Maria cut Keith and Luis off. After one had downed several double-Jack-rocks and the other polished off as many Margaritas. Luis gave her a look. Keith started to say something. She gave them both a silencing look.
Luis paid the bill and they got on their way. Maria grinned, pocketing the double-sawbuck Keith’d laid down as a tip. Then, rolling her eyes, shaking her head, wiped the table down.
Had a cop seen them stumble out onto the sidewalk, they might’ve been on their way to the nearest holding cell. A prospect to which neither particularly looked forward. So they made their way to the next watering hole they saw. Of all spots, an Irish pub.
“Good call,” Keith tried to whisper in Luis’ ear. It came out shouted, drawing a whole lot more attention than he’d hoped for. To the far left, a pair of off-duty cops — cops always look like cops — were holding down bar stools, collars loosened, nursing drinks. Shooting the breeze with a pair of off-duty firefighters — you can always tell a smoke-eater, too — one male, one female, hunkered over beers.
A quick scan saw a scattering of maybe a half-dozen well-appointed patrons who’d dropped in just before happy hour. Keith immediately began backing up.
Luis, heedless, chirped, “You said, ’Let’s go to the first place we find.’ This was it.” Then, focusing on the situation, he started backing up too.
“Not so fast.” The closest cop, scrawny, nerdish, stepped down from his stool. Unsteadily.
“Oh, great,” Keith said before realizing he’d opened his mouth.
“Oh, great what?”
“No. What do you mean by nothing? I heard you say, ’Oh, great.’ My partner did, too.” With a half-look over his shoulder he asked, “Didn’t you, partner?”
“Yeah.” The partner, a big, beefy, inebriated slab, eased off the stool. Nearly falling on his face. “Yeah, I did.” The fireman and firewoman decided they had, too. Despite that they’d been busy tossing back suds and running their mouths.
“So. Oh, great what?” The more this short, skinny second cousin to Barney Fife went on, the more it got on Keith’s seriously inebriated nerves. He couldn’t hit the guy. So he laughed. Loud.
The big cop punched Keith in the gut, kicked his legs out from under him. Keith tucked and rolled, getting away, springing back to his feet, surprising the big guy enough to have him back up and summon backup. Barney Fife’s cousin pulled his baton and, trying to swing it, caught a left hook in the ribs from Luis and doubled over groaning.
The firefighters looked on, then, deciding not to mix in, looked to the bartender. Keith saw him picked up the telephone and snatched Luis by the elbow. Luis, by reflex, threw a roundhouse which, to this day, Keith would never figure out how he ducked.
Both fairly flew through the door, running faster than scalded dogs. Up the block. Looking behind, Luis saw a couple of the cops fall on the sidewalk. One flat out on his face. The other only to his knees. “Cut left!” At the corner, they turned, crossed the street, turned again, headed uptown and kept going at top speed. Or at least as close to Luis’ top speed as Keith could manage.
Luis flagged down the first cab they saw. Barely breathing hard, he eased in, dragging Keith behind. And gave the driver Keith’s address. Dropping him off with the doorman, Luis took the cab home to the Bronx.
Keith limped to the elevator. Made it to his crib. Closing the door, collapsed on the kitchen floor with a stupid smile. Hours later, he woke to a ringing telephone. He rolled over, having no intention of answering it. First, he had to pee.
Struggling to his feet, he made it to the bathroom, came back and picked up the still-ringing phone. “What?!”
Luis was on the line: “You okay?”
“Got a banged-up rib. Probably nothing broken. You?”
“Catching hell from my wife, but otherwise I’m okay.” They both laughed hard.
Keith hung up. “It’s her fault,” he said to himself. If the cops and fire department ever caught up to him and Luis, that’d be his excuse: “It’s all Lesli’s fault.”
Next week: Keith reflects on Lesli’s imperfections.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.