Peruvian adventure Story "Peckerwood Twist"
Peruvian Amazon Adventure
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Peckerwood Twist      Read Chapter One
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Enter the bizarre world of the Peckerwood bar.

  Heat is something I never seem able to escape. It’s not just
about climate. Heat comes in many forms and follows me
wherever I go, or maybe the truth is that I’m drawn to it like the
proverbial moth to a flame. Like in this small town on the east
coast of Florida. Nighttime in Port Selerno is as hot as if it were
midday. If you frequent some of the places I do, it can get even
hotter.
Almost as soon as I leave the air-conditioned mall I can’t exit
quickly enough, sweat starts to bead across my forehead and
trickles past the neckline of my T-shirt. My boot hits the tarred
parking lot and I notice the surface is mushy. The word mush
registers in my brain, and my lips press into a thin line as I recall
when and how that word took on new meaning in my life. I start
to walk and hear the sound of my boot soles sticking and
releasing with every step. I’ve been in stickier circumstances.
I need to get away from the hoards of shoppers, most of
them parents exhausted by screaming, irritable children unhappy
at not leaving with a trunk-load of junk they’ll forget about as
soon as they get home. I know that one other thought on their
minds is in order to get home they have to get into cars that are
more like saunas. The ride won’t be pleasant. That won’t be a
problem I have to deal with, I’m on foot. Dusk is setting in and I
have somewhere to go. I place my fairly new brown felt cowboy
hat on and start walking. The heat of my body under my black
denim pants and jacket bothers me some, but I’ll cool off as soon
as I sit down.
My destination is close─a section of gaudy stucco buildings
that house the many bars that dot Highway A1A. I pause for a
moment to watch the multicolored neon lights buzz and sizzle
back to life. The electric hues don’t help the area’s appearance,
though. A time-warp happened here, and everything got stuck in
the 1930s, including, it seems, upkeep.


The bar where I usually warm a seat is the Peckerwood. The
owner named the bar after his brand of homemade hot sauce.
The sauce comes in two temperatures: Damn It, This is Hot and
This is Really Fuckin’ Hot. The milder sauce is green, created for
people who wouldn’t try the red sauce on a dare. The red is for
the initiated or those who have an EMT on call, or maybe enjoy
the near-death experience they feel when the chemicals reach the
brain. The owner, Jake, was clever and made the labels sort of a
brand, as well. People want to collect the labeled bottles with
their cartoon-like characters sometimes more than they want the
sauce. My favorite is the one modeled after the Roadrunner. This
is because I’m the one who suggested it to him, and for reasons
I’ve never shared with anyone.
The barroom is large enough to hold two tournament-size
pool tables and two arcade games that bark out gunshot sounds
followed by moaning, as though some poor sucker gets shot over
and over. The actual bar is large, circular, made of oak, and seats
thirty with nearly double that many drinkers who usually stand
around it. Just like steins had glass bottoms so men could watch
their enemies and drink at the same time, the bar is circular so
everyone can watch everyone else at all times. It’s called survival.
Usually, the only thing that gets the attention of the regulars is a
new face. If a newcomer is perceived a no-threat, everybody goes
back to what they were doing.


When Port Selerno was in its heyday, thirsty fishermen and
seafarers came here after their long sea voyages with pockets
heavy with wages and pants heavy with a particular need─which
attracted women eager to help lighten both burdens. The men
never minded. Wealth and stability might have caused them to
believe they had to settle down to marriage and family. To be
land-bound was a form of imprisonment for any true sailor. It’s
still that way.
The sea could also make a certain kind of man religious real
quick. Many became men of the cloth and that’s why there are so
many churches here. Those who founded churches could take
themselves out of a seaman’s life, but couldn’t entirely take the
seaman out of themselves, so most of the churches have nautical
names. Port Salerno became a place of twos: Two famous hot
sauces and two popular places of worship─the churches and the
bars.


I walk in and nod at Jake who’s tending bar tonight. I don’t
even have to order. He puts my usual in front of me before my
butt touches the circle of wood I’ll eventually have trouble
staying on as the hours waste by. The regular odd assortment is
here tonight…hard-working fishermen with the women who
follow them and those who look like they crawled out of the
Everglades to make it here.
There’s a man sitting at the bar─skinny, unshaven, wearing a
boa constrictor around his neck. He’s holding a baby in his arms.
His male companion is just as skinny and looks as though he’s
said the wrong thing to the wrong man one too many times. To
their right is an old gent, already drunk, who has a cast on one of
his arms that goes from his wrist to his shoulder. He also has a
woman hanging on each arm. Each of them has seen better days,
or I hope they have, and now try to camouflage the ravages of
time and hard living with too much makeup, too many cheap
baubles, and too much cleavage. Also at the bar is a gorilla posing
as a human. He has a friendly kind of face, but his nose is pushed
in, his ears are large and cauliflower-like, and his head rests
directly on his shoulders as though the assembly line ran out of
necks that day. His hands are the size of ham hocks.
It’s still early yet, so some of the stools to his right are empty;
six of them, in fact. The seventh stool, the one with the man
who’s quickly downed half his beer already…that’s me, Sam
Paris, son of German Jewish parents, both long gone. When my
parents left the insanity happening in Germany and came to the
States, they took on a new last name. What it used to be no
longer matters to me; there’s nothing I can do to change what
happened. Besides, watching my back in the present keeps me
busy enough.


I’m in my sixties, six-feet tall, trim, with hair that went solid
gray while I wasn’t looking, and brown eyes. I’m a used-to-be.
Used to be handsome, used to be younger, used to do drugs,
never smoked. But, I drink. Booze is my companion and will
probably kill me one day, if someone doesn’t beat it to the task.
Habit born out of self-preservation and lessons learned the
hard way cause me to always keep an eye on my surroundings,
even familiar ones like the Peckerwood. This is why I notice a
Lincoln Continental pull into the parking lot and why I keep
watching after the young couple gets out and makes their way
into the bar. The sticker on the windshield is one of Alamo’s,
which means they’re paying thirty-nine bucks a day to either drive
in comfort, look as though they have money, or both.
It’s easy enough to drive into the parking lot here, but to walk
into the Peckerwood, or around this area of town, is another
matter. About a month ago, the three-table diner adjacent to the
Peckerwood lost their short order cook when someone shot and
killed him because his gator stew tasted a little rancid. The bluecollar
patrons put up with a lot in their lives, but bad stew or a
chef trying to get away with something isn’t one of them. You
either have to be uninformed or have the guts to come to this
neighborhood, and this bar, in particular. Only time would tell
which category these two fit into.
I admit my focus is more on her since she’s an eyeful. Attractive
face, shoulder-length platinum blond hair, built to the point of
distraction, and she knows it. She’s tall, even without the heels─a
height most men would like to climb─and dressed in a low-cut,
tight-fitted bit of red silk. When she walks, she moves her body in
sections like a model on a runway; first one part, followed by
another. Every eye in the place tracks her movements.
Her companion is an inch taller than she is, broad-shouldered;
and I’m willing to bet there are washboard abs to match the other
bulges under his expensive gray pullover and precisely-creased
darker gray slacks.
The couple takes the two empty stools to my right. I
shouldn’t care where they sit, but I do because I’m here to numb
thoughts that play like a film in my head. I watch Jake walk over
to them.
“What can I get you folks?” he asks them.
“We’re here to buy a case of your hottest Peckerwood sauce,”
the man replies.
I take more of a look now and see the man is probably in his
thirties, also blond, fair complexion, and speaks with an accent,
though only a slight one. I guessed maybe Spanish, as in Spain,
but I could be wrong. They’d both glanced in my direction as
they sat, and I’d noticed they both had gray eyes. You seldom see
one person with that eye color much less two at the same time.
One thing’s for sure, both of them are going to burn like hell in
the Florida sun.
“It’ll be a while before I can get the case together for you. I’m
tending bar solo tonight,” Jake says.
The man turns to the woman. “Should we wait?”
“We came all this way.”
“I’ll start putting your case together,” Jake says. “You want
one particular label or a mix?”
“A mix is fine,” the man answers.
“Mix it is. You got here just in time, too. It’s Friday night, so
I join my customers in celebrating the weekend. Kinda makes life,
the bugs, and the heat bearable. But, hey! It sure the hell beats
living in Minnesota.”
“We might as well have something to drink, then,” the man
says. He glances at the woman, “Two beers?” She nods her
agreement. “Two of whatever your best beer on tap is.”
“Coming right up,” Jake says as he walks off.
“You’d better drink your beer out of bottles,” I comment,
keeping my eyes on Jake. “The water here smells of sulfur and
makes everything taste like it. Plus, Jake doesn’t own a glass that
isn’t chipped more than some of the regulars’ teeth.”
“Jake,” the man calls out, “make that your best bottled beer
instead.”
Jake glances at me and I hold up my own bottle in salutation.
He puts the glasses back on the shelf, grabs two amber bottles
from the cooler, opens them, and slaps them down on the bar in
front of the couple then starts getting their case of hot sauce
together between orders for drinks.
“You’re right about how these people look,” the man says to
me, “like characters out of a Dickens’ novel.”
“Either talk more softly or keep your thoughts to yourself.
That guy over there wouldn’t hesitate to break your arm like he
did his buddy’s last night.”
The woman leans over and looks into my eyes. “What was his
reason for doing that?”
“Who knows,” I answer. “They’d kill the other and cry into
their beer over their loss. It’s depraved, but it’s a good show;
better than television and why I come here night after night to
watch.”
Her eyes light up. “Do you think something like that might
happen again tonight?”
I take a moment to look at her. “It’s possible. Gorilla man
over there isn’t happy with the man sitting near him.”
“He objects to the snake?” she asks.
“He objects to the baby.”
“What do you think he’ll do?” She almost purrs her question.
“Break his jaw, probably. And, maybe soon by the look in his
eyes. When it happens, it’ll happen fast.”
“Good.” As she says this, she moves off her stool and starts
her slow slink towards Gorilla.
Her friend turns to me. “Why do you do it?”
“Do what?”
“Come to this bar. There are others, surely, that are nicer.”
The woman is still within earshot. She turns and says, “But
other bars may not have real men there.”
I smile, partially at her, partially at a memory. “She’s
something else,” I say to him. The man doesn’t comment, just
grins at me.
“I guess,” I continue, “I feel safe here.”
“Safe? Here?”
“I’m accepted. I’ve put my time in and no one asks too many
questions.”
“You don’t look like you fit here.”
“What makes anyone fit anywhere? By the way, you’re
something of a nosey bastard.”
He smiles. “Yes, you could say that, I suppose; but, I’m
willing to pay good money for a good story. You look like a man
who has one to tell. I know because it’s how I make my living,
writing short stories.”
“For what, Reader’s Digest?” I ask before drinking the last of
my beer. I hope he picks up on my sarcastic tone.
“Those types of articles, yes.”
“Well, buddy, money and keeping the booze coming will get
you some entertainment.”
“Good.” He catches Jake’s eye and calls out, “Give this
gentleman another beer, please, and another for me, as well,”
then turns back to me. “Why don’t we take a table and you can
tell me your story.”
“What about your friend over there?” I nod my head towards
the woman.
“She can amuse herself.”
She is, too. She’s chatting up the guys and even bought a
round of drinks.
Jake puts two more bottles in front of us. My new friend
picks them up, and gives a quick glance at the woman. “Life’s a
bitch, then you marry one.”
“That’s an old line. Still, she has a way about her… But, she’s
asking for trouble.”
“Never mind her, she can handle herself.”
Right. This evening could turn real interesting real fast with
someone getting hurt; but, it won’t be me. She’s his problem. I
follow him to a nearby table and take a seat facing the bar.
“I should introduce myself,” he says. “Harry Parker.”
“Sam Paris.” Neither of us extends our hand to shake. “You
know, Harry, I don’t like that scene over there. Not at all.”
“Forget about her for now, Sam. Start your story.”
“Sure. Why not? I landed in this God-forsaken town in the
summer of ’83, hot, broke, and most of the time drunk. But it’s
far enough north of the Miami Trades.”
“What are the Miami Trades?”
“It’s an expression used in south Florida that means Cuban
affluence. I didn’t want any part of them or their stinking money.
I was just passing through, but got caught up in Jimmy Buffet
music and margaritas. I’m still just passing through, God willing.”
“You’re religious, Sam?”
“I don’t believe in the guy who sits on a throne; but I believe
in… Let’s just say I’ve seen things.”
“I’m sure that’s very interesting, but I want to hear your story,
Sam.”

“My story is…either 90-percent true or the complete
opposite. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which. Let’s start
with the fact I had a bad time in Vietnam. Landed in a Veterans’
hospital on Staten Island.”
“You were injured?”
“Nothing that couldn’t be mended back like it never
happened, but my mind was fucked up. I was a drugged-out,
boozed-up nut case. Society didn’t want me. And the family I had
left didn’t want me, either. You know, Harry, I went into the
Marines with a John-Fuckin’-Wayne attitude. My hippie cousins
turned, both on me and north to Canada to avoid the draft. I
should’ve joined them, now that I know better. Shit, John Wayne
never did service. All those movies he made about the war led
men to believe it was glamorous. Bullshit. So there I was, fucked
in the head with no job, no prospects, and no future. I couldn’t
go back to my pre-war life, so ended up on the streets of New
York City. Grand Central Station, actually.
“During the day, I begged for handouts. I spent my nights in
a cardboard box off the beaten track of a subway rail siding.
Shared space with the rats. Did you know rats make good pets? I
had four one time. I brought them food and they protected me
while I slept.”
“The rats protected you? How, and from what or who?”
“From the sick rats, the ones that bite for no reason. Rats
have a hierarchy just like people.”
“Sam, I don’t really give a fuck about rats.”
“You should, Harry. They’re smart. I learned a lot by
observing them. If you lay out poisoned food, the healthy ones
hold off until one that’s demented from sickness tries it. If it dies,
the healthy ones won’t go near the food. That means something,
Harry.”
“Like what?”
“Like there are some healthy fucking rats in this world, and
some smart bastards, as well.”
“Can we move past the rat lecture?”
“Okay. But I’ll tell you, Harry, rats come in all forms. Order
another round of beers.”
“Sure.”
I watch as Harry makes his way to the bar and gives a quick
look over at the woman. She’s enjoying herself and has several of
the regulars hanging onto her every word. Gorilla can’t take his
eyes off her; neither can I. It’s the way she moves, I suppose. So
like her. A strange feeling starts up in the pit of my stomach and I
hope Harry hurries back with the beers. I also hope his pockets
go deep.



 
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 Cover Design by: Kristin C. Klaiber
Editing and re-writing provided by
Joyce Shafer

Peckerwood Twist©