We Reserve the Right

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
On the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas, a man's trip to his favorite bar turns sour when he finds himself thrust into a complete stranger's problems.

Submitted: March 18, 2015

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Submitted: March 18, 2015

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We Reserve the Right

  Reg pulled up to Barry Bud’s Bar, already in a sour mood. He wasn’t entirely sure why; the day’s work hadn’t been too rough, and traffic was pretty much non-existent in this part of town. The weather had been mild, if a bit humid, and he had taken his ’53 Indian out for a spin. In the 20 years since his first accident, he’d stopped questioning the source of his occasional mood swings. A few Coors would always give him back the cheer he needed.

He pulled into a spot facing the road, easing the cruiser into place just shy of the curb. He had just polished the fender that afternoon, and would have to kick his own ass if he dinged it. Stepping off the bike, he unstrapped his shorty and goggles in two swift movements, hanging them on a handlebar, and unzipped his patched leather jacket. In the lot across the street, two skinny boys with chipped skateboards were trying their best to jump a guardrail into the adjacent lot. In mid-jump, the taller boy lost his board and caught his feet on the rail, toppling to the pavement to the great amusement of the other. In spite of his mood, Reg couldn’t help but grin as the youth peeled himself off the asphalt and punched his friend’s shoulder. He stayed to watch the second boy land his trick before swinging his other leg over the bike and crossing the sandy asphalt to the front door of the bar.

As he stood a moment, adjusting his long-sleeved work shirt under the jacket, the front doors swung open, giving way to a crowd of nearly a dozen nervous-looking patrons in a hurry to leave. Two of them bumped into Reg’s bulky chest, bouncing off and continuing on with scarcely a nod of apology. A barrage of crashes and shouts from behind the closing doors diverted Reg’s attention, and it became painfully aware to him that he wouldn’t be getting his drinks here tonight. Forming a plan of action in his mind, he muttered an exasperated curse under his breath and shoved aside the door.

Reg had been to Barry Bud’s every Thursday and Friday night for the past seven years, and he knew the bar and its regulars better than he knew his own home. Tonight, only a handful of patrons occupied the one-room bar. Most were standing by the door, though the owner, Henry, stood in his usual place behind the counter with a flustered expression. Three of the cheap wooden tables in the middle of the room had been flipped, the chairs upended. One of the seats had been thoroughly smashed; the gum-clad underside of the seat lay facing the ceiling, a single leg protruding like a crooked tooth. Two of the other legs had rolled under the nearby pool table, where Reg would regularly lose or double his day’s earnings gambling with Paul, Gene and Caleb. Today, the table lay unused.

The fourth chair leg was held defensively in the hands of a thin Hispanic man that Reg didn’t recognize. The man brandished the wooden club like a nightstick, wearing a defiant expression betrayed by his wide, darting eyes. From his vantage point by the door, Reg could only make out a handful of the slurred curses that the man fired at his opponent. He lurched to the side as if to dodge something, and Reg got a look at the all-too-familiar face of the man’s assailant.

Mags hadn’t shown his thick-browed, caveman-like face in Barry Bud’s for a few months, due for the most part to the fact that he had been barred from returning. The great ox of a man was half again the size of the already big and stocky Reg, and with twice the temper when drunk. He and Mags had traded insults before, but the big man had always been kicked out or left before things got physical, knocking glasses to the floor and kicking things as he went. There was no doubt in any of the regular patrons’ minds that Mags was a dangerously unstable man, but newcomers never seemed to gather that information from his loud, obnoxious demeanor and tendency to start problems. The last time someone had gotten on his bad side during a football game, Mags had put the man’s head through the plasma TV screen and gotten himself banned from entering the bar. Though Reg himself was respected in the bar for his size and occasional brooding manner, he was more prone to stopping fights than starting them, and had a strict sense of honor and decency. Ordinarily, it only took one stern look and an occasional couple of warnings to keep people off his back. Mags was another story entirely.

Reg couldn’t imagine what this thin newcomer had done to upset him, but he was clearly either blind or had far too much confidence in his own strength. The big man currently towered over him, flaring his nostrils and grunting out insults of his own. One hand was curled into a meaty fist, the other closed over the hilt of a long, wicked-looking Bowie knife. Reg realized why most of the bar’s patrons might have been reluctant to stay and witness the tense confrontation, though a handful remained by the door, shouting at the duo or watching in morbid fascination. Behind the empty counter, Henry had the bar’s landline phone in his hand, never taking his eyes off the scuffle in the center of the room. Reg knew that the conflict must have only just started, or Mags would have been removed from the establishment long ago. The big man wasn’t the sort of person to drag out a conflict, and would probably have pummeled this unfortunate man and left by now in any case. This evening, however, Mags was enraged. An impressive blue vein pulsated on the side of his neck as if it were about to burst open, and his shoulders rolled back and forth like a champion weightlifter moments from attempting to set a new world record. Internally cursing his luck at arriving at such an unfortunate time, Reg sighed and pushed past the throng of onlookers into the room.

“Who do you fuckin’ think you are?” Mags’ deep, slurred bellows resonated in the small room. “I beat pissrags like you when I was in high school!”

“Calm down. Calm the fuck down,” the thin man repeated over the shouts of the livid drunk, “Just listen me, you no need to act like this right now.” The comments only further enraged Mags, who somehow managed to raise his voice even more, until Reg could feel the bass of it vibrating in his chest. Giving up on his attempts to calm the beast down, the smaller man stood up a little taller and raised his own voice. “You best put the cuchillote away. Put the knife away, pendejo.”

As the two men drew closer, their voices louder, Reg saw the need to step in before the little man got himself hurt. Mags turned, recognizing him, and pointed at him with the knife.

“Fuck out of here Reggie, this ain’t yer problem. This little turd shtole my munney.”

“I din’t take his FOCKING money,” the man rebutted. “How many times I got to say it before his thick head get the message?”

At this, the Mags brandished his blade, sending the thin man back a few paces and stopping Reg’s progress toward the duo. They began their overlapped bickering again, and this time, Reg’s voice joined the two. After a moment, when he was the only one speaking, Reg brought his voice down to a more reasonable level, while inwardly tensing himself to step between the two and restrain the drunk giant.

“Listen Mags, you know you ain’t supposed to be here right now. Just tell me what this guy did, then you get your money back, and you never have to deal with this guy again.” He repeated this a few times with little effect, and realized, as usual, that talking to the two drunk men would solve nothing. He started toward the two men, stepping over an upturned stool, until another lunge from Mags stopped him short.

As the two began to argue once more, Reg looked over to see Henry hanging up the phone. If he could stall the confrontation until help arrived, he could talk to the bald barkeep about cleaning up the damages and getting back in business again for the night. A sudden shout of anger and surprise turned his attention back to the confrontation.

The thin man stepped back, holding his side. Between his fingers, Reg caught a glimpse of red. Mags was screaming at this point, using his now-bloodstained blade as a pointer, completely ignoring Reg. The two came together again, and he saw the blade jut out and pull back again, eliciting another shout from the smaller man, who dropped the wooden chair leg. The knife-wielding brute saw his opportunity and grabbed him in a headlock, using the knife to make another shallow slash on the struggling man’s chest. Then, he reached back with the knife hand as if to grab something else as well. Seeing his chance, Reg darted in, trying to get around the twisting, swearing, screaming bull of a man to grab the weapon, and felt his temper and sense of urgency rising.

“Stop, man, stop! I got children, man!”

 As the thin man’s cries reached Reg’s ears, his fragile hold on self-control broke. He reached down for the thick chair leg the man had dropped, hefted it once in his hands, and swung with all his might at the back of Mags’ head. It connected with a solid whunk, and the big man went down in a flurry of curses. The injured smaller man stumbled back, tripping over an upturned table and falling out of sight. Before Mags had a chance to recover, Reg swung at the back of his head again. And again. And again, until the drunk slumped to the floor on his stomach, convulsing a couple of times.

As Reg stepped forward and turned the big man onto his side for his own safety, he noticed a glint of metal sticking out of Mags’ tattered waistband. He reached for it and pulled free an antique chrome revolver with the hammer cocked back. Sighing, Reg emptied the bullet chamber into a chipped beer glass, then laid the empty firearm on the nearby pool table. Outside, the sound of multiple sirens drew closer, and for the first time in what felt like an hour, he looked around the empty bar. At this point, only he, Henry and the two drunks remained. The barkeep had emerged from behind the counter and was checking on the stabbed man. As he knelt, he gave Reg a silent nod of thanks. As the last reserves of his anger drained from him, Reg sat down at one of the few tables that remained standing and returned the gesture.

“Yep. I think I’ll have a bourbon neat tonight, Henry. It’s been one of those days.”

Outside, the sirens came to a stop one-by-one, the drumming of half a dozen car doors slamming shut sounding to Reg like gunfire.

 


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