A night as black as hate and it's pouring. An angry wind slaps my face with raindrops that are too big to fall at this angle. The rain is so cold I could swear it's hailing, if it weren't for the water draining down my collar, chilling me to the core.
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Only a fool would stay out in this shit, and I'm no fool, at least that's what I used to think. I duck into the first place with a light on and an “Open” sign in the window.
The seediest dive I've ever seen, and I've seen too many. The lights are dim and dirty. What little they illuminate looks diseased or decrepit. I take a deep breath and gag, almost retch. I don't know if it's the sour fumes rising from the piss and puke stained floor, or the stale smoke that hangs in the air as if from a gallows.
The lone pool table is faded and scuffed. The cues are bent and there's no 8-ball. The two men playing take no notice of my arrival. I look to the bar and see a grizzled bartender wearing dirty blue-jeans and a rawhide leather jacket. He “reads” a hot-rod magazine with beady eyes through scratched glasses. Three men sit at the bar and they all look broken. The first one turns to see me standing in the doorway, dripping like a wet cat. He grunts once—contempt or amusement—and turns back to the bar.
“Harry, you ever seen something as pathetic as that?” he jerks a thumb over his shoulder, towards me. Must have been contempt I think, as the bartender looks up to see me dripping on his floor.
“Pussycat don't like gettin' wet?” he grins. I just stand there, looking pathetic and holding my coat. “Look kid, you're makin' a puddle. Coat rack's to your left. Hang that shit up and tell me what you're drinkin'.” I hang up my coat and take a seat at the bar, three spots down from the other patrons.
“I'll have a beer, whatever's cheap”, I say. Harry grabs a grimy glass with grimier hands and draws something dark from the tap. I pay the man and choke on a couple gulps. The brackish brew goes down like the worst kind of medicine, but it feels warm and substantial in my gut. Before long, I can actually imagine enjoying it.
I drink about half my beer before looking down the bar to see those three broken faces looking back at me. These men are old and haggard. They glare at me through sunken, wrinkled eye-sockets; past dirty, unkempt facial hair. I narrow my eyes and glare right back.
“Is there a problem, gentlemen?” I sneer and spit the last word at them: they don't merit the courtesy, and it tastes like ash in my mouth. The first one must be the leader of this little side-show. He looks like the only one with the balls to speak up.
“Yeah, there is. Pretty-boy fucks like you don't belong in here.” The other two just nod their heads and scowl. The men at the pool table quietly continue their game, oblivious or simply uninterested. The ring-leader stands up. His size is impressive, but he moves stiffly, slowly. Probably quite a scrapper in his youth, but that's been a long time—I'm certainly not intimidated.
“Well, we can certainly agree on that old-timer. I'm just here to get out of the rain, so fuck off.” I go back to drinking my beer, and try to look stoic. I can feel their eyes on me and I know that one of them is going to try something stupid any second, but then she walks in.
If I'm from a different neighborhood, then she's from a different planet. She has on a beautiful fur coat, but it's sopping wet so she hangs it on the rack, right next to mine. Underneath, she wears a sleek, silver dress that hugs her sexy, slender body. Silky and shimmering, even in this shitty light it shines like the sunrise. Elegant gold jewelry: necklace, bracelet. Diamond earrings and a rock on her finger the size of a grape. Her hair is a wet mess, but somehow it still looks classy; she probably spent hours on it. Straight and blonde, it looks like it was in a bun when she started the evening. It could just be the rain, but her makeup is failing and it seems that she's been crying. But even past the smeared eye-liner and barely contained tears, I can't help but notice her eyes. Blue-green like the ocean, and bright as supernovae. They pierce me and I feel the sting deep in my soul. Most men would gladly die if those eyes desired it, and any man would kill.
While she stands there, the whole bar stares. Even the men playing pool take notice. The old man sits back down and nudges his friend, as if he might not of noticed this latest visitor. The woman trembles slightly from the cold as she walks to the bar, but even as she shivers, she moves with a practiced grace. She takes the stool between me and the circus, leaving a buffer on either side. Those impossible eyes look nervous and her voice wavers when she speaks.
“May I have a glass of white wine, please?” She asks. Chuckles from the side-show and an incredulous look from the bartender.
“Sure, honey. You want some caviar with that?” comes the reply. The ring-leader makes a gravely, hacking sound at this, and I think it's supposed to be laughter. The woman looks confused and embarrassed. Harry sighs. “Look lady, this ain't the type of place to find a glass of wine. I've got beer, whiskey, vodka or water. What's it gonna be?”
“Just a glass of water would be fine, thank you” she says. Harry reaches for a beer glass just a dirty as the one he gave me, and the woman cringes. “Actually, on second thought I believe I've had enough water for one evening, do you mind if I just sit here until my cab arrives?” she inquires timidly. Harry rolls his eyes and puts the glass back.
“Suit yourself, honey” he says, picking up his magazine. The woman gets up from the bar and goes to sit at the table nearest to the door, looking anxious. The bartender tries to pretend that he's actually interested in his magazine, but he looks up every few seconds. He keeps his glances short, but I can see the hunger in his eyes. He wants to stare, to memorize every facet of her, and I can't blame him. I force myself to look at my glass and nurse the last of my drink.
I hear whispers and chuckles from the side-show and then, not surprisingly, the two at the far end of the bar get up and walk toward her. I turn to watch as one takes the seat across the table, and the other sidles up right next to her. I can't hear what they're saying, but you don't have to be brilliant to tell that she's not enjoying herself. I swallow the last of beer and stand up.
“Where the fuck you going, pretty-boy?” says the ring-leader as he gets up and moves to block my path.
“Maybe I'm leaving, or maybe I just need to take a piss. What's it to you?”
“I ain't about to buy that shit, you little fucker. That look you're wearing says that you've got a problem with my friends over there, and you're thinking about being a knight in shining armor. Well, we've got plans for that ass, so you just keep clear, or you're gonna have more problems than you're ready for.” he brings his rough hands together, fist to palm, like I'm supposed to be scared. I move a step forward, my chest not six inches from his, and I glare. He starts to grin, but before he can finish I put my right elbow to his jaw and watch his eyes glaze over. He tries to shake it off, but before he can get his head back, I move to his right and throw a knee to his kidney. He groans and swings his left arm around, trying to catch me with his elbow. I absorb the blow with my shoulder and kick him in the back of the knee. As his leg buckles, I help him down with another elbow, this one aimed at his collar-bone. I hear it crack and he falls to the floor with a roar of agony.
I move to kick him in the ribs, but before I can get into position, I feel a fist in the back of my head. I spin around just in time to see the third guy diving to tackle me. He hits me with enough force to knock me to the ground, but not enough to do any real damage. He tries to straddle my chest as he prepares to rain fists on me, but he's too slow. I grab his right wrist with my left hand, and clamp my right around his throat. I roll to the left, throwing him off of me at the same time. Climbing to my knees, I punch the dumbfounded look off of his face. But before I can get in a second blow, the man still on his feet kicks me once in the back and then grabs my arms from behind. As I struggle the free myself, the man I just beat regains his feet. With me still on my knees, he grins with triumph. He readies a knee to crush my face, but just before he launches it, the unmistakable click-click of a shotgun freezes the room.
“Enough of that shit!” yells Harry, brandishing a sawed-off, pump-action 12-gauge. Three of us stare like statues, while the ring-leader clutches his ruined collar-bone and whimpers, consumed with pain. The men at the pool-table seem to have abandoned their game: they're nowhere to be seen. The woman just sits at her table looking shocked and terrified. “Get your ass up and get the fuck out of my bar, kid. And take that bitch with you. I fuckin' knew she was gonna be trouble, the minute she walked in.” Harry keeps the gun on me as I stand up and move toward the door. The two assholes that are still standing look like a couple of kids that just got their favorite toy taken away.
“What the fuck Harry?” says one. “Sure, get this fucker out of here. But we were just gettin' to know the broad. Why's she gotta go?”
“Shut the fuck up, Sam. You got a problem with it, you can get the fuck out too.” replies Harry. I grab my coat and the woman's.
“Come on, lets go.” I grab her arm and stand her up.
“Let go of me!” she shouts, and wrenches her arm free. “I'm perfectly capable of finding the door on my own, thank you.”
“Hey, I'm just doing what the man holding the gun said to do. I was told to take you with me, and I'm not about to argue. So let's go.” I grab her arm again and start walking.
End of Part One