In a bar, a timid young man finds himself between a woman with a curious nickname and a nasty-tempered assailant.
“Five Fingers,” she said.
I could barely hear her over the noise. Someone had just
asked one of the bartenders to turn up the TV. Loud games and beery voices
usually get to me. This time, it didn’t matter, though. She seemed to bring
with her a kind of peace in the middle of all this drunken racket.
“Five Fingers,” she said a little louder, smiling to herself.
“That’s your name?”
Her face was, I don’t know, angelic—not the usual hard-ass
kind you see in these places. She was small, too. Maybe five-three or five-four.
No visible tattoos. Her long, dark hair fell softly over her shoulders. Her
clear, dark eyes seemed deep and full of understanding. I immediately felt
something for her.
“Okay,” she said. “What is it you do?”
“Well, you know.”
The crowd roared as the ball was stolen with two minutes left
in the fourth period. Some idiot bumped into the girl, making her spill her
“Hey, watch it, will you?” I said, not wanting to sound rude.
“Watch it yourself.” His dull eyes were thick with beer and
My stomach started to knot up. I could already see it coming.
The girl would have to understand. I’m just not good at this kind of thing. It’s
not in my DNA to take swings at other guys in bars. Besides, the last time
something like this happened, I got the crap kicked out of me. Two cracked ribs
and one capped tooth later, I felt I had learned my lesson.
She must have seen the fear in my eyes because when I turned
to leave, she reached out for my hand. It was a move anyone could have mistaken
for a friendly, meaningless handshake.
“Let me see,” she said, turning my palm up and examining the
dark lines. “You have tendencies toward Love. I can tell you care about things.”
“Not butt-kicking contests, though.”
“So what? What’s a jerk like that got to do with anything?”
“Shh!” He was still close by.
“You really need to relax,” she said. “Don’t take things so
seriously all the time.”
“You don’t get it.” Now I’m talking in a low voice through
clenched teeth like a bad ventriloquist. “These kinds of people can get mean. Then
they call you out. I know what I’m talking about.”
“Violence is useless in a literate society,” she said.
“Literate!” I laughed—I couldn’t help it. “We’re dealing with
the Piltdown Man. The Terminator. Jason Statham. Where does ‘literate’ even
enter into it?”
“You know what I mean.”
“And anyway, Piltdown Man was a fake,” she said.
“I know, but this guy’s for real. I’m just not comfortable.”
“Have you always been this paranoid?”
“Ever since I learned that there are people in the world who
want me dead.”
“Let me see your hand again.”
I liked feeling her fingers glide over my skin. The shiny,
dark red nails reflecting light, the soft fingertips lingering in places. It
tickled and aroused me at the same time.
“You have a very long lifeline. What’re you worried about?”
There were fifteen seconds left. Godzilla must have had a lot
of money riding on the game because now he was beating his fist on the bar.
“One twenty-eight to one twenty-seven!” he said. “C’mon, I
can’t lose now! Get me the ball and let’s go!”
It suddenly came to me that this cretin was my age. We might’ve
gone through school together, lived in the same neighborhood. His hands were
twice as large as mine. His neck was as big around as my waist. He had on heavy,
black Doc Martens that made him seem even taller. Maybe he was an off-duty cop
or a security guard. Maybe he played pro ball at one time and had to get out
when his knees turned to Jell-O.
Suddenly, he noticed me staring at him. Thinking fast, I dove
into the nut bowl.
“Cashew?” I said to the girl.
She laughed at me. The way she looked at me then, it was like
she was peering through glass at a frozen specimen of something delicate. Something
never meant to survive in the real world. And in her laughter, I could hear
pity for a person who was unable to stand up to stupid threats and leering
insinuations. At the bottom of it, though, there was forgiveness.
“Don’t worry,” she said. Her voice was calm.
I didn’t know if she meant not to worry about that animal
punching me in the nose or about my chances with her. In a little while, the
game ended. The Demogorgon lost by one point. He was furious. And drunk. Scooping
up his change from the bar, he faced me, a vicious light in his red-rimmed eyes.
It was like I had been the cause of his bad luck.
“You piss me off,” he said like a hairy boar.
The girl was sitting between us. I panicked. What if he
attacked her? I’m just not equipped to handle a situation like this. These
bartenders should have a crowbar or something they keep hidden on the floor
just in case. I didn’t want to get involved.
“Let’s get out of here!” I said and hopped off the stool.
“What?” The girl had been using a small mirror to check one
of her contacts.
He blinked at her, hoping, I guess, that she would get out of
the way so we men could have it out. But she just sat there, examining her eye
and flipping her hair back.
Desperate, I searched for a bartender. Most of them were busy.
One of them was way at the other end of the bar, laughing with one of the
“Hey, weenie!” Bluto said, sucking the phlegm from his raw
sinuses and swallowing it.
I refused to meet his eyes and instead shot quick darting
glances at the girl, who appeared rested and tranquil. This was like one of
those nightmares where you’re running around screaming your head off while
everyone else is stupidly blissful. Sweat was pouring from my pits. My legs
were twin lead pillars. I could hear my own scared breath rattling around
inside a puny chest cavity like the chains in some horror dungeon.
“Chris, no!” someone said.
But as the Hulk went for me, the girl stood quickly and
smacked him hard across his fat, fulminous face with her open hand. I couldn’t
believe it. He reeled back for a second, surprised more than hurt. That’s when
I saw it—the outline of five fingers, red and pulsing across the front of his
Coming to his senses, he tried grabbing her. She took a step
back and fired an incredible kick to the head. It was like a lightning bolt. Then
she smashed each of his kneecaps. Finally, she finished him off with a
well-placed knee straight up into his groin. It was as if she’d seen the whole
thing in her head and had simply gone through the steps, one after the next; her
opponent had merely played his part in this weird Kabuki dance. The whole thing
took maybe five or six seconds.
The assclown sank to the floor sickeningly like a bag of wet
sand, moaning and holding himself in as many places as he could think of. There
was hardly any blood. Mercifully, his friends got together and dragged him out
through the back entrance. Straightening her skirt, the girl sat down again, seemingly
unaware of the wild stares and waggling tongues of the others.
“Tequila!” she called out to one of the bartenders who nearly
tripped over himself trying to take her order. “Five fingers!”
“What’re you having, Tom?” Her voice was silky and seemed to
float above all the commotion.
“The same, I guess.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in violence,” I said.
“I don’t. But some people need to be taught a lesson.”
We sat there awhile, sipping our drinks and watching the
post-game show. I turned to her and saw that she was smiling.
“What happens next?” I said.
“You walk me to my car. There’s no telling what’s out there
this time of night.”
I can do this, I told myself. Then I paid for the
drinks and helped her off her stool.