Disclaimer: Not mine, no money being made. Not betaed as well.
The moment the big man walked in, all of Xander’s senses entered high alert. Ice blue eyes scanned the entire bar in a single swoop, the one-eyed man noticed that he, along with everything else was analyzed and classified as either a threat or not. Once the man finished his scan, he locked eyes with Xander, and a single nod was all the answer he got. In it, more meaning than a thousand words.
The man sat to a corner, with a clear vision of the entrance, and close enough to the back door if he needed an escape avenue. The one-eyed bartender and owner approached, hands clearly in sight.
“What can I get you?” he asked, still evaluating the big man.
“A Bud,” the man – no, warrior – replied.
Xander got it, and a glass, but the man chose to drink from the bottle itself. He then noticed the discrete volume of a gun hidden under the guy’s dark coat.
“Should I expect trouble?” Xander asked, suddenly really worried about his health. The man wasn’t a cop, that much was clear. He didn’t look like a criminal, as well, but whatever the guy was, ‘dangerous’ was the first adjective that came to mind.
“Not from me, just came in for a drink, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. Name’s Xander, by the way,” he introduced himself, relaxing somewhat. In his life he had most of the spectrum that the human race fell under, and while the man screamed ‘dangerous’, somehow he also gave Xander the impression of being trustworthy.
“Mike,” the guy said. “Interesting place you have here,” he said, eyeing the photos and assorted collection decorating the bar, including an authentic Ivanhoe sword and some drummer sticks.
“Yeah,” Xander replied. “I have a knack for odd friends and customers, and somehow it became a habit for them to leave a memento of their passing, or to share a story. Wanna contribute?”
“Humm,” Mike replied, thinking about it. “I might have one. Let’s see…” he started, but they were both interrupted by two new…customers, if they could be called that.
Someone had somehow seen way too much Mob movies, and not of the good kind either. The thugs, and that was what they clearly were, were dressed in suits that were supposed to be well tailored and expensive, but that in the end looked like they were made to dress two shaved gorillas. One of them was tall and muscular, fingers and wrists filled with gold, and a gold crucifix in a heavy chain around his neck. The other was short and balding, with no apparent jewelry except another gold crucifix. Xander and Mike traded glances, and another silent communication took place.
Knowing that his back would be covered, the barman turned to them.
“What can I do for you, gentlemen?”
“You the owner of this joint?” Shorty said, with a fake Brooklyn accent. Oh God, Xander thought, mobsters wannabes.
“Yes, I am. What can I do for you, gentlemen?” he repeated.
“We’re representing the new Commerce Association that has been funded to protect the business interests in the region, so we came by to show ourselves and to meet the people we’ll be working with in the future,” Shorty replied with their decorated text, paying no attention to the other customer currently sitting at the end of the bar.
“Oh, yes? That’s cool, but I don’t remember about any talks regarding a Commerce Association. Who’s heading it?” Xander asked.
“Mr. Monterello is,” Shorty said. “Mr. Salvatore Monterello.”
“I don’t think I know Mr. Monterello. Is he new around here?” he asked, playing with the man.
“He moved in some time ago,” Shorty replied, clearly getting annoyed with Xander. “Look, we just came to introduce ourselves, on a next visit, we’ll come to talk about how you’ll join the Association.”
“I don’t know if I’ll join. What are your business strategies, your plans for the area? Can I speak with Mr. Monterello about them?”
Shorty came closer, trying to look menacing. Xander avoided trying to compare him with some Big Bad, lest he fell down laughing hard. “I think you’ll join, sir. You see, we just have the best interest for the region in mind. As for speaking with Mr. Monterello, I don’t know if it will be possible, however, we can give him any messages you wanna.”
“If you can have Mr. Monterello send me his plans for the region, I’ll think about joining,” Xander said, stressing the word think “If not, then you can tell him I’m not interested.”
“I think it’s better for you if you join, sir. You never know what the future might bring,” Shorty said, the veiled threat not exactly veiled, fuse growing short.
“Well, give me a month to think about it, then,” Xander said
“We’ll be back next week,” Shorty said, and both he and the muscle left the bar.
A moment after they left, Xander turned to his other patron, who was standing up, removing some bills from a wallet. Xander shook his head.
“You covered my back, this one is on the house,” he stated. The warrior nodded his thanks. “Leaving so soon?”
“I just remembered, I have some work to do,” he said, and the eyes, which were so far dangerous, but warm until the thugs showed up, now seemed like two chips of ice.
“Well, come back later, if you can. You still owe me that story,” Xander said, and the big man turned back to him.
Mike didn’t show up the rest of the day, or the next day, or the following one. Business was escalating somewhat, mainly because of the person sharing the counter with him. What a mistake, telling Willow what had happened with him.
“You know I don’t need a bodyguard, right?” he said for the umpteenth time.
“Stop saying that. Red says you do, B says you do, so you do, X. Besides, I need the cash, and the tips are not bad, and I’m bringing some extra clients,” Faith said, cleaning up one of the mugs.
Well, he had to admit it was true. The only thing that circulated more than alcoholic beverages in his bar were the clients’ attempts of scoring with the brunette bombshell. They both heard the door open, and Xander smiled slightly when he saw Mike coming in. The tall man exchanged glances with Faith, and they both tensed.
“He’s a friend, Faith,” Xander said, and the tension dimmed. “Good seeing you again, Mike. You finished that job?”
“You could say that,” he replied, sitting on the same stool from the other day.
“A Bud?” the one-eyed man asked.
“Yes, please,” he answered back, but it was Faith who put the bottle in front of him, looking the man straight in the eyes. She stifled a gasp once she saw those eyes up close and personal, but Xander noticed her reaction.
“Something wrong, Faith?”
“I know you,” Faith said in a whisper to the man sitting on the other side of the counter. He, however, made no attempts to confirm or deny it.
“I sense a story in there,” Xander said, while Faith back stepped. He noticed her look, it was the same she had surreptitiously given Buffy when they met all those years ago in Sunnydale. Hero worship.
“I don’t know if I can…” she started, looking to the man calmly sipping a beer.
“Where? When?” he asked calmly.
“Boston, about…twelve years ago. The child porn ring. You saved me, and about seven other kids.”
“Child porn ring?” Xander asked, surprised. Faith’s past before she was Called was still mostly a secret.
“You sure it was me?” the warrior asked, unflappable.
“You look different, but the eyes…the eyes are the same.”
“What happened?” the one-eyed man asked.
“I think she has a story to tell, Xander. Go ahead, if you want,” Mike said to Faith, and took another sip.
“Since I ran from home, I started living in the streets. I started developing these,” she said with a slight nod to her boobs, “quite early, like when I was eleven or so. It started good, being noticed and all, but in the streets, being noticed is the one thing you don’t want to be when you’re twelve. So, one day this guy comes along, cool accent, snazzy clothes, pays me a dinner and gives me some warm and clean clothes. Comes back the next day, buys me lunch and gives me a stuffed bear. Keeps the routine with me and another kid which used to hang with me for a coupla days. Dumbasses that we were back then, we started trusting the man. Next thing we know, we’re tied and locked in an old building with six more street kids, scared out of our minds. One of us heard what they were going to do with us, ship us to Thailand or some shit like that the next day. That same night, we heard a damn war exploding outside, and after a few minutes, silence. Then comes this fucking huge man, all dressed in black, with the biggest gun I’ve ever seen in his hands, and he starts freeing us. One of the kids asks about the other assholes, man says then won’t be bothering us anymore. He takes us outside and asks us to wait for the cops. He then gives a small medal to one of the kids, tells him to give it to the cops and vanishes.”
Xander was dumbstruck. He turned to Mike. “Who the Hell are you?”
“Someone who cares,” he said enigmatically, standing up and picking his wallet. “I guess this count as a story. Only thing I need is a souvenir, right?”
He opened the wallet, and removed a small medal from it, giving it to Faith. The young woman started shaking emotionally, recognizing the same medal she saw all those years ago. “Thank you,” she replied, tears welled in her eyes.
“You don’t have to thank me,” he said, and fished for a ten dollar bill. Xander, once again, refused.
“You guarded my back and saved a friend of mine. Your money is no good here, ever. But tell me, there are many stories like that?”
The man’s face became guarded again. “Quite a lot, unfortunately.”
Xander nodded. “Your job?”
“My…Calling,” he replied evenly.
The couple on the other side of the counter smiled and nodded. They both knew the depths of a Calling.
“By the way, your Commerce Association won’t be happening at all. Mr. Monterello has left the business, permanently,” he said, already opening the front door.
Xander nodded. “I kinda had that figured out. And Mack?” he said, finally putting the all the bits and pieces together.
“Yes?” Mack Bolan replied, already halfway out the door.
“Next time you’re around, drop on by for a bottle or two, on the house. We could trade some stories.”
The Executioner nodded. “I’ll try.”
A/N: Another story of mine featuring Bolan. What can I do? I love the character.