Romano turned the key of his car, and cursed again as the engine failed to start.
"Dammit to hell," he swore, thumping the wheel in frustration. Of all the times for his engine to cut out, it had to be now, in this disreputable neighborhood. He had traveled out of his way to find a pet store that was reputed to have received a new shipment of dog food. Not just any dog food, mind you. This particular variety was the canine equivalent of caviar, very rare and very expensive. He had intended buying it as a Christmas treat for Gretel, and had been fortunate enough to obtain the last bag of it. Of course he'd had to barge in front of a little old lady in order to get it, but what the hell. She probably wouldn't have been able to afford it anyway. Heck, he'd probably done her a favor, he thought self-righteously.
Pulling out his cell phone, he tried to dial a repair service, but the snowstorm must have been affecting coverage, and he wasn'table to get through.
Looking around through the falling snow, he made out the sign for a bar, not too far ahead of him. "Well, at least it should be warm in there, and there's bound to be a payphone," thought Romano, as he climbed out of the car.
Romano rubbed his hands to warm them as he entered the building. Striding up to the bar, he said to the man behind it. "You. Do you have a payphone here?" he asked brusquely.
Sal looked up from the glass he was polishing. "Yes, we do have a payphone here," he replied. Replacing the glass on the shelf, he picked up another one.
"Well then, where is it?" asked Romano, impatiently.
"Down the hall, past the toilets," said Sal, indicating the direction.
Romano turned and walked away, without so much as a 'thank you'.
"Some people have no manners," said Sal, dryly. "Eh Dave?"
"You said it," said Dave Malucci, sitting up a little straighter on his bar stool. Romano had walked right past him without giving him a second glance. "I know that guy. That was him being polite."
Dave considered finishing his drink and leaving before Romano got back from the phone. He didn't really like the idea of being seen by him in this particular bar. Romano was just the type of guy to give him a hard time about it. Oh to hell with it, he thought to himself. He wasn't ashamed to be there. Besides, he couldn't wait to see the look on Romano's face when he realized exactly what type of a bar he had walked in to.
Romano returned to the bar in an even worse temper than when he had left it. The breakdown service that he usually used had told him that all their mechanics were busy, and it would be several hours before they could get anyone out to him. "Bunch of incompetents," he muttered under his breath, as he sat down on a stool.
"Get me a brandy," he ordered Sal. "I need something to warm me up."
"You know brandy's not recommended for cold weather, opens up the pore's," said Dave.
Romano swiveled round on the stool. "I'll thank you to mind your own business," he said, angrily, before taking a closer look. "Malatucci?" he said.
"Malucci," corrected Dave, without anger. "Just trying to be helpful. So, what happened you? You look a little lost."
"I am not lost," snapped Romano. "My car broke down and I can't get a mechanic to come to this godforsaken place." He took a drink from the glass that Sal had left in front of him. "Ugh, call this brandy. I wouldn't clean my toilet with this stuff."
Dave hid a smile. "You'll be lucky to get anyone in this weather, especially on Christmas Eve. Maybe you should get a taxi or something."
"And leave my car in this place overnight? I don't think so."
"Well, this place shuts early tonight, you know for the holidays. So you'd better hope the breakdown service gets to you. Still, there are worse places to be stuck."
Romano looked around the bar as he raised the glass to his lips. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the clientele. There was something strange, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. His eyes widened as he saw two men sitting against the wall kissing. Another quick look around confirmed his suspicions. "What the hell's going on here?" he asked, "This place is full of qu-." His words were cut off by the remainder of Dave's drink landing in his lap. "Malucci," he yelled, "What the hell was that for?"
"Gee, I'm sorry, Dr Romano," said Dave. He grabbed a bar towel from Sal and started to dry Romano off.
Romano angrily waved him away. "Clumsy idiot. I hope you're not this careless in the ER."
Dave leaned in close to Romano and said softly, "In case you haven't noticed, this is a 'gay' bar, and the people here don't like to hear the 'Q' word. Now, if you want to get involved in a bar brawl that's your business, but I don't want to spend Christmas Eve, being patched up in the ER. Okay?"
Romano glared at him. "Fine," he snapped, grabbing the towel from Dave, and making a futile effort to dry himself. He looked around at the couples, several of whom were kissing each other. The sight was at the same time, both repelling, and strangely exciting. Dave noticed the slight movement in Romano's pants and grinned to himself.
A thought struck Romano. "So what the hell are you doing here? I thought you were a skirt chaser, not a shirt lifter."
Dave tried to hide his annoyance. "I go where the mood takes me," he said. "And right now it's taking me home." He started putting on his coat.
"Yeah, well I'm not staying here," said Romano, knocking back his drink and throwing a bill on the bar. "I'll wait in my car."
Dave groaned to himself, knowing he was going to regret what he was about to do. "You can't do that. It's freezing outside. Look, I'll take a look at it for you; maybe I can do something to fix it. If not, well, you can come back to my place and wait there for the breakdown service."
Romano looked at him through narrowed eyes. "You fix cars?"
"I also cook," said Dave, sarcastically. The line was lost on Romano. Dave rolled his eyes. "Well?"
"Fine," snapped Romano, "Just don't make it worse than it already is." He headed for the door.
Sal raised an eyebrow at Dave. "If I'd known you were that hard up, I'd have invited you back to my place."
"Ha, ha, very funny Sal." Dave shrugged, "Guess I'm just a sucker for a sob story. I mean I couldn't let the guy freeze to death."
Sal looked over to where Romano was waiting impatiently by the door. "You sure about that?"
"Malatucci, are you coming?" called Romano.
Dave rolled his eyes. "No, it's just the way I'm standing," he muttered. Sal snorted. "See you around Sal," said Dave, as he headed for the door. "Keep your hair on," he muttered, as he came up to the door.
"What was that?" asked Romano, suspiciously.
"Nothing," said Dave, "And it's Malucci, or just Dave will do."
"What, not 'Dr Dave'?" asked Romano, sarcastically.
Dave pushed past him and went outside into the snow.
After retrieving his bike, Dave followed Romano to where he had left the car.
"Hey, mind the paint," snapped Romano, as Dave propped his bike against the car.
"Look, do you want me to help or not," said Dave, trying to control his temper. He popped the hood of the car and took a look.
Two minutes later, he replaced the hood. "Well?" asked Romano, "Can you fix it?"
Dave shook his head. "You're gonna have to bring it to a garage. I can't fix it."
Romano cursed and swore. Dave was impressed; even he'd never heard some of the words Romano was using.
"Listen, I hate to interrupt, but it's getting kinda cold out here. You'd better come back to my place. I've got a neighbor who owns a tow truck. If I ask him, he might be able to get you home when he finishes work."
Romano considered the offer. Loath though he was to admit it; Malucci was right. "Fine," he said, finally. "I just need to get something from the trunk."
"Well hurry up," said Dave, "This snow's getting heavier."
Romano quickly unlocked the trunk, and retrieved the bag with Gretel's dog food in it. Slamming it shut, he walked back to Dave, and they set off.
Fifteen minutes later, they were back at Dave's apartment.
Dave brushed snow off his coat, as he walked in the door. "Man, that is no weather to be out in," he said.
Romano's teeth were chattering from the cold. "What about your neighbor, the one with the tow truck?" he asked.
"Give me a minute," said Dave, rolling his eyes. He went into the kitchen and switched on the kettle, picking up the phone while he waited for it to boil.
"Well?" said Romano, when Dave walked back in. He had spent the last few minutes looking around Dave's living room. It hadn't taken long.
"I phoned Ed. He's on a job right now, but he should be here in a few hours. Here, get this into you," said Dave, handing Romano a glass.
Romano looked at it.
"It's only hot whisky," said Dave, impatiently. "You need something to warm you up."
Romano tasted it gingerly. "It's not bad," he said grudgingly.
"I'm just gonna have a quick shower. I'll be back in five," said Dave. "Here's the remote for the TV, see if there's anything good on."
Romano sat on the couch flicking absently through the channels. He wasn't surprised to see that there were a few porn stations included. He was surprised to find a surgery channel on the screen. He was sitting there engrossed in a quadruple bypass when Dave returned.
"Anything good on?" asked Dave, as he toweled dry his hair.
"Just a...," said Romano, his voice trailing off as he looked at Dave. Dave's was wearing just a towel wrapped around his waist. His body glistened with droplets of water from his shower. "Just a bypass operation," he managed to say, shivering slightly.
Dave noticed this. "You warm enough?" he asked.
"I'm fine," said Romano, still shivering.
"Shit," said Dave, realizing. "You better take your clothes off."
"What?" yelped Romano. "No way," he said, indignantly. "I don't know what the other guys you bring home from that place do, but I'm not interested.
Dave rolled his eyes. "Your clothes are damp from the snow," he said patiently. "They're drawing the heat from your body. If you don't get out of them soon, your core temperature will drop."
"Oh," said Romano, relieved, but with a little twinge of disappointment. Not that he would have accepted Malucci propositioning him, oh no, but it would have been nice to be asked.
"Tell you what," said Dave, "There's plenty of hot water. You take a shower and I'll fire your clothes in the dryer. They'll be done by the time Ed gets here. Okay?"
"Okay," said Romano.