Jesse James isn’t my sort of place. It’s not the music, a mixture of country, honky tonk and classic rock. It’s not the large crowd though the bar is a bit more rowdy than my usual haunts. The men and women who frequent Jesse James range from bikers to wannabe’s and outsiders looking to walk on the wild side. Add to the mix the occasional celebrity who wants to be seen and the bachelorette parties that stop by for a last night of extreme entertainment. It’s definitely not the alcohol packed drinks that are served quickly and efficiently by the scantily-clad barmaids; though heaven help you if you decide not to tip. Cheapskates soon learn there is a price to pay for their thriftiness. The barmaids possess razor sharp wits and tongues to match along with a megaphone to call out an offender at a moment’s notice.
It’s a combination of little things that put me on edge. The abnormally long line to get in isn’t helping matters. I have to be in a certain mood to enjoy myself in a place like this. Tonight is not one of those times. Even if it were, I’m working tonight.
“You don’t have to do this.” Kara says.
I’m not sure if I can get used to having her with me like this. The link or connection we share allows me to hear her thoughts and sense her emotions. My guardian angel is always close and in intimate contact but untouchable. Even though I like having her around, it feels weird having someone in your head talking to you. It’s also pretty frustrating when you consider the sort of thoughts I have about her.
“It’s what I want to do and Wendy needs help.”
It was pure chance I had run into her. We were both researching vampires in the library. Wendy was in a talkative mood and I was more than happy to listen. She was a bit unnerved by one of her customers last weekend. The guy wanted to sleep with her but bartenders are used to fending off unwanted admirers. So what made this one different? When she looked into his eyes, she felt compelled to follow him back to his place. A scuffle in the crowd distracted the man and Wendy came to her senses. The following night, he showed up again. This time she stayed away from him. Later, she learned he had asked her co-workers a lot of questions about her, questions they answered for some strange reason. It was enough to get her thinking about vampires.
I offered my help. After all, I had some experience with this sort of thing. It wasn’t much but I was an expert compared to her. The money and free drinks at Jesse James sealed the deal. Truth be told, I would have done it for free. The days of the Good Samaritan are over. No one ever seems to do something for nothing. Those that do are met with suspicion. It was easier to take the money. To be honest, I could use it. I wasn’t in danger of sleeping on the street but the extra few dollars would help.
A sense of uncertainty flickers across the link from Kara. “What if she is right? What happens then?”
I hadn’t thought about that. What if Wendy is right? What if her stalker turns out to be a vampire? It’s not like I can call the cops or stake him if there is any trouble. Sure, I could fight him but what happens after that? Instead of saying what I am thinking, I reply “I’ll think of something. I did handle Nerva, didn’t I?”
I smile, hoping she can be fooled by my words. What I get in return is not a smile but more like a murmur of discontent and barely suppressed anger. She was less than pleased with how things turned out with Nerva. All in all, I thought I didn’t do too badly. It could have been a lot worse.
“I know you want to help this woman but maybe you should take it slow. You’re still new at this.”
I shake my head. “It’s too late for that. I told her I would help and I’m going to do just that.”
My guardian angel lapses into silence as the bouncer asks for my ID. Now I see why the line is so long tonight. He’s the only person working the door and proofing people. Ordinarily, there are four or five bouncers to direct traffic and keep the peace. My estimation of the place goes down a notch. One man can’t control a crowd like this no matter how dangerous or able he is, barring the use of firearms. No wonder one of the bartenders is having problems with a stalker.
He’s a big man, bigger than me and I’m no little leaguer. It’s not just his size, it’s also his attitude. Like a warrior of old, confident in his abilities and more than willing to use them. A stray thought flickers across the link from Kara, one of wonder and surprise. It nearly causes me to drop my wallet.
“Count Albritton.” He says. “Is this for real? You some kind of royalty or something.”
“It’s just a name. You know like Count Bassie or Nat King Cole.”
He nods at that while continuing to scrutinize my id. Sure, it’s an uncommon name but it doesn’t warrant this much attention.
“So you’re the joker Wendy hired? You on the level or what?”
I don’t like his tone. There is an unspoken threat, a promise of pain if I were to screw Wendy over. I can’t blame him for looking out for his friends. I would do the same in his position. I keep my voice friendly. “Yeah but I doubt there will be any trouble.”
He laughs. It is a sound rich and full. “If there is, you stay out of the way and let me handle it. ‘Kay?”
I nod, wondering how much Wendy has told him and give the answer I think he wants to hear. “I won’t get in the way of your job.”
“You know, I thought you would be …. different.”
I laugh; happy the first major obstacle of the night was handled so easily. He was probably expecting some skinny pale faced kid or a nerdy bookworm type. Maybe he thought I would turn out to be some lecherous old Van Helsing type who was looking to score with Wendy. Who knows? I step into the orderly chaos that is the Jesse James.
The place is packed. It makes threading my way through the crowd a minor ordeal as I make my way over to the bar. I don’t bother Wendy. I’m sure the blonde has seen me. She has a job to do which means there is little time for socializing. I order a beer and to my surprise, it comes in a can. I guess it is management’s way to limit the number of potential weapons in the place.
My next destination is the jukebox which has been set off to the side. On a night like tonight, it’s turned off though drunks still pump quarters into it not realizing the bartenders are playing tapes and cds. The regulars use it as a place to put their coats. For me, it’s a nice spot to hang out in without being constantly bumped into while I nurse my beer. It helps I’m not a big beer drinker. The one beer keeps me going for a while without drawing too much attention to myself. I can’t afford to get drunk and it’s a better alternative than ordering a coke.
As I watch the bar and the patrons, Kara murmurs something but I can’t quite hear it. I try to focus on her voice without losing sense of my surroundings. She cuts in and out as if there is a bad cell phone connection. She told me that in time, I wouldn’t have this sort of trouble. It’s all a matter of practice and getting used to this. The one word I catch from her is a name “Hagan” and the face of the bouncer.
It’s close to last call when I can hear Kara clearly again. The crowd has thinned out some but there are still a lot of people here. I glance in the direction of the side door to see a man enter. He is just like Wendy described him, not a bad looking guy. What disturbs me is the way he entered the bar. That door should have been locked. Why do I say that? With only one bouncer, you can’t have more than one way into a bar. It defeats the purpose of proofing people.
Kara murmurs “He’s not a vampire.”
I feel more disappointment than relief. He’s human. If he was one of the Fae or something else Kara would have mentioned it. She also would have told me if he was a sorcerer. That means I’m off the hook. Sure, I can get involved but I would do no better and probably worse than the authorities. It also means I won’t be getting paid and Wendy will have to deal with this some other way.
As I make my way over to the bar, I can understand her confusion and concern. Up close, the guy looks less than wholesome. He gives me the creeps and I don’t know a thing about him. It’s in his eyes and the way he carries himself. A kind of desperation that hinted at missed opportunities. He was at the end of his rope.
I nod, stopping short of him when I notice Hagan approaching. Somehow the big man must have known this guy was here. It’s more than I gave him credit for. I know he wants to handle this and that’s fine by me. This is no longer my problem. Still, I won’t run out on Wendy till I talk to her. It gives me the chance to watch how Hagan handles the situation. I admit I am curious about him. Kara seems to know or recognize him but she hasn’t told me anything about him. This will be a good time to learn a little more about him, just in case.
What little I can hear from the conversation is exactly what I expect.
“I don’t want any trouble.” the stalker says. Even if I didn’t know what was going on, I wouldn’t have believed him. He was up to something and trying to hide it. Hagan doesn’t buy it either. He places down enough money to cover the man’s drink and a tip for Wendy.
“You need to leave now.”
Hagan’s tone makes it clear this is not a request. It is an order and failure to comply will have dire consequences. The other man looks first to Wendy then to the patrons around him for support as he tries to talk his way out of this. I edge a little closer, placing myself next to Wendy though the bar still separates us. The motion isn’t lost on Hagan but he doesn’t take his gaze off of the man in front of him. Kara’s warning comes as a surprise.
“He’s using some sort of magic item.”
I don’t see or feel anything. That comes as no surprise. For a brief moment, I think Hagan is being too rough on the guy. He just wants to talk to Wendy. After all, it’s a free country. I’m probably not the only one who thinks so. The moment passes quickly and Kara breathes a sigh of relief. The fog clears as I realize what has happened.
“What the hell?”
I’m not the only one asking that question. Hagan must have felt something. Even though the magic is strong enough to bend the mind and will, there are no flashy effects to dilute its power. No wasted energy on special effects. Kara is quick to fill in the blanks for me.
“You reflected the magic he was using against Wendy and Hagan.”
“I did what?”
I don’t have time to ask for further clarification. Hagan is no dummy and he obviously has some experience with the supernatural, maybe more than me. His fist rockets forward into the creep’s face. So much for the art of conversation. Fortunately, violence is a universal language and Hagan appears to be well versed in its subtleties. I might have handled things differently but I’m not about to get in the way. I let Hagan do his job. He is the bouncer here. Anyway, it’s not smart to get involved in a bar fight even when you’re on the same side as the bouncer.
From the reaction of the bartenders, it’s not the first time a fight has happened here. They back away from the bar and out of reach of any patrons while one picks up a phone probably to call the police. The smarter patrons head for the door. I can understand their sentiment. Mistakes can happen and things can escalate out of control. Usually, if a bouncer has to lay his hands on someone, they would be escorted out and that would be that. This time things deviate from the script. All hell starts to break loose. Someone, maybe a friend of the guy throws a punch at Hagan. Another man reaches into his pocket for something. With a sick feeling, I realize the little talent Kara said I had just made this situation a lot uglier than it had to be. The magic had to go somewhere when I reflected it. In this case, it hit the people standing around me.
No other fight on this scale is as dangerous as a bar fight. We’re not talking about a scuffle where two patrons mix it up or a situation where a bouncer has to forcibly escort someone outside. It’s not the comedic sort of brawl you see on the old westerns. No, this is the ugly violent reality where everyone around you is a potential enemy in a room filled with all manner of weapons. I think about getting the hell out of there but I am partly to blame for this. I spare a quick glance at Hagan before moving to back him up. I pray the man who reached into his pocket doesn’t have a knife or a gun. For what it’s worth, my prayers are answered. Brass knuckles adorn his right hand. Plenty of people have died from blunt force trauma and I’m not confident of beating him in a head to head fight so I let him slip past me.
Hitting a man from behind is not particularly nice or heroic. It does fit with my “Keep Count Out of the Hospital” plan. It fits as well as the roll of quarters that happen to find their way into my hand. The blow lands heavily. My victim stumbles and falls to the sawdust covered floor. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t kick a man while he is down. It isn’t because of any misguided sense of honor. When one foot leaves the ground, it’s easier to fall or be tripped. I could take the high road and be a better man but I’ve always liked to give rather than receive. Anything this guy might want to give me after my sneak attack, I don’t want. A swift kick removes him and the brass knuckles from my growing list of things to worry about as more and more people get involved in the fight.
I put my back to the bar and stand by Hagan’s side. The lunatic is actually smiling amid this carnage. It’s like he is having the time of his life. Again, I have the image of a warrior from a bygone era ready to cut a swathe of destruction across a bloody battlefield. This time it is from Kara. I force it out of my mind and focus on the task at hand. I do what I can and play Gray Mouser to his Fafhrd. Though I lack the size, brute force and smash mouth style with which Hagan approaches this fiasco, I make up for it in skill and the willingness to look for the things he might miss. This arrangement makes life easier for Hagan, allowing him to deal with his numerous admirers. I lose track of time. My lungs are burning. I am not hurt or wounded. I don’t have a mark on me though my head begins to hurt. It takes me seconds to realize the pain isn’t from a blow I failed to dodge. It is coming from Kara screaming into my mind. Whatever she wants, it better be important.
“WHAT?” I yell.
Hagan doesn’t reply though he gives me a strange look. Kara reply is heated causing me to stop in my tracks. The big man saves me from getting my head bashed in by the guy I was fighting.
“STOP HIM AND YOU STOP THIS!!”
I wince as the image of the guy who started this fills my mind. Why the hell didn’t I think of that? I totally forgot about him and Kara when things escalated. I was so caught up in the moment I stopped thinking. That’s not good. If I’m going to be a paranormal investigator, I need to do better. As long as he’s in the picture, there is no way for us to win, not against these odds. I also realize no one is attacking me. Come to think of it, no one has attacked me unless I attacked them first. That and Hagan’s help has gone a long way towards keeping me in one piece.
I take a chance and shift my attention away from the fight. I find what and who I am looking for as a plan forms. He is busy mumbling to himself and concentrating on something in his hand. I wait for the right moment and Hagan gives it to me. He drops a biker wielding a length of chain, temporarily making a hole in the crowd pressing around us. I take it, ducking past Hagan and out of the fight. I ignore the stream of obscenities Hagan tosses my way. He probably thinks I am cutting and running. Hopefully, so does everyone else. No one stops me. I get out the door but I don’t stop running. I turn the corner and come in through the side door. It takes safer this way despite the extra time it takes me to get there. I don’t have to fight through a wall of people to get to him. It also has the benefit of surprise. Who know what other tricks he might have up his sleeve? The blow I deliver to the side of his head isn’t enough to knock him out. It does cause my quarters to go scattering about the bar as the roll finally comes apart in my hand. It does have the desired effect. His hold on the crowd breaks and they lose their willingness to fight.
I reach down and pry the pendant from his fingers while Hagan issues an ultimatum. The words carry though he doesn’t shout or scream.
“Anyone who doesn’t want a free trip to the hospital best leave now.”
To emphasis his words, Hagan picks up the length of chain one of his attackers tried to use on him with no success. It doesn’t take long for the bar to clear out. Those who were hurt are dragged out by friends or tossed out by Hagan. During which time I keep an eye on the guy.
“He doesn’t have anything else.”
I nod. Good but now there is a bigger problem. What do I do with this guy? All my thoughts and concerns from earlier come back to haunt me. It’s not like I can have him arrested or anything. He hasn’t done anything the police will believe. As it stands, he can have me arrested for assault. After the last person leaves, Hagan offers a suggestion. “Kill him.”
Is he kidding me? I look up and quickly decide he is serious. I can’t believe this. This isn’t the dark ages. You just don’t execute people at the drop of the hat and that’s exactly what this would be. If it was self-defense, I would have less of an issue especially if it was me being defended but this is murder. I look past him to the bartenders. All of them have disappeared except for Wendy. She stands there with her mouth hanging open in shock. She doesn’t believe this either.
Kara murmurs “You can’t let him walk. If you do, he will come for you.”
I frown. There is that. He’s afraid right now but fear goes hand in hand with hatred. Given a chance, he’ll try to repay me and Hagan back for this. It is the look he gives Wendy that makes me shudder. No, we can’t let him walk but there has to be another way.
“If you’re squeamish, take off and I’ll handle it.”
Can I let him kill this guy? Yes but I’m not going to. One of the most precious things we have is life. Yeah, I know you’ve heard it a thousand times. I’m not talking about his life. I could care less if he had some sort of fatal accident. After all the trouble he has caused, he deserves it. No, I’m talking about mine. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in jail. Even if we were to get away with it, what would that do to me? I’m not interested in finding out. This loser isn’t worth it. Killing is definitely something I’m not going to contemplate unless there are no other options.
“There is another way.” Kara says.
“Wait.” I say out loud while I direct the rest of my thoughts to Kara. “What?”
“You can use the pendant to make him forget about all of this.”
I smile, seeing where Kara is going with this. I hadn’t thought of that. Could it work? “You mean I can erase his memory?”
“Yes. The magic of the pendant allows the holder to alter a person’s mind. You saw how it influenced everyone here.”
I nod, turning back to Hagan and Wendy.
“This little snake is a mechanic, not a sorcerer. All his magic is from this little trinket, I pried out of his hands.”
Hagan believes me but it doesn’t change anything in his mind. “What’s to stop him from getting another one or something worse?”
I hold up the pendant to Hagan. “This. If he forgets about Wendy, magic and us, then the problem is solved.”
Wendy looks relieved. She loses that deer in the headlights look while Hagan seems satisfied. “Can you do it?”
“Yes and it’s a better than killing him.”
Hagan doesn’t agree with me but he doesn’t argue the point. I make a mental note to never get on this guy’s bad side while Kara guides me through what I need to do. It’s not easy. I take it slow and easy, keeping it simple.
“That will do it. He will forget all about Wendy and magic as well as you and Hagan.”
I nod. As an afterthought, I add a few suggestions of my own with the last of the pendant’s power. This guy needs help, so I tell him to go get some. Who knows? He might turn out the better for it. I also tell him to give a little to charity each year. Someone has to do it. It might as well be him. I would do it but I’m a little too selfish and cynical for that sort of thing.
It was a pretty nice piece of work for my first case.
This is an excerpt from my first book, The Gift of Fury. Most of my books start off as a short story. This excerpt from my book contains the original short story that I used as a foundation for my book.
There are a lot of contemporary fantasy stories out there but there few of them have an epic fantasy feel to them. When I wrote this story, I wanted it to read and feel more like an epic fantasy story where you were following the exploits of a Conan, Gray Mouser, Fafhrid or some other hero.
If you want to read an excerpt from the beginning of the book, you can find it on Amazon.