jacks or better pt 6

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the night behind the bar passed fairly quickly for cypress johnny. it was a busy thursday night with college football on TV. both of the bars TV’s were tuned to the game with the sound off. it was, as usual, a good natured rowdy college football crowd. several people tried to get one of the TV’s tuned to the laker game but they were roundly shouted down by the football fans. fine by cypress johnny. he had no use for the nba. the lakers in particular.

after the game ended the crowd began to thin out. a half hour later johnny had the bar to himself when several southwest airline employees wandered in. they had been out to dinner and were on their way back to their hotel when they noticed the jacks or better neon sign. they were intrigued as one of them put it. that sign had on occasion worked as a magnet in the past as well. for some reason that neon card hand intrigued passing ladies who were new to the area. thank you, julio. the three women were on a layover and would be leaving early next morning. apparently the southwest pilot who’d gone on an open mic rant several weeks before hadn’t seen two of these southwest airline ladies before.

cypress johnny spent a half hour forty five minutes chatting with the ladies. the intrigued one even wrote down his phone number and promised to call johnny and let him know when she would be in town again. all in all a good night for cypress johnny. as the ladies were leaving johnny thought it had been good fortune junior or his pals hadn’t been hanging around that evening. cypress shuddered at the thought.

a while later last call went out to an empty bar. johnny would have closed an hour before but there may have been someone who needed something to drink and that someone finding the place closed would not have been a good ambassador for future business. he cleared the register and added it to the bag in the floor safe. then cypress filled out a deposit slip. after willie opened in the morning a brinks truck would stop by and pick up the bag and leave it at their next stop, a near by bank. julio liked doing business with the armored company since it saved his employees from carry a large amount of cash to the bank several times a week. johnny locked up and made his way home.

he wasn’t hungry but he poured himself a glass of wine before calling julio. on second thought he remembered he had several leftover biscotti. cypress johnny would dip them in the wine and eat them while he talked to julio.


yeah, julio.

you’re eating biscotti and drinking wine. i can hear it. your grandfather loved that.

yes, he did. you know that’s where i picked it up.

i know. i think i miss him almost as much as you. we made some pretty good vino down in his cellar. ah, shit. alright. talk to me.

johnny had been soaking a biscotti in his wine while julio was talking. he pulled it from the red wine and quickly put it in his mouth. he savored the texture, wine, anise, and almond flavors for a moment. julio laughed and said.

come on, johnny. you’re making me hungry.

sorry. i got distracted with the ritual. anyway, i don’t have much to tell you other than one of the bikers came by for a quick one tonight.

just one?

yeah, junior. the guy with the glib tongue.

as cypress johnny crunched on his semi soggy biscotti he realized he had forgotten about jerry and otto.

it’s been a long day. there’s something else.


i was out picking up some food from the market today and i spotted jerry powell and eddie otto together.

really? where?

this doughnut shop by the market. they didn’t see me. i doubt it was by chance. they both live miles from the place.

julio didn’t say anything for a few seconds.

i sure as hell don’t like that. not good. that fucking eddie. jesus. well, at least we know about it. which is a good thing.

yes. i know the girl behind the counter there. she’s the owners daughter and the place was empty. maybe she heard something.

maybe. but we don’t know who else she knows. let’s leave that for now. i checked around today and found out there’s one guy still alive who ben knew from the old days and he’s still in town. retired now but you know how that goes. long story short, if we’re lucky he’ll call me tomorrow before the game starts.

alright. very good, julio.

as soon as i hear something i’ll call you. either way.

i’ll be waiting.

cypress johnny finished the wine along with the biscotti crumbs at the bottom of the glass. he rinsed out the glass and went to bed. there he dreamed of his youth, his grandparent’s old home, and the small earth smelling root cellar where his grandfather made red wine and red wine vinegar. he was up by 8 and already antsy about that nights game.

johnny had a cleaning lady who took care of the inside of the house. though he was want to say, someday i need to hire a cleaning lady. at any rate, she worked cheap. johnny took care of the outside. he busied himself that morning with lawn mowing and tending the waning rose blooms around the house. he was finishing up and as the he closed the garage door he heard the phone ringing inside the house. julio, he thought. johnny got to the phone by the fourth ring.


yeah, julio.

i’ve spoken with ben’s old friend.

ok. are you sure you want to discuss this on the phone?

i think we’re ok. land line to land line and nobody cares about us. yet.

ha. yeah. alright.

here’s the deal. at some point long ago when the gentleman was beginning his career he would stop by ben’s place, like most of them did, and have a drink or two. ben and the man became friends over the years. good friends. the man had a family along the way. just before ben passed away he was of some significant help to the man’s oldest son. no matter what that help was but the point being, the man was never able to repay ben the favor as ben had passed quickly after that. repaying ben’s help was a question of honor. you with me?

i’m there, julio.

ok. the man is retired now. and he’s getting old. like us. or me. he figures he can repay his debt to our friend ben by helping us out. plus, he’s probably a bit bored being retired and all. he knows the story. he also thinks tonight will probably go down like wednesday night. i tend to agree with him. johnny, he wants to meet you. tomorrow before the saturday night game. can we do this?

sure, julio. not a problem. ah, where?

i can’t think of a better place than an early meal in your home.

yeah, sure not a problem. i have enough sauce frozen for a dinner for two. yeah, no problem.

good. i’ll set it up. say 2 tomorrow?

fine by me.

ok, johnny call me after work tonight.

for sure, julio.

the line went dead.

things had moved fast. julio was good. very good. cypress johnny had learned a lot from the man over the years. now it was time for johnny to move fast and collect enough food to impress the retired gentleman at dinner the next day.

johnny removed several small containers of sauce from the freezer and sat them in the refrigerator. he had some roasted red peppers in the pantry. garlic as well. then he found a small tin of anchovies. perfect. there was cheese in the fridge but it was a bit old and not that impressive. and he needed some salami and bread. pasta too. cypress johnny made a run to the store. an uneventful run. no odd sightings of jerry and eddie.

when johnny got back home he prepared the roasted red peppers in olive oil, garlic, along with the tin of anchovies. old school style for his dinner guest. the peppers would marinate in the fridge overnight. at the italian market he’d picked up some imported genoa salami and a chunk of fontina as well as a chunk of imported italian teleme cheese for dessert. a fresh loaf of chibatta bread. he’d put the bread in the oven tomorrow to crisp it up. there was basil in the yard and a neighbor had just given him several homegrown heirloom tomatoes. johnny also had a fresh container of buffalo mozzarella in the fridge to round out a nice caprese salad. some more fresh angel hair pasta. vino he had. plenty of it. cypress johnny was as ready as he’d ever be for his dinner the next afternoon with the man he’d never met. a man who would help he and julio with their problem. or at least that was the hope.

cypress johnny showered and put on clean clothes. he left for work early so he could stop for dinner at a thai restaurant he enjoyed. johnny liked sitting by one of the large windows so he could look at the mountains and watch the traffic while he ate. as he was eating he noticed eddie otto drive by heading north on mountain ave. johnny thought it was a bit early for eddie to be going in for work. jerry powell. of course, eddie was going up to visit jerry in the town to the north. interesting. nothing he could do about it but it was a good thing to know. cypress finished his meal, paid the tab, and left for work.

johnny arrived a little before 6 as he always did. jacks or better was fairly busy for the early friday evening. the after work crowd mostly. he didn’t spot any poker players in the bar. too early for that. he exchanged greetings with willie and the pair went through the routine with the till. johnny separated enough money for that evenings change making. the rest went in the safe. willie said good night and cypress johnny settled in for the night behind the bar.



2 thoughts on “jacks or better pt 6

    mike kamradt said:
    July 29, 2011 at 8:31 am

    I’m with ya so far

    johnhauge responded:
    July 29, 2011 at 9:31 am

    good to know, compadre. thanks, mike.

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