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By Scott Phillips

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It was only seven o’clock, and I guessed Billy had another seven or eight hours to go. The bartender, an old-before-his-time hillbilly named Jake Bearden with eyebrows like blond sagebrush and deep furrows running from his nose alongside his mouth, looked like he wanted to say something but he kept his counsel. “I think I’d like to get me some strange tonight, Wayne,” the old man said. What he meant was I should pick up some girls and he’d decide which one he wanted to screw. Looking around the roadhouse I saw only two unaccompanied women, both of them worn-out b-girls the old man had tired of months before.

The whole place smelled like mercurochrome and ammonia and mold. “Well, young Ogden,” Groff said when he came in, stubbing a dead butt into the ashtray. ” “Back since spring,” I said. ” He snorted. “It always is. ” What the hell, this was one old man who knew how to keep a secret. ” Groff’s wild grey eyebrows lifted, and I couldn’t tell whether he was dubious or impressed. ” “Painful, broken ribs. ” “That’s the thing. ” “I want to make sure I understand. ” “The same. ” “All right. You don’t want morphine, it’s too hard to administer properly.

THREE A PALMFUL OF WARM SPIT A FEW DAYS LATER I was still getting over the shock of having knocked up my wife. Sally had woken up nauseous and pissed off at me for something she couldn’t or wouldn’t put into words, and for the first time since my return in May I was missing the nature of my relations with the gals in my employ in Rome: sexual in several cases but strictly impersonal. It was Monday morning and my first task of the day was to spring a couple of farmboys at Police Headquarters downtown.

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