Down on his luck once this is the scene where Joe first meets Rita, Frank Hill’s young twenty-five year old wife.
Down the block was a seven store strip mall. He needed coffee. He grabbed his tattered knapsack from the seat and strode towards it, but the stores were closed. He swore to himself. Nothing else was in sight except for a darkened pickup halfway down the block of stores. The high beams snapped on, blinding him.
He thought back on other nights and readied himself for a confrontation with a jealous husband, a father or brother. The situation was all too familiar. It wasn’t his fault women were attracted to him. Someday he knew he’d be shot, beaten or stabbed and left to die in an alley, just another victim no one cared about. He would die alone just like Darla had said. His chest pressed against him. He didn’t want to die until he’d had a chance to be someone. It wouldn’t be fair, but what in his life had been fair.
The pickup rolled towards him.
He froze and shielded his eyes. There was no place to hide. He took a step backward and stopped. The pickup stopped. He took another step. The pickup moved again.
Angry, he ran at the pickup. It lurched to a stop and almost hit him.
Mad and tired of the games the driver of the truck was playing, Joe felt ready for a fight. He banged on the hood, then banged again.
The driver's side window rolled down.
“What do you think you're doing?” said a woman in a loud irritated voice.
Joe banged on the hood again.
“You looking for trouble?” she said. “Because if you are, you got it.”
The driver’s door with EAGLE CREEK RANCH on it in black letters opened and she stepped out. She was a striking copper-haired woman with hazel eyes in her early twenties who knew how to position herself where he could get a good look at her.
She looked like a cheap whore. She wore a short denim skirt, a low cut sequined blouse, and silver sandals. His eyes roamed from her breasts to her legs. Her eyes taunted him. Yet her mouth held a certain sadness. The pistol she held was pointed at him.
He backed away with his hands in the air.
“What do you know,” he said with a chuckle. “A fucking whore who thinks she’s something because she’s got a pistol.”
“My name’s Rita,” she said in an angry voice. “The pistol’s loaded, and I know how to use it.”
“You tried to run me down.”
“You were in my way. Just another drunken bum who got beat up. The world is full of people like you. Think you’ll be missed?”
Joe’s eyes blazed. “You…”
The first shot hit the pavement in front of his feet.
“The next shot won’t miss.”
Her eyes held the same look of hate his father’s had the day Joe’s mother left.
“I don’t like the game you’re playing,” said Joe.
“It’s not a game. This is real life. Either you survive or you don’t. The choice is yours.”
She waved the pistol at him. He turned, headed towards the street and put his thumb out. A car rumbled by, then another. The next car stopped. Joe looked back at her. She had lowered the pistol.
He was pissed and didn’t need this bullshit. He strode back to her. The car pulled away, blowing its horn.
“I don’t need shit from a whore like you,” he said. “I’ll show you what real life is like. What do you charge? We can do it right here in your truck.”
He feinted to his right, tossed his knapsack at her, then charged. The shot missed his head as he ducked. She slugged him with the pistol and he staggered backward. She came at him with a fury of punches, most of which missed. He pushed her against the truck, shook the pistol from her grip, grabbed her and pinned her arms back. She struggled and he forced her to her knees.
“Are you going to behave?” he said.
“You’re hurting me. You fucking asshole.”
“Are you going to behave?”
She nodded and he let her up.
“Don't you ever call me a whore again,” she said. “Understand? I'm not a whore.”
“Then what are you?”
She came at him again, swinging wildly.
He hit her cheekbone just below her right eye and she went down hard. He picked the pistol up and tossed it into the truck.
He stared at her limp body. She groaned. He didn’t care if he’d hurt her. He wanted to walk away and leave her in the parking lot where she belonged. He’d hit a few women before, some deserved it and some didn’t. For sure this one had it coming. He took a quick look at the deserted street, then back at her. He shook his head, sighed and picked her up. Her head rested against his shoulder. He smelled her jasmine perfume. For a moment he enjoyed the warmth of her body before he put her in the front seat of the truck. He felt himself harden and took the keys from the ignition.
She groaned again and opened her eyes, shook her head once then looked at him with her best if-looks-could-kill glance. She groped for the pistol.
“You dirty bastard,” she said. “I bet you like hitting women. I should have shot you when I had the chance.”
“Good thing you didn’t, we’re just getting to know each other.”
“Keep dreaming asshole.”
She groped for the keys.
Joe stood in front of the truck jingling them. He opened the passenger door and slid his way inside.
“Joe Oliver,” he extended his hand.
“Not real friendly, are you?”
His musky masculine odor jarred her. It was a smell she thought she’d put behind her when she left Gunnar’s to marry her husband Frank.
“Not to a bum like you.”
“I’m not a bum.” His eyes blazed.
With his hat pulled down over his eyes she didn’t know if he was looking at her or through her. This wasn’t the game she had expected. She felt the thrill of excitement and a touch of guilt over what she’d done. Had she betrayed Frank’s trust in her tonight by tangling with someone like Joe?