I swallowed hard. It just kept getting more and more unbelievable.
“What do we do about the skinwalkers then?” I whispered.
“We will ride that horse when we come to it,” he said simply and walked around his desk to sit down.
“What if that horse comes tonight?” Dex asked.
“Just don’t let it inside.”
“What?” Like it was that simple?
“Bird will bring you here tomorrow,” Rudy said, taking out a file from his desk and looking ready to busy himself. “Now, I suggest you go out there and cool off. Drinks are on the house, Melinda, the bartender, knows. Forget about things for now. Bird will take care of you.”
“But we need to know more,” Dex pointed out. “We deserve to know more!”
Rudy peered at him through his glasses. “And you will know more. But there could be spies about and the longer you are in here with me, the more that people could suspect that you’re on to something. Right now, all we have is their ignorance. You’re going to want to hold on to that as long as you can.”
Which meant playing up the dumb white folk card. I could do that.
We thanked Rudy and Bird led us out of the office and back into the bar. Amazingly, it had got even busier.
“Is the entire town here?” I asked Bird.
“Yes.” He smiled. He pointed past the pool tables to where some booths and tables flanked the dance floor. “We’ve got the booth with the reserved sign on it. I’ll get the beers from Melinda.”
I followed Dex and Maximus through the crowd. I couldn’t help but stare at every single person we passed. I didn’t even notice the oogley eyes anymore, I was just looking for signs of malice. Who here was the skinwalker? Who here wanted to prove a so point so badly that it may just end in murder?
So far, it didn’t look like anyone here wanted us dead, at least not me. The more I stared at the various dudes, the more I was met with happy drunken smiles. Even the woman, as few as they were, were friendly. It was like a surreal, redneck version of Cheers and I was Norm.
We made our way to a booth that had a torn piece of paper, with the words “Reserved” scribbled on it, placed under an empty beer. Don’t know what I was expecting, velvet rope?
Being as it was the only booth free, it must have been for us, so we sat down and were immediately engulfed by the awkward silence of too many uneasy thoughts in too many heads. I sat beside Dex, with Maximus on the other side. The crazy “filmmakers” versus the “ghost-talking” firecrotch.
It was a prime location for people watching, though. With a pair of wasted cougars on our left and three rugged mountain men on our right, we were smack in the middle of mating town. In front of us, and a step down, lay the dance floor, the perfect place to showcase the mating rituals, which alternated between sloppy line dancing and sloppy grope fests. The schizophrenic jukebox didn’t help either.
As Bird seemed to be taking a while, I finally had to say something to ease the tension.
“So we may die this weekend. That’s cool.”
Both of their eyes flitted to me in unison, both totally unamused. I’m not saying the concept was amusing myself, it’s just I had to say what we all were thinking. I thought it was better than saying, “So you guys really don’t like each other, do you? Let’s discuss.”
I shrugged and waited for one of them to say something. They didn’t. They just ignored each other (and me) until Bird came over with a tray of booze. He plunked down a beer in front of each of us and a shot of something dark and strong.
“What’s this?” I sniffed it. It stung my nostrils, a straight hit to the head.
“Bourbon,” Dex said, smiling, and slammed his back without hesitation.
“Oh,” I raised up my shot to cheers Maximus but he was already done his as well. I looked at Bird who sat down next to him. “Cheers to us then?”
Bird picked up his shot glass and we clinked across the table.
Down the hatch it went, burning wonderfully. I felt like one wasn’t enough but I got started on my beer. Maybe getting drunk was the answer for right now. Rudy was right. We need to forget about things…at least, just for a little bit. Bird would be our eyes.
I relaxed a little and sat back against the crusty velvet cushions. Within a minute one of the waitresses came over and put more beers and more shots down on our table. It was like she had divine telepathy.
“Now let’s do this properly,” I said before anyone could drink. “Let’s just put everything aside and have some fun tonight. Here’s to…New Mexico.”
Surprisingly, Dex and Maximus both smiled at that and we all clinked. Even the cougars beside us chimed in, “To New Mexico!”
This shot tasted a lot better than the first and my insides were already tingly warm. The glasses of wine I had at dinner had done nothing to prepare me for this. Despite a slow metabolism and a well-padded body, I was always a lightweight when it came to drinking. That’s not to say I couldn’t hold my own (I was a champion drinker in high school...not that I’m proud of it), but it definitely didn’t take much for me to get to the tipsy zone.
I turned my fizzy head and looked at Dex sitting beside me. He was peeling the label off of his beer again, as Maximus and Bird talked to each other about the history of the bar.
“Sexually frustrated?” I asked. Yup. Drinking around Dex was not going to be a good idea, I could see this already.
He raised one brow at me in surprise. “Yes,” he smiled, matter-of-factly.
“Because your girlfriend is not here?” I teased.
“Sure.” He had a long gulp of his beer and set it down neatly between his hands. They twitched. He was a very twitchy guy.
The song people were dancing to (some new country piece of crap) just ended and the opening strains of Dire Straits “Walk of Life” came on over the speakers. The song always reminded me of my dad and spending summers fishing on the Columbia River when I was a child.
I couldn’t help but cry out, “I fucking love this song!”
Maximus must have loved it too because he suddenly put down his beer, got up, and held his hand out in front of me.
“Care to dance?” he grinned. Now, normally I don’t dance, at all, but dancing to this song with the studly redhead was sure to be a lot more fun than drinking with Twitchy McGee.
“Okay,” I smiled uneasily and took his hand. He took me out to the dance floor and held my hands and started spinning me around, back and forth, in time to the happy beat. We certainly weren’t as good as the other dancers. Even though everyone was wasted, the people of Red Fox still knew how to move, even if it was sloppy. But Maximus held his own, even though he was a foot taller than I and stepped on my foot more than once (thankfully not my wonky one). I just tried to keep up. It was fun though, the most fun I think I had this entire trip. Not that that was saying much considering the circumstances. Nothing says you’re having a great time like a crow trying to peck your eyes out.
He did look awfully handsome. I know gingers get a bad rap but there was something so very masculine and manly about him. I think the booze prompted me to say the next thing.
“Red Fox,” I mused. “Did they name the town after you?”
He grinned unabashedly and spun me around.
When the song was over, I was prepared to go sit down again, especially as U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came on. But Maximus held me there, prisoner of the dance floor and Bono-rific rock.
“It’s U2,” I explained while trying to move. Slow dancing was one thing and doing it to U2 was overkill.
“It’s classic U2,” he said defensively, bringing me closer to him.
“My opinion of you just went down a notch.”
I was tempted to be a goof and dance like an idiot to the song but Maximus looked serious. He slipped his arm around my waist until I was pressed up against him. I raised my head to see his intentions.
He smiled, sweetly, and brought his face closer to mine, close enough to count the freckles across his broad nose. I tensed up thinking he was going to make a move on me or something, but we moved through the crowd slowly, swaying back and forth, slow dancing.
“Are you really thinking about leaving?” I whispered, aware of the other couples milling around us and the potential for eavesdropping.
“Yeah,” he said slowly in that rich drawl. “I was hoping I might convince you to come with me.”
I was startled. “What? Why would I do that?”
He studied me for a second before saying, “Because you’re crazy if you stay. As nutty as everything sounds, I believe Rudy when he says there’s danger here. If Bird hadn’t been there today, you…wouldn’t be here. You’d be long gone. If this is only going to get worse…”
“I know.” I sighed. I really didn’t want to think about this right now. “But I don’t have a choice.”
“Of course you do!” he exclaimed loudly. He lowered his voice at the curious faces that turned and looked at us. “Of course you have a choice. Just forget it. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t complete this show. There will be other chances. It’s not worth risking your life over, Perry.”
I shook my head. He didn’t understand at all. But I guess that wasn’t his fault.
He looked at me with the most regarded expression. “Think about it. I’ll be leaving in the morning. You can stay in the hotel with me. You’ll be safe, missy. We’ll get out of this darned town and you can focus your efforts on something else. Something, say, that won’t get you maimed by some Navajo supernatural beast.”
“And then what about Dex?” I pointed out. I turned my head and looked over at him. He was putting quarters in the jukebox and being chatted up by more women.
Maximus followed my gaze and chuckled. “Dex will be fine.”
“What if he’s not?” I said. “I can’t just leave him here.”
“Yes, you can. If he doesn’t want to leave, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“OK, I don’t want to leave him here then,” I said begrudgingly.
“Perry. He’d leave you if he had the choice,” he remarked. That stung. It wasn’t true, was it?
“No, he wouldn’t…,” I trailed off despite my brave face.
“Look. Though it’s been years, I reckon I know him better than you do. I’m sure he’s changed in many ways, but he’s still the Dex that I know and the Dex that I know is a selfish son-of-a-bitch who has no regard for anyone else, ever.”
That also stung. It really cut me to hear him say that, even though I wasn’t in any place to counter his opinion.
“You said…he’s been through a lot,” I started.
“He has. I told you that so you’d have a tiny bit of understanding but it doesn’t explain everything. It’s no excuse. Yeah, things in life suck sometimes and they can bring you down and set you back. But all that did was give Dex an even greater excuse to continue being an asshole.”