I'm Telling You Why
by Tony Noland
"Hey. Hey, pal."
The skinny guy at the bar turned away from the woman he was trying to talk to, impatient with whoever it was that was interrupting his moves. The woman looked relieved.
"What?" He sized the other guy up with a glance, the black leather jacket cut like a roomy sportscoat, the French blue shirt open to show gold chains, the chest hair and man tits. The skinny guy started to sneer, thought better of it. Maybe he was impressed with what he saw, maybe not. "What do you want?"
The big man leaned forward, beer breath preceding his words. "I just wanted to know if you was from the midwest."
"Am I from what? What the fuck are you talking about?"
"It's just, I heard you talking just now," the big man said, his voice loud and overly precise, the way a man speaks when he's trying not to slur his words, "and when you was talking to the lady, I figgered you was from the midwest, from your accent."
"No, pal, I ain't from the Midwest." He shook his head. "I was born here in Trenton, but you? I know you're from the Midwest, ain't you? Kansas or Ohio or some damned place? Am I right?"
"ME? What the fuck? I don't have no Midwest accent."
"No, no, it ain't your accent," the skinny man continued, "it's the fact that you smell like a pile of horseshit, and you gotta face like the ass end of pig. Get the fuck away from me, you drunk bastard." He turned back to the lady, just in time to see her grab her cigarettes off the bar and leave. "Oh, goddamn it, come on, sweetheart! Come on!" He clenched a fist in frustration and turned back to the interloper, just in time to catch a punch to the face.
He fell off the bar stool, surprised and knocked off balance more than actually hurt. The big man had been aiming the punch to the side of his head, and his own sudden movement made the blow land at a glancing angle, without much force. With a snarl, he bounded up, fists flying forward. He caught the big man one solid blow to the chest before he got tangled up in the other's forearms, held up for defense. As he drew back for a roundhouse right, the big man shoved in and up, knocking him sideways onto one of the empty tables by the jukebox.
At the other end of the bar, the bartender reached under the counter, passing up the 12 gauge shotgun in favor of the baseball bat. He'd gotten hold of the scarred old Rawlings, nicknamed "the peacemaker", when he felt someone grip his other arm. He looked up. The hand was liver spotted and wrinkled, but steady and firm; one of his best customers was reaching across the bar, shaking his head. The bartender paused, looked over at the brawlers, then back at the old man. After a moment, he shrugged and straightened up, leaving the baseball bat where it was.
With a shout, the skinny man picked himself up from the table and again threw himself at the big drunk. This time, he came in low and fast, feinting at his opponent's head before landing a flurry of body blows to the other's soft belly and groin. Grunting in pain, the big man brought his knee up for a clumsy snap kick. It wasn't pretty, but it hit hard enough to make the skinny man jump back and swear. Snarling, he whipped out the buck knife from his belt and snapped it open to show five inches of well worn and workman-sharp steel. He clutched at his side where the kick had contacted, flicking the knife back and forth. He waved it at the big man, making little feints in the air at his face.
With a stupid, drunken expression, the big man watched the knife glinting and flashing in front of him, then reached into his leather coat and pulled a .38, a blued-steel revolver that looked expensive. He raised it, pointed it at the skinny man's head and dramatically drew back the hammer. For a moment, the skinny man was frozen in fear at the escalation of the fight. Then, in a thoughtless panic, he drew back the knife and threw it at the big man.
The knife spun through the air, turning and glinting in the dimness. Its razor edge was almost in the big man's face before he reacted and pulled the trigger.
Both men jerked backwards in physical shock, knocked to the floor by the thudding impact of twin snowballs. Icy slush exploded in their faces, big, grapefruit-sized masses of dripping wet slop that hit hard, running into their collars, up their noses and down their shirt fronts. They both thumped down, gasping and coughing as they wiped the freezing mess from their eyes, mouths, necks.
Back down the bar, the old man heaved his bulk up off his stool and made to throw a bill down next to his mug. The bartender waved it away. "It's on me, Nick," he said. The old man cocked his head to one side, then nodded his thanks. He began to walk toward the door. The bartender continued, "Hey, you want another coffee to go? It's a cold night."
"No, thanks, Jimmy," the old man said, "I've got no cupholders in that old thing." Smoothly, almost gracefully, he stepped over the big drunk on the floor and got his coat from the rack by the doorway. He shrugged into it, a dirty old thing that could once have been any color, but had obviously seen many, many years of use. As he made to pull the door open, the bartender called out, "Hey, Nick. Have a good shift tonight, huh? Don't work too hard."
The old man turned back and smiled. He laid a finger against his nose and winked at the bartender. "Work's not work when you enjoy your job, Jimmy. And as for you two," he said, turning his gaze to the men on the floor, "you'd better watch out." Snow swirled into the bar as he left, huge diamond flakes that settled gently to the floor when the door closed behind him.
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