Two Fingers of Jack

I should have known better. But dammit, it was the end of a long day and I was propping up the bar at O' Malley's with my elbows. That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.

The bar was crowded. It usually was on Wednesdays. Hump day and all. The three guys on my left were squeezed in a little too close. The air around them was rank and thick with Aqua Velva and the smell of wool suits gone too long between dry-cleanings.

Paulie saw my empty glass, turned and reached for the Drambuie on the glass shelf next to the mirror. I heard the guy next to me say, "Two fingers of Jack." He walked away from the bar before Paulie acknowledged the order.

Before the words could cross my smooth liquor haze, the other two guys turned on me. Paulie paused as he poured my drink and I watched his eyes go wide just before a massive fist eclipsed my view as I snapped my head back to avoid the blow.

A shoulder hit me low, right in the breadbasket, bouncing me off a couple stools and their shouting occupants. My breath hammered out as I landed on my back with one goon on top of me.

I pulled my gun, but a swift kick from the other guy sent it skittering under tables and chairs. People scrambled for the exit. The guy kneeling on my chest pinned my arms. Goddamn he had one ugly mug. A pink puckered scar scrawled an angry line from his left eye to his chin. The other guy pulled a goddamn cigar trimmer out of his pocket.

Ah shit, two fingers of Jack. I’ll give you one guess what the first name on my P.I. license is….

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Paulie round the bar with a baseball bat. The guy with the cigar trimmer reached into his coat and pulled out a gun. Pointed it at Paulie. "Uh uh," was all cigar-man said and Paulie dove back behind the bar.

Stepping on my wrist, the guy bent down, clicking the trimmer. I felt my finger slide into the plastic hole and knew the razorblade was next.

Ugly leaned over, his knee digging a divot in my chest. A wicked grin bunched the scar tissue on his cheek.

He leaned just enough. I rolled my hips, toppling him from my chest, and yanked my hand as the razor blade snicked shut. There was no pain, but I saw blood as I rolled up and swept an armbar across the back of the standing guy's knees. Blood arced. There was a meaty smack as Paulie's baseball bat came down on his head. The cigar trimmer bounced away and the guy crumpled like a paper bag.

Ugly stood and lunged toward me but it was a feint as he whipped his foot around in a roundhouse kick across Paulie's jaw. He snatched the bat as it tumbled through the air, while poor Paulie spun a beautiful pirouette and smashed into a jumble of chairs and tables. The old wood furniture splintered.

Paulie pulled himself up and with the tip of his boot, kicked the splintered remains of a table leg to me. I ducked under a whistling bat-swing, feeling the breeze on the back of my neck. I grabbed for the table leg. Half my goddamn finger was missing, blood was dripping like a washerless faucet and the leg skittered from my grip.

I dodged another swing and this time used both hands to scoop up the three-foot length of wood. It was splintered on the end I held, but from other end four wicked inches of oxidized nail stuck out like a bent finger.

We circled once, then he swung hard. I turned with it. The bat glanced off my shoulder. As I spun back, I swung the table leg out with my left hand, backhand. Best damn tennis swing ever. There was a pop, like the sound of biting a firm grape. The makeshift club was yanked from my hand. I watched the guy drop to his knees, the nail holding the wood tight to his temple. The rusted metal pushed his left eye slightly out of its socket making him look surprised. Shit, he probably was surprised.

The guy fell face down and Paulie limped over to me. Pulling a bar towel from his apron, he wrapped my bleeding hand in it. As the adrenaline left my system, it was beginning to throb with sharp heat. Paulie went behind the bar to get some ice and I pulled one of the fallen stools upright and sat down.

Yeah, shoulda known better. I rested my towel-wrapped hand on the ziplock bag of crushed ice. I smiled when I realized my drink of choice still sat right where Paulie left it. I slid the glass over to me. The overhead lights cast golden hues of Scotch and Drambuie on to the dark wood. The ice clinked as I raised a toast to Paulie and downed my Rusty Nail.