Grilla walked into the Crack ‘O’ Midnight Bar, better known to its patrons as The Crack. He gooned his way through a group near the door.The rest of the crowd parted as if they were the Red Sea and he was Moses. He wore his looking-for-a-fight face. As usual, he wasn’t taking no for an answer.
He had just lost his latest argument with Lucille, his wife. He needed something, someone to take his frustration out on. And it was about to be one of us. He sure wasn’t about to take it out on her. When asked why he never fought back, he said, “A gentleman doesn’t fight with a lady.” Then he hit the fellow that asked. “And don’t you think I would,” he said, walking away from the body who lay on the floor.
Since it was Saturday night, The Crack was packed with men and women quenching a weeklong thirst. There were plenty of us fellows for Grilla to choose from. As he moved through the bar, we held our breath and crossed our fingers. Who would be the one to emerge from this night with a broken nose and more damage than you can shake a stick at?
He walked over to me and stared into my eyes with those great big grizzly eyes of his, eyes that said mean better than words could. They studied me for a minute or two, then he moved on. I breathed one of them sighs of relief. You know the kind you have when a twister passes over your house and chooses somebody else to raise hell with. I had escaped. This time.
There was a kid ‘bout five-three standing at the end of the bar. He was with a young woman with freckles. Grilla wasn’t about to choose him. One thing everybody said about that six-foot-five hulk of a man was that he didn’t take unfair advantage.
There are times when a man should leave well enough alone. This was one of those times. But that kid…he wasn’t about to leave well enough alone. He couldn’t stand it that Grilla didn’t even consider him. He spoke up louder than you’d think of someone his size, “How ‘bout me, Grilla?”
The face of the woman beside him went white. She gave him one of them what-the-hell-are-you-doing looks. Grilla chose to ignore the kid.
The Kid called out, “You big mountain, how ‘bout me?” Drink can do that to a fellow. Make him do things that he would never do if he was in his right mind. Give him courage to do things that wasn’t in his best interest. This was one of those times. It wasn’t the kid talking. It was the whiskey.
Grilla knew that, and he ignored the kid some more. Grilla never let his emotions take control of his common sense. He wanted a fair fight and this kid was not a fair fight.
The man next to the Kid leaned over and told him to shut his face. Freckles tried to pull him out of the bar and his self-destruction. But the Kid wanted that fight the way Christians wanted to join Jesus for the Rapture. Mighty bad. He had something to prove. Maybe it was that he wanted to show folks he was a man. When a kid is like that, there is bound to be hell to pay. The Kid pulled his arm loose from the woman’s grasp, then he called out, “Didn’t you hear me?”
The silence swept through The Crack faster than a dust storm sweeps through a ghost town. It had gotten very quiet in that bar. Grilla looked that Kid up and down. That look was enough to send a chill down the spine and make a better man than the Kid shrink in a corner. The Kid did not shrink. He had gumption, that was for sure.
Grilla whispered, “You want it, you got it.” Then he said those words that a man on death’s row feared most of all. “Come with me.”
The Kid pushed Freckles away and followed Grilla outside through the front door. “Please don’t,” she yelled after him. The Crack unpacked with its patronage. We all knew there was going to be hell to pay. Grilla had a lot of frustration in him to get out. Lucille did that to him.
We walked into the starry night. The moon filled the sky with its pie-face. Then it was over to the field next to the bar. Jack Abbel’s field that he was getting ready to fence in for some cows he’d set his mind on buying. We made a ring around the two fighters. Freckles struggled through the crowd. She tried charge into that ring and slap some sense into the Kid. But another woman grabbed her by the arm and wouldn’t let loose.
Grilla stripped off his shirt. He handed it to John Bartholomew. “Hold this. I don’t want to get his blood on it. Lucille wouldn’t like that.”
The Kid snapped his suspenders several times, waiting. There was a big smile on his face. Guess he was happy he was about to meet his Maker. ‘Cause that was what happened when a fellow meets up with a pickup truck. And Grilla’s fists were a pickup truck hitting a fellow at fifty mile an hour.
The Kid yelled at Grilla’s back, “Well.” That “well” sounded like Gabriel’s trumpet on Judgement Day. Who did the Kid think he was?
Grilla did not take kindly to that “well”. No, sirree.
He turned toward the Kid, red in his eyes like a bull facing a matador. There was a g-r-r-r-r coming from his throat.
“Well,” the Kid did it again.
Grilla moved in for the kill.
“Well,” the Kid couldn’t leave well enough alone. He stood in the middle of that ring of people, waiting on those fists like my dad used to wait on Thanksgiving turkey dinner. With a smile on his face. Some said it was a smirk, but I’m here to tell you it was a smile.
Grilla threw the first punch. It missed. The Kid’s fist hit Grilla in the chest. “Ouch,” the Kid yelled out. Grilla tried again. Another miss. The Kid smashed his fist into Grilla. “Ouch,” the Kid called out.
Grilla went for a try a third time but he couldn’t do it. He stood before that Kid like Goliath must’ve stood before David. ”What do you mean ouch?” he asked, not sure what next to do.
“I mean ouch,” the Kid said. “That hurt.”
The look on Grilla’s face was incredulous. He couldn’t believe what his ears were hearing. No one had ever said “ouch” to him when they threw their fist into his chest. Oh, sure. They said “ouch” and a whole lot more when Grilla’s fist slammed into them.
Grilla and the Kid stood before each other, not knowing what to do. The Kid was the first to make a move. He dropped to the ground, laughing.
There was a big what on all the bystanders’ faces. And what came next nobody in that crowd could have predicted. Grilla dropped his big lug of a body down beside the Kid, laughing.
“Well,” the Kid got in between the chortles.
Grilla was doing a side-splitting laugh. Then he let out a “well” too.
Grilla punched the Kid in the arm. The Kid punched Grilla in his arm too. Both punches light as a feather. Then they fell over on their sides, rolling in the grass with laughter.
That was the last night Grilla came into the Crack for a fight. From that night on, Grilla and the Kid were often seen in one another’s company, laughing, joshing each other. No one knew just what happened. But it must have been a miracle.