Eric ran until his lungs couldn’t take it anymore. He clutched his chest, he was breathing so hard he thought it would explode.
Bowing down, he grabbed both his knees and gulped for air. It had been years since he used his fist to drive a point home and goddamn that felt good. Having caught his breath, he started walking at the side of what looked like a main road.
Where the fuck was he now? He couldn’t see any sign – only trees and lamp posts. A couple of cars passed by but that was it.
He was now officially in the middle of nowhere.
He dug for his phone in his bag. There were five missed calls from Pam and a couple from Miriam, Pam’s life partner. He’d return them tomorrow. First he had to get to a motel. Majestueuse Maison didn’t sound so bad now.
He shouldn’t have taken the opposite route from the motel when he exited Fantasia. He considered making a U-turn but he couldn’t risk passing the strip club again in case Big Al and his lackeys were looking for him.
He considered calling a taxi service but he doubted this place had Uber.
This trip was getting better and better. He kept trudging forward and spotted a sign that read: 15 miles to Bon Temps.
It was one of Sylvie’s favorite lines: Laissez les bons temps rouler ! (Let the good times roll)
Good times? He could use some of that right now.
He chucked his phone in his back pocket and cringed when the fabric of his denim pants chafed the back of his hand. He held out his hand to inspect it under the soft glimmer of the lamp post.
Goddamn, Big Al’s face was like asphalt. He could only wish he had made a dent on that fat fuck’s meaty cheek.
Punching that fat fuck was reckless and downright stupid. He was disciplined and methodical. Everything he did was planned with careful consideration. Starting a bar fight wasn’t part of his bender. This was supposed to be a quiet night of contemplation.
He went to Fantasia with one purpose: to get shitfaced on cheap bourbon. Maybe then he’d be able to deliberate whether he should go after Sylvie or just leave her be.
Come to think of it, he hadn’t even thought of Sylvie that much.
Wasn’t that what he wanted all along? A distraction?
Well, he was distracted all right. Distracted by Jason’s lack of cajones, by Ginger’s blatant worshipping, by that fat fuck’s asshattery, and by Jason’s sister’s insulting indifference toward him.
The last thought bothered him the most. Sookie Stackhouse didn’t live up to his expectations. He was expecting a Southern Belle with low self-esteem and a smile as self-deprecating as her brother’s. Sunny disposition and all that shit. But all he got from her was shuddering coldness. He was actually afraid if he touched her, he’d shiver.
Why the hell did I deck Big Al?
Was it his newfound camaraderie with Jason?
Or was it because that fat fuck called Sookie a cunt?
He shook his head. It couldn’t be because of her. He didn’t even like her. She wasn’t the type of woman he’d be interested in. Period. She was a blonde for fuck’s sake. He never liked blondes. All his former girlfriends –including Sylvie – were either brunettes or redheads. Never blondes. Granted, Pam was a blonde but she was his best friend, not his fuck buddy.
Plus, Sookie had been nothing but abrasive and aloof to him. She looked like she could crack a walnut with her tight ass.
Why did you kiss her then? A small voice inside his head taunted.
Because it’s what cowboys do, they drink bourbon, slug the shitty villain and kiss the girl.
Fuck shit. He knew he was losing his mind when he started having arguments with himself.
It was time to call the cavalry.
He was dialing Pam’s number when he felt something sharp poking his waist from the back.
“No sudden movements, son, or I might suddenly stab you,” a male voice growled behind him. And to make sure Eric knew he meant business he pressed the tip of the blade against Eric’s waistline and dug his fingers on his shoulder blade. “Drop the phone and the bag on the ground slowly.”
Eric wasn’t one to back out of a fight, unless of course there was a sharp object threatening to drill a hole in his gut. So he did as he was told and hurled his phone on the hard packed dirt. He was hoping the thief would dive for the phone giving Eric the chance to disarm him and knock him out. Knife guy didn’t go after the phone as he tugged the strap of Eric’s knapsack and threw it on the ground.
Another man wearing a black ski mask came into view and dashed for his cell and backpack. So, his mugger had an accomplice, good to know.
“Didn’t your momma ever tell ya to never turn a corner you ain’t never gonna walk back around?” the man with the knife asked him in his thick Southern drawl.
Goddamn hicks and their fucking sayings that never make sense.
“She never had a chance to teach me anything on account of she died giving birth to me,” Eric gritted out.
“Whoa, that’s some heavy shit,” the guy in a ski mask chuckled in as he picked up Eric’s knapsack. “Just like your bag.”
Ski mask opened his bag and dipped his hand in it. “No wallet.”
Knife guy started patting Eric’s backside and found what he was looking for. He fished for Eric’s wallet and tossed it to his partner.
“Sweet Mary and Joseph, we hit the mother-fuckin-load, D! Hello there Mister Franklin, nice to see ya again.”
The guy with the knife chortled. “Get his watch too, looks expensive.”
Ski mask slung Eric’s bag over his shoulder and caught Eric’s arm. The watch slid off easily and, just like what he did with Eric’s wallet, he gave the watch a quick appraising.
“Is it a Rolex?” knife guy asked.
“Nah, it’s a.. a -” Ski mask held it up to the lamp post for a better view, “Patik Filipe.”
Eric fought the urge to roll his eyes. These bozos were going to give him an ulcer.
“What the hell is Patik Filipe?” knife guy asked, disappointment was as thick as his accent.
“Hell if I know.” Ski mask shrugged then reached for his pocket. “Want me to google it?”
Are you fucking serious?
Eric wanted to scream. It was bad enough that he was being robbed by two idiots, but to stand here and wait while Dumbass One googles Patek Philippe was more than he could handle.
“Look boss,” Eric started, raising his arms in the air in a show of diplomacy, “take the watch. You can decide later if it’s worth your time.” The pun wasn’t intentional. “I think we can all agree that the only loser here is me. So why don’t you and your partner here wrap this up, huh?”
Ski mask stared at him. Eric swore he saw the dumbass’s eye twitch behind the mask. This must be the first time a victim offered them a deal.
Eric was raised by a goddamned fixer, so if there was one thing he knew how to do well it was how to stop the fan from spreading the shit.
“That sounds fair, Mac.”
Eric made a mental note of the names. If he survived this night, he’d scour this whole fucking state for every redneck named Mac and D.
Knife guy was relenting. Eric could feel his grip on his shoulder slacking as the knife glide down to his hip.
“I dunno. He’s too fuckin’ calm. He must be hidin’ somethin’. Check his front pockets,” ski mask ordered.
Shit! They’re gonna find the ring!
Desperation was an incredible thing, paired with panic and it could overpower logic.
Without hesitation, Eric lunged at ski mask and tackled him to the ground.
Ski mask struggled as Eric grabbed the front of his black shirt and socked him in the gut. The dumbass let an oomph as he writhed on the ground. Eric’s balled hand swung again. This time he hit the dumbass’s jaw drawing another guttural scream from the mugger.
Eric drew back his hand for another slug but before he could connect his fist to the fucker’s face a searing pain on the left side of his waist stopped him cold. He doubled over as he grabbed the side of his stomach, his face twisting into a grimace. Ski mask shuffled away from him, crawling on his back like a crab.
Knife guy advanced toward him, waving a small bloody blade in the air. “I warned you, didn’t I?”
It appeared he didn’t have to be in a Hitchcock movie to get stabbed to death. The worst part was, if he died here tonight, everyone would know he fell in the hands of the World’s Dumbest Muggers.
Then just as Eric was already accepting his demise, the most glorious sound echoed in the air: car horn.
“Shit, D! C’mon!” Eric heard the other one yell.
Knife guy didn’t have to be told twice as he grabbed Eric’s bag off the ground and hightailed it into the woods followed closely by his waddling partner.
Eric fell on his back as his face contorted into a grimace. He heard tires screeching to a halt a few paces from him and he had to cover his face with the back of his hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the headlights. He discerned running footsteps now.
And all he could do was pray that the newcomer wouldn’t finish what the muggers started and sell his kidneys on Craig’s list.
“Eric? That you man?”
He knew that voice.
“Sook! It’s Eric! He’s bleedin!”
Another set of footsteps shuffled toward him. Eric dropped his hand and saw Jason behind him was his sister, who was wielding a…
Is that a shotgun?
He never thought it was possible under this condition, but the image of Sookie with a sawed-off accomplished what Ginger’s tits weren’t able to: give him a hard-on… at the very least a semi.
Sookie hunkered down beside him, slinging the strap of the barrel over her shoulder. “What have you gotten yourself into now?” There was something in her voice that he found very disconcerting. She sounded concerned and disappointed at the same time, which reminded him of his brother. Godric was the only person in the world who could summon an explanation – and apology – from him every time he fucked up.
“I was robbed,” he stated lamely, hoping that would sum everything up.
Her lips thinned as her warm blue eyes bore into him. “Can you walk?” she asked. “We’re gonna get you help. The hospital’s not far from here but you need to help us get you to the car.”
He folded his knees and propped his elbows to give himself a boost before he started pushing his feet against the ground. Jason circled around him and grasped both his shoulders. Sookie caught his hands and tugged. He ground his teeth to keep from cursing out loud. The strain from the pulling was making the makeshift faucet in his side gush with more blood. He’d rather faint from the sheer pain than complain though.
Once he was up, Jason and Sookie hooked his arms around their shoulders as they staggered toward a tiny yellow car. Jason helped him slide in the backseat while Sookie ran to the driver’s seat.
Eric felt cold although he was sure he was sweating through his shirt. He cocked his head and closed his eyes. He was getting dizzy, the bitter taste of bourbon rising up to his throat, threatening to spill.
Sookie gunned the engine and turned to him. “You gotta lie down, you’ll lose more blood sittin’ like that.” She then turned to her brother, who had taken quite some time to get in the passenger seat. “Jase, I don’t think he’s putting enough pressure on his wound. You gotta help him or he’ll bleed out before we can get him to E.R.”
Jason turned sideways to look at him as he laid his head on the leather seat and stretched his long legs as far as the space would allow. “I can’t reach it from here, Sook. I have to get in the back with him but I don’t think we’ll both fit.”
Sookie paused, deliberating. “Can you drive?” she asked her brother.
She swung her door open as Jason, ever so slowly, moved behind the wheel.
The backseat door creaked as Sookie lifted Eric’s head and slipped in, placing his throbbing head on her lap. She tugged the hem of his shirt and carefully positioned her palm on the wound. He didn’t know if it was her hand on his waist or his head on her lap but he somehow found himself weirdly comforted as he shut his eyes again.
He felt a slight tap on his cheek. “Hey, don’t sleep.” She pinched his chin forcing him to look up.
“Open your eyes and look at me,” she ordered.
“Open your eyes and look at me,” she repeated, more sternly this time.
His eyelids drooped as he zoomed in on her face.
“You can’t doze off. Not until we’re sure you don’t have a concussion.”
His eyes fluttered as he turned his head to the side, his face inches from her flat belly. “You smell like whiskey and fries.”
“It’s just your breath, try closing your mouth,” she deadpanned. He chuckled. This woman’s snark was unbelievable. He’d like to get her and Pam in a room and watch them banter-off.
“You don’t like me so much, do you?”
“Let’s just say I liked you better thirty minutes ago.”
“Hey it’s not my fault I keep running into assholes.”
She arched her brow at him, pinning him with a look. “You know we have a saying here in the South: if you run into an asshole in the morning; you ran into an asshole. But if you run into assholes all day, then you’re the asshole.”
He sniggered, raising his brows in return. “So I’m the asshole now?”
“No.” She combed her fingers through his damp hair. It felt nice. Damn this woman’s ability to turn him into a pile of mush.
“I think you’re a dumbass.” She brushed his cheek. “For bringing a fist to a knife fight.”
It must be the booze or the loss of blood but for the first time that night he found himself laughing.