The Kickstand was as shabby looking as hole-in-the-wall bar could get if Vex had ever seen one. The only neon lights in the dirty front window that still worked promoted various brands of domestic beer, and of those few were even readable between their fitfully buzzing flickers. Motorcycles of every make, model, and vintage lined up in strangely orderly rows on the dusty lot in front, producing a shimmering labyrinth of chrome, acrylic paint, and flashing handlebar mirrors. She likened the lot immediately to a hedge maze crafted from metal and testosterone.
The sounds of carousing and carrying on murmured over the crackling echoes of billiards as she pushed the front door open and slid through a heavy cloud of smoke. The hazy fog fled at her footsteps, disturbed by her passage as it languidly sketched out the curves of seated figures, the bar, and blurred halos around working and broken light fixtures alike.
A few eyes glanced her way over mugs of half-drunk beer, but just as quickly returned to nursing their drinks when she ignored them and headed straight for the pool tables in back.
“Bill,” she said, stopping short of the green table. “Allow me to buy you a drink.”
The man who turned and looked in her direction leaned on his pool cue and scratched his large nose. Dirty white hair hung over his wide brow and a graying beard hid his square jaw, so smooth the transition between his beard and hair it seemed welded to his face. He moved slowly, his barrel chest rising and falling as if his jacket were a mountain on a thinner man. Vex knew most of it was his own bulk and not the jacket. After a moment, a smile split his beard.
“Who am I to turn down a lady,” he said, took a long drag off of his cigarette and stubbed it out on the edge of the table. Long streamers of white smoke blew out of his nose as he exhaled. The other man at the table, a thin man with short cut blonde hair, straightened up from where he was about to take a shot at the eight ball and glanced at Bill.
Vex turned her head to the side and addressed the bartender. “Gregory, two glasses of Sam Adams, for Bill and his friend.”
The man behind the counter nodded and swept a pair of mugs from the nearby rack.
“No thanks,” Bill’s red-faced, cue-wielding partner huffed. She didn’t recognize him, and Vex thought she’d met most all of her father’s friends who frequented the place—and it seemed like he was friends with everyone at the Kickstand.
With the agility of a striking cobra, Bill rounded the corner of the billiard’s table and cuffed his partner. “Please don’t mind Jimmy. He loses his manners when he’s three sheets to the wind.” The other man wobbled as he gripped him by the collar. “Jimmy. This is Vincent’s kid, Vex. You treat her nice now.”
Jimmy swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbed on his thin neck. “You’re Harrow’s daughter?”
Heads nodded all around the room. Vex didn’t nod, she just tilted her head slightly. It was best not to interfere with the games these guys got themselves into. Already several familiar whiskered faces had emerged from the lingering smoke. White teeth grinning between dark beards gleamed all around, reminding her of the twisted parody of the Cheshire cat. If the cat wore leather, that was.
Bill released Jimmy and he caught himself on the pool table. “Sure, I’ll gladly accept a beer, ma’am.”
Gregory passed by with the frothing mugs of beer as more people slid from their tables and sauntered over. Between the rapidly closing quarters and the thick smoke, Vex tried her best not to feel claustrophobic in the midst of all the friendly smiles.
“How is ole Vince?” “He hasn’t been around in a bit.” “You’re looking quite good.” “I can see she inherited his brow line but not his fashion sense.”
Before the group became too much, it was Bill that came to her rescue. “Don’t crowd the girl!” he hollered. “Balls! You’d think that nobody’s ever had one of their kids visit. And Doc, you bumped the table. Back up! Give her some air.”