Blues in the Night, by Rajah Dodger <email@example.com>, Copyright© 2004. All rights reserved, except that electronic not-for-profit reproduction rights only are explicitly granted with the stipulation that this authorship and permission note must remain attached.
The bar where Fred sat was crowded and dingy, but it had a television. On the screen, the Cowboys kicker shanked what would have been the winning field goal; a mixture of groans and cheers echoed in the crowded bar. The brunette sitting on Fred's left cursed and slammed her beer down, splashing his left cuff.
"Oh hell, I'm sorry!" she spluttered, trying to dab at his sleeve with a napkin. "Look, I'll pay for the cleaning bill..."
"That's okay," Fred reassured her, gently removing her hand from his wrist. "I guess you were rooting for the Cowboys, huh?" The woman grunted, muttering something unintelligible and downing the last of her beer. Fred didn't mind; the bet he'd just won would pay for plenty of shirts.
Fred hadn't particularly noticed his neighbor before, but now took the time to give her a once-over. Peach blouse, small earrings, the start of crows' feet - she had the look of someone who'd been around the block a few times. On the other hand, she had a pretty face through her anger, and Fred felt like sharing his good fortune.
"Tell you what," he said, and when she didn't respond he tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. "Tell you what, you can make it up to me by being my guest for dinner - that is, if you can recommend a good place."
She looked at him suspiciously, then blinked and smiled - surprising him with alert blue eyes and seeming to lose at least ten years from her face. "Don't mind if I do," she replied, extending her hand. "My name's Sharon - what's your line?"
Fred was surprised at the strength of her grip. "Fred Sanders; I'm in town for the pipeline convention." Sharon withdrew her hand and slid off her barstool, picking up her purse. She was taller standing than had been apparent, and Fred continued while he broke a hundred and left the bartender a tip, "I'd have been at the hotel bar tonight, but they were only showing the home team's game. I found this place to see the game, but it doesn't look like the menu's worth staying for." He chuckled at his own wit, while Sharon smiled appreciatively.
She ticked off the options on her fingers as Fred put his wallet back in his pants pocket. "Well, there's a good Italian place a couple of blocks over, and Chinese and Mexican near there as well as a Moroccan place with real belly dancers." She gave him an appraising look and continued, "Of course, the best place to eat in this town is on the east side, barbeque to die for and authentic Dixie swamp blues. But that's a drive from here, I'd have to give you directions and we all know how men are about directions!" Her voice and face gave him mixed signals - part humor, part challenge.
Fred decided to let the insult to his gender slide. Barbeque and blues sounded good to him, and since Sharon's car was closer than his hotel garage they agreed to let her do the driving. She set a brisk pace as they walked to the car, and Fred admired her legs as her skirt swirled about her knees. He was soon glad that Sharon was in charge, as the route went through several parts of town that weren't at all to Fred's liking. Her radio was tuned to a local channel playing music that seemed almost familiar, bluesy but more raw and energetic than anything he had heard back home.
The sign at their destination said "Hank's Rib Shack", and its run-down exterior made the sports bar look high-class in comparison. The food inside, however, made the drive more than worthwhile. As did the company - Sharon turned out to be a school teacher and a lively conversationalist, listening with equal interest to his stories about drilling clients. The band was loud but tolerable, and after her second beer Sharon dragged Fred onto the small dance floor where they bumped and ground their way enjoyably through some slow blues numbers.
Time just flew by, and when Fred looked at his watch he couldn't believe it was almost midnight. He had two client presentations to run in the morning, and a laughing woman at his table who bore no relation to the one who'd been swearing at the television earlier in the evening. It took some convincing, but Fred managed to get Sharon out of the building and into the car.
That left him with a different problem - they were in Sharon's car, in an unfamiliar part of town, and she was in no shape to drive. Fred even had to fasten the passenger seat belt, reaching across her partly-unbuttoned blouse to get the buckle. She smelled of beer, barbecue and perfume, and wriggled against him as he tightened the belt. She was coherent enough to give him directions back to the hotel district, and by the time his hotel was in view he had made up his mind to put her up for the night. His company had booked a suite, so Sharon could take the bed and he could sleep on the living room sofa.
It was with some embarrassment that Fred made his way through the hotel lobby, with Sharon leaning on his shoulder and breaking into random attacks of the giggles. She pulled herself together in the elevator long enough to thank Fred demurely for keeping her off the road. Then she kissed him - not a chaste polite thank-you, but a moist full-lipped body-pressing kiss that left Fred wondering how much of a gentleman he really wanted to be.
The elevator doors opened, and Sharon held Fred's hand as she went with him down the hallway. When he reached into his wallet to get the room card, she leaned against the wall, one leg extended with the tip of her shoe drawing circles in the carpet. The lock released and he pulled the door open, gesturing for Sharon to precede him. "Thank you, kind sir," she said as she passed him. Her words were just slightly slurred. Fred carefully locked and bolted the door while Sharon took a look around the suite. "Quite a place you have, Fred, just what did you say you do for these pipeline folks?"
"I'm a systems analyst and conversion specialist," he repeated as he moved into the living area. "I'm in charge of making sure our gear fits their needs."
"And do you often fit your gear into their needs?" She giggled, then broke into uncontrolled laughter at the look on Fred's face. "Oh relax honey, you let yourself in for that one."
Fred let out a breath he hadn't noticed he was holding, and smiled at the truth of her comment. He had fed her quite a straight line. "Okay," he said after he chuckled, "let's get you set up. The bathroom's out here, so if you'll kindly take care of that first you can have the bedroom for the night. I've got early meetings tomorrow, so I hope you don't mind but you'll have to be awake and out by eight."
Sharon appeared surprised, then pleased, and headed for the bathroom. Fred hung up her jacket and went into the bedroom to turn down the cover and retrieve some of his papers. He heard the sound of the toilet flushing, and soon Sharon stepped into the bedroom. She yawned as she set her purse down by the bedside and smiled at him.
"Fred, I just want to tell you how delightful it is to be with a gentleman. I'm sorry I had too much tonight, and you're being so nice letting me crash here. I just wish I could make it up to you." She yawned again and sat down on the side of the bed, smiling at Fred.
In other circumstances Fred might have taken that as an invitation, but Sharon seemed to be feeling the effects of the evening and he needed his sleep. Anyway, he'd already gotten lucky once with the football game, so he stood up and smiled back at her. "Think nothing of it, Sharon; I just wouldn't have felt right worrying about you driving home at this hour." With that he turned and headed toward the bedroom door.