Joe punched B24 on the juke box like he did years before and still received the warm bass and steel guitar that led into Don Williams “I Believe In You”. The memories flooded in and pushed thoughts away from the bullet in his side.
The few barflies cleared out. Only Tami, behind the bar, remained. “You got nerve coming back.”
“I wanted to hear our song once more.” He walked over and set his duffle bag on the bar, along with his gun. “Also like a bourbon on ice, best you got.”
“Can you afford it?”
Joe unzipped the bag.
Tami looked inside. “That’ll definitely get you Jack Daniels.”
“Keep the change.” Joe shoved it off to her side of the bar.
She grabbed the Jack. “Out for two days and you started trouble.”
“Only with Bercu.” He flipped the .38’s chamber out. “Might want to leave.”
“Maybe I’ll just sit in the corner and watch you die. That’s worth more than the money.”
Joe listened to Don Williams’ weathered baritone sing about how he didn’t believe in the price of gold, the certainty of growing old, and North and South getting along.
“You paid for the whole bottle.” Tami dropped the bottle and glass on the bar. “You can pour it yourself.”
She walked to the front of the bar. Joe slapped the chamber back in, set the pistol down, and listened to what Don did believe in; love, old folks, children, and the lady he was singing to. Joe pictured dancing with his love to it at the wedding that was supposed to be.
Tammi eyed the door. “Bet that psycho niece’ll be with him.”
Joe pointed to his bleeding side. “This was A.J.’s doing.”
“Hate the way she calls me beauty queen.”
“You were Miss Chester County.”
“And it got me all this.”
“Most folks have less.”
“Most folks are lucky enough not to live in Missouri.”
“Did we ever try to get out?”
“She did.” Joe took a sip.
Don Williams contemplated God in the next verse, singing that He’s down below and up above. Joe noticed the possible meaning for the first time. If God was below, maybe there was no Hell. Joe wondered if that’s what it meant.
Then the devil walked in.
Bercu, cadaver thin, receding white hair, always looked like Death coming at you. A.J., the psycho niece, stuck to his side. The homicidal energy ran through her like the hair trigger on the Glock in her hand. “Where’s our money, dipshit?”
Joe poured his Jack. “You think to check the back of my truck?”
Bercu bowed his head. “I thought you not using my name to get out of prison meant something.”
“I knew it would get me close to your money. “ Joe downed his drink.
Tami lit up a Capri.
A.J.’s eyes went to her. “Why you sticking around, Beauty Queen?”
“So no one steals the liquor.”
Bercu’s serpent head raised up. “Let’s go outside, Joe.”
“I’m comfortable here.” Joe set his glass down.
Next to his .38.
Bercu eyed the gun. “You had to steal from me.”
“Didn’t know you’d come out if I just killed A.J.”
A.J. glared daggers. “Screw you.”
Joe looked right into the old man. “You knew what she was to me”
“Not my fault your girl couldn’t handle her high.”
“We were friends.”
“Can’t have friends in this business.”
“Don’t make it much of a business.”
“Study philosophy in prison?” Bercu reached into his jacket.
“Just coming to the end of things makes you think.”
Don sang how he didn’t believe Superman and Robin Hood were still alive in Hollywood. Joe’s pain got sharper.
He grabbed his pistol. A.J. raised hers.
Tammi yanked up a shotgun. “Hey, bitch.”
The blast blew A.J practically in half.
It distracted Bercu enough for Joe to put two bullets into him. Bercu’s gun hit the floor, followed by him.
Joe dropped to the barstool.
Tammi poured him another with a shaky hand. “Was serious about that ‘Beauty Queen’ shit.”
“Nothing to do with your sister?”
“Never knew what she saw in you.”
Tammi clinked the bottle with his glass. Joe faded out with the steel guitar.