Red Head


Gwen fingered the tooth in her pocket as she dropped to her knees and wondered what would bother James more — that his mother was hustling blowjobs behind Tim’s Tap, or that the tooth fairy was.

The boy was seven and gave up on Santa long ago, confident his Christmas haul was the same with or without the fat man. But he clung to the tooth fairy. Gwen couldn’t tell if he was innocent or mercenary. Regardless, she wasn’t going to tuck her last ten dollar bill under the pillow tonight, so she decided to put in some work.

She told Tim she’d like to make a little something as he replaced her ten spot with a two-dollar bottle of High Life. He nodded and slipped the bill in his pocket. He returned fifteen minutes later.

“Fella at the end of the bar’d like some company,” he said.

Sensing the guy was from out of town, she offered him her red head special, and didn’t even crack a smile when he handed her a fifty for something locals knew they could get for twenty.

The mouthful of candy was burning the inside of her cheeks now, so she knew he had to be feeling it. Sure enough, he groaned a bit, then said, “Ow!” and pushed her away. She hit the gravel and looked up at him questioningly.

“What the hell?” he said, grabbing himself. “Why is it burning?”

She spit out the candy and rose to her knees.

“That’s the red head special, hon. Mouth full of Red Hots,” she said.

“I thought that was because of your hair,” he said. “God, that hurts!”

She pushed herself to her feet and wiped gravel dust from her backside.

“Most guys like it. Say it gives it a little extra kick.”

“Well I don’t!” he yelled.

Realizing she might need backup, Gwen hustled around to the front of the bar and went inside. She heard the door behind her.

“I want my money back!” the guy said as he grabbed her by the arm.

“I’m not the one who ended it,” she said.

“You practically burned it off!” he said.

Tim stepped up.

“Listen fella,” he said.

“This is between me and her,” the guy said. He turned to Gwen. “I want my money back.”

“No,” she said. “I earned it.”

The man backhanded her hard across the mouth. She staggered, hit an empty table and fell over a chair. She got up slowly and reached in her pocket, deciding fifty bucks wasn’t worth a beating. She came out with James’ tooth instead. As she stared at it, she worked up some spit. It sprayed her hand and the floor, the Red Hot juice dark under neon.

“Jesus,” Tim said. “You knocked her tooth out, you son of a bitch!”

He pulled a baseball bat from behind the bar. The guy put up his hands in surrender.

“God, I’m sorry,” he said. “I was just looking for a little fun. You all right?”

Gwen looked at the tooth, covered in red spit, and saw opportunity.

“No, I’m not,” she whispered. “I’m pretty fucking far from all right.”

The guy pulled out his clip and peeled off a couple of twenties.

“Look, I’m sorry,” he said. “Really, I just…”

His voice trailed off at Gwen’s lack of response. He opened the clip and fanned the money. Gwen raised an eyebrow as she mentally counted. The man took that as agreement, folded the bills and handed the wad to her. She grabbed it and pocketed the money with the tooth.

“Now beat it,” Tim said. The man hustled to the door.

Gwen sat down, slipped a twenty from her jeans and sat it on the bar.

“Another?” she said.

Tim sat a bottle in front of her and slid the bill back toward her.

“Your money’s no good here tonight, darlin’,” he said.

She nodded and took a drink, wondering if maybe James didn’t have the right idea about the tooth fairy after all.

~ fin ~

John Kenyon is an Iowa City-based writer and editor. His short story collection, The First Cut, is available from Snubnose Press. He also edits the crime fiction magazine Grift, and its website at He has published widely, including Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Pulp Modern and elsewhere.