By De Veer Chappell
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The Rebel Yell, a red neck dive off of route 42, located in the small town of Willow Springs, North of the Carolinas. A pickup pulled into its tiny lot and sat momentarily. Seeing what it sought, it parked, and ejected a man of slight but rugged build. The man, whose stride was quick, if not sure, suddenly turned and leaned into the driverīs side window seeming to whisper assurances to the vehicle. Seconds later he was off once more leaving the pickup to the night, patiently guzzling fuel.
As he entered the establishment she was the first thing he saw. Their eyes met for what seemed an eternity but was only a split second, as that was all she could afford. She was in her usual spot, the very back of the bar tucked away into the shadows, a flower that grew in the dark but never bloomed.
The man turned his attention to one of two pool tables that crowded the joint - both had seen better days. There were three rowdy men heckling two women at the table across from their own. The men in question by order of rank, were Buford Brennon, folks around here called him Buba, and he was reputed to be the meanest son of a bitch in Wake County. A contractor, Buba employed a crew that a quarter of the men now in the bar currently worked for, or had at one point in time. The next man was Bubaīs superintendent, Zeke Brown; Zeke was fabled to be able to build a house with his bare hands. As big as he was black, folks around here called him Zulu to his face, and boss nigger behind his back. Lastly there was Henry Veech, a stone cold alcoholic and general all-purpose fuck up. Henry was Bubaīs nephew and if not for this fact he would have been out on his ass long ago. Folks around here called him leech to his face as well as behind his back.
"What can I do you for, Pete?" The man turned.
"Hey Carla, let me get a double shot and a bud."
She reached about grabbing items without taking her eyes off him.
"You never drink hard Pete, whatīs the occasion?" She was eyeing him with her creased-leathered face, worn by a hard life and cruel sun. She was a tough old broad and instinctively perceptive. Pete smiled to allay her suspicions. "I got a raise today." he lied, "celebratin."
"You mean them tight ass slavers over at Gutter World finally done right by you, well hell boy..." Pete had downed both shots and was in the middle of forcing the beer to catch up and subdue them before Carla had finished speaking. She was still talking when he slammed down the bottle but he didnīt hear her. Pete pointed at the empty as he walked away.
As he approached the woman she looked around nervously desperate not to acknowledge his presence. Her fear appeared to grow in bounds as he got closer and she seemed on the verge of fleeing but they both knew she had nowhere to run. Her name was Violet and aside from this fact all he really knew about her was her pain, the type of pain only extreme loneliness can bring, a pain he was tired of living with. It was this bond real or imagined that dictated his present course of action. When Pete was directly in front her table, Violet attempted to look through him as though he did not exist. Though slightly discouraged by this it was too late to turn back. He could not now anyway, even if he wanted to.
"Come with me" His outstretched hand beckoned, his eyes pleaded. Violet began to hyper-ventilate and shrink away, impossibly farther into the dark corner.
"Please" He begged. "You donīt have to live like this, neither of us do." Violet was shaking her head back and forth so forcefully an onlooker could easily deem she was having a seizure.
"Hey asshole!" It was Bubaīs voice, this was expected, he was her husband after all.
Pete shot a last glance at Violet and said "He canīt see you, none of them can" Something about the words, perhaps the tone, or the determined resignation on Peterīs face made Violet stop. She looked up into his eyes and there was what Pete thought, a perfect instance of clarity, a communication between two souls whom had come to a quiet understanding. Or maybe his mind was just playing tricks on him.
In a deft motion he reached into his jacket pocket. Later accounts of this night would never reveal that he had produced brass knuckles, the element of surprise was on his side.
Buba, being a man of few words had come swinging, this too was expected. Pete stepped to the side but not fast enough, the pool stick broke over his left shoulder, smashing his collarbone. Using his fist like a club he in turn broke Bubaīs nose, the sensation was at once gratifying and sickening as he felt and heard the crunch of bone and cartilage give way. Buba went down.
Pete immediately searched for Zulu, he found him. The tackle was fierce slamming Peterīs back into a concrete wall on whose entirety was painted the confederate flag. They both grunted on impact, Pete out of pain, Zulu for effect. Zulu followed up with a hard right cross, Peterīs jaw held but his knees buckled. He clutched on to the giantīs shirt for balance, knowing that if he hit the floor it was over. With all the strength he could muster he rammed his forearm up into Zuluīs crouch. It did the trick. The big man retreated in anguish and now Pete did hit the floor. Landing on his hands and knees, he struggled to rise in spite of his pounding and spinning head. Also something was very wrong with his left side, which was now beginning to register a blinding pain. He had begun to erect himself when his body went on alert.
He smelled him before he saw him; it was Leech, pissy drunk and attempting to kick Pete in the face. He missed, falling and busting his ass on the floor. Pete rose, trying not to make evident that he was nursing his left arm. He heard Buba shout.
"You fuckin this joker!"
Pete screamed, "No! Iīm over here, its me you want!" His speech was slurred and he noticed there were objects floating around in his mouth, it took a second to sink in, he quickly spit out teeth and blood. Buba was in a full on rage, spittle hung in the corners of his mouth, his breathing was ragged and his eyes were bloodshot. He backhanded Violet so hard, her head bounced off the wall and she fell from her chair. Pete was on him in an instant. Buba braced for the attack but it came too swiftly. Pete was throwing hay-makers with his good arm, the knuckles cutting into Bubaīs face and arms as he tried to ward off the blows.
Then the world went black.
Pete was starring up at the ceiling; there was broken wood all around him and something dark and menacing standing over him, it spit in his face. He felt himself being lifted. There were harmful things happening to him but they seemed far removed from where he was. He realized he may die here tonight and although the possibility had been considered, it was not expected.
He thought of Violet then and knew he could not fail her, he began to fight his way to the surface. As he emerged back to the realm of pain he heard screams and smelled a wet pungent odor. He was being held in a choke-hold, which gratefully he felt loosening by the second, allowing his eyes to adjust and focus. The first thing they saw caused him blink several times to be sure pain, fatigue, and delirium had not overcome him. Buba was thrashing about on the floor holding his throat, which was spouting blood. There were others around him administering aid and comfort and someone was shouting "Call 911" As this sight faded from the background, in the foreground Violet appeared, she was different, for the first time since Pete had laid eyes upon her, she did not look afraid.
"Let him go, now."
There was no anger in her voice, only authority. Zulu tossed Pete aside like a rag doll.
"You fucked up bitch." He warned. " You fucked up real bad."
She was holding him at bay with a broken and bloody bottleneck. As she took a step toward Pete she chanced a glance down in his direction, a mistake. Zulu smacked the crude weapon from her hand and in the same motion snatched her by her hair. Pete tried to get up but his body protested racking him with fresh waves of agony to drive the point home.
Instead of bowing to the pain Violet stepped inside, she clawed at Zuluīs face and was trying to position her head to bite the hand entwined in her hair loosing clumps of it in the process. Pete crawled the few feet toward the violent encounter and rapped himself around one of the black man's legs. Zulu began to stomp him with his free one. Pete bit. Zulu bellowed a roar of pure rage and pushed Violet away from him so he could concentrate on the nuisance below. Momentarily free of the double onslaught he dealt a devastating kick to Peterīs rib cage, which robbed Pete of his already labored breath but did not dislodge him. Before he could ready another blow, Violet returned to continue her assault tooth and nail. Zulu anticipated her and enclosed a considerable hand around her throat as she rushed in, with little effort he lifted her off the floor. She beat and raked at the massive arm, eyes bulging, and panicked, feet dangling, and kicking, as unconsciousness, the cousin of death rapidly approached. During the melee Pete had extracted his pocketknife from its sheath in his belt and now used it to cut Zuluīs Achilles tendon. The formidable man hit the floor screaming profanities, all the fight gone from him.
Violet helped Pete gather himself and they hurriedly began to leave. Behind them Zulu was shouting something over the already tumultuous throng. Instead of making a bee-line for the exit Pete was steering them toward the bar much to Violetīs confusion. He grabbed a full beer that was sitting there and spun in time to smash it over Leechīs head. Leech dropped, as did the large bowie knife he carried for protection. Pete, having used the last of his reserves, slumped against the bar where he and Violet found themselves staring down the double barrel of a sawed off shotgun. After a few moments silent debate Carla lowered the beast.
" Hell boy, I knew you was lookin for trouble, which way ya headin?" There was no answer, Carla gave an exasperated look and said, " I just want to know so I can tell the local boys different, is all" Pete told her and they were out the door.
Outside the pickup was panting obediently, Pete put Violet in the driverīs seat after he removed his Winchester.
" I canīt drive." She said.
" Youīre going to have to learn quick." He replied and began to shoot out tires.
On the road with at least an hourīs head start thanks to Carla, and a heartbreaking but necessary vehicle exchange with a young man who was all to eager to give up his 87 Escort Pony for Peterīs Ford F-1 series Super Duty, Pete and Violet discussed their plans. Pete told Violet about a cabin that he owned in Durham that no one knew about where he would hunt and she could tend garden. Violet expressed her desire to contact and eventually see her family whom Buba had not allowed her to speak to in six years. Pete assured her that once they were settled it would be so. They were going to be all right. He smiled now as he watched her though a haze of pain.
The flower that grew in the dark was blooming.