Billy and Vincent returned to the fireplace sporting various signs of fighting – Vincent’s shirt was torn, Billy had a thick lip and black eye. Neither man seemed put out by the fight and their debate about ghosts was still raging. Billy rubbed bruised and scuffed knuckles as he sat down by the fire. James looked at Vincent, his attention on the overall lack of damage. He was taller than Billy which gave him extra reach but there was more to it than that. Something in the way Vincent carried himself suggested that he’d been hurt in the past, knew his limits and a mere fight wasnt going to knock him off-kilter. Knowledge of his limits gave him the edge, allowed him tactically to absorb blows while maneuvering for the right opening in his opponent, in this case Billy. James had seen fights in the past, seen the way that Billy let his anger flare and make him reckless. Vincent’s fights had been clean, swift and showed little remorse … he was a pro where Billy was clearly the amateur.
Across the room the barman called “time”.
The woman draped around Billy lifted herself off him in a single fluid movement. She took two steps outside of the cozy drinking circle and looked back at Billy, “So, I’ll cut you a deal …”
Through split lip and rapidly swelling eye he grinned, “You got it!” then followed her out of the bar.
James shook his head – not much of a conquest there. The only victory he could forsee would be Billy returning to drink another night having _not_ caught some unspeakable disease from the dockside street-walker. James remembered being marched to a clinic when he was a kid after cutting his hand on one of his dad’s butcher’s knives. It was only a few blocks away. The proximity of the hotel and clinic seemed somehow fortuitous. James shook his head. Not at all. It was deliberate, missionaries or something. In his whiskey clogged brain, James tried to pull fragments of thought together: there had been an announcement from Reverend Monkton, the father of the free “temperence cabs”. Apparently the cabs were free, but you couldnt be drunk if you wanted to ride in one. It had the immediate effect of slowing down drinking in a number of the low-income guys, but James had never seen the point in them himself. He made a mental note to let Billy know that the clinic was both free, and close by, should he catch something from his evening of pleasure.
Zachary and Drew approached him from different directions. James tried to concentrate, swinging his head from one man to the other. Zacahary spoke first and then Drew interrupted him, then Zachary interrupted Drew. James tried to follow them in his drunken state, gave up and focussed on Drew as he approached. Before he caught on to the ploy, Zachary had lifted the precious bottle of whiskey from his lap.
“Hey!” James said, swinging to face him and reaching for the bottle. Zachary smiled and easily dodged the move.
Drew stepped in close and helped James out of his seat and got his drunk legs under him. They moved across the room and out the main door. Vincent called a “goodbye” to James as he exited and while he was distracted, Drew pried the glass from his drunk hand. That was too much for James and he swung a punch. Drew wasnt fast enough and the punch connected with his jaw sending him staggering back a half step.
“Now, now.” he said, rubbing the side of his face.
James shook his aching knuckles. It felt like he’d punched a wall. If some men had a glass jaw, Drew seemed to have been made with the exact opposite. Drew handed the drink to Zachary who walked over to the bar. Drew maneuvered James outside and rubbing his jaw dropped the drunk into the nearest puddle he could find.