Sunday Night Fiction: “Shepherd: At College”

Okay, so I got nothing this weekend. Here, have a short story. This particular piece piggybacked on a piece I wrote while in high school, not that anyone knew it. "Shepherd: At College" represents the second Jim Shepherd story, which chronicles the adventures of a young man who grew up reading too many hard-boiled detective adventures. This story represents one of my many publication credits, as it appeared in the Spring 1994 Marquette Journal. Lest you forget because this is the Internet, friends, the following piece is copyright 1992 Brian J. Noggle, and it should not appear on your Web sites without my permission until, as Disney rules are in effect, 2999 AD.

Shepherd at College

   Dark rolled down outside the blinds of the little coffee house I was sitting in. I was trying to stare wistfully into my drink, which was difficult because it was a flattening Cherry Coke served in a paper cup with a strange dichromatic ocean picture that became clear only after you stared at it a while. Maybe it really wasn’t an ocean scene. Maybe that’s only what I saw after staring at it a long time. I was swaying in time with the bluesy jazzy poppy music they piped in to the joint, swaying and looking wistfully into a paper cup of soda. It was not one of my better days. Then she walked in.

   Her heels clicked to a stop on the fake brick floor just inside the door. She shimmered. She glistened. The room coalesced and kaleidoscoped. She did other things in the light that made my eyes hurt. And I had only been drinking Cherry Coke. She swirled a glance over the accumulated misfits and might have lingered on me for a minute. I wish. I straightened up and shoved my hat back. A macho enough gesture, but the hat was kind of tight and moving it back hurt a bit, so she would have no idea how macho it really was. I ran my fingers along my hairline and pulled my hat down. It hurt.

   What would Spenser do? He’d go over and say, “Want to see me do a one-armed push-up?” and she would giggle and he would snap off ten. Spenser was a wuss. I could do one-armed push-ups two at a time. I decided against the gesture. She’d just think it was macho posturing or something. Besides, ten is an awfully high number and she might get bored in the middle of my macho posturing.

   As it were, I just tipped my chair back against the pseudo-brick wall and leaned my head back. The brim of my hat hit the wall and the hat slid painfully down over my eyes. Mike Hammer never had this problem. I coolly chicked the front legs of my chair back down and shoved my hat back. Her back was to me as she paid for some coffee concoction with a crisp fiver. Good.

   She looked over the room and looked at the empty table next to me. It was the only one in the place. Our eyes met and I felt the electricity. She looked around again, probably to make sure that everyone was watching as she swanked deliberately over to the table. It was hard for her to decide whether to sit across the table so she could see me or on the side nearest me, and she settled on sitting with her back to me, acting coy and indifferent but handy when I wanted to strike up a conversation.

   She was doing a good job on the cool thing. She didn’t even turn half way and look out at the room so she watch me out of the corner of the eye. She was good at this game, but I was better.

   “Excuse me, do you know what time it is?” I asked her.

   She didn’t even glance at the little Seiko on her wrist. “No.” she said.

   Hard to get, I thought. I knew the thing. The harder I chase her, the more I’ll like it when she gave in. And she could check out just how much I liked her in just how hard I chased her. An ego thing. I was one step ahead of her.

   “Shepherd’s the name,” I said as she spread a New Yorker on the table in front of her. “Jim Shepherd,” I said after a dramatic pause, a pause made more dramatic when she hadn’t said anything. Or even looked at me.

   “Good for you,” she said.

   “And you are?”

   “Getting irritated.”

   A big jockish looking guy came over to her table. “Hi, Sharon,” he said. “How ya doing?”

   “Great,” she said.

   Great, I thought.

   “I’m headed over to Duffy’s. Want to come along?” Jock Boy said. Sure, if he didn’t have those muscles and all that where would he be?

   “Thank God,” she said, closing her New Yorker slipping it into her bag. She turned and they walked out. She started talking as they were out of earshot. I watched them leave, and I have to say I enjoyed it.

   Sharon. I liked the name Sharon. I liked Sharon. At least it wouldn’t be one of those lingering, clinging things. She and Jocko turned the corner and were gone. But not forgotten. I wondered if she were a freshperson. That would give me four years. Plenty of time. It was going to be a good four years. Oh, those blue eyes, I thought and I would have sighed except I’m a tough guy.

   I looked at my soda. It was almost empty. I could use another pretty soon, but the tap was so far away. A little red bird was flying across the sky on the cup, and it wasn’t getting anywhere. Tough luck. I was sympathizing with that bird when she walked in.

   She seemed to seep into the room like a fog. A mist of perfume, hair that rolled from her head like a dark warmth, and a presence that crept before her and lingered after she left. She glanced over the room and her big brown eyes flowed over me like molasses. They might have syrupped on me for a moment, but it might have been just me. She looked at the table next to me, the only empty one in the joint, and she cascaded over. I took a healthy slug of my Cherry Coke. What would Philip Marlowe do? I wondered.

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