Henry's Re-entry

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Chapter 30

Henry dragged frank back from the fight.

Frank thrashed against Henry’s hold while howling a list of profanities that would’ve blushed a longshoreman.

Ed had his arms up under and around one cowboy’s shoulders. He held him securely from behind so the dude couldn’t hit him. Unfortunately, the man still had full use of his legs. He doubled forward, heaving Ed up on his back. Ed rode him like a bronco face-first into an empty booth.

Henry had Frank in a similar pose, pretty much mounted from behind. Frank was a hell of a lot stronger than he expected. It was all he could to keep him restrained, and so he found himself a bit incapacitated when the second cowboy came rushing at them with his fists swinging. Frank managed to twist out of the way just as the first blow landed.

Henry was more impressed by the white light than the pain. He was on the ground amid a tangled dam of broken chairs, though he had no memory of taking a seat. He wondered if he was bleeding.

Someone yelled nearby. Someone else yelled back. Something crashed.

He somehow picked himself up from the debris. His jaw was throbbed viciously. He turned to see Frank with a cowboy pinned down on his back against a booth table. Frank was not only holding his own, he was beating the cowboy mercilessly. Henry was impressed.

Ed, on the other hand, had misplaced his advantage. Worse, he was already starting to look like a blood donation gone bad. He was laid out on the floor beside the booth with the first cowboy straddling his chest. By the way the dude was wailing on Ed’s face, Henry didn’t think Ed was going to mind the van so much tonight after all.

Henry grabbed the cowboy by his ponytail and dragged him off Ed. The dude shrieked weirdly as Henry used that rope of hair to catapult him into the tables. A sitting patron grabbed his drink just as his table was knocked away beneath him. Still sitting in the tableless chair, the patron looked at Henry and grinned amiably as he lifted his drink in salute. Henry waved a wad of hair back at him.

The cowboy didn’t get up. It didn’t look like he’d be getting up any time soon. Henry’s next to-do item was to pull Frank off the other cowboy before he did jail-time level damage. As he moved in to help, he quickly scanned his surroundings.

The shadows standing at the bar stood leaning over their drinks just as they’d been doing all night, smokes in mouths, watching the fracas like it was Karaoke as usual. Another few shadows still played pool in the back corner. Four others sat in the back around a table. One of them still shuffled the cards. The guy who’d lost his table was carefully picking his way through the debris on his long march to the bar.

No one in the joint seemed to give a crap about the fight. Frank was still working on the second cowboy like an angry housekeeper beating a rug. Enough was enough. He couldn’t let Frank kill the man. It’d ruin what had been shaping up to be a fairly nice evening. He grabbed Frank by a scruff of shirt and dragged him back.

He hadn’t pulled Frank back three feet when something cracked him across the back of the head. The world exploded with light. Henry landed hard on his knees. The ground seemed to be dissolving beneath him. For just an instant, he wondered if he was still back in that industrially tiled bathroom at the gas station.

He heard another crack of wood and a sharp cry somewhere behind him. A moment later, the second cowboy stumbled past him and dropped into a booth. Henry could tell by the grace of the man’s gait that he’d be calling it quits for the night.

Alice was suddenly kneeling at his side, though he couldn’t remember how she came to be there. She held a red cloth up to his head. Or was it just spotted red? He couldn’t quite focus clearly enough to say. He thought she might be saying something to him, but couldn’t make out the words.

Frank was yelling behind him. There was another crack followed by another scream.

Henry grabbed the table’s edge and somehow managed to stand up. His head spun in both directions. Alice had his arm. He tried to push her back, but she wouldn’t give it up. When he finally managed to turn around, he saw Larry. She was a few paces back standing over a fresh pile of Frank. She had a short bat in her hand and a pit bull in her eyes. Henry guessed that this was probably about as happy as she ever looked.

She was slapping the bat against her palm and laughing. “You still up, boss?” she said directly to him, “Man, you must have one thick head.”

She slithered toward him.

Henry looked around for a weapon but found only disappointment. He had no choice but to face her empty handed and hope for divine intervention.

She continued slapping that bat against her hand as she approached. “I don’t tolerate no rough stuff in my bar, boss,” she said, grinning, “Anyone starts up, and I’m more’n likely the one finishes it.”

Alice was still at Henry’s side, still holding that red cloth to his head. He realized it was wet. “Get behind me, Alice,” he said, guiding her back.

Alice resisted.

“Alice, get back. Please.”

Larry crept closer.

“Alice!” he said again.

“Yeah, Alice,” Larry said, “Get back. We don’t want to get any meat chunks in that pretty blonde hair of yours.”

Henry saw The Look blossom across Alice’s face, and he recognized it for the trouble it was just a moment too late. Before he could stop her, she’d rushed in and laid a teeth rattling slap down on Larry.

Larry looked like she was having trouble processing what happened. When her gaze quickly focused in again, it didn’t look like an apology was in the works. Then she backhanded Alice hard enough to send her spinning.

“This ain’t your business, bitch!” she snarled as Alice rolled into Henry.

Henry barely caught her before she fell. The color seemed to have bled out of the room. He felt like he was out of his body, like he was watching himself from somewhere higher than the bar. He watched himself settle Alice into a chair. He watched himself turn to face Larry. He watched himself march into battle.

The bat came down at him, but he caught it with his bare hand. Larry looked at him like he’d just turned water into wine. Henry wrenched it from her grip. For an instant, he only stood there with her wrist locked in his fist. He felt like he was looking through a tunnel. Nothing existed except that shitty crew cut and those snake-like eyes, and those perfect white teeth that he wanted to litter the floor with.

He released her wrist and heaved the bat across the bar. It ended in a barrage of shattered mirrors and broken bottles.

Larry threw her hands up like bared fangs. She crouched offensively before him, grinning like she’d just set the cat on fire. “Bring it on, boss,” she hissed, “I was born for this shit. I’m ex-paramilitary, baby.”

“Is that right?” Henry said, “Well, I didn’t even marry into this shit, and I’m unemployed.”

Larry slipped in with a wicked roundhouse that Henry only barely deflected. She immediately threw another one down on him. He twisted away from that one and caught it off his shoulder. He couldn’t feel his arm anymore. The woman had sledgehammers for fists.

Her third strike left fire in its trail. He hit the wall face first. For a moment, he wasn’t even sure he was standing. He realized the cartoons weren’t lying; he had to shake his head to clear the stars. He turned around, though still held back tight against the wall for support.

Larry stood right in front of him now. Henry pushed himself upright and brought his working hand up, though he didn’t have much hope it’d be of any use. He wasn’t even sure which one of her to hit.

She threw a hand against his chest and shoved him back against the wall. Then she grinned at him and said, “Say goodnight, bitch!

She cocked her fist back like she was calling up the fury of the gods. But before she could unleash it someone grabbed her wrist from behind. Larry’s venomous smile melted into surprise.

Henry seized the opportunity. He plowed his fist into her face like a born-again boxer, like salvation waited for him on the other side of her skull, like she was the living incarnation of every bad thing that’d ever happened to him.

He was pretty sure her feet left the ground. The table legs snapped when she landed, and the table top slumped to the side, sending her remains skidding into the same pile of broken chairs they’d all been rolling in since the fight began.

He stood there, fighting for air as he waited for her to get up. He didn’t suffer much disappointment when she didn’t.

An almost supernatural silence hung over the bar. No one talked. No one moved. Even the jukebox had finally shut up. Somewhere in the distance, he heard a sliver of mirror tinkle free behind the bar.

Alice rushed into Henry and buried her face in his chest. “Henry, are you all right?” He felt her tears soaking through the Superman shield on his shirt.

“I’m all right, Alice,” he said, “Thanks to you.”

As he held her, Henry watched the shadows shifting around the bar. For the first time since the fight began, it seemed the shadows had taken an interest. He quickly realized why: He’d put their villainous hero, their Little Bill down. He knew that wasn’t how the mob expected it to play out.

They moved slowly, tentatively, easing their way organically along the perimeter. They moved with primal intent, like they were organizing without even knowing it. It felt like a scene from a zombie movie when the last survivors are cornered by the undead, and the audience awaits the scheduled miracle.

“Alice,” he said as he watched them, “Get everyone together. We’re leaving.”

She looked up at him. Her eyes were wet but focused. Any fear or worry she might’ve shown a heartbeat ago was gone. “Give me the keys,” she said.

Henry dug Fort Drift’s keys from his jeans and pressed them into her palm. His hand lingered on hers for just a moment. She was cool under pressure. He wondered why he expected anything else.

Finally, he let go. “Help Frank get up. Hurry. We’re getting the hell out of here.”

The shadows slinked along the walls on both sides of him. He grabbed the broken seat of a chair and smashed it hard against the floor. That drove them back a bit. Then he broke two thick wooden legs from it and thrust them out to his sides like torches.

“All right,” he yelled at them, “You all best listen to me, and I mean listen really fucking close! We’re leaving now! Any of you tries to stop us, any of you gets in my way, and I swear to God I’ll leave your skulls in so many pieces you’ll never find them all.”

A few of the shadows stopped. A few kept coming.

Henry heaved one of the chair legs at the bar. The remnants of the middle mirror shattered dramatically, while a few bottles leapt to freedom from a collapsing shelf.

“I mean it!” he yelled, “I’ve already got blood on my hands! A little more won’t make them any dirtier!”

All the shadows stopped at that. A few actually started backing away.

Henry glanced over at Alice helping Frank up. Bridget already had Ed’s arm over her shoulder. Alice looked back and sent him a wink. They were ready.

Henry turned back to the ghouls. “We’re leaving now,” he said, “We’re going right through that corner door over there. Any of you follows us, any of you so much as smiles at us, and I will kill you dead!”

Alice and Bridget moved for the door, but the two shadows from the end of the bar moved in their way. They were Larry’s pals from earlier.

Henry looked at them. “You going to try me, boys?” he shouted, “Because I am so starting to enjoy this!”

They looked at him. They didn’t advance, but they also didn’t retreat.

Henry’s patience died. He cocked his arm back and heaved the other chair leg at them. It flipped across the room like a dagger. The blunt end smacked a bull’s-eye in the middle of the left shadow’s chest. The man released a breathy grunt as he stumbled backward. He hit the wall and collapsed.

Henry looked at his partner. “You got something to say to me, boy?” he shouted, “Because I can’t hear you from clean over there! Maybe you ought to mosey a little closer so we can talk face to face.”

The shadow backed off. That cleared the path for Bridget, Alice, and their walking wounded. Alice looked back at Henry.

“Go on, Alice. It’s okay.”

Henry kept up the rear as the women made the door with their casualties. Once they’d cleared it, he turned back to the ghouls. “Anyone calls the police on us after we leave, and I swear I will come back and I will hunt you down. I will find out where you live and I will burn your bloody houses down with you inside!”

There was a moment’s silence. Then a voice called timidly, “Sheriff.”

Henry couldn’t see who’d said it. “What?” he said.

“Sheriff,” the voice said again, “We don’t have police here. We have a sheriff.”

“Sheriff, police, do I look like I could possibly give a fuck?”

“No.”

“It was a rhetorical question, fool!”

“Sorry.”

Henry walked over to the slumped carcass of Larry. He dug the rumpled twenty out of his pocket and threw it down at her. “That’s for the bourbon,” he said. Then he swiped his mouth and spit a bloody wad down at her. “And there’s your tip.”

As he made for the door, he spotted a neglected bottle of scotch squatting on the bar. Larry was probably pouring from it when the fight broke out. A couple shadows backed quickly out of his way as he walked over and grabbed it. Then he crossed back and threw the saloon door open. But before he left, he turned back to the shadows.

“And when she comes to?” he said, pointing at Larry, “Tell her she shouldn’t be flirting with another dude’s date. It’s ill-mannered and rude, and I do not tolerate rude bartenders.”

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