The pool cue was in my hands. I had rotated it so I was gripping the thin end. When Marky turned I swung it like a baseball bat. It made a loud whoosh as it cut through the still barroom air and then a cracking sound as it exploded against his face, catching him across the upper lip. I felt the contact rippling through my hands and arms and deep into my shoulders as I followed through. Marky’s head snapped back and his legs came out from under him and he splashed against the dirty rubber floor, bounced once, and settled among the cigarette butts, pretzels, and popcorn.
I glanced at Joey. He didn’t seem to understand what was happening until I moved toward him, gripping the stick like a batter walking to the plate. He drifted backward until his spine was hard against the bar. His arms were spread wide in a pose of surrender, and his eyes were locked on mine as if I were a bad traffic accident and he couldn’t make himself look away. I halted, rested the pool cue on my shoulder, and smiled. Joey just stared, his mouth open, like a man whose brain synapses were too far apart. I walked slowly past him to the door. I opened the bolt at the bottom, then the top, and moved back into the bar. None of the men spoke a word to me, so I didn’t speak to them. I carefully stepped over Marky’s body. He was moaning softly now; blood dribbled from his nose and from both corners of his mouth. I still had three balls on the pool table, and I sank them one at a time without a miss. Afterward, I returned the pool stick to the rack.
“I’m ready to leave. How ’bout you?” I said.
Karen nodded and slipped off her stool. “Gentlemen,” she said and walked briskly to the door. I followed. Nobody would meet my eyes; no one spoke until I moved past Joey. He said, “Asshole,” so I stomped on his kneecap with the outer edge of my shoe. I don’t know if I smashed it, but Joey went down screaming just the same. I caught his hair as he fell and held him up while I punched his face until my knuckles became sore.
I was breathing hard when I left the bar; sweat had pooled under my arms and at the small of my back.
“Are you happy now?” Karen asked. I had unlocked the Audi with my key-chain remote, and we were talking to each other over the roof of the car. “You’ve been wanting to hit somebody all night. Now you’ve had your chance. Does it make you feel better?”
“Am I missing something?” I said. “Did you not know what was going on back there? Did you not see Marky locking the door?”
“What the hell do you think that was about?”
“I know what it was about.”
“They were going to rape you, Karen. They were going to hold you down on the bar and spread your legs and rape you. Every man in that place—”
“They were going to rape you and abuse you and degrade you simply because you were there and they’re all pissed off at the world and why should you be happy if they’re not—and do you know what would have happened afterward? Nothing. I doubt that they would have celebrated. I doubt that they would have even given each other a high-five.”
“McKenzie, that wasn’t going to happen.”
“That’s because I was there. I can’t believe you’re giving me attitude over this. I was helping you.”
“I didn’t need help. I had it under control.”
“What were you going to do, Karen, when they put their hands on you? Kill ’em with kindness?”
Karen’s hand was in her bag. When it came out, she was holding a .380 Colt Mustang pocket gun. She slapped the semiautomatic on the roof of my Audi, and my first thought was Hey, lady, that’s a fifty-thousand-dollar car. My second thought I spoke aloud. “You had a gun?” That’s why she had draped her purse over her shoulder and why her hand was inside it. “What are you doing with a gun? You said no guns.”
“I said no guns for you. Lucky I did, from what I saw in there. You would have shot those men.”
“Hell, yes,” I said.
“So instead you beat on them. That should make you happy.”
“Tell me, McKenzie. Do you think either of them will be any less of a jerk tomorrow because you beat on them?”
“Karen, I was concerned for your safety.”
“No. You were upset that you haven’t been able to do anything for Victoria Dunston, and you took it out on them.”
“Get in the car.”
Once we were both inside the Audi and she had put her gun away, I said, “Karen, I have a lot to apologize for.” She turned in her seat and looked at me as if she suddenly thought I was interesting. “For the way I’ve treated you, the way I spoke to your friends.”
“I’ve already forgiven you for that,” Karen said.
“I know. I just wanted you to know that I was sorry. I have no reason to get down on you and your pals. You’re true believers. You’re honestly concerned about helping people.”
“We sure don’t do it for the money,” she said.
“Only I am not going to apologize for what I did in Lehane’s. I didn’t know you had a gun, and even if I had, I still would have stepped in.”
“I wish you hadn’t.”
“Tell me, Karen. If those men had laid hands on you, would you have used the gun?”
“I would have pulled it.”
“Yes, but if they weren’t afraid, if they didn’t back off, would you have squeezed the trigger?”
She didn’t answer. I don’t think she had an answer. She turned in her seat and gazed out of the passenger window looking for it. After a few moments, she said, “You think I’m naive, don’t you?”