Short Story Excerpt—The Betting Man

The man squaring off in front of me was a mountain.  A single slab of hard muscle with a beaver for a brain, but even as he sprang at me, fists raised to pummel me into submission, I smiled at him and winked.  Either way, this wasn’t going to take long, so I figured I’d try to confuse him just to see his reaction. He didn’t react.  Guys in his profession never do.  I think they have their sense of humor surgically removed or something.

“Jonah!”  That would be Kara, my wife and protector.

“Kind of busy, here, sweetheart,” I said as I deftly sidestepped the man’s bull-rush.  He barreled helplessly into a table full of locals, overturning said table, chairs, and patrons in a clatter.  I don’t think it improved his disposition.  He hauled himself off the floor and turned for another go, but I held up my hand like a traffic cop and turned to address Kara.  This did confuse him—at least enough to forestall his next move.

“I think you should wait outside, babe.”  She just stood there with her mouth screwed up, one raised eyebrow considering my position, daring me to justify myself.  I didn’t give her the satisfaction. 

“At least go have a seat in the corner with Graham,” I hooked a thumb in his general direction.  “He’s enjoying himself entirely too much.”

She turned her head to see that, sure enough, my old friend was still sitting where I left him—finishing his drink around a gravelly laughter.  He raised the empty mug to beckon her over.  Kara surveyed the room, sized up my opponent, shrugged her shoulders and shook her head as she walked to the table.  Graham pushed a seat out with his foot as she approached.

“Chivalry isn’t dead,” she said as she sat in the offered chair, “but it’s obviously on life support.”  She called out over the growing din in the bar—more to my overgrown opponent than me—“Carry on.”  Then she waved a waiter over to take her drink order.  Is it any wonder I was glued to this woman?

The big man—Hal Jenson, the establishment’s bouncer—nodded in her direction, and said, “That’s your wife?”

“It’s complicated.”  I waggled a finger at him menacingly, “But don’t go getting any ideas.”  I wasn’t really worried, but I needed a little more time.  Come to think of it, this altercation should have ended already.

“No, no.  She’s probably a bit too much for me, anyway.”  He grinned at me, and I had to admit he had a point.  The fact he was slurring his words a little caused me to grin back. 

He opened his mouth to speak—though with that mustache he was sporting, it looked more like someone was lifting a sleeping otter to peek underneath—“Well…,” and without another word, he rushed at me again.

His movements were slow and clumsy, allowing me to step aside again—a little paso doble—and I was behind him scrambling onto his back with my right arm around his throat in a choke-hold as the stunned crowd of late-night drinkers cheered raucously. Rather than slamming his back against a wall to dislodge me, he tried to use his arm-strength to peel me off.  On any other day this would have been effective, but, well… I’m getting ahead of myself.


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