By Greg X. Graves
Posted February 1, 2012
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“Thank you very much, Mr. Rockjaw!” Estelle said.
Hank’s spine curved like a longbow. A dozen cases of beer weighed down his arms. He lumbered from the truck, down the ramp, through the backroom, up the aisle and finally slung them onto the floor.
“You’re welcome.” Hank wiped his brow.
“You’re truly a lifesaver, young man! My stockboy Warren threw out his back. How, I don’t know!”
“It’s a mystery,” Hank said.
“And how could I have unloaded the shipment by myself?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re quite the honorable fellow. Did you know that you’re the only person in town who was available?”
Hank glanced into the back of the truck. It was pregnant with beer even though he was the one in labor. Everybody in town loved Estelle. Just a little less than they loved their lower cervical vertebrae.
“I asked everybody. They all knew that I needed help. But you were the only one to show! You’re a gentleman. Always willing to help out somebody in need.”
“A lot of this beer comes from my own brewery. Consider it family pride.”
Estelle beamed. She obviously approved of family pride, especially when it provided her with a fresh, uncracked spine. Hank took this momentary pause as his cue to slip into the back room. Once he was out of sight he slowed to a saunter, plucked a beer out of a box, and took a seat. He cracked the beer and took a swig.
Rockjaw Brewery sure makes some tasty beer, Hank thought. This Trappist Ale is almost as good as last year’s batch. Those laconic monks sure know their beer.
He wiped his brow, drained the beer, and grabbed another one from the box. That’s when he looked at the label.
“Saint Secaire Brewery?”
He smacked his lips.
“It tastes almost exactly like Rockjaw’s Lockjaw Trappist Ale!”
Hank scrutinized the label. The taste wasn’t the only ripoff. The label looked identical to the one adorning Rockjaw’s Lockjaw Trappist Ale. Nearly identical. The printer for Saint Secaire had obviously used higher-quality inks on nicer paper stock.
“I didn’t sign off on the fancy paper!” Hank said. “Rockjaw beer has always been sold on taste, dammit! You can’t drink a pretty picture!”
A commotion at the front of the store derailed his train of thought. Hank crept up to the doorway and listened.
“Yes, all of your money! I want everything that’s in that fucking register, put it in the bag and also give me a nip of Goldschlager! No, two! Hell, make it three!”
“Okay, young man, there’s no need to swear. You’ll get your money. Only you’re very lucky that Warren isn’t here. He has quite a poor opinion of common theives,” Estelle said.
“I knew that he wouldn’t be here.”
“Because you went around the whole town and asked for help unloading your beer shipment because Warren hurt himself!”
Hank had heard enough. Despite his massive shoulders, thick torso and all-around sturdy build, he could move very quietly when he wanted to.
This wasn’t one of those times.
Hank charged out of the back room.
The robber froze. In one hand he held a bag of money. In the other, a knife. He brought it towards Hank in a symbolic gesture; two combatants exchanging formalities before the savagery began. The knife acknowledged Hank as a threat. Hank’s face, speed and fists the size of obese hams acknowledged that it would take a lot more than a small wedge of metal to deter him.
Hank smashed into the robber, who appeared to explode into a cloud of paper money. The crowd of dead presidents dispersed to reveal Hank Rockjaw holding the robber by the collar with one hand.
“Did you think that I’d be stupid enough to rob a liquor store with only one weapon?” The robber reached into his jacket and tried to pull a gun clear of his shoulder holster. Hank stuck a hand into the robber’s jacket to keep it in place.
“This is a nice jacket,” Hank said, glaring at the man who was trying to kill him.
“Do you like it? I stole it!”
Out of the corner of his eye, Hank saw a stack of boxes that he’d brought in earlier. They bore the label “Saint Secaire Tonguekicker Spiced Wine.” Hank wanted to investigate, so he swung the robber into the boxes like a ragdoll wrecking ball.
The stack toppled and a few bottles rocketed from between the flaps. They cracked open. Hank sniffed the air. The pungent tang smelled exactly like Rockjaw Brewery’s Uvulatickler Spiced Wine.
The robber used the distraction to get his gun free. Hank knocked it into a puddle of spiced wine.
“Don’t bring a gun to a fistfight,” Hank said. His free hand swung up and connected with the robber’s chin in a haymaker that could have put the Sun out of business. The robber’s feet lifted up off of the ground. With his body trailing behind like the tail of a kite, the robber’s head traced a perfect parabola through the plate glass window and into the open door of the police cruiser that had just arrived in response to the silent alarm.
Hank couldn’t hear Estelle’s thanks. He was too busy mulling over Saint Secaire while the blood stain of mulled wine spread across the floor tiles.
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