A day late, I know, but here’s chapter 5 of Bullet Rain, which should hopefully be out in another week or two.
* * *
It was another hour before the girl came into the bar.
Nova pegged her as the driver of the VW Rabbit at once. She just didn’t have the look of a local. The men and women here, their skin was baked brown by the sun, but this girl was pale, brunette, and looked like she had just stepped out of a college classroom. Even her clothes were incongruous with the rest of the place—jeans and a polo shirt, yes, but they were clean and bright, not faded and worn like the clothes of everyone else in the bar. The only thing that was faded and worn was the Detroit Tigers baseball cap fastened on her head.
She looked around the room for a long moment, as if deciding where to sit, before heading straight for the bar. She took a seat several bar stools away from Nova, who was working on his fourth beer.
He had asked the bartender if there was any food, and she slid a bowl of pretzels in front of him, but the pretzels looked as appealing as a make-out session with the bartender, so he just kept drinking. It took a lot to get Nova drunk, but these four beers had given him a nice buzz. Really, he should have just paid his tab and headed for the motel, picked a room and stripped the bed to make sure there were no creepy crawlies waiting for him under the covers, and then closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
And he was going to do that right after he was done with this beer, but then the girl came in—the girl who clearly didn’t belong—and Nova decided to wait. He had immediately sensed a shift in the atmosphere the moment she stepped inside. It hadn’t been anything overly apparent—the country music hadn’t abruptly stopped—but he had noticed the shifting eyes, the leaned-in whispers.
Nova didn’t like it, so he decided to wait.
He didn’t have to wait long.
The girl had barely ordered a beer before one of the men approached her. He was one of the trio who had been guffawing earlier. Nova watched him as he rose from the booth, hitched his pants, grinned at his friends, grabbed the empty pitcher on the table, then slowly made his way to the bar, wagging his butt drunkenly while his two friends were busting up laughing. The guy made it to the bar, which so far was only occupied by Nova and the girl, and he leaned in right beside the girl, holding a finger up for the bartender’s attention.
The bartender took the empty pitcher and placed it under the tap, all the while smoking her cigarette.
Even over the music, Nova could hear the guy ask the girl her name.
The girl, clearly uneasy, forced a smile at him. “Hi.”
The guy laughed. “Your name’s Hi? Well, shit, I never heard that name before. Hi, Hi.” The guy grinned back at his friends, then leaned in closer. “So, Hi, you like fruit?”
The girl took a sip of her beer but said nothing.
“Apples, oranges, bananas?” When the girl still didn’t answer, the guy said, “What about cherries? You like cherries, Hi?”
The girl was doing her best to ignore the guy, but that just fueled the fire. The guy grinned back at his friends again, trying not to laugh, before he continued.
“You like the way cherries taste, Hi? I love the way they taste. I love popping them in my mouth every chance I get. Do you like popping cherries, Hi?”
Nova groaned inwardly. It wasn’t the guy’s asinine one-sided conversation—though, truthfully, it was pretty bad—but the fact that Nova couldn’t force himself to sit by passively any further while this girl got harassed.
He pushed away from his bar stool with enough force so the legs screeched across the floor, and started to make his way down the length of the bar.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “I think you should take your pitcher and go back to your table.”
The bartender, who had already filled the pitcher and placed it on the bar top, took one last drag of her cigarette before she slowly backed away.
The guy tilted his face toward Nova, studied him for a beat, then snorted. “Get lost, asshole.”
Nova took a deep breath as he settled himself down onto the stool beside the guy. “See, with that type of disrespectful attitude, it’s no wonder the lady doesn’t want to talk to you.”
The guy had turned away from Nova, but now he turned back, slowly, as if somehow the slowness with which he turned would increase his intimidation factor.
“The fuck did you just say?”
“Your disrespectful attitude,” Nova said. “Believe it or not, women aren’t attracted to assholes such as yourself. They might like the bad boy, but a bad boy doesn’t also mean asshole. See, there’s a difference.”
Now the man was turned completely in Nova’s direction. The distance between them was only a couple feet. If the guy wanted to throw the first punch, or even the first kick, he would have more than enough room to strike. Assuming, of course, Nova just sat there and let it happen. Which Nova did not intend to do. Not here. Not anywhere. His whole plan had been to draw attention away from the girl, place it on him, but now that he was close to the man, saw just how tall and built the guy was, he realized he might have overplayed his hand. Nova was quite skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and there had been times when he had to fight several men at once, but a gut feeling he’d had the moment he stepped into this bar suddenly confirmed itself, and Nova knew he was outmatched. But that didn’t mean he was going to back down.
“Asshole,” the guy said, his face turning red, the cords on the sides of his neck sticking out, “you better do yourself a favor and get the fuck out of this bar before I rearrange your face.”
Nova held the guy’s stare for a beat, just long enough to sense that everyone else in the bar was now watching them. From the corner of his eye he saw that the guy’s friends were preparing to join in.
Which meant that, when the guy’s two friends joined the fun, it would be three against one. As long as the rest of the bar didn’t get into the mix, too.
“Rearrange my face?” Nova smiled, shaking his head. “That threat is about as scary as your breath. Which, I should add, smells like ass. Say, between your two friends over there, whose ass tastes better?”
And the guy’s friends were already on their feet by the time the guy threw the first punch.