Discovered in a Bar Fight|
"How to Win Bar Fights for Fun & Profit!"
by A. J. Crowley
Written for the "Worst-Case Scenario" challenge. The assignment? Obviously "How to Win a Bar Fight."
Good Omens with guest stars from The Professionals.
Thanks to Sihaya B. and Beth H. for beta, Britspeak, the cream cords and half a title, and the Brits on my
friends list for suggesting good restaurants and lousy television shows.
The Pig and Bladder was one of those typical timber and bottle-glass pubs that looked older than it was, and was less distinguished than those a quarter-century newer. At half past twelve on a particular Friday it was poorly lit, which did nothing to combat the gray ambiance seeping in from the drizzling skies outside. Despite all its shortcomings, it had one distinguishing factor that caused it to be tightly packed with customers during lunch hour: the beer was cheap.
At a corner table, a dark man in smoked sunglasses poked a fork at his plate. "I told you," he said, scowling slightly, "that we'd do better at Le Caprice. This shepherd's pie is execrable."
"You're too picky."
The dark man snorted. "Pot and kettle, I think. Anyway, the meat's gone off."
"Perhaps it's made with real shepherd," mused his dining companion, a fair man of indeterminate years. "An old, tough one."
The man in sunglasses glanced up sharply. "I'm surprised at you. Is that the sort of joke your lot goes in for, then?"
"Heavens, no." Aziraphale's eyes widened. "Perhaps you're rubbing off on me."
"If only there were a chance." Crowley murmured, but the hint of a smile quirked one corner of his mouth. He poked ruthlessly at his food again, imagining how much further he could hurl it with a pitchfork. "Le Caprice has a new chef, you know. Oh, for a steak, a rare one, nice and bloody—"
The other man paled a bit. "Here," he said hurriedly, "try my Ploughman's. At least you know what's in it."
"Real ploughman? Thank you, I think not." Crowley pushed his plate away as far as the table allowed. "Disgusting. I had enough bad meat in the fourteenth century to last me Eternity."
"Do I?" Crowley answered, slightly miffed.
"Constantly," Aziraphale said affectionately, popping the last onion into his mouth. "Mmm. Delicious."
Crowley made a face. "Pickled onions make me think of Americans guzzling martinis."
Aziraphale examined him with a critical eye. "My, you are in a mood today."
"It's this Blessed decade. Never thought I'd miss the seventies. These days everyone's so, so smug." He glowered into his drink.
"I thought that was your doing."
"Don't be insulting." Crowley stared at his glass until it refilled itself. "The music's appalling, for one. Cliff Richard. The Bee Gees. I ask you."
"The dances seem nice."
"'The dances seem nice?'" Crowley raised an incredulous eyebrow. "Good G— Oh, for S--! Weren't you the one who thought the minuet was the supreme achievement of mankind?"
"Well, it was very pretty. Lovely patterns."
Crowley leaned forward and peered unblinkingly over his sunglasses, trying for effect, but Aziraphale didn't flinch. "Disco is not what I had in mind when I taught Eve to dance. Dancing should be a manifestation of raw sexual power. Or violence."
"My dear fellow, I had no idea," Aziraphale replied with a determinedly straight face. "You invented dancing?"
"Only the really important ones. You know – seduction, fertility, war. The Funky Chicken."
Warming to his topic, Crowley paid no notice to the palpable sarcasm. "And the way people dress these days is – well, take that pair at the bar, for example!"
Aziraphale obligingly turned to check. The pair in question consisted of a well-built, handsome man clad in tight cream-colored trousers and a wide-lapelled shirt polka-dotted with tiny pink hearts; by his side lounged a fellow with a tangle of auburn curls framing a strangely off-kilter face, dressed in provocatively clinging patched jeans and a shirt unbuttoned to reveal a silver chain nestled amidst a wide swath of chest hair. "Oh dear. Those trousers are awfully tight."
"Well," drawled Crowley, "I was referring to the hair and the hearts. Tight trousers are all right. They're. . .festive. Decorative." He looked at his companion. "You could do with a makeover, you know, starting with the baggy cords."
"I'm not certain how to reply to that." Aziraphale smiled tightly. "The eighties aren't entirely dire, you know. They have their compensations."
"True. Tight trousers, drugs, sex, religious fanaticism. . ."
Aziraphale shot him a speaking look. "I'm not sure I approve of this line of conversation, either. Particularly that last part."
"You started it. But if it's any consolation, I had nothing to do with Belfast."
"Really? You surprise me."
Conversation lagged. They sipped their drinks in comfortable silence and Crowley took the opportunity to further study the inhabitants of the pub. Other than the two at the bar, the place seemed to cater to a very different kind of clientele. There was a bald bartender with heavily tattooed arms, two dockers arguing drunkenly in the corner, several leather-clad bikers playing darts noisily by the far wall and a handful of labourers in denim and work boots. Crowley stared intently at the pub's entrance. Wouldn't it be interesting if. . . he thought, a devilish smile crossing his lips. A few seconds later the outer door slammed open, admitting a huge brute of a man dressed entirely in black with silver chains looped around various parts of his anatomy. Behind him strode a handful of massive cronies, each with an interesting array of knives and chains on their person.
Crowley's smile broadened.
Together the new arrivals shouldered their way through the mob, leaving a wake of aggrieved protestors. Behind his sunglasses Crowley's unblinking eyes sparkled. He turned in Aziraphale's direction. "Why was it you wanted to come here for lunch, then?"
Aziraphale shrugged. "I. . .just didn't feel like dining formally. And it's close to the shop." Crowley said nothing, merely staring at him until he continued. "All right. Thought I'd try something new. You're always going on about me being in a rut."
"Interesting choice for rut-therapy," Crowley smirked, leaning closer. "Rather a rough crowd. Not exactly your sort of thing, I would have said."
"No. . ." Aziraphale mused. "I say—you didn't have anything to do with my choosing this place, did you?"
"Me?" Crowley looked shocked. "For this food? You wound me. Besides, you know it doesn't work on you, angel."
"No, it doesn't," Aziraphale admitted, wrinkling his brow. "Not directly. . ."
"Well then. Drink up."
Aziraphale did so. He put down his glass (not noticing how it immediately refilled itself) and caught a glimpse of the newcomers for the first time. "They look like trouble," he said worriedly, turning round to look at them.
"Oh, for--! Don't stare," Crowley warned, just a fraction too late.
"Hoi – you! Poof!"
"Oh dear," said Aziraphale.
The man in black leather and chains strode through the now-silent crowd towards them, but surprisingly pushed past their table and sidled up to the pair at the bar. "What's a pansy like you doing in my spot?" he growled at the handsome man in polka dots.
"Oh, is this your spot?" Handsome inquired benignly.
"Yeah, an' I don't want any bleedin' poofter standing in it."
The curly-haired fellow nudged his companion. "Told you not to wear that getup, didn't I? 'e thinks you're a fairy."
"Who's this, your little girlfriend?" The big man leaned over to leer at the one who'd just spoken. "You his girlfriend, pansy?"
Handsome turned to his companion. "He thinks I fancy you." he said affably.
"Well, don't you?" He fluttered his lashes in outrageous flirtation.
"Well, of course, sunshine, you're irresistible," answered the other one. He gestured toward the big man, who by now was gaping at them with fully open mouth. "Perhaps he fancies you as well, then."
"Know what I do to ponces who think they can take my spot?" threatened the giant.
"Ah, apparently you're still in his spot. Huh," sniffed the curly-haired bloke. "You shoulda known it was his from the big grease stain left on the bar."
It took a moment for the penny to drop. Then the clouds of non-comprehension lifted from the big brute, to be replaced by red-faced fury. "Why, you little sod--!"
"Ah," said Crowley, sliding his chair back, "it might be prudent to duck."
To his delight, all Hell broke loose.
"Why do these things always happen?" Aziraphale said peevishly from behind the table as fists and furniture began to fly.
"Oh, don't sound so indignant. You're not that naive. Violence, not the minuet, may well be the supreme achievement of mankind."
"It is not!"
"We must agree to disagree. Bar fights are a perfect example—" Crowley paused in his narrative to watch a full glass of ale smash against the wall behind him. "--All that masssculine possssturing, rampant testosssterone, 'n add a little alcohol to fuel aggressssion—et voila!"
"How much have you had to drink?"
"You're hissing. And speaking French."
"Don't change the subject, angel," Crowley said, but he took a moment to sober himself. "I know about these things. Why do you think the French Revolution started?"
"I don't think it was too much cabernet sauvignon, my dear. Possibly oppression and poverty and--"
"Don't be ridiculous. There was this bistro across from the Bastille, and some garcons just wanted to have fun. Oh! Remember the time in that Mesopotamian tavern when we--"
"Next I suppose you'll tell me you invented bar fighting, too!"
"Didn't have to," protested the demon. "They thought that up themselves, didn't they, along with fratricide and traffic jams and 'Triangle.' --Chair!" They leaned back just in time to avoid a flying ladder-back that had survived a previous ninety years of pub fights only to die ignominiously in a shower of splinters.
"Oh, I say, that curly fellow fights dirty." Aziraphale watched the man in question kick his huge opponent in the knee, thrust his own knee to the man's unprotected groin, and then follow up with a chop to the throat. The man in black shrieked and gurgled as he tottered sideways to crash through a table.
"Excellent technique," nodded Crowley approvingly. "You see how he stayed close so the big fellow didn't have room to attack him."
Aziraphale shot him a look. "Have you made a study of it?"
Crowley shrugged. "I know what works in a bar fight, if that's what you're asking. Had plenty of practice starting them."
"I thought so," sniffed Aziraphale.
"Don't give me that. Most of the time you insist on putting in your oar, don't you? You imbue them with so much guilt they go home before they get around to actually killing anyone. It's a yin-yang thing. All part of the—"
"—ineffable process, yes, I know. Hang on, something's happening."
The big man's entourage had joined the fray, forcing Handsome and his friend into a defensive posture, backs to the bar. "See?" said Crowley, pointing, "a smart fighter protects himself from additional attackers by fighting close to -- but not up against -- a corner or wall. A bar counter-top works, too."
"I'll keep that in mind," the angel said drily, "should the occasion arise."
The dart-throwing bikers were in it now, too, as were half the workmen and one of the drunken dockers. The other seemed to have collapsed against a wall, still clutching his drink. In the middle of the floor, Handsome drove his elbow repeatedly into the midsection of one of the bikers, forcing the man to relinquish the chain wound round his fist. The thud as he hit the floor echoed satisfyingly in Crowley's metaphoric ears. "That's got to hurt," he commented cheerfully.
"Another of your winning techniques?"
Crowley chose to ignore the sarcasm. "The object is to attack repeatedly and be efficient about it, make repetitive blows to sensitive areas. Handsome over there is quite efficient at it. They both are. I wonder if they've had professional training."
"They're awfully violent."
"Yes, aren't they!"
"You needn't sound so happy about it." Aziraphale frowned. "Well, I suppose you must."
"Oh, now that's inventive," noted Crowley, pointing to the one he'd started thinking of as Sunshine, who was in the process of being choked to death by the bartender's massive arm. "I wonder if he'll take advantage of the—yes!" The gasping fighter bit down hard on the bartender's exposed ear and flipped him over his shoulder into the arms of another biker who collapsed under the weight. "Well done! Marveloussss use of leverage!"
"Good heavens, Crowley, sssh! They'll hear you."
"What, in all this din?" Crowley said with more bravado than assurance. He'd hardly finished uttering the words when the fight exploded exponentially in their direction. "Ah, well, perhaps—"
"Er, perhaps we might. . ." Aziraphale suggested, cocking his head towards the entrance.
Wordlessly Crowley assented. They picked their way on hands and knees towards the door, avoiding the broken sticks of furniture and shards of glass, though Crowley managed to put one elegantly manicured hand in a puddle of spilled stout. Grimacing, he willed the sticky fluid away. Unfortunately, just as the door came within arm's length, the huge man who'd started the row pulled himself groggily off the floor directly in front of them. "You!" he bellowed. "What're you two nancy boys lookin' at?"
"Er," said Aziraphale.
"I really wouldn't if I were you," Crowley warned the brute, preparing to create a Manifestation.
But he hadn't the time for it. Brute-boy backhanded him into the wall, where he sat, dazed, thinking, he just backhanded me into the wall. He didn't even bother to snap his fingers or blink Brute away, so stunned was he that such a thing had happened. It was almost, but not quite, with the attitude of a maths professor watching his clever protégé solve a complicated formula that he beheld one enormous paw grab Aziraphale by the front of his tweed jacket and the other pull back into a fist, preparing to punch the angel into Kingdom Come.
Not that such a thing was actually possible, but it hardly mattered.
It really didn't matter either that Aziraphale just as easily could have made the brute vanish himself. At the moment the angel seemed completely astonished that such a thing could be happening, and stood there passively waiting to be thoroughly thumped. It was just all too fascinating, like a slow-moving Apocalypse, so Crowley lolled there, watching the effects of what he'd set in motion come to their violent conclusion.
Something happened that had nothing to do with either of them.
There was a loud splatting, smashing sound, a cascade of alcohol and shattered glass, and Brute slammed to his knees, and then to the floor, to lie still. Aziraphale tottered upright.
"You two all right, then?" asked Sunshine, standing there with the remains of a bottle in his hand. "Oi! You get hit?"
"Um, no, thank you," Aziraphale said vaguely.
"You see? If necessary use a weapon to win a bar fight," Crowley announced, getting to his feet without a drop of anything on his trousers to mar the perfect crease. "Anything can be a weapon -- telephones, pens, books, coffee cups, keys, bottles—"
"Give it a rest, will you?" Aziraphale grumbled.
"We’ve been after this bunch for weeks," said Sunshine, straddling the prone troublemaker and whipping out a pair of handcuffs into which he forced the meaty fists. "Gang of bigots; like to burn synagogues, beat up homosexuals. Left a Paki for dead last week. Was hoping they'd show today."
"Oh, you're policemen," Aziraphale said brightly.
"Policemen? Not 'ardly," Handsome said, coming over from the other side of the room, where he'd finished cuffing two bikers together around a post. He reached down to ruffle his friend's curls. "You all right, angelfish?"
"Why yes," began Aziraphale, then froze as three pairs of eyes whipped to him. "I mean. . ."
"He means we were just going," Crowley put in hastily. He shoved Aziraphale towards the door.
"You two shouldn't hang out in places like this," advised the man formerly known as Sunshine, now embarrassingly fixed in the two Immortal Beings' minds as "Angelfish." "There's a nice pub in the next road, caters to your sort of gentlemen."
Crowley cocked an eyebrow. "Our sort?"
"Well, yes," Sunshine/Angelfish/Curly said, now somewhat delicately. "You know. With other gentlemen of your persuasion. Where you can be. . .together, you know, with no one caring a toss about it."
"A gay bar," interjected Handsome, somewhat more succinctly. "C'mon. Let's get this lot to Headquarters."
"But---" Aziraphale protested, "we're not—"
"Forget it," sighed Crowley. He turned and fixed a terrifying Eye on the back of the retreating curly head. Say, "That's a hideous shirt," he willed.
"Y'know, mate," said Angelfish to his partner, "that's a truly hideous shirt."
"Good thing I'm so incredibly good-looking, then, isn't it, so I can carry it off," smirked Handsome, reaching over to swat his partner on the bum.
"Do you suppose they're really. . ." Aziraphale began.
"Forget them. It's not worth it," Crowley sighed, thinking but I'll be seeing you two later, won't I? He pushed the door open. "Come on, angel. . .fish."
"Let's get a proper meal at Le Caprice."
"Are you buying?"
"Typical. Yes, all right."
"Yes, then," agreed Aziraphale.
"Good!" said Crowley as they stepped into the street. "I'll even demonstrate how to survive a kitchen fire."
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