A new chapter in my ongoing crime novel experiment…. part one here. Enjoy!
When I was just a baby
My Mama told me, “Son
Always be a good boy
Don’t ever play with guns…
– Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues
Max Haggerty watched the two men come in. The fat one he knew by site, the other was unknown. Something about the new guy already bothered him, his swagger – a self-confidence that seemed a little too aggressive, a frenetic energy bubbling just below the epidermis; something in the way he glanced around the room, studying every nook and cranny, as if he were casing the joint for future possibilities or conquests.
Their eyes met and everything stopped. They both surveyed each other, both acknowledged each other’s pain and darkness.
There’s always something about a man you can spot instinctively, a certain bearing, the way a man holds himself, walks, moves his hands; a slowness in his glance, an assertiveness. One knows instinctively that such a being is both dangerous and deadly. A creature one should evade or at least steer clear of rather than confront head on, a predator. But sometimes it just can’t be helped. Sometimes it’s the way of things, a part of the comic fatalism that seems to pervade existence; one wants to laugh, but only tears seem to fall from such worlds.
Max knew this one was not only dangerous, but cruel and without conscience; a man capable of murder and mayhem.
They both recognized each other in a way most men either regret or fear; yet, for these two it only made them stronger, excited. There was a great abyss between these two, one both recognized in each other at once: a difference so subtle one could almost mistake it for friendship rather than the recognition of two enemies gazing at each other across an ancient battlefield.
The difference was that Max had earned his right to death’s compass, but something told him the man in front of him had slithered into it without a passport. Sometimes you just know a thief in the night when you see one; this guy was something else, something more sinister, neither thief nor robber, but just a stone cold killer, a warped soul. There was a glint of madness in those eyes, a spirit that had crossed the line so long ago there was no coming back; no reparation, much less salvation.
“What can I do you gents for?”
Fat Boy spoke first: “Couple longnecks ‘ould be fine.”
Max opened the cooler pulled two Bud’s out, popped the tops, and slid them down the bar: “That’ll be a fiver, and we don’t take plastic.”
“Good, I ain’t got none,” the tall one said. He pulled a wad of bills out of his side pocket, and something else fell out. Looked like a piece of cardboard with a cellophane wrapper stapled together protecting something shiny inside. Max noticed the glint of metal in the light as the tall one reached down and picked it up off the floor. Possibly a coin? Then he flipped through the wad of bills and pulled a tenner out, slapped it down, saying, “Keep the change.”
“That’s alright, I don’t accept tips.” Max slid another five back, all the time watching the man’s eyes. There was hunger in those eyes, a viciousness, more like a diamond-back rattler’s than a human’s – ready to strike if one got to close.
“Travis…” the tall one gestured, as if he were a car dealer selling me a prime piece of junk. “Travis McPherson.” He reached across the bar to shake Max’s hand as if it were a weapon.
Max didn’t take it, nor did he unhook his eyes. He didn’t move a muscle, just stared at the creature before him like it was vermin to be snuffed out.
There was a tension in the air that was almost palpable.
Fat Boy was getting jittery, swiveling back and forth on the bar stool until he finally said: “C’mon Travis let’s get a table.”
Travis put his hand back down, gave Max a big smile, saying: “You’re an unfriendly bastard, aren’t you.”
Max said nothing.
Fat boy tapped his buddy on the shoulder: “C’mon Travis forget this fool, let’s party.”
“Yea, Travis, listen to Fat Boy.” Tubby gave Max a look, then thought better of it and turned away heading toward the booth in the far corner.
Travis hesitated for just a second, then he laughed out loud releasing the tension in the air. “That’s alright Mr. Barkeep I’m a friendly ole boy, don’t get your gander up. Me and Tubby just want a cool place to sit and sip our beers. We don’t want no trouble. Just a cool place to park our asses for a while. You here?”
Max was about to say something when his partner T.J. Beauregard waltzed in with his girl, Simone and some friends, straggling behind.
“Hey, Max…” Both were smiling and waving what appeared to be some tickets in their hands.
Fat Boy and Travis receded into the darkness, sitting down at a table in the far corner.
“We got the tickets, Bud,” T.J. was grinning ear to ear. “Why don’t you come with us next week, the music festival ought to be great, it’d do you good; and all the boys goin’ to be there for the meet.”
“Yea, I know. You’re right, probably do me good, but I’ll have to pass. Got a couple things to take care of down in Nacogdoches.”
“Dang, Max, one of these days you got to start enjoying life again,” Simone kicked him in the chin, and gave him the eye. “Ouch, I didn’t mean anything by it hon, really. But Max’s been hibernating out in this dark cave for way too long. ‘Bout time to get him back into the swing of things so he’ll quit moping around in this here old bar.”
She punched him this time, looking up at Max: “Don’t mind him, he means well. He just doesn’t understand things take time.” She winked at Max, “Besides, he’s right you know, you need to get out of this dump more often, and I have a friend could help you along with that.” Her eye wandered back down the bar to a young woman sitting at the other end laughing at some foolish joke Rumby, Max’s other barkeep, was telling her and her friends. Everybody seemed to be happy.
Max wished he could enjoy such innocence again, but he knew such nostalgia was fake. No, the world Max Haggerty lived in had changed and left him in a dark place. He’d have to crawl out of it all on his own. There’d be no saviors for Max Haggerty, not even the warm kiss of a young woman could redeem him now.
Max shrugged, knowing he’d have to play along: “Okay, okay… I’ll come out someday, just not today, or tomorrow or the day after, but someday I will. I promise.”
“You better, Max, or I’ll bring a truck load my friends like her down here and we’re goin’ a hijack you and do strange things to you. You here?” She grinned.
Max laughed, meaning it. “Yea, I here ya…”
He’d almost forgotten about his guests in the far corner, but by the time he looked over to where they’d sat, they were gone. He’d not seen them leave. He wondered about that, thinking to himself: Going to have to check this guy out. Who is he? I don’t like strangers. What’s he doing with Tubby, anyway. Tubby’s a fool and a tow-bit no good SOB. The whole Jenkins clan stinks. But something about this character. Travis McPherson? Who the hell is he?
©2016 S.C. Hickman
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