The Hungry Man

Lenny Temkin was hungry because of his wife. After twenty years of marriage she'd finally done the unforgivable - put him on a diet. Sure he'd live longer, unless something completely unrelated to his diet killed him first. His job maybe, he was a cop after all. Or the misery of eating nothing but rabbit food for the rest of his existence. That was why he'd come out with his buddies in search of a nice fat, juicy fried steak. So rare that it was practically still running around. Washed down with beer. His stomach rumbled at the thought. And now the jerk behind the bar was yanking his chain, serving everyone but him.

Lenny waved down the bartender. "What am I—" he said. "Unfit to drink in this place?"

"Listen, Lenny—" The bartender waved his hands in a gesture of surrender; then he stroked the wiry hair of his goatee. "I got orders. Your wife's been calling. I know about the diet."

Lenny pressed his tongue against his bottom lip. "Look at me, Harlan. Do I look like I need a diet?"

Harlan, the bartender, stared at Lenny. "Do you really want me to answer that?"

"What if I said I did, Harlan?"

"I've got more respect for you than that, Lenny."

"I could always take you down to the station and beat it out of you."

"You could, Lenny, but you don't need to do that."

"I wouldn't do that because you're not worth the effort. Just give me the goddamned beer, Harlan."

After considering his options, Harlan poured Lenny a beer. Lenny took a long sip. When he took the glass away, he said, "I don't want you talking to my wife anymore, either. Do you understand?"

"I got it, Lenny. You don't have to tell me twice."

"Good. I wouldn't want to see what would happen if I did."

Lenny watched Harlan nod, watched him move down the bar stiffly, watched him wipe off a couple of sweat rings. When he was satisfied Harlan understood, he carried the glass to the booth where his friends waited.

"The hell was that all about?"

"Asshole wouldn't serve me," Lenny said.

Codeine said, "You do look a little young."

Lenny stared out across the bar. The place was busy, humming like a hive of hornets. He saw a couple women he liked, but nothing to get up out of his seat. Just when he'd given up, he saw a slender blond behind a wall of smoke. When he made eye contact she looked away.

"Anybody know that chick?" Lenny said.

"Who?"

"That blond—over there."

Codeine said, "Here we go again."

"What the hell do you mean by that?" Lenny said.

"Just means I wouldn't wanna be Mrs. Temkin."

"Neither would I," Lenny said. "Her husband's an asshole. Now, does anybody know anything about that blond over there?"

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