The bottle came flying across the room, narrowly missed Parker’s head, and smashed into the wall behind him.  Glass fragments peppered his arms and a spray of cheap wine drenched his white suit jacket. 

    “Damn it!”  Parker dove behind a table as another bottle whizzed past.  “Don’t you ruffians realize how difficult that is going to be to clean? 

    His only response was an inarticulate roar from the gorilla of a man who just thrown the bottles.  Having exhausted his immediate supply of ammunition, he hefted a nearby bar stool and lumbered towards Parker’s hiding place.

    Curled up beneath the table, Parker considered his options.  The armed man-ape was currently between him and the door, and the way he gripped the stool made a direct confrontation seem unwise.  Parker had many skills, but going toe to toe with an muscle-bound goliath was not one of them.  Physical violence was far to unsophisticated.  As heavy footfalls grew closer and closer, he rethought a few of the choices that had brought him to this particular point of the evening. 

    When Parker had first noticed the two men who did not want to be overheard, they were completely engrossed in their conversation.  Neither one noticed when he moved to the table behind theirs.  Bending low over his drink, he adapted the weary slouch and tired facial expression of the rest of the bar’s customers.  Within minutes, eyes that had followed him since he had entered the bar slid away.  He was just another working stiff, wasting his night alone with a pint of cheap beer.  No one worth noticing.  As easy as it was for Parker to stand out, he was just as skilled at disappearing when it was necessary.  Turning his head slightly, he listened to the two men behind him. 

    “-Didn’t ask what you thought about it, idiot.”  The voice was high pitched and petulant.  Probably the smaller man. 

    “I dunno.  Just don’t seem right.”  A low rumble.  Definitely the larger man. 
    “What is it, you growing a conscious?  You’re a criminal, ain’t you?”

    “Still don’t like it.”  The big man sounded almost sullen.  Parker leaned closer.

    “Well, you don’t have to like it, do you?  Just do what me and the boss say, and you’ll get paid.  I got it all figured out, did I mention?”  The little man sounded proud, like a kid gloating about a favorite toy to his friends. 

    “Yeah you did.  Six times already.”

    “Oh, so the big man can count now?”  The little man’s voice hissed in sudden fury.  “Don’t think to hard, you’ll strain something.  Leave that to me and the boss.”  He paused.  Parker imagined he was pouting.  “Who asked you anyways?”

    “You did.” 

    “Oh Christ just shut up will ya?  Just be at Jimmy’s pawn shop tomorrow morning to meet with the boss.  He’ll tell you the rest there.  That easy enough to understand?  Want me to repeat it slower?”

    “I got it.”
    “Yeah, you’d better.  God, if only I had someone with brains to work with here.”

    That would be my cue, thought Parker.  He stood and pulled a chair up to the booth the two men were sitting in.  He was smooth, polished, and cut straight to the chase.  Professionals didn’t like it when you wasted their time. 

    “Evening, gentlemen.  I could not help but overhear your little conversation and think we may be able to help one another.”  Dropping elegantly into the chair, he folded his hands neatly on the table.  Both men stared, apparently stunned by his audacity.  Or perhaps it was just the filthy suit.  Parker ignored the stares and took a good look at the two of them.

    He was not particularly impressed.  The smaller man sitting to his left had a pale, pointed face with a long noise, framed by a curtain of greasy hair.  The nose twitched slightly as he stared, giving him the appearance of an overgrown rat.  Parker almost expected to see whiskers.  The second man was as large as the first was small.  His barrel chest stretched his white sleeveless shirt to the breaking point.  Thick arms, covered with tattoos and bulging with muscle, rested on the table in front of him.  His face wore two days worth of dark stubble and a shocked expression.  Parker raised an eyebrow.  They did not seem to be professionals.

    The little one got his voice back first.  “Who the hell are you?  What are you doing here?  What do you know?”  Parker could see his brain struggled to keep up with this development.  It was almost funny.

    “I am someone who can help you.  Now, you have a job set up here and-”

    The rat man cut him off.  “Help?  We don’t need your help.”  He sneered, showing yellowed teeth.  “I got this thing covered.  What, you don’t think I got what it takes to plan a job?”

    “I’m reserving judgement on that for the moment.”  Parker gave him his best smile.  You could certainly have picked a better place to meet, he thought to himself. 

    The rat man was not amused  “Reserving judgement, you little-”  His face twisted in sudden fury and his voice jumped up an octave.  “What do you know, anyways,” he squeaked.    “Nothing, that’s what!  You’re just in the way.”  He seemed to calm a little, and gave Parker a nasty smile.  “Big Joe?”

    The big man blinked several times and turned his head.  “Yeah, Frank.” 
    Frank kept his eyes fixed on Parker, that grin still plastered over his face.  “We got a problem.  How do you reckon we deal with it?”

    “I could hit it.”  The mountain that called itself Big Joe turned towards Parker and clenched its fist around an half-filled bottle.  A small part of Parker’s brain noted that this seemed to be Big Joe’s answer of choice to questions of that kind.  The rest of it was rather preoccupied with the cracking noises Big Joe was making as he rotated his neck.  Finishing up, he looked at Frank questioningly.

    Frank sneered at Parker again.  “Yeah.  Get him.”

    Parker was halfway across the room before Frank finished speaking.  He had almost reached the door when the bottle came flying at his head.

    Now, crouched beneath the table, listening to Big Joe’s footsteps coming closer and closer, Parker finally began to question whether he was going to make it out of town at all.

The End

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