Jack and Nadia collided into a Tom Waits song within the walls of the Charter Union Tavern in Mingo, Iowa. Jack, having crossed the border near Montreal, had left a trail of jealous husbands and angry bosses in his wake as he worked his way west, down New York to Pennsylvania then to West Virginia, finding odd jobs and odd women along the the way. The three weeks he’d spent on the highway overpass project in Clear Creek, was his longest stint to date.

Nadia had spent most of her teens bouncing throughout Mexico and Texas, a year in Del Rio before bartending and waitressing and otherwise using her dark curls and brown eyes to squeeze the last buck out of a customer’s wallet. She’d been working at Charter Union for three days, still learning the menu and register codes when Jack took a bar stool and ordered a tequila.

She poured two.

Jack grinned. Nadia had a thing for grins. Not the excited, over eager leers the locals wore when they came in, but more a confirmation, that of a man who knew how to play the game.

A film of sweat covered Jack’s brow. Nadia’s, too. A single fan from the kitchen was the only breeze on a blistering day. He knocked back the tequila without a blink. Nadia followed with her shot, then buried the burn in her eyes. An order for Miller Lite went unnoticed. Nadia poured two more shots, licked the spillage running down her wrist.

An unspoken intensity took form between the two strangers. She bit her lip. He stood, asked her to dance.

From the visual evidence—stories told by those circling pitchers in the booth—it was as though they’d been expecting each other. The sun abruptly fell behind the clouds, changing the horizon and the room as the two clashed to the sway of Downtown Train. An upheaval ensued, twisting and pulling, grasping to give, or take, the powerful vorticity of their movements building until Jack kicked a chair out of their way.

Jack wasn’t a big man but carried himself in a manner that kept others at bay. Nadia took his shoulders, her hand around his neck as a deep gust of wind came out of nowhere, flipping back her curls then sucking the room of air.

Jack spun Nadia and a smile exploded across her face. Jack’s chest heaved, his grin broadened as he reeled her in, somewhat violently, knocking into a table, sending a glass crashing to the floor.

It was clear the dance could not be sustained. Their shoes squeaked on the puddles of beer soaking into the planks. Drinks went unfilled, baskets emptied. Napkins scattered, struggling to absorb the moisture and wayward trash. The phone on the wall went ring after ring, urgent and worried. Jack and Nadia cut a path through bar, hips and hair, eyes lowering, rotating, lips moving, brushing, touching down before pulling back.

When the song ended, Jack and Nadia quit their jobs. Nadia by way of leaping over the bar, clearing her tips, telling Sam to fill his own damn mug, then swiping the bottle and jumping into Jack’s arms. Jack by carrying the gorgeous ball of mischief to his truck, turning the key, slamming the column into drive, and leaving a cloud of dust that wouldn’t clear until dark.

Empty mug in his hand, Sam shook his head, watching the pick-up fishtail before gaining traction on the road.

“That’s not going to end well.”


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