Dirk leaned back on the couch, looking up at the angry woman and the four men she had brought home with her.
She sure knows some losers. Not one of ’em is tough enough to be water boy for the chess team. But he was outnumbered, and the tall, young blond man with the button-down collar and the white-knuckle grip on the baseball bat looked angrier than Beth did. He’s in love with her. Poor kid.
“Something you wanted to tell me, Sweetheart?”
Beth smouldered. “Get the hell out of my apartment and get the hell out of my life.”
“And these gentlemen are the moving company?”
“We are if you’re not out of here in two minutes,” the baseball bat kid growled.
Dirk decided he meant it. The guy had never been in a fight in his life, but anyone that tightly wound wouldn’t stop once he got started. It’d take a shampooer to get all of me out of the carpet.
“Not a problem. I can easily be out of here in that amount of time.” He lazily stood up. “But I must say, Dear Heart, this comes as a terrible surprise to me.”
“In two weeks you’ve eaten all my food, spent all my money, and used me as your toy at least once a day. How can you be surprised that I’ve finally had enough?”
He shrugged as he threw some dirty clothes into an army surplus duffel bag. “I thought things were going pretty well for us. You seemed so happy just two nights ago when we discovered a new way to use the ironing board.”
“Shut up!” she screeched. “Just shut up!”
Dirk risked a quick glance at the tall blond kid. Yeah, any more of that kind of talk and he’ll kill me out of sheer jealousy. Given that possibility, Dirk altered his usual pre-departure habit and put into his bag only those items he actually owned. A shame. I was hoping to take a few easily pawnable mementos.
He looked at the clock as he crossed the room to the door. “Forty-five seconds to spare,” he joked. “I guess this is goodbye, then, Sugar. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.” He blew her a kiss as he backed out of the room. His last sight was the tall blond with the bat thundering across the carpet to slam the door in his face.
“Oh, you poor little bastard,” he said quietly. “She’s not actually out of your league, but she is out of your reach.” He turned and sauntered down the hallway and out the door. “But you two only think you’re mad at me. Wait till you learn what sort of factory reject condoms I’ve been using.”
* * *
Five months, six women, and a chipped tooth later, Dirk sat on a barstool in a hole-in-the-wall tavern that the health inspectors had given up on. Miguel put a beer in front of Dirk, and Dirk reached for it. Miguel pulled the beer back and waited.
“There’s just no trust anymore,” Dirk sighed, pulling two dollar bills from a pocket.
“Nope,” Miguel agreed. He took the money and released the beer. Dirk took a slow sip and stared at nothing.
He soon registered that someone had sat down next to him. Given that the bar was only lightly populated, that was practically an invasion of Dirk’s personal space. He mentally ran through a list of scary people he was avoiding, fervently hoping the newcomer wasn’t on it. There was a long silence as both individuals drank without regarding each other.
The stranger set his empty glass on the bar and overcame the quiet.
“She had an abortion.”
Dirk tried to process that. The voice wasn’t familiar, and the announcement, after his years of living irresponsibly, wasn’t news. At least it wasn’t a demand for immediate payment or his liver. Dirk sighed; he was going to have to turn to his left just enough to see who was talking to him.
He did so, and it didn’t help.
The blond man turned to his right just enough to let Dirk know they were having a conversation.
“Beth, that’s who.”
“Oh, Beth. I remember Beth, yeah.” Dirk looked hard at the speaker. His eyes widened involuntarily as he recognized the young man. “Ohhhhh, it’s you. You were planning to bat cleanup if I didn’t haul my ass out of her place fast enough.”
The man smiled slightly.
“So, what, you tracked me down so you could get revenge on me? Right here in public?” Dirk indicated the mostly empty bar.
“Yes, I tracked you down. The revenge depends on how well you answer a couple of questions.”
“You didn’t bring the bat.”
“You don’t know what I brought.”
Dirk struggled to appear unconcerned. “Too much talking makes me thirsty.” He indicated his empty glass.
The outsider got Miguel’s attention and ordered two more beers. He casually handed over a five-dollar bill. Miguel assumed he was meant to keep the change and went back to the other end of the bar.
“So what’s your name anyway, kid? I’d just call you Bat Boy, but that might get our conversation off on the wrong foot.”
“Axel. Of course it’s Axel. What else could you possibly be named?” Dirk took a swig of his new beer. “So ask your questions, Axel.”
“How do you do it? How does someone with a room-temperature IQ and an impaired sense of both cleanliness and godliness weasel his way into women’s lives and bank accounts and beds the way you do?”
Dirk’s eyebrows went up. “First, I resent the crack about my IQ. Second, I am a Bad Boy. Did you hear the capital letters? I have a certain rough and roguish handsomeness about me. A relaxed attitude about hygiene gives me a patina of places been, things seen, opportunities seized.” Dirk stopped to appraise Axel. “Whereas you look like every Nordic person since the fjords were cut, and you clean up like a responsible person without trying.”
“And this is me dressing down,” Axel said.
“I’ll just bet it is. But in here you stick out like a princess in a pigpen. And when a girl wants a good time, she isn’t going to go for Leif the Good or Erik the Well-Manicured and -Mannered.” Dirk downed some more of the beer. “Here’s the payoff for you, kid: I’m taboo. They’re not supposed to want me. I am, in fact, the guy their parents warned them about. And since Mommy and Daddy are always wrong, I must be a hell of a lot of fun to be with.”
“In the end, though, Mommy and Daddy are proved right.”
“Sure they are. But the bad memories of me are still more exciting than any memories they could make with a nice guy like you. So they look for another Bad Boy. Maybe one who’s not such a complete shit, but a Bad Boy nonetheless.”
Axel thought about that a moment. “Can’t compete with that. Second and final question: Why do you do it?”
Dirk downed the dregs of his beer. Axel caught Miguel’s attention again and held up two fingers.
“Simple, amigo,” he said, leering. “It’s fun.”
Axel’s face hardened. He called down to Miguel, “Cancel that.”
“Hey!” Dirk protested.
“Try to remember what I said about revenge, amigo. Now you’re lying to me.”
“I believe what you said up to that point, but fun is not why you do it. Beth’s my friend, remember? She told me all about you. And no one who gobbles down food like you do, no one who goes through money like you do, no one who is as manic about sex as you are is having any fun.”
“Oh, really?” Dirk tried to sound tough but failed. Axel pressed on.
“You’re afraid. You know you can’t keep up this kind of life much longer. Your roguish good looks are just going rough, and that patina’s just filth. You never know where your next meal will come from. You owe money to dangerous people. And someday she’s going to have a friend who will beat your head in, or worse. Maybe that’s what happened to your tooth. You’re a walking panic attack, and so you burn through the calories and the cash and the crotch: get in, get the goods, and get out. So don’t lie to me about having fun. Why … do … you … do … it?”
Dirk tore his gaze away from Axel’s cold blue eyes and stared hard at the gouges in the bar. “So that’s what you brought instead of the baseball bat.”
After a couple of minutes, Dirk said, “It was fun when I started. Now it’s just my job. It’s just my damn job.”
Axel stood up. He headed for the door and dropped another five-dollar bill on the bar without stopping. “One more for the hard-working guy at the other end.”
Miguel pocketed a three-dollar tip and set a beer in front of Dirk. “Kid’s a sharp dresser.”
Dirk snorted softly. “You should see him when he really tries.”