Dezzy squatted, balancing herself with the handle of the mop as her other hand grasped a scrub brush, vigorously scouring at the glob of, she didn’t know what and didn’t want to know, on the floor. A slight groan escaped her lips as she stood, her right knee protesting with an audible creak. Tossing the brush into the bucket, she ran the mop over the spot and inspected it. Satisfied with her efforts, she rinsed the mop in the bucket and continued on, swinging the mop in large sweeps, plopping it back in the bucket when she reached the small entryway that led behind the bar. The water sloshed in the bucket and a wave crested, managing to gracefully slip over the edge onto the toe of her tennis shoe. “Damn,” she cursed as she leaned down and grasped the mop and bucket handle with her fingers, hoisting it as she straightened, feeling her unforgiving lower back twinge with disapproval. Heedless of her slight limp as she carried the bucket and mop to the utility room located at the back of the bar, she dumped it in the sink and rinsed the mop. Flipping the light switch on her way out and pulling the door shut, the bang echoed in the empty room. Returning to the bar area, her eyes scanned the room making sure all the glasses were washed, the bar was wiped down and everything was in order. Picking up the damp bar towel she tossed it in the trash can under the counter that served as a make shift laundry basket. Her fingers fished her keys from the pocket of her jeans, fumbling through the ring until she found the correct one to unlock the door of the cubby under the cash register. Grabbing her purse, she plopped it on the bar with a thud and relocked the cubby. Rounding the counter to the front of the bar, she hoisted herself on the nearest barstool and sighed. Force of habit made her pull her purse towards her and rummage for her cigarette case, opening it with practiced ease to allow access for her thumb and forefinger to pinch one of the wicked nemeses and pull it out of the pack. Sticking the filter between her lips, she flicked the Bic lighter, held the flame to the end and inhaled deeply. Her eyes surveyed the room as she exhaled, the smoke swirling upward in a small cloud. The chairs from around the tables were upside down, the seats on the tables, the legs sticking up in the air like a felled forest. The booths along the back wall had been wiped down, the restrooms cleaned. She had cleared the money from the register and it was safely locked in the drawer of Charlie’s desk in the office. The lights in the two small windows, one boasting Budweiser, the other Coors, were turned off. She flicked the ashes from her cigarette into the ashtray on the bar. She was tired. The job was getting to her and she knew it. But, in retrospect, she loved it. She had been managing the tavern for almost five years now. Conveniently called Charlie’s, it was the hot spot on the weekends mainly because it was the only bar in town.
She had worked here for almost fourteen years now, every day the same, but yet different in its own way. Twenty one years old and newly divorced had found Dezzy in need of a full time job and Charlie in need of a waitress. Six months later, Charlie was in need of a bartender and she was in need of a change. Dezzy had thrived on the fast paced environment, the interaction with the patrons, and the tips weren’t a bad bonus to boot. Then, five years ago, Charlie had started talking about selling the bar. Dezzy had been devastated. She had grown fond of Charlie and they had become close. He was almost like a father to her. With much persuasion, she had talked him into letting her manage the bar with the condition that he would keep it. So far, the arrangement worked out well. Charlie came in and did the bookwork in the morning, took care of the bank deposits, paid the bills and left the rest up to her. But now, as she crushed her cigarette out in the ashtray and forced her weary body off the barstool, she realized she wasn’t a twenty-something spring chicken anymore. Years of being on her feet, moving heavy boxes of liquor and scrubbing piss from restroom floors had taken its toll on her. She was pushing thirty five with a bad knee, an aching back and chafed hands from too much time in cleaning solution.
She swiped at a stray hair that was hanging in her eyes. Picking up her purse and keys, she let her eyes scan the room one more time. Walking to the front door, she checked it, nodding in satisfaction when it protested from the dead bolt in place. Bone-tired, she headed for the back of the bar and the back door. Picking up the bag of trash that diligently waited for her, she opened the door and stepped into the alley. Hoisting the bag into the dumpster, she turned her attention back to the door, sticking her hand through the opening to flip the light switch, turned the lock and pulled the door shut. Waiting a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, she looked up and down the alley. Assured that it was empty, she stepped away from the door and started for her car.
The alley was in shadows, the illumination from the street lights not quite reaching behind the building but she wasn’t scared. The town of Foley wasn’t one that boasted news for making crime statistics. As with most small towns, the only crime that erupted was an occasional act of vandalism by wayward high school students. Pranks such as egging Mr. Mohansen’s grocery store, graffiti written on the school, or a park bench tossed over the fence into the city swimming pool was about the size of it. The chief of police, Dirk Boatwright and his one deputy, Eddie Stewart, were definitely not hurting for down time. Dezzy had her key ready when she reached her ancient Toyota and inserted it in the door lock. A noise, not loud by any means, made her ears perk. What was that? Her head swiveled as she looked around. She heard it again. A moan? A person? She opened her car door and tossed her purse on the seat. Leaving the door open, she scanned the parking lot. It was empty. Her car was alone, a single object in the small lot. She always parked in this same place, at the back of the lot against the building. She heard it again. A soft but deep and low moan. A prick of fear went through her and she shivered involuntary. Her chest tightened as she slowly walked to the back of her car. She took another step. Boots? Another step revealed jeans and as near as she could tell there were legs in the jeans. Another step and she could see most of the body. A drunk, she presumed, as she stood at the back corner of her car and surveyed the sleeping man. His figure filled the small space and she couldn’t see much. His right hip was against the side of the building and he was wedged into the space on his side, well, more on his stomach, his knees resting against the back tire, his hips swiveled so most of his torso was on his stomach. Flat on his chest with the majority of his face eating the pavement, Dezzy grimaced. Great, just f-ing great, she swore under her breath. She couldn’t leave, she’d run over him or some part of him anyway.
She reached out with her foot and kicked his boot. “Hey, moron…you’re going to have to move,” she said crossly. She was rewarded with another soft moan. She kicked him again. “Sorry, buddy, but this isn’t the Holiday Inn. I need to leave and unless you want some part of you smashed flatter than a pancake, you’d better get a move on!” Nothing. Pissed now, she stomped around her car to the front bumper. Squatting down, her knee protesting with a loud creak, she reached out and touched the top of his head with her fingers, prodding gently.
“Hey, mister, you need to move.” Seeing no more than a blur, his hand moving with the speed of a striking rattlesnake, fingers grabbed her wrist. Dezzy recoiled, emitting a loud shriek, the momentum causing her to fall to her butt, but it did break his clasp from her wrist. She scrambled to get her feet under her and with her hands behind her, crawled a few feet backwards with all the grace of a beached crab. Dezzy halted her movements when she was about six feet away from him. His hand was still outstretched toward her reminding her of something out of a horror movie. She got to her knees, her mind sensing danger, her nerves prickling with fear. How was she going to get out of here? Getting to her feet and keeping her distance, she moved to the wall. If she could straighten him out against the wall maybe she could move her car, providing he kept his hands and feet back. Tentatively she took a step towards him. Lowering herself to her knees, she reached out again. Seeing dark spots on her fingers, she drew her hand back and held it up. What in the world? Liquid, thick dark liquid covered her fingers. The faint light from the interior of her car cast just enough light for her to see the red tint of the fluid. Blood. Dezzy’s stomach convulsed. It took a few seconds for her to realize he wasn’t drunk…he was hurt. Oh, Lord, she thought, as her fear was slowly replaced by compassion. What now?
“Hey, mister,” she softly said. “Are you hurt?” How stupid, she thought. Of course, he was hurt. People didn’t bleed from their head for no reason. She inched her way forward on her knees and slid sideways in the space between her front bumper and the building. Leaning over, she reached out and prodded him gently on the shoulder. “Can you roll to your side?” She was rewarded with a soft groan. Firming her voice she said, “You’re going to have to roll over so I can move the car. Then, maybe I can help you.”
A louder groan as he moved his outstretched hand to brace himself on the side of her car. She leaned over as best she could and grabbed him under his arm, pushing until he was on his side, his back against the building. She laid his hand against his stomach.
“Stay right here. Don’t move while I move the car.” She wiggled out of the space and stood up. Grabbing her keys that she had dropped earlier, she walked around the car and leaned over to straighten his legs. Her heart was pounding in her chest as she got in the Toyota and started it. Throwing the gear shift into drive, she inched forward, hoping she didn’t feel the thump of the tires as they rolled over a human limb. She nosed the car into the alley and then swung a hard left, driving in a circle until her headlights were shining on the man. She left the car running and the door open when she got out and went to kneel beside him. With the headlights she could see better. His head was a mass of mussed dark hair, strands caked together with blood, looking like auburn highlights. She could only see the left half of his face, but it sported a cut across his cheekbone, the blood running in rivulets down his jaw, chin and across his nose. The flannel shirt he had on was torn and bloody with only a couple of buttons holding it together, a white T shirt underneath was speckled with red dots.
“I’d call an ambulance for you, but you’re looking at least a half hour wait. I can take you to Doc Mitchum’s, but you’re going to have to help. I can’t get you in the car by myself. Maybe I should call Chief Boatwright to come help?”
With the mention of the Chief, it seemed to stimulate his willpower as he stirred and tried to push himself up. Dezzy grabbed his legs and pulled them in front of him, then clutched him under his arms, thankful for her strength to pull him into a sitting position. On her knees, next to his outstretched legs, she studied him. His eyes were closed and she tenderly reached out and pushed a strand of hair off his forehead. His left eye was swelling and was dark with bruising. He wasn’t that bad looking, she mused as her eyes darted between him and the distance to her car. When she looked back at him, his good eye was open and he was staring at her. She jumped, an “Oh!!” passing through her lips with an exhale of air. Her mouth went dry and she swallowed hard. “If I can get you in my car, I’ll drive you to the doctor.” She stood up and bent over to take his arm.
With what looked like great effort, he raised his arm and lightly placed his finger on her forearm. “No…no doctor.”
Her mouth fell open and she gaped at him. “But, you need to be seen by a doctor. Your cuts probably need stitches.”
He slowly shook his head. “I’ll be okay…I just need to rest.” His eye closed.
Oh, Lord, Dezzy’s head was spinning. What was she going to do? She couldn’t just leave him here. Dirk or Eddie probably wouldn’t be around until dawn. At this time of night the town was as quiet as the Vatican, the sidewalks rolled up like a jelly roll and normal people were home asleep. Of course, she was the crazy one with the crazy job and the crazy hours that had enabled her to find a strange man hurt and passed out next to her car. How lucky could she be? A quick assessment of the situation left her with no choice. If he wouldn’t see a doctor what else could she do? She would have to take him home. She couldn’t just leave him here on the ground. She would probably regret this, kick herself later, but damn, he was hurt. “All right,” she sighed. “Come on.” She grabbed him underneath the arm, feeling his biceps flex as she used all her strength to pull him upward. He managed to get his legs under himself and then using the building for support, slid to a standing position. He groaned and his hand came up to grasp her shoulder. “Are you alright?” she asked.
“Give me a minute,” he muttered with a hoarse voice.
She glanced at the car. “You think you can make it to the car?” Good God, if he couldn’t make it six feet to her car how was she ever going to get him into her house? He half-ass nodded and she wrapped her arm around his back. Holding him tightly around his waist and with him standing, she realized how big of a man he was. The top of her head barely cleared his shoulders and she did not offer a lot of support as his arm came around her to drape unceremoniously across her shoulders. With him leaning on her, she could feel the hardness of his torso, his muscles quivering from the pain and strain of his effort.
Trying to sound encouraging, she muttered an “Okay, easy now,” as she took a step forward and he attempted to follow. With several small steps and a couple of stumbles, they reached the car and she quickly opened the passenger door. He slumped down into the seat. Bending down, she picked up one leg and then the other, placing them inside the car. Slamming the door, she sprinted around the car and slid into the driver’s seat. Glancing over at him before she shut the door, she wondered again whether she was doing the right thing. Too late now, she thought. She had managed to get the Incredible Hulk into her car so she might as well take him home and see what he transposed into. Maybe a Pierce Brosnan or a Nicholas Cage lie beneath the bruises and cuts. No, a Harrison Ford would be better, complete with leather jacket, fedora hat, and bullwhip. She giggled nervously in spite of the uneasiness that coursed through her veins. Slamming the door, she threw the Toyota into drive and yanked the steering wheel, turning into the alley.