It was well past three am and a dense layer of smoke billowed through the grubby was almost empty except for a hooded stranger who silently gulped a pint at the bar and at a round table in the centre of the room sat a threesome, two of whom were grossly invested in a poker game.

     The sinister man with jagged front teeth, greasy black hair and cigarette burned shirt was the reason why Walter had to keep his pub open past serving hours. Psycho Bill, they called him. Scrawny and unkempt, he could easily be mistaken for any lowlife thug, Bill, however, was in actual fact the highly influential leader of a local gang that ran the entire town.

    Psycho Bill seemed to be winning the game. His opponent stared glumly at her tiny stack of chips; her long black hair concealed her face from the malevolent gaze of Psycho Bill.

    She looked as though she had one stage been very pretty; however she was now masked in a veil of sorrow and hardship. She wasn’t much older than eighteen but the strain and worries she carried added years to her.

    She glanced to her friend, Faith, to see a look of worry consume her as she ran her fingers through her cropped auburn hair and wearily shut her eyes.            

    “That’s all the money we have” Faith through to herself, half hoping Lana would pick up on her inner monologue, telepathically.            

    As tension within the game rose, Walter timidly hobbled over to them.            

    “I am so sorry to disturb you.” The barman whispered in a timid voice. “Would you mind finishing soon? My wife is probably worried sick about me.”            

    “As you wish” Psycho Bill sneered wickedly. “Sorry I couldn’t take all your money, kid.”

    Bill swiftly rose from his seat and gulped back the end of his whiskey.            

    “Wait” Cried Lana desperately. “Let’s go all or nothing.”            

    Bill looked at the young girl as though she was speaking madness.           

    “Why would I do that?” Bill jeered. “You have nothing worth playing for.”

    “I do have one thing.” Lana excitedly exclaimed as she rummaged down the collar of her t-shirt, while Faith gave her a warning look.

    Lana pulled a pendant from underneath her top, hung around her neck on a platinum chain. She held up the necklace to reveal a gigantic, glittering diamond. It was her most prized possession and a reminder of better days; but what else could she do? She was desperate. Faith looked at her with utter dejection as she pulled the chain from her neck and placed it on the table. Bill knew an authentic diamond when he saw it and hungrily snatched the glittering gem to inspect it.            

    “It’s genuine.” Lana remarked as he examined it. “It’s worth a lot and has been in my family for generations.”

    Satisfied with the wager, Bill lobs the diamond onto the pot.            

    “To make things fair, let’s get Walt to deal.”

    Walter shuffled from behind the bar; his eyes were red and puffy from the smoke and late hour. He cut and shuffled the deck and warily dealt out the cards.

    “Ladies first.” Mocked Bill.

    Lana placed two cards face down on the table and slid them to Walter, who gave her two more. Bill exchanged only one. Feeling her heart pounding in her throat, Lana laid her cards face up.

    “four oF a kind.” She reveals confidently turning over a hand of queens.

    Bill smirked in satisfaction.

    “Sorry, straight flush” Bill cackled, bearing his sharp, yellow teeth and his suit of running clubs while he scooped up his winnings.

    Lana sat in shocked silence, unable to contemplate what she had just done.

    “No hard feelings –“ Bill began before being cut short; as the cloaked stranger at the bar swiftly rose, knocking his stool and pulled out his gun. Before Bill could react, he was dead.

    The cloaked stranger pulled the trigger and the bullet hurtled from the gun with a muffled whistle. As the bullet penetrated Bill’s chest, Faith screamed and Lana jumped to her feet while Walter ducked for cover behind the bar.

    Looking at cloaked stranger, Lana saw the gun pointed directly at her face. A hazy surrealism washed over her as she looked around the grubby, smoked-filled bar. She glanced at Faith, her eyes glassy with terror. Lana took one final breath and closed her eyes to await death, however it never came.
    Astoundingly, the cloaked assassin had loaded only one bullet. She heard a clicking sound; as the empty chamber tried in vain to release a bullet and snapped her eyes open. Instinctively she picked up a glass ashtray from the table and hurled it at the cloaked stranger. Surprised by the sudden action, he was caught off guard and stumbled backwards where he tripped over his stool and came crashing hard to the tiled floor. There he lay, unconscious.

    Lana dashed over to Bill’s dead body and snatched her necklace; she didn’t care if he was alive or not as thick, crimson blood oozed from underneath him; in fact she hoped he was dead. Spinning around, she gathered the prize money from the table and looked up at Faith.

    The petrified girl was in a daze, her skin turned snowy-white, while beads of sweat ran down her face. Lana abruptly grabbed her by the arm and hauled her out of the bar.

    The two girls dashed down the desolate street, as quickly as their legs would carry them. Lana didn’t want to stop, not even for the stitch cutting into her ribs but was left no choice when Faith began retching. 

    While Faith remained hunched over, vomiting violently, Lana quickly scanned the lonely street and spotted a single car parked. She picked up a hefty rock from the ground and dashed towards the car as she fired the rock at the window. The glass erupted with an enormous crash and she fumbled into the car. Faith soon joined her in the passenger seat and began to tinker with the ignition wires.

    Just as the girls heard the gentle purr of the steady engine coming to life, a strapping young police officer approached them.

    “Could you switch off the engine and step out of the car, miss?” The policeman sternly requested, addressing Lana through the broken window.

    Just as Faith leaned across Lana to cut the engine, the officer quickly places his hand on his holster.

    “Remain in your seat.” He spat at Faith, who quickly recoiled back to sitting position.

    The police officer shoots a deadly look at Lana.

    “Switch off your engine.” He repeated sharply.

    “I can’t” Lana desperately replied.

    The policeman shone a bright torch at the steering wheel, discovering the jumbled array of wires protruding from underneath. Scoffing heavily, he gestured to Faith to continue with the wires and Lana steadily got out of the car.

    “I am guessing this is not your vehicle?” He asked, knowing the answer.

    Lana remained silent in response.

    “I am arresting you and your friend for attempted theft.” The police officer declared as he strapped Lana’s wrists together with a set of hefty cuffs. He barked at Faith to remain seated as he escorted Lana to his car; reading her rights as they walked.

    He slammed the door shut, trapping Lana inside his car and strutted back to get Faith, only to discover that she had vanished. His eyes darted immediately to a narrow alleyway opposite and he quickly set chase down the eerie lane.

    As the police officer stormed down the alley, Faith remerged from nowhere, next to the squad car. She hurriedly released Lana from the car and they scrambled away into the night.

    Soon they found the gates to large park and hastily climbed the precarious fence and carried on until they collapsed into a ditch.

    Lana tightly shut her eyes, hoping that if she wished hard enough she would wake up to discover that she had been dreaming.

    Lana suddenly heard, a distant whistling, causing her to snap her eyes open. Everything around her moved as though slowed by time.  She heard nothing but her own heavy breathing and her thumping heart as she glanced around the grubby, smoke filled bar. She looked to her right to find Faith, white as snow and tears streaming down her face. She looked to her left to see Psycho Bill, dead on the ground, clutching her diamond.

    She looked straight ahead; all the while her heartbeat raced and saw a bullet cut the smoke.

    And then she heard or saw nothing at all.

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© Sarah O’Regan

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