This story is brought to you by FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE: PICK A CHARACTER AND GO, GO, GO at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. I used Jersey Malone, created by HELEN ESPINOSA. Helen, thanks for putting Jersey out there and letting use play in your sandbox. As always, hope y’all enjoy this glimpse into another world. Peace! –FY
The sign above the door held no words, only a cartoonish mug with an overflowing head of foam. Didn’t matter. A sign would have only said “BAR” but it would have had to say it in so many damn languages it wouldn’t have been worth the effort. Besides, everybody knew, it wasn’t a bar, it was THE Bar. Someone new, dusty, fresh from the wastes might press for more, might ask “Which bar?”, and anyone with half a brain would tell them it’s Jersey’s bar, and you best keep the peace if you go in.
Folks went to Jersey’s place when they wanted a quiet night in, safe from the storm, but you could find the block monarchs meeting to discuss treaties and trade deals, or a gene freak having a drink with the walking dead and nobody would say a dust damned thing.
The bar only had a few rules: Get a little rough with someone, get a warning. Ignore the warning, get kicked out. Put up a fight, wind up facing down a hand cannon bigger than anything you would bring. Doesn’t matter what you’ve got on your side, Jersey’s got something better. Do something really stupid, like reach for a weapon? Well, the Reanimators have to get new bodies from somewhere.
Jersey Malone smiled grimly as she pushed her way behind the bar. Too many new faces tonight. No sign of a storm. She took a deep breath, could almost smell the blood in the air. Something went down tonight, and a whole mess of people found themselves on the wrong side of a war.
Jersey glanced around the room. Wary eyes. Skittish eyes, running from her gaze into the mug of beer in their hand. Anybody still alive in this day and age was a survivor, but not everyone was a leader. Some people could survive just fine, but only as long as someone gave them orders. Take that away, and, well, you get this lot crowding around her bar. One woman, looking to be in her early twenties, didn’t shy away. She just matched Jersey’s sapphire stare with her own charcoal eyes as she marched to the counter.
“What can I get you?”
“Whiskey. Double. Neat. House.”
Simple enough. The young woman pounded the shot without a second glance, supressing the barest cough as the hard liquor hit her throat. House whiskey was cheap for a reason.
“Long night, kid?”
The younger woman scowled. “My name’s Lizbet.”
“Long night, Lizbet?”
She nodded. Jersey studied her face. Brown hair, cut short, but still shaggy enough to partially obscure her eyes. Sad eyes, dark eyes. Pure human, at first glance, but Jersey noticed her ears, pointed with a coating of fur, and the glint of sharp teeth hiding behind her lips. Young for a splicer, hiding her enhancements instead of showcasing them. Jersey did a little math in her head, sighing as she realized just how old that made her.
“One, or both?”
Lizbet’s eyes widened. “Excuse me?”
“Your parents. At least one of them altered their genetics.”
“Oh. Just my da.” Lizbet tucked her hair behind her ears, locking eyes with Jersey as she did so. “Not fashion. He fought in the war.”
Jersey nodded. Military scientists made changes to the human genome without any thought of the long term consequences, about creating a new species. A soldier might have squirreled enough money to got to a black market doc, try to keep anything from passing on, but not with the same certainty you’d get in a gene lab.
“He was your block leader?”
“Yes, but not for a long time.” Not many people survived long after what mil sci did to them. Especially not the early subjects. It tore something up inside. “Brando’s been running the block for the last five years.”
Jersey remembered Brando. Barely thirty. Noisy, boisterous, trouble. The kind to pick a fight and get way in over his head.
“Ain’t nobody. Brando didn’t want competition. Didn’t want to watch his back at home. Thought he’d live forever.”
Fool. Fools. “You’re welcome to stay through closing, as long as you keep buying, but eventually you lot need to get back home and pick a new leader.”
Lizbet smiled. “About that. We, well, we kinda already did.”
“Who’s the lucky stiff?”
“You are, Jersey. Ma’am. Ms Malone.”
Jersey laughed, genuinely amused. “Me, kid? Sorry, I have enough trouble keeping this place under control. I can’t be running your little kingdom too.”
“But there’s no one else…”
The front door slammed open, riding a blast of hot, dusty air. A pack of fighters, covered in dust and soot and blood, strode through the entrance, shouting guttural chants led by a huge man in spiked armor. Lizbet squeaked and froze in place.
The young woman nodded. “What are we going to do?”
Jersey grunted. “You’re going to go back to your table. I’m going to run my business.”
A woman with red hair spiked to match her armor broke off from the group and sauntered to the bar.
“Bottle of rum. Good one. Spiced, if you have it.”
The newcomer slapped a handful of coins on the table. Jersey picked one up and hefted it. Gold. Not quite as valuable as it once was, but the re-animators would trade a small squad of the undead just to melt these coins down for components. Certainly worth a good bottle of spiced. She pulled one off the shelf, brushed off the dust and handed it over.
The redhead shook her head, grabbed the bottle and disappeared into the corwd. Jersey felt the tension in the room, but she honestly didn’t care. Let them be as tense as they wanted until they could sort it out in the streets, and everything would be fine by her. But booze and the bloodlust of battle can make people stupid, and less than an hour passed before a scream tore through the main room.
“Let go of me!”
The crowd parted until Jersey could see the back of the huge fighter, the chanter, his hand pressing someone’s wrist hard against the wall. She could just make out the fingers grasping for freedom, a tuft of disheveled brown hair, and one furry ear.
“Hey boss, lookit. I found the fuzzy little bitch that tried to stab me.” He leaned in close to his prey. “I told you you’d regret that.”
Jersey eyed the rest of their gang before pulling her Peacemaker from under the bar. It wasn’t the most powerful thing in her arsenal, but it was more than enough for these punks.
“Hey buddy, why don’t you let the young woman down and head back to your own table? You’re disturbing the other customers.”
The crowd murmured. Big fella turned to look at her, but didn’t let go of Lizbet, just left her swinging by one arm. “Fuck off, ain’t none of your business.”
The crowed around him thinned further as more patrons edged away. The redhead stepped forward. “Deal with this on your own time, Reacher. Let the kid go.”
Reacher ignored her. Lizbet let out a yelp as he squeezed her wrist tighter. Jersey tapped the Peacemaker on the table. The loud ring of metal on metal got Reacher’s attention. She made a show of leveling the hand cannon at his chest.
The crowd pressed further back, desperate not to get between Jersey and her quarry, leaving only a few spiked soldiers standing in the middle of the room, glancing between Reacher and the owner of the bar.
“Pardon me, Mr. Reacher. I’m going to have to ask you to drop the girl and vacate my establishment.”
Reacher met her eyes, a grim look on his face. He let loose a low growl. “I’m tired of your fucking rules, so much noise. How about I shove that toy gun up your ass and see what kind of noise you make when it goes off?”
The crowd gasped. Reacher’s hand touched the gun on his belt, as good as signing his own death warrant. Before Jersey could squeeze the trigger on the Peacemaker, Lizbet swung in front of Reacher, blocking Jersey’s line of sight for one crucial second. When she swung far enough to give Jersey a clear shot, Reacher already had his gun loosed and halfway to level. It never got any higher than that. The big man’s arm drooped and he pitched forward on the ground, blood streaming from a ragged gash in his neck.
The rest of the spiked gang drew their weapons and pointed them at Lizbet, who crouched menacingly over her kill, blood dripping from her lips.
The redhead slammed the butt of her rifle on the floor of the bar. “Drop ‘em, boys. Don’t be foolish.”
“But that splicer bitch killed Reacher!” The spiked fighter that shouted lowered his weapon, but didn’t drop it.
“Nope, Reacher killed Reacher. This girl was just the weapon he used to off himself.” The redhead met Jersey’s eyes. Jersey nodded. The redhead snapped her fingers. “Don’t be an idiot, too, Hernandez. I don’t need to lose any more of my crew.”
The tension broke as the weapons clattered to the ground. Jersey snapped her fingers, and a dozen patrons kicked the guns towards her. Their forfeit for the night, additions to her arsenal. The redhead held her hand out for Lizbet, who slowly allowed herself to be pulled from her crouch.
“Nice moves, kid. You the 51st’s new captain?”
Lizbet glanced at Jersey, who nodded encouragingly. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
“What are you drinking?”
Lizbet eyed the woman. “Whiskey, top shelf.”
The redhead signaled to Jersey. “A shot of the house, to wash the taste of this filth out of her mouth, and a bottle of Irish, if you’ve to it. Two glasses.”
Lizbet stared in wonder at the other woman. A bottle of genuine Irish whiskey was worth more than she’d ever seen in her life, certainly worth more than they’d gotten for the raid on her block. “Who are you?”
Castella Freemonth.” The woman bowed. The name tickled the back of Jersey’s mind, but she couldn’t quite place it. A rich family, maybe, from before the war, if she made a habit of throwing that kind of money around.
Lizbet straightened her back, brushing her hair behind her ears. “Lizbet Kane, captain of the 51st block.”
The woman smiled and waved towards an empty table. “Have a seat, if you please. I belive we have a treaty to discuss.”
Jersey poured the first shots from the bottle before she walked away. She had other drinks to make, fights to break up, and mugs to clean. Just living the life of a simple barkeep.