”
“Go ahead.” Harry closed the door and walked back to the couch in the corner of the room. The ashtray on the coffee table was full and overflowing. “You bring any smokes?”
“I don’t smoke, man, you know that.”
Harry did know that, it was one of the reasons he didn’t like Jules. For a drunk, Jules was far too concerned about his health to be that good of a friend.
Harry thumbed through the ash tray, picked out a half-smoked cigarette, blew off the filter and put it to his lips. “You got a light?”
Jules came out of the kitchen with two beers and handed one to Harry. “I think I might.”
“Doesn’t smoke, but carries a lighter.”
“No lighter,” he said. “But these will work.”
He held out a black and gold pack of matches. Harry knew them well. They were from the Moonlight Tavern off 76th street. Rita used to work there.
“When were you at the Moonlight?”
“I stop in now and then.”
“You see Rita?”
“Not for a couple days,” he said. “She’s off somewhere, you know how she gets.”
Harry nodded and took a drink of his beer. It was warm, but it tasted good.
Neither of them spoke.
Harry leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes. Outside, the noise from the street drifted into the room like the sound of an angry sea.
Harry opened his eyes. “You sick?”
“What’s nothing serious?”
“I don’t know,” Jules said. “Nothing serious.”
“Don’t come over here when you’re sick.”
“Christ, Harry, it’s just allergies. They always kick in come August.”
“If you say so.”
Jules shook his head. “You’re a fucking hypochondriac, you know that?”
Harry ignored him.
They finished their beers and opened two more.
“You got plans tonight?” Jules asked.
“What about later? You feel like going out?”
Jules paused, looked down at the bottle in his hand. “Yeah, me neither.”
Outside, someone screamed, followed by laughter.
Harry finished his beer then got up and walked to the kitchen and opened the fridge. There were two left. He opened one, said, “Last two, you ready?”
“Keep it,” Jules said. “I’m going to take off.”
Harry took the last beer back to the couch. “Thanks for stopping by, Jules.”
“You sure I can’t get you to come along?”
“Come along where?”
“Anywhere,” he said. “Just thought you might want to get out of here for a while.”
“No, I’m good.”
Jules stared at him for a moment then set his empty bottle on the floor beside the chair and stood up. “If you change your mind—”
Jules walked to the door and stopped. “You know, Rita feels real bad about the other night. She didn’t mean to embarrass you like that.”
“She thinks you’re a great guy, Harry, a sweetheart.” Jules hesitated. “Just not her type. You understand?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“She asks about you.”
Harry took a drink. “Tell her I said hello.”
Jules nodded slowly. “Sure, Harry. I’ll tell her.”
Harry waited until he was alone, then got up and walked to the bathroom. One of the fluorescent lights was out, and the remaining bulb buzzed behind the glass like a chorus of flies.
He sat on the edge of the toilet, pulled back the shower curtain, and looked down at Rita, naked and folded blue in a pool of red.
He stared at her, his pants growing painfully tight, then he stood and leaned over the tub, bracing himself against the shower wall, and unzipped.
After he finished, he cleaned himself up and walked back to the living room.
For the first time that night, everything was quiet.
Harry listened to the silence. Then he twisted the cap off the last beer and drank.