John Chambers Book 1 : Her Mother’s Pendant
The only thing you can know for sure is that you don’t know who you are going to meet in a shady bar, and that there is going to be a bar fight.
John “Dick” Chambers studied the cards in his hand with the scrutiny of a pawnshop owner examining a diamond.
He was up considerably. Black, red, blue, green, and white chips littered his green felt corner of the table, and several towers threatened to topple. The surly expressions on his opponents’ faces were the sweet little cherry on top of his cream cake.
Arnie Taft tapped the table with his knuckles to indicate a check on his turn. Dick expected nothing less. Taft had the shriveled balls of a cockroach, but his mammoth size made him demand a space at the table. He couldn’t talk a hooker into a fuck with a handful of cash, but boy, could he knock her clear across the room in one clean punch.
Next, Connor would lay down a clean white chip to show that he was still in the game, but that was a ploy to hide his shitty hand. Tyrone and Jake would match the raise, Dick would up it another two levels, and soon they’d be sweating beneath their collars, each trying to save face as they went down swinging, hoping that Dick had a less than favorable hand for once.
Dick examined his cards again. A pair of twos. It was his first real stinker of the night, but he wouldn’t let that stop him toying with the others.
It’s right what they say about playing with meatheads. Bring a tenderizer, and you’ll have them eating their putty from the palm of your hand.
Dick caressed the cool neck of his Blue Moon beer and brought it to his lips. All eyes were on him, and he could detect their impatience in the air. He swigged the foam around his mouth, then swallowed, and closed his eyes.
“Man, that hits the spot.”
“Quit dawdling, Dick. We haven’t got all night.” Arnie’s voice was deep and carried easily around the small tavern. A thin layer of smoke hazed the air and carved mystic patterns around the overhead fluorescents. At the bar, the owner scrubbed lazily with a cloth while a handful of patrons sat scattered in the dark corners, interested only in their business.
The way that everyone is in Atlantica. Out for themselves.
“Haven’t got all night, huh?” Dick grinned. “In that case, I suppose I should wrap up and take my winnings with me. I thought you boys would want a chance to win back your dough, but if you’re just going to hand it over to me, then…”
“You know that’s not what he meant,” Tyrone snapped. He stared at Dick through his one good eye, the other made of glass and fixed in one direction. He had a patchy layer of black curled stubble across his face and a bald head that reflected the light above and cast an ironic halo. “Get your ass in gear and let’s play.”
Arnie nodded. Connor grumbled his agreement. Dick scanned the table and noted the small bowls of salted peanuts, and his opponents’ collection of beer bottles, which significantly outweighed his. Even if he had been as inebriated as the others, he knew he’d still have the upper hand. You didn’t take drinking daily as a hobby for over a decade and not build up an impressive tolerance for the stuff.
“I see you. I raise you.”
Dick threw a handful of chips at random and laughed internally, enjoying the fact he had made the others squirm. It was one of life’s little pleasures, drawing in the lowlifes and exerting dominance. Every day it became harder and harder in the streets.
Arnie and Connor folded, while Tyrone and Jake matched. Arnie took the opportunity to head to the bar and order enough bottles of beer to last him the next few rounds, while Connor excused himself with a grunt to take a leak.
“You can’t run on luck all night, sunshine,” Tyrone crooned, which revealed gold teeth among his ivories. “Luck can only get you so far. You’re bluffing out your ass.”
Jake scrutinized his cards, the features of his thin face harsh in the limited light.
“That may be true,” Dick replied. “But are you willing to take that risk?” He glanced at the decorated backs of Tyrone’s cards on the table. “I know for a fact that you’re playing with dirt. Bet you have little more than a pair in that deck. Maybe an ace-high at best, but you’re not going to admit that, are you? Even though your tell is incredibly potent. I can smell bluffing on you like I smell dog shit on my shoes.”
“Bullshit,” Tyrone growled. Although he tried to keep his cool, his confidence faltered, if only slightly.
“Ironic how ex-cons make the worst liars.”
Tyrone’s fists clenched, which confirmed Dick’s theory of his shitty hand. He grimaced, and it looked as though Dick was about to push him over the edge when a bell sounded at the door, indicating the arrival of a new patron.
Every head except Dick’s turned to the door.
Jesus, the whole city has us trained like Pavlov’s dogs. Hear a bell and look for the treat. Meanwhile, I’m the only one focused with my head in the game. Ain’t no wonder I’m up on these fleabags.
Several patrons wolf-whistled across the bar. Dick ignored them. They were all testosterone-fueled pricks with eyes only for the pink bit between a woman’s legs. Dick had his fair share of ladies, but when it came to a throwdown between women and cold, hard cash, he knew which he’d rather invite back to his place.
Dick took two greens from their pile, suspended them in the air, then threw them into the center. “Raise.”
He waited patiently for Jake to make his move but soon noticed his eyes were far from the game.
Dick took a white chip and tossed it at Jake. His aim was true. The coin spun through the air and caught him in the middle of his forehead. Jake’s brows knitted together.
“What d’ya do that for?”
More voices rang across the bar.
“Whoa, foxy miss. I think you’re in the wrong place, but I can help you find the right one.”
“Here’s a quarter, call your momma and tell her you ain’t going home tonight.”
Jake tried to focus on his cards, but his eyes kept dancing to his right. He absently ran a hand through his hair, which neatened the little tuft that had previously stuck up at the back. “Man, to have a piece of that—ow! Quit throwing shit at me.”
“Your turn.” Dick turned to Tyrone for support, unsurprised to find that he, too, was distracted.
Tyrone reclined in his chair and bit his lip. “Is that a bullwhip? I like a girl who values a good bit of BDSM. Even more so when we can play with toys.”
“How about this?” Dick’s impatience reached its peak. “You guys flush me out of cash, and you can pursue the pretty lady. If I clean you out, you can pursue the pretty lady. Either way, gentlemen’s code, let’s finish this goddamn game before the cock crows.”
“My cock’s already crowing.” Arnie arrived back at the table. “So is Connor’s. Check him out, going straight for the home plate.”
Dick finally submitted to the distraction and twisted in his chair toward the bar where Connor’s tall frame hid the woman’s outline. The most Dick could make out was a crop of brunette hair and the bullwhip’s silhouette at her waist.
Same as every other bimbo in this city. Well, minus the whip. It’s usually something metallic with more firepower.
After another nudge, Jake played his chips, and Tyrone followed. They reached the end of the round and Dick pulled more chips toward him, surprised that his dud hand still earned him cash. As he scooped them up and arranged them into their towers, he caught a snippet of Connor’s conversation with the stranger.
“What you gotta carry a bullwhip around wichoo for? When it comes to security in Atlantica, you need cold hard steel. I reckon it ain’t nothing but an aid for a bit of kinky foreplay.”
“You got me.” Her voice was soft like velvet. She spoke with a confidence that carried in every syllable. “Although, it’s more for nights like tonight where there isn’t anything big enough that interests me. A girl’s gotta take control of her pleasure, know what I mean?”
A ripple of laughter passed around the spectators at Connor’s foolish attempt. Connor laughed it off. “Barkeep, another Budweiser for me, and whatever the lady wants. On my tab, darling.”
The barkeep’s gruff voice added, “What’s your flavor?”
“I’d like this skinny creep to leave me the hell alone and for someone to point me in the direction of a Mr. John Chambers.” A short pause. “Please.”
Dick’s stomach fell. Nothing good ever came of someone hunting him down in a seedy bar. Couldn’t he have one night of peace? His eyes narrowed as he shuffled and dealt the cards to the table.
“No John Chambers here.” Connor sounded a little dejected. “You got the wrong place.”
“I don’t think so,” the woman replied. “I have it on good authority that John was in this establishment less than an hour ago. One of you should be able to point me in the right direction, surely?”
Tyrone glanced at Dick. “’Fess up, lover boy. She don’t know she ain’t looking for John. She’s looking for Dick.”
Dick glared at Tyrone unblinkingly. Tyrone snickered, then raised a hand and pointed at Dick. “Your lover boy is here, sweet-cheeks.” He stood and flexed his chest. “You’re going to have to go through me to get to him, though. I’m all the dick you need.”
“Sit.” Dick shortly followed his command with a sigh of resignation.
“Or what? You’re in the concrete jungle now, baby. The alpha dog takes the woman. You want her, come and claim her.” Tyrone’s voice lowered as he added, “You may be rinsing me of my cash, but you ain’t taking my girl.”
Dick’s patience snapped. He rose and kicked his chair back with the heel of his boot. It skidded along the floor and crashed into the wall.
The woman fixed him with a keen look. “John? John Chambers?”
John tore his eyes away from Tyrone and looked straight at the woman, getting his first full view.
It was no wonder the gents were fired up. She was the eye candy that all others set their bar to. Her skin was the color of warm caramel. Her dark hair was tied back in a ponytail, and her emerald green eyes caught the light and twinkled. She wore a grey halter top and khaki combat pants, with the fabled bullwhip fixed to her side. A variety of pockets that could have contained anything covered the pants, and on her hands were something akin to boxing hand wraps. On her feet were black walking boots, and on the other side of her hips was a holster where a pistol might sit—if she had one.
Dick looked at the dark faces staring at him and chuckled. “What was your first clue?”
Without the slightest tremble of doubt or fear, the woman moved closer to Dick until she was an arm’s length away. She offered a hand. “Santana Sokolov.”
Dick took her hand and shook it.
“I have a job offer for you.” She turned back to Connor and looked at him with mild disgust. “A platonic job, if that suits.”
“You know how to get a man’s attention,” Dick responded with a hint of sarcasm.
Santana looked past Dick to the poker table and noted the situation with the chips. “I’m sorry if I’ve disturbed your game. It can wait.”
Dick, whose curiosity was now piqued, shook his head. When was the last time a client had hunted him down and tracked his movements? More than that, when was the last time a stunning woman had taken the risk of walking unaccompanied into a backwater bar and forsaken all other gentlemen for him?
“It’s fine.” Dick picked up his cards and tossed them into the center of the table. “Game’s over, boys. Time to turn out your pockets and pay up.”
One quick look at Tyrone told Dick all he needed to know. The man’s nostrils flared. A vein in his throat throbbed. A sick grin painted his face as he shook his head and said, “We can’t do that, I’m afraid.”
Dick noticed then that the others had risen and created a small circle around him. The barkeep was nowhere in sight.
Dick sighed and turned to Santana. In a soft voice, he muttered, “You best lay low for this. Wouldn’t want to mess up that pretty little outfit of yours.”
“I’m quite certain I can handle my—”
Before she could finish, the first punch was thrown.
It’s all you could want in a good old fashion bar scene. I can’t wait to see what Santana does with that whip. Check back soon for the Second snippet. I already went over to Amazon and pre- ordered John Chambers Book 1 : Her Mother’s Pendant and you can too! Available on December 26th to all readers.