BACK ROADS - A Troy Bodean Novella
This short story will be featured in a new title called BACK ROADS - A Troy Bodean Novella containing 5 short stories with characters from the Troy Bodean series. This one is a fun little vignette written from Troy's perspective. Enjoy!
Troy Clint Bodean
The Peppermint Hippo __________________________
Afghanistan was a bitch… Mama always slapped my face when I said as much, but, I just couldn’t find a better word for what I thought about it. Watching a buddy get his legs blown clean off by a dang pipe bomb is a bitch no matter how you slice it. And speaking of slicing, that’s why I got sent home… a piece of shrapnel from that same bomb flung itself into and almost through my right knee. So, the Army, bless their hearts, had spent millions of dollars teaching me how to fly Apaches and then paid some more to discharge me and send me home. I was fine with that.
Only problem was, I didn’t have nowhere to go. I lost contact with my brother, Ryan Bodean, before we got shipped out. I tried to find him after, but I think he was still in… or missing… or dead. Daddy was long gone from a heart attack. I was only five at the time, so I didn’t know the man. Mama didn’t make it ‘til we got back from the war. I could tell you she died of a broken heart, but more likely it was the meth. So, I did what any vet with a bum knee and no interesting prospects does when they get back stateside… I went to Vegas.
The glory of it all was amazin’, neon lights and pretty girls… all dressed like… well, like they wanted not to be dressed. I rolled into town lookin’ for work flyin’. There’s a lot of whales out there that need private helicopters and a lot of casinos willin’ to foot the bill. But what I didn’t know, is that there are a lot of dudes out there just like me that can fly choppers too. I looked around for somethin’ until my belly demanded that I get some money rollin’ in… any money at all.
Workin’ in Vegas ain’t like workin’ anywhere else. Ya gotta know somebody and I didn’t know anybody at all. What I did know was that there were a hundred thousand people comin’ into town every day lookin’ for work and more than half didn’t last a week before they hopped back on that Greyhound bus that brought ‘em in and headed home. I also knew that I’d made it three weeks on odd-jobs and eatin’ scraps with local bums… you’d be amazed at what gets thrown away behind these casinos out here. I think I actually ate better in Vegas than I did in Aghanistan.
However, that ain’t the story I wanted to tell you. What I wanted to tell you was how I came to be employed at the glorious Peppermint Hippo… and then how my employment came to a screeching halt. But let me back up. Remember that Greyhound bus I mentioned? I learned very quickly that the kind of people that got off that bus more often than not, were young, impressionable gals, hoping to make it big as a showgirl or an actress or somethin’ like that. Not many of them did… actually, none of them did. Most of them got chewed up, exploited, abused, and spit out by the flashing Mecca that is Los Vegas. Those that stuck around got jobs serving the steady stream of party seekers that flooded into and then out of the city every day. Some became cleaning ladies, some worked in restaurants or bars, some even maybe got a shot at dealin’… but that came with a lot of temptation and most of ‘em left that job with a criminal record. But a selected few got a chance to get on stage barely coverin’ their boobies with flowers, fans, and peacock feathers. Singin’ and dancin’ and shakin’ it up until their bodies rebelled and age caught up with them. With all the temptations of Vegas around – eatin’, drinkin’, dopin’ – the average shelf like of a dancer is somethin’ like two years… at best. That’s when they all bailed out. Unless they’d lost enough dignity or just plain didn’t care anymore to head out to the seedier parts of town and dance without the flowers, fans, and peacock feathers.
The music out there was a little louder, meatier, and actually, a little more my speed. Mostly classic rock, hard rock, and maybe some grunge thrown in for the customers who liked it a little rough. I got my job one night when I was foldin’ my last dollar bill and makin’ plans to get outta Dodge. I was at a dump of a place called the Peppermint Hippo – 46 Hot Chicks, and 1 Ugly One. It was my kind of place. There were two showers on the sides of the stage with soapy nekkid chicks at all times. And once they all found out you were a local, they left you alone, preferring the vacationing businessmen with company cash to blow. Or, speakin’ of blow, they might be scopin’ out drugs, and if you didn’t have any, you didn’t get any… if you catch my drift.
Anyway, a new girl sallied up to me on this, my supposed last night in Vegas, and started grindin’ all over me. There was an early Aerosmith song playin’, so I let her do her best. After the dance – which I’d give a solid B+ for effort – she held out her palm. I looked at it and then slapped her five with my hand. Apparently, this was not the response she was waiting for, so she slapped my face.
“Sweetie,” I said shrugging my shoulders, “I’m sorry, but I never asked for that. I figured it was pro bono or whatever.”
“Asshole,” she said, “there ain’t no pro bono bullcrap at the Hippo.”
“Whatever, hun,” I said, “I wish I had somethin’ to give ya, but I’m dead broke.”
I pulled out my wallet, which was completely empty, and showed her the evidence. She huffed and walked away. I thought that was the end of it, so I sipped my beer and mentally prepared for my glorious exodus.
But, that wasn’t the end of it... according to the manager, I owed that chick twenty bucks, that just happened to be twenty more than I had. So, he and I decided on an appropriate amount of sweeping up the disgusting filth on the floor of the Hippo that would be equal to twenty bucks… about three hours’ worth. The bad news is that I only vomited once upon discovering a used… well, you know… in the champagne room and I narrowly avoided busting in on a couple in the bathroom doin’… well, you know that too. The good news was that I was there long enough to see the second shift come in. If you don’t know strip clubs well enough, there’s a few girls that work when it’s still daylight outside. Let’s call that the “B” team. And then there’s girls that only come in after dark when the cash is flowing. Let’s call that the “A” team and I ain’t talkin’ about B. A. Baracus or Murdock A-Team. I’m talkin’ about the difference between having visible scars and drug tracks versus exceptionally smooth skin and no hair stickin’ out anywhere. Yeah, I was there to see the best of the “A” team walk in.
The Hippo turned a shade brighter when Gidget took the stage. She never wore anything you could buy at a sex shop, even though she would have it all off before the second minute of her song. And that was another thing she was good at… her dance was a direct interpretation of the song she chose. Her rendition of Hot For Teacher by Van Halen changed my life. I did indeed have it bad, have it bad, have it bad… She ended the song by flingin’ her red and green, Tartan plaid skirt on my head as I was sweepin’ up dollar bills that didn’t quite hit the stage and puttin’ ‘em in a pile by the pole for her.
“Thank you handsome,” she said and scratched my fuzzy beard. Yeah, so you might not know this, but at that point, the Outback Tea Stained straw cowboy hat hadn’t come into my life yet. At this point, I was wearin’ my favorite LSU ballcap.
“Louisiana boy?” she asked as she scooped up the monster pile of singles she had earned with one song.
“Yup,” I said and tipped the cap slightly.
I may or may not have been noticing that she was still completely nekkid, but I never let my eyes roam. I made eye contact the whole time with her insanely beautiful, shimmering emerald colored eyes. And I think that’s why she asked me for a lift after work.
The parking lot of the Hippo was a junkyard of crap people threw out of their cars including beer bottles, crack pipes, and used… well, you know whats. Apparently, a bottle caught the sidewall of her Mercedes C Class just right and flattened the tire. I offered to change it for her, but she’d already had a flat earlier this month and didn’t have a good spare. Could she bum a ride? Well, seeing as how I’d sold my car to eat last week… I declined.
“Dammit,” she said, crinkling her nose in the cutest sexy way that I thought was possible, “The dealer can’t get anyone out to pick it up until tomorrow. I guess I can make some calls later and see if I can scare up another ride.”
I nodded and tipped my cap… and she walked away.
I felt like a teenager, a dang starry-eyed teenager. I wanted an excuse to talk to her again, so I worked out a plan. Get a cab for her. That was the big plan. As I swept the floor, I began to notice random dollar bills with no particular girl attached, so I started stuffin’ ‘em in my shirt pocket. By midnight, I had a grand total of seventeen dollars. As I finished paying off my twenty-dollar payoff shift, the music abruptly stopped. There were no records in those days, but I almost imagined the needle scratching itself off the record. The bouncer suddenly came rumbling down the stairs from the D.J. booth holding a scraggly lookin’ dude by the shirt collar.
As he dragged the guy to the door and hurled him out into the parking lot, he pointed after him. “And don’t ever freakin’ show your face in here again!” he yelled in a distinctly New Jersian accent. The bouncer walked back in the club and shrugged on his collar to fix his suit jacket. He stopped right in front of me and used one hand to slick back his hair. It had several rings on it that matched the gaggle of gold chains around his neck.
“So, whataboutit?” he asked me.
“Beg pardon?” I didn’t know what he was gettin’ at, but I figured it couldn’t be good.
“You ever work a booth?” he said pointing up to the D.J. balcony above the dance floor.
“I, um…,” I started to say, but he interrupted me.
“Thirty an hour – cash, plus youse can use the apartment upstairs,” he said quickly, “but there’s two rules that our previously employed jackass didn’t seem to want to follow. Don’t mess with the girls and don’t do no blow on company time. Capiche?”
I held up my hands to protest. He grabbed one and shook it.
“Okay, then,” he said, “now get your ass up there and make some money for deez girls.”
Thirty bucks an hour was more than I’d made at anything in Vegas. And I had a place to crash, to boot. I decided I’d give it a try for a few days. I could always stock up enough cash to get on a Greyhound out of town. But that wasn’t exactly how it went down.
At the end of the night, she popped her head into the booth.
As I was tucking AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds back into its sleeve she said, “I overheard Vinnie sayin’ you were the new D.J. guy.”
“Yup,” I nodded.
It was at this point that I realized she was still beautiful, even though the house lights had been turned on. Her skin was flawless, no evidence of a previous baby, heroin habit, or appendicitis. Clean. Very clean.
“And you’re stayin’ upstairs?”
My skin tingled. I wasn’t sure whether or not it was because I knew what she was going to ask and I was excited about it. Or whether I realized I was about to break one of the only two rules Vinnie had laid down in our employment agreement just a few hours ago.
“Look,” she said, maybe sensing my hesitation, “I ain’t no hooker and I don’t do drugs and I sure as hell don’t screw the help.”
“Ouch,” I wondered if she knew she was failing miserably to make her case for staying.
She laughed, “I’m kidding. I mean, I’m not gonna screw you, but I can’t get a ride. I’ll sleep on the floor. Hell, we don’t even have to speak if you don’t want to.”
I nodded in the direction of Vinnie who was counting a ridiculous pile of cash down on the bar.
“What about the boss?”
“Oh, trust me,” she winked, “he ain’t the boss. Nah, it’ll be just fine.”
She stuck out her hand. I took it and shook it. Soft, crazy soft.
“If you say so, Gidget.”
I’d heard her stage name a few dozen times tonight as desperate men and women hollered at her across the room.
“Debby,” she said smiling, “call me Debby. And you are?”
“Troy Clint Bodean,” I said, like my mama always taught me, “but you can just call me Troy.”
“Alright, Troy,” she said, “I’ll meet you upstairs in a few. You like Longboard?”
The tingling came back and I just nodded.
“I like mine with orange slices,” she said as she climbed out of the booth, “hope that’s okay.”
“That’ll do,” I said and wondered how many of the rules I was breaking already.
The next morning, we both heard the flatbed truck pulling in to pick up her car. We hadn’t slept at all. Now, we didn’t do anything… just talkin’ and drinkin’ a coupla beers. Turned out, we had a lot in common. Okay, well, it wasn’t that much in common, but it was enough.
She grabbed my phone as she stepped up into the cab of the Mercedes dealer’s tow and punched her number into it. In the space of twenty-four hours, I’d gone from leaving Las Vegas to holding down a good job with benefits, namely, a sweet apartment and a sexy as hell girlfriend. Or, that’s what I thought at the time.
You know, you’d be surprised how fast you can run with only a towel around your waist and not end up parading through the lobby of the MGM Casino in the nude. And you might be surprised to find out that Debby’s husband, Teddy… yes, I said husband, looked like a character straight out of the Sopranos. But now that I’ve told you that, you might not be surprised that his two thugs, Vinnie and Louie, decided I was leaving town immediately… as in, don’t worry about grabbing your clothes, just get the hell outta dodge. And I swear, it’s all way more innocent than it sounds. So, here’s how that went down.
I called Debby after work one night. Up to this point, we’d chatted on the phone a few times and we’d had a few beers together. Aside from an occasional peck on the cheek, she hadn’t so much as rubbed my back in a strongly suggestive way… though I had thought about that more than once. She sounded a little different this time, her voice took a tone of fear. I wasn’t sure what that was all about.
“Are you okay?” I’d asked.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said quickly, “I’m good. But I can’t talk right now.”
“So, you’ve been off for a week,” I said, “I’ve missed you.”
“Missed me?” she blurted out a laugh, “you hardly know me, how could you miss me?”
I don’t know why she said that, but I was slightly offended.
“Alright,” I said, not bothering to hide that I was miffed, “guess, I’ll check you later.”
She paused for a second and I could hear a door sliding open and the wind rush against the receiver. It sounded like maybe she’d stepped outside or somethin’ like that.
“Hey,” she said quietly into the phone, “I was just kidding. Can you come see me later?”
“Um, sure,” I said, wondering why the sudden change of heart, “where?”
“At home,” she said.
“Well, that all depends,” I said, “where is home?”
She paused again, “The MGM. Top Floor. 1013.”
“Whoa,” I whistled, “the Hippo’s been treatin’ you good, eh?”
She laughed nervously but didn’t give any explanation.
“What time?” I asked.
“After ten,” she said, “gotta go. See you later.”
“Okay, then,” I started to say, but she had already gone.
So, my radar was definitely on full alert. I wasn’t sure what was up, but I knew I wanted to see her. As you already know, I didn’t currently have a vehicle situation, so I took the city bus. They’re plentiful and cheap in Vegas.
Minutes later at the MGM, I stepped into the elevator with a group of poorly dressed, highly intoxicated frat dudes who were obviously living on the promise that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. I moved to the back of the elevator and just kept until we hit the tenth floor. As I got off, I decided to offer the young men a piece of advice… advice that I now look back on as ironic.
“Boys,” I said sagely, “I know you’re just havin’ a good time, but remember this. Anything you get caught doin’ tonight will be with you for the rest of your lives. Good evenin’.”
As I said that, they all started laughin’. Oh well, you live ‘n you learn.
I walked down the hall and rapped on the door marked 1013. She opened it in a whoosh and pulled me in quickly. Lookin’ left ‘n then right, she slammed the door and hurried me into the livin’ room. “Holy dangit, Debby,” I said as I got a better look at her place.
It was all white marble and white leather and white rugs… hell, everything was white.
“I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven,” I said.
She laughed, “it’s just a rental. I haven’t been here for long. I’m actually thinking about leaving it.”
“Hell, I wouldn’t leave a place like this,” I said, “Oh… unless it’s a money thing. Heck, I ain’t got a dollar to my name.”
She looked at me oddly and smiled.
“You want a drink?” she asked walking into the white kitchen.
“Sure, how ‘bout a beer?”
“Red wine okay? That’s all I’ve got,” she said as she clinked a couple of glasses out of the cabinet.
“I’ve got some oysters too,” she called over the counter, “want some?”
“Only if you’ve got hot sauce.”
She walked into the living room with a plate of oysters on the half shell, a bottle of red wine and two glasses, and a bottle of hot sauce. Bingo, I thought, this girl’s tryin’ to seduce me.
“Well, alright now,” I clapped my hands together, “don’t this just look like a nice date.”
“It’s not a date,” she said with a smirk.
My ass it’s not a date, I thought. I popped the cork on the wine and poured two glasses for us. I handed her a glass and she slugged it down… all of it in one gulp.
“Whoa, now,” I said, “that was quick. You sure you don’t want to sip…”
“I’m good,” she said, “just don’t want to waste any time.”
And that was exactly when I took things the wrong way. As it so happened, I had my glass of wine in one hand and the hot sauce in the other when I leaned forward to kiss her. The shock on her face was a little unexpected, but even more unexpected was when she jumped up, leaving me to tumble over on the white couch. Red wine flew into the air and splashed all over everything. And would you believe the hot sauce… which was open at the time… fell into my shirt upside down and slid all the way into my pants. At that moment, I was fully regretting my decision to go commando as the burning sensation had my nether regions in flames.
“Oh, my God,” she yelled looking around at the red splattered scene.
It looked like a vicious murder had happened at the hands of a serial killer who liked knives or something like that. For a second, I wondered if she had a shitload of club soda on hand, but the burning grew stronger on my boys.
I jumped up and shouted, “where’s your bathroom?”
“What?” she was hysterical, “you have to piss at a time like this?”
I couldn’t explain, “just hurry. Which way?”
She pointed at a door. I ran and jumped through. I jerked the knob on the massive tub in the center of the room. I kicked off my flip flops and jerked my shorts down. Didn’t even bother to unbutton my shirt. I just ripped it off too. I hopped into the tub and splashed down into the ice-cold water.
“Oh, hell, yes…” I wheezed as I scrubbed my burning midsection.
The bathroom door opened and Debby stalked in.
“What in God’s name?” she demanded seeing my current, nekkid state.
I reached over the edge of the tub and held up the empty, offending hot sauce bottle.
“I had a burnin’ in my pants for you,” I laughed.
She started to say something, but that’s when the knock came at the door. If I was to describe the knock at the door, I’d call it something like what you see the police do in the movies just before they bust the door down with the battering ram.
“What the hell?” I said hopping from the tub and grabbing a towel.
“My husband,” she said and started scooping up my clothes.
“Wait… what?” I asked as she shoved the pile of clothing into my arms.
“Sorry, Troy,” she said, “but I you gotta go!”
I started toward the door and she grabbed me by the arm.
“You can’t go out that way!”
“I didn’t know they made back doors in places like this,” I protested.
“Balcony,” she said shoving me toward the sliding glass door, “hide on the balcony.”
Naturally, I realized this was a short-term solution and started to say as much, but she pushed me out, slammed the door closed and whooshed the large blinds closed. I sat down in one of the chairs and began to slip on my pants. The next balcony over was hopping. It was my frat boy buddies from the elevator. One of them gave me a wave and a wink.
Before I could get a foot in my pants the blinds ripped open and two large fellas in casino security outfits appeared. It only took a second for me to recognize Vinnie from the Hippo and read the other guy’s nametag… Louie. Vinnie and Louie. I really was in a Sopranos episode. I jumped up. Without thinking, I ran toward the railing nearest to the frat guys. I stepped up on the rail and heaved myself over the opening. As I flew through the air, I realized that if I missed, I was a goner. Ten stories up… I’d be found splatted on the concrete… nekkid… and smashed like a grape.
But amazingly, I cleared the boys’ railing and landed on my feet. They were all stunned, but they immediately started cheering and high-fiving me. I’d just pulled some serious stunt and they loved it. “Hell yeah, dude,” one of them said looking back at the balcony I’d flown over from.
Debby and the two Italian bodyguard fellas were staring over at me in disbelief.
“What happens in Vegas, right Amigo?” one of the guys laughed.
It only took a second for Vinnie and Louie to realize I was just next door. I ran through their apartment to cheerin’ and hollerin’. I heard later that someone snapped a picture of me and they hung it in their frat house as some sort of hero shrine. I jerked the door open and turned into the hall. Vinnie and Louie burst out of Debby’s room at the same time. Down the hall, maybe like a half a mile away, the elevator door dinged open. I ran hard. My towel threatened to fly away and I wondered if this was an unusual scene at the MGM or if it was a Vegas normality.
The door of the elevator closed as Vinnie shoved his hand through to try and stop it. I kicked it hard with my bare foot and could feel the bones in his fingers crunch. He yelped and jerked his hand back and the door closed. I caught my breath as I descended to the lobby. When the door opened, I ran out the into the casino floor. Again, I was buck nekkid.
There were a few gasps and points from the gamblers on the floor, but I ignored ‘em. I ran as fast as I could without embarrassing myself, but when I reached the massive check-in lobby, Vinnie and Louie were standing there.
“You,” Vinnie pointed at my chest, “You’re coming with us. Now.”
They escorted out to a black sedan with even blacker windows and shoved me inside.
“You done screwed up, Troy,” Vinnie said with Louie nodding his agreement, “you had it good, but you broke da rules.”
“But, you see,” I protested, “I didn’t actually break…”
“Shut your freakin’ mouth,” Louie blurted out interrupting me.
“Easy,” Vinnie held his arm out in front of Louie.
He looked at me, “Teddy wants to speak to youse.”
“Teddy?” I asked.
“Dangit,” I muttered.
As we drove, I was sure I’d be taken out to the desert, knelt down in front of Teddy and executed. Scenes from every gangster movie I’d ever watched flashed into my mind. But we didn’t drive out to the desert… we drove out to the Peppermint Hippo. I was ushered – meaning the two goons carried me by my elbows with my toes draggin’ the ground – into the club, past all the girls and all the patrons.
One particularly drunk dude tossed a dollar at me and said, “I guess that’s the ugly girl.”
I was practically thrown into the upstairs apartment and a man who looked exactly like Andy Garcia was sitting on my futon. My rucksack was sitting next to him on the floor. It was stuffed… apparently, all my things had been packed.
“So, you’re the famous Troy Bodean?” he asked.
“I don’t know if I’d say famous, but...”
Vinnie elbowed me to interrupt my thought.
“I don’t give two flying fucks who you are,” Teddy stood up.
He put his face inches from mine and pointed a finger at my chest, “you broke the rules. You slept with my wife. You’re outta here.”
“Technically, sir,” I said, “I didn’t actually sleep with …”
“OUT!” he yelled and pointed at the door.
Louie reached down and handed me my rucksack.
“Can I have just a minute to put on some cloth…”
“Get out now, before I take Louie’s advice on what I shouda done to youse.”
“Yessir,” I said and scrambled out the door, down the steps, through the Hippo’s lobby, and into the night. I snuck behind the building and jerked on some shorts and a shirt. My LSU hat was tucked into a side pocket and I slipped it on. That’s when it occurred to me that I’d been avoiding it… Louisiana… home.
I wondered if Debby would be okay and if I’d ever see her again as I hitched my way down the highway and out of Las Vegas forever. Part of me hoped I would…
My first ride was a man named Christopher Saint Juneau. A heavy, jolly man wearing several wooden cross necklaces and listening to whatever local church broadcasts he could tune in on his old Buick’s dial radio. Unfortunately, he wasn’t goin’ all the way to Louisiana and had to let me out, but I was thankful for the ride. After that, I walked into a truck stop, bought a six-pack of Coronas and waited for someone headed east. By the time I’d finished them all, I was on my way in the back of a truck haulin’ hogs for slaughter with an old guy who looked exactly like Jerry Reed. I drifted off to sleep wonderin’ if Burt Reynold’s Pontiac Firebird Trans Am was guidin’ us in.
And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from the upcoming book - BACK ROADS - A Troy Bodean Novella. And as always, thank you for reading!