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Runnin' the Bluff
By: Wayne Brown
Kyle Shanks rested with his back against the large column supporting the upper floor above the baggage claim area at carousel #6. The Atlanta airport was its usual hustle with people running in all directions to either get home or to the next airplane. Many of them paused very slightly to take a second look at Kyle with his deep-purple bruised left eye. That was the first thing that caught their attention; then they began to notice the arm in a sling, the cut on his forehead, and the skinned rash of his knuckles. Kyle paid little attention as he didn’t much give a damn what they thought at this point. For all they knew, he was the survivor of an airplane crash. In fact, many of them likely concluded that very same thing.
Kyle was here to meet his brother, “Buzz”. Actually his real name was Theodore, after their grandfather, but everyone had called him “Buzz” since he cried getting his first haircut. Kyle was always envious that his brother had acquired a nickname so young and he had spent his entire life without one. He gave a sigh thinking that sometimes life just didn’t deal the cards in the right manner. Buzz had always been the athletic type and a lady’s man although he didn’t much dwell on any of it. Buzz was two years older than Kyle but close enough in age that the two had literally been inseparable since birth.
Life had split the up at the college level. Buzz left home first heading off for a scholarship at the Naval Academy. Kyle followed two years later but took a different road graduating with a Master’s degree in International Finance. While Buzz toured the world with the Navy, Kyle was touring the world of international investment banking. Atlanta had been home since childhood and Kyle continued to live here in his role as an investment banker. Flying to points about the world was quite convenient from the Atlanta base and the city was also home to some key banking industries operating in the global finance sector.
Buzz was still in the Navy now after eight years. It was looking more and more like he was a “career man” which should have been evident to everyone when he chose to go to the Naval Academy. Neither Kyle nor Buzz had yet married mainly due to the demands of their work. Kyle was more the “nerdy” type and the academic. Buzz was the athlete and the military disciplinary. Both attracted their share of the ladies but time kept them out of serious relationships for the present.
“Hey, little brother,” the words caught Kyle by surprise as he was leaning against the column and staring in the other direction. Buzz had a way of sneaking up on folks all his life and today was no exception. Kyle turned quickly to see his brother, Buzz standing nearby with a bag thrown loosely over his shoulder.
“What the hell happen to you, Kyle? Did you have an accident?” Buzz quickly asks staring at Kyle’s blackened eye and the sling on his arm.
Kyle ignored the question placing his good arm around Buzz’s shoulder and giving him a brotherly hug. “Good to see ya, Bro…how’s things up in Virginia?” Kyle quickly shot back.
“Things are good, I like Norfolk and I am enjoying my work there so it’s all working out for me. But, forget that, what’s this with the eye and the sling on your arm. What’s going on here? Buzz continued following the line of his original question.
“Aw really, it nothing…let’s get your bags and I’ll fill you in on it in the car as we drive to the condo,” Kyle replied. Buzz nodded and began to look at the bags rotating around now on carousel #6.
The British racing green Porsche 911 roared away from the ground level toll gate of the covered parking area with Kyle pushing the little car hard as he normally did. He loved driving fast and the Porsche made taking the corners at speed a bit of a challenge which got his adrenalin quickly flowing. It was now especially difficult using his one good arm. Buzz said nothing as he was accustomed to his brother’s lapses of reality and thoughts that he was a formula one race driver. Buzz just smiled and pushed his butt a little deeper in the seat for the ride.
“So you gonna fill me in on the eye and the arm or will I have to beat it out of ya? Buzz asked as the Porsche scooted into the middle lanes of the expressway.
“You remember the old bar out on Hankins Road that we went to on occasion in our college days?” Kyle began. Buzz nodded in the affirmative.
“Well, I had not been there in a while and I decided since you were coming down for a visit that it might be good if we visited an old haunt or two to drink a few beers. So, I made a dry run on the place, ‘Ruby’s Last Chance’ last Thursday night to check it out. The place had changed hands, the décor was a bit different and so was the crowd. By the time I had my beer in hand and began looking for a seat, it was apparent that the crowd was a pretty rough one. Still, I thought, since I had a beer, I would sit and drink it before moving on. I guess that was my first mistake. There were four guys shooting pool at a table nearby. All of them were greasy and tough looking but this one was especially so and it was not too long before he began to give me the eye. Anyway, I continued to sip my beer and soon he came over asking me who I was and what was my business in Ruby’s. I told him that I was an investment banker and that I really didn’t think it was any of his business what I was doing there. That’s when the trouble started. We exchanged words and headed outside to see who was boss. His buddies followed. Well, the rest is history…I sort of got outnumbered. I ended up in the emergency room with a $500 bill and what you see here,” Kyle said releasing the steering when to use his hand for emphasis of his injuries.
“Interesting,” Buzz remarked, “sounds like the culture has decayed a bit since we last saw Ruby’s together. You really should not be tangling with rednecks Kyle. Investment bankers don’t normally come out on the high side of those events. Still, investment banker or not, they had no call ganging up on you like that.”
Kyle wheeled the Porsche into the garage area of the condo building and the two brothers headed upstairs to Kyle’s unit. Buzz found a cold beer in the refrigerator and opened one for Kyle as well. Both relaxed on the sofa to enjoy the beer in silence for a bit.
“What do you say that we grab a burger down at Abe’s tonight then take a swing around town?” Buzz asked turning up his beer to bottom out the last drop.
“Sounds fine to me,” Kyle replied, “A burger sounds great with some cold beer and fries.”
“Sure it does and while we are hangin’ there, you can teach me about international finance,” Buzz laughed good-naturedly kidding his brother as usual. The two quickly headed downstairs to the Porsche for the trip to Abe’s. Buzz called dibs on driving this time.
“You know, this is probably the one thing I miss about Atlanta more than even you, brother,” Buzz said holding up the half-eaten remnants of his double cheeseburger. “This is absolute heaven on a bun, Bro, and I cannot seem to find it anywhere else in the world. I think you and I ought to use some of that high finance money you are stashing away one of these days and buy this place for our old age. It would be great…we would make money and eat cheeseburgers every day!” Buzz added as he dove back into his burger. Kyle had to laugh and just nod his head in agreement as his mouth was filled with the cheesy delight as well.
With the burgers finished off, Kyle and Buzz leaned back in their booths and visited a bit. The conversation dwelled a bit on their parents who had passed away a few years back. They planned a trip to the cemetery to pay respects. Buzz asked about a few old girlfriends and eventually the talk turned to subject of sports which was something both liked in their own way. Buzz was more the participant type and Kyle more the analyst reporting the game. Together they could always share some really good perspectives on both football and baseball. Finally, the burgers began to settle and the last of the fries was gone.
“What say we take a ride out to Ruby’s, Kyle and knock back a few beers? Buzz asked eyeing his brother.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Buzz. How about we just head downtown?” Kyle replied his face demonstrating the dread he felt in going back to Ruby’s.
“No, no…I’m in the mood for Ruby’s and I am your houseguest for the week…so humor me. Let’s head out to Ruby’s and have a couple before we turn in for the night,” Buzz continued.
“Okay Buzz, if you want Ruby’s, then Ruby’s it is,” Kyle replied with a serious expression.
“Better yet Kyle, let’s just drive back to the condo and I’ll treat us to a cab ride out to Ruby’s. That way, we won’t have to worry about the drive and we can maybe have three beers each,” Buzz laughed slapping Kyle on the back as they walked out of Abe’s and headed to the Porsche.
The bright yellow Ford Crown Victoria operated by Yellow Checker Cab of Atlanta pulled to a stop near the front door of Ruby’s Place. Buzz paid the driver then got a phone number to call him for the trip back to the condo later in the evening. Kyle and Buzz then made their way through the front door at Ruby’s. Kyle noted that the parking lot was full so there must be a crowd inside.
The bar area was crowded and quite a few patrons were fanned out in tables and booths around the perimeter of the dance floor. A lone guitarist sat on the small stage singing some indecipherable cover of a song which was probably a big hit at some time or other. The performer seemed rather oblivious to the crowd and the crowd in turn seemed to be ignoring him. It was a mutual admiration situation that Buzz quickly noticed as they stepped to the bar to get a beer. Buzz waved to the bartender with two fingers and mouthed the word “Bud”. The bartender nodded and leaned into the cooler. Soon both Buzz and Kyle had their hands filled with cold beer bottles once again. Buzz saw an open table near the railing and motioned Kyle in that direction. The two sat down and began to take in the scenery of the bar.
The clatter of billiard balls being sent in all directions by a speeding cue ball occasionally broke over the sounds of the live music. It looked like Ruby’s had something for everyone on this Friday night as Kyle and Buzz toasted each other with the cold Budweiser and took long pulls on their bottles.
“Hey, investment banker, is that you again?” said the voice from a darkened area over near the pool tables. Suddenly a hulk of a man with large shoulders and a scraggily beard emerged from the darkness and approached the table where Kyle and Buzz were sitting. “I thought that I made it clear the last time I saw you here that we don’t need your type drinking in my bar? Did you not understand that? Maybe we need to teach that lesson again,” the large man said as he stood before the table eyeing Kyle.
“Look,” Kyle started, “we don’t want trouble here. We just want to have a couple of beers and be on our way,” Kyle added with a questioning look.
“Well, I’ll give you this, you are either really stupid or you got a big set of balls on you boy,” Came the reply. “Maybe I just need to get the boys over here and get that lesson started or maybe you had just rather leave now.”
“Excuse me,” Buzz quickly interjected, “We don’t have any plans to leave until we are ready to go. We’ll probably have a couple more beers and then you can have the place for the rest of the night.”
“Shut up boy, I am not talking to you…I’m talking to this idiot investment banker who seems to want to roost here in my bar. I don’t like the uppity educated types when I am drinking, understand? Now butt out!
Buzz made eye contact with the bully and there was a long moment of silence. Buzz then said, “Look, I misjudged you, I now see that you are a man of authority and in control of things around you. How about you sit down here with us for a second and I will make you an offer that I think you will find very tempting. It will just take a minute of your time. Hear us out and if you don’t find it to your liking, then we’ll just move on and leave you to your bar,” Buzz added as he pushed a chair in the man’s direction with his foot.
The man looked at the two of them for a moment and then sat in the chair. “What you fellas got in mind…maybe a little money changing hands?” He said smiling at both of them. “Money talks and bullshit walks, that’s what I always say.”
Buzz leaned forward in his chair slightly as if to position himself to whisper a secret to the man.
“As I stated, you look like a business man and one who can appreciate a good proposition. Now, you and your buddies had a bit of fun busting up my brother here last week. Four on one is not much to brag about but you seem to take pride in the odds. As a result, my brother ended up in the emergency room with a $500 bill for patching up your fun. Now, I am going to suggest to you that you head back over to where your friends are and you get them into a little group in order to make a recommendation to them. Once you have them crowded around, you will suggest that all of you kick in a portion of that Friday paycheck you all have in your pockets and pay for the unfortunate medical costs which your actions brought upon my investment banker brother here. Then, you will bring that money back over here to the table and hand it to my brother along with the most sincere apology which you can construct in the few short minutes that you have to work on it. Do you get my drift?” Buzz said sternly as he stared directly into the big man’s eyes without so much as a blink.
“Who the hell do you think you are asshole? You can’t come in here and order me around. Nobody’s paying for anything and I sure as hell am not apologizing for whipping an investment banker’s ass.” The man replied as he grew red in the face with anger.
“I see. You apparently are not as intrigued with my proposal as I would have hoped so let me make it a little clearer to you so that you can understand it. You either follow my instructions as I laid it out or I am going to hurt you real bad, right here and now. Do I make myself clear,” Buzz replied never losing his gaze at the man.
“Who the hell are you mister…a total dumbass? I could mop the floor here tonight with you. Who do you think you are coming in here and threating Amos Tate with bodily harm? You got no game!” Tate shot back shoving his thumbs into his own chest.
“Mr. Tate, let’s just say that it is none of your business who I am but you can bet on one thing for sure..I am not an investment banker. It is totally up to you to guess who I am because I am not telling you. Suffice to say that if you don’t comply with my instructions, I will hurt you bad. I know who you are more so than you might think. The way you are sitting in that chair right now, with one kick I can take off one of your knee caps…probably the right one. Since you are right handed and tend to place your weight on that foot in a fight, I suspect you are going to have trouble getting up very fast. I will then turn the table over on top of you, step around it and put just enough pressure on your larynx to cause you to black out. I will do that in ample time to then turn and deal with any of your dumb ass friends who run to your rescue. Now that’s not a threat, it’s a damn fact if you choose that direction. If not, I suggest that you get on over there and talk with your friends and start raising money,” Buzz replied gripping the edges of the table as he stared at Tate.
Tate swallowed hard and gazed back at Buzz who sat waiting staring steadily into his eyes.
“Look, what do you say that we just forget this and write it all off to me having too much beer to drink?” Tate suggested gazing back at Buzz. “I am certainly willing to forgive and forget.”
Buzz waved his right hand and stated, “We are about $500 past forgiving and forgetting, Tate. You should have thought about that when you took up beating on investment bankers. It is an expensive hobby. Now, get on back on there and work this out with your friends. Let me add this before you go. If one of those dumbasses gets too head- up and decides to come over here, I will incapacitate him and then I will be looking for you. If they cannot agree on ponying up the money, I am gonna take it out on you. If you come back over here empty handed and without an apology that is suitable for this investment banker here, I am going to hurt you real bad, probably so bad that you will walk with a limp for the rest of your life and maybe lose consciousness at times. Now, get over there and work this out while I enjoy my beer.”
Tate balled his hairy fist and trembled but did not make a move for a bit. The big man then slowly rose up from the chair and backed away from the table before heading off in the direction of his friends. He didn’t say a word but it was apparent that his anger level was running high.
“Dammit Buzz, what the hell are you doing? Do you want to get us both killed? I knew it was a mistake coming back out here, I knew it!” Kyle explained visualizing the trouble that might be coming if Tate returned with his friends.
“Just relax Kyle. He’s not going to do anything. He’s a bully and his friends are cowards. They live off of his bravery which is non-existent unless he has the upper hand like they did with you last week. Just relax and drink your beer,” Buzz replied.
In a few minutes Tate returned and stood before the two brothers sitting at the table with a fresh beer in their hands. Buzz motioned for him to take the chair again and he hesitantly sat down at the table.
“Okay, I’ve got the money here but I can tell you that my friends ain’t happy about it,” Tate stammered.
“Honestly, I don’t give a damn how mad they are. They should have given that some thought before they decided to gang up and have their fun. You screw with the wrong folks, you pay the price. It’s just that simple and I’m telling ya, Tate…you damn sure screwed with the wrong folks this time. Now count out that money for my brother and let’s hear that apology,” Buzz advised.
Tate pushed the stack of money across the table toward Kyle and said, “I’m real sorry”.
“Whoa, Amos…that is not quite what I had in mind. Now imagine yourself doubled-over at the waist screaming with pain as your hands search frantically for the kneecap that is no longer where it normally is on your body. Imagine that and see if you can come up with a better apology for the investment banker here,” Buzz advised with the slightest of nod in the direction of Tate’s legs which were now under the table.
“Okay, okay, I get the picture. Mister, I want to offer you this $500 for you’re the troubles my friends that I have caused you recently. It was not our intention to harm you but rather our inability to handle all the alcohol we had consumed that evening. I sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart for the pain and suffering you have endured since that evening. I hope you will take this money as a token of our concern to do the right thing by you and I hope you will in time forgive us of the deed,” Tate spoke as he pushed the stack of bills toward Kyle. Kyle said nothing but nodded his understanding.
“Now that’s more what I had in mind. You did really well with that, Amos. I knew you could do it. Now, head on back over there with your friends while the investment banker and I enjoy one last beer on our visit here to Ruby’s. Now let me caution you, if you or your friends happen to see the banker here at Ruby’s anytime in the future, I’d suggest you give him a wave and try your dead level best to buy him a beer if he desires one. And, if anyone should attempt to harm a hair on his head, I expect you to come to his rescue, Amos…I expect you to go down fighting for the investment banker. If you don’t do that, I assure you that I will be looking for you as soon as I get the information. I have some really serious methods to find people' Amos. I also have some very effective methods to cripple and maim. In mercy cases, I am also a very effective killer but I’ll tell you right now that I don’t consider this a mercy case. Do I make myself clear, Amos? Buzz asked giving Tate a slight grin.
“Yes, yes, you do. You won’t have to worry about me or the boys…I can guarantee that,” Amos replied.
“If the banker is drinking here, he worries about no one, understand, Amos? Buzz added. “Now get on back over there and enjoy your evening with your friends. Oh, and Amos, I’ll be sending some drinks over in a few minutes compliments of the banker here and his new found wealth. When they arrive, I want to see you and the boys toss them down. Understand?
“Yes, I got it,” replied Tate as he turned and headed back to the pool table where his friends were waiting.
“How about another beer, Kyle?” Buzz asked.
“If it’s all the same to you, Buzz, I’d like to go home now. It’s been a long day,” Kyle said glancing toward the pool tables.
“No problem, I’ll just step over and pay our tab and get those drinks ordered for the boys. I’ll meet you out front and we’ll call the cab,” Buzz said getting up from the table.
The taxi showed up within minutes of Buzz’s call to him for their ride back to the condo. The two brothers sat in silence for a while in the backseat. Kyle stared at the window at nothing in particular as he contemplated the recent events of the evening. Finally he broke the silence.
“Damn, Buzz…you know those guys might have broken our necks especially in light of how mad you must have made them with your demands. Things could easily have gone the other way just like they did for me the other night,” Kyle stated showing his frustration with his brothers pandering.
“Kyle, let me tell you something they probably didn’t teach you in banking school,” Buzz began. “There are times when you have to run the bluff in order to be effective in accomplishing what you want to do. It is that simple and it is a fact of life.”
“Come on, Buzz…why did you not just tell the guy you were a Navy Seal. Hell, not just a Navy Seal but a Seal Team Six instructor for five years. Why didn’t you just tell him that, Buzz?” Kyle quickly shot back.
“That’s my point here, Kyle,” Buzz replied. “In the first place, it is against the Seal Code that I say anything in that regard. Secondly, you never give a man too much information when he is attempting to size you up. You made that mistake last week when you told Amos there that you were an investment banker. That’s about all the information he needed to work the odds. On the other hand, I didn’t tell him who I was but rather explained to him in a rather vivid fashion what I intended to do to him if he did not comply with my wishes. If I had told him that I was a Navy Seal, he might have been all the more convinced to give it a try. Think about it, Kyle, very few gunslingers in the Old West got off by just shooting it out with one man who thought he was faster. No, I left it to Amos’ imagination as to who I was but the description of what I planned to do to him gave him a lot to think about and undoubtedly left him on the short side of the odds when he made his calculations.”
“Okay, so you told him that you would kick his knee cap off, crush his larynx, and whip his stupid friends. Now that you have revealed what you plan to do to him, how do you know that he won’t counter those actions since they are no longer a secret?” Kyle asked.
“Come on , Kyle. Guys like Amos grew up fighting in school and bars. Even with all their experience, there’s no logic or science to what they attempt…just brute force. When someone describes what is going to happen before it does, it confuses them to think that someone has already thought it through like that. They are normally just use to overpowering the other person with fear and beating the hell out of them. When you occupy their mind with a dislocated kneecap and a crushed larynx, you get their attention up front,” Buzz offered.
“But what if he had tried it, Buzz? What was your plan B? Kyle asked
“I never gave plan B much thought little brother. You see, I was far too busy selling Amos on plan A. Could be that if he had not bought off on that one, we might have gotten our asses whipped,” Buzz laughed.
“Okay, the banker in me says leave this kind of business to you Seals. But, answer one more question for me…what was in those drinks you sent over to Amos and his friends? “ Kyle asked with a grin.
“It was wine, red wine. I told the bartender to take them all a glass of the worst stuff he had under the counter. I also had him throw a shot of tequila in each one for good measure. When he delivered them I sent along a note on a napkin that said ‘drink up boys and enjoy a little of the culture of your new investment banker friend.”
Kyle began to whoop with laughter just thinking about the look on their faces as they suck down that swill. The laughter became contagious and soon both bothers had tears rolling down their cheeks. The cab driver could only look in the rearview mirror and wonder how much these guys had had to drink. The Shanks brothers were out on the town once again.
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