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Embed code for: The Ace of Hearts good one
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Ruben J. Ortega 2,800 words
Ace had the feeling that they might be drunk when Lana told him to draw a mustache on her. “Make me look like Wyatt Earp,” she said, and hands him her eyebrow pencil. Ace leaned up against the bar to steady him, shut his left eye, and aimed the pencil at her upper lip. Everything in the room seemed to spin around her face, so to regain his equilibrium; he closed his eyes for a few seconds and meditated on the smell of rancid liquor.
He gingerly traced the outline of a handlebar mustache onto her white delicate cheeks, and then filled it rapidly with short jerky strokes. People around them gawked. Ace had learned to draw while doing time in Soledad, and liked it when people watched, because it made him feel important.
When he was done, Lana yanked off his cowboy hat and put it on, then said, “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”
Ace took off his Levi jacket and flung it around her shoulders like a cape, then said, “I ain’t going down without a fight sheriff. If you want me, come and get me.”
Lana giggled, pounced on him like a puma, and then wrapped her tiny arms and legs around his powerful torso.
“I give up,” Ace said, and smothered her with a kiss.
The onlookers clapped and whistled.
The bartender walked up to them, took their drinks, and said, “You two have had enough.”
They were in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Ace was from L.A. and had never seen so many bars in one place, where the music splashed onto the street, and pulled you in with its ebb.
Ace worked in his brother’s print shop near Wallingford.
“You need to get out of that L.A. shit-hole,” his brother had said. “Away from all those thugs you hang around with.”
They staggered into a bar next-door, and got noticed by a fat bald bartender, when Ace bumped into a chair and knocked it over. He could feel the bartenders gaze stringing along the back of his head like a spider’s web.
Ace was thirty-five and had spent nine of those years in prison. The pattern was always the same: he’d get out, find a job, meet a girl, and then go back to prison for doing something stupid. The last time they gave him five years for robbing a bank on a dare. He was drunk and didn’t even have a gun.
Ace could do well for a while, and even clothe himself with respectability, but sooner or later he would go on a binge and throw it all away. He’d met Lana in a bar on the first night he arrived from L.A., and moved in with her on the next night.
That was two weeks ago, and he wanted it to be different this time. That was why he left L.A. He felt his luck had changed when he’d met Lana, but deep in his heart, he knew that it was just a matter of time before he was sucked into the black vortex of insanity, that would eventually end in shame and remorse.
He pulled Lana into a throng that was gathering around a band and tried his best to blend in. They stuck out like misplaced carrots in a cucumber patch. When the band started to set up, Ace noticed the picture of a red bomb exploding on the bass drum with the words, “Blues Explosion,” coming out of it. He waited until Lana made a trip to the bathroom, then walked up to the bandleader and said, “Do you know that tune by Charlie Musselwhite called, Stingaree?”
The bandleader looked at him like he was a squeegee bum and said, “Yeah, I might know ‘Stingaree.’ What about it?”
Ace pulled a crumpled ball of money out of his front pocket, peeled off a fifty, and held it up to his face.
“What about this guy? Do you know him?”
The bandleader shook his long black hair into place, smiled, then said, “I see a strong family resemblance. Whom should I dedicate it to?”
“To Lana from Ace.”
When Lana came back, he had her sit in the best table facing the band. He sat opposite of her and faced the crowd.
The place filled up fast with young urbanites that were fascinated by the sight of what appeared to be a large man kissing an effeminate little cowboy.
The bandleader walked up to the microphone, shook his hair back into place like a girl and said, “Ladies and gentlemen. This first tune is dedicated to Lana. Directly, from the Ace of hearts.”
The music tore into the room like an earthquake of raw energy that shook waves of rhythm into the souls of all who were there. Lana drenched Ace with kisses that would have made Cupid jealous, and the women nudged their men with looks that said, “Why don’t you ever do something like that for me?”
Their public demonstrations of love—which bordered on the pornographic—vicariously endeared them to the young couples, because, what they did openly; they only dreamed of doing in private.
The couples sent them plates of food to sober them up. Every time one arrived, Ace would raise his glass in appreciation.
“That’s nice of them,” Lana said as she plucked a few morsels at random. “Too bad I’m not hungry.” She drained the rest of her Margarita and said, “Let’s dance.”
They danced like they were the only ones there. Ace felt there wasn’t enough room on the dance floor, so when he spun Lana into a chair and knocked it over, he kicked it to the side. When they sat down and he ordered another drink, the waitress said, “I’m sorry sir, but I can’t serve you anymore liquor.”
“How’ bout one for the road,” Ace asked.
“You’re lucky I didn’t kick you out when you first walked in,” a voice from behind him said. Ace felt something resting on his shoulder, and turned around to see that it was the bartender’s enormous belly. The gold buttons on his red vest were ready to pop, and underneath his opened white shirt, a flap of pink skin hung over a strained horseshoe belt buckle.
“The only reason you’re still here,” he said, “is that the people liked you and tried to sober you up.”
“I didn’t come in here to get sober,” Ace said. “If I wanted to do that, I’d go to a AA meeting.”
“I don’t want you in here,” he said. “Get out.”
The bartender slipped his hand into his vest pocket and fondled something. Ace thought that it might be a sap, or maybe he was playing with his pet mouse, either way, he didn’t want to find out.
“Let’s get out of here,” Lana said. “This place sucks.”
When Lana tugged on his arm, Ace saw his chance to get out with dignity. “Everybody’s a fucking cop,” he yelled as he stumbled out the door.
The cold air slogged him like water on a hot iron and caught him by surprise. He saw a dwarf staring at him from behind a white picket fence that was dressed in a black wrinkled suit and a banged up bowler hat, and felt that this was a bad omen.
People clipped by him like images on an old stuttering film, and left vapor trails in their stead. He felt himself spiraling into that dark place where he did things he couldn’t remember, but fought hard against the drag that would eventually pull him in.
They passed by a street artist that drew caricatures. His face was dirty—as if personal hygiene had long ceased to be a priority—and his hair looked like a loofha. He used his overalls to wipe the paint off his fingers, and a cigarette danced in his mouth when he talked. He had numerous samples of his work displayed around an easel and a chair.
“I want a picture of me as Wyatt Earp,” Lana said.
Ace picked up a picture for closer inspection, and turned a critical eye on it. “How much?” he asked.
“Five dollars,” he said pointing to a sign hidden behind the easel.
Ace thought that they weren’t too bad—considering the time that went into them—and thought that they were like all the rest of the corny pastel jobs he’d seen in every carnival since he was a kid.
Lana’s eyes were big and green, with brown and red flecks in them. She used them to her full advantage and said, “Please?”
When Ace gave him the thumbs up, the artist sat Lana down on the chair, and quickly did the sketch. It took him less than a minute to draw, and when he was done; he proudly showed it to Ace.
Ace saw what looked like a hat and a mustache with a big yellow star, riding on a stick pony, and thought that it was the most grotesque thing he’d ever seen.
“Oh, isn’t that cute?” Lana said when she took the picture in her hands.
Ace wanted to make sure he got laid, so he peeled off a five, and begrudgingly gave it to him.
“Give him a twenty,” Lana said. “I really like it.”
“Twenty dollars? Are you crazy? This is the worst picture I ever saw in my life.”
Lana had this horrific expression—like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing—and said, “You don’t love me, you just want to use me.”
Ace could see that her eyes were starting to get soggy—the dam was about to burst. “Look at this sweety, this is a bad picture. He’s trying to rip us off.”
“I don’t care,” she said. “If you love me, you’ll pay him the twenty dollars.”
Ace could see the artist smirking in the background—rotten bastard—and that made him angrier. “I ain’t gonna give him shit, he said. “He’s lucky he got five bucks.”
“Fine,” she said. “Go find yourself a tree next to the freeway that you can sleep under tonight, cause you ain’t gonna sleep with me.”
“I ain’t sleeping under no damn tree,” he said. “I’m going back to LA.”
“Well go on and get the hell out of here,” she said.
She flagged down a cab and disappeared.
Ace was pissed off and wished he’d never seen the dwarf.
With a little effort, Ace found his truck and headed home. He hopped on the I-5 south. The next thing he knew he was on a one-way off ramp that led down into the docks at Elliot Bay. A guard shack near the entrance had him worried about which lie to tell its occupant, when he realized that it was empty.
Ace decided to do some exploring, and soon found himself lost in a vast maze of van containers. With growing exasperation at his loss of direction, he felt that he’d finally solved the problem to his predicament, because he was now on an open parade ground, instead of the confining rows of brick-red boxcars.
Convinced, that the exit was at the other end of the field, he smashed down the accelerator in order to save time.
Ace was awakened by the impact of his truck against a chain link fence, which disappeared fast across his windshield. He heard the splash of water, then felt its coldness surrounding him. The cab filled rapidly with water through the open windows, and the air above his head disappeared quickly. Ace thought this was unfair, and thought that he should’ve had more time, at least, that’s the way it happened in the movies.
He craned his neck, filled his lungs with the last few inches of remaining air, and tried to swim out. Ace could feel the weight of the plunging truck as it pinned his back against the window, and tried to wriggle free.
The truck rolled-over on its side and gave him the release he desperately sought. After he managed to break loose, he saw little bubbles rising towards the dock lights above, like tiny silver jellyfish, shimmering in the darkness. He followed them as far as he could, but the weight of his clothes and boots drained his energy. He was about to give up when he saw the fence. It hung there like a limp rag, ten feet away, and looked like a mirage in the murky green water.
It took all his strength to reach it, and when he stuck his fingers into its distorted diamonds, he felt a rush of hope. As he neared the surface, he felt that his lungs were ready to explode.
That first breath of oxygen rekindled the smoldering wick of his soul that was almost extinguished.
He had ten more feet to climb from the water to the dock. He now faced a new problem. His weight out of the water was too much for the fence to bear. Every time he climbed up a few feet, the hitches would come loose and dropped him back into the water, which would make his hands sting with pain.
After doing this three of four times, and taking down ten feet of fence, he finally managed to catch it on an I-beam that protruded from under the dock. He pulled himself up onto the blacktop and laid there panting. Nothing left for me to do but wait for the cops, he thought, and even expected helicopters to illuminate his presence, as if he’d just performed a death-defying feat.
He dozed off for a couple of hours, and woke up shivering wet. When Ace realized that no one had arrived, he got pissed off. Fuck them, he thought. I’m gonna get warm. He walked towards a building where the lights were still on and found it to be locked. A fleet of new white pick-up trucks parked out front of the building looked promising. They had Seattle city seals on the doors and little orange lights that spun on the roof. He hoped to find one open that he could sleep in. The first door he tried swung open.
He stretched out on the blue vinyl seat and made himself comfortable. Under the dashboard he noticed a yellow magnetic key box. Inside he found a spare key.
Ace started the truck, gunned the engine, and pondered his next move. He looked at his watch. I still have enough time if I haul ass. The bastard has to be there. It was easy for him to find his way out, now that he’d sobered up. He streaked on I-5 heading north and sped past traffic until he came to an accident that slowed things down. He turned on the light on the roof and drove past the pileup on the shoulder.
He drove to Pioneer Square, the place where he last seen Lana, and saw that the artist had gone. However, the dwarf was still there, only now he was swinging on a porch glider with a girl dwarf. “If you looking for Sal,” the dwarf said pointing, “you’ll find him at the Purple Onion Pub.”
Maybe I was wrong about dwarfs.
Ace found Sal playing pool with some of his buddies at the back of the pub.
Shit. I have to start somewhere.
Sal was hunched over the pool table, ready to pop the eight ball into the corner pocket, when he saw Ace walking toward him with grim determination. He stood upright, turned the cue around in his hands like a bat, and said, “Look man, I don’t want any trouble.”
“I’m sorry about what I said earlier,” Ace said. “I came to apologize.”
Sal looked at Ace suspiciously, until he realized his sincerity. “Apology accepted,” Sal said with his cigarette bouncing on every syllable.
After they shook hands, Ace took out a fifty and gave it to him. “I’d like to buy that picture from you, if you still have it.”
Sal smiled and said, “Sure, I have it right here.”
The sun peeked over the horizon and turned the sky into a black ocean of purple rolling clouds. Birds chirped nervously and flitted about the trees in the early morning dampness. Ace caught the sweet scent of her rose garden as he walked up the flagstone path that led to her house. He took a deep breath.
It feels good to be alive.
“Lana,” he called softly from outside. A light went on in the bedroom and framed her small delicate silhouette in the window.
“Is that you?” she asked. “Come inside before you wake the neighbors.”
A raccoon scurried out in front of Ace and looked at him, as if daring Ace to catch him. Ace looked at the picture of Lana in his hands, and then back at the raccoon.
1s he could, but the weight of his clothes and boots drained his energy. He was about to give up when he saw the fence. It hung there like a limp rag, ten feet away, and looked like a mirage in the murky green water.
He dozed off for a couple of hours, and woke up shivering wet. When Ace realized that no one had arrived, he got pissed off. Fuck them, he thought. I’m gonna get warm. He walked