The line dropped. Billy’s voice disappearing, giving way to the dead air.
The phone sat unlocked on the desk. Such an old model, calls couldn’t be heard without it being put on speaker or headphone. No one used headphones at home. Looking up, the board looked like something from the set of a murder room shot on a cop drama.
It wasn’t. It was a puzzle, one that had just been solved. All this time, they had never said the name of the bar. It was apparent by looking at the board. A two minute call to Billy. A random follow up to their conversation from breakfast the other day, “where was this. . . their big riot?”
Billy’s voice played on repeat; the word, carefully blocked onto an index card: MCGURDYS. All this time and it was true. These were the same people, the same group, from that night at the bar. The riot they joked about, it was the same one from 2016. How stupid to think they were the only ones who remembered?
To hear them tell it, collectively, like some 5 part harmony where each of their parts well rehearsed:
Someone knocked into Mary and she went flying into a table. That’s how she won her battle scar she later named Henny. Mikael stepped in, shielded the fallen solider, puffed his chest at the passerby. The passerby didn’t listen, rolled his eyes and went to keep moving. He turned around short-stopped in front of Madison, whose chest was also puffed (no one ever commented that this was his usual stance). One intense look over the stranger’s shoulder to Jackson, now standing from his seat at the bar, and Madison hawked a loogie up onto the man’s chin. The foamy phlegm clinging to closely cropped stubble.
The bouncer, one of their after hour drinking buddies, came to break up the fight. Jackson would take Madison out for a cigarette, calm him down. You know how he gets, they all laughed. The asshole was now kicked out of the bar and the friends were going out back. Mikael stayed inside with Mary and Alicia to keep them safe. Billy had been taking his sweet time to finish his beer. . .
The way Billy told it, privately over a cup of coffee at their favorite breakfast bar, he had stayed behind for a moment flashing his eyes at the bartender. There had been a moment between them earlier, he was sure of it. Didn’t matter that he had recently started dating Jackson’s cousin who had won Miss May and Miss November in the 2014 and 2015 Hooter’s calendar. Some people liked to sampled from both bowls, and for Billy, sex was sex regardless. He wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, at that time certainly not a boyfriend. Joshua approached him with two shots. With eyes locked Billy took the shot and drained the rest of his beer before making his way to the front door.
but right as he was coming around the corner he saw the stranger sucker punch his brother, Madison. He rushed the douche and slammed this stranger into the wall face first. When the man hit the floor Jackson and Madison took over. Jackson kicked him in the leg to keep him down. Madison kicked him in the stomach leaving a thick, gooey wad of spit on his chest as a bonus.
Billy hung his head continuing his explanation of that night. The version that didn’t fit their narrative, the truth it seemed. How he saw the stranger punch his brother. He rushed him and slammed him into the wall, and then took a step back . Jackson threw him down onto the ground stomping on his leg until a snap was audibly heard. Madison had kicked his face into the ground before jamming his steal toed boot so far into the man’s crotch he said later his dick must have shriveled up in fear. He only felt his boot connect with bone. Rage spilled out of them like blood from the guy.
Mikael, Mary, and Alicia ran out, “the cops on on their way, come on.” Sirens erupted as they posted up further around the building by the nearest ashtray. A booming voice over the rustling of batons and shields, flashing red and blues and beams of lights surrounded them. Mary’s brother and another cop, whose name she later found out was Sam, stepped forward. Mary dropped her cigarette onto the ground and walked over. Holding out her wrist she explained what happened. Her brother shooed her and her friends away.
They eyed the scene: no man on the ground, no riot, no issue. It was just one big misunderstanding. A funny story for the future.
And it would be a funny story in the end.
None of the them had ever thought about that guy again, never. Not in a single time that story was told and retold. Not in any versions, including Billy’s which had been so much more honest.
The pieces on the board moved to tell the full story correctly. Behind it, hovering in the mind’s eye, was a different story – one of vindication, one of revenge.