Page 2 of Ford County

Within minutes, the ladies have put together a large box of sandwiches and other food. Aggie and Calvin were hugged and congratulated and fussed over as if they were marching off to defend the country. When they sped away, off to save Bailey's life, everyone was in the driveway, waving farewell to the brave young men.

Roger was waiting by the mailbox, and when the pickup came to a stop, he leaned through the passengers window and said, "We gonna spend the night?" "Ain't plannin' on it," Aggie said. "Good."

After a discussion, it was finally agreed that Roger, who was of a slender build, would sit in the middle between Aggie and Calvin, who were much larger and thicker. They placed the box of food in his lap, and before they were a mile outside of Box Hill, Roger was unwrapping a turkey sandwich. At 27, he was the oldest of the three, but the years had not been kind. He'd been through two divorces and numerous unsuccessful efforts to rid him of his addictions. He was wiry and hyper, and as soon as he finished the first sandwich, he unwrapped the second. Aggie, at 250 pounds, and Calvin, at 270, both declined. They had been eating casseroles for the past two hours at Bailey's mother's.

The first conversation was about Bailey, a man Roger hardly new, but both Aggie and Calvin had attended school with him. Since all three men were single, the chatter soon drifted away from their fallen neighbor and found its way to the subject of sex. Aggie had a girlfriend and claim to be enjoying the full benefits of a good romance. Roger had slept with everything and was always on the prowl. Calvin, the shy one, was still a virgin at 21, though he would never admit this. He lied about a couple of the conquests, without much detail, and this kept him in the game. That all three for exaggerating and all three knew it.

When they crossed into Polk County, Roger said, "Pull in up there at the Blue Dot. I need to take a leak." Aggie stopped at the pumps in front of the country store, and Roger ran inside. "You reckon he's drinkin"?" Calvin asked as they waited.

"His daddy said he's not."

"His daddy lies, too."

Sure enogh, Roger emerged minutes later with a six-pack of beer. "Oh boy," Aggie said. When they were situated again, the truck left the gravel lot and sped away.

Roger pulled off a can and offered it to Aggie, who declined. "No thanks, I'm drivin'."

"You can't drink and drive?"

"Not tonight."

"How 'bout you?" he said, offering the can to Calvin.

"No, thanks."

"You boys in rehab or something?" Roger asked as he popped the top, then gulped down half the can.

"I thought you'd quit," Aggie said.

"I did. I quit all the time. Quittin's easy."

Calvin was now holding the box of food and out of boredom began munching on a large oatmeal cookie. Roger drained the first can, then handed it to Calvin and said, "Toss it, would you?"

Calvin lowered the window and flung the empty can back into the bed of the pickup. By the time he raised the window, Roger was popping the top of another. Aggie and Calvin exchanged nervous glances.

"Can you give blood if you've been drinkin'?" Aggie Asked.

"Of course you can," Roger said. "I've done it many times. You boys ever give blood?"

Aggie and Calvin reluctantly admitted that they had never done so, and this inspired Roger to describe the procedure. "They make you lay down because most people pass out. The damn needle is so big that a lot of folks faint when they see it. They tie a thick rubber cord around your bicep, then the nurse'll poke around your upper forearm looking for a big, fat blood vein. It's best to look the other way. Nine times out of ten, she'll jab the needle in and miss the vein - hurts like hell - then she'll apologize while you cuss her under her breath. If you're lucky, she'll hit the vein the second time, and when she does, the blood spurts out through a tube that runs to a little bag. Everything's clear, so you can see your own blood. It's amazing how dark it is, sort of a dark maroon color. It takes forever for a pint of blood to flow out, and the whole time she's holdin' the needle in your vein." He chugged the beer, satisfied with his terrifying account of what awaited them.

They rode in silence for several miles.

When the second can was empty, Calvin tossed it back, and Roger popped the third top. "Beer actually helps," Roger said as he smacked his lips. "It thins the blood and makes the whole thing go faster."

It was becoming apparent that he planned to demolish the entire six-pack as quickly as possible. Aggie was thinking that it might be wise to dilute some of the alcohol. He'd heard stories of Roger's horrific binges.

"I'll take one of those," he said, and Roger quickly handed him a beer.

"Me too, I guess," Calvin said.

"Now we're talkin'," Roger said. "I never like to drink alone. That's the first sign of a true drunk."

Aggie and Calvin drank responsibly while Roger continued to gulp away. When the first six-pack was gone, he announced with perfect timing, "I need to take a leak. Pull up there at Cully's Barbecue." They were on the edge of the small town of New Grove, and Aggie was beginning to wonder how long the trip might take. Roger disappeared behind the store and relieved himself, then ducked inside and bought two more six-packs. When New Grove was behind them, they popped the tops and sped along a dark, narrow highway.

"Ya'll ever been to the strip clubs in Memphis?" Roger asked.

"Never been to Memphis," Calvin admitted.

"You gotta be kiddin'."


"How 'bout you?"

"Yeah, I've been to a strip club," Aggie said proudly.

"Which one?"

"Can't remember the name. They're all the same.'

"You're wrong about that," Roger corrected him sharply, then practically gargled on another sloch of beer. "Some have these gorgeous babes with great bodies; others got regular road whores who can't dance a lick."

And this led to a long discussion of the history of legalized stripping in Memphis, or at least Roger's version of it. Back in the early days the girls could peel off everything, every stitch, then hop on your table for a pulsating, gyrating, thrusting dance to loud music and strobe lights and raucous applause from the boys. Then the laws where changed and G-strings were mandated, but they were ignored by certain clubs. Table dancing had given way to lap dancing, which created a new set of laws about physical contact with the girls. When he was finished with the history, Roger rattled off the names of a half dozen clubs he claimed to know well, then offered and impressive summary of their strippers. His language was detailed and quite descriptive, and when he finally finished, the other two needed fresh beers.

Calvin, who'd touched precious little female flesh, was captivated by the conversation. He was also counting the cans of beers Roger was draining, and when the number reached six - in about an hour - Calvin wanted to say something. Instead, he listened to his far more worldly sidekick, a man who seemed to have an exhaustible appetite for beer and could gulp it while describing naked girls with astonishing detail.

Eventually, the conversation returned to where it was originally headed. Roger said, "We'll probably have time to run by the Desperado after we get finished at the hospital, you know, just for a couple of drinks and maybe a table dance or two."

Aggie drove with his limp right wrist draped over the steering wheel and a beer in his left hand. He studied the road ahead and didn't respond to the suggestion. His girlfriend would scream and throw things if she heard he'd spent money in a club gawking at strippers. Calvin, though, was suddenly nervous with anticipation. "Sounds good to me," he said.