Mexican Standoff

To celebrate a windfall, Greb invites you to meet him at the Caffe Boho, where he informs you of his intent to blow the money on a month in Mexico.

—Come along if you want. My treat.

You look up from the legs of the girl at the next table.

—When would we leave?

His forearms, bare and brawny, are crossed on his chest. His eyes, grave and unblinking, are fixed on yours.

—Tomorrow morning—but there’s one thing you should know before we hit the road.


—What if I told you I’m in love with you?

So many boisterous conversations are in progress in the vicinity you can hardly be faulted for doubting your ears.

—Sorry—what was that?

—I said, what would you say if—?

An amplified squawk interrupts him. Zip Zipkin, the Boho’s goateed proprietor, is adjusting the height of the microphone on the small stage.

—The next poet who’s signed up to read tonight describes himself as a professional dropout. Welcome Robert Greb.

—Hold the thought.

Underweight and overcaffeinated, Zipkin stands by fidgeting as Greb saunters up through the maze of tables. A few sniggers are quickly silenced by hisses when he perches himself on the tall stool behind the mike and the beam from the overhead spotlight reveals he’s wearing bluchers but no socks.

—So, Greb, what does that mean exactly—professional dropout?

—That I’m on my fourth college and still nowhere near graduating.

—Is that what your poems are about—a doomed search for an education?

Greb takes a folded wad of paper from the pocket of his shirt.

—Actually, these aren’t my poems. My buddy Stew Nard over there’s too shy to face an audience, so think of me as his proxy.

This brazen invitation brings you to your feet.

—You never asked me if you could do that. He can’t do that! I forbid it.

—Nard, hold on!

By scrambling, he just manages to catch up to you in the street before you can duck into the subway.

—Did you really think I’d go along with a stunt like that?

—Never mind that. I’m waiting.

—For what?

—Don’t play dumb.

You’re left with no choice but to laugh in his face.

—You’ve got one sick sense of humor, you know that, Bobby?

—Yeah, don’t I.

His guffaw is even louder than yours.

—Anyway I’ll be in my car in front of your house at seven on the dot—that is, if you’re sure your parents’ll let you go.

—I don’t need their permission.

Which, since you’re old enough not to vote, is true, but doesn’t release you from the obligation to explain yourself when your father notices you stuffing a change of clothes into a paper bag.

—Isn’t he the one that combs his hair like Julius Caesar?

—That’s Greb—right.

—I don’t get it. Why would he pay for you?

You shrug off the question and go to bed—only to wake with a start at three a.m. from a dream about Greb’s dog, a poodle he likes to hunker down and trade smooches with.

—Oojie poojie dog! Floojie woojie dog!

At a loss for a plausible cop-out, at ten past seven you stop your mother from responding to the tantrum the doorbell inevitably throws. Ditto with the phone at seven thirty—you don’t let her pick that up either, though it rings twenty times before it relents.

He can take a hint—say that for Greb. You never hear from him again, except for a postcard from Coyoacan. A gringo in a sombrero is grinning on the front of it.

—You don’t know what you’re missing. Bobbi.

STEPHEN BAILY has published short fiction in numerous journals. His novel “Markus Klyner, MD, FBI” is available as a Kindle e-book.