Texas Hold'em

He didn't need another frigging disaster. 

     

But when Timothy Santos found himself in a fight, he didn't back down. Some of his friends might have even said he looked for them. Either way, his life depended on how he handled the scuzzy biker coming his way. And not just because of the broken beer bottle he had in his hand.

     

They’d been pounding at each other for what felt like the whole damn night. His cowboy boots slipping on the sawdust-covered floor, Santos swayed in the lingering September heat, one bloody fist at his temple, the other one protecting his jaw. 

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The roadhouse was nothing but a roof, a bar and some scattered picnic tables.  Corrugated sheets of rusted tin, propped up with sawed-off broom handles, served as windows. A dry west Texas wind whistled through the openings, leaving a layer of grit that covered everything from the beer kegs to the barstools. On their own accord, the ceiling fans spun overhead. 

           

The local bikers used the place for entertainment, to do business and generally make trouble, and it’d been packed since midnight, the band behind the chicken wire making the steel guitars wail. The temperatures had finally begun to cool off but the same couldn’t be said for the crowd, especially the man drawing near. Santos blinked then shook his head,  his sweaty hair sticking to his neck, his cowboy hat lying crushed on the floor.

           

“C’mon, old man,” he taunted. “Is that the best you’ve got?”

           

The men who ringed them hooted with laughter and urged Santos’s opponent to hit him again, their catcalls lewd and vicious.

           

“Let’s see it, Nasty,” they cried.  “Show the bastard how a real rider fights. Cut off his dick and send him back to his momma…”

           

The sunbaked biker had been called Nasty so long no one knew his real name anymore. Grey hair frizzed around his face, a skinny braid the same color hanging off his chin.  His eyes were bloodshot and red patches of broken veins dotted his nose.  Underneath his tattooed gut was a layer of hard muscle—Santos knew because his fist had bounced off it twice and all the big guy had done was smile. What made things even worse was that Santos didn’t even know why Nasty had started the fight.  He didn’t have to have a reason, though. Arguments broke out on an hourly basis at the bar.  That was part of the fun, or so the bikers claimed.

           

Nasty closed the gap between them and thrust the jagged spike of the bottle neck so close to Santos’s face, he felt the air move.  Santos stumbled into the sticky wall behind him but the other man moved faster than Santos expected. The glass sliced his skin from his shoulder to his elbow.  The cut didn’t feel deep and for a second it didn’t even hurt.  Then a bright red line burned down his arm like a fuse and the explosion of pain that followed almost knocked him off his feet.

           

He tottered for a second and then he held up his palms, blood dripping down his left arm, leaving ruby drops between his cowboy boots. “All right, all right…” Leaning over, he took a deep breath then swept up his straw cowboy hat, beating it against his thigh before cramming it back on his head. “You win, damn it, you win.”

             

Nasty roared then strutted in a circle, the bloody glass in his hand glinting off the bare light bulb swinging overhead. Cheers went up around the room while a flurry of money changed hands. Finally he dropped the bottle, ground it beneath his feet and bowed to the applause that followed.

           

Santos pointed a wobbly finger. “This ain’t the end of it, Nasty.  Next time, I promise you’re gonna be the one bleedin’—”

           

The biker stilled and everyone seemed to freeze with him, the sour smell of bodies, booze, and confrontation rising between the two men. Then Nasty threw back his head and howled.  Wrapping his arms around Santos in a bone-crushing hug, he squeezed until Santos saw pinpoints of light.

           

“You betcha there’s gonna be a rematch, you worthless piece of shit,” the old biker cried.  “You and your sorry gang ain’t nothing but cowboys on Harleys, and I mean to beat your dumb asses ’til them hats is the only thing left!”

           

The audience bellowed, a loving family brought together once again by sharing a little old-fashioned fun. Someone slapped a beer in Santos’s hand, and someone else crashed into him and he spilled it. When the men finally parted enough for her to get by, a redhead with dark roots moved to his side and handed him a stained towel. As he pressed it to the wound, a brunette took his good arm and pulled him toward the bar. A battered metal box that looked like it got plenty of use was handed over by the bartender, and the two women began to patch him.  He let them slap a couple of bandages on the wound then he pushed them aside.  “That’s enough,” he growled.  “I don’t need you two operating on me.” 

           

They giggled, the younger one laughing a little too long as she pressed her breasts against his chest. Another biker had told him Brandy was quite a prize.  “Warm and sweet going down,” he had promised with a wink.

           

She’d had her eye on Santos as soon as he’d shown up. Twenty-one if a day, soft curves, and inviting eyes, she had tempted him to go farther than he should the last time he’d seen her.  When they’d been interrupted, he’d been relieved and put her off with an empty promise for more. The way her gaze met his now, he knew she expected her more sometime soon. Her pout told him how she felt when he turned to the bartender instead.

           

It was four a.m. before the last call went out. Half an hour later, the bikers moved the party to the graveled parking lot, holding on to each other and their women as they stumbled outside. Tossing their beer bottles at the trash can, Santos’s pack rose from the scarred table where they’d been sitting and followed.

           

Some of the bikers had already pulled bottles of Jack from their saddlebags and were passing the whiskey around in the dark.  As Santos and his men walked by, they made smooching sounds and mocked him.

           

 “Hey, cowboy, ya’ll going back to the ranch?  Better be careful now—them Harleys buck better than your skanky-ass girlfriends!”  More raucous laughter rang out. “Don’t fall off and bust your butts…”