Chapter 7:

Beer and Bowling

The Bushranger's Bayonet

Five bushrangers, four pints, one table.
The crew sat there in silence as the eyes of the entire tavern.
The rattle of balls on the ninepin lanes had all but stopped.
The four sat uncomfortably at a table in the corner, their stools the only ones resting on eggshells. Arthur, bless his heart, didn’t notice the malice and fear hanging in the air. He was too busy focusing on the slow-cooked mutton that Mara had ordered for him. It fascinated him, his little face lighting up in sheer joy with every mouthful.
Mara had other matters on her mind. Her attention was split between the bar, Arthur, and Jack.
Jack’s eyes glazed over the bar, looking for any sign of trouble.
Cat had all but fazed out of existence, becoming almost an empty stool with a pint in front of it.
Connie tried to ignore the crowd, focusing on his food. He’d chosen a seat with his back to the crowd, putting his formidable claymore on full display. Bookmark here

The bar seethed with a toxic mix of empathy, disgust, suspicion, and hatred.
With as much calm as he could muster, Jack withdrew from his belt a short-barrelled revolver, casually laying it on the end of the table so that it was clearly visible to everybody in the bar. At that moment, the shred of empathy was replaced by fear.
The lanes began to rattle again as the chatter slowly rose back to the level it had been at when they arrived.Bookmark here

“Well Mara, you finally got your wish. Here we are.” Came the cold sarcasm of Jack.
“Don’t go overboard” Cat piqued up “I’ve heard the stories”.
Jack chuckled as Mara eyed him from across the table. “You’ve been shit-talking me again, how? We’ve stuck together like glue for days!”
“I can be discreet when I want to be.”
Mara laughed uproariously. “You, discreet? You’re about as discreet as a giant taking a shit in a billabong!”
Arthur looked at Mara with a mix of surprise, confusion, and disgust. He had never seen this side of her before. Connie chuckled.
“Who shits in a billabong? That’s going to ruin the nearest source of water.”
“And now you know why we mix it with alcohol.” He looked down at Arthur. “Remember that. Always clean your drinking water and mix a bit of alcohol in there. Tastes terrible, but it’ll save your life.”
“Now’s not the time to be teaching the kid life lessons!” An obnoxious red-headed drunk chimed in “We should be celebrating how good we’ve got it right now. Plenty of contracts with a pretty penny attached.”
“It’s good advice. Something we should all remember from our earliest training.” Connie replied rather nastily.
Mara chugged the rest of her pint and called out to the waitress “Pour me another one.”
Cat looked at Jack with a look of concern on her face. Jack’s microscopic sigh was all the response she needed. Mara had been waiting for an opportunity like this and was quite keen to take advantage of it.Bookmark here

As Arthur finished off his meal, Connie looked at him with a soft smile. “How about we try some bowling then? Does that sound like fun?” Came his distinct nasal draw.
The only response Arthur gave was a nod. Taking out a few pence, he handed them to the waitress and pointed at the unoccupied short lane that was usually only open during the day when the children of the wealthy would come to bowl after their lessons. The waitress brought over two scoring cards made on cheap paper as well as a small charcoal pencil before going back to serving the other customers. Picking up a ball, Arthur walked up to the short lane and stopped.
The rattling balls had fallen silent. Once again, all the other occupants of the bar were looking at them, but only Arthur fell within their judging gaze. He steeled himself, not knowing what would happen when he threw that ball. Connie’s hand rested casually on his shotgun as it hung from his belt like an oversized pistol. Arthur took a breath to steady himself, lined up the pins and threw.
The ball shot along the wooden lane, becoming the only source of noise in the bar. It started to drift left as the lane’s end approached fast. Closing in on the pins it struck with a crash, clipping the far-left pin, and leaving the rest standing.Bookmark here

Disappointed sighs rippled through the small crowd, except for an old man sitting alone in the corner, who just laughed before sticking his big nose back in his mug. Connie carefully walked along the bowling lane to the end, getting behind the pins and putting the ball on the return gutter.
“Try again, you can do it this time”
Arthur nodded and threw the ball harder this time, sending it straight into the gutter where it rolled back to him.
“Don’t throw it like that. Swing the ball below your shoulders and line up the pins.”
Arthur steeled himself and swung underarm with less force, managing to control the ball in his hands slightly better. It glided down the polished floorboards, making them creak slightly as it went. Spin on the ball began to act, curving it to the right. It struck the second-row right pin, knocking down five more as it fell. Connie clapped slightly; the smile contrasted against his imposing frame. Mara clapped a little as well. Jack began to follow suit.
“Good on ya kiddo! I knew you could do it.” Came a shout from an obnoxious redhead, though more loudly than usual.Bookmark here

Mara had managed to down two whole mugs within the five minutes it took for Arthur to bowl. Her cheeks had flushed and were starting to approach the colour of her hair. One man stood up from his stool, staggering as he did so. “The kid can bowl, so fucking what? It’s not like he’s done anything impressive.”Bookmark here

Jack stood up, tucking the pistol back onto his belt. “This boy’s done some things you’d not believe.”The drunk man didn’t seem to notice his words. “You expect me to believe a half-breed street urchin like him would amount to anything more than another body the undertaker has to deal with for no pay? Yeah, I’ve seen him hanging around in the alleyways for a while now. I don’t know what’s worse; being stuck eating garbage in an alley or having to run with your mob.”Mara stood up slowly from her stool, her aura of menace washing over the room in waves. “How about ya just fill yer mouth back up with booze, before I fill yer stomach with yer fuckin’ teeth!”Cocky as only a man at the bottom of a beer mug could be, raised his fists as he slid one foot back for balance. “Well then, take a swing. It’s not as if a woman could do much against me then, eh?”Mara’s face turned redder than her hair as an alcoholic rage consumed her. Sweeping one leg out in front of her, she caught the drunkard’s boot and pushed it aside before delivering a serious blow to his stomach. To finish up her devastating attack, Mara went for a final punch right into his jaw. A loud snap could be heard by everyone in the tavern. The drunkard leaned forward, his jaw falling open in shock. Looking into his jaw, it was clearly visible he’d lost five teeth. Only two fell onto the floor.“I fuckin’ warned ya, but ya didn’t fuckin’ listen. Just remember this when your arsehole is being shredded. We might be here to protect you lot, but that doesn’t mean we’re gonna take yer shit too.”As she gazed around the bar, the look of fear had returned to everybody’s eyes. Jack just sighed, walking over to Mara, and tapping her on the shoulder. “You’ve made your point, now let’s go before shit gets ugly.”She nodded. “Fine. This place stinks of blood now anyway.”
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