Ben remembered the first time he’d driven into Wind River, the impression had never left him. It was a small town with a western theme throughout the business section. In fact, there was an ordinance that required the buildings to follow strict guidelines to maintain the integrity of its theme. It had a Main Street and Ben remembered thinking that cowboys might ride into town on their horses at any time. There was one gas station mini-mart, several restaurants, three fly-fishing shops, a drug store, and six bars, two of which resided on the bank of the Snake River. Sticks was one of the two bars.
It was about four in the afternoon when Ben turned into the dusty parking lot of Sticks. The owner’s name was Quinton, a colorful guy in his late thirties who had once been a successful financial advisor until he was reported to the IRS for tax evasion. Quinton did his time, and when he got out with the title of white collar felon, decided to move away from the city and open a bar and pool hall. He paid cash for the new business with hidden money. But with his record, he couldn’t get a liquor permit, so he enlisted a pretty blond named Katie as his partner.
The place was called Sticks, and Quinton went by the nickname of Cue. Ben had wandered in for a beer the first week they were open for business and had been pampered by both Quinton and Katie, as he’d been their only customer. Now, Sticks was usually packed with local pool lovers.
Quinton was not only a good pool player, but had also been a champion ping-pong player in his earlier days. During his years in prison, he’d used his fast-talking sales talent to convince the warden to procure a used ping-pong table, and then organized weekly competitions among the men. In the back room of Sticks was his beloved ping-pong table where he and Ben frequently played after hours for championship rights while Katie made sure the two of them stayed content with their drinks.
Katie had met Quinton in Boise after he was released from prison. She’d been waiting tables in a small café and was looking for more in life. Instantly charmed by Quinton, she accepted his offer to make her his business partner in spite of his checkered past. As the years went by, her admiration for him was sparked by his kindness and business sense, but no longer his charm.
As tired as Ben was, his heart was pounding like it always did whenever he arrived at the river. “We’re here, Gloria. Come in and I’ll introduce you. Bring your bag, and I’ll get us a room.”
Gloria’s heel caught on a rock and she stumbled. “Damn.” She looked down and saw the damaged shoe, still usable but no longer perfect.
Ben saw the incident and cringed with embarrassment. “Did you bring some other shoes, ones without heels? You know, it’s me that’s going to be harassed when my friends see those heels.”
She gave him a nasty look. “I said I’d be okay. Now don’t talk about my shoes anymore, unless you want to tell me how sexy they are.”
The door opened and they saw a few people at the bar, but no one around the pool tables. The lady behind the bar let out a loud exclamation. “Holly shit.” She ran to Ben and threw her arms around him. “You didn’t say nothin’ about comin’.” She batted him on the back of his head, and took his arm as she walked with him to the bar, wiping tears from her checks. “Look what you’ve done to me, Ben.” She started laughing and nudged her head against his arm.
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