Len Morrow hadn’t had a drink in a week, or he wouldn’t have gone in there at all.
Old man Quinn made the best shine in the county, and since the town seemed awful dry, he must be about ready to bring down a new load.
Above, the moon shone down with a harsh light, almost good enough to read by.
Len lifted the latch and eased on in through the door, listening carefully.
Quinn must be away, or his dogs would have been going crazy by now.
All you got to do is walk away.
Sorry, Mister—my mistake.
Len’s heart sank on the realization.
Quinn wouldn’t go away and leave a whole mess of shine unguarded. He wouldn’t leave and take all the dogs with him. Not all of them. That’s for sure…
Len’s feet scuffed the straw and dry boards underfoot, edges turned up from warping lengthwise, they’d been there so long.
Originally a dairy, there hadn’t been cows there in some time, judging by the smell, just hay and dry rot and the unmistakable taint of alcohol.
Len’s heart skipped a beat, but he wasn’t mistaken.
In the center of the room there were barrels, and one of them was up on sawhorses, with the gleam of a spigot sticking out on the end.
Len was just looking around for a cup or a jar or a dipper or anything, wondering if he could just cup his hands under there. He would have to move the lever with his teeth and he didn’t think he could quite do it.
He only had eleven or twelve teeth left and he might as well keep them as long as he could.
Poor old Len needed a drink so bad, he could almost taste it, and it was about then when he heard them coming.
Whoever it was, they were just outside the door and Len didn’t have anywhere to go.
The only saving grace was that they were making more noise than he was, as the door creaked open and the light of a single match flooded the room.
The match was shaken out and Lenny’s senses were screaming to high heaven as the sulfur bit into his nostrils.
She stood in the centre of the open area as the young fellow unbolted the shutters.
The room was flooded by a fine, pure, colorless light. Creeping tendrils of smoke still rose, eddying about as the pair moved through it.
Len was struck by the dogs.
Where were they?
Why were they being so quiet?
It didn’t seem natural. They should have been making the odd little bark, snuffling in amongst themselves, laying around on the ends of their chains. He should have been able to hear the chains rattling.
Dogs muttered amongst themselves quite a bit in his experience.
There was nothing except the sounds of the night, even as a donkey brayed way over on the other side of the hollow. There was the gentle, uneven sigh of the wind in the leaves.
His thoughts were bleak when he spotted the clear glass form between him and the couple.
There was an empty bottle sitting on a three-legged stool. He had been damned lucky not to knock it off and give himself away. That would have set any animals off, including the horse and the cow and the chickens.
His heart sank. There was a whole wooden crate of them open. He saw more boxes stacked up in the darkest corner on his left side. It was away from the door to his right and the set of windows on the south and west corner.
Len wouldn’t have been able to get away with it anyway. They would have surprised him right in the act.
Damn. All he had to do was to be patient and try not to piss his pants.
A sneeze or a cough right about then would have been disaster. The scene held a sick fascination for Len, whose knees weren’t too good these days and always got this slightly-painful itch inside of his chest when things got too stressful.
They clung together, her in a thin, white cotton night-dress and he all dressed in black. He wore tight black jeans, calf-length black boots, and a short rawhide jacket, stitched in pale patterns all over, the sounds of the three-inch fringe hitting on it a mournful reminder of things long dead. The young man didn’t seem to be wearing spurs, but they wouldn’t have been out of place on that rig.
The young man’s hair was long and flowing, with curly locks, and his cheekbones were wide. The man’s eyes were dark pools, and he wore a rakish beard and mustache.
It was clear he wasn’t from these parts. He looked too good, and a little bit foreign.
Len thought of General Santa Ana’s army then, and how all proud as peacocks them boys had been. That’s how they impressed him at the time. But what the hell someone like that would be doing all the way up here was a good question.
Her head tilted, his hand was on the small of her back, and he kissed her just the way Len would have liked to have kissed her, before things went bad and Len gave up on all that sort of thing.
She was a sight, though.
The way she walked coming into that room, stepping fine, pretty and so light on her bare feet. She kind of walked on her toes, yet with long strides, and then there was her hair, appearing auburn and glossy in the dim yellowing light. Her leg came up and that kiss went on for a long time. Even in the dim silhouette of the windows, her form came through loud and clear.
The smell of her was everywhere.
If he was unlucky, they might even smell him, and remark upon it.
All they had to do was light another match, or even just look around, and he’d be a dead goner.
His heart pounded.
He was all right where he was, in behind an old stepladder leaning up against the back wall, right next to a line of slickers and long winter coats, some smelly old overalls hanging on hooks on the wall.
They had eyes only for each other.
“Leslie. Sweet, dear Leslie…”
Leslie! Old man Quinn’s daughter.
Len stifled a laugh. The guy had a faint accent, not so much the pronunciation as the rhythm.
Old Len almost impressed himself with that one.
Stood to reason, though.
No one else would dare—‘cept desperate old reprobates like Lenny himself.
She would know what Quinn was doing and where he was—and when and where he wasn’t.
It was stirring enough to watch. Len’s involuntary response was not just unwelcome but kind of surprising.
That hadn’t happened in a while.
The man lifted the dress straight up.
She stood there in her glory, and Len’s breath caught in his throat.
She lovingly lifted the jacket up and back and off his shoulders, and the man let it fall to the floor with a thud that jolted Len in his guilt and doubts.
The fellow pulled out his shirt-tails and began unbuttoning his creamy yellow shirt with the wide V-slash at the throat and the French cuffs as far as Len could see.
The girl put something down on the floor and went to her knees.
It was all Len could do not to speak, not to grab himself by the head, or stamp his feet, or just do anything at all.
“Oh, sweet dear Leslie…”
There was a moment when Len considered just bolting for the door, and taking his chances with dogs, angry young men, and angry old men, whose 12-gauges were said to be loaded with half-inch chunks of rock salt these days, and any other thing he might trip over or run headlong into, in the course of his screaming flight.
Somehow he managed to sit there.
And take it. Like a man.
For surely; he had come in here for some reason—some important reason, like swiping a drop or two of the white lightning—moonshine, and somehow making it through another night. All he wanted was another man’s whiskey.
Another night, another day.
Another good puke, and a headache that wouldn’t go away.
Initially, the man had been between the girl and the moonlight, leaving much to the imagination and much to be desired in terms of the pure visuals. That all changed. Whispering, giggling and gasping all the while, the man lifted her up and then took her to a long bench right in front of the big mullioned windows.
By the light of the silvery moon, poor old Len had to watch, as glued together like snakes wrestling in hot oil, the pair swooned and spooned, swinked and sowed their wild oats together.
The thought of babies crossed Len’s mind right about then, and he almost cried.
The truth was that he deserved this.
Every damned minute of this was too much, and yet he had to take it. His hands shook so badly he clamped them together, wringing them and wishing it was over.
His own erection was long gone, a measure of his impotence—his ineffectuality as a man and as a human being. The drink, that was what had done it.
Oh, how he loved her so.
And he still needed her, his demon mistress of the long nights and even longer days.
All he had to do was watch them until it was over, and wait for them to leave, for surely they must leave—and then Len would have his own lover.
Then, maybe, everything would be all right.
Maybe then he would be able to get some sleep.
After all these years of heartbreak and misery, surely poor old Lenny had earned a rest.
As for all of this, as Hiram drove Leslie into a long series of moaning, groaning spasms of pure ecstasy, it was just one big pain in the ass.