Paid for Friends


Russell Hatler

Freddy Anderson finally switched off the persistent ringer on his phone, although the phone itself continued to quiver like a small dog who’d been recently chastened for leaving a steaming pile of doodoo on the carpet. He wasn’t proud of his cowardly capitulation. He’d just flat run out of patience.

Ring on fair silent bell, ring on
And silence thee I shall until tomorrow breaks the dawn

Freddy was a poet at heart, but he didn’t have the good sense God gave a chicken. And to be perfectly honest he blamed his poker buddy, George, for all of this. After all, it was George who’d introduced Freddy to

The whole thing started three months ago last Wednesday. Wednesdays were Freddy’s poker night. He’d been playing poker every Wednesday evening with the same five guys for years and years. Texas Holdem to be exact. Freddy guessed he’d been feeling down that particular Wednesday because it was the three-year anniversary of his divorce. Not the final decree or whatever you call it. Three-year anniversary of when Freddy had come home from poker and found his shit strewn out on the lawn.

Margie hadn’t even bothered to box it up. Boxer briefs in the bushes, T-shirts on the sidewalk, his favorite Adidas running shoes in the driveway where he almost ran over the one for the left foot. Furthermore, when he tried to open the garage door with his remote it didn’t even shudder and when he walked up the steps to the front porch, he found the locks had been changed on the front door. So, Freddy phoned George, who lived right around the block, and went over and slept on George’s couch in the living room.

Now, Freddy considered himself to have been a good husband to Margie and a pretty damned good father to their two little girls for the most part. Every now and again the bug would bite him, and he’d drive up to Cherokee for a weekend of gambling. All low stakes stuff. Freddy was not what you might call a high roller. The room was comped along with a meal or two, and gas didn’t cost all that much. Besides, he always brought back gifts for the little ones.

There was that one weekend trip to Las Vegas. Margie wanted to take the girls to visit their Grandmother Henderson in New Bern. Freddy and Grandma Grace never did get along. He agreed to let Margie and the girls go if he could spend the weekend in Vegas. Harrah’s was holding a blackjack tournament and he’d received an invitation in the mail. Everything was free including the flight for Freddy and a companion of his choice. Freddy didn’t share the companion part with Margie. He didn’t think it was relevant.

Margie and the girls left at noon on Friday for the trip to New Bern. On a whim Freddy sweet talked one of the secretaries from work into coming along but honestly nothing bad had happened. Her name was Misty. She was a wild one, according to everything Freddy had heard. Misty went home to pack and Freddy picked her up on the way to RDU for their flight which was scheduled to depart at 2:30.

The flight touched down in Vegas at 4:30, right on time. Things looked promising. Misty had changed into tight jeans and a yellow, frilly blouse that gapped seductively in front. Freddy could see all the way down to paradise.

They took a big, black limo to the hotel where the tournament was being held. Freddy signed for the room and went down to register for the tournament. Misty said she’d wander around the casino if that was alright. She’d brought along a couple hundred bucks, and she wanted to try her luck at the three-card poker, ten-dollar table.

The queue of avid supplicants enrolling in the blackjack tournament stretched out for miles. Not a problem. Freddy was a patient guy. He finally reached the front of the line, accepted the tournament rule sheet, flashed his player’s card and ID and signed in. He wandered around the casino. Misty was nowhere to be seen. Not a problem. She had her own room key and Freddy was hungry. They had plenty of time to take care of business.

The first round of the tournament kicked off Friday night at 8:00. The second and third rounds were scheduled to take place Saturday with a final round starting Sunday morning at 10:00. Freddy washed out immediately. His strategy was simple. Bet large out of the gate and stay ahead of the pack of conservative losers from the get go. (Note: in the history of blackjack tournaments, this strategy has worked out well for the player approximately none of the time!)

Freddy bet half his stack on the first hand. He was dealt a seven and a four. He doubled down on his eleven because the dealer had a six showing. Freddy owned a dog-eared copy of Beat the Dealer by E. O. Thorpe. He’d memorized the main points. It gave him an edge. Contrary to Thorp’s astute prediction, Freddy caught a five, the dealer flipped over a five of her own, caught a King and ended up with twenty-one. Not a problem. It was all free money anyhow. But Freddy did call the airline and change their return flight to Saturday at noon.

Misty got plastered on free table drinks and was passed out snoring when Freddy got back to the room. The bathroom was a mess. Freddy threw the full contingent of fluffy towels all over the tile floor and mopped up as best he could. Misty was apologetic as hell the next morning and offered to make it up to Freddy on the spot, but her breath stank so bad Freddy couldn’t get in the mood. The couple enjoyed an awkward but otherwise uneventful flight back to RDU.

And there was that time when Freddy had gone on a business trip to Chicago when he’d driven out to this strip club and paid two hundred bucks for table dances, but you couldn’t hold that against a guy. Two failed attempts at infidelity over a thirteen-year period was a pretty good record in Freddy’s humble opinion. He did think the fact that he’d been laid off might have had some bearing on the situation, but it really wasn’t Freddy’s fault. The company he worked for, Triangle Medical Devices, had a reduction in force and Freddy’s whole department were given their walking papers.

Freddy was in marketing, so he didn’t have a hard time finding another job, but there was tension nonetheless during the three months he spent weighing his options. He had to admit he had a temper, but he didn’t ever hit Margie. Well not so as it’d show. So, the divorce came as a total surprise to Freddy.

As did the child support payments. He was forced to move into a one-bedroom, furnished apartment in Fuquay-Varina for God’s sake. Commute time to work was a good forty-five minutes a day, one way. But Freddy sucked it up like a good boy. Probably that was the real reason he was feeling down. He felt like life kept dealing him bum hands. And he was running low on chips.

Freddy normally drove his ten-year-old Toyota Camry to George’s place on the way to the poker game, left it in George’s driveway and they both walked the two blocks to Lester’s place where the games were played. It gave Freddy and George a chance to catch up on guy stuff, like whether or not the Duke Blue Devils had a chance in basketball this year or if the Carolina Panthers ought to ditch the new quarterback.

They had also resolved several world crises and postulated a clear and concise alternative to the economic ramifications of wage inequality. Then they played serious poker. On the way back from the poker game three months ago George, who’d won $8.75 thanks to his catching a boat on the river during the final hand, had asked Freddy a leading question.

“How’s your love life my friend?”

“Non-existent,” frowned Freddy. “I don’t have your gift for gab, and I frankly can’t afford to treat a woman to a nice meal out at the Angus Barn on the off chance that she might give me a tumble after. Why do you ask?”

“You know I’m a bachelor,” said George. “Always have been, always will be. I’m painfully aware that a few of the married ladies in the neighborhood have circulated vicious rumors regarding an unconventional sexual orientation on my behalf, but the truth is I just don’t want to get pinned down. That said, I do have a healthy hankering for the occasional touch of a woman. I’m no millionaire, but I’ve found a way to satisfy my carnal needs and still stay well within my budgetary constraints. Shall I share?”

“I’m all ears,” panted an eager Freddy, at which point George alluded to the Lonesome Doves URL.

“It’s sort of like a dating website but without the long-term commitments,” said George. “Perfect for a perennial bachelor. The ladies post pictures of themselves in various states of dress or undress, and a menu of items they’d like to explore with a compatible mate. Guys are invited to do the same. Even so, the ratio of posting ladies to posting gentlemen is 10:1. Otherwise, I guess the website would be called wouldn’t it? There’s a modest fee to join and $10 a month for full access, but even so it’s a lot cheaper than a steak dinner. Check it out.”

Freddy booted up his laptop as soon as he got home. Wowsers! Lonesome.Doves was hot! You could tell whoever designed the website was a professional. The pictures alone were worth the visit. Beneath each delightful image was a cryptic list of bullet points Freddy didn’t fully understand. Contact information was greyed out for guests. A note at the bottom promised to reveal the secrets as soon as the visitor registered, paid the requisite $37.50 processing fee, and was granted a full-fledged membership. Most credit cards as well as PayPal were welcome.

After surfing through hundreds of pictures, each organized into categories which could be used as search filters (hair color, bust size, age range, race, cultural ancestry, and posterior configuration), Freddy phoned George.

“George?” asked Freddy when the phone was answered after five rings. “I’ve got some questions for you.”

“What the Hell are you doing calling at this time of night?” rasped George. “It’s past two in the morning.”

“Sorry I lost track of the time,” apologized Freddy. “I’m about to spend my $37.50 on a membership but I need to ask about these bullet points. Can you explain what they’re all about?”

“Oh those,” chuckled George. “That’s a code to let the members know what to expect when they hook up with a girl. There are seven bullet points. If the box next to a bullet point is checked that means the point applies to that girl. Practical means the girl expects compensation. Adventuresome means the girl will entertain her fella sans condom. Conversationalist means the girl does oral. I believe Backdoor is self-explanatory. Cuddly means GFE. Heavy-handed means domination. Helpful means submissive. If all the boxes are checked it means the girl is remarkably flexible. It’s just a way of getting around the web censors. Why do you ask?”

“The Practical box is checked on almost every entry,” replied Freddy. “I though you said this was a way of preserving my hard-earned cash.”

“Nothing in life worth shit comes free,” scoffed George. “If you think you can get laid for less be my guest. With Lonesome Doves you’re looking down the barrel at a sure thing. I’d say spend your $37.50 and see what transpires. You’ve lost more than that on occasion at Wednesday night poker and besides, it’s cheaper than a takeout pizza.”

“I guess you’re right, George,” said Freddy meekly. “How bad can it be?”

During the ensuing three months Freddy dipped his proverbial toe into the Lonesome Dove pleasure pond a total of sixteen times, mostly on weekends but once on a Tuesday afternoon. Four of the times the dip dealt with the same Dove. Every dip was delightful. He learned how to select the specific Dove he needed to satisfy his animal urges at any given time. He made fast friends with a few, even to the extent of gifting three of them with beads and baubles before the deed was done based entirely on the tone and tenor of their individual voices.

During the inevitable pillow talk that followed several of the dips Freddy confided in his companion du jour that he was unbelievably happy for the first time in his middle-aged life. They assured Freddy that he had made their lackluster lives tolerable once more. His wit and performance had transformed what might have otherwise been a tawdry episode into a memorable occasion. And that they should celebrate again real soon.

At the conclusion of one particularly energetic tryst Freddy’s companion remarked that her rent was overdue, and she was thinking of moving out, but she didn’t have any place to go. Freddy recalled an earlier Dove who had alluded to the same dilemma and suggested that maybe the two girls might get together and see if they were sympatico. He promised to put the disparate Doves in touch. Which resulted in Freddy’s being rewarded with a second shot on goal which, incidentally, Freddy had never managed to achieve in his life before.

Then one day he casually assessed the tenuous integrity of his checking account. Yikes! Freddy’s bank balance was down a frightening two thousand bucks and change. Furthermore, he had inadvertently missed a child support payment. Freddy vowed to get his shit together.

He called and apologized to his ex-wife, cancelled his membership in Lonesome Doves and cleared out his contacts folder. He even considered resigning from the Wednesday night poker group, but it really didn’t cost all that much and besides, they were his best buds. Freddy hadn’t counted on one thing, however. His erstwhile paramours at Lonesome Doves still had his phone number. And they knew where he lived.

The girls he’d so gratuitously put in touch had had a falling out. They blamed Freddy for their shared misfortune. A couple of his former bedmates insisted he had a moral obligation to support their exotic lifestyles in perpetuity, but they’d be willing to forgive him in exchange for a modest, periodic stipend. And then Freddy lost his job.

And so, in an inexorable conclusion to his self-inflicted misery, Freddy plunked himself down despondently on the sheetless mattress in the barren bedroom where he had lately romped with such pleasure and contemplated the single-shot derringer he’d purchased with the last vestige of credit on his over-burdened Mastercard. He shed a final tear, pressed the silver-plated liberator to his temple and pulled the trigger. Freddy was lonesome no more.