I met him at a bar, after a really bad day. Not the sort where something goes terribly wrong, but the one where a bunch of small things go wrong. The power went out, so I had to dress in the dark, and skip breakfast, and hunt for my car charger because my phone was almost dead, and that all made me late for work. And, of course, my boss noticed, so I got a lecture and a big pile of work that meant I had to work through lunch with only a protein bar, and stay late to just try to get through it on time. But the time I dragged into the bar, I was starving, exhausted, and more than a little pissed off at the world.
There was one open spot at the bar, right next to a guy with a button up shirt and slacks, who glanced my way once, and nodded. “Hey.” Then he returned his attention to the football game on the tv behind the bar.
I muttered “Hey” back, loud enough that I could be pretty sure he heard me, ordered a beer, and took the same refuge in the game.
When one of the players fumbled the bar, we groaned in unison.
“The team just isn’t the same since the trade,” he said.
“And the quarterback hasn’t been the same since he came back from his broken ankle,” I agreed, and just like that, we fell into a conversation that meandered from sports to our jobs, to the miserable weather, a storm that hovered over the city and drizzled rain off and on. We parted something like friends, and I never expected to meet him again, but it turned out the bar was a favorite haunt of his, as it was of mine.
We ran into each other a few times over the rest of the year, and he bought me a beer when I got a new manager, far worse than the old one, and when my car died. I bought him one when he was on the outs with his girlfriend, and when his water pipe burst.
I never got his name, or gave him mine. It wasn’t that kind of friendship, but one shared exclusively inside a particular set of walls, over a glass or two.
Until the night those punks jumped me on the way to my car.
They came out of the alley, fast and focused. They must have been waiting for someone to come out alone, because they were on me before I could register the soft rush of footsteps, yanking the car door from my hands, shoving me to the ground. The glint of a knife showed in one’s hands, as another hopped into my car, slamming the door shut, the locks clunking closed.
“Gimme your wallet,” the one with the knife demanded, while the third guy, the biggest one, loomed over me, one hand fisted in front of him, the other outstretched.
“And your watch,” the knife-wielder added. “And no one gets hurt.”
“That’s not entirely accurate,” a voice said, behind me, and then the big guy was on the ground next to me, his eyes wide and fixed, his head at a funny angle on his neck. The knife-wielder had time for a scream, or the start of one, lunging forward with that bit of light-catching danger, before his arm was caught, and broken briskly, and he was forced to his knees.
I recognized my buddy from the bar when he stepped forward, the streetlight spilling over his face, painting it in strange and harsh angles, then he bent over the guy, like he was going to kiss him or something. Then the guy sighed and collapsed next to the knife he’d dropped.
It all happened so quickly, that the thief in my car had just shoved out of it, rushing forward, but he got the same quick, brutal treatment.
I pushed to my feet, realizing that that weird angle of neck, and the blank fixed stare of the knife wielder, and the blood on the man from the bar’s face that everyone but the two of us was dead. Well, I wasn’t dead, at least. I was less sure about him.
He wiped his face, and tipped his head toward my car. “You better get out of here. Don’t want to explain this to the police.”
Two steps towards the open door of my car, and the illusion of safety, I hesitated. “What about you? Won’t there be… evidence?”
“Not by the time the bodies are found,” he said, and the matter of fact tone of his voice made me decide to retreat to my car and drive away. Just in case, I took it the the car wash and vacuumed the inside the next night, and it was a little longer than usual before I went back to the bar.
When I did, I spotted him sitting in his usual place at the bar, and I joined him, nodding at the bartender for two of our usual. He took a drink. “What do you think their chances are?”
I glanced at the screen, seeing that our team was already behind. “You never know.”