“By the Hitman”
“Loose-loose-loose!” the ref’s voice thundered above the boards, untying the locked sticks of the two ice hockey jocks in the corner behind the Sword’s net. A tense second later, Seaside’s tough-guy enforcer Bruce Andreychuk shoulder-slammed one of Pittsburgh’s wingers into the glass. The cheers in the crowd around Bull and Alex turned to jeers. It had been a good, clean hit, but Bull knew well enough – a ball cap on his buzz-cut head bearing the red and black logo of the Seaside Swords – that ice hockey fans were rabid here about their favorite team. He’d already gotten more than his fair share of dirty looks from the pumped-up crowd surrounding them in the front row seats for wearing enemy colors.
Almost dropping his fresh cup of beer, Bull let out a deep, loud hoot in Andreychuk’s honor, pumped his free fist, and howled out a resounding, “Woo hoo!” when the Seaside enforcer scored on the power play a few seconds later. The organist belted out a few sour notes after the horn sounded, then appropriate music blasted over the loud speakers.
“Short-handed goal, Bruce Andreychuk, 10:14 in the first. Assist from Aubinofsky,” the announcer stated in an emotionless voice.
Standing and pumping his fist again as Andreychuk skated past on his way to the Seaside bench, Bull howled louder. This time, the thirty-four year old pro hockey jock, known throughout the league as one of the toughest in all of pucks, looked up. A slight grin played out on the hairy corners of Andreychuk’s unshaved mouth at the recognition of familiar team colors. To Bull’s surprise, the other man fired back a respectful salute.
It might have been Bull’s clothes that had given things away – blue jeans and well-worn combat boots, a tight dark-green t-shirt he’d gotten in the Army, and his camouflage jacked over that. Bull saluted back in the direction of the Seaside bench, then retook his seat to a din of good-natured booing around them.
Seeing Alex again after so long had been good, and Bull was happy to be hanging at the arena with his old Army buddy. It helped him, even if only in these broken minutes, to forget the events of the last month.
“I was happy you called,” Alex said, brushing the jeans-covered muscles of his left leg against the solid strength of Bull’s right. “You sure you don’t want to stay with Carol and me tonight?”
Bull shook his head. “Thanks, pal, but don’t you think that might be kinda awkward?”
“Nope,” Alex said flatly. The deep growl of his old bud’s voice drew them – probably for the first time in fifteen years – face to face.
Alex had aged those fifteen years well. Bull knew without asking that his Army buddy was keeping up with the gym. He’d recognized Alex’s hard, firm butt the moment it had sauntered up to the beer stand in their section of seats. He still wore his dark hair short, but not at military length, and a trace of silver had appeared in the tips above his ears. The grin on Bull’s handsome face widened.
“What?” Alex asked, smiling back.
Bull realized he’d been staring and looked away. “Shit, pal. Life in Pittsburgh seems to be agreeing with you. I mean – you got a great job and season tickets to every home hockey game. Bet your wife is some fuckin’ pinup model, too.”
“Naw, you should see her without makeup. Scary,” Alex chuckled, gulping a swig of beer with just enough suggestiveness in the action that Bull was reminded of all the times his pal had gulped something else during their months together in Georgia, then North Carolina. “Actually, it was her idea when I got your call. Why don’t you bunk in our spare room?”
The flicker of want he’d been teased into for the other man fell as flat as the remains of the first beer he’d downed waiting for Alex to meet him at the beer stand. “I already got me a room in the hotel across the street. But thanks, pal. I mean it.”
Suddenly, the truth behind his reason for being in this part of the country surged back. The noise of a spirited fistfight taking place out on the ice between Andreychuk and the Pittsburgh jersey bearing Number Eleven droned away. Alex leaned closer. “Do you have any leads about your son, Jason?”
Bull took a heavy swallow and shook his head. “I tried calling. Becky’s number’s been disconnected. None of the relatives are still up there, but I figure I’ll be able to learn something. ‘Sides, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to Seaside. Maybe the fact that my home town team’s kicking the shit outta yours by two goals right now is a good sign.”
“Fuck you,” Alex chuckled, sending an elbow into Bull’s side.
Bull grinned, slugged back the last of his beer, and huffed, “I’m real tempted to fuck you, fucker,” under his breath. Not that anyone else would have heard – a round of grunts and whistles had ensued out on the ice. When Bull looked up, Bruce Andreychuk had the guy from Pittsburgh down on his knees, jersey over his head, and was pounding him into hamburger. “I thought you didn’t do that any more?”
Alex leaned closer, growling the beer-scented words into his ear. “I don’t, but I’d make an exception for you.”
The itch in Bull’s nuts surfaced again, partly at the thought of boning his old Army bud’s tight can for the first time in fifteen years, partly, he realized, at the sight of the two hockey jocks throwing down their gloves and tangoing out on the ice.
Yeah, he wanted it. Wanted it bad. But somehow, with Alex, it didn’t seem right any more. The present had lately reminded him of all the mistakes he’d made in the past, so two periods of ball-busting hockey later, their night together ended where it had begun, over beer in a Pittsburgh sports bar.
“You’re sure you won’t change your mind?” Alex said, pounding back the last of his ginger ale.
Bull smiled and ordered another beer before replying. “You’d better get going, pal. That snowstorm out there’s getting worse.”
“You got that right, Chief,” the bartender sighed, setting down a fresh beer. “Six inches by morning last I heard.”
Bull shook his head and tipped his gaze back in Alex’s direction. “I’ll be seeing you.”
Alex clapped a hand to Bull’s shoulder and gave him a rough shoulder massage. “Better not be another fifteen years before you do.”
After that, he was gone, leaving Bull alone in the almost-empty sports bar. A few sips and about twenty minutes of staring at the sports news on the television later, Bull vacated the barstool to take a hearty piss. When he returned, someone had taken residence on the seat two stools down. A quick glance showed a dark-haired dude dressed in jeans, expensive high-tops, a crisp-looking white t-shirt under a black leather jacket, and a ball cap bearing some brand-name logo. Bull did a double take and recognized whom he was now seated beside.
“What’ll it be?” the bartender yapped.
Bruce Andreychuk, the Seaside Sword’s number one tough guy, drummed the bruised knuckles of his punch-hand on the bar top and ordered a beer.
He’d looked hot out on the ice, but Bull couldn’t help but stare at the hockey enforcer’s handsomeness here, two yards distant – his hard, square jaw and dark eyes, short black hair, even the barely-healed cut above his day-old-stubbled cheek added to Andreychuk’s rugged, good looks. Sipping the head off his beer, the hockey jock’s eyes gradually lifted to lock with Bull’s. Bull realized he’d been staring and resumed his own tough-guy stance two stools down from Andreychuk.
“Great game, guy,” he growled, burying his eyes again on sports TV. The sight of Bruce Andreychuk up close had re-ignited the itch in Bull’s nuts, and all the Army discipline in his twenty years couldn’t keep the meat between his legs from stiffening to half its thickness.
“Thanks,” Andreychuk answered, looking up from his beer. Bull again faced the enforcer, who flexed the fingers of his punch-hand painfully. A slight, mean grin had broken across Andreychuk’s hairy mouth. “I saw you in the seats. Lemme guess – Rangers?”
Bull chuckled under his breath. “Right on the first guess. How’d you know?”
“You look too mean for anything like engineering or artillery maintenance.” Andreychuk’s dark eyes narrowed on the chevron detailing Bull’s jacket. “Been a long time for me, but ain’t that a First Sergeant’s patch?”
“Again, correct on the first guess. When did you serve?”
Andreychuk sidled over to the empty barstool between them, putting both men now side to side. “I did the economy tour, two years right out of high school. I was a major-league fuck up back then.”
Bull whistled a laugh into his beer. “I hear ya there. Did the Army help unfuck you?”
“Not really,” the other man said. “Spent some time over in Germany, though. Hockey fever had swept over the base. That Olympic win against the Russians a few years before was still fresh in everyone’s mind. We had an Army team that played in a local league, plus you know hockey’s huge in Germany. So I laced up my skates, took a spin out on the ice, got the shit beat out of me by guys who weren’t half as big as me. Really pissed me off. So I did something about it when I came back to the skates. Went to college on Uncle Sam, got onto the hockey team, and been skating and sweating my nuts off since.”
Bull shifted on the barstool in an attempt to shift the itchy, painful lump between his legs. He extended his shake hand, hoping the hockey jock now less than a foot away wouldn’t notice the bulge in his blue jeans. “Tom Bullen. My friends call me Bull.”
“Sergeant Bull,” Andreychuk growled, accepting the gesture and squeezing down as hard as Bull’s hand gripped back. “Name’s Bruce Andreychuk. My wife calls me fucknuts. Teammates go by Andy. Opponents – hell – take your pick of nicknames.”