Rule number one while working security in a boomtown: a living roughneck does more work than a dead one. Rule number two: there’s plenty more waiting to take his place.
Eight saloons-turned-speakeasies flecked a slapdash shanty town as it, in turn, choked the muddy streets of Breckenridge, TX. Born from the roughnecks’ constant efforts to hold back mud while bringing forth oil, the bars aggravated the once quaint cattle village like horse flies on a dead calm day. Save it was night, and the last of the biting flies had stiffened and dropped in a hard frost around Thanksgiving. Prohibition had failed even a piss poor semblance of the cold’s effectiveness.
Then again, I reckon public drunkenness and the nitro-blasting of liquid gold from the begrudging Cambrian limestone of Texas’ underbelly rightly go hand in hand. That’s where I come in.
The Bloody Bucket had served as purveyor of intoxicating lubricants to a majority of the J&J Company men for most of the winter. Entering through the back, I had just closed my eyes to begin my mantra when the flap-trapping commenced between an Irishman and a yokel.
“If ya hadn’t a dropped the hammer less than tree seconds after giving ‘er the soup we hadn’t a blown out over two hundred feet a casing, ya flat-headed idgit.”
It hadn’t taken sixteen years experience as a Ranger to know the explosion at Edelstein #6 earlier that day would leave pockets of bitterness and blame only liquor could light off.
“If your foul-smelling excuse for a mother had ever learned you to count higher than the remaining fingers on your left hand, you’d knowed I cleared the torpedo by a full seven ticks.”
The threat of mortality and the loss of pay had drained their tanks of all save the liquor’s fumes. A well-placed insult had sparked ‘em off, and three dozen onlookers served as backdraft, sucking the fetid air from the room. I opened my eyes as a mug full of beer struck the hastily-milled floorboards still dripping with pitch.
“Saint Patrick as my witness, I got a fistful of knuckles on me right, you noodle-armed bastard.”
Striding toward the ruffians, I registered the nature and range of their motions. Irish led with a predictably slow haymaker, wheeling from too far outside his core. Yokel threw up a block with his left, uppercut with his right. Without focus or force, the blow glanced off both chest and chin.
Having lost his center, Irish stumbled. Flailing his left, he caught an onlooker in the nose, inviting a plus-one to the party. Three strides away a metallic flick honed my senses as Yokel drew a knife. Closing my eyes, I used the back of my lids as photo paper to sear Yokel’s four strike points into my consciousness.
Before me I see a wooden dummy, two dirty bands of cloth wrapped around its top and middle. Opium smoke clings to the walls of my throat and lungs while chirruping Mandarin Chinese packs my ears like molasses and gauze.
Elbows in and muscles relaxed, I focus my forty-year-old frame. Eyes open, the saloon returns. Strike one hyperextends Yokel’s thrusting elbow. He drops the knife. Before it falls six inches, strike two, a vertical-fist straight punch to the solar plexus, stuns him. As the knife hits the floor, strike three, a finger punch to the throat, drops him faster than the knife.
Upset at the intrusion, Irish announces his intentions with an ejaculation of inane banter. Lunging with a left at the back of my head, he barely ducks a wild right from Plus One who cracks his knuckles across the jaw of Plus Two. Invitations are flying faster than I can seat the guests.
I dip and spin, letting Irish’s blow whiff over me while sweeping his feet. Catching him, I bury my knee in his groin before hurling him backwards. He strikes Plus Two, a burly roughneck with tightly wound hair bursting from his neck and sleeves, and bowls him over.
Finally, I charge Plus One, a lanky chap in a butcher’s apron. Temporarily frozen, he fails to utilize his extra reach. With three quick chain-punches, two to his chest and one to his already bloodied nose, the fight’s over. I blink until time resumes its normal pace, filling the room with sound.
That was that. Another normal evening in Breckenridge, another training session.