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Get Rowdy by Leesa Cross-Smith

Photo Credit: Piscivorus Pictures I told every one of those guys I could do some things to make them forget how much Rowdy owed them. As long as they promised not to kill Rowdy or put him in the hospital. They had to leave him alone for good. I gave them all the same speech, every time.

“I know he's a fuck-up. Trust me. I've known him since high school. Our Daddies used to work together up until his Daddy died in his sleep couple years back—soul slipped right out of his body, slippery as oil. Rowdy had a hard time wiping that oil off his hands. Oil ain't so easy to wipe off. You think it's gone but when you get your hands wet, you see it. Beading up, streaking off.”

Rowdy and I weren't exactly together and we hadn't had sex yet and I didn't know why. Figured he might've looked at me like I was a sister or something, but no. We kissed sometimes and made our dinners together. And sometimes I'd go over to his house in the middle of the night and climb into bed with him. We'd sleep. I was in love with Rowdy and always had been. Big-Time. I loved how he talked to me, how he said things. So plain. And I liked how most times he put his warm, rough hand on the back of my neck when he kissed me. I knew he was no good, but I loved him anyway. He always had his gun, was always getting in fights down at the bar, always owed somebody money. We'd be at the bar and somebody would holler JACK and he wouldn't turn around. They'd holler JACK BOONE and he still wouldn't turn around. They'd say ROWDY because that's what everyone called him. And finally he'd tap some cigarette ash into an empty beer can, turn around and ask what the hell they wanted. That right there was what he was like.

One night we wandered around under his neighborhood's sodium street lights, drinking beer, smacking cattails against the hot metal guardrails. When we got back to his place, Rowdy was half-drunk, half-asleep and I asked him to tell me who all he owed money to. He closed his eyes, mumbled them off. Six guys, six crazy names.

“Detroit, Hot Knife, Black Ray, Coot, Johnny Step and Smoke,” he said.

Later, I wrote them down, put question marks next to the ones I didn't know. I didn't want Rowdy knowing about it so I had to ask around to find out who they were.


Easy. All I had to do was wear a low-cut shirt and ask the bartender if he knew a guy named Coot. Or Johnny Step. And if he didn't know, I asked the guys shooting pool and drinking by the back door. I only had to go to three different bars before I found someone. Detroit and Black Ray were together.

“So, you're Rowdy's girl?” Black Ray asked.

“Not exactly,” I said. Black Ray was pretty and tall, wore a big gold chain with a ship hanging off of it.

“What'll you give me to leave him alone?” Detroit asked.

“How much does he owe you?” I asked.

I gave Detroit a quick, dry hand job in the bathroom. I had full-on sex with Black Ray in his car. Twice. He was sweet to me. Real sweet. It wasn't bad at all.

I scratched out their names.


Detroit, Hot Knife, Black Ray, Coot, Johnny Step, Smoke


Went to Rowdy's place and climbed into bed with him. He put his arm around me and I stared at the side of his face until my eyes got heavy and stayed closed. In the morning, I made him swear on the Bible he wouldn't get into any more trouble. He was superstitious and I told him my Bible had been blessed by a preacher I knew from New Orleans. Spooked him enough. He swore, kissed my hand. I followed him to work to make sure he was going where he said he was going and he did. I watched him climb up on the roof and start hammering in the wavy morning sun. Sat there watching him from my car and listened to the staccato beat of tools echoing up the suburban sky. It was oddly dulcet.

Hot Knife looked like a California surfer but he was from the Kentucky hills and sounded like it. Told me his name was Danny even though I didn't ask. He had blond hair, thick as rope, and wore a leather motorcycle club vest over a white t-shirt. Told me Rowdy owed him nine hundred dollars.

“Danny, I don't have nine hundred dollars,” I said, making a flirty-pouty face.

“How much do you have?”

I opened my purse, got my wallet out.

“I have seventy-five dollars. That's it,” I said.

“You have pretty feet.”

“Thank you.” We both looked down at them.

He asked if he could paint my toes so we went to Walgreens and he picked out a tropical orange bottle. I let him do some weird foot stuff and he told me to keep the seventy-five dollars. Also, he called me Theresa but that isn't my name. It was fine. I didn't ask questions.


DetroitHot KnifeBlack Ray, Coot, Johnny Step and Smoke


I made a habit out of following Rowdy to work every morning. I was taking a chance on him, believing he'd stop getting himself into crazy situations he couldn't get out of. I never caught him lying. I was the liar now.


Smoke worked at the tobacco shop, appropriately enough. He said he'd seen me around a lot with Rowdy, told me Rowdy owed him some money. I gave him the speech, went down on him in the back office and spit in the little garbage can next to the door on my way out; the slick black bag made a quiet swishy sound, shook and caught the light.


DetroitHot KnifeBlack Ray, Coot, Johnny Step, Smoke


I found Johnny Step at the minor league baseball game because it was dollar beer night and I heard he was always there on dollar beer night, never missed a game. He was shady and not very nice and he scared me. I gave him the speech anyway, keeping my hand on the knife in my pocket the whole time.

“Lemme get this straight. You're offering to fuck me so I'll leave that asshole alone?” he asked. He pointed at nothing and said it loud. My face got hot.

“Well, depends. How much does he owe you?” I asked.

He looked me up and down. Made a point of sizing up my ass. I took my hand off of my knife, crossed my arms and gave him a look.

“About four hundred,” he said.

His apartment was near the ballpark and when we went to his bedroom I turned around so I wouldn't have to look him in the face. He called me some awful names and it was the only thing that turned me on. And you know what? He might've acted the toughest out of all of them, but he cried when he came.


DetroitHot KnifeBlack Ray, Coot, Johnny StepSmoke


Coot was hard to track down. He was out of town a lot and no one knew where, but I got lucky. Sat outside of his house one night and he came home to get a change of clothes.

After I gave him the speech he got a real sad look on his face, sat down on the front steps.

“Did he put you up to this? I don't do business like that,” he said.

“No, he didn't. I'm just trying to help him out.”

“He don't need your help. He needs to be a man,” Coot said. He brushed some dirt off his boot.

“You're the last one on the list,” I said. I thought I might cry but I swallowed it, made myself alright.

“I'll tell you what. Fuck it. This is too sad. I don't want no part of it,” he said, standing up. He reached his hand down for me, pulled me up. He gave me a hug and it surprised me so much I couldn't help myself from crying. Coot held me and held me there against his chest, reached into his pocket and handed me a brown paper napkin.

“He ain't worth all this, Honey, I guarantee,” he said.

“How much money does he owe you?” I asked, sniffing. I pulled back, wiped my nose.

“He ain't worth it,” he said again, softly. Coot was old enough to be my Daddy and I bet he would've been a good one.


Detroit, Hot KnifeBlack RayCootJohnny StepSmoke


My eyes were still all red from crying when I showed up at Rowdy's. He asked what was wrong. I told him nothing. PMS, girl stuff. The microwave beeped and he pulled out some leftovers from the night before when we'd cooked together and made baked spaghetti with fancy cheese on top. He pulled out the chair for me and asked if I wanted a glass of wine and I said yes. He'd just gotten out of the shower and smelled good, like hotel soap and sunshine shampoo. I wanted to eat him up. His name was written in invisible ink on my list. I hadn't crossed it out yet but I wanted to. Bad.

“I've been thinking maybe we should talk about us. Like, moving in together or something. You're here all the damn time anyway and you know I love you, right?” Rowdy said, pouring wine and looking over at me. He'd never told me before.

“I love you too, Jack,” I said to him for the first time aloud. My breath shivered out. I'd said I love you, Jack, over and over again in my diary when I was sixteen, my looping high-school-girl handwriting sprawling across those pale blue lines. I'd said it in my head when I went away to college and again when I flunked out and moved back home to our little town and saw him working on the roof next to my parents' house.

I got a nervous gut, letting those words out. I picked up my fork, crossed my legs underneath the table. He put the wine glass in front of me and sat down. I knew he might find out. I was sure one of those assholes would tell him what I did. But if he ever asked I'd lie about it. That's what I was thinking as I sat looking at Rowdy's smile. It was sick. You should've seen it. That ignorant beautiful bastard's face lit up the whole room.




Leesa Cross-Smith lives and writes in Louisville, Kentucky. She is the author of Every Kiss A War (Mojave River Press) and edits a literary magazine called WhiskeyPaper. Find more at

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