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Tuesday Edition

Bandit's Fiction: Slugfest


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Sticky shards of beer bottle splashed against his face as Harrison rolled in the soiled sawdust to escape a worn, pointed cowboy boot. His troubled mind whirled. What was he doing diving towards the cigarette butt-strewn deck of the cowboy bar anyway?

Less than a half hour before he pulled his '78 Shovelhead up to the litter-infested curb in front of the hick bar in the backwater town of Tombstone, Arizona, Harrison was cruising along without a thought in the world.

A pool cue slammed against the concrete next to his head. His eyes expanded to the size of the tops of Harley oil cans and he rolled to avoid he splintering cue stick shattering against the sawdust and cement. Jumping to his feet a fist made a catcher's mitt out of his stomach.

He thought, when he pulled up to the curb alongside two other shovelheads, that he'd found the only biker bar in a couple hundred miles. The town seemed deserted except for the bar, with its Bud and Miller neon flashing outside, and floodlights sporting the harmless name, "Maggie's Place."

Another fist struck him solidly. Harrison grabbed his guts and buckled onto the cold floor again.

He hadn't been in the joint two minutes when he discovered something wasn't right. The warm, sexy looking woman at the end of the bar looked up at the rugged stranger as he came in, their eyes meeting as if they had been connected at birth. However, the black and blue shadow under her left eye was a billboard displaying abuse.

Stepping up to the bar, two cowboys strode up behind him. "Hey Chuck, we gonna add another Harley to your collection," a big, lumbering, beer-bellied boy shouted over Harrison's shoulder to someone behind a poorly lit pool table.

"Suppose so, if he don't get the message real quick and hit the road," the voice was ominous. Harrison couldn't make out the stranger in the dark corner. He did catch the hint and was beginning to turn for the door when the girl at the bar stood up.

"You're not going to turn this bar into another war zone while I'm here." She pivoted on slender legs toward the dark corner.

As her voice quaked out the last syllable, it was as if someone had sounded an alarm. Patrons began to rise and depart to the walls and doors. The small passageway to the heads became as congested as a downtown freeway at rush hour. Though Harrison was tall and well built, a cloud of doom was filling the honky-tonk like an Arizona flash flood. Smacking like a jackhammer, his heart beat against his chest. Knees as slippery as 60-weight quivered beneath him.

A hamhock-sized fist slapped his back, shaking every fragile vertebrae. "Guess you ain't gonna have that beer after all, boy," a fat man with bib overalls shouted at Harrison, while launching a right. Harrison was prepared, but off balance. With the speed of a rattlesnake, he blocked the first blow. But the following flurry of punches and kicks got the best of him.

He rolled under the pool table, while four men kicked at him. He hadn't seen the man in the corner yet, but whoever he was, he called the shots. Harrison drew his knife and stabbed at a stationary boot, he heard the girl scream. Another rancher was dragging the screaming redhead to the corner of the bar.

All Harrison could see were her small refined ankles and petite shoes as she struggled. His mind flashed on the image of the defiant girl as she stood in protest-the tight Levi's on the narrow waist, snugly gripping her perfect hips and long legs. Her checkered Western shirt fit snugly at the waist and flowed up over her heaving chest, accented by an unbuttoned V below a delicate neck. She was either a vision of traditional Western beauty, or the form he had examined before the first punch had landed was merely a fantasy.

He could still see her delicate shoes being dragged, her feet kicking like a young pony's, as the man screamed. The knife was buried through the arch of his foot into the sole of his boot. "He's gonna die, now," one cowboy shouted, and Harrison heard the sound of a gun cocking. Pulling the knife free and rolling, he cut the Achilles tendon of another kicker and the man immediately fell to the sawdust floor. The first bullet splintered the wood to his side as he spun toward the opposite side of the table.

"Get him, Joe," the fat farmer shouted, and the cowboy with the 9mm Browning fired again, missing him. Harrison was covered in sawdust and sweat as he wrapped his arms around the cowboy boots belonging to a man who had stomped the knuckles of his left hand less than 30 seconds before. He leveraged his legs against the pool table legs and thrust the man up and over the table. Looking up, the gunman saw this figure diving for him, and he instinctively shot at him. The tackled man fell in his own growing pool of blood on the scarred green felt.

Struggling to stand, Harrison found himself face to face across the table from the smoldering automatic. A fat farmer moved to his right and the young, burly ranch hand grabbed a pool cue to his left. The light above the pool table swung, throwing bits of light in odd directions, and Harrison caught a glimpse of a small sweaty man in the corner slapping the girl while another man held her.

"I own this town, bitch, and you're mine," he hissed. The slap made Harrison flinch.

"What the fuck are you waiting for? Kill the sonuvabitch," the slimy little man in the slick leather jacket in the corner shouted.

"But I just shot Billy."

"All cuz of that fucking biker. Now do him."

Harrison wasn't waiting for a decision. He stuck his blade into the fat man's belly and, yanking the knife upward, spilled the man's guts onto the table. The horrified cowboy grimaced and stepped back, lifting the auto to aim. Harrison jumped behind the fat farmer just in time, as a bullet spit the fat man's shoulder socket all over the room. The balding farmer with three days of stubble looked like a thick peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a large bite taken out of the corner. He screamed, as one of the arms he was using to keep his entrails in place fell limp to his side.

Harrison grabbed the half empty beer bottle on the ledge next to the cue chalk and threw it at the gunman, splitting his left cheek, exposing a slashed jawbone.

The girl screamed as the 225-pound ranch hand swung a pool cue like a baseball bat against Harrison's lower back. He tried to focus on the girl as rivers of pain shot down his legs and up through his spine. His legs went limp and he collapsed. Moving his arms he shoved off the gurgling farmer, slouched against the coin dispenser, and stumbled over the side of the table into the now crimson felt. He reached for the cue rack, the fingers of his right hand barely encircling a couple of the holes. With his left hand he lunged for a chair, and with all his might he prayed for the feeling to return to his legs.

Rounding the corner of the table into the gunman's sights again, the rancher caught his dragging calves with another sharp blow cracking the cue mid-impact. "I don't need no gun to take this biker down," he taunted, recoiling.

The strike shot lightning bolts of pain in the opposite direction. His legs were immediately sensitized again and jerked instinctively under his torso. The pain caused Harrison to flinch. He tore the old wood rack loose from the wall, sending a half dozen cues into the path of the oncoming rancher.

Harrison's adrenaline was pumping too fast to comprehend. He knew, just as in the jungles of 'Nam, that this was it. He had no chance. The next bullet would split his skull like a shot through a beer can.

Putting both bleeding hands on the chair, he pushed up, forcing his legs beneath him. They held. Stepping left, he picked up a scarred wooden chair and launched it in the direction of the gunman who had regained some composure.

"Kill the sonuvabitch, you stupid muthafucker," the shout came screeching from the corner. The cowboy ducked the oncoming chair and fired, taking out the corner pocket in a shower of felt and wood. Fending the chair off with his left arm, his left eye blinded by blood and swelling, he shot again. This time the bullet penetrated Harrison's Levi's and the fleshy part of his thigh. He thought he was going down, but the leg stayed strong and held up under him. He charged, head-butting the big man and grabbing the gun. They spun and Harrison's fingers found the trigger slot. He shoved in a bloody digit over the other man's, pointed, and squeezed.

The grease ball in the corner stood, dropping the girl to the floor, and stepped into the light. "You dumb . . ." he began, before leaning on the pool table in full view. He was a slight man glittering with gold chains and rings too big for his fingers. His face was pale and pockmarked. A tattoo crept up his neck, over his collar, and between the lapels of the shiny leather trench coat, a red wave began to cover his white satin pocket.

"If you can't kill him, I will," he said, reaching into his waistband for the stainless steel 25 caliber automatic while Harrison and the rancher struggled. Pulling it free from behind his belt he released the safety and aimed. Harrison rocked the rancher and the bullet entered his chest. "That's okay," the slimeball said, leaning heavily on one arm. "I wanted him out of the way, so I could take my time with you."

His silver blue eyes glared at Harrison as if he were the dessert after a helluva good meal. As the rancher fell, the slimeball aimed again. Harrison grabbed the heavy automatic with both hands and unloaded the last two rounds into the slicker. The heavier load slapped the already dying body away from the pool table and into the darkness beyond. He heard the body crash against the wall and slide into the debris on the deck.

Harrison pulled free of the cold hand holding the auto and fell to the side of the table, gasping with fear, adrenaline, and fatigue. It was quiet for the first time. A handful of onlookers stood paralyzed against the walls. He glanced around, looking for more assailants. Seeing none, he quickly pulled himself to the other side of the table to check on the sobbing girl. She was tucked in a ball, her face buried in her hands. He lifted her gently, "Are you all right?" he asked.

Raising her face into the light, even with the streaks of tears streaming down her rosy cheeks, her beauty was breathtaking. The pain in Harrison's leg disappeared as her deep blue eyes met his. His hand melted against her young waist as a hint of a smile crossed her face.

"Thank you . . .," she murmured. Harrison's heart swelled as her scent filled his nostrils. As he reached across her middle his forearm brushed the points of her breasts and he sensed their soft fullness. Turning her toward him, she smiled again, only this time with a sly hint of larceny.

" . . . for nothing," she said as she plunged a stainless dagger under his ribs, slicing the arteries beneath his heart.


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