By Jay Butkowski
Smokey wiped down a rocks glass and watched the stranger with curiosity as he parked a silver Lexus SUV and entered the bar. He didn’t look like their usual clientele—madras shirt under a brown corduroy blazer and tucked into a pair of regular fit Dockers. Brown leather loafers with no socks and thick, pomaded hair. Smokey could smell the stink of Drakkar Noir from the other side of the room, even over the dank, earthy richness of some of their best-selling merchandise.
Not the kind of guy Smokey was used to seeing in their establishment, and certainly not in the middle of the afternoon.
Normally, they’d have bikers in and out of here—patched leather dudes, easy riders who’d stop by for a beer and a toke before heading further upstate. Sometimes, they’d have a couple old heads like Smokey himself stop in, decked out in their Birks and knitted ponchos and beaded hair, looking to kill some brain cells and relive the glory days. Occasionally, they’d get a gaggle of college kids who were looking to track down El Dorado and could rarely handle their shit.
This preppy youngster was early for the happy hour blitz and didn’t fit into any of those groups. He looked like a fish out of water to ol’ Smokey: completely out of his element.
“Can I help you, friend?”
“That depends,” said the stranger. “Is this the famous Smokey and Mike’s Roadside Saloon, BBQ Pit, and Head Shop?”
“You with the IRS?”
The stranger laughed. “No, I swear, I’m not with the government! Just out here, looking for a legend.”
Smokey stroked his long gray beard and scratched his paunchy belly, weighing the flattery. He didn’t feel particularly legendary.
“Well, if you ain’t five-oh, I guess you’re in the right place.”
“So then, you’re . . .?”
“Smokey D. Bear, at your service.” Smokey wiped a big, bear paw of a hand on his pants leg and extended it over the bartop. The stranger took it and pumped vigorously.
“Oh, wow, this is an honor, sir. David Simpkins. Is your partner, Mike, around too?”
Smokey gestured a thumb over his shoulder. “He’s around back. He’s more grower, and I’m more shower, if you get my meaning. He runs the back-of-the-house operations, and leaves customer service to me.”
“This place is amazing.” Simpkins gawked. “How long have you guys been here?”
“Since Woodstock. Me, Mike, and a couple of pretty young ladies hopped into a VW minibus, and took off from Dayton, Ohio for the best three days and fifty-two years of my life. After the festival, the ladies took a Greyhound back home, and me and Mike, well, we stayed and set up shop here.”
“I’ve heard from people that you guys grow some of the best weed on the planet,” said the preppy.
“That’s all Mike,” said Smokey. “We don’t call him Magic for nuthin’. Guy’s got the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen. Doesn’t hurt that we’ve got all of nature’s splendor helping us out, too.”
“Yeah, I could barely find the place.”
“We kind of like it like that,” said Smokey. “Not so many cell towers up in the mountains, and the service is even worse in the valley. Helps keep away the riff-raff.”
“The cops don’t give you guys a hard time?”
“You’re talking about a different kind of smokey now, friend.” The old timer removed his bifocals and wiped off the smudges with the bottom of his tie-dyed Dancing Bears T-shirt. “Yeah, the local authorities and us, we got an understanding here. There was one guy, few years back, who was a bit of a hard ass, bad for business, y’know? But the rest just leave us be. Figure, with the Oxy, and the crank, and all that shit out there these days, they got their hands full and don’t need to be banging down the doors of a couple old potheads.”
“Is it true you guys are thanked in the liner notes of Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits album?”
“Willie’s a pal. Usually stops by when he’s in town.”
“And you guys partied with Wu Tang once too, right?”
“Hey man, they ain’t nuthin’ to fuck with.” Smokey was getting a little bit annoyed at the younger man’s exuberance. “You going to buy something?”
“Maybe, if the price is right. What would you say you and Mike clear in a year of running this fine establishment? Financially speaking,” asked Simpkins, the facade of fanboy excitement slipping away.
“Who exactly did you say you were with?” asked Smokey.
A few moments later, the serene Hudson Valley setting outside Smokey and Mike’s Roadside was disrupted, as the door was flung open with a loud and reverberating thwack, and David Simpkins of ACG CanniBusiness Associates, LLC, was tossed out into the gravel parking lot.
“Get the fuck out of here!” roared Smokey, emerging from the darkened portal.
“You’re making a big mistake!” sniveled Simpkins.
Mike came running from around the other side of the building, tall, gaunt, and grim in a black leather cowboy hat and black tank top. “Smoke, what the fuck is going on?”
“This pencil-dick is trying to buy us out!”
“Slow down,” said Mike.
“You guys are fossils!” shouted Simpkins, a thin line of blood tracking from nostril to lip from when Smokey had decked him in the bar before tossing him into the parking lot. “I don’t even know how you survived this long, but in case you haven’t heard, weed is legal now, assholes, and it’s big business! And you either adapt, or you die.”
“You sunuva . . .” Smokey kicked at the younger man but Mike restrained him.
Simpkins took the opportunity to scramble to his feet and dust himself off. He indignantly spat at the older men, a mix of saliva and nose-blood.
“Thing is, I don’t even have to buy you out, dipshit. I was trying to do this the nice way—the polite way, the respectful way. I figured you had connections, maybe you’re marketable. But then you had to go and hit me. It’s your funeral. I’ll sue your ass, and when I’m done with that, we’ll flood this valley with cheaper, legal weed, put you guys right out of business. You fucked with the wrong hombre, asshole! Shit, maybe I’ll even call it Smokey’s Special, really fuck with your client base.”
Mike was the quieter, cooler head of the two, but even he had a breaking point, and professional pride demanded swift retribution. Quicker than a cobra strike, he pulled a big-ass handgun, tucked neatly into the back waistband of his jeans. He fired a single round straight through the tinted back windows of the parked Lexus, the boom of the gunshot shattering safety glass and sending nearby birds into flight. He swung the gun back around and pointed it at Simpkins, who dropped to his knees and wet himself.
In between sobs, pleas, and prayers, Simpkins gurgled, “I thought . . . you guys were just a couple harmless . . . hippies . . .”
“Nah, man, we’re businessmen,” said Smokey. He savagely kicked Simpkins in the stomach, doubling him over. “And you threatened our bottom line, friend.”
Smokey and Mike each grabbed under an armpit and hoisted the vanquished corporate raider back to his feet. They each took a turn, alternating between hitting the younger man or holding him up to be hit. As they pressed him against the side of the Lexus, a rusted-out police cruiser came rolling up the road.
“Smokey, Mike, what in the H-E-double-L is going on out here,” asked the officer from inside the car.
“Just teaching young Master Simpkins a lesson,” said Smokey, adding, “in business ethics.”
“Well, wouldya keep it down?” asked the officer. “Your G-D neighbors called in a noise complaint over that gunshot.”
“Aye Aye, Captain.” Smokey faux-saluted.
The officer continued down the road, and the beating continued.
David Simpkins sat on his expensive leather sofa, in his luxury Jersey City apartment, holding a bag of frozen peas to his swollen and bruised face. It was dark, and late, and his head was pounding, but however bad he felt, he was sure he looked even worse.
He got up and peered into a mirror by the front entrance. Blood caked under his nose and onto his torn shirt collar. His right eye was an egg; his lip busted and split. He touched thumb and forefinger to a front tooth, and he could swear it felt loose.
“Fucking psychos,” he muttered. “And what was with that fucking useless cop?”
This was his third strike in a month up in Hudson Valley, and though the other old timers hadn’t devolved into violence, none took kindly to his offer either.
“Buncha goddamned hillbillies,” he said to himself.
You can’t fight progress, he thought, even as he winced and clutched his bruised ribs that proved otherwise.
Jay Butkowski is a writer of crime fiction and an eater of tacos who lives in New Jersey. His short stories have appeared in various online and print publications, including Shotgun Honey, Yellow Mama, All Due Respect, and Vautrin. He is the Managing Editor and one of the co-founders of Rock and a Hard Place Press, an independent publisher of noir chronicling "bad decisions and desperate people" in short and longer format fiction, as well as in the flagship Rock and a Hard Place Magazine. He's also a father of twins, a doting fiancé, and a middling pancake chef.