Saturday, January 24, 2009

Slow Nights...

He tried to clear the fog out of his head long enough to figure out what had just happened. This was all wrong somehow. Why was he lying here in this muddy gravel as the soft rain fell on his face? Each drop that touched his face caused him to wince in pain.

He wondered for an instant where those sirens were headed that kept getting louder and louder. It never occurred to him that they were coming for him.

What did occur to him was each gasping breath that brought shots of agonizing pain through his chest accompanied by a wheezing sound. And what was that in his throat that kept choking him?

He raised his trembling hand to his mouth and wiped it clean. He was more confused than ever when he looked at the blood-soaked fingers he held before his eyes.

Had he been in an accident? Who were all of these strangers gathered around him here? Why wouldn’t his legs work so he could get up out of this muck?

No... something was definitely not right here, he thought. Not right at all.

* * * * *

This had been a bad day for Dave Mahoney, in fact, it was the worse day he had ever had. It started out well enough and almost ended the same way, until he made a series of mistakes that brought him to his present position in the gravel and the rain.

The first mistake he made was coming into a strange place and starting trouble. He was a big fish in a little pond over around Weaver’s Run and he just assumed that everyone far and wide knew of him and his reputation. They didn’t. Or if they did, he found out, some simply didn’t care.

The second mistake he made was picking the wrong man as the source of tonight’s entertainment.

* * * * *

Will Hanson was a regular here at this little roadside tavern. He had known the owner most of his life and had gone to school with his kids. After twenty years away in the Army, Will still found things here at the Elbow Room much like they had always been; mostly a hang-out for locals that all knew one another. Not to say it wasn’t friendly enough to strangers as long as they minded their manners and acted like they had a little sense.

The rain had kept most of the regulars at home tonight and this was a fairly quiet evening. Paul tended bar as his two sons, Eric and Stevie, stocked cases of beer in the walk-in cooler at the end of the bar. Ol’ Red Man sat at the end of the bar by the door and read the race results as he tried to pick tomorrows selection of losers to bet on. Back in the corner Tim Johnson and some woman Will didn’t know were drinking a few beers and laughing as Tim applied his best efforts to get in her britches.

Will was sitting on one of the tall metal stools at the middle of the bar facing Chief on the next stool over. Chief had his back to the door, leaving Will to roughly face it. They both had frosted mugs of draft on the bar beside them as they talked quietly. Will had just set his half-full mug back down when the front door flew open and slammed against the wall behind its hinges. In the doorway stood a man none of them knew. He looked around the room with a troubling sneer on his face. He stepped inside and slammed the door closed hard enough to make the jalousie panels of glass in the door rattle.

Dave walked straight away to the far end of the bar, right behind Will and demanded a mug of beer from Paul. He dropped some change into the jukebox and reached around behind it turning it up enough to make conversation difficult for everyone in the place. He backed up until he bumped into Will’s stool, almost upsetting it. Will looked into Chief’s eyes and could see a smile start there. Will looked over his shoulder in a cautioning way and never said a word.

Dave picked up his beer, chugged it down and slammed the heavy vessel down on the bar and demanded another. He walked to the dartboard that hung beside the jukebox and pulled the feathered projectiles from the cork there. Once again he backed up almost knocking Will from his stool.

Will slowly turned to face the bar on his stool and laced his fingers through the handle of the mug, clutching it like a glass. Will raised the drink to his mouth and drank the remaining contents down.

Dave stood there and faced Will about arm’s length from him the whole time. He waited impatiently for Will to say something to get things started. That was how Dave liked to do things. He needed to feel in control of the situation.

But Will never was much of a talker.

About the instant Will’s mug touched the bar, his left hand shot out and grabbed a handful of chest hairs and shirt about Dave’s top button. As Will snatched Dave towards him and pivoted to face him, Will’s right hand swung the mug cupped in his fist to meet Dave’s forehead right over his left eye. The sound of skull meeting beer mug made a sickening thud as the glass shattered. Dave’s head snapped back hard and he began to crumple. Will was not going to let him simply pass out. No, Will wanted this stranger to get his money’s worth for his trouble.

The white light of pain flashed again in Dave’s head as Will’s knee crushed his groin. Dave thought how badly he needed to puke, if only the hand that held him up would just let him sink to the floor. Another blow took Dave just below the breastbone and stole every molecule of breath from him. He thought he couldn’t feel any more pain until Will’s hand grasped hold of his crotch and lifted him off of the ground. Still a hold of his shirt, Will threw him hard to the slick concrete floor.

Stevie and Eric vaulted the bar and grabbed Will just as he swung the long legs of a barstool at Dave’s ribs for the second time.

“Will! Stop! You’re gonna kill him,” Eric yelled.

“He needs killin’,” is all Will said.

The two boys and Paul and Chief half-wrestled Will back to his righted stool. Dave lay on the floor and made noises like a crippled rabbit.

“Give me a beer, Paul,” Will said.

“You ok now? Sumbitch ought to know better than to come in here like that.” Paul said.

“I’m fine. I reckon he knows it now.”

“Put his beer on my tab, Paul,” Chief spoke up.

Stevie and Eric helped Dave to his feet and started toward the door. Red Man stood up and opened the door as they shoved the intruder through it and helped him to his car.

After about ten minutes Paul said, “He’s still sitting there. He ain’t left yet.”

Will already knew this because he had never heard the car start outside or seen the lights come on in the parking lot. Will’s life in the military had taught him a long time ago: stay alert, stay alive. He eased into the restroom and raised his pants leg enough to get to the .380 Browning he had hidden in the top of his boot. He tucked the small pistol into the waistband of his Levi’s, making sure it was hidden by the jacket he wore. Better safe than sorry, he thought.

Will had just taken his perch on the stool again when he heard the car door slam outside and his hand moved instinctively near the grip of the pistol behind his belt. The handle to the front door turned slowly and was pushed open. Dave stood in the doorway with a pistol in his hand.

He had not even raised the gun up half way before the second round from Will’s pistol struck him, tearing pieces of his lung and spine out two large holes in the back of his coat. He dropped his pistol and reached out of reflex to the entry wounds in his chest as the third round pierced his hand behind the knuckle of his middle finger. As this round left his back, his legs took one step backwards each and crumbled under him. He fell in a heap at the bottom of the single step at the door.

* * * * *

The sirens were close now and then they stopped. He heard the gravel crunch as the crowd parted to let the EMS workers and deputy through. Dave’s eyes were open but he couldn’t see anything. The sounds and voices seemed to be coming to him from the far end of a big pipe and getting farther and farther away. The last thing he heard was the voice of the young deputy as he spoke into his radio.

“Dispatch, this is Charlie 17. Ahhhh, cancel that STAT flight to this location. EMS is on the scene and have requested that the Coroner be started this way, over.”

After that, he heard nothing at all.

Copyright © 2007 WML

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