Ed Boyd and Barry Edwards were inseparable, and had been since they were nine. Years ago, I, Myron Smyth made a futile attempt to teach Barry to stand on his own. The lessons never took. So, I wasn? t surprised when Ed, quietly nursing a beer after consuming four eggs from the pickle jar, silently broke wind and Barry immediately covered for him. Did Barry stop with an ? oops’? No. He jumped in, his ruddy face turning scarlet; nostrils flared, his eyes beginning to tear and said, “Aahhhh.
Behind his senseless grin, he looked much as he had in the fourth grade trying to put one over on us; only today, acne scars ad replaced the pimples and stubble covered his chin. His ears still stood out like radar disks oscillating when he spoke, and a single strand of mousy hair curled on his forehead under a cap that read ? l’m with Stupid’ and a red arrow pointed down between his small hazel eyes and toward his crooked nose. ? Give it up,? I said planting a fresh long neck in front of Barry and swiping a five from the stack of bills lying in front of him. Ed tapped a fresh Marlboro from his pack and fished in a pocket for a light.
His beefy hand was patting at his breast pocket when Barry flicked a lighter ending his search. The flame exposed the cleft in Ed’s chin, a tendril of smoke spiraling past his lips, and a fresh raspberry burn in a spot above his left brow. He leaned back, relaxed his body, and melted into the bar stool without comment. ?How ? bout them Cubs?? I asked, wiping down the bar. ?Going to do it this year?? “Yep,” Barry said. We’d followed the team since junior high, win or lose; they belonged to us. In the ninth grade, we? d formed a club to honor The Mad Dog, Greg Maddux, and called ourselves ? The Dog’s Breath.
Our bond lasted well past high school, all the way to the Cubs vs. Pirates game in ’99. It didn’t make it past the post-game celebration where Ed buried his truck up to the axles in mud and slipped into the trees for a pee, leaving a bed full of empty beer cans and ruts in the Moyers? yard. Ed? s convenient absence resulted in my stuttering attempt to declare our innocence, a trip to the county jail, and a two-thousand-dollar fine. Seated on the other side of the bar was Arron Schumacher; we called him the Shot Man. He came in every day at two-fifteen and had a single shot of Peppermint Schnapps.
On Christmas Eve and the seventh of June, he’d have a second, he first to honor his God and the second in memory of his wife. He? d always buy a round for the bar and leave a ten dollar tip. ? The Breath still rooting for the Cubs?? he asked, nodding toward the flat screen that hung behind and above my shoulder where the game was on with the sound off. ?Sure thing, Mr. Schumacher.? ?Got any squares left?? He pulled out his wallet and extracted a twenty dollar bill. ?Give the boys a drink while you? re at it.? Stuffing his wallet back into his hip pocket, he straightened his bow tie with both hands.
He picked up the shot and blew across he lip of the glass as if to cool it before partaking. Then he sipped from the edge and held the liquid in his mouth like a fine wine, his nose in the air, and savored the taste. I took the twenty, and when I returned The Shot Man? s change, he said, ? Wayne Johnson was held up last night, happened while he was closing up.? Watching the game over my shoulder, he let his eyes drift down to lock on mine, ? lt put him in intensive care.?? Wayne? Gee, that? s bad. We used to be pretty good friends,? I said. Wayne Johnson was in our class; an original member of ? The Dog? s Breath? ith Ed, Barry and me.
I wagged my head, considering. ?Guess we still are friends, but we drifted apart after high school and he married Gwen Hobbs and she popped a set of twins. Then not even a year later, a second set. Wayne with a wife and four little girls, think about it, no wonder he doesn? t have time for beer.? Barry looked around Ed at Mr. Schumacher and asked, ? Last night?? ?Yes.? Mr. Schumacher smoothed the front of his cardigan sweater, palms starting at his nipples and ended with them folded on the lap of his gabardine slacks. ?We were at Johnson? s last night.?
Barry ooked at Ed and then bent over, reaching down toward his shins, his mouth forming an ? 0. ‘ Ed leaned forward with his elbows on the bar, bruised right hand clenched, while he massaged it with the left; cracking his knuckles loudly and blocking Barry from Mr. Schumacher? s line of vision. ?Are you talking about a robbery right there at the Packet?? I asked Schumacher. ?Yes, that little convenience store – lunch counter – carwash place his dad had.? ?Intensive care?? ?That? s what they tell me down at the bank,? said Schumacher. ? Gee, I? m in there almost every day. I always need something, oaf of bread, can of beans, breath mints??
I let my voice drift off thinking about Wayne and began to fill the sink with soapy water. ?l suppose it was someone off the highway. Wayne picks up a lot of pass-through traffic.? ?Was he alone?? Barry asked. ? He was alone when we were? hey!? He grabbed for something under the bar top and swung toward Ed, his eyebrows drawing a V between his eyes; accentuated by the giant arrow that pointed southward. ?Yeah, Bear and I had lunch there yesterday.? Ed? s voice seemed over loud. ?Picked up a Lotto ticket; but it wasn’t any good. Wayne was behind the counter, nd Gwen was filling plates. He swung his hands back onto the bar and cracked his knuckles loudly.
Barry added nothing. ? Whoa?? said Schumacher, his eyes on the screen overhead. I turned to catch the Cubs trap a runner at second, my hands full of suds and dripping of water; little tributaries ran down my forearms and spilled from my elbows. My back was to the room and they tagged him out. When I turned back, Barry was standing next to Ed. Barry was the same height standing as he was sitting and it gave me a strange, surreal feeling like he was suspended from the ceiling, and bobbing up and down as if ttached to a giant bungee cord.
He threw one arm into the air with a fist extended; his head cocked down, gave out a hoot, and hopped back onto the bar stool. ?The perpetrators must have come in as he was putting his cash into the money bag,? said Schumacher. ?He used to drop it down in the floor safe,? I said, drying my elbows. ?When his father had the place, we dropped everything. Mr. Johnson had a key. The armored car driver had a key. The safe couldn? t be opened until the next morning, and then it went straight to the bank.? I looked at Ed for confirmation. ?As teenagers,I guess you all worked for Wayne’s father at one time, or another.?
I nodded agreement at Schumacher. ?Knew his routine,? he continued nodding back. ? Probably saw Mr. Johnson do it a million times.? Ed said, ? 1? d call it an attractive nuisance.? Behind him, the room was in shadow, and the glow from the flat screen and the neon light above the walk-in cooler revealed a sheen of perspiration on his brow. As the TV screen changed, his face illuminated, then faded. With each flicker his expression grew, eyes dark gray, flick – then black, flick ? then wells of polished coal. ?Huh?? Barry squirmed on his bar stool. Ed continued, “Yeah, a nuisance. Think about it. It’s late at night.
It’s dark outside. You’re standing in that lit-up store, broadcasting to the world that you’re in there handling money. We been in that parking lot. It’s like watching a movie; you’re in a dark theater, and he’s up there on the big shiny bigger-than- friggin-life screen. I? d say everybody knows that routine.? “Uh? , sure,” Barry said rubbing behind a Dumbo sized ear with a stubby finger as a small furrow grew across his forehead. “It could have been a desperate passer-by? a nuisance. ” ? Taking advantage of the moment,? said Ed. Yeah, the moment.? ?Or a desperate friend,? offered Schumacher, while he eyed his shot glass.
Have another Mr. Schumacher?? I asked. ?No thanks.? He reached for the empty glass at the same time l did. I let him keep it as he continued, ? Whoever it was, well; they didn? t get away with much. They say Wayne put up a fight. Grabbed the wire rack by the cash register and threw it at the guy. Hit him too. But he just overpowered Wayne, gave him a beating, and left him unconscious on the floor. The police are looking at the camera video. They should know something this afternoon.? The bar was silent. I could hear the buzz from the neon Bud Light sign and the thud of the beer bottle when Ed planted it on the bar.
Breaking into our individual thoughts, the phone rang. I reached to pick it up, listened a moment, then said, ? Sure he? s here.? I held the phone out to Ed, who just looked at me, unmoved. Who was I, Barry? I laid the phone on the bar in front of Ed and returned to my soapy sink. ?Hello?? behind my back, Barry said, ? Hey, Angie.? I turned it time to see his face light-up. ?No. No, we? re with Myron, down at the bar for the Cubs game. It should only be a couple more hours.? His ears id the little oscillating thing, and he was grinning into the phone.
He listened, and his smile began to fade, leaving the dim bar light to accentuate the pits in his cheeks. ?Sure Angie, 1? Il tell him.? I watched the sparkle vanish from his eyes. ?l wasn? t? ,? he hesitated, and then wound up the conversation with, ? Yup, I? I| see that he gets home today.? He handed the phone back without further comment. Just as I reached for it, he hauled it back, punched in a series of numbers, and whipped it to his ear. ?Em? Hey, it? s me, Bear, uh Barry. I? m still down here at the bar. Everything ok?? He nodded solemnly, listened, and then asked, ? You didn? have any trouble getting the little man down for his nap, did yah? ” He turned sideways, hunched away from Ed, and offering him his back. ?Good. Hey, tell him, his Pops will be home soon.? Texchanged a look with Mr. Schumacher.
At one time, there might have been speculation about Barry? s son, his dimpled chin and his small unspectacular ear, but there was no skepticism about the love Barry had for the boy. It was a slow Saturday afternoon; no other patrons wandered in. Settled for a lazy day, I leaned against the barback; my elbows cocked o support my weight, and watched the Cubs struggle with the Astros. The umps are at a different game than the one we’re playing,” I said shrugging upright. “How can they call that safe? ” The Astros runner was clearly out at third. I looked around, but Ed was sitting sullenly, Barry was uncharacteristically quiet, and Mr. Schumacher made a move toward home. “Mr. Schumacher, you headed out? ” I asked. “You ought to wait for the end of the game. ”
Not today,? he said. ?Those umpires are blowing too many calls. It takes the joy out of watching the boys.? He tugged at the hem of his cardigan and threw his shoulders back. Honestly, I? still concerned about Wayne. I thought I might run by the Packet and see if there? s anything I can do.? After Mr. Schumacher had taken his leave, I went into the back room for a case of Miller Lite. Stepping into the walk-in cooler from the rear, I began to fill the empty rack and through the glass doors | could see Ed and Barry at the bar. Barry was hopping up and down on the far side of his bar stool, and Ed was waving him off. I could hear the voices, but the words were muffled by the hum of refrigeration. Barry grabbed the cap off his head and slapped it down on the bar.
Ashes flew out of the ash tray and scattered across the polished wood. As I came back into the room, Ed was trying to calm Barry down, “Let’s have one more. Myron set ? em up. ” Ed sat forward on the stool and reached into his back pocket. Barry huffed, but climbed back on his barstool, his face red and his ears vibrating under the edge of his cap. I popped the top on two longnecks and walked them over to the men. That’s when things started happening. I’m not sure if the doors bursting open to flood the room with daylight or the yells from Barry came first, but, there was light, and there was noise.
Ed’s bar stool fell over backward as he flew up out of his seat; the Police stomped in and grabbed him by the arms. There was a scuffle. Ed’s feet kicked out solidly to pound into the wooden bar skirt. Stools flew; tables scooted, glasses clanked, and the cooler doors swooshed open and slammed shut again, sending a blast of frost out into the room. And all the while, Barry bellowed and swung his cap from side to side. The sound miraculously came on the flat screen TV, so all of the hub-bub was overlaid with the screams from Wrigley Field, “Holy Cow! Hooooo? olley ? Cow!?
When things settled down a wad of twenties lay by Ed? s beer. A sprinkle of ash had settled on the roll, and Barry? s cap was bottom-up on the bar, the arrow pointing squarely at Ed. The police handcuffed Ed and read him his Miranda Rights. Barry stood aside with his hands in the air, giving everyone plenty of room. Later that day, I received a call saying Wayne would survive with nothing greater than a few bruises and a wounded pride. I had plenty of time to reflect on Barry. The ol? Bear, he? d finally done it. He? d learned to stand on his own and on the same day the Cubs left only eight men on base.
Sometimes it took longer to get where you? re going, unfortunately, today our team had hit two double plays and killed any potential chance of a rally. The final play was Castro? s? hit of a lazy fly to center, the old can-of-corn play; a no brainer ? easy out. Castro? d shoved it all the way to the warning track, but the fielder caught it regardless, while falling down, no less, ending the game with a Cub? s loss of four-three. I shrugged; ? The ? Dog? s Breath? would survive to rally on another day. Wayne would recover, and Barry showed promise. ?Bout them Cubs? Well, maybe next year.