When Hardluck reached the Rat Hole bar and grill, Tanker’s old Shovelhead chopper sat next to the door, a puddle of 50 weight oil collecting under it. Hardluck parked his Road King on the other side of the door, and stepped inside. A blast of warm air greeted him as he stepped inside, and the smell of stale beer, sweat, and a pickled pig’s foot that had been under the jukebox for two weeks made him feel instantly at home.
“Whazzup, Tank? Happy New Year!” he said, climbing onto a cracked stool beside the huge, bearded giant who was wiping beer foam from the tangled thatch on his upper lip. Tanker took a bite of a red-hot beef stick that Tony, the bartender, had tossed him, and rolled his eyes. “Just sittin’ here tryin’ to figger out how I’m gonna pay restitution for the neighbor’s front door an’ windows.”
Hardluck looked confused for a second, then, scratching his tangled hair, said “Jeez, Tank… It wasn’t your fault the clutch cable broke durin’ the burnout.” He chuckled, remembering the night before Christmas, and the party that led to Tanker’s current financial difficulties. “How much will it take ta get ya outta hot water?”
Tanker shook his shaggy head. “The damages add up to nearly two grand, an’ all I’ve got is my last 16 bucks!”
Tony the bartender mentally added up the beer Tank had already consumed, subtracted that from the $16, and told Tank, “You’ve got enough for two more beers, an’ that’s it.”
Tank started to complain, but was cut short when Lizard Lips Louise scurried through the door looking nervous as a claustrophobic gopher.
“Whoa, Triple L,” Tank said, as he reached out and trapped her scrawny bicep in his giant paw. “What’s goin’ on?”
She pulled at his grasp like a poodle on a leash, pointing in a generally northern direction; “People all over out there next to the canal, an’ there’s bound to be cops show up any time, an’ I have a failure to appear, an’…” Tanker let go of her arm, and she scurried off toward the relative safety of the women’s bathroom.
Tanker turned to Hardluck and motioned toward the door. “Let’s go see what’s cookin’ out there,” he said, grabbing his leather jacket from an empty stool.
As soon as they hit the parking lot, it was evident that a crowd had gathered on the bridge across the nearby canal. People milled around one woman who was screaming and crying near a gold Mercedes that sat in the road with the lights glaring off the mist-slick blacktop. Tank approached, and asked what was going on, sending the woman into another fit of hysterics. Someone in the crowd said “Her dog jumped out of the car at the stoplight, and slid into the canal on the ice.”
Tank squeezed his bulk by the railing and peered into the water below, finally spotting a bedraggled white dog clinging to an abandoned shopping cart near the middle, the brown water swirling around it. “Tough break, lady,” he said, turning to step back on the sidewalk. That was when his foot hit a patch of black ice and went out from under him, sending him sliding down the bank and into the icy water below. He let out a gasp as the near freezing water soaked him to the skin, and his teeth immediately started to chatter. He tried to climb the slick muddy side of the canal, but the water, and the worn-out soles on his boots conspired to thwart his attempts. He looked up at Hardluck, 30 feet above him, and yelled, “Don’t just stand there, dammit, go get a rope or somethin’!”
Hardluck was off like a shot toward… Where? The only place open nearby was the Rat’s Hole, and he knew Tony didn’t have a rope. He turned back to the crowd and yelled, “Hey! Anybody have a rope?” Heads shook in the negative, but one dude in a low rider said, “Naw, man, but I got jumper cables!” He fished the cables out of the trunk and handed them to Hardluck, who separated the cables and tied them together. A few more in the crowd came up with a pair of sweatpants, three T-shirts, and the straps off of two purses, which were all tied onto the makeshift rope.
“Grab the rope, Tank,” Hardluck shouted as he tossed the free end toward his struggling friend. As Tank was about to grab the end, a pitiful whine turned him toward the shivering dog that was just steps away. Tank made his way to the dog, zipped it into his soggy jacket, and pulled himself and the dog to safety. The woman in the Mercedes took the shivering dog, gave Tank a tearful thank you, then reached into her purse and pressed a stack of cash into his shaking hand. “Thanks, lady,” he stuttered, then ran for the warmth of the Rat Hole.
The following morning, Tank was already at the Rat’s Hole when Hardluck showed up. He clutched the morning paper and a scalding mug of coffee. On the front page was a cell phone picture of Tank, and the headline that proclaimed: “Hero risks his life to save drowning dog.”
Hardluck said “But you didn’t…” before being stopped by a hard look from Tanker. “Hey,” he said, “I’m a hero, and that woman gave me enough to make restitution for the damages! Guess it was a good New Year’s after all!”
Happy New Year from me and Reggie!