Chapter 1–Making Friends

As he approached the pool table, Erik immediately saw the shot he was going to take.  However, as had been ingrained into him over the years by both his father and grandfather, he took his time looking over his options.  As he examined the table, his opponent, a rough looking biker going by the name Digger, smirked and shouted over the din of the jukebox, “Face it, kid, there ain’t shit for you to shoot at!”  Though he was twenty-seven years old, Erik often had a hard time convincing people he was even legal to vote.  With his easy smile, tousled reddish gold hair, and thin, athletic build, he looked like he had just stepped out of his high school yearbook.

They were playing nine-ball in a bar called Shooters.  It wasn’t the type of place Erik normally went for a few beers and fun conversation.  But, his car had broken down late in the day just outside of town and wouldn’t be fixed until tomorrow when the parts came in at the shop.  With nothing else to do for the evening, he had walked over to Shooters from his motel room, planning to have a beer or two before heading back to bed.  That had been the plan anyway.  Five hours later, he was looking over a pool table with a thousand dollars on the line.  Of course, if I do win, there’s a fair chance I’ll either not get paid or that I’ll get mugged on my way out the door, he thought.

According to the rules of the game, all he had to do was hit the lowest numbered ball on the table with the cue ball.  Anything that dropped after that was legal and if the nine went in, the game was won.  It was a fast game and ideal for hustlers since there was an infinite number of ways the game could be won and be made to look lucky.

Erik wasn’t a hustler, though he didn’t shy away from gambling on a game of pool every now and again.  He was smart enough to know there were plenty of people out there who were much better than he.  He also had the confidence to know he could stand his ground against all but the very best.  He looked at the shot again.  The ball he needed to hit was the five.  The two and three had dropped on Digger’s break shot and he’d followed that with sinking the four on a combination, then the ace in a side pocket.  He’d played safe on the five, burying it behind a cluster of balls near the end rail and leaving the cue ball at the opposite end of the table.  Erik could see the right side of the five, about a third of the ball.  Just enough of it to bank it off the rail and into that cluster of balls protecting it like a group of sentries.  The angle was right for the five ball to carom off the cluster and, if hit perfectly, roll into the corner pocket.  Doing so would open up the table for an easy run but Erik also saw an opportunity to end it here and now.  With just a touch of right English, or spin, he could make the five and also send the cue ball two rails and probably tap the nine into the lower left corner pocket.  Question is, how badly do I want to piss off Digger?

“C’mon asshole, we ain’t got all night!  Shoot the damn ball so’s I can clean the table after you miss,” Digger shouted at him.  That settled it for Erik.  He chalked his stick, took careful aim, and fired the white rock at the five.  The five went into the rail, bounced back and clipped the seven, then rolled neatly into the corner pocket.  The cue ball hit two rails, barely missed the eight ball, then rolled slowly across the table toward the nine, losing speed as it went.  There was just enough oomph left for it to nudge the nine into the pocket.  It fell with a satisfying plunk.

Erik turned and looked at Digger, who was purple with rage.  “You lousy asshole!  That’s the luckiest shot I’ve seen in years!  Hell, that weren’t luck, you’re a hustler!”

Erik smiled sheepishly and said, “Nah, I’m no hustler.  If I was, you’d be out a lot more than a grand.”  He walked over and held out his hand.  “Speaking of which….”

“I don’t pay hustlers, you prick.  You want your money, you’re gonna just have to take it.”  With that, Digger smiled and leaned back against the bar.  “Course, my buddies here might not take it too well if’n you decided to get physical with me.”  While Digger wasn’t much bigger than Erik, if you didn’t take into account the biker’s beer gut, the guys on either side of him looked as though they could bench press their Harleys without breaking a sweat.  They stood with their arms crossed, veins bulging against biceps that looked as big as bowling balls.  Tattoos ran up and down their arms, mostly naked women and motorcycle logos.

“Ok, look, I’m not looking for any trouble.  You don’t want to pay me, that’s cool.  Just means you’re a cheap bastard who not only got beat by someone about half his age but you don’t have the balls to stand up and take it like a man.”  Erik took a couple steps back, then turned as if he were going to leave.

“Y’know, you’re a wise ass.  Maybe your daddy didn’t teach you any manners.  Looks like I’m gonna have to show you what happens to people who screw with me.”  As Digger and his pals began to walk toward Erik, a small figure stepped in front of them.

“Whoa, whoa, now just hold on a minute, sunshine.  Seems to me the man here beat you fair and square.  Now you want to kick his ass because he beat you at a game of pool?  What the fuck is that all about?”  Digger looked down and saw a young man dressed in a black leather jacket and worn jeans.  Dark hair curled around his collar as looked up at Digger.  “Let’s say we settle this like men.  Rather than talk about who’s got the biggest dick, which is really what this is all about, we’ll all just go into the bathroom and find out for sure.  Then, when we all see how much of a pussy you really are, we’ll have a good laugh and then get drunk.  What do you say?”

“Who the fuck are you?” Digger bellowed.  “Listen boy, I’ve shit turds bigger than you.”

The newcomer looked at Digger and said, “Dude, with an ass that size, somehow I’m not surprised.  Now, I’d suggest you pay the man his money before you have some sort of accident.”

Confused, as no one ever stood up to him, Digger wasn’t sure how to react for a moment.  Mental clarity was restored courtesy of one of his buddies who shouted, “Kick his ass, too, Digger!”

The bar had grown quiet as the patrons watched the drama unfold.  This was turning out to be much more interesting than the ball game on TV.  “Yeah, c’mon Digger, kick my ass.  Let’s see exactly what kind of tough guy you really are, you fat piece of shit.”  The newcomer set down his mug of beer and waved Digger forward with both hands.  “You want to play Billy Bad Ass, let’s go!”

Erik stepped forward and, looking at the new guy, said, “Hey, back off.  I can handle this myself.”

“Didn’t look too much like you were handling it, buddy.  Looked to me like you were being a puss.”

“Fuck you.  I know what I’m doing,” Erik yelled back at him.  He took a step forward and turned to Digger.  “And you, what exactly is your fucking problem?  Either pay me my money or…”

“Or what, kid?  You and the midget gonna take on me and my boys?  Hey, that’s cool.  Haven’t had a good ass stomping here in a while,” Digger laughed.  As he said that, two more leather clad behemoths stepped up beside him.

“Y’know, for a dick for brains piece of shit, you sure talk an awful lot,” the newcomer said.  “But, now if you’re going to bring more friends to the party, that means I’m going to have to invite a friend too.”  With that, he pointedly looked over Digger’s shoulder and nodded.

Digger turned and found he was staring into a T-shirt clad chest.  He looked up into a boyishly grinning face.  Digger took a step back and sized up this new problem.  Over six and a half feet of pure muscle, hands the size of frying pans, and denim-clad legs the size of tree trunks.  With a voice like a thunder rumble, he looked at Digger and said, “Hey there, how you doing?”

“That’s Tim.  You can call him Sir.”  The newcomer gestured to himself, “I’m Matt.  You can call me your worst fucking nightmare.”

Erik said, “Last chance, pal.  You want to back off before this gets real ugly, real quick?  We walk away, you sit down, and all is well with the world.”

“Fuck that, your ass is mine!”  Digger rushed forward and all hell broke loose.  As Digger ran at him as though he were trying to sack the quarterback in a title game, Erik sidestepped and tripped him, sending Digger into a table piled high with beer mugs and pitchers.  The crash was tremendous as glass shattered against the wood floor.  Matt was a frenzy of motion, snapping the knee of one biker with a kick, then firing a fist into the nose of another.  Meanwhile, Tim had picked the two largest bikers for himself.  He slammed a fist into the stomach of one of them, following it with a knee to the face as the biker doubled over.  The crack of the fracturing jaw resounded against the tavern walls.  He then grabbed the other one and head butted him, smashing the biker’s nose to a pulp.  A right cross sent him flying onto the pool table.

As Digger got up from the floor, he staggered toward Erik while holding a shard of glass he had picked up.  “Kid, I’m gonna cut you up so bad your momma won’t recognize the corpse.”  As he grinned, blood poured from his smashed lips.  Erik faced him with both hands held in front of him.  Glancing to his right, he noticed two pool balls sitting on the table and within easy reach.  He snatched them up and shot the first one at Digger’s hand, knocking the glass shard away and breaking two of his fingers.  Like a bullet, the second ball hit Digger square in the forehead and knocked him out cold.  He hit the floor and didn’t move.

Matt took out the biker with the smashed knee with a snap kick to the face, then spun to see how the others were faring.  Tim was facing off the last biker, who had pulled a pistol.  “Buddy, I hope you’re a real good shot with that thing,” Tim said.  “Because you ain’t getting but once chance.”  Tim slowly advanced toward him, staring him in the eyes.

Matt came up from the right and caught the biker’s attention.  In a low voice, he monotoned, “We are not the people you seek.  We are free to go.  Move along.”  The biker cocked his head, looking for all the world like a puppy who had just heard someone fart.  Just then, Tim reached out and grabbed the man’s gun arm, pointing it straight up in the air.  The gun went off, putting a hole in the ceiling as people screamed.  Apparently, bar fights were nothing too extraordinary but gun play was still a rarity around here.  Tim wrenched the gun from him and flung it away.  He then smashed an elbow into his face, knocking him unconscious in an instant.  “Asshole, pointing a gun at me.  Oughta take that gun and shove it up your ass.”

Matt walked over to where Digger lay and reached into his pocket, removing a roll of bills.  He took it over to the bartender and handed it to him.  “If you’d be so kind, please roll off the thousand he owes my friend here.  Keep the rest for damages.”  The barkeep peeled off ten hundreds, handing them to Erik as he said with a smirk, “About time those assholes got what was coming to them.  Lucky those two other fellas showed up, hey?”

As Erik put the bills in his pocket, he replied, “They aren’t ‘fellas’ and it wasn’t luck.  They’re my brothers and if they’re here, I have a feeling I’m in for some deep shit.”

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