What a place to get dumped; the driver that gave me a ride said it was Beulah, Wyoming, and he stopped here for a beer. I was all for a beer myself after trying to hitch rides all day in one-hundred-degree heat.
I was surprised the town had a name with only one gravel street and what looked like less than a hundred residents. But there was the obligatory post office in a small trailer with the city name and zip code 82712 painted in free hand, and that made it official. After frying in the pickup bed with Champion’s Choice Mineral feed for cattle for a hundred miles, the atmosphere was definitely cooler with the large cottonwood trees looming over a lively creek giving some wonderful shade. I felt like jumping in the creek to cool off but opted to head for a beer and some hoped for air conditioning.
My ride benefactor had stopped in front of a saloon and restaurant with a faded sign that claimed it was the Royal Club. The wide covered board porch across the entire front added some more shade that looked inviting.
I was damn thirsty after a boiling hot summer day trying to hitch rides in Wyoming with only four hundred thousand residents in a state of almost one hundred thousand square miles. Hell, each resident had one hundred sixty acres to roam around in. And they apparently stayed on those acres, not on the interstate. I think I saw more jackrabbits and antelope than people in the past two hours.
I rode a bar stool and asked the bartender, “What do you have on tap? Any local microbrews? I’m a sucker for trying a new beer.”
“We’ve got Coors Light, Bud Light and Pabst. The only micro beer is from the Gillette Brewing Company – a Tall Canyon Porter.”
“I’ll try that.”
“Okay. Suit yourself. I can’t stand that heavy beer. If I had my way, we wouldn’t carry anything but the American beer.”
I thought about telling him Budweiser was owned by a company in Britain. And that the microbrew was probably made in the state. But I got the impression that he had his mind made up and I wasn’t going to change it with facts.
The bartender delivered a pint of dark brown beer that was ice cold which was the most important attribute. I drained half the pint and wondered what the bartender had against the beer. It had a mellow smoky flavor with no after bite. As good as it tasted I decided I might need another one or two or three.
I thought as soon as I got a refill, I would head for a quiet booth out of the way where I could avoid conversation. I knocked back the rest of the beer and waited for another while I looked around the bar.
The action at the pool table caught my attention. A large tough was saying, “What do you mean you won. You never won. You scratched on that eight-ball shot.”
His skinny opponent said, “Like hell I did. Now where’s my money?”
The tough pointed to his buddy. “Show him how he scratched on that shot.” The buddy took his cue stick and rolled the cue ball into a corner pocket. The tough turned back to Skinny and said, “See. You scratched. Now pay up.”
Skinny sneered, “Screw you.”
That was the wrong answer. The big man grabbed Skinny by his shirt front and pulled him up on his tiptoes, while his buddy searched Skinny’s pockets taking out a wad of cash. The tough set him back on the floor and said, “Thank you.” He turned to his buddy and added, “Looks like we bet more than I remembered.”
As the big man and his buddy turned toward the bar, Skinny whacked the big man across his shoulders with a pool cue. This produced a grunt and a small dip forward. Anyone else hit like that would have been out of the fight – I know from experience. The big man turned around and said, “That wasn’t very friendly,” and gave Skinny one punch that sent him sailing until he smacked against a wall. The way Skinny sagged to the floor told me the fight, or whatever you called it, was over. Skinny’s friend who had been acting like he wanted to get in on the action, back-pedaled to get some distance between himself and the big man.
With the excitement over, I went back to thinking about a way to cadge a free room for the night or a ride to a larger town. With money short, I couldn’t afford a hotel room. My thoughts were interrupted as the tough sat on the stool next to me. He purposely bumped my shoulder as he sat down. The man was a hulk with the aroma of cow shit wafting from multiple green stains on his sleeveless snap cowboy shirt. Up close he was even larger than I initially thought.
I would guess him at about fifty years old, due to his gray-streaked black hair. Observing his hair, I gave him a four-star hair rating. In my system, the higher a man scores on the five-star point scale the less honest he is. This guy’s hair was trimmed, and his mustache was trained. And his hair meant a lot to him as he brushed it into place in case it had been ruffled during the pool exchange. I wouldn’t want to put much stock in anything the big man said.
Like a lot of bruisers, he was wearing a layer of fat, but from the vibration on the floor and bar top when he sat down, there was a lot of meat underneath. He started his conversation with, “What’s with the shaking hands and that eye twinge you’re doing? You some kind of spastic?”
I knew the type immediately - a first class bully who liked to drink and talk tough. Instead of ignoring him and heading for a booth immediately, I tried to explain. “PTS. You know – Post Traumatic Stress.”
He shifted his bulk to where he was looming over me and said in a loud voice to attract attention. “What did you say? Pinky Dick? That’s what you have? Pinky Dick causes the shakes.”
His laugh was joined by his buddy’s, who had a red scarf tied around his neck. Red Scarf wasn’t as big as Barnyard but still much larger than me. He was long and rangy with another snap front western shirt with no sleeves. What was it with bullies and toughs like bikers? They all had to dress the same macho way. These two thought they were tough and safe from a slender sub six-footer with a twitch and shaking hands. Red Scarf, sensing fresh meat, circled around to my other side.
I decided to take my beer and escape to a booth where I might be out of their radar. Barnyard bumped my elbow making me spill part of my fresh beer. “What are you doing, Pinky Dick? Spilling beer on me? That’s not nice. Is it?”
The question was directed at Red Scarf. “No, that wasn’t nice. But, with that twitch, he probably spills beer on everything including himself. Is that right, Pinky Dick?” With this, Red Scarf gave my elbow a shove from the back causing almost half of my beer to end up on me.
Barnyard thought this was hilarious and laughed in a hoarse cawing sound. “How do you manage to get any beer down when you spill it like that? I think I’ll help make sure you get a taste this time.” With that, he gave a slight nod to Red Scarf, who grabbed both of my arms at the elbows and put his knee in the middle of my back making me arch. Barn Yard grabbed my jaw forcing my mouth open while pouring beer over my face. Most of the beer drenched my clothing but a little went down my throat.
I spluttered and gasped trying to swallow. Red Scarf released my arms and slapped me on the back. “There. You got some down that time.” He and Barnyard gave each other a high five.
I tried to keep my anger in check telling myself to let it go. I was already dirty from being on the road and a little spilled beer wasn’t going to hurt me. I tried to fight back the rage that was threatening to force another blackout. I didn’t need another run-in with the police. But all my rational thought was disappearing, leaving my Army Ranger training in place. It had me instinctively reaching for the knife I no longer carried at my waist.
I told myself, “Calm down! Don’t let these guys get to you. You can take a little hurrahing. You took a lot worse in Afghanistan. You don’t need to go to jail over this. Not again!”
The other side of my head was saying, “But those two need to be straightened out. Jackasses like them need to be taught a lesson. Nobody does this to a Ranger and walks away.”
Just as my badass side was winning the internal argument, I heard the bartender say, “That’s enough you two or I’ll call the cops. I’d suggest you leave now.”
Barnyard didn’t like being told what to do. He reached across the bar and grabbed the shirtfront of the bartender and drug him across the bar counter. “You better not call the cops. What do you think the cops are going to do?” He pointed to Skinny who was just getting up. “You think he’s going to make a statement. Shit. As soon as he sees the cops he is going to make for the back door. He probably has more drugs on him than a CVS store. Now mind your own business.”
Barnyard turned the bartender loose. My guess was the bartender wouldn’t call the cops. And if he did, it would take them a long time to respond to this place. By then the fighting would be over and the winners would be long gone. The bartender knew the clientele of the bar didn’t want to see the cops and anyone drinking here took his or her chances hanging out in the place.
Having dealt with the bartender, Barnyard turned his attention back to me. “Well, Pinky Dick, time you bought us a round. A good buddy like you does his share of paying for drinks, doesn’t he?”
Well, I had a choice coming my way. I could part with my last little bit of money or tell this slab of beef and his buddy to shove it. As I was trying to decide what to do, I noticed the bartender out of the corner of my eye. He slowly slid a beer pitcher within reach and winked at me. That might even out the odds.
I stalled with a little speech as I inched my hand to the pitcher handle. “You boys seem like some guys to be friends with. I would hate to be on your bad side like Skinny over there.” I nodded my head toward the pool table.
Barnyard laughed and said, “Him? He’s our friend too. Didn’t you just see him give me that love tap with the pool cue and set us up with a little party money?”
“Why don’t you use some of that money to buy the next drink?”
Barnyard smiled again. “Because I said you’re buying the next round.” He looked over my shoulder and nodded his head. “And if you don’t, my friend and I will take it as an insult. You wouldn’t want our new friendship to go south over the price of a few drinks, would you?”
I whipped the beer pitcher over hand and crashed it onto Barnyard’s head. The pitcher had the desired effect as Barnyard got slack eyed and slumped on his bar stool. I didn’t stop to admire my work as I needed to deal with Red Scarf behind me.
I slid to the floor getting out of Red Scarf’s grasp and spun kicking at his knee. I missed and sent the bar stool flying instead. I tried to scramble to my feet while scooting back, away from Red Scarf. My foot slipped in the saw dust on the floor and my hand reached out to steady myself. It landed on a pair of large, rough-worn cowboy boots. A quick glance up showed Barnyard reaching down his meat paw grabbing for me. He hadn’t stayed stunned very long.
Instead of moving away from a threat, I attacked with a sucker punch to the scrotum. That stopped Barnyard’s attack but gave Red Scarf time to grab me from the back again. As I twisted in his arms to get an advantage, the door of the bar flipped open revealing a cop.
Red Scarf lost interest in me when he saw the police. His arms dropped to his side releasing me. Barnyard slowly straightened up, groaning slightly as he did it. He was looking at me like I was a mangy dog that had the unexpected gall to bite him. He shifted his feet, getting ready to swing one of his meat hooks.
Red Scarf stepped over me to stop Barnyard and whispered in his ear. Barnyard said, “You gotta be shitting me. He actually called the cops?”
Part of my mind that was clear enough to recognize an opportunity when it came. I was not one to hesitate and lose the chance.