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Day Twenty-four: Ria

If it had been a movie, the Skynyrd-belting jukebox would have skipped to a stop and all conversation would have been cut off the moment Ria opened the door to The Crow’s Nest. All the truck drivers and Harley riders would have turned in their seats, maybe put down their beers and watched her as she took off her helmet and ran green-gloved fingers through short, graying hair. She would have walked to the bar and ordered a beer and dared any man in the room to make a move on her. Which they all would want to do, of course, but wouldn’t have a chance in hell.

In a movie, that’s how things work. In real life, not so much. Ria pushed the door open against grinding electric guitar and clouds of cigarette smoke. There were a bunch of men in road-stained denim singing along to “Truck Drivin’ Man,” another knot of guys at the pool table, and a few more sitting up at the bar, putting back the beers. Pretty young women on tall heels tottered around the place, wearing tight shorts that practically asked for an ass-slap and looks of resigned contempt on their faces.

Ria tucked the helmet under her arm, tugged off the green riding gloves, and shouldered her way to the bar. She had to shout for the bartender twice before he made his way over. “What’ll it be, mama?” he asked.

“I ain’t your mama,” Ria said. “And if I were, I’d wish I’d had the abortion.” The men sitting at the bar stared for a second, and then belted out laughing. The bartender grimaced at her, but the barrage of “She got you good, Mac!” turned his look of anger into one of amused resignation. He picked up a glass and started cleaning it, nodding his head as if to say, You got me.

“Beer,” Ria said, and she put the helmet down on the bar. The guy on her left, his eyes already unfocused from several hours of straight drinking, asked, “So what’re you ridin’, ma… Lady.”

“Not a lady neither,” she said. “And why do you care?”

The men looked around, visibly confused. “Because… because we wanna know what you’re riding,” the guy said, slowly and as clearly as he could manage.

The bartender put the beer down in front of her, and she handed him a five. “You haven’t answered my question,” Ria said, and took a long drink. “Why do you care?”

The guy on her other side stood up unsteadily and leaned in close to her. “I got somethin’ you can ride, mama,” he said.

Ria’s expression froze. She put the beer down on the bar, and before anyone could react her hand whipped behind her, grabbed the man’s groping paw, and twisted his arm. With a loud snap, the arm broke and he fell screaming to the floor. The other men were off their barstools in an instant, a few of them trying to pick up their wounded friend. The tired waitresses looked on with interest.

Ria drank her beer.

The bartender nodded to the guys at the pool table. Two of them took the broken-armed man over to a booth while another one took a position right behind Ria. “You’ll want to be leavin’,” the bartender said, his arms crossed and his chest puffed out.

“What,” Ria said. “You got a ‘No violence’ policy in this shit-hole biker bar?” The guy behind her laughed, the bartender glared, and he shut up. “I’m not leaving until I get what I came for.”

The bartender opened his mouth to say something, and then looked confused. “What you came for? What the hell did you come for?”

She drained the beer glass and set it down. “I’m looking for Black Billy Fulton,” she said, not looking at anyone. “You let me know where I Can find him, and I won’t have to break anything else. Like the meathead you’ve got standing behind me.”

The meathead and the bartender exchanged worried glances. This woman clearly wasn’t getting it. The bartender leaned forward a bit. “I don’t know who you’re talkin’ about, mama, and I don’t care. You’re not welcome here.” He leaned closer over the bar towards her. “Get ou-”

She broke his nose with her forehead before he could get the last word out. While he started to scream and try to keep blood from gushing out of his face, she stood up, whipped around, and kneed the meathead straight in the groin, catching his chin in her hands on the way down. With casual swiftness, she pulled back, balled up her fist, and delivered a blow to the side of his head that put him on the floor, bleeding and crying.

Another man came at her, holding a pool cue like a club. “It’ll be a shame to ruin somethin’ so pretty,” he drawled, and took a slow, drunk swing. Ria ducked and let momentum carry him around. A swift kick sent him spinning away into an empty booth.

By now, everyone in the bar was up on their feet. The waitresses had dropped their trays and were trying to both watch and stay away from the action at the same time, much like all the other patrons. With three men on the ground in a matter of moments, they seemed to know better than to go for a fourth. Especially since the crazy lady with the short grey hair and the even shorter temper didn’t even seem to be breathing hard.

“Do I need to make an example of anyone else?” she asked. There was silence. “Good.” She picked up her barstool, righted it with one leg on the outstretched hand of the meathead on the floor, and sat down. The meathead groaned. “Now,” Ria continued, “someone here tells me where I can find Black Billy Fulton, and we can all go home. I am not a patient woman, though.” She crossed her legs and leaned back against the bar. “So you’d best start talking.”

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