Page 5 of Ford County

Roger's face was scratched and bloody. He reeked of sweat and urine, and his clothes were covered with dirt and mud. After a few miles, Calvin rolled down the window, and after a few more miles Roger said, "Why don't you roll up that window?"

"We need fresh air," Calvin explained.

They stopped for another six-pack to settle their nerves, and after a few drinks Calvin asked, "Did he shoot at you?"

"I don't know," Roger said. "I never saw him."

"It sounded like a cannon."

"You should've heard it where I was."

At that, Aggie and Calvin became amused and began laughing. Roger, his nerves settled, found their laughter contagious, and soon all three were hooting at the old man with the gun and the wife who hid his truck keys and probably saved Roger's life. And the thought of Dudley the deputy still flying up and down the highway with his blue lights on made them laugh even harder.

Aggie was sticking to the back roads, and when one of them intersected Highway 78 near Memphis, they raced onto the entrance ramp and joined the traffic on the four-lane.

"There's a truck stop just ahead," Roger said. "I need to wash up."

Inside he bought a NASCAR T-shirt and a cap, then scrubbed his face and hands in the men's room. When he returned to the truck, Aggie and Calvin were impressed with the changes. They raced off again, close to the bright lights now. It was almost 10:00 p.m.

The billboards grew larger, brighter, and closer together, and though the boys had not mentioned the Desperado in an hour, they suddenly remembered the place when they were confronted with a sizzling image of a young woman ready to burst out of what little clothing she was wearing. Her name was Tiffany, and she smirked down at the traffic from a huge billboard that advertised the Desperado, a Gentlemen's Club, with the hottest strippers in the entire South. The Dodge slowed appreciably.

Her legs seemed a mile long, and bare, and her skimpy sheer costume was obviously designed to be shed in a moment's notice. She had teased blond hair, thick red lips, and eyes that absolutely smoldered. The very possibility that she might be working just a few miles up the road, and that they could stop by and see her in the flesh, well, it was all overwhelming.

For a few minutes there was not a word as the Dodge regained its speed. Finally, Aggie said, "I reckon we'd better get to the hospital. Bailey might be dead by now."

It was the first mention of Bailey in hours.

"The hospital's open all night," Roger said. "Never closes. Whatta you think they do, shut down at night and make ever'body go home?" To show his support, Calvin found this humorous and joined in with a hearty horselaugh.

"So ya'll want to stop by the Desperado?" Aggie asked playing along.

"Why not?" Roger said.

"Might as well," Calvin said as he sipped a beer and tried to envision Tiffany in the middle of her routine.

"We'll stay for an hour, then hurry to the hospital," Roger said. After ten beers, he was remarkably coherent.

The bouncer at the door eyed them suspiciously. "Lemme see your ID," he growled at Calvin, who, though twenty-one, looked younger. Aggie looked his age. Roger, twenty-seven, could pass for forty. "Mississippi, huh?" the bouncer said with an obvious bias against people from that state.

"Yep," Roger said.

"Ten-dollar cover charge."

"Just because we're from Mississippi?" Roger asked.

"No, wiseass, everybody pays the cover. If you don't like it, then hop back on your tractor and go home."

"You this nice to all your customers?" Aggie said.

"Yep."

They walked away, huddled up, discussed the cover charge and whether they should stay. Roger explained that there was another club not far away, but warned that it would probably stick them with a similar entry fee. As they whispered and pondered things, Calvin tried to peek in the door for a quick glimpse of Tiffany. He voted to stay, and it was eventually unanimous.

Once inside, they were examined by two more burly and smiling bouncers, then led to the main room with a round stage in the center, and on that stage, at the moment, were two young ladies, one white, one black, both naked and gyrating in all directions.

Calvin froze when he saw them. His $10 cover charge was instantly forgotten.

Their table was less than twenty feet from the stage. The club was half-full, and the crowd was young and blue-collar. They were not the only country boys who'd come to town. Their waitress wore nothing but a G-string, and when she popped in with a curt "What'll it be? Three-drink minimum," Calvin almost fainted. He'd never seen so much forbidden flesh.

"Three drinks?" Roger asked, trying to maintain eye contact.

"That's it," she shot back.

"How much is a beer?"

"Five bucks."

"And we have to order three?"

"Three a piece. That's the house rule. If you don't like it, then you can take it up with the bouncers over there." She nodded at the door, but their eyes did not leave her chest.

They ordered three beers each and studied the surroundings. The stage now had four dancers, all gyrating as loud rap rattled the walls. The waitresses moved swiftly between the tables as if they might get fondled if they lingered too long. Many of the customers were drunk and rowdy, and before long a table dance broke out. A waitress climbed onto a table nearby and began her routine while a group of truck drivers stuffed cash into her G-string. Before long, her waistline was bristling with greenbacks.

A platter "with nine tall and very skinny glasses of beer arrived, beer that was lighter than light and watered down to the point that it looked more like diluted lemonade. "That'll be $45," the waitress said, and this caused a panicked and searching of pockets and wallets by all three. They finally rounded up the cash.

"Ya'll still do lap dances?" Roger asked their waitress.

"Depends."

"He's never had one," Roger said, pointing to Calvin, whose heart froze.

"Twenty bucks," she said.

Roger found a $20 bill and forked it over, and within seconds Amber was sitting on top of Calvin, who, at 270 pounds, provided enough lap for a small troupe of dancers. As the music rocked and boomed, Amber bounced and wiggled, and Calvin simply closed his eyes and wondered what true love was really like.

"Rub her legs," Roger instructed, the voice of experience. "He can't touch," Amber said sternly, while at the same time her rear end was nestled firmly between Calvin's massive thighs. Some brutes at a nearby table watched with amusement and were soon egging Amber on with all sorts of obscene suggestions, and she played to her crowd.

How long will this song last? Calvin asked himself. His broad flat forehead was covered with perspiration.

Suddenly she turned around and faced him without missing a beat, and for at least a minute Calvin held a comely and quivering naked woman in his lap. It was a life-changing experience. Calvin would never be the same.

Sadly, the song ended, and Amber bounced to her feet and hustled off to check on her tables.

"You know you can see her later," Roger said. "One-on-one."

"What's that?" Aggie asked.

"They got little rooms in the back where you can meet the £iris after they get off work."

"You're lyin'."

Calvin was still speechless, totally mute as he watched Amber skip around the club taking orders. But he was listening, and during the gap in the music he heard what Roger was saying. Amber could be his, all alone, in some glorious little back room.

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