Last Flight of the Cougar

I don’t normally write in the first-person, or in the present tense, so I thought I’d try something different this time around.

I think this one could actually be the start to something bigger. What do you think?

Last Flight of the Cougar

I see him enter the bar and I drop my drink.

He spots me—everyone’s looking now—and my cheeks grow hot. Probably red too. I hear the bartender mutter something. When I turn around, he’s shaking his head, grabbing a broom.

“Sorry,” I say. I wince. He doesn’t hear me, or doesn’t care. My hands are trembling. I grab my purse to give them something to do, and I feel the heft of my father’s Ruger Redhawk. I feel hot all over and my panties are riding up my legs and—and this was a mistake. I should go home. I should—

“Hello,” he says. He leans on the bar with one arm and I get a good look at his tattoo. A naked angel at the wrist, her wings turning into a mess of—what, brambles? They crawl up his forearm, all the way to his elbow. Oh. They spell out a name. Jane.

I look at him, not quite in the eyes. I smile to keep from screaming, and I grab my hair with my left hand, my fingers twirling in it, pulling the roots. I don’t want him to see me shaking.

He doesn’t seem to. Instead he smiles, makes himself taller. He must think I’m sending him a signal or something. I look at his face.

Scar on the right cheek, mole under a stubbly chin. A square chin. Tall forehead but not balding. And it doesn’t look like he recognizes me.

“Hi,” I say. I try to keep my voice steady but it quavers, like a little girl’s. His smile broadens though, dimples his cheeks. Maybe he thinks it’s cute, even for a woman my age. Fine. Let him.

“You trying to get a man’s attention,” he says, “or you just drunk?”

“Maybe a little bit of both.” I giggle to keep from shaking.

“My name’s Dave,” he says. He holds out his hand and I take it.

“Hello, Dave—” I begin to say, but my breath catches in my throat when he brushes his lips over my knuckles. He’s big enough to be a linebacker, but his touch is so gentle, and his soft stubble tickles my skin.

“I’m Valerie,” I say. “Um, Val for short. That’s what my friends call me.” Why did I tell him that?

The bartender has made his way to our side of the bar, broom and dust pan in hand. He stands still, trying to keep the irritation off his face, but it shows anyway. Dave turns to him, nods, turns back to me.

“Nice to meet you, Val. Let’s give our friend some room here.”

Before I can respond, he takes me by the hand and starts leading me away. My eyes widen when he grabs my purse, but a moment later he sets it down again a few feet down the bar. I grab it, pull it close.

Dave turns to a second barman—young, barely more than a teenager, with spiky bleached hair—and waves him over. The kid grins while drying off a glass.

“Another whatever my lady here was drinking, and the usual for me.”

The kid nods. A moment later I have a new appletini, and Dave’s got a glass of… well, it smells like gin, but there’s something green in it. Maybe lime? Just a couple cubes of ice too, clinking.

“Thanks,” Dave says. He doesn’t pay, and the kid doesn’t ask.

Dave turns to me again, looks at the low cut of my dress, my cleavage. I feel my cheeks growing hot again, but part of me is glad. That look is why I padded my bra. I just can’t believe it’s this easy to get his attention. I drink.

“So, Val,” he says. “I’ve never seen you here before. You come dumpster diving often?”

My mouth moves up and down and I probably look very stupid, but I have no idea what to say. Does he really think he’s charming? I say nothing, and force a giggle instead. I look at the door. No, it’s too late to run.

“It’s a good thing I came in tonight, else you’d have to settle for one of these sorry fucks.”

He looks around the room and I follow his gaze. Of course, I knew he’d be here tonight. But he’s right—I stand out. It’s not that I’m older, but I’m definitely over-dressed. My high heels and cocktail dress are a poor match for the jeans and t-shirts and cowboy boots most people are wearing. Maybe… maybe he thinks I’m a prostitute.

Fine. Even that’s fine. So long as he’s interested.

“Hey, Kev,” Dave says, turning to the younger barman again.

“What’s up?”

“Is Tony in?”

Kev nods. “VLTs.”

“Hey, listen Val,” Dave says. “I just have some quick business to take care of, but what say after that the two of us leave this shit hole and go somewhere private?”

I almost freeze. I’ve never met a man this forward. It took my husband three months before he even asked me out on a date.

“Sure!” I say. I try to look sultry, like Joan from Mad Men. I wish I had practised in front of a mirror.

Maybe I pulled it off. Dave smiles and touches my hand, and then leaves the bar.

I watch him enter the dark VLT corridor at the far end of the bar and then grab my purse. I dig around in it, moving all the extra make-up and tissue packs I threw in, until my hands touch cold metal. I run my fingers along the barrel of the revolver. The thing is enormous, probably weighs five pounds. I’ve never fired it before though. Just one more thing I wish I had practised before tonight. Still, just touching it makes me feel better.

I look up, and I see Dave talking to some man in the light of the video poker machines. The man has a black moustache and a dark trench coat, and though he’s tall—much taller than me—he’s almost a full head shorter than Dave.

The man hands Dave something—a small bag, maybe, but I can’t tell for sure. Drugs, probably. Dave’s dirty business.

Dave pockets it, pats the man on the shoulder, and they shake hands. Then he starts walking my way again. I finish my drink and wipe my lips, smiling just as he arrives.

Dave sniffs, downs his gin.

“You good to go?”

“Yeah,” I say.

He takes me to his car.