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Tank let three get by him in the second period. I don't know if the goals were his fault or not, because I still couldn't really follow what was happening. It seemed like every time the visiting team brought the puck around his net, he was flopping this way and that, desperately trying to get hit with the puck. It wasn't a job I would choose.
At the same time, I sympathized with him. I felt like I understood what he was going through. It was like me, writing detective novels to try and pay the rent. I didn't love detective novels, but I'd figured them out. I could put a story together that could entertain a reader for a few hours. It was the same for Tank. He probably didn't like getting shot in the ribs with a puck, but he did it, because it was something he'd figured out how to do, and someone would pay him to do it. But between the two jobs, I preferred mine. Less dangerous.
I watched Mike Dempsey skate around out there. The crowd cheered when he got the puck, and he was clearly the most talented player on the Sparrows team. From listening to his talk at the party, he was supposed to be playing on the big league team, but had been sent down to play for the Sparrows. He was too good for the Sparrows, but something was keeping him out of the big league. I think I could tell what it was. He looked like he didn't give a shit out there, and I think he was probably a little bit like me. He'd figured out he had a talent for something, so he did it for money. But he didn't really love it. Even when the other team scored, he didn't look like he cared. He might as well have been driving a truck for a living.
We sat through another intermission, and when the visiting team scored only a minute into the third period, the crowd started getting restless. It was five to one for the visitors now, and instead of cheering, the crowd was now jeering. They'd seen bad Sparrows teams for years and could already tell what this year's team would be like.
"What the fuck?" Carter said.
He looked around under his feet, reached down and picked up a piece of popcorn. "This just bounced off my hat."
"Someone spilled their popcorn?"
"I don’t know," he said. He looked pissed off, or at least agitated. We sat for another minute, watching the Sparrows getting chased around their end of the ice, until I felt something bop off the top of my head. A piece of popcorn landed in my lap.
"We have popcorn," I said.
"Bastards," Carter growled, and he shot a furious look over his shoulder into the stands behind us. I looked as well, but what was there to see? A lot of people, all looking our way. A lot of them looked at us when we turned around to look at them.
We couldn't tell who was throwing the popcorn, so we eventually turned back around to watch the game. I couldn't care less about what was happening on the ice, and Carter seemed too wound up to pay proper attention. I knew he had a temper, and I knew this probably wasn't going to end well, especially when I felt more popcorn bounce off my head.
"Goddamnit!" Carter shouted. He turned around again, and this time he spotted the culprits: a couple young men, probably college age, although I doubt this pair of beer-swilling hicks went to college.
They were about five rows back from us, red-faced and sweaty, and trying not to smile. Carter stood and pointed a claw-tipped finger at them. "Knock it off!" he yelled, and the two guys looked at each other and all around, both acting surprised, but also glad to be the center of attention.
"What? We're not doing anything!" one of them laughed.
"Yeah? You're throwing popcorn, you punk! Knock it off!"
They laughed, and Carter sat back down. "We're just trying to feed the animals, man!" one of them cackled.
"Do not feed the animals," I replied over my shoulder.
We had peace and quiet for about thirty seconds before the next bunch of popcorn hit us. This time we heard protests from the people in the row directly behind us, who had apparently been hit by some stray kernels. One fellow turned around and told the guys to stop, and they immediately apologized.
Next came the animal calls. Hooting, mooing, baa-ing, and all sorts of stupid stuff were coming from the same two guys. Some people joined in the laughter now. It seemed like the drunks, tired of watching the home team getting their asses kicked all over the ice, were now willing to turn their attention to something new: animal mockery.
Carter was steaming. He'd been in a terrible mood because of the crap at work, but that had all gone away with the excitement of seeing his hockey team play. Now all of the aggravation was back, with this new crap added on top. He was gritting his teeth and digging his claws into the plastic armrests on the chairs. I could tell he was near some kind of breaking point, but I wasn't sure what would happen when he reached it.
A fight broke out between the players on the ice. There were two main antagonists, who dropped their sticks and gloves, grabbed hold of each other's sweaters, and started punching away at each other. The other players on the ice dropped their gloves and paired off with each other, but they just skated around watching the main imbroglio. The crowd went bananas, with everyone on their feet, shaking their arms and screaming. The ones nearest the boards beat their fists against the glass. It was one of the many, many times that I've been acutely aware of the illusion of separation between man and beast. The only difference between this group and a band of gorillas was the substitution of body hair for team jackets.
The fight, and the crowd going crazy, were apparently enough for the guys to start throwing popcorn again, and this time Carter and I were getting fistfuls tossed at us. I don't know why the guys in the row behind us didn't pipe up again, but this time Carter had enough. He turned around, and looking like an absolute nightmare of scales, teeth and claws, he started screaming obscenities and trying to get through the crowd at these two pricks.
The problem was that most of the people were on their feet because of the fight, and Carter wasn't able to push his way through quickly. By the time he got to the steps at the end of our own aisle, two fat guys in security jackets were there. They hooked Carter under each arm and marched him double-time up the steps, taking him straight past the two guys he wanted to kill, and into the concourse on the way to the nearest exit.
I followed behind. I suppose I wasn't being thrown out, but there was no way I was going to stay. The only part I didn't like about leaving was having to walk past the two popcorn throwers, who pointed and howled with laughter as I passed them by.
I caught up with Carter at one of the fire exits. The two fat guards were blocking the door, trying to prevent Carter from getting back in. I could hear the Lizardman screaming in a scratchy voice.
"You goddamn fuckers, I have a ticket to be here, and I didn't do anything wrong! Those assholes were throwing fucking popcorn at us! Why don't you throw them out?"
One of the fat guys argued back that Carter was swearing and fighting, and that was that. He couldn't come back in. I tapped one of the guys on the shoulder, and he stepped aside to let me out. They slammed the door shut behind me, and just like that, our hockey game was over.
Carter had his ticket stub, and he made me walk with him back to the arena's main entrance, but word about him must have gotten there first, because they wouldn't let him back inside. He made a fuss, but he wasn't getting in. That was that.
"Goddamn fucking humans," he muttered as we walked across the street to the bar. "Of course they'd stick up for each other."
"You've got to expect it from them," I said. "Sometimes it's better to avoid conflict."
He was raging. "How the fuck am I supposed to avoid conflict when they're throwing fucking popcorn at us?"
I went silent. It was my opinion that you avoid conflict by not surrounding yourself with two thousand beer-drinking humans in the first place, especially at an event where everyone wants to see action and blood. But I figured anything I said would just make him more upset.
We had a drink in the bar, but after the game finished everyone poured out of the arena and the bar filled up. It became uncomfortably crowded, and I knew Carter was keeping an eye out for those two guys, so I hustled him out the door. We decided to call it a night. He would go back to his beloved strip club and drink staff-priced beers. Maybe he would watch the girls dance, loving them for their beauty and kindness, but hating them for being human. Maybe he would take a beer back to his shack and sit alone, listening to the post-game show on the radio. Either way, it would be a lonely, bitter night for Carter J. Lizardman.
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