There was so much positive response from my most recent chapter preview that I thought I'd do it again. Not the same chapter of course, but another favorite from my novel 'No More Mister Nice Guy'.
The fifth chapter, Jack and Randѐl, fills in the backgrounds of Sandy Saphora's parents, the story before the story of the book. Sandy is Billy Hartman's (the protagonist) girlfriend. The chapter is a personal favorite of mine bursting with large colorful characters.
The character, Jack Saphora, started as a walk on walk off character with an already dead wife. But, the ex-Marine just wouldn't stop banging on the door and begging me to tell his story. Jack is a retired piss and vinegar drill instructor, and still behaves as if he never left the Corps. His oversized biceps, immense attitude and high-and-tight haircut give most people the creeps. You do want him to back you in a fight though. Randѐl, his wife and Sandy's mother, is even tougher than Jack. She's an exotic beauty that takes a man's breath away. She dies before the main story starts.
Central to this chapter is the brutal bar fight that serves as a catalyst for their love affair.
Ladies and gentlemen I give you...
Jack and Randѐl
Beneath the Saphora family’s squeaky clean, All-American image lay a snake pit of secrets long dead and buried deeper than the Marianas Trench.
Sandy’s mother, Randѐl, not RANDALL, but stretched pleasantly out of whack in a long slow Cajun E ending with a sweet rolling L, met Jack in a notorious dive bar just outside of Camp LeJuene, North Carolina. An exotic mix of East, West, and African, Randѐl stole away more than the first breath of any man fortunate and brave enough to look into her steely gray eyes, eyes that somehow undid you, stripped you bare and stood you before God.
Wildly coiled jet-black hair framed the face of a Nile Queen brought back from days of old. A man’s second breath was caught, rapt in his chest at the sound of her voice; a lilt of Cajun swirled together with a sweet pinch of good ol’ southern girl. But never...ever mistake her for a weak and simple girl. That could be a monumental misstep and perhaps your last.
Insecure women despised her and men—well... to say they yearned for her would put it much too mild and politely.
Opportunities for someone of her ethnic mix were sorely limited in the southern United States. Though she worked there, she never would have been a patron in a place such as The Driftwood.
“A person does have to make a living,” was her answer to the tired old cliché “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” Most women that worked that club were loose-moraled strippers, prostitutes, or scam-artist lap dancers, but not Randѐl.
She tended bar and policed the oft broken peace, seldom needing no more than her attitude and the bravado that she was born with to restore the place to order.
She tended bar and policed the oft broken peace, seldom needing no more than her attitude and the bravado that she was born with to restore the place to order.
“More balls than a whole squad of Marines,” was said quietly through the teeth of one patron who had been taught his place, and he was an old drill sergeant.
A loose lid clattered atop the simmering pot that was The Driftwood, and Randѐl kept it MOST times from boiling over, an amazing feat in view of her gender and slight one-hundred-ten-pound frame. Still, she wasn’t above using her exotic charms if it would bend or calm a rowdy man to his cooperative knee. If that failed, she kept a cricket bat stowed under the bar. If that was still not enough power, she wasn’t reluctant to pull the twelve-gauge shotgun stashed under the bar, both barrels packed with rock-salt. In the past three years, she had needed only to pull it three, well, maybe four times, and fire it only once, killing no one except a cat named Buddy, who was sleeping on the floor upstairs. A mass of bloody orange fur and a few broken bones were his only remains.
Jack Saphora was a Marine’s Marine, a true Gyrene if ever there was one. II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina was where he spent his early days as a boot and, after several skirmishes overseas, landed there as a piss-and-vinegar drill sergeant that stole young men’s innocence and turned them into the dogs of war, men who spoiled for a fight and were aroused by the thought of bloodshed. They dreamt of going into battle. Not the most altruistic patriots one could find, but they did love their country and were loyal to the death— because they were Marines.
Jack had been sent to police The Driftwood, off-limits for any recruit. That was when he saw Randѐl for the very first time. At the time, she had worked there three years and change. She became the ruling law after only her third day, when as a lowly barmaid she had single-handedly restored order by grabbing the shotgun from under the bar and leaping onto a table in the midst of a fight just gathering up its steam. The sound of the jacking breach and the look on her face were enough to restore order. Then and there the owner fired his “too soft” and bribe-prone ex-Marine manager and gave Randѐl the job.
Jack was still on the broken and bloody side of a devastating breakup (which was his fault, and he knew it). When he walked into the wall of her southern drawl with its honeyed Cajun mix, he melted. Until it involved women, Jack was full tilt, hard-ass Gunny twenty-four-seven.
Jack dressed in civvies as a cover, a Hawaiian style shirt, no bright colors, only black, white and grays.
“What’ll it be, Marine? You know you’re not supposed to be in here, but hell, it ain’t against my rules.” Randѐl slammed a mug on the bar as she gave him a devilish wink meant only to increase her tip.
Jack was speechless. He fell for it every time.
“I see by your stripes, you’re hunting boots.” Her savvy and arrogance told him she must run The Driftwood; she had read his stripes as if they were tattooed on his meaty forearms.
Knocked off center, he quickly recovered. “Yeah, that’s it. Seen any?”
“Gunny, if I did, I would have warned them thirty seconds before you came through the door. It’d be bad for business if I didn’t.” And she snickered a derisive but steamy laugh.
He’d lost every thought of his present mission in a haze of none-too-innocent infatuation. He still managed to put on a good show as he walked the room, looking under tables and even into bathroom stalls... both men’s and women’s.
Jack took the barstool nearest a decrepit out-of-date, but not yet antique cash register and she took away the mug, put a longneck Budweiser down in front of him and twisted the cap.
Most every man to come through the doors had tried at least once to get next to Randѐl – he’d be crazy not to take a chance – but she left them all feeling crazy for trying, which gave her an added reputation as a real ball-buster. She gave Jack no less.
It was Jack’s third night in a row, the larger than usual line of Harleys at the curb planted a chip firmly on his shoulder. He was now spoiling for a fight. Filthy Bikers, is how Jack referred to a certain brand of motorcyclist. Their presence always made Jack’s blood boil. He’d taken a whole roomful in a fight and they ended up beat up and sorry in the end.
As he watched her polish glasses, the requisite shouting match over a game of pool broke out between two bikers. Randѐl, overly tired that night after working two shifts, was hoping it wouldn’t escalate into fists and broken chairs. When, in her terms, one scrawny ball of hair threw a punch at a guy twice his size, Randѐl vaulted the bar, cricket bat clutched in her left fist.
Veteran patrons snickered, elbowed each other, and pulled up seats to watch. She grabbed the big guy by the back of his collar like he was an unruly child and, when he protested, she swept his legs out from under him and dropped him onto the filth strewn floor face first. With one foot planted between the big guy’s shoulder blades, she lectured the skinny one as though he was a little kid, all while alternately slapping the fat side of the bat in her hand and using it as an exclamation point in his chest.
Jack fell deeply in love; Randѐl felt his heat radiate like a thousand others before him, and gave him the usual heave-ho. He returned the next night, and the night after, until one Friday night, a huge brawl, even by Driftwood standards, broke out. She ratcheted the shotgun closed and cocked it as she stood on a table and shouted for order. Jack leaned back on his stool, entranced by the show.
Super ugly and barely contained within her tank-top, an obese-as-hell biker chick named, of all things, Ashley, caught Randѐl off guard. Like something you’d see at a wrestling match, she grabbed Randѐl by an arm and a leg, and then pitched her into a waiting stack of extra tables. Randѐl lost her grip on the gun and it flopped through the air, Jack, along with several alcohol- and meth-laced rowdies, leapt to catch it. The riotous crowd was stunned into quiet when, like a rubber band, Randѐl snapped to her feet weaponless and continued to bark orders.
The smelly mess of a struggle for the weapon dispersed when Jack cracked one over the head with the gun butt. His free hand grabbed Ashley – she was Vince Vargill’s girl and everyone knew it. His mind flashed to the thought: What would an outlaw like Vince see in a dinosaur like Ashley?
The truth of that was not much different from what Jack saw in Randѐl; Ashley was the only person, man or woman, who Vince had not been able to beat in a fight. He had called her some very choice names, albeit very apt descriptions, and Ashley chose to defend her honor, as minute as that was. The fight was bloody, brutal, and a draw, and as they sat against a wall, exhausted, the love-bug hit. They fit together like an onion covered burger and animal fries.
Jack’s fingers were buried like a claw in the fatty flesh of Ashley’s throat, her gargled pleas drew out her man. Vince Vargill was wanted in three states for various violent crimes and had been twice featured on America’s Most Wanted. Jack slapped him up under the chin with the barrel of the shotgun and everyone heard his teeth bang together. A hushed silence blanketed the crowd. Stunned, but only for a moment, he charged Jack, stopping abruptly as both barrels of the gun jabbed deep into his large, soft belly.
Vince unexpectedly slapped the gun aside and leapt towards Jack, who, while still holding the girl by her neck, stomped the heel of his snakeskin cowboy boot hard into the bridge of the madman’s foot. Vince’s scream echoed in the cavernous bar as at least twenty small bones made a cracking sound under Jack’s boot heel. He hit the ground, writhing in pain, and Ashley’s ugly bloodshot eyes rolled up in her head as she ran out of air. Jack pushed her away hard. Her flabby body sprawled out face-first on the floor like some hunter’s obscene trophy.
Three ambulances responded to cart away the wounded, and Vince Vargill went to the jail ward of County Hospital. He bailed out within a week. Unbelievable considering his string of felony convictions. Ashley, his one true love, was there to pick him up and they made hideous love right there in the parking lot.
When the last of the Cavalry had gone, and the crowd cleared out, Jack and Randѐl finally had a chance to catch their breath, and each other’s eye. With a lightning spark of instant acknowledgement, like long-lost siblings, they burst out laughing. It had been a very long time since either had so much fun. Together, they cleaned up the wreckage until just before sunrise.
“Can I interest you in breakfast?”
“Not just yet, Cowboy. Besides, I’ve got to get some sleep.”
“Have it your way.” Jack walked out.
“Hey, Gunny! What’s your name?”
“Thanks, Jack, for all the help.” The smile told him he had won more than just the fight, so he turned back around.
Randѐl put the CLOSED sign out, and they sat in the empty bar, sipped warming beer, and shared stories until Jack had to leave and report back to base. Randѐl gave Jack an easy, innocent kiss, and the die was cast. Much later, as their relationship progressed, they would find that one identical thought rang in their hearts: Till Death Do Us Part. That morning, amidst the wreckage, trouble, and blood, each had made up their mind not to let the other get away.
The Driftwood Lounge had always been notorious for big, brawling fights, but that one would not soon be forgotten, least of all by Vince Vargill and Sasquatch Ashley. The public humiliation of that black girl slapping him in the ass with a cricket bat would never be let go nor lived-down until someone was dead.
“That black bitch and her jarhead boyfriend just got lucky. I swear I’ll take that bat and shove it so far—”
Ashley cut him off and whispered in his ear, “Hey, honey, listen. I’ve got a plan for them and that cricket bat.”
Vince leaned back and leered. “They’re going to pay a whole helluva lot more than they got away with.”
Vince and Ashley would return; he had made bail thanks entirely to the link between local judges and his nationwide gang of outlaws. He knew he could not beat the rap, but he would get revenge, so, on a busy Friday night, they came gunning for Jack and Randѐl. An accomplice opened the rear door and they slipped in undetected amidst the usual noise and confusion. Clamor and chaos meant profits at The Driftwood. Ashley slid in undetected, if that’s even possible, and slithered sideways to secret herself in the bathroom.
Tonight had been a great night; tips were large and everyone was happy. Randѐl sauntered and spun a tray of glasses over her head and she wore a sexy smile that was not wasted. As she rounded a blind corner in the back near the restrooms, Vince Vargill slipped from a booth, grabbed her around the waist, and drew her tight into a clinch; as strong as she was, her struggles had little effect. Jack was alerted by the crash of tray and glasses; unarmed, he vaulted himself from his barstool and sprinted through the raucous crowd towards Randѐl.
Vince yelled, “Here’s your chance, babe!” Like an enraged Rhino, Ashley barreled towards Jack, who was so blind with fury that he neither saw nor heard her, but the thinning crowd did. The remaining patrons fled the place as if it was on fire.
Vince glared at Jack and, with one heavily tattooed and sinewy arm, pulled Randѐl’s arms tight to her sides. His other held a very large Bowie knife, flat side firmly against her throat until the sharp edge began to cut into the flawless skin beneath her chin. Nevertheless, she let fly a stream of strangled curses.
Vince chuckled. “Not very ladylike for such a pretty thing as yourself.” His Floridian accent, odd on anyone, made his voice even more repulsive. The luridly hot whiskey-laden breath reminded her too much of her father, and sent her mind reeling into events she had tried for years to erase from her past. The razor edge cut deeper as she squirmed against his hold; a rivulet of blood trickled from under her chin, down to her collarbone, and dripped onto her gleaming white tube-top.
Like a bull at the cape swish, Jack charged.
Ashley, rushed him from his blindside, got under his legs at a run, lifted him in the air, and dropped him neatly onto a table stacked with leftover French fry baskets and used up beer mugs.
Momentarily dazed, everything became crystal clear as Jack felt the barrel of a small gun being screwed hard into his right temple.
“MOVE! MOVE! You somofabitch,” chortled Ashley, through gooey wet lungful’s of air. Jack thought she might faint from the exertion under her own weight. Damn, she was big.
“Move just one little muscle, so I can pull the trigger!”
Faster than she could react, Jack slammed an elbow hard under her chin; a muffled crack of bone was faintly heard through a large UGH... and her last wind escaped her chest. The gun fired.
He shook loose the behemoth, but lost his footing in a puddle of spilled beer and, on the way down, whacked his head on the edge of the table he’d been using to steady himself.
Damn—sloppy, he thought later.
Approaching sirens scored the live show seeming to come straight out of a cheap movie. But the end would come before the Cavalry could arrive.
Jack was out cold on the floor, but soon regained most of his senses; through the fog, he was able to assess the situation and formulate a plan, something he was well practiced at from too many wars.
As he played dead, he heard Vince’s lewd coos close into Randѐl’s ear, and saw Ashley still out cold, maybe dead. Silently, he cursed himself for acting so rashly. He would be much more calculating now.
Opening his right eye, for the other was smashed against the floor and beginning to throb with every heartbeat, he saw the gun not two feet from his splayed hand. He waited until Vince pressed his face, gnarled by years of crime and evil, against Randѐl’s ear, and slid sideways to palm the gun.
How appropriate, he thought, a 38 snub nose, a Saturday Night Special.
He rolled and stood in one fluid movement, and Vince saw the gun trained at him, but fear was not in his résumé.
“Drop the knife and let her go Vince,” Jack ordered.
“Or what, Jarhead?”
“Or I’ll shoot you right through your ugly eye and, if I get lucky, hit your little pea-sized brain.”
Vince laughed and, with a steely eye fixed on Jack, drew the knife slowly across Randѐl’s throat. His hope was to slay her in Jack's presence, but he succeeded only in slicing a puckered opening in her larynx, which looked ready for its first kiss. Jack fired and, true to his word, drilled him through his eye, but missed his brain. Randѐl felt Vince’s grip slacken, turned, seized the knife, and drew back. With both hands, she jammed the blade upwards until it would not go any further.
Randѐl stood shaking, a sickening wet ruffle of air blew in and out the gap in her throat. Vince had succeeded in opening the thyroid cartilage protecting her larynx; still a considerable wound. Several muscles were clipped that left movement of her neck jerky for the rest of her life. Luckily, it missed her jugular, and oddly, at least to the layman, the cut did not bleed much.
Vince’s body slumped to the floor, doubled over as if paying homage to Randѐl, his conquering queen.
She turned her face to meet Jack, and let him hold her there. He pulled her face to his, and wiped a fine thread of blood running just below her right eye; it revealed a jagged cut; like a red-hot tear, it ran from the lower lid and ended at her prominent cheekbone. As wounded as she was, Randѐl still thought three steps ahead.
“Jack, you can’t be here when the troops get here,” her voice came out as an ominous warble that was sensuously haunting.
Jack protested. "Randy, honey," he said sweetly, trying to comfort her. "I can take the heat."
"But your career can't, and it won't." Jack saw the sense and slowly relented. On his way out, he gave Vince’s lifeless body a kick in the guts, hoping he would feel it in hell. The body rolled onto its side, his legs spread apart, and revealed the hilt of the big Bowie knife emerging from the crotch seam of his Levis. The image gave him the horror-movie willies and he would remember it as clearly as a photograph for the rest of his life.
In the large mirrored wall that encircled the main room, Randѐl saw her reflection for the first time since the ordeal began. Her hair was matted with blood, her white top stained pink, and when she lifted her chin to examine her wound, she gasped, and a creaky wet sound escaped through the hole in her neck. Turning aside as if applying makeup, which she never used, she saw the cut that ran straight down from just under her eye and stopped at the high point of her cheek. As if swiping at a tear, she calmly wiped away the small bit of congealed blood that revealed the threadlike tear in her face; it looked vaguely like a tear, only red and jagged. Under her breath, she chuckled at the double entendre.
She hadn’t cried since she was a little girl.
Yes, she thought, she would keep the scar, and real tears flowed now and stung in the cut. When she realized how very similar the wound was to her mother's, the heaving sobs began again. Randѐl had never truly grieved the loss of her mother until that very moment.
Along with the scars, her voice remained forever altered. The flat of the blade had partially crushed her larynx.
Like a supermodel checking her appearance, she turned once and again and wondered for a moment if Jack would stay. Oddly, he seemed to love her even more; there was no pity, only a very intense passion.
Jack went back to base, and was eventually questioned about the incident at the bar.
“Yes, I was there, sir, but left.”
“Vince Vargill; yeah, I knew him.”
“Dead, huh? That’s too bad, but I heard he was a bad guy, so you know what they say?”
He handed his commanding officer, Colonel Jonas Pilate Andersen, a request for retirement, effective that week. The Colonel knew what it was before he read it.
“I heard the jungle drums and I had half a hope you wouldn’t do this, Gunny.” Jonas knew leaving The Corp was a very difficult decision; you’d have to look long and hard for someone as zealous about the Marines as Jack was.
“You never even had half, Colonel, sir.”
“Half what, Gunny?”
“Half a chance, sir!”
“Knock off the stinkin’ protocol, would ya, Jack?” He pulled out two expensive cigars, snipped the ends, and handed one to Jack. An expensive bottle of whiskey appeared out of a desk drawer as he groped for a lighter, which Jack produced, and lit the cigars as the Colonel filled two glasses.
They clinked their drinks in a toast.
“On your retirement, granted; if I fill your shoes with someone half as full of piss and vinegar as you, Gunny, I’ll be doing alright.”
The Commander tipped his glass towards Jack and they silently smoked and drank as they stared out at the base, not breaking the silence until they were holding empty glasses.
“It’s been real good... and I love The Corps so effing much,” said Jack as his eyes started to mist.
“Are you going to cry, Gunny! There’s no crying in the Marines!”
They both laughed and each snapped a slurred but perfect salute, held it for a moment, shook hands, and parted friends and peers.
Jack loved the Marines at least half as much as he loved Randѐl, but he knew if he stayed, he might, no... he would definitely lose her. He made up his mind to be a different man—and succeeded. That was Jack’s one shining quality, his rock hard resolve, will, and determination. He flat kicked ass at whatever he set his mind or hand to do, except home repair.
He had found a beautiful woman that he could admire and give his respect to, she being tougher than he was, that would work.
Camp Lejeune could have easily been called the matrix of Jack’s life, for it was there he had met and married Randѐl Cherrington, the highly exotic Chinese Creole whose latter side brought along a voodoo infused blend of Christianity. Jack thought it was all hogwash, a crutch for weak and scared people, yet you would not find a stronger, more fearless human being than she. Randѐl was the toughest person he knew, including himself.
This stunning beauty blend of Asian, French, and African had repelled the advances of a thousand men... until she got to Jack.
He hadn't been as horny for her as much as he needed her soul—to dance with. He never was comfortable with such frilly feelings coming up in him, and didn’t really know where they came from, but that was how Jack would describe it, if he talked about it.
They would tell people, “We met at a dance,” and wink at each other, thinking of the riotous brawl they had been thrown into. People had died there of unnatural causes, and dealing with the vengeful (not theirs) repercussions from that fight had sealed their love. They never talked about it, but always referred to it as “The dance.”
Sandy was born a year later. Everyone says all babies are cute, precious, or just so amazingly adorable, all the while thinking how gruesome and ugly they really look. But when they saw Sandy, they were enchanted, they wished she was theirs, and thought, “Why the heck is my kid so goofy looking?”
As the saying goes, “Some got it and some don’t,” it’s just the rule of nature. Sandy had it. Rolling along in her stroller, still mainly oblivious to the world around her, mothers, and a few fathers, usually complete strangers, would stop the young couple. “Can I just tell you how adorably cute your little girl is? What’s her name? Oh, Sandra’s just the perfect name!” All the while, they would tug at their own ugly little children's hands, never stopping to think of their child’s bruised little sense of place in the world as they fawned over how gorgeous this complete stranger was. Psychiatrists would earn some dollars twenty or thirty years down the road, fixing damage done by unwitting mothers through one encounter with Sandy and Randѐl.
As Sandy grew older, it didn’t change. At five years old, she attracted people’s good will, gifts, and attention. Teachers favored her, for which she paid by bearing the brunt of meaner kids’ verbal assaults. She stood up to it with grace and a dose of Randѐl's unshakable toughness. Bullies were often swallowed whole by her kindness. By now, she must sound like the next Christ-child, but no, she had her flaws; they were few, but they were there.
Her only blemishes were probably her parents, but how would you hold that against her? Her mother’s soul was unflawed, if not her looks. Sandy heard the whispers of kids and adults alike. Randѐl's marred beauty spawned more than one rumor. To the rest, she was glowingly attractive. The marring of her beauty had made her ever more attractive, to most people.
Father Jack the forever Marine, had a chiseled out of stone face which made him look as if he chewed logs and spit nails. His attitude didn’t help soften the picture. Wherever he was at, he was in charge, except home, where Randѐl ruled. She was the only human being that Jack feared. He didn’t just fear Randѐl, he loved her and adored the ground she walked on. If anyone so much as cast aspersions towards Sandy or Randѐl, it was going to cost them their hide and possibly a broken bone or two, at the very least a bloody nose. Jack could be a bit too quick with his fists, despite his gift for diplomacy.
He wasn’t very smart when it came to reading, writing, and arithmetic, but he was wiser than an Old Sage when it came to handling people and his public persona. He could punch you in the gut, wrench an arm out of its socket, black an eye, and come up clean and smelling pretty. Heck, you might end up in jail for hurting his knuckles by the time he got done schmoozing the cops. Jack was a wizard in any type of battle and a genius with people. A highly decorated Marine, he would take a bullet for a stranger. Just don’t touch his stuff.
Randѐl’s grace and strength came from the survivor mode she lived in as a child. She grew up with a brutal father and a cowed, spineless mother that stood to see her own children humiliated and whipped for the slightest transgression.
Randѐl never knew where her mother got the wicked scar on her face. She asked a couple times, but never got an answer. Randѐl fled home at fifteen, running away with her first broken heart.
Thank you for taking the time to read this chapter from 'No More Mister Nice Guy'.
If you enjoyed it, would you consider buying the book?
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