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To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.

 - Winston Churchill

Chapter Five

Duke’s Paradise

A pretty girl in a place like this was always trouble. Not that this was a bad thing. Eddie liked trouble, and he liked pretty girls. Most of his fellow patrons at Duke’s Paradise felt the same. A potentially dull night suddenly seemed filled with promise. Eddie watched her, partially in admiration and at the urgings of his glands, but also with a mixture of surprise and suspicion. Why would she come into a place like this, and who in their right mind would bring a class act like her to Duke’s?

Farmers, stupid farmers. Eddie should have known. They had that look, and were here seeking excitement, and a good time. They may have heard rumors of the place, and thought they might be able to flirt along the edge of society without falling victim to those which inhabited its dark recesses. On the other hand, maybe they were just too dumb to know any better.

Like any good predator, Eddie immediately recognized prey. Of course, Eddie was far from the only predator in the place. He noted the looks and appraisals, some furtive and some quite direct, of the other violent and self-seeking men who frequented Duke’s. Someone was going to make a play for the woman before the night ended, and heaven help any dumb farmer who stood in the way.

Eddie was here waiting to make a pick up. He was going to trade drugs for guns.  He also liked Duke’s, and was enjoying the company of his fellow bottom dwellers. In his various lines of work, he always needed guns, and was always able to get drugs. 

Duke’s Paradise was an old fashioned roadhouse on the main highway; but was rarely frequented by strangers. It was garishly lighted on the outside, but rather dim and smoky on the inside. Smoking was not permitted in taverns any more, by state law. There were the required no smoking signs posted throughout. They were filled with burn holes. The patrons had found the signs amusing places to put out cigarettes and cigars. A stranger foolish enough to point the signs out to the regular patrons might find himself with a similar burn on his hand or cheek. The tables, booths, and bar top were well stocked with ashtrays.

Any decent person with any sense who walked in would pause a moment, look around nervously, and then walk right back out, relieved to be allowed to do so. Those that stayed, and were allowed to stay, were looking for what Duke’s had to offer.

What Duke’s had to offer was commerce that wouldn’t be permitted in the city. Some of it was seemingly harmless enough, like being able to get moonshine, or cheap cigarettes without tax stamps.  Some was more serious, like the easy availability of drugs, girls, gambling, fighting, and firearms. Some was deadly serious, like arson, various forms of intimidation, and murder – all available here, for a price.

Women rarely came in, except in the company of men who were trying to use them or sell their services. Eddie had little use for women, other than the most basic. Despite his toughness and street smarts, Eddie was not without intelligence. He supposed he probably hated women on some deeper level; but he felt little conscious animosity, particularly when considering an attractive young lady, like the one who had foolishly been brought into Duke’s.

She was slim and firm, with smooth skin darkened to just the right shade by time spent outdoors. Her hair was light, but not quite blonde, or brunette. It was a mixture of both, with bits of red in it. The color, Eddie recalled, was known as auburn. She dressed simply and tastefully, and used make up sparingly if at all.

There were five men with her. Four of them seemed normal enough, which made them quite out of place at Duke’s. The fifth was the reason they had felt safe coming here. He appeared to be a man able to handle himself in any situation, and his companions took shelter in the perceived safety of his presence.

The man was large, strong, and had the easy confidence of a big man. Eddie shook his head sadly. If there had been any pity in him, he almost could have felt sorry for the man. Instead Eddie grinned, trying to produce a grin that was amiable rather than feral. He then walked over to the newcomers.

The bar quieted for a moment, and a sense of disappointment could be felt. The girl was now off limits. Eddie had staked her out as his own. No one here was going to take on Eddie, not for a girl, or for much of anything else. Eddie sensed the change and was pleased by it, reveling in this affirmation of his personal power.

The girl paid no attention at all; but the men with her observed Eddie’s approach carefully. For all of his fearsome reputation, Eddie was not overtly intimidating, particularly when he turned on the charm. He was slim and muscular; but not especially athletic looking. A nose broken and made crooked by a childhood beating, and a smooth smile interrupted by the dent of an imperfectly healed broken jaw, marred a face that might otherwise almost be called pretty.

Ignoring the warning glances of her male companions, Eddie swung a stool over to sit just behind the girl. With a practiced shy smile, he introduced himself. “Hello sweetie. I’m Eddie.”

The big man with her grinned, confident that his size and stance would forestall trouble, and shield him from any that might occur. “Hi Eddie. I’m Vic. The young lady is with someone. Leave her be.”

Before Vic knew there was a fight, Eddie hit him in the side of the head with his beer mug, and smashed the heel of his foot into Vic’s knee. Vic went down, and Eddie grabbed a bar stool and swung it down to catch Vic in the side of the head.

Eddie then swung the stool back to bring it down on the head of one of the other men, and threw a series of punches and kicks at the third man, who quickly went down under the onslaught.  The fourth man had been sitting on the stool Eddie had pulled out, and was just regaining his feet, when he was hammered back down by one of the big glass ashtrays from the bar.

The last man started to wave his hands in circles, and took a bent legged stance with his legs wide apart. He bobbed and weaved, growling and hissing and trying to make himself look fearsome. He looked at Eddie savagely, and warned, “All right buddy, now I’m going to show you a few things. You picked the wrong guy to start trouble with.”

Eddie laughed. “Hey karate man. You gonna show me some of your secrets?”

The man lunged, swinging his arm in a wide and very predictable arc. Eddie dodged and swung a fist low into the man’s now exposed rib cage. The man backed off a bit, and then shouted and swung in a circle to deliver a classic round house kick. Eddie crouched low, under the kick, and then came up catching the man’s leg and twisting him to the ground. Eddie then stomped him in the crotch, and kicked him repeatedly in the head until the man stopped moving.

One of the men on the floor moaned, and tried to rise. Eddie swung a barstool across the back of the man’s head, and held it ready to strike again at the slightest movement. Satisfied that all of his potential attackers were no longer a threat, Eddie approached the young woman again, now assured that his attentions would be undisturbed.

She smiled and shrugged. Eddie was unsurprised. He had always believed that a real woman admired strength and was drawn to a strong man who took what he wanted. As he approached, her smile broadened, and she put her hand in her purse, pulling out a can and spraying him in the face. She then ran for the door.

The pepper spray hurt; but Eddie was no stranger to pain, or to working his way through it. Furious, he swung a hard fist into the side of the woman’s face. When she fell to the floor, he stomped her, just as he would have done to a man. Eddie’s feelings for women, whatever they might be, did not include chivalry.

Eddie felt and heard a bottle ring against the back of his head. He saw stars, and felt his knees start to buckle; but forced himself to turn swinging. Behind him stood Vic, who had somehow managed to find his senses and then his feet. Blood ran down the side of Vic’s hate filled face, as he swung the bottle for another try at Eddie’s head.

Eddie grabbed a large ashtray from the bar and flung it at Vic’s face. Vic managed to dodge the ashtray itself; but it was full of ashes and embers, and they got in his face and hurt his eyes. While Vic staggered and tried to clear his eyes, Eddie pounded the back of his head, and stomped him down to the floor.

Seeing the young woman staggering towards the door, Eddie attempted pursuit; but found that he could not quite get his feet underneath him. He managed to weave and stumble over to a booth and slumped down into it. His head hurt, and he wasn’t seeing so well. He also felt a bit nauseous, and supposed he must have a concussion.

Damn farmers. Every once and a while they get lucky.

Cyril the bartender rushed over, tiptoeing to pick his way through the unconscious men sprawled on the floor. “Eddie, are you OK? Look, I called the police. You need an ambulance. The back of your shirt is all covered with blood. You need to get to a hospital.”

Eddie waved him away, and moaned that he was fine and didn’t need any help from anyone. He soon fell into a sort of a dazed stupor. This was how the paramedics found him when they arrived with a deputy.