Four Horsemen ...and an Apocalypse
The bar sign on top of the ramshackle building reads: “THE FOUR HORSEMEN”.
My best friend Bob yells for me to hear him once we stepped inside the door.
“...Hangout spot... motorcycle ‘club... THE PUNISHERS...”
That’s all I could hear because of the loud music.
Jukebox music pounded my head. The click-clack of the pool tables, outbursts of laughter, and loud voices filled my ears till they rang.
Eventually, I learned that The Punishers are a brotherhood of law enforcement officers, court officials, correctional officers; and like-minded individuals.
Did the strange critters in this bar look like anything but worrisome outlaws? No way!
The question in my mind: “What’s really going on here?”
I’d find out later.
A long-standing tradition among Texas lawmen - believe it or not: investing in Saloons and Cathouses back in the 1890s frontier.
What better motivation could there be for keeping gambling and prostitution on the down-low than protecting your investment and reputation at the same time? Plus, you could keep an eye on strangers passing through.
I shrugged off my sense of dread and observed the young lady bartender approach and ask: “What’s your pleasure?”
Bob orders our favorite: Killian’s Red Beer.
We plop on two barstools trying to blend with the crowd.
We’re “blending” about as well as ostriches in a chicken coop.
Bob is chatting up our tender bartender with natural ease.
Count on me to say something stupid.
I asked the dumb question.
“Is this bar named after some Bible prophecy?”
Amber, the over-bosomed tavern wench, blinks wide-eyed at me.
‘Wrong person to ask’. I make a mental note.
(Note to self: You ain’t funny; don’t even try.)
A scraggly beard galoot standing nearby leans his head in close and startles me.
His white beard jiggles. Z Z Top pops into my mind.
“I’m the Punishers... what’s left of the original four horsemen. Named it after us.”
His gnarled hand creeps out from his pocket.
“I’m Fast Eddy. Who the f**k are you?”
I tell him.
He stands measuring me with his eyeballs.
Ignoring my Note to self I ask:
“Who needs punishing today?”
Fast Eddy is clawing at his beard and tilting his head with curiosity.
Bob to the rescue--he’s great with animals.
Instantly the two of them are jaw-jacking and I relax.
Acrid smoke hangs like fog curtains. It takes me back to childhood when my mom took me into her favorite neighborhood bar. I’d play shuffleboard and drink a couple of gallons of Grapette. Now I’m physically much older but not emotionally.
Amber the barkeep slides a frost-cold mug toward Bob and me. Killian’s Red beer on tap in a pitcher! Happy hour is now happier.
The music is so loud - whenever a stranger says something to me - I understand nothing spoken--although, I’m wildly nodding sympathetically.
That’s my ‘non-versation’ technique.
I fake it.
A live band arrives, sets up, and commences wailin’ rock n roll golden oldies.
Bob summons Amber.
“Who’s the best pool player around here?”
Fast Eddy, the old bearded gentleman tops her list.
We grab our frosty beer mugs and tap feet to the tune.
After refills of refills, Bob and I check out bathroom duty and what condition our condition is in. We go out in the back of the bar in a seating area to sniff the fresh air laced with god only knows what drug-du jour lingering around us.
A large prison bus stands in the middle of the property painted with a black background and white skull logo.
Maybe it’s the tour bus for the band?
The bar vibrates in a rumble of voices, laughter, coughing fits, clinking mugs, and clicking cue balls colliding with good old boy taunts.
After a bit, we’re back to our barstools, just in time to witness Fast Eddy and a runty dude in ostrich boots end their three-game ass-kicking pool match.
Word travels fast:
Fast Eddy lost? Horseman Down!
Fast Eddy peels off folds of green bills, passing it over to the winner.
Smirking, the little weasel unsnaps the breast pocket on his western shirt and deposits the wad.
“Go again, Old man?”
Fast Eddy snuffles. . .smiles and shakes his head.
“Nope. You’re the better man.”
An invisible ripple of amazement passes around the room like a collective fart.
At that dramatic moment, the main door at the other end of the bar swings open, and a flash of brightness carries in a dark giant of a man.
A MAN WITH GIANT HANDS
The mood in the bar shifts.
“Hey, Ray--how they hangin’?”
This big fella is some kind of V.I.P.
Everybody’s acting like kids around the ice cream truck.
All hands reach straight out eager for shaking. Gold tooth grins gleam. Backs patted. Sports talk buzzes.
All with good grace; the impressive black man accepts his back slapped, hand-shaken, ears filled with happy horse shit.
Giant Moses parts the Red Sea of worshippers now lumbering on polished alligators, steady on toward me at the bar counter. He eases onto the stool as graceful as a butterfly on a tulip.
6 feet 7 inches and 265 pounds of Bigness.
He’s IMPORTANT--spectacular--and he knows it. I’m probably the only person on earth who doesn’t know. I’m not a football fan. Boxing is my interest.
I didn’t want to offend by lack of worship - but - I simply confessed my deficit.
“I’m not a sports guy but I’m glad to meet you.”
He squints like I’m trolling or something. Then shrugs and declares himself.
“Rayfield Wright. Everybody knows me. I’m a Philanthropist & Humanitarian.
A Two-time World Champion Dallas Cowboy Super Bowl winner.”
He offers his meaty paw and - WOW - his grip is intense.
He catches me eyeballing his huge rings.
“Super Bowl Winner rings. I played in five Super Bowls as a Hall of Famer who retired at the age of 34. I was named M.V.P. ”
I nod enthusiastically showing no pain as I massage life back into my dead limb.
This BIG CAT pulls out a business card like he’s offering a hundred bucks to a third-world child. Me.
His card reads:
Rayfield Wright, Philanthropist & Humanitarian
To take the edge off--I said with a very straight face:
We stared at each other until he decided I must be a troll.
His face blank, he says without feeling ...
“You’re a comedian.”
He slaps me on my shoulder with his hefty boxing glove-sized hand.
“You’re a jokester.”
First impressions are over.
I assess the damages.
One cracked hand and a bruised shoulder. Coach - take me outta this game!
Fifteen minutes pass. I seem to be without small talk suddenly.
66-year-old Rayfield has knocked back four shot glasses of J&B.
He’s only warming up!
He heads toward the bathroom as Amber leans in toward Bob and me.
“He’s a Philanthropist & Humanitarian, ya know?”
I blurt, “Yeah, he’s got the handshake to disprove it!”
No, I don’t know why I say the things I say.
Amber rambles on about ‘her’ Big Cat. Eventually, I understand that means Rayfield.
I didn’t ask. She just wanted to show off.
Rayfield telephones her. Just about every week. If she needs money, he likes to help her out. (Hmmm.)
He also likes to ‘help out’ her girlfriends too. (Hmmmmm.)
The definition of Philanthropist & Humanitarian takes shape in my dirty little crow’s nest of a mind.
Why is a Super Bowl Champ in a biker bar? This biker bar.
Amber is still rambling…
“He invites us to his suite in town on business. He gives wonderful parties!”
Her blue eyes glisten with fairy dust as she purrs.
I squirm uneasily thinking, ‘TMI--this is too much information.’
Bob gives me a look. Yep. He’s thinking what I’m thinking. Rayfield is a player aside from football.
DUEL OF THE TIGHT ENDs
The bathroom door swings wide.
(Something is about to go down.)
Fast Eddy’s world-beater in ostrich boots challenges Rayfield to a pool match.
Fast Eddy is grinning. A possum in a cinnamon tree. He tugs his beer gleefully.
Amber makes this sound you make in horror movies when the Creature from the Black Lagoon leaps out of the water with those webbed claws splayed.
She’s scared because (she whispers) “He’s racist.” I didn’t know if she meant Rayfield or the little fellow in the ostrich boots.
This half-pint, I soon discover, is made out to be the racist of the Southern variety.
“Rayfield can handle him,” Amber assures herself.
Too drunk to fall down; our two gladiators are hammered but eager.
Wall-eyed and wonky. These are the sort who imagine they know how to handle their liquor.
Ever watched a drunk lining up his shot to within a centimeter of dead-solid-perfect, only to miscue and send it rocketing off the table?
Yeah--THAT kind of smashed.
Rayfield Wright wins the break. He pumped the cue with supernatural grace.
Imagine a ballet dancer wearing skis. (Alcohol skis).
The question in my mind?
How does he do it? He is playing as though he’s stone-cold sober but little by little it becomes more obvious facilities are decaying.
Rayfield is a hardcore competitor.
His concentration is chilling. His is a determination & focus deeper than a Grand Canyon riverbed.
“Rayfield would rather let red ants eat honey off his nutsack than lose to a redneck racist.”
Fast Eddy says in my ear.
Just then, the half-pint challenger starts his trash talking.
“Hey Champ, how is sex for a man your age?”
Rayfield froze and stared down at him like he’d found a dog turd under his best shoes.
He snorted and grinned.
“It’s like shootin’ pool with a piece of rope.”
Fast Eddy (watching with keen interest) belly laughs.
“Hey Champ, you ever won any money playin’ pool?”
“No. Have you?”
Half-pint glances over at Fast Eddy and winks; then brags.
“I always walk away with a little pile of cash.”
“Sure - by starting out with a big pile of cash.”
Fast Eddy again--another belly laugh.
What are we witnessing here--vaudeville or a duel to the death? From moment to moment the mood shifted. Jolly to solemn. Angry to giddy and back again. Whatever it is - all eyes are glued.
Every so often a clean shot would fire like a bullet, hit its mark and the targeted ball dropped like a coin in an old payphone.
Ding ding ding.
The half-pint came within a gnat’s eyebrow of running the table after his first break.
No such luck.
The moment passed with an awkward fumble and miscue.
The little guy’s face reddened and he stumbled backward onto a stool.
Rayfield stepped in and sent the rest of the remaining numbered circles whizzing and caroming off the cushions into the sweet little pocket like money from home.
End of Game 1 of 3.
Ostrich boots: 0
Rack em’ and stack em’
As inebriated, lubricated, saturated, and decimated by alcohol as Rayfield is--he steps lightly back to the bar counter where Amber has topped off the shot glass with gleaming J&B--the elixir of the gods.
The maybe-racist half-pint fella is at the bar counter with a beer bottle in one hand and a glass in the other and he’s pouring it like a Biochemist afraid of an explosion.
Rayfield announces to the crowd watching:
“He pours his beer like an Albanian chicken farmer.”
We all burst out laughing. I don’t know what it means - but god - it’s funny!
The difference in size and weight of these two guys is day and night.
There is no way possible for a little man to match drink for drink with a man three times his size!
Suddenly, Rayfield stands up straight and announces to the whole joint:
“Drinks are on me! I’m a Philanthropist & Humanitarian!”
I decided to believe him. Every spectator orders the most expensive drink the human mind could conceive right on the spot.
The second game lasted forty-five minutes with half an hour spent bending down and picking up miscued balls off the filthy floor by both drunks.
Half-pint is now forced to use the rake on a tricky shot with a blocked ball toward the end of the table. Rayfield has set him up to fail. It is an impossible shot.
Half-pint squints and gulps. His eyes are swimming like guppies in a fishbowl. It’s not a certainty he can even see the pool table, let alone the ball.
Rayfield starts giggling like a schoolgirl with a cold hand up her dress. Half-pint froze and stood back from the table until things grew silent again.
“Hell--I beat Squirrelly Joe last Saturday and I was drunker than now.” He brags.
He suddenly took a deep lungful of air. Then - popped the cue into the white ball and set the spheres dashing like cockroaches when a kitchen light snaps on.
The crazy fool made the shot!
Rayfield stood and saluted. Fast Eddy yanks at his scraggly white beard and moans, “Well, f**k me!”
Bob and I squeal like teenage girls watching Elvis shake his hips.
Filled with confidence, booze, and raw ego--the half-pint goes for the kill. Each lineup is suddenly easy peasy like stringing pearls: blip - blap - blam.
Score a win for the runt in the ostrich boots!
Ostrich boots: 1
Rack em’ and stack em’
Fast Eddy never sits down. He makes the rounds of the bar emptying ashtrays and whispering something to each customer as he passes their table. He’s back in a flash as the final game is racked for a fast break.
Amber says something I can’t hear and Bob has to repeat it to me.
She says, “Fast Eddy is taking bets on the winner.” It’s not clear to me either man will remain conscious for the entire third game. If they were in bad shape for the first two games--they’ve been on a steep slide to ruination drink after drink.
Half-pint is full of himself, starting to get mouthy. Amber senses trouble brewing. (Her intuition as a bartender serving nasty men night after night is on over-drive.)
She shouts to Rayfield. Rayfield is half sitting, half standing next to his barstool. He’s barely upright at all.
“I’m brewing you a pot of black coffee, Ray Ray.”
His solemn face widens into a wide grin of appreciation up into his eyes.
“Thank you, Baby.”
The music in his voice says it all.
Half-pint feeds a handful of quarters into the jukebox. Too drunk to read the song titles.
He pokes and punches the letters and numbers blindly. He’s like a piano player with boxing gloves.
The crackle of a 45 rpm single sizzles aloud, followed by Eric Clapton’s voice and guitar:
“If you want to hang out, you've gotta take her out, cocaine / If you want to get down, get down on the ground, cocaine / She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie, / Cocaine. . .”
Meanwhile, Rayfield chugs a hot cup of black coffee like it's iced tea. His ears perk up like a hunting dog at the sound of a shotgun blast.
He stands, clapping his hands to the beat, shouting,
“Awwww Right! My man, Eric Clapton!”
Half-pint sneers and pulls his straw hat off and slams it on the floor with a disgusted shout.
“Damn it! I didn’t mean to play THAT--I wanted Waylon and Willie!”
Fast Eddy belly laughs as Amber starts singing along like a cat with its tail on fire.
Half-pint scoops up his hat and loses balance toppling over like a stack of poker chips.
Quick as a panther, Rayfield Wright snatched him off the floor like a wide receiver gaining possession of a fumbled ball. I suddenly realize I’m witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
His voice is way low and purring.
“Where ya goin’, my man--it ain’t over till the last ball drops?”
Half-pint is humiliated.
“Shit fire--I’m about to beat your ___ ass--let’s get er done!”
(We all think we know what word he left out. But at least he left it out.)
Now I’m realizing this little fellow hasn’t really said anything racist all evening.
A man this drunk--if he’s of that sort--is loose enough with his tongue to say anything if provoked.
Our little hero has been cool enough for Sunday school, start to finish. He’s not scared, he’s not smart and his ego is too big. But - I’m thinking whoever labeled him racist misjudged him.
I let it go. Who cares at this point? I’d say the jury is out on that one.
Closing time at The Four Horsemen bar is coming on fast. Last Call is shouted out and free rounds pile up--two drinks each. Rayfield needs to win this game just to break even on the cost of the alcohol.
Right about now - the front door swings open and the air changes inside.
A little Mexican guy not more than five and a half feet tall creeps in carrying some kind of ice chest by its plastic handle. He walks up to each patron and offers to sell them the contents of the container.
Bob wonders aloud what the Cabellero has to offer.
The lid opens and homemade carne asadas are revealed. Sliced beef with marinade wrapped in a tortilla. A quick parlay and Bob gets one for me and one for himself. They are hot and delicious, filling a very large empty space in an empty belly.
“LAST CALL is OVER”
This pool match is dead even.
Roy Orbison is “Crying” on the jukebox, and Rayfield is suddenly as steady as the mast on a dinghy in a typhoon--which is to say--he’s about ready to tank. Comically, it’s been scratch after scratch, back and forth the entire game. Now, the last ball must be sunk and it’s Rayfield Wright--Philanthropist & Humanitarian for the win.
IF. . . and only if.
The biker “club” is huddled like a drunken football team around the pool table now and Half-pint grips a nearby stool against an impending faceplant.
All eyes on the giant Super Bowl hero. Rayfield is as blind as a dead skunk.
He grabs another red hot cup of java and lets it roar down his throat without touching his tongue. The crowd groans and cringes like it’s us on fire.
Amber leans across the bar counter with her ample bosoms pushing up like the twin moons of Mars. She smiles at Rayfield with the sweetest smile a master artist could paint on his best day.
I listen and think of Gene Hackman in the locker room of HOOSIERS.
“You are a World Champion, Ray Ray. Winning is what you’re all about. On your worst day, you win.”
With that vote of confidence, Rayfield Wright stands up taller than the Washington monument, strides over to the pool table, and lifts the half-pint’s cue out of the little man’s hand.
“Let me borrow this--will you, Son?”
He turns, lines up the shot, and--in one firm stroke sends the eight ball into the corner pocket after calling it.
The room echoes with deafening applause.
So let it be written-- so let it be done.
Ostrich boots: 1
Game, Set, and Match
Rayfield’s left hand shot out, palm facing up. He wiggled his fingers with an implied message saying, “Gimme, gimme, gimme.”
Instead of saying the words, Big Cat asked a question instead.
“Say Man--what name do you go by?”
Half-Pint, more unconscious than not, fumbled around for his shirt pocket.
Locating it, he unsnapped and fingered out a bill wad.
It was obviously Fast Eddy’s loser wad.
The small man’s tongue was snaking around his mouth and a teeny part of his brain was placing long-distance calls to his vocals cords.
The wad made its way out of the pocket, wavered in mid-air a bit like a dragonfly, and ended up in the catcher’s mitt-sized paw of the legendary Dallas Cowboy with the half-lidded eyes.
A grunt worked around in the loser’s throat - cleared away smoke and phlegm with an awful grating sound and he finally answered Rayfield’s question about his name.
“Weldon Swink. Glad to meet-cha.”
Then he teetered backward and landed on his butt right-solid on the nasty floor. His hand was still straight out as though to shake hands. He didn’t even wince. He just shook his head and answered nobody at all.
“Okay, I will.”
Rayfield pivoted and paid the liquor bill. He couldn’t read the numbers on his receipt, so he just handed the wad to Amber and said, “If there’s any left--it’s your tip, Baby.”
Bob started computing out loud…
“Fast Eddy owns this bar. He loses a wad of cash to the kid in the ostrich boots named Weldon Swink. Then Swink loses the same wad to Rayfield Wright who then pays his bar bill with that same wad and it goes back into Fast Eddy’s pocket! Who came out ahead?”
Fast Eddy is standing listening to this and bellows the answer to Bob’s question.
“What it means is that I just let everybody drink all night...FOR FREE!”
Amber tugged at Fast Eddy’s sleeve.
“What about your crowd bet? Who did you bet would win?”
Fast Eddy’s face went even whiter than usual.
“Oh Gawd…” he groaned and slumped onto the nearest barstool.
We all looked at each other and decided we didn’t want to know.
Everybody headed for the Exit.
The following week Bob and I returned.
Bob asked and Amber answered with a giggle.
“Well, Eddy had to sell his bus. Let’s just put it that way.”
The last of the Four Horsemen apparently met his Apocalypse.
And that’s another memory for my book.
A Funny Thing Happened to Me on My Way to Armageddon