Chapter 24: The Lonesome Crowded West, Part 3 – The Emmy Award Winner

We emerged from the shallow depths of the Madison River lobster skinned and fully consumed of energy, the grueling, 7-mile journey by tube certainly taking its toll on our bodies. So thankful we were to have experienced several minutes of relaxation, to become one with the river and to exist, if only for a few hours, amongst a series of hazards that would mold us into honorary Pony natives. How thankful we were to say that we had endured the elements of the mighty Madison, our scrapes, bruises, and burns worn as badges of pride on our trek up the recovery ramp.

But perhaps most of all, we were just thankful that the whole damn thing was over.

In the backseat of the Benz laid my backpack with a new set of clothes. I grabbed for it, and then hesitated, opting to peak outside of the car for a suspicious survey of my surroundings. Bill and Gretch stood near the trunk, their undivided attention focused on deflating their tubes, something I had been ever-so prudent about since our exodus from the river, a calculated move to avoid a squall of harassment for being the last one with an inflated tube. With my backpack in hand and the coast clear, I calmly shut the door and slipped into the public outhouse undetected for a change of clothes and a quick whiz, one that was much deserved.

After my episode of relief, I dipped into my backpack and pulled out the green Old Navy shirt I had bought right before the wedding. The material was light and soft, one of those shirts that aren’t exactly a solid color, consisting of short, dark-shaded fibers of the same color scheme, but make you look both buff and awesome whenever you put it on—my favorite type. Josh Ulrich would agree, being that his whole wardrobe consists of them along with a couple of Patagonias and North Faces. Ben Woodward has a bunch of those shirts as well, but none of them make him look buff, or awesome for that matter. Sadly, the kid just kind of looks like a dingus, no matter what he wears.

With the words “Green Bay Packers” printed in yellow varsity style XXL letters however, I couldn’t help but think that this shirt was far superior to anything that Josh Ulrich ever owned (and definitely better than everything in Ben Woodward’s collection). There was no doubt that this was a one of a kind. I put it on, and dad body or not, I looked buff, and I looked awesome. It was a wonder why it had taken me until now to wear it.

I strutted out of the bathroom, giving Bill the “what’s up” nod as he folded and packed the rest of the deflated tubes into the back of the Benz. He nodded back with an impressive smile. “You guys ready to head back?”

“I think we should stop and get some more beer before we go…“ Whoa, wait—what is this? It wasn’t so much the suggestion that bothered me, but when Gretch lifted herself out of the backseat, a jolt of repulsion shot through my body. There she stood, clad in a thin green shirt with the words “Green Bay Packers” on it, written in yellow varsity style XXL letters, trying to look “buff” and “awesome,” or something stupid like that. I threw my hands up and rolled my eyes in disbelief.

“You just could resist, could you? You had to copy me. You saw the shirt I got at Old Navy, and you bought the same exact one, just because I got it. That’s unbelievable—No. I wish I could say I can’t believe it, but you know Gretch, after everything that’s happened this trip, this doesn’t surprise me; not one bit—“

“Zack, you saw me in line at the Old Navy,” she snapped back. “You knew I bought it, and you watched me pack this shirt in my bag this morning. You’re the one who copied me!”

This time, I actually couldn’t believe the words that had just come out of her mouth. I copied her? What an accusation! How dare she accuse me of copying her, after everything I’ve done for her! Oh, she likes the Green Bay Packers because of that one hunk Clay Matthews? No, she likes the Green Bay Packer because I like the Green Bay Packers. And she’s the one claiming otherwise? It’s revolting. It’s a travesty! It will not stand!!!

I stared at her with a set of impassioned eyes, brewing up a brutal response that would set the record straight, to create an embarrassment so overwhelming that the thought of an assertion much like the one she had just made would make her tremble in her sleep. I was about to make sure she’d never say anything so abominable for the rest of her life! My fists clinched and shook as I opened my mouth, squeezing every ounce of energy from my body into the ultimate comeback, a definitive insult, utter assurance that this would never happen, ever again!

“Gretch, You—I… Get—“ My mind raced with thoughts, thousands of them swirling, converging into a cloud of obfuscation. There was so much to say, any one of them warranting destructive results, yet all of them wanting to be released all at once! I opened my mouth again. “Gret…” It was a complete jam, impossible for anything to escape from my mouth’s tiny orifice. C’mon! Just say something—anything!

“Get in the car…” I said, my voice low and haunting. It was all that came out.

Gretch did as she was told and Bill followed her lead. I climbed in and sped off towards Harrison, stopping in Norris for a quick fill up on gas beforehand. We needed beer, and a lot of it.

20 minutes of Third Eye Blind and little conversation eventually led us to a local convenient store just inside of Harrison city limits. “I’ll be back in a minute,” said Gretch the moment I parked the car. She was quick to exit the car, as was I to follow her. “Why are you coming in?” she asked, confronting me with a look of perplexity spread across her face, as if she was the only one allowed in the store.

“I don’t know, I just want to make sure there’s nothing else we need, that’s all, heheh.” The truth was, I wasn’t really quite sure why I wanted to go in. Maybe it was just for the heck of it. She rolled her eyes and continued on towards the entrance.

“Oh boy, Packer fans eh?” said the attendant manning the store. “We don’t see many of you guys around here.”

“Oh yea, we’ve been fans for a long time,” I started, eager to hold a positive conversation about the Packers. “My family’s from Wisconsin, and we just love watching our boys play every chance we get, right Gretch?” Gretch was already to the back of the store, her focus totally diverted to the search of Coors Light. “Well, you know what she has her mind on, heheh.” The lady joined me in a soft chuckle.

“Oh boy, you kids must be so exited for the season!”

“Oh you betcha! She’s a big Clay Matthews fan, but you know me, I just have to root for my boy Aaron Rodgers.”

“Oh, he’s such a handsome fellow.”

“You know, I don’t want to brag, but I’ve been mistaken for Aaron Rodgers in the past…”

“I bet you have! In fact, you do look a little bit like him, if I do say so myself.”

“Haha, I know, I get it all the time… Yea, I really hope we get a chance to make it out there for a game or two this year. We just absolutely love it, and it’s always such a wonderful experience—” The sound of a 100-pound dumbbell slamming on the counter stopped our conversation dead in its tracks. We turned our heads, shaken up by the sound. There sat an 18 pack of Coors Light, and next to it stood Gretch, shooting us a short and artificial half-smile.

“That’ll be 16 dollars hun.” I reached into my back pocket to hand her my credit card, but by the time I got my wallet out, there was already a 20 on the counter. I gave Gretch a concerned look. She just shrugged back and returned a wide-eyed look like I was a moron. “What?”

“Thank you so much. Gosh, you two look so cute in your Green Bay Packer shirts.”

“Oh thank you mam. You have a wonderful day!” I replied with a giant smile on my face. Gretch nodded her head and gave the lady another forced, half-smile, squinting her eyes in a stuck up manner in the process. By the time we exited the store, her smile had disappeared and her nod had turned into a solid shake.

“What the heck was that all about?” she snapped.

“I don’t know, where the heck did you get 20 bucks from?”

“None of your business, that’s where!”

“GRETCH!”

“I found it in the parking lot of the gas station we stopped at back in Norris!”

“Gretch, that was somebody’s money! You stole!”

“What? I asked around. And it’s not like nobody you’ll be complaining later.”

She’s a criminal, just like her brother… “Whatever, let’s just go back to the cabin. This whole thing just makes me rotten.” We crawled back into the car and began the drive back to Pony.

“Alright! More Coors Light!” exclaimed Bill.

“Yep, another 18 pack,” I replied after a long sigh. “I can’t wait for steaks tonight.”

“Me neither. I think the grill’s gonna cook em’ up real good! You guys get anything else?”

“Nah, just the beef sticks we got back in Norris. I figured I might as well go in there and check, just in case. You never know, right?”

“Right—” A sudden release of pressure was heard from the backseat. Both of us looked back. Gretch had not only opened the 18 pack, but also cracked open a fresh can of Coors Light.

“GRE—“ I almost blurted it out by natural instinct, and for good reason too! She had the audacity to have an open container? In my car? While I’m driving? But as the word began to leave my mouth, I remembered the golden rule Lea had taught us merely a moon ago: You’re allowed to have a beer on the drive from Harrison to Pony. I let it slide without further mention and continued up the road back to the cabin.

Bill was quick to fire up the grill and get a start on dinner soon after our arrival, and who could blame him! If he felt anything like me, he was starved! I did my part by helping Lea whip up a few servings of “Idahoan” instant mashed potatoes, and Gretch even helped by prepping some corn on the cob! Well, at least I think she did. Who knows, she could’ve just stood around drinking more beer, which was more likely the case, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say she helped.

Each of us salivated at the sight of four thick New York Steaks, fully seasoned and sizzling over a wood tempered fire, and continued long after they were lifted from the hot, grated iron they were cooked on. Our bodies released a heavy dose of dopamine the moment the savory taste of red meat hit our taste buds, sending each of us into our own form of fantastical exultation, proof that the hours of construction put into Bill’s grill was beyond masterful, and his cooking beyond that. But it wasn’t enough. Within minutes, my entire plate of food had been devoured… and I still wanted more.

To my left was Gretch, still with a substantial amount of food left on her plate, but her position and attentive nature towards her meal meant that any attempt at her food was at best a foolish endeavor. Bill on the other hand had grown negligent over his plate. Although a hearty portion had already been eaten, there it lay unattended, resting on the coffee table and still very much edible. He busied himself, toying with a collection of beer sitting next to Gretch and ignoring his remaining slab of meat altogether. “It’s now or never,” I thought to myself. “He won’t even know, playing around with the beer and all. And the way he’s acting, he’s probably all done eating anyway! I mean, I could ask—no, can’t take the chance. What if he says no? What to do, what to do—look at him poke at Gretch, obviously trying to show her something—knock it off! Concentrate—think stupid! He’s not looking! Act. NOW!”

With a single, swift motion, I lifted my steak knife and stabbed down at the slab. My knife pierced the strip like a hot stick of butter—success. I lifted the knife once again; the steak wasn’t there. Another knife had been stuck in it. “Hiya!” Bill screamed and swatted his knife towards mine, clinking together the metal ends.

“Hiiiya!” I returned with a counter attack. It was quickly deflected by another knife swat.

“Get back!” screamed Bill with a mighty swing of his knife across my body, his eyes lifted and his face long and serious.

“It’s mine!” I shot back after leaning back and dodging his swing, Matrix style. I countered, going in with a swing of my own. Bill jumped out of his seat and positioned himself in an aggressive stance. It all happened so quickly, the series of events moving faster than our brains could function, and the next thing I knew we were both on our feet, aggressing over what was left of the steak. “On guard!” I lunged toward him with my knife, my arm extended in front and body positioned like a master fencer. He took a few scoots back and came back at me with a lunge of his own, going straight for the kill shot. I deflected and rang my knife around in a circular motion in an attempt to induce confusion upon my foe. He copied my maneuver, both of our knives swirling around in between our bodies.

“Huwaaaa!” screamed Bill, shaking his knife in random directions in front of his body. I swatted my arm in a fury of madness only to be matched by Bill’s as our knives swung about, hoping that one would eventually make contact with something—hoping that contact would be one of our opponent’s vital organs.

“Yaawwwww!” My arm moved around fast—lightning fast; swinging and swatting in an out of control manner in front of Bill’s face, neck and torso.

“Ahhhh!” he screamed back, mirroring my attack style and speed—so fast that our blades began to appear as a solid sheet of grey, hovering around in front of us, waiting for Murphy’s Law to take effect.

“WAAAAA!!!”

“HUUAAAAAA!!!”

“WHHHHOOOOOOOO!!!”

“GUUUUUUUUYYYYYYSSSSS!!!” Both of us stopped in our tracks and turned our heads at the cry of the beast. Gretch sat back with her eyes wide and body trembling in horror. “What, in the hell, is wrong with you guys!?” Neither one of us uttered a sound, except for a couple of exhausted exhales. “You guy’s are acting like a bunch of animals…”

I took a long, hard look at Bill and he took a long, hard look at me. We remained silent, and nervous for another moment, before I finally spoke again. “…Are you kiddin’ me Gretch?” I blurted out, the words naturally flowing from my mouth.

Obviously we were just joking around,” answered Bill.

“Yea, you think I want this stupid piece of meat?”

“You think we’re stupid enough to fight like this?”

“Yea, the steak was good, but c’mon!”

“Geez, way to spoil the fun, Gretch.”

“No kidding. Freaking out like we’re gonna hurt each other, give me a break—you know what, I’m not even hungry anymore!”

“Me neither. Come Zack, let us leave this Gretch to simmer in her paranoia.”

“Let’s do. I got a bunch of beef sticks to snack on anyway.” We grabbed our plates and left the party pooper outside to finish the rest of her dinner by herself. “I’m gonna need a stiff old fashioned after that one…”

 

***

 

“Psst, Zack,” whispered Bill as we finished up the last of the dishes. He whipped his head over twice, motioning it towards the bedroom.

“What?” I blurted, watching him tiptoe away.

“Shhh.” He made another head nod, this time towards the bathroom where the shower was running. A smile slowly grew on his face, causing a smile to grow on my face. He waved me over and I obediently followed. Whatever Bill had up his sleeve, it was going to be good… real good.

“Ok, here’s the plan. You lay on her bed and I’ll lie on mine. She wants to go to the Pony Bar really bad, so we’re gonna pretend to have fallen sound asleep. She’ll try to wake us up, but she wont be able to, and then she’ll freak out, really bad. What do you think?”

“Bill, you gotta know that I’m not some guy off the street that’s gonna suck up…” There was a serious look in his eyes as I spoke, ready to except any sort of news with a stroke of dignity. “…But that’s probably the best idea I’ve heard this whole trip.”

He paused for a second, acting as if he needed to hold back the tears before speaking again. “Then let’s hurry and get into position before she gets out!”

“Oh God, the shower just turned off. Quick!” We hopped into the room and jumped into position, letting a couple giggles out of our system before go time.

“Ok ok, she’s coming, shhh!”

I could hear her shuffling around the cabin, taking her sweet time wandering about, looking everywhere except for the most obvious place. “Bill? Zack? Where are you guys?” I clenched my jaw shut, doing everything I could to keep from letting out a chuckle and blowing our cover. “Is this a joke?” she asked as she continued her search, heading towards the den and asking Lea for additional help. “Mom, have you seen Bill and Zack?” I heard from a distance. Again, it took an extra effort to lock my jaw in place and refrain from making any sort of noise.

10 minutes had passed and the constant sound of shuffling continued to make waves through the cabin. It grew faint, then loud, then faint again, each iteration causing an increased stress on the muscles holding our mouths shut. The shuffling noise grew once again, and this time it maintained its presence, growing louder and louder, piercing, earsplitting, drumming into my skull—ringing over me now! Pounding and pounding, ready to explode!

Then, there was silence, but for the biological release and intake of air. The shuffling had stopped, and my heart was throbbing. A loud flick of the light revealed two bodies, completely motionless in the absence of darkness. “You guys look pretty stupid right now,” said a girl’s voice. No response was given. “Actually, you look really stupid!” Wow. It was like we were dealing with an amateur. “Oh well. It looks like I’ll just have to go to the Pony Bar all by myself then…” Gretch? By herself? To the Pony Bar? The statement in itself almost blew our cover it was so hilarious.

Suddenly, I felt a close presence next to me. It must have been Gretch, and she was up in my face, foolishly thinking she could break me. “Get up Zack. You’re faking, I know you are!” It took every muscle in my body, tensed in unison to keep me from letting out a snort. The culmination of up close and personal Gretch remarks was almost too much to bear. She hovered over my position for another minutes before walking up and taking a stab at her next victim—Bill. She had given up on me… for now.

Out of a small crack in my eye, I watched Bill, whose performance was impeccable. He even had a slight buzz under his breath, a delicate snore that sounded completely natural… almost too natural. “Bill, wake up!” she commanded in a stern and frightening voice. Yet again, she was afforded no response except for another set of rhythmic breathing. Man, Bill is good! Gretch went unphased, stepping up in her attacks.

She went straight for the face, grabbing his cheeks and squeezing them together like a bloated puffer fish. “Listen Bill, get up. We’re going to the Pony Bar, or else,” she said, speaking in some mystic dialect of evil (Actually, the conversation had much more substance. But because so many curses were used, about 90% of it had to be omitted due to personal blog standards). Yet, she continued. “If you don’t @$#$@&g get up right #$#@&% now, I’m going to beat the #$@&! out of your $&#@$ $#@, you $#@# $#*&$ $@^@&$@ @$@!(!#&^ @$%!!!!!! !!@#*$@#@!&*$^@%!*^! !^@@!*^$%!# ^$!@#^(^!%#(!^!!!!!”

To my absolute horror, the conversation went on. And to my amazement, Bill miraculously managed to keep his mouth shut and his body perfectly still. Gretch began throwing his head around like a chew toy, then proceeded to pick it up by the cheeks, giving Bill the old, cold stare down. “How can one man endure so much?” I asked myself. Then it hit me. No wonder he’s is keeping such a good cover. I think he’s actually out cold!

Gretch slammed his head down on the bed, where it bounced off the mattress and joined the rest of his limp body. She whipped her head back around and stared me down. I had seen that face before, a face where someone’s all pissed off for no reason at all—the worst kind—Ronda Rousey—screw this!

“Ahhh, oh boy, what a nap,” I said, stretching my arms and legs out. “Oh hey Gretch, what’s going on, heheh?” She continued her pissed off stare; no way of clearing my name. I leaned over and took a peak at Bill. My hypothesis was correct; he wasn’t faking, not one bit. He truly was dead asleep. As it turns out, a full day of floating the Madison mixed with a belly full of beef and beer had induced a state of sleepiness, and at this point, the poor kid wouldn’t wake up for the end of the world. “Well, I’ll leave you guys alone to deal with whatever it is you got to do for a little bit. I’m gonna see what Lea’s up to.”

I slipped out of the room, careful and light on my feet not to make Gretch even more enraged. And honestly, I didn’t want to bear witness to what Gretch was about to do next. And what was the point if I was utterly powerless in stopping her? Bill had carved his own destiny; his life was no longer in my hands.

 

***

 

Lea and I were watching the evening news in comfort when Gretch walked into the den, her head down and arms crossed. She took a seat next to her mom on the couch and shoved her arms deeper into her chest for an extra pout. “What’s wrong honey?” asked Lea, somehow unaware of the troubling events that had just taken place. Gretch said nothing, her only response being a sharp turn of her body away from her mother. By her overtly obnoxious shift, we could correctly assume that she was trying to say, “I’m mad.” Yet, her actions still warranted the obvious question. “Are you mad?”

It was another sharp shift, deeper into the couch, her face barely visible at this point; no chance of possible eye contact. Why yes, by the looks of it, it seems as though Gretch is indeed a little upset. I lifted my hand and cupped it over my mouth in a direct path towards Lea as to call out into a deep canyon and create an echo. Yet, only a whisper was uttered, barely audible as to prevent anybody except for Lea from interpreting my message, both visually and orally. “She’s a little grouchy because Bill fell asleep.”

“That’s not even!” snapped Gretch, whipping around and confronting my accusation head on. Crap! How did she even hear?   “All I wanted to do was go to the Pony Bar tonight. Bill knew that, so he went to bed—on purpose. Just to make me mad!” Well, that worked out brilliantly if I do say so myself. “What are you smiling about Zack?”

“…Um, nothing, I eh just…” C’mon, think of something. Quick! “I was just thinking, since it’s my last night in Pony and all, that I wouldn’t mind going out to the Pony Bar with you for a drink or two, even without Bill.” Good save—wait!

“Oh Gretch, that sounds like a wonderful idea! How about you two just go for a couple drinks?” Like most good ideas that are given by a mother, Gretch wanted no part in accepting Lea’s. So she stood up with her head down and slowly walked out of the den. There had to be a kink in her neck and a strain in her arms or something, for her head remained stuck in the downward position and her arms looked to be permanently attached to each other in the crossed position as she walked away. And once again, Lea and I were left in the den to watch the local news by ourselves.

“I don’t know what happened? I really did want to go to the Pony Bar on my last night for a couple of drinks!”

“Oh don’t worry Zack. She’ll come around,” Lea assured. “Gretch never passes up a chance to go out to a bar, especially in Pony.” Her words ameliorated my concerns, but only slightly. There was still much uncertainty stirring in my mind, let alone the anxiety bustling about.

Sure enough, the Gretch came back five minutes later with her shoes on and covered in a sweatshirt, dressed like she was ready to brave the elements of nature. “Alright, I guess I’ll go,” she said in a melancholy voice, doing her best not to show positive emotion. “But all I want is one beer. That’s it!”

“Ah great!” I said, and with a mighty zip in my step, I jumped to my feet and headed straight for the door. “Lea, do you wanna come too?” I asked, leaning my head back into the den, nearly forgetting my manners.

“Oh, no thank you.” She wiggled her can of Coors Light in line with her head. “I’ve got enough here to last me through the night.

“Well then, what are we waiting for Gretch?” I zipped right up and out of there. Gretch followed behind, shuffling her way to the door as if she was unable to lift her feet off the ground, forced towards a place she wanted to go to all along.

 

***

 

It was a mild night at the Pony Bar, something you’d expect for a typical Thursday in the small, rancher’s town with most of the big-time cowboys waiting until Friday to come out and party. “What will it be,” asked the bartender as we took a seat at the bar, the same one that served us a day before.

“I’ll have a Coors Light,” said Gretch after taking some time to peruse the menu, a baffling maneuver since we all knew what she was going to order all along. Whatever.

“I’ll have a bud light, draft please.”

“That’ll be two dollars each.”

I reached in my pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. “Oh check it out!” Amongst the pile of crumpled bills laid a Wooden Nickel. I showed Gretch; it looked as though she had one as well. “Here you go mam.”

“Thank you guys. Enjoy!”

Gretch and I sipped on our beer and furthered our examination of the knick-knacks lining the bar’s walls from the day before, a small respite of time before I threw a deluge of questions her way. “Don’t you have a lot of friends around here?” I asked. “Where are they all at? Don’t they like to party?”

“I dunno? They’re probably working and stuff. It’s still Thursday after all.”

“Oh yea. Where do they work?”

“At the ranches.”

“What’s so good about the ranches?”

“A bunch of rich people own em’.”

“Do they all live there?”

“Ya.”

“Really?”

“Ya.”

“All of em’?”

“I think so…”

“Do they make good money?”

“The engineers do.”

“Whoa, maybe I should work there…”

“You need connections.”

“Good thing I know you guys then!”

“Yea, sure… good luck with that…” The last comment seemed to have killed off any further discussions of Gretch’s friends and their places of work. We took another sip of beer and revisited our examination of the bar’s unique decorations, each of us choosing to remain silent until we figured out the next thing to say.

“So what the heck are all those semi-trucks doing driving by your house and spreadin’ dust everywhere? What a drag on the Dutcher Estate!”

“Oh yea, they gotta clean up all of the old gold mines.”

“What happened?”

“Back in the day this use to be an old gold mining town. It thrived, and there were all sorts of things! Town stores, inns, bars, brothels, you know, the usual stuff you find in the old west.”

“I hear ya.”

“Well, the industry started dyin’ and people moved away. So later down the road, some rich and greedy dudes came over to try and find more gold, but just ended up pouring a bunch of chemicals into the mines instead. And as it turns out, those chemicals are bad for the environment, so now they gotta go out there and clean it all up!”

“Sounds terrible…”

“Yea, but who knows? Maybe it’s good for the economy?”

“Yea, maybe.” I took another swig of beer and stared at the wall of liquor in front of me. It wasn’t a lot, but impressively large for a small bar in rural Montana. “Man Gretch, I can’t believe this is my last night here. I really starting to like this place… I hope I can come back sometime—I really do.”

“I hope so too.” Gretch’s amiable response threw me off a bit given our recent history, but I gladly accepted it after taking another sip of beer. “And to tell you the truth, I’ve had a lot of fun this trip. I’m glad we all got to go to Beth’s wedding together.”

“You know, I did too. In the end, I’m glad you decided to come with us.

“Really?”

Did I really mean what just came out of my mouth? “…Sure.” Whatever, I just needed a little appeasement to get her off my back. And once again, a mug met my lips and its contents entered my body.

“Oh look, it’s Revin’ Evan!” said Gretch, her face glowing bright as if Nickelback had just walked into the bar. I turned my head toward the entrance; in came a scraggily looking dude with glasses and curly black hair, sort of a Ben Woodward type of look.

“Revin’ Evan?”

“Yea, Revin’ Evan! He’s one of the most popular guys in Pony! He comes to the bar all the time!”

“Huh. Revin’ Evan, I would have never guessed…” And neither would’ve anybody else for that matter. His oversized black T-shirt with a creepy picture of Marilyn Manson definitely did not fit the style of fashion the rest of the patrons at the Pony Bar were wearing. However, he was quite colloquial in his dealings, immediately joining in jovial conversation with a few of the other regulars at the end of the bar.

Out of nowhere, a hard rumble sent a gasp out of Gretch’s mouth. Stumbling footsteps crept up from behind us, their lack of rhythm striking a sense of fear, reason to abstain from looking back and to instead take in another giant gulp of beer in preparation to the possibility of an unwelcomed encounter. The footsteps stopped—the deity was near. We set down our beers to a loud clink and slowly turned our heads to the left. A bulging belly enclosed by a long sleeve plaid shirt that was mere moments from bursting apart and tucked into a tight pair of wranglers covered the view of the regulars at the end of the bar. Within a matter of seconds, Revin’ Evan’s notoriety had literally been overshadowed.

“The name’s Wade,” said the deep and raspy voice next to us. “Is this seat taken?” Each of us raised our heads slowly upward towards the man whose cowboy hat and thick mustache perfectly matched the rest of his outfit, our stereotypical idea of an old, drunken rancher living in small town Montana.

“Please. Be my guest,” I said after a short moment of silence. He accepted my offer and to my luck, took a seat next to Gretch.

“Ain’t never seen none of you folks before. Where abouts you from?” asked Wade, the smell of hard liquor reeking from his breath.

“Boise,” answered Gretch, her answer short and succinct.

“Seattle,” answered I, my answer short and succinct.

“All you damn city folk are always comin’ here and visitin’ now a days,” he said, prompting each of us to take another swig of beer. Wade’s response was surprisingly welcoming, even though his intention appeared to show disgust. Whether or not he liked to admit it, I think Wade enjoyed meeting the new folk who passed through Pony on their travels. “What in the hell brought you out to a place like this?”

“My family owns the Dutcher Estate,” replied Gretch.

“Oh yea, I heard that name before. The Dutchers… Well Dutchers, looks like you’re almost outa beer.” Wade signaled for the bartender. “Hey miss, get these two another round and get me a shot of bourbon.” Despite his heightened level of intoxication, his good deed sparked further conversation, as well as a strange and mutual respect for the man we had just become acquainted with—at least for the time being. A minute later, the bartender came back with a fresh set of beers for Gretch and I and a bottle of whiskey to be poured into a shot for Wade. “Cheers,” he said, lifting his glass in the air.

“Cheers,” we replied, mirroring his gesture by raising our mugs. Wade wasted no time in drinking, already having his shot downed by the time our beer touched our lips.

“Another one,” said Wade without hesitation. The bartender wasted no time in accepting his request, most likely having previous knowledge of Wade’s drinking capabilities. We however, did not, and watched with a bit of dread as he waited for his next drink, which apparently couldn’t come soon enough. “You know, I’m a writer,” he added.

“No kidding? I’m a writer too,” I added, excited for the opportunity to talk, writer to writer. How happy I always am to speak of the frustrations our kind goes through when writing the next great novel, hardships that nobody else can understand; the months and years of preparation that goes into writing the perfect story and the reward you get after it touches somebody’s heart upon reading your work for the first time; a single gesture that reminds you that all the time and effort put into your creation was well worth it, a creation that nobody but yourself could have come up with. And with at least 20 more years of writing experience over me, I was dying to pick the man’s brain. “I’m actually in the middle of writing my first book right now!”

“Oh, you’re one of those types of writers,” he said in a disparaging tone, prompting me to take another drink of beer. “You see, I’m a song writer; a poet!”

“Oh… that’s great. Poetry’s very hard to write. I have a lot of respect for people who can do that.”

“You see, what it takes for somebody to write in 4 chapters, I can do in 4 minutes—one song. Let’s see you do that!”

“Yea, you know, I wish I could do that…” And yet again, I was overcome with the urge to take another long drink of beer.

“I even have an Emmy Award!” Ok Wade, I finally get it. You’re way better at writing than I am. Please continue to berate me with your awesomeness. “I used to write country songs for daytime television, you know. I’m sort of a big deal.” Oh yea, I bet you are. “Say, look at these guys over there. I’ve never seen them before.”

Gretch and I looked forward to the other side of the bar where a new group of young patrons sat, picking at a large pizza they had brought in. “Maybe you should go over there and introduce yourself,” I politely suggested. I’m sure they’d be just as thrilled with your drunken ramblings as I am.

“Hell no, they can come over here and have a drink with me! Are you trying to get rid of me or something?”

“Of course not, Wade.” Damn it!

“Hey!” yelled Wade across the bar, sloppily pointing to a taller boy with thick-rimmed glasses and wavy, long hair. “Come over here!” The boy acknowledged Wade, but couldn’t understand him, or at least pretended not to understand him, and understandably so. “…I said come over here!” The boy mouthed ‘what’ again, and the exchange went on for several more minutes. In the meantime, Gretch and I sucked on our beers. It was required if this madness were to keep up.

The realization must have finally sunk into Wade’s head that the boy was not going to come over to him. Thus, he succumbed to another conversation with Gretch—better her than me, I hate to say. For the next five minutes, Gretch entertained Wade by listening to one of his ‘stories’ while I happily sat at the bar, entertained by my mug of beer.

“I’ll tell you wait,” said Wade. “You guys wanna drive up to the mountains and smoke a little pot?”

Uh, gee Wade, sounds fun,” replied Gretch. “But I don’t know if we can swing it tonight—“

Oh, you guys’ll be fine. I’ll drive ya. Don’t worry, I’m a good driver, even when I’ve had a little bit to drink.”

“I’m sure you are Wade.”

“We can all crash up there till the mornin’ too. My truck’s got plenty of room, and plenty of liquor too.”

“Sounds fun Wade. We’ll let you know if we’re interested.”

“I bet these guys like to party over here. Hey, you with the glasses—yea you!”

“I think we should get out of here soon,” whispered Gretch to me. It was an opportune moment, for the boy across the bar had caught Wade’s attention again. “Wade’s starting to weird me out a little bit.”

“Ok, but let’s just take this nice and easy. No sudden moves; that’ll arouse unwanted suspicion. Just finish your beer and we’ll make a nice and quiet Irish goodbye when the time is right.” Wade sat back on his stool, having been denied a drinking request for the second time that night. Strike two. Unfortunately, that meant his attention was redirected back to us.

“By the way, did you ever watch that show Gilligan’s Island?” I heard Wade ask Gretch. Gretch slowly nodded her head, not exactly showing interest in continuing the conversation. Wade however, conveniently didn’t get the hint and continued his slurring. “I always thought that one lady on there was the best looking girl I’d ever seen. Her name was Marian, and my God was she beautiful. But then she became a lesbian…” Wade took a nice gulp of beer before continuing his tirade about Marian and her sexual preference. Neither Gretch nor I was quite sure why he thought she was a lesbian, but arguing with the man at this point would’ve led to nowhere. “It broke my heart! I hate her!! We were supposed to be in love with each other!” It all makes sense. How else could she not be in love an Emmy Award winner like yourself?

“And I’ll tell you what. I used to go to bed and look at pictures of her, and watch her on the television screen. Yea, I’d sit there, and get nice and comfortable, and I’d undress. And then after awhile, when I was all alone, I would reach down and—“

Whoa whoa WHOA! The hairs on my neck rose and my senses ignited like that of a pup sensing an intruder trying to enter the house. That is sick! What is you major malfunction Wade?! He was oblivious, and continued on with the unnecessary details of his exotic fantasies involving the Gilligan’s Island character. Are you kidding me? Nobody talks to Gretch like that, and I mean NOBODY, drunk or not—Not while I’m around! This will not stand. If there was one thing I knew at that moment inside the Pony Bar where Gretch was being accosted right in front of my very eyes, it was that Wade had to go, and it was up to me—careful now. This Wade guy is drunk, heavy, and highly dangerous. His thought process is beyond rational. Play it smart, and whatever you do, do not piss him off… not on your account.

“Hey Wade, see that guy over there?”

“The hell you talkin’ bout, boy?”

“That guy across from us, with the curly hair and the glasses. See?” Wade looked out, meeting the boy eye to eye and starting a stare down. “He said he could out-drink you anytime, anywhere.”

“That son of a B—“ Wade rose from his chair, a mightily concerted effort that involved intense concentration and coordination and stumbled over to confront the boy across from us. Words were said, inaudible due to distance and incoherence, and shots were taken. For the moment, it looked as though Wade had forgotten about us and that we were in the clear… for now.

“Ok, can we go now?” asked Gretch.

I studied the scene, watching Wade interact with the others while adding excessive forms of poisonous liquid to his already bulging belly. “I have a feeling maybe we should hang out for a little bit, just in case Wade decides to get back in his truck…” I reached over to the spot where Wade left one of his beers, its contents low and far from refreshing, and picked up two thin, wooden discs. “Besides, we have two Wooden Nickels to use.” I called over the bartender. “Miss, can we get one more round?”

 

***

 

We waited around and watched as Wade made his rounds across the bar, attempting to convince everyone in his wake to share a drink with him. Most refused, including Revin’ Evan, but that didn’t stop him from insisting. Eventually his stumble of shame sent him through the door and out of the bar. And by the looks of it, he wasn’t coming back.

“You ready Gretch?”

“Yes… Yes I am ready. I’m very ready.”

I called over to the bartender. “Mam, we’re ready for the check please.”

“You guys are good. Your Wooden Nickels took care of everything.”

“Wow,” I thought to myself. “Three beers each and we didn’t have to pay a single dime.” A sense of guilt hung over me. I knew I had to compensate the Pony Bar in some sort of fashion, for never in my life had I been shown so much hospitality at any drinking establishment. It truly was a special place. I looked to my left passed Gretch and pulled out a couple of dollar bills. “You see those two babes next to Revin’ Evan? Give them each a Wooden Nickel, from me—no, from the Emmy Award Winner.”

She nodded back a most serious nod. “Will do.”

We turned towards the entrance and watched as Wade climbed into his truck and pull away. “Alright. Let’s do this.”

We kept our distance between Wade’s rig and ours on our way back to the Dutcher Estate. His truck swerved back and forth along the gravel road and we watched in terror before taking our turn off. Whether his destination was home, or to the mountains where he could smoke his pot, I just prayed that nobody else was around to meet him on that stretch of road, wherever it took him.

“Dear God,” blurted Gretch, the experience finally sinking in to its full extent. “Who in the hell was that?”

“…Wade… the one and only Emmy Award Winner of Pony. He’s famous… He’s infamous! He’s forever changing the culture. And as long as he’s in Pony, nobody should sleep safe… nobody…”

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