"You'll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn"
-- Manfred Mann, The Mighty Quinn
The mention of Vance's name was enough to pull me upright, and double-check my path to back door and out the alley. What was my inventory? I had no knife or gun. I hadn't decided to replace them since I came back. I didn't want to carry a hammer, since few of my problems were actually nails.
I had the impromptu weapons that most people have on them -- keys and a belt. On the table was a pack of matches, my untouched drink, and Betty's current cigarette. I could run or I could find a way to fight with those. Those were my options. Then I chided myself for thinking like that. I needed to stop thinking I was alone. I was sitting next to a woman who'd offered to help me once and she had a crew. I had the advantage here. I had the court.
"Where?" I asked.
"Spotted parking a block away." She told me, and made a face. "I'm calling the cops. You should have done him when you were down there."
"I'll take care of it now," I said.
"What?" She said. "You gonna kill him? You can't do that in here, so you'll have to get him out..."
"No," I said, "I don't need to take it that far. I just want to drive the point home, but it has to be done it public. I need an audience." I gestured out to the crowd.
She looked to be relieved when I said I wasn't planning on killing Vance. It's one thing to talk about it, but it's another thing to actually take part in it.
"Huh," she said, "Maybe. We can try it that way. What do ya need?"
She didn't ask what I was going to do. That took a lot of trust. Even if it all went well, I could still end up making a lot of trouble for her.
"I need you to keep this area clear," I said, waving at the table, "and keep the crowd safe and watching the action."
"Gotcha," she said. "Anything else?"
I looked at the tequila. It wasn't strong enough for this.
"A shot of 151," I said.
"This a time for courage?" She asked.
"Trust," I said.
"OK," she said. There was some doubt in her voice.
Her thumbs started flying over the keys on the phone. She scanned the room, never looking down at the messages she was sending.
"Done," she said.
"Get out of sight," I said. "He doesn't know I am here, so he'll be looking for you. He'll want to even up with you before going after me."
I don't think she liked the sound of leaving me alone, but she did it. She nodded and stepped into the crowd. I watched her match the motions of those around her. It quickly became hard to pick her out. She was very good. I picked up the book of matches and got up from my chair. My fingers bent one of the matches around so the head rested against the striker. Someone came by and handed me my glass of rum. I put it down on the table close at hand.
I wished I hadn't drunk so much so quickly, but if wishes were fishes the rivers would be full. I was just going to have to accept it and try to compensate. I pulled the chair around to the other side of the table. I didn't want any props close at hand. I took a position leaning against the table and waited, playing with the book of matches. The band was playing Folsom Prison Blues.
Betty's crew did a good job. I could spot them working the crowd shifting them away from my area. Just like her, they blended in nicely. I doubt anyone noticed a thing. My phone buzzed, and I gave it a quick look. The display read "V Dr." -- Vance was in the door. It was easy to spot him in the crowd, since he was a head taller than most people. He was pushing his way in the general direction of my table. It didn't take him long to spot me.
"Well," he said. "I was looking for the red-headed bitch, but you'll do nicely. Now won't ya?"
He was seething. That was the only word that fit. I watched to see the moment when he'd go for me. He was holding his ground. He probably hoped I was going to run. Still, he could charge me at any moment and I would need to be ready for it.
"Vance," I said causally.
"Ain't nobody fucks with me the way you did, and not expect to pay," he said.
His chest was heaving. He was getting angrier with each breath he took. He wasn't grinning so much as bearing his teeth. This was the most feral I had seen him.
"Wanna run?" He asked. "It'll be more fun, then you're gonna tell me where the other bitch is. Then..." He just let the last part hang in a threat.
"Not this time Vance," I said. I kept my voice calm and even. "I'm going to stay right here and put you in your place. Again."
I could see the muscles in his neck tense, but he stayed put.
"Let me tell you why," I said. "Winning comes down to two simple things: Who wants it more..."
I tossed the 151 on him, soaking his shirt and chest. That did it. I'd finally made him too mad to think and he charged. He didn't yell or scream. He just came at me full steam.
I snapped my fingers around the book of matches, dragging my thumb across the match on the striker. I had learned the trick back in high school. Suddenly there was fire. I put the flame to the rum soaked shirt -- the 75.5% alcohol light quickly. It would burn out quickly, but it was more than enough to get Vance's attention.
I stepped forward and grabbed Vance by the collar. I felt the warmth of the flames against my hands. I hooked my right ankle behind his foot. I pulled my foot back and pushed him forward at the same time. He fell to the ground and I let the momentum take me down after him, dropping to one knee. I rolled him onto his chest to put out the fire, and then flipped him back over. I punched him in the kidney, just to keep him off balance. When he tried to curl up, I grabbed his Adams Apple and pushed him back down to the floor.
"...And who controls the rules of the game." I continued. I bent down close to his face. "This makes twice, right? This is the second time I got the better of you, and I haven't even broken a sweat. You ain't nothing."
I turned his head to look at the crowd. Betty's crew was keeping them back, but they did nothing to keep the audience from watching us.
"And they all know it," I said, "All of them. I'm going to make something very clear: Never. Fuck. With. Anyone. I. Care. About." With each word I hit his head against the floor.
Betty and one of her crew came over to us. I gave Vance one last pat on the cheek.
"We can take care of it from here." Betty said. "Cops've been called; best you take the back way out."
I gave Vance over to the bouncers. I had done what I wanted to do. He was their problem now.
"Shame he just came at you like that," Ronny, the big bouncer I'd met the last time, said, "all unprovoked like, and in front of witnesses and everything."
I nodded and stood up. The band had stopped playing when Vance attacked. They started playing again. It wasn't rockabilly, and then I recognized it -- The Mighty Quinn. I never liked that nickname. Betty was smiling. I was willing to forgive her for the Manfred Mann nod this once.
"That was pretty slick." Betty said.
"Thanks." I said.
Truth was, it went better than I expected. I was feeling pleased with myself. Ronny had Vance back on his chest, and was pulling a pair of plastic cuffs from his back pocket.
"That still may not have been enough, you know?" She said.
"I think it was," I said. "Look at them, people are already making calls. News of this will be all over the scene faster than you thing. He'll need to find a new playground to bully."
"Hope so," she said. "He might come after you again, you know?"
"I'll burn that bridge when it crosses me." I said and winked.
She winked back and pressed something into my pocket.
"Keep in touch, OK?" She said. "I like a guy who could take me three outta five falls. You got the skills, but we should let that rib heal a little first."
She looked at the phone in her hand.
"Cops," she said, "Go!"
She tiptoed up to give me a kiss on the cheek. I turned and slipped out of the club.