The Cowboy, Bartender, Crook and Their Lover
The cowboy, usually so svelte,
looked like his own ghost
pulled from the gutter,
it could have been the quahogs
or perhaps a bad truffle
downed to impress the mercurial
girl, picked up the night before
for her willowy figure and owl eyes
a combination designed to make anyone bilious
thought Joe the bartender, who’d
seen it all and then some; seemed like
every dunderhead in town darkened his door
at one time or another
all their egos pounding drinks
swigging dry martinis with a lemon curl
and salt-rimmed Margaritas,
talking big about body shots
and seaweed sake. That cowboy
could sling rodomontade with the best of them,
but last night he’d stayed upwind of the crowd
kind of preoccupied and elusive in his manner
didn’t seem to notice when the girl absconded
with his cashmere coat and all the change from a hundred.
“Cowboy’s normally a bit stingy,” thought Joe
“not one to squander,” just then the generator
faltered, lights dimmed and when they came back up
the boy had gone, leaving behind a pack
of clove cigarettes and a small tip; he
wasn’t alone. The one-eyed man in the corner –
who’d been watching him all night –
he was gone, too, prison tats and all.
Now here it was, next morning
same cowboy, same clothes
same weird Cyclops and mercurial girl
coming through the door.
“Watch what company you keep.
Cowbird’s a parasite. Lays its eggs
in the nests of other birds.” whispered
Joe, rubbing a sweaty palm
the length of a sawed-off shotgun
stored beneath the bar. Everyone knew
his nose for trouble was non-pareil
but this time he shrugged it off;
let the artillery lie quiescent.
He winked, turned his back to draw a beer
and never saw the knife flash twice,
heard the frozen glass mug shatter
against his barroom floor.