Curled up in the dark underneath the table, Parker weighed his options.  He could try and talk his way out, or he could run.  He did not like running.  It was sweaty and tiring and far too much like normal work.  Maybe he could convince convince Frank to hear him out.

    “Not so funny now, eh dandy,” Frank shrilled from across the room.  “Go on, brain ‘im Joe!”  Joe gave an answering grunt.

    Well.  Perhaps not then.  He would have to run.  Parker tensed his legs and blinked the sweat out of his eyes.  It had been far too long since he had exercised.  The smell of the wine running down the walls was overpowering.  Could he make it?  He saw Big Joe’s combat boots stop right in front on his table.  Time to find out.

    Light flooded in as Big Joe flung the table across the room in one hand.  Leering down at Parker, he hefted his bar stool above his head.  In a flash, Parker dove forward through his legs in a desperate leap, rolling and twisting across the beer-soaked floor.  The stool smashed into the floor inches from his right leg and shattered.  As Big Joe roared in frustration, Parker scrambled to his feet and sprinted for the door, reached it, threw it open.  Big Joe spun around and kicked out, catching Parker in the backside and sending him tumbling out into the night. 

    Parker hit the ground hard and lay still, trying to force breath into his throbbing lungs. Big Joe was coming, he had to move!  He heard derisive laughter echoing from the bar and struggled to get a breath.  His hat came spinning out through the door and landed next to him, then the laughter cut off abruptly as the door slammed shut.  Apparently Big Joe and Frank had better things to do than to ensure his dismemberment. 

    He stood up slowly, carefully, muscles knotted from their sudden exertion.  All in all, not one of his more dignified exits.  A bar brawl.  How terribly cliché.  He stooped over gingerly and picked up his hat, his back aching from its sudden impact with the ground.  Well then, what to do now.  That was the question, wasn’t it?  Walking over to a nearby curb out of sight of the bar, he sat down to think.

    The problem was that none of this changed the facts.  He was a wanted man being pursued by the police, he had no money save for the few dollars he had lifted off the man in the bar, he had two hundred miles left to go and barely thirty-six hours left.  He had not made a good impression; Frank was likely to sic Big Joe on him again if he caught sight of him around town.  His options were, quite frankly, limited.  Maybe he wouldn’t make it.

    Parker rubbed his temples slowly.  No, that wouldn’t do at all.  Amanda was his favorite niece and she would be devastated if he missed her birthday again.  She was nine already, so grown up in so short a time.  He saw here rarely enough as it was.  A con man’s life tended to interfere with such things.  But he had promised her this time and he intended to honor that promise.  He had broken far too many of them in the past.  Some things in life were important.

    Parker turned his hat over and over in his hands.  Perhaps another way of getting money, then.  But what?  He had no time to pull a normal con, and after the fiasco in the bar half the town would be on the lookout for him.  The poor fools probably didn’t even have enough cash to make it worthwhile.  Besides, Parker didn’t like stealing from the poor.  Taking all of an innocent man’s livelihood seemed distasteful.  More importantly, it was far too easy.  No challenge in it at all. 

    A faint siren drifted back across the town, jerking Parker back to reality.  Damn.  The police were still out there.  And Big Joe and Frank would be looking for him as well.  Staying in town could actually be dangerous.  Instincts that had kept him alive and free for years were screaming at him, telling him to ditch town and lay low somewhere safe.  He could hitchhike to the next little scrap of nowhere and stay there.  Save his own skin.  Parker knew he should be gone already.  That was the smart choice.  But as hard as he tried, he couldn’t keep Amanda’s face out of his head.  She would be so disappointed.  And he had promised her. 

    After a long pause, Parker stood up slowly.  That was it, then.  He would have to find a way in to whatever job Frank and the Big Joe were planning.  Amanda’s face smiled at him as he set his hat on his head at a rakish tilt.

    “Don’t get too happy just yet,” he muttered to himself.  “There’s still the rat-man and his pet monkey to deal with.  Why is doing the right thing always so much more difficult?”

    Parker strode down the dark street towards the center of town.  At least he had a place to start.  “Griffon’s Pawn Shop,” he mused.  “And this mysterious boss waiting there.  So it begins.”  Parker cracked his knuckles.  Time for some dastardly crime.

The End

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