Cobb took a deep drag off his Marlboro Red and studied her movements. Bethanny was unsure of herself, even looking up how to make a Greyhound. A Greyhound, for chrissakes! She didn’t use Worcestershire in her Blood Mary and the salt was often left off the rim of the margarita. The regulars wouldn’t complain, though. Bethany had a great pair of gams and any sea dog will tell you that nice legs will make you forget about the missing vermouth.
Old Gearhart in the corner was also watching the girl. His eyes had a vice grip on her every move. Oddly, Bethanny didn’t even notice. Cobb knew every time someone stared at him. He supposed it was a knack he picked up in the war; a soldier had to know when he was being watched. Failing to do so would mean the Reaper. It didn’t happen often, but when a man got it into his head that he needed to have a good long look at Cobb, Cobb would certainly teach that man a lesson.
The last time Cobb had to educate a man was March of 2011. Some Ichabod Crane-looking fellow came into the Hound and ponied up next to Cobb. The man forgot his manners.
“Can I help you with something?” Cobb finally asked, under the heat of the man’s unrelenting stare.
“You look familiar,” Ichabod had said.
“I doubt it. I’m not a familiar man.”
“No, really, I think I know you.”
“And I’m telling you, I’m familiar with no one.”
“It’s just that, about four years ago…”
“That’s enough, sir. I don’t care to hear your memories.”
“But nothing. See this beer? I plan to finish it in silence. Then, I’m going to order a JD. After a shot or two, I plan to go about on my merry way. I plan to do all of this without an audience, do you understand me?”
“No, I remember now! You were…”
Well, poor gangly Ichabod didn’t have a chance to finish his sentence. Cobb had ripped the man off his barstool and escorted him out of the Hound with the grace of a bull rider. When Cobb went back in the Hound, no one so much as glanced at him; they all knew how he was. Cobb never learned Ichabod’s true name, and he never would because the man was not to be seen again at the Hound.
One night, a few weeks after the incident, Cobb was walking home from the Hound and felt someone following him. Cobb turned down a shadowed alley and walked slowly. When he reached the gate that caused a dead end, Cobb turned swiftly around to find a tall figure in front of him. Cobb remained ready for such incidents, and the man didn’t even have time to react before Cobb’s knife plunged deeply into his side. Cobb removed the knife and wiped the stranger’s blood on his handkerchief. Then, Cobb walked with a gentle stride back down the alley and towards his home. He never looked back.
Cobb suspected Ichabod and the Alley Man were connected, but he never knew for sure. He had been giving it a lot of thought lately, though. Against his character, he became curious what event four years ago would have united him with Ichabod. Then, it suddenly occurred to him. Exactly four years ago from that March, Cobb was working in a mechanic’s shop. Ichabod – whose name was actually Ryan – had been one of the automotive technicians. It had been Ryan’s first gig in auto work, and so was relegated to oil changes and tire rotations – nothing too technical. One Monday morning, Ryan was supposed to rotate the tires on an F-150. He hadn’t jacked the truck correctly and the thing came down on top of him, effectively slicing off his right leg. If Cobb hadn’t pulled the kid by the arm at the last minute, Ryan’s whole torso would have been cleaved. Cobb had seen much worse in the war, but he still couldn’t get used to the sounds men make when they see the inside of their bodies for the first time.
Cobb quit the auto shop not long after that. Subsequent jobs ended in failure. A man had to know himself, and Cobb knew the best skill he had was warming bar stools and drinking cold beer. Plenty of people tried to know him, get into his life in some way or another. That wasn’t Cobb’s style. Days came and went, doling out the good and the bad in equal portion. Cobb just realized, perhaps more clearly than others, that sometimes lives got saved and sometimes men got themselves stabbed. It was all just happenstance, anyway.
The only thing a man could really do was make sure right now was as it should be. For example, A bartender should know how to make a drink, and she should know who her regulars were. Anyone who didn’t know how her bread got buttered was a fool. That was why Cobb knew he had to educate Bethanny just as he had educated the rest. When he finished his drink, Cobb went around to the back door and crouched in the dark space by the dumpster. Bethanny’s shift would be over soon and she would leave out this door. Soon, she, too, would learn the importance of a good drink.
Note: The first sentence was written by AE Smith, posted http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/09/26/flash-fiction-challenge-one-amazing-sentence/