Now, he walks right into another situation because Norman "Knuckles" Taylor is at the bar, and he wants desperately to take the man in. I'll explain here in case I did not post the prior scene. Previously, Joseph went back to the bond office and was given a skip ticket for none other than Norman "Knuckles" Taylor. Only thing is, Knuckles is a big time player in the local crime underworld, and noboby really thinks he can be brought in. Joe takes the skip because Knuckles' bail is set at a cool million dollars. This means that Joseph's cut would be one hundred thousand dollars.
By sundown the next day, Joe couldn't stand it any more. He had to see Paulina. He had to know why she suddenly pushed him away the night before. Was it something he did? He wasn't ready to confront her at the Pink Pony, but figured she'd be working, and besides, he may just find Knuckles there. He needed to make some progress on cornering the thug, and he wasn't going to do it chasing some woman around.He saw Knuckles as soon as he walked into the Pink Pony. The man sat at a large round table in front of the stage, surrounded by his bodyguards. Paulina stood in front of him with her order form in her hand. He said something to her, and she held her hand up, shaking it as a gesture of saying no. He said something else to her, Joe couldn't quite make out through the noise in the bar, and she put a hand on her hip while pointing a finger at him. She looked upset, but she wasn't yelling loud enough for him to make out her words. Knuckles said something else to her and she flipped him off."Fuck you," Joe heard her say this time, over the din in the bar.She turned to walk away, but she must not have seen Knuckles' cronies get up from the table and walk around behind her when she flipped him off. Sam stood behind the bar, watching everything but not doing a damn thing. Knuckles reached forward and grabbed Paulina's arm, yanking her violently into his lap. That's when instinct took over, and Joe sprung to action.He ran directly to the table using his momentum to smash his arm into the head of one of the thugs moving in on Paulina. The thug flew into the man beside him, their heads clunking like empty coconuts before they both fell to the floor with a thud, like a fifty-pound sack of flour. The third man was pulling his arm back, getting ready to pop Joe in the head, but it was too late, Joe swept his leg around and caught the man at the knee. He went down like the other two, falling into a table and breaking it, sending glasses and customers flying. He turned and prepared to face down Knuckles. He was already moving when he heard the faint but distinct sound of a hammer being drawn back and clicking into place. He stopped, dead in his tracks. Knuckles had one hand around Paulina's neck, and the other around a handgun. Oddly enough, Paulina didn't look scared in the least little bit. She looked angry, something animal in her eyes. She had the same look he thought he'd seen from her in the alley the night he brought Lefty into the station. Only this time, fighting back could get her a bullet in her chest, and Knuckles' file suggested he wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger. On top of all that, he was smart enough to lawyer up and claim self defense. If he hadn't already jumped bail, he'd probably walk, but Paulina wouldn't.Joe backed away, bringing his hands up over his head. The other three thugs were getting up, and he knew they were going to get some retaliatory punches in on him since Knuckles had a gun aimed at him. He could take the three of them out. Knuckles held the gun in his right hand, to the side of Paulina, exposed, and vulnerable to attack. He could reach his left hand forward with his finger extended, catching the hammer in the webbing between his finger and thumb. He could follow it with his right palm into Knuckles' nose, rendering him useless, or possibly, dead. He couldn't do dead; he needed the money for bringing him. He knew he couldn't stop Knuckles and his three goons at one time. No, he was going to have to take a few punches, and try to snatch Paulina away somewhere in the confusion, shoving her safely away from the gun poking into her side.He looked at Paulina, trying to send her some kind of mental message, hoping she could see his plan in his eyes. She didn't look scared in the least little bit. In fact, she had a look in her eyes that was predatory. Her eyes even seemed to glow, as if they picked up some unseen light source and reflected it back. He wondered if she had a plan, although, if she did, he feared for her even more. Especially, if her plan was anything like the one she had with Lefty.The first blow came to his midsection. They were going right for the kidneys, but he reflexively bent over to absorb as much of the punch as he could. The second punch landed squarely on his jaw, just as he anticipated. With that, he stood back up, straight into the arms of the two thugs standing on either side of him. As they grabbed onto his shoulders, he used them as leverage to kick his left foot up, knocking the gun out of Knuckles' hand. The gun flew off somewhere behind him. Another punch came to his kidneys, and he wasn't quite ready for it, a deep grunt escaping him.Knuckles suddenly released Paulina, pushing her off to the side as he moved forward to get his licks in. Joe took the two punches to his ribs, but he was more concerned with Paulina. The punches made him bend forward, more grunts surely giving his opponents a thrill, but he straightened after each punch and looked for Paulina. She had moved out of sight, probably standing beside the bartender behind the bar. Knuckles squeezed his hand around Joe's neck, and moved close to him, talking in a whisper."If I ever see you again, I'll fuck you up." His breath reeked of whiskey and cigarettes. "You understand me, boy?"Joe said nothing, and it took all of his restraint not to head butt Knuckles, and lay out his thug buddies. No one called him 'boy' if they wanted to live. Besides, there were only four of them, all bunched up against him. Hell, he could take them out two at a time, but for now anyway, he needed to just stand there and take an ass whooping. He couldn't take a chance on this thing turning into a gunfight, and there was no doubt, they'd all go to guns if he started kicking their asses.Knuckles stepped back, looking at him, sizing him up. Joe gave him nothing except some feigned struggling against the two losers holding him by the arms. Knuckles slapped him hard across his face, another thing that would get him killed if the situation were different. The sucker punch landed next, right to his midsection. Joe absorbed the punch but exaggerated the pain, allowing his knees to buckle. Knuckles turned to retrieve his gun, and his two goons dropped Joe to the floor, stepping over him as they followed. The third goon got one last kick into his gut as he stepped over him. His posse reassembled, Knuckles left the bar.Joe waited until the door shut behind Knuckles and his gang to stand up. Paulina ran out from behind the bar and toward him. He was happy, thinking his act of heroism would convince her to finally explain herself to him, lower her guard and admit her feelings for him. He was certainly ready to admit his feelings for her. He opened his arms as she approached, waiting for to jump into him with a big thankful hug. Instead, she stopped short and slapped him over the same cheek Knuckles slapped earlier. Her slapped stunned him. He stood motionless and confused as she pointed a finger at him, and started a rant he would probably never figure out."What the hell did you think you were doing?" Paulina seemed genuinely pissed, not at all thankful. "They were giving me great tips."Joe could do nothing. There simply was no way to respond."I'm so sick of you showing up and trying to play hero. I'm sick of you walking around thinking everyone needs to be saved."Something gave Joe the sinking feeling she was just getting started."I can take care of myself, you know. I had the situation under control.""Yeah," he said. "I like the way you controlled that gun pointed at you, and some thug practically having his way with you right in the middle of the bar." He realized it was wrong to say it, but it just slipped out.Paulina fell silent. The whole bar became silent, even the music had stopped, as if they were in some surreal spaghetti western, and the gunfighter just challenged someone in the saloon. Paulina opened her mouth to speak, her finger still pointing at him, and he prepared himself for the onslaught."You know, Joe, you’re an asshole." Paulina didn't look mad anymore, she looked like she was about to cry. "Just get out," she said. "Get out the bar, and get out of my life." She turned, and ran behind the bar and through the doors to the kitchen.There was nothing left for him to do, but leave. The entire bar was silent, every eye upon him. Without another word, he left the bar, half-expecting Knuckles and his thugs to be waiting for him outside. May have been waiting for him but luck was on his side. They were too busy discussing something in the parking lot. Joe found, in his experience, every failure presented in itself, opportunities for future success. Joe stepped into the shadows and quietly waited. With luck, Knuckles would give him the opportunity he was looking for.
Hope you enjoyed this week's work in progress post. I may skip ahead in the coming weeks as I complete the draft and begin the initial edit. After finishing the first edit, I'll send the entire manuscript out to anyone willing to read and comment on the project. I'm willing to take whatever feedback I can get, from grammar comments to story concept, character development or overall feeling of the story. Thanks for joining this week.
Until next week, then...