I spot him at the end of the bar, a beetle-browed type sporting full-sleeve tattoos and about 4 pounds of hair pomade, and there's no doubt his narrowed eyes are zeroing in on me.
But I only vaguely wonder why he's staring me down and instead focus my attention on the beautiful Bettie Page brunet in front of me, with whom I just finished swing dancing. We spun, stepped, twirled and dipped, and all the while she giggled. She smells like vanilla; I'm instantly smitten. I offer to buy her a drink.
Over a gimlet Donna asks me if I came with anyone tonight. I tell her I am flying solo. And she?
"Just Randall," she says, craning her neck toward the end of the bar where Greaser Boy stands and glares. "He's kind of my ride tonight." Then, almost as an afterthought: "My ex-fiance."
It is a shot to the body, yet a glancing one. The "fiance" part stuns me, but the "ex" serves to muffle the blow. I decide her phone number is fair game, and prepare to take aim.
"I'd better be going," she says, "but can I give you my number?"
As I walk down 15th Street whistling, I spot them: Donna and her ex are arguing by a blue T-Bird convertible. When he sticks a finger in her face she shoves him hard in the chest, turns and stomps back toward the club. I catch her eye; she hurries across the street to me.
She realizes we just met, she says, but wants to know if I could take her home.
I ask if everything's okay as I look past her at Randall, who slams his car door shut.
"Yeah, peachy," Donna says.
It's apparent he's stranding her.
"Let's go," I say.
As we walk down a side street toward my car, Donna reaches for my hand. We are maybe 15 paces from my car when I hear the roar of a furious engine getting louder by the second. I spin around to see the blue convertible barreling down the side street right for us.
It all unfolds like something on TV, and it takes my brain a moment to absorb that this isn't choreographed. With squealing wheels the car stops only a few ominous feet from us and Randall leaps over the door and darts right for me, one hand pressed behind his back.
During these eternal seconds, I am not flooded with the fear I might expect in facing the fury of a possibly armed psychopath, but the ridiculous realization of how it might end for me: not quite 30 and about to get my ticket punched in the street by a man with Crisco for hair over a girl I've known all of 20 minutes.
Randall lunges at me and I instinctively stick out a stiff arm and backpedal as Donna tries to come between us. He keeps charging at me and I keep dancing deftly out of his reach, like a toreador. His right hand remains behind him, hidden.
He stops, his eyes loaded with disgust for any man who refuses to stand still for a beating, and spits at my legs. I keep my arm out and my distance safe, but by now he and Donna are at it again. And again, the yelling ends in Donna stomping off toward the club and Randall jumping into his car. Revving his engine, he eyeballs me as I walk to my own car, insert my key as calmly as I can and try to get on with the rest of my life. When I pull around the corner of the parking garage I see Donna about to cross the street. By chance, we wind up at the intersection at that moment.
Again, instinct takes over: I wave her in.
During the ride Donna explains how even though she and Randall just "hang out," he is still quite the jealous type, yet I barely listen. Adrenaline shoots through my veins like liquid fire. I am stunned that anyone would try to attack me. But what could I have done? That guy's a nut job, I tell myself as my hands shake slightly on the wheel.
After a million labyrinthine turns I pull into her complex and she invites me up. The second we walk in Donna kicks off her shoes and shares our adventure with her two roommates. I want to leave. I've seen her safely home and my part in this drama is over.
That's when I hear the unmistakable sound of a T-Bird knocking over a garbage can.
Donna orders me to stay hidden while she gets rid of Randall, then instructs a roommate to call the cops. She spits this out so automatically that I wonder if it's a weekly routine with this guy.
She's out there for a while, and I feel I should do something, but what? Step outside and dutifully plow a fist into the Adam's apple of ol' Randall? I try to muster a dislike for him, if not anger, but I realize he's not the one I'm angry with — the adrenaline starts charging through me anew. I move toward the door and uncertain fate when Donna bursts back in. Apparently the cops arrived, ordered Randall to leave the premises and made him leave his car and hoof it to the corner gas station to call a ride.
Donna walks me to my car and says she'd like to see me again, but will understand if I want to forget the whole night. I look at her, the beautiful girl I spun around the floor, and her eyes smile sadly as if to say, "Too bad this is how you'll remember me." Before the liquid fire cools entirely, I grab her and kiss her.
At this moment Randall, like some B-movie zombie who refuses to die for good, comes trudging across the lot, toward his T-Bird and toward us.
This time, I step in front of Donna and keep my arms at my sides and feet planted. My mouth feels dry.
I watch as Randall plods past us without a word, climbs into his car and drives quietly out of my life. No roar, no collisions.
Donna merely shakes her head as though nothing happened and tries to kiss me but I pull away and mutter goodbye.
I climb into my car, clench the wheel in a firm grip and steer out onto an unfamiliar road. With the fire extinguishing slowly within me, I realize it will be almost impossible to find my way back.
Frank Drouzas runs the Acclaim Film & TV script contests and is a freelance writer.