Carson liked the Muleskinners. It was one of the few bars in Tidewater where he could go without getting into trouble or meeting someone who wanted to drag him outside and across the gravel. The Muleskinners was lived-in and downbeat from the worn cow hide on the chairs to the rough hews oak bar with its even rougher liquors. It was a beloved watering hole for bikers and while Carson had never got on a bike – at least not one he owned in a sober state – he had a grudging respect for bikers who kept themselves to themselves and gave him his space.
On a wet Tuesday night in April there were no bikers and Carson, Jimmy and Jed almost had the place to themselves. Carson disliked the lack of atmosphere and the risk of being overheard. He went over to the antique juke box and fed it quarters. Some old song from 40 years ago blasted out about “Mister Jones.”
“Who the fuck was Mr. Jones?” said Jed.
“Like I’d know that,” growled Carson. He was on edge from a long day laying pipes by the James River. He glugged the whisky and it stung his mouth. He wanted to blur that edge and bury the image of two nights ago.
“You saw the news reports?” murmured Jimmy.
As if on cue the image of the missing kid from Newport News appeared on the big screen over the bar.
Carson was on his feet before he realized it, hollering at Mike the bartender.
“For God’s sake Mike. Get it on football and git rid of the local news,” he said.
Mike wore his usual vacant expression.
“You know we don’t have black faces in this bar?”
Mike laughed quietly and gave a toothless grin. “Well not been since I worked here.”
Jed was chucking. “Like they’d know not to go here. Wouldn’t get us going to their church. Remember when that guy walked in?”
“Walked out again right fast,” chimed in Jimmy.
Carson liked it when the banter started flowing. It steered the conversation away from where they wanted it to go and the kid’s face in the marshes before the heavy machinery came down on it. What was that anyhow? A transmission from an old truck they had told him.
When they looked up at the TV again they saw a line of people, police and residents of the South East community looking for him. They were at least 15 miles in the wrong directions.
“Boy that scent has gone cold,” declared Jed.
Carson shot him that look he reserved from Diana when dinner was an abomination. “Shut the hell up.”
“Hey Mike. I told ya to change that channel.”
“Oh right,” said the barman. “Steelers it is.”
Carson could deal with the Steelers. Just not the diggers. He thought of the dirt and the blood and blamed the kid for his dirty mouth. If he hadn’t said those things he would have got away with a beating. Racism cut both ways but folks didn’t seem to realize that. He took another slug of whisky. The edge was starting to rub off. He caressed his grease strewn Levis and imagined the smooth feel of Diana’s legs. Maybe it would not be such a bad night, after all.