The best day in my line of work is when I get to wake up and haven't been killed in my sleep. Really. It means I've covered my trail and I'm better than the other guy. The other guy could be you. Sometimes, to you, I am the other guy. And today the other guy could be that drunk sitting at the end of the bar over there.
See him? He's got nasty huge knuckles, telling me he's a brawler. Probably broken a few in his day, losing his more delicate senses and forcing him into more hands-on work of the nastier type. The jagged scar he's trying to hide with a beard wasn't a knife fight, because a knife will slice cleaner than that. No, he probably got nailed with glass, most likely a broken bottle. His clothes are not too shabby and not too poor, which pegs him as lower to middle class. He's not going hungry either, with his filled-out body frame.
He's sure not a drunk though. How do I know? For one thing, I've been sitting here for hours doing the same thing he has: Nursing one drink, pretending it's more than it is as people come and go. For another, there's no distending around his nose. His skin isn't florid, there aren't any veins standing out. And his eyes are clear.
Which means he's the other guy.
That's a problem, because today I'm also the other guy.
We've been sizing each other up, he and I. There's a certain law in this line of work, unspoken, that if you have two hunters in the same place with different prey you stay out of each other's line of sight once you've been made. Well, I'm going nowhere. And he's not budged yet. On top of the unspoken law, we also have my law. Get out of my way or one of us dies. If I have my way, it's you.
So. What to do, what to do?
Excuse me while I go talk to him. Yes, I'm going to stop this stalemate and put it on the line because I don't back down.
Don't touch my beer.
* * *
Challenging the other guy is a delicate dance of social niceties. We're both pretending to be something we're not, and there's no reason to blow a cover except to be, well... It's a word my mother used to wash my mouth out for. You know the one. But part of the challenge is being clear about the territorial line being drawn, and giving a chance to go somewhere else where it might be healthier to draw breath.
So I pick up some darts from the counter and walk over to the guy, my step unsteady. I peer at him. "Wanna play?" I ask, balancing the tip of a dart unsteadily on a fingertip. He sizes me up. We both know I'm not really drunk, and I'm not some local looking to sit down a stranger at a game of darts.
He rolls his shoulders, stands up. "Sure," he replies, lisping his S-sounds. We walk over to the dart board. I throw first.
Thunk. Outside the bulls-eye by three rings. A sloppy throw, that. The dart quivers a moment and stills.
He throws. A similar toss, but precisely opposite of mine. Coincidence to the casual eye, but clear to us.
Now we know.
The next dart I throw hits the bulls-eye dead on, a solid slide into the corkboard backing. It's in deep. I step back, cock my head to one side as if considering.
He steps up, makes his throw. It's close, but not as good as mine. He steps back and scratches his head. "Thash not good," he slurs loudly.
I pat him on his back as if to comfort him. He's got straps where I do, which means he's carrying a full arsenal. "Might be time to head home, friend," I say just as loudly, and laugh.
He peers at me, his eyes diamond-bright. "Good idear," he says with a nod. "Ish too late, my mate stood me up."
And he leaves, just like that.
* * *
Toss that beer out, it's been sitting too long. Pull me a new one, nice and flat.
You don't look a stranger to what I've been telling you. A bartender hears a lot, but there's a reason I'm talking to you about this.
One of us is about to hit a dead end in this conversation.
You see, you're in my way.