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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/998567-Punch-Line
Rated: 18+ · Book · Horror/Scary · #2222317
Invisible matters of the mind turned real into the written word.
#998567 added November 17, 2020 at 9:33am
Restrictions: None
Punch Line.
“A PRIEST, A SCIENTIST, AND A MAGICIAN WENT INTO A BAR. “, Henry paused to sip his whiskey. Social distance kept the pretty bartender at least six feet away, more like twenty. It made impressing her with his wit a daunting project. Shouting out a joke into an echo chamber with only disturbed dust filling the air made intimacy impossible.

When he coughed apologetically, that got her attention. “You sick, or something?” The petite blond’s face mask muffled her worry.

“You’re supposed to ask where's the punch line and I’m supposed to reply, what punch line, I thought this was a bar not a bar mitzvah. Get it?” Henry finished off his drink in one hard swallow.

“Sick joke, brother for a sick mind. You need a refill. On the house.”

She smelled like fruity flowers up close. Maybe he was getting somewhere.

“Then, you are outa’ here. Take your cough elsewhere.”

They were waiting for him outside. Henry knew instantly it wasn’t any priest, scientist or magician, although they seemed to have appeared like magic. This group didn’t joke around. The ugliest meatball gangbanger held Henry up while the two just sleazy looking one’s took turns trying to drive him into the ground with clubs and fists.

Henry spit out shattered teeth, felt the broken glass of his innards beneath his bruises and knew he’d got off lucky. He was still alive after not paying his mountain of gambling debts.

Beneath it all, Henry felt a visceral stirring of wanting to double the offer after beating the odds. He lay where he’d been kicked past recognition until the bartender came out to lock up.

“Help me.”

“Why, if it isn’t Don Juan of the priest, scientist and magician regime. Looks like they left you in your hour of need.”

“No joke.” Henry croaked. Her sarcasm last just long enough for him to snake a hand out and latch onto an ankle, twisting her off balance, making her fall alongside him. “You set me up. Called the chit in. How much they pay you?”

She fought with wiry strength, tooth and claw, advancing Henry’s injuries where she could. If he hadn’t been able to roll on top of her, his masculine weight, height and desperation outweighing hers, the woman would have gotten away scott free.


“What are you going to do? There’s not enough left of you to stand on your own two feet.” The voice was muffled, quiet and calm, waiting.

“Exactly. If you don’t want to look like me, you’ll do just what I say.”

Henry rolled, keeping a firm grip that brought a yelp of pain from where they connected. The two rose, moving crablike to keep their balance. She no longer smelled like flowers as she suddenly wilted against him.

“All right. I’ll be your crutch. Don’t break my arm over it.”

“You got your cell phone. I want you to call that number. The one they gave you. Tell them the truth. They didn’t get the job done. I’m hassling you.” He was careful to get another hurt cry while she retrieved her purse from where they’d laid together.

The bartender gave more vengeful emotion to the task than required additional physical ministration. The numbness of Henry’s condition was beginning to wear off. He limped, near bolling her over as they made their way back inside the bar, leaving the front door wide open. “Turn on the lights.”

She did so while disabling the alarm then resetting it at his command. “Where’s the peacemakers?” Every bar he’d ever entered had a few. Shotgun, Saturday night special, baseball bat, can of mace, the monetary proceeds of the day in a nice big heavy canvas sack tied up with a string . His luck held. They were all soon in view.

Henry couldn’t handle the broad and the hooligans coming to her rescue. He wanted to beat the crap out of her but needed the woman as part of the setup drawing in the action.

Waves of dizziness made him continue holding her captive while being used to keep what balance remained intact. “You’ll never last. You’re putting me in danger. These fellows are carnivorous animals. They’ll make us both wish we were never born before ending it all permanently,” She griped, breathing the words out in a frantic rush.

“How can I trust you?” Henry’s tongue wiggled out another piece of tooth. He spit it out, feeling her tense up as he twisted her arm.

“You are a betting man. You’ll have to take a chance. Do I make sense or not?”

She’d punched the right button. It would be dicey but added to his growing sense of risking all for the prize. The flow of energy made the faintness fade, at least for a while. Henry’s broken left hand grappled with the Saturday night special. “Stay close, lady luck, or this thing might go off in the wrong direction. Get it?”

The threat did not go unnoticed. “I’m Harriet Stone.” She rubbed her arms as Henry let her go, eyes flickering over the remaining weaponry.

“Not a chance, sweetheart.” Henry winced, leaned against the bar. “It will all be over soon, now. What will you do after? I think at best, you’ve gone and lost your job, if things go my way.

“What is in the bag won’t cover your needed dental work, Henry. I’ve got the combination to the safe.”

“You won’t make employee of the month this way. You must be thinking of traveling far and wide.”

“Just adding a little insurance to my survival, baby.” Harriet licked her lips, nervous, playing the odds.

They came in crashing, one through a side window, another banging the hinges off the back door, the third full frontal in the moon lit doorway. Harriet had the shotgun in her hands before Henry’s Saturday night special winged the lead man, making the fellow swing his automatic fire. The arc took out both the back door man and shattered window guy. The fun was over before it began.

“Do it, or I will.” The pulse in the side of Henry’s throat quickened with passion. He switched the woman’s shotgun with his pistol.

She walked over and unceremoniously shot the remaining attacker in the head. “Satisfied? We have about five minutes before they don’t report in and more will arrive. We’ll be lucky to get away.”

She was right about the safe. It was stacked with more than reserves for the bar. A bag of cocaine spilled out enough white powder to lighten the pounding in Henry’s head. Blessed numbness followed.

“We’ll take their car. I can hear the engine still running.” Harriet finished the business of stacking bet payoffs, earnings, drugs and assorted goodies in an empty booze box. She grunted it up in her arms. “Follow me, If you can.”

Henry used the shotgun as a makeshift crutch, stumbling out after her, realizing too late there were two shadows lurking in the back of the newly arrived rumbling black Caprice waiting by the curb. She’d set up his setup. The night’s train of events came derailed. It felt mind boggling.

Harriet kicked the big gun out of place by Henry’s leg. Once again, his face met the ground. “Sorry, things didn’t end up going your way, Henry. You’ve been a bit of a bother. Time to pay your new debts. I want him thrown in the trunk, boys.”

So the bartender was the queen bee of the organization stacked against him. Over the next few days, she convinced him she was actually a scientist and a magician, the way she explored stripping his pound of flesh from his tortured body.

At the end, she became somewhat of a priest, his confessor, tired of betting she could come up with a new way to make him scream. Funny, he thought vacantly, losing hold of consciousness for the last time. She’d never asked him if he thought his whole life had been the real bad joke. Henry smiled as his drugged out mind realized he'd won his last bet.

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