Dallas Dave

He slung his long black hair after he had wet it in the kitchen sink and then combed it straight back over his head and walked downstairs and through his father’s shoe shop and into Henry’s barber shop.  It was five o’clock on a Friday afternoon in July; it was about time for the guys to start showing. It was pretty routine and the young men who came had, at Henry’s request, spaced out their arrival times.

“I can’t cut everybody’s hair at one time,” he had told the young men.  It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the influx every Friday afternoon, because he certainly did, but he was only one barber and it took a good ten minutes to take care of a head.  Some of the guys had asked Henry what they should do while they were waiting on their turn; he had suggested that they ride across the river and get a beer at Beatty’s.  Actually the barber had an ulterior motive in this suggestion, for from the first time that he had suggested this action he had taken note of the guys tipping as much as a dollar after they had “tipped” a couple.  The upshot of the scenario was that Friday afternoon was rivaling Saturday as the most productive day in the hair cutting business.

“Hey Henry, anybody in yet?” the long haired boy purred, cutting his eyes at Henry. 

“Just hold your tater, Archy,” Henry snapped.  “Why don’t you just go back there and make sure all the showers are clean.”  A sneaky little smile came across his face as Archy headed into the back to where the six shower stalls were.  There were no shower curtains, giving the area a sort of locker room atmosphere.  Archy hurried to his designated spot; he had heard someone come into the barbershop so he knew that it wouldn’t be long before the first customer would be coming back.  He opened the closet door where Henry kept toiletries and made himself comfortable on the little chair that he had placed there some time back.

The stream of young working men coming into the barbershop with a clean change of clothes on a hanger over their shoulder was the norm in small towns in the south.  The boys would all either have a date or be going over to Gastonia to prowl around; either scenario required a haircut and a shower.  Archy had been enjoying his Friday afternoons this way for over a year; at first he had worried that Henry would discover him and put a stop to it but after a few

Fridays and no comment from the barber he surmised that there was no problem.  He waited quietly until the first guy came in; Archy cracked the closet door and watched quietly as the freshly shorn fellow undressed and got in the open shower.  Archy always got real excited when the first one showed and ever increasingly as the afternoon wore on; his favorite moment was watching they guys dry off; it made him want to rush out and help them, but so far he had managed to maintain control.  He kept a running count of the guys; the most was one hot day last August when twelve had showed up, but today turned out to be an average day of eight.  Archy prided himself on being in such control that he did nothing until he was sure that no more guys were coming in, and then allowed himself to lose control.  After that Archy waited a while to make sure the coast was clear before he came out.  The afternoon was still fresh in his mind when he had kicked over a Clorox bottle and had been discovered buy the muscular guy who had just finished toweling off.  Archy remembered how he had been beaten and berated and how the muscle boy had complained to Henry and Archy had been banished for a month.  But sure enough, Archy had returned one Friday afternoon about five and Henry had just glanced at him and said “might better check the showers before they get here,” and everything had been alright.  When Archy emerged from the shower room Henry was just finishing up sweeping the hair on the floor; he barely glanced up as Archy went out the door.

Archy Clemmer Jr. was having one of his bad days; they always started the same way, one negative thought leading to another which led to a cascade of bad ones tumbling down on him.  This latest one had started that morning, early as usual.  Archy had lay in bed, wondering if it were worthwhile to even get up.  It was a Monday morning and he thought about how he had pored over the obituaries in the Sunday paper the day before; it made him think of death and wonder about it. He had read somewhere that a prevailing theory was that you just go to sleep and never wake up and that idea did not scare him, even though he couldn’t quite wrap his head around that concept. 

“What about the people who have some terrible affliction with lots of pain, like pancreatic cancer—-I can’t believe they just fall asleep while they are writhing in the throes that even morphine can’t calm,” he thought.  But then he thought about the Pennington boy who got stabbed in front of the high school, and how all of the kids in summer school stood around and saw him bleed to death, not knowing anything to do about it.  Archy decided to move on, to try and think about something else, but he felt like he was spiraling and that he was getting into a hopeless situation the more he thought.  He decided to concentrate on a time frame, yes that was it, a time frame when everything started to disintegrate around him.

The recollection of the stabbing made him think about his high school experience, all two years of it.  The only friend he had was Johnny Franklin; they had buddied up in gym class after they  had kind of caught each other staring at the penises of the black guys in the shower.  Archy grinned as he remembered how he and Johnny became friends and were able to talk about a lot of things he had never mentioned to anyone else, like how he could not stand the thought of kissing a girl and how boys excited him.  Johnny divulged that he really wanted black guys, like Archy had not figured that out.  Archy did not have the same fascination; as long as it was a guy was the only requirement.  Archy and Johnny were close, very close, that year in ninth grade, and the friendship continued on into the tenth until Johnny showed up in a madras shirt one day.  Archy thought it was super cool but the high school jocks immediately labeled it queer and the incredible embarrassment on Johnny’s face only fanned the bully flames and the jocks started calling him queer and sashaying down the hall and talking in falsetto when Johnny was spotted.  Johnny dropped out and went to work in the Robinson cotton mill on the second shift.  Archy never saw him again; he was happy to hide his true sexual feelings and did not need the harassment that Johnny had endured. 

As Archy lay in bed he decided to change gears; most of the time it helped him get out of his early morning rut.  “Maybe being gay is linked to my upbringing,” he thought to himself.  Archy scrolled back through the years, back before the war when his daddy had started the shoe repair shop beside Henry’s barber shop.  The memories from that era were pretty happy, that is until his pop had been drafted into the Korean War.  Archy remembered how Archy Sr. had hand picked his friend  Ray Huskey to take over the shop for him; Ray had worked in the shop for two years and Archy Sr. trusted him implicitly.  After Sr. left for the army and Ray took over Jr. noticed that Ray spent a lot of extra time at the shop and in their apartment upstairs. One time Archy came home unexpectedly and went into the apartment and the bedroom door was shut and he heard his mother whispering and a lot of hubbub and his mother came out and said  something about how Ray had been in there in the closet looking for a particular repair tool he needed and she had been “helping him find it.”  After a few similar episodes Archy started to get suspicious, and had even gone out early one morning like he was going to school and had sneaked back and hid under his mother’s bed.  He had stayed very quiet during all of the ensuing activity and had figured out that what Ray and his mother were looking for did not have a whole lot to do with the shoe business.  But everything changed when his mother got the letter about how his daddy had been hurt and how both legs were gone beneath the knee and how he would be discharged after a while and would be home soon.  Archy’s mother just told him that his daddy would be home in a week and then on the day of his daddy’s arrival she left with  Ray Huskey; Archy read the letter from the army she had left on her bed.  It told about how his daddy had been fitted with some kind of fake legs that started with a “p.”  When the cab pulled up with Archy Sr. in it Jr. had run out to see him and tell him mama was gone but his daddy told him that he already knew, that Henry had written him and told him what had been going on and how they were “better off without the bitch.”

Archy was amazed at how well his daddy did with the artificial legs; Sr. would let him help strap them on every morning.  Sr. said that they hurt his legs after a long day in the shop and would take them off after work.  Archy would laugh inwardly when he would watch his daddy scoot along the floor to the bathroom at night

Archy’s favorite subject was English and recently they had studied “irony” and Archy had pondered on how a cobbler with no feet might be a good example.  In fact he had waited until his teacher was alone one day and had posed the question to Miss Thornburg; he would never forget how she had smiled at him and had patted him on the head and told him that it was “a perfect example.”  But apparently Archy Jr. had adapted to his daddy’s disability better than his father; Sr. now spent all his off work hours drinking in their little apartment, letting Jr. go down to the diner to get their supper. 

Archy forced himself to get up and get dressed.  He had to be down at the car wash at ten o’clock for his part time job; sometimes he considered trying to learn the trade from his daddy, but the old man had continued his hard drinking and was not such great company; in fact, Sr. hardly looked at him anymore.  Archy wondered if his daddy knew about him, and for a fleeting moment thought that Henry the barber had ratted him out.

Archy was looking in his pocket dictionary; it was always with him.  Something had happened that had piqued his curiosity and he was checking to see if he was correct.  Archy loved words and their origins.  He found the word, ”eponymous”, and read the definition: “(of a person ) giving their name to something.” The whole thing had surfaced when he had been in the little doughnut shop adjacent to the repair shop and had heard two high school kids squabbling.  Suddenly one of them had shouted at the other “you old Archy you,” and had run out the door with the other one on his heels.  At first Archy had thought that they were addressing him but he had never seen either of them, and the tone in which the accusation had been made convinced him that it was indeed no reference to him, at least not directly.  Archy had pondered on this occurrence for a couple of hours while he had been on his car washing job until the word he was searching for had popped in his head.  It all went back to his brief tenure at the local high school; his favorite teacher had been a history teacher by the name of Ted Kastner.  Archy liked him because he delighted in using big words; for example, one day Mr. Kastner had caught one of the ruffians by the name of Zeke Taylor throwing spitballs and had given him the following punishment: “Mr. Taylor, you will write one hundred times ‘I must not hurl projectiles with prolific velocity.’”  Mr. Kastner had spoken the word “eponymous” in class one day and had explained that when something is eponymous it takes its own name as its title.  Archy had remembered reverentially all of Mr. Kastner’s “big words” and was delighted when he could use one.

Archy surmised that he had witnessed an eponymous moment in the doughnut store; since he was the only openly gay fellow in town apparently his name had become synonymous with gayness, which made the situation eponymous and him an eponym.  But Archy figured that for his situation to be so well known there could be a downside; this was still fresh on his mind when he went out to the Shamrock Grill that night.

Archy walked the mile and a half out to the Shamrock Grill at about 10:30; the standard procedure for the guys who hung out there was for them to congregate after they took their dates home, but there were a few who weren’t dating that particular night.  You could count on six or eight fellas to be there about that time, standing around drinking and shootin’ the shit and that was indeed what Archy encountered when he walked up.  Archy had persuaded a friend to drive him out Church Road to Mr. Moose’s double wide, which served as his home and a bootleg joint.  Gaston County was dry so all the bootleggers would go down into neighboring South Carolina and buy half pints, which were not sold in North Carolina.  It worked out well for everyone involved; the half pints were cheap and popular and small enough for the purveyor to have plenty in stock.  For two bucks one had the choice of Bourbon de Luxe or Popov vodka.  Archy had just been paid at the car wash so he had bought one of each.  His experience at the Shamrock was that the guys would have gone across the river to Mecklenburg County to buy beer so they would have something to drink, but he also knew that they would not turn down a slug of liquor. 

“Hey fellas,” Archy called out gaily and was rewarded with muffled salutations, but they showed more interest when Archy pulled the two bottles out of the paper sack he had carried with him and screwed the top off the Popov.  He took a good drag from the half pint and passed it to Bellyboy; Bellyboy had been a good athlete when he was young but fattened up after a tractor turned over on him and broke both his legs.  Archy watched as Bellyboy looked around at his friends and then took a handkerchief out of his back pocket and vigorously rubbed the bottle neck.  This action did not bother Archy one lick; in fact, he thought it was kind of funny, ‘cause he knew that after a while all the squeamishness regarding him would be long gone, usually ‘bout halfway through the second bottle.  In about thirty minutes the “daters” started showing up.  The group had expanded to about twelve, Archy recognizing Mr. Kastner’s favorite Zeke Taylor, who had gotten the lesson in big words those years ago.  Archy was very wary of Zeke, knowing something of his volatility; it was rumored that he and some of his friends would go to Charlotte and roll gay guys, taking all their money and purportedly do some rather unspeakable things to them.  Archy had mixed feelings about these rumors; in some ways it scared him and in others excited him. 

“How ya been Archy?” Zeke said, Archy smiling and nodding.  The bottles were gone but the late arrivals shared their Schlitz beer and the conversation became pretty lively.  Archy was rather surprised that Zeke seemed to be hanging around him and being unusually friendly, but he was willing to believe that maybe the rough stories about Zeke had been exaggerations.

About midnight people started filtering away until only Bellyboy, Zeke and Archy remained.  After Bellyboy left there were still a couple beers left so Zeke and Archy sat on the steps of the Shamrock Grill and drank them.  Zeke was telling Archy about how he was banging his good looking girlfriend all the time and how he would have to pop her once in a while when she got out of line.  Archy listened attentively; the guys he normally hung around did not talk about stuff like that and Archy found it somewhat interesting.

“How ‘bout a ride home, old boy’” Zeke said, and just like that they were riding out into the country.

“Let’s go out to the old goat house road and drink these two beers I held back,” Zeke said, smiling at Archy.  They popped the beers and when they got out in the country Zeke pulled up into an old logging road and started wrestling with Archy’s pants; Archy helped him along and then pulled at Zeke’s pants until they were down.  Zeke was erect and Archy worked his magic but before Zeke was done he grabbed Archy and pulled him out of the car and threw him up against the hood of the car and entered him from behind.  This was a little more than Archy had bargained for but he took it like a man; when Zeke was done he very gruffly said “give me all your money.”  Archy whimpered a little but complied; he had fifty dollars after having been paid that day. 

“Pull up your pants and get in the car,” Zeke demanded. Archy was in no condition to resist any command, and Zeke gained speed rapidly as he went down the big hill on goat house road.  When he got to the sharp curve just beyond the bridge Zeke quickly reached over and opened the passenger door and pushed Archy out; as Archy rolled down the embankment and into the creek he thought of his daddy and Henry the barber and how he would probably stay away from the Shamrock Grill for a good while.

2 months had passed since the night at goat house road; working at a car wash gives one an awful lot of time to mull things, and Archy had been a champion muller.  It was not the sex that had bothered him so much, for he had experienced similar situations before; it was the rough treatment afterwards.  Archy had also had a hell of a time getting home that early morning; after he gathered his thoughts at the bottom of the hill it had taken him two hours to walk home.  But it looked like his luck was changing.

Archy had been excited to run into his friend Robbie, the high school friend with the madras shirt; he had been walkng by the Robinson Mill one day when he heard someone call his name.  It turned out to be Robbie and it was like they had just seen each other the day before.  As they got reacquainted Archy told Robbie about the Zeke episode and how bad it had made him feel.  That was when Archy saw a different side of Robbie than he had ever seen.  Robbie concocted a plan and as soon as Archy heard it he readily agreed.

The following Saturday night found Archie and Robbie walking the short distance to the Shamrock Grill, each of them carrying a paper bag with two half pints of Mr. Moose’s finest, Popov Vodka and Bourbon de Luxe.  Robbie’s idea was to get there about eleven, figuring that most of the “daters” would have departed and it worked out perfectly.  When they walked up only Bellyboy and Zeke Taylor were still there.  Archy was careful not to look Zeke directly in the eye, content with sidelong glances as he introduced Robbie; Bellyboy and Zeke kind of remembered Robbie but high school was pretty far back in the rear view mirror.  Archy was sure that Zeke was kind of sneering at him when he was able to glance at him but Robbie was talking an awful lot and Zeke was listening intently.  It turned out that the two of them shared an interest in fast cars; Robbie made up a story about how his Chevy SS was “in the shop getting some custom work done on it.”  Robbie kept pushing Zeke to drink more and Zeke was more than happy to take him up on it.  After a while Bellyboy went home; apparently Zeke was very thirsty so everything was going according to plan.  About halfway through the third bottle Zeke was weaving and waving a nine-millimeter pistol around and bragging about how he was making all kinds of money on marijuana deals; at the beginning of the fourth bottle Zeke pushed a clip into the pistol and shot it in the air three times.  Robbie nodded at Archy, the agreed upon signal.

“Zeke, we better get the hell out of here; you know the rural police are liable to be here any minute.  I’ll betcha one of them old women over there at the trailer park have already called ‘em,” Robbie said.  “You better let me drive; you are way too drunk.”

“Yesssshur, ol’ buddy, here’s the keys,” Zeke said.

 “And let me have that gun; I hear you are a convicted felon so I know that it was not a legal purchase,” Robbie said, and Zeke handed it over.

Archy could not believe how easy things were working; “Jeeez, getting a pistol away from Zeke Taylor was quite an accomplishment,” he thought to himself.  While they had been in the planning stages Archy had mentioned that Zeke carried a pistol and everyone knew that he was a convicted felon; Robbie had been a very good listener.  They piled into Zeke’s car and cautiously left the grill, just as they could hear the faint sound of a siren in the distance.  Robbie was driving, Archy in the middle and Zeke riding shotgun.

As they got out in the country Zeke shouted out “we’re going to goat house road ain’t we?”

“Hell yea, I tole Robbie all about what happened back a while; ya know I have never been one to carry a grudge,” Archy forced himself to say.  “You can do both of us tonight, but I would just as soon not be rolled off down the hill,” Archy said.  The drunken Zeke laughed raucously at this and started fumbling with his pants. As they approached the bridge Robbie slipped the nine millimeter into Archy’s hand; Robbie accelerated as they reached the sharp turn where Archy had been dumped.  Then he nodded at Archy and Archy pulled the trigger three times, sending three bullets into Zeke’s chest and then opening the door and pushing Zeke Taylor off down the bank.

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