Sleeves Part 1

When Miguel grabbed the red-robed man by the sleeve he didn’t think the weirdo would pull a knife. But that was what he did, the strange crescent blade flashing as it streaked through the smoky, neon-lit air of the bar, Miguel’s life flashing along its arc with all of the meaninglessness he half-suspected, but never acknowledged except when in the careless cradle of a marijuana bong. He stepped back, raising an arm. He was wearing a tanktop, and so the only sleeves the knife ruined were his tattoos, bisecting the skull-and-roses on his forearm, and so ruining his favorite bit of ink.
“Muy estupido,” Miguel said, evenly, “mi amigo.”
He raised his fists in a boxing stance, the blood like a wet, crimson snake slithering down his right arm. The hooded man raised the knife amid the clamor of screams and the music of the bar. Miguel could only see the man’s nose and chin in the cowled murk, lined with strange tribal tattoos all aswirl. Despite the movement all around them, time stood still for the two of them, like a coiled snake ready to strike. And then it struck, the hooded man slashing with blinding speed. Yet, Miguel was faster in his anticipations. Speed was power. He knew that from years of being a kickboxer and a bouncer. He had never been the biggest man, but he was always the fastest. Un Mexicano muy rapido. What good were muscles if your opponent beat you, literally, to the punch? Miguel blocked and dodged the subsequent slashes, then struck the man in the jaw. The man’s jaw unhinged and he paused, resetting it. Miguel suspected the man must have been on drugs that were muy mal.
The hooded man hissed in a voice not entirely human.
“Yo voy tener su corazon!”
He pointed spitefully at the young woman that cowered behind Miguel. She had entered the bar only moments ago, pursued by this violent creep.
The hooded man rushed forward again, swinging the knife. Miguel, knowing how to fight clean in the ring, and dirty on the street, feinted with a left jab, then threw a hook directly into the man’s esophagus. It would have killed any other person, or incapacitated a stronger windbag, but this man gripped his distorted, displaced throat and adjusted it, not even slightly winded by a crushed windpipe.
Fumo mucha hierba loca, Miguel thought.
It was then, as Miguel watched that manlike creature readjust its neck, that Miguel realized he was going to die. The man pulled back his hood and his face was revealed in all of its elaborately tattooed menace, his black hair tied back in a ponytail to accentuate his broad forehead with all of its scar-scales, as if each had been cut with a fine blade toward serpentine adornment. His eyes were slitted pupils, and his teeth were like saber blades. He raised the knife and grinned, hissing fanatically. It was as Miguel realized that the tattoos upon the man’s face looked familiar that there was a deafening explosion behind him and the man’s face erupted like a blooming bundle of crimson roses.
One pitted eye stared out from the blood gargling ruin of the man’s head, opened wide in astonishment. He stared at Miguel.
“Xolotl,” he sputtered.
Miguel had seen a lot of violence in his life, but a man’s head blossoming before his eyes was too much. His knees became wobbly and he nearly fell. An arm held him up, and laughter exploded like ironic Jazz music at his ear.
“Que pasa, mi hermano?” Raul said, grinning wide as he held Miguel with one arm and crooked an AR-15 with the other. “Senor solamente perdio su cabezon.”
He went on, at length, with Hollywood quips about not bringing a knife to a gunfight, and never bringing your fists to a knife fight. Raul would never let this debt go, Miguel knew, even if they happened to be brothers. It was too good an example for Raul to use to chastise his younger brother for his aversion to guns. But Miguel hated guns as much as he hated gunrunners and gang members and drug dealers. And even if the latter owned the bar he worked at, it did not mean he could not begrudge them their spoils. He would have joined the police force to combat them, if the police were not already owned by them.
Most of the bar patrons had left, except for the drug-addled. The girl had left, too. Everything had happened so fast that Miguel had not been able to keep track of her. But he would never forget her, or that noche loco.
“Al vencedor van los tesoros,” Raul said, bending over to survey the man he had killed. He reached down and took up the bloody knife. “Este es mi trofeo.” He laughed. “Yo soy un conquistador.” The blade looked more like a claw now, gripped in Raul’s hand.
“No es bueno,” Miguel said, thinking the blade a wicked presence, and not only because of the blood it drew from his forearm. The blood on the blade—his blood—seemed to disappear into the slick crescent.

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