September 04, 2010

Meeting the X-Men

By Brad Willis © 2010

Culver Stockton held his cigarette between his middle and ring fingers. It trembled until the snake of ash fell off the end and onto the ripped black vinyl seat. Culver didn't notice—didn't brush it off the seat or even move his thin legs to the side. Instead he sucked hard on the butt, let his eyes narrow, and then pointed at nothing with the smoldering end.

"Vietnam," he said, and waited for one of the three men in the booth to say anything. None of them did. They each grabbed for their sweating bottles of Bud and took a drink simultaneously. If there had been an Olympic event built around synchronized consumption, these three men would have taken the gold.

"No? Not fucking veterans, are ya?" Culver said and used his index finger to snub the cigarette into pile of butts in the plastic ashtray. "Well, fuck yeah. That's what I say. Can't trust a man who lets himself get humiliated and then kills to make up for it. Fuck that."

Another cigarette. More trembling. This time in the corner of Culver's mouth.

"Drugs then." Culver was pointing again, this time with the whole cigarette, a barfly baton conducting one of the motliest orchestras Greene County had ever assembled. "Meth heads. Tweakers. Speed freaks. You're truckers, whore fuckers, over-the-road bastards of the asphalt. Fucking drugs, man. Right on."

The bottles came off the table and the men held their tongues. Another drink, another stab with the cigarette.

"No, that's not it either," Culver said and let his eyes drop to the table.

The bar was a Quonset hut with smoke-blackened carpet, a jukebox that played the Outlaws, and a waitress who divided her stomach with a pinch of Levi denim. It was her arrival that snapped Culver from his concentration. She sat down three more beers and an Old Crow for the old man. She didn't say anything and then walked away.

"Fupper," Culver whispered. "Fat Upper Pussy." He pointed at the woman's bulge below the waist. "It's the beer. And the fried mushrooms, I think. Still, sorta sexy, don't you think??

This time the men didn't drink their beer. They said nothing. The small one checked his watch.

Culver Stockton—Culley to his couple of friends—squinted. He poked at a liver spot on the back of his hand. He sighed and looked sad. The old hand shook as it pulled the bourbon up to the crooked mouth. When the smell hit his nose, Culver's eyes exploded with recognition.

"Bikers!" he shouted. He knocked the ashtray across the table. It came to rest against the big one's belly.

None of the men spoke, but it was understood that Culver had finally hit his mark.

"So, where are you colors? What? Hell's Angels? Warlocks? What?"

The men didn't look at each other. The medium one — the only one who had given his name, Laurence — finished his beer. "Was the Angels, but Harvey didn't make it because his mom's a Mexican. So, we all went Mongols. Then they found out Harvey's dad was a Jew—'

"And a fucking Fed," said the little one.

"And a fucking Fed," Laurence nodded. "So, we left. We're sort of on our own now."

"We're The X-Men," said the big one, who Culley just assumed was Harvey.

"That hasn't been decided," the little one screamed. "You don't decide Harvey. You aren't the decider."

"So," continued Laurence, "we'd appreciate if you don't use phrases like Spic, Taco Jockey, Hymie—"

"Cholo is fine," Harvey said.

"Cholo is fine," Laurence said.

"You aren't the decider!" the little one screamed. "Just because you want to be Thor doesn't mean we all have to be X-Men. I mean, who the fuck am I going to be?"

"Thor was Marvel comics," Harvey whispered.

"Sammy," Laurence began.

"Fucking Samuel," the little one said. "If I'm going to call you Laurence, Larry, you're damned well going to call me Samuel. Fucking X-Men."

Samuel turned to Culver. "We're not the X-Men. If you have to call us something, we've been trying out the Knights."

Laurence leaned in. "That's Knights with a K, not an N."

Harvey snorted, "You don't have to explain X-Men. You don't have to say, ‘That's with an X and not a Q'."

"Harvey, if you say X-Men one more fucking time, you're out of the fucking Knights!" Samuel stood up and looked across the table.

"X," Harvey said.

Laurence stopped him.

"Mr. Stockton, we're just here to help. You told Mr. Weinstein that you needed our help, and we're here."

Culver Stockton lit another cigarette off his last and shook his head.

"I was sort of expecting some fucked up truckers with an amphetamine problem," Culver said.

"I snort crank on Saturdays," Samuel said, and sat down.

"That do?" Laurence said.

Culver studied them and inhaled deeply on his smoke. "I guess it will have to."

The four men looked at each other across the table like a spider web of tired stares.

Culver pointed his cigarette at each of them one at a time and then said quietly, "You boys ever buried a body?"

Brad Willis is a writer from Greenville, SC.