Soon they were pulling up to the ramshackle wooden abode. A single, dusty light hung over a railed porch that looked weatherbeaten and unstable. Luke was actually surprised when he felt how sturdy the thing was as he followed Jack inside. Once past the doorway, the floor immediately descended into a set of creaky wooden stairs. Only able to navigate by following Jack's swaggering gait, Luke was a bit relieved when the reached a rather spacious, but dimly lit tavern. Despite the lack of other cars parked out front, there were a few other customers mostly confined to the corners where they sat nearer the dark like silhouettes of themselves. Luke also noted the barman wiping down a counter with a sodden brown rag that looked as though it had once been another color.
The barman, as tall and thick as an oak tree, looked up at the sound of their footsteps as his scarred face switched from grimace to a fearful glare. His eyes squinted, which enhanced the appearance of a large scar that ran down over his left eye. As Luke's eyes adjusted, he noticed the eye was glass. He glanced around once more, suddenly a little less at ease, but this was not the place to show such a weakness.
"Panther!" cried out the barman in what was both a declaration and an accusation. "What the fuck? You said you wouldn't come back here!"
"Simmer down, Smithe," replied Jack coolly, "And for the record I said I'd only be back if it was important, and that's exactly what it is."
"I can't have you in here, Panther. There's trouble enough as it is without you waltzing in here." To Luke, Smithe seemed genuinely afraid, and he didn't blame the guy one bit.
Panther Jack chuckled at this reply and smiled, his silver teeth the only shine in the place. "Relax," he said, "I'll be out of your hair before you know it, an' I'll keep the trouble to a minimum."
"PJ, is that you?" said a laughing gentleman from one of the corners. Standing behind Jack, Luke looked over to watch a large, drunken man stand from the darkness and stride confidently closer. "Well if it isn't. How ya' doin', PJ?" He smiled as he spoke, like a schoolyard bully.
Panther scowled, just for a moment, and then, with movements that caught Luke by surprise, Jack was on top of the laughing man and blood was pooling at his feet. Jack stood over the gurgling figure that had dropped to the floor like a burlap sack. He lit another cigarette and grinned as he pulled it to his lips with one gloved and bloodied hand. "I told you what would happen if you ever called me out like that again didn't I, Pence? You dumb fuck."
Jack kicked the poor quivering figure in the head as he walked on to take a seat in a more secluded spot. Everyone in the room sat still for a moment, almost calculating, except Luke who pressed himself tightly against a wall with his fingers almost digging into the wood, panting like a trapped rabbit. It was Smithe who broke the silence, "Panther, just do your business and get out!"
"Aww Smithe, now that's no way to speak to an old friend," Jack replied, sitting and kicking his big black boots up on the table in front of him. "I'll leave when I'm done. Boy, get over here." He motioned to Luke, who stepped tentatively over to the table as Smithe looked down and swabbed at the bar in an attempt not to be involved.
Luke sat across from Jack with a sheen of sweat on his forehead. "Jesus, Jack, what have you done?"
"I know," Jack replied, "Bastard made me get my hands dirty. I've been trying to avoid that these days." Jack grinned and flicked some ash from the tip of his cigarette onto the floor. Leaning forward with a slight smile, he stared Luke up and down before speaking. "Now then, forget about him" he said, motioning to the now still body on the floor, "if I told you half the things he did you'd shed no tears. What's more important is you payin' me off."
Luke swallowed hard, wanting to run toward the door and never look back, but inside of him something froze, keeping him locked in his seat. "Jack, I-" he stammered, "I can't get involved in this. I... I have a different life now."
"I know, you got yerself a cat and a house, both of which are gone. So what?"
"Jack, all I ever did for you was run packages.. I don't want anything like this!"
"I promise ya," said Jack with almost a regal air of sincerity, "I won't ask you to kill anybody, -not even pieces of shit like that one lyin' on the ground - but I need your expertise."
"I- I don't move things anymore Jack."
Panther threw his head back and laughed loud, and honest, and long. Hit lit another smoke as he stared Luke up and down; the cold, grey eyes piercing Luke to his very core. "Skunk'll always smell," said Jack, settling back on his chair. "Anyhow, you know how to get stuff around, and I've got big stuff to move. The real question is," said Jack, leaning in a little closer, "do ya' want to be free of me once and for all, or are you going to make me convince ya'?"
Luke swallowed hard, glancing once more at the dead figure he kept trying to block out of his vision. "Just this and I'm done? Really?"
"I promise, boy," Jack said with a smile as he wrapped his hands behind his head, "One last little run and you're in the clear. Ya' never did me wrong before so I'm willing to go a little easy on you in this case."
Luke sighed and slumped over the edge of the table. "Okay," he said in what was barely a whisper, "wh- what do you need?"
"Good choice, son." Jack motioned at the bar, "Hey Smithe, two bourbons and don't give me the watered down shit you serve to the suckers." He turned, staring Luke right in the eye as he spoke. "Now ya' gotta listen. This is very important."
Luke,resigned to his lot and waiting for the bourbon to steel his courage, did as he was told.
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