Running the Gauntlet

They entered a bar called Hook, not because they were fans of JM Barrie, but because it was the first place someone had suggested. As the two wooden statues of Indians in full headdress implied, and the name on the sign above the front door confirmed, Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis, the pirate with one hand whom Long John Silver feared and a saltwater crocodile desired, Captain Hook, served as the locale’s inspiration.
Inside, dimmed yellow lights dotted peg legs hanging from the rafters. Eye-patches and nautical steering-wheels decorated dark wood paneled walls. Bartenders clad in puffy white shirts served cocktails and beers to tanned patrons in t-shirts and shorts. No one paid attention to the four men as they gathered at a round table near an old sea chest, with an incendiary plan to save their cherished city.
“Right, chaps.” The leader of the group, George, spoke with the regal intonation of an English gentleman. “Glad to see everyone is he’ah.”
Sss... what about Johnny, Frans and Alex?”
George stared at the bruises on the bronzed face of his right-hand man, Tommy, who whistled through a missing tooth.
“They are obviously cowards.” George glowered through bottle-cap glasses at his friend’s greasy blond afro. “Would you please use shampoo next time you shower? You might be from Africa, but you don’t have to look like Tarzan.”
Tommy was the third generation of his family to have been born and raised in Nigeria, but the first to have received his education at a posh boarding school in rural Massachusetts. This gave him a New England accent that, like the English, often dropped r’s in the middle and end of words, although with a distinctly nasal American sound when he spoke.
“They say hai’ah washes itself aftah six months.” Tommy paused and stuck a rolled cigarette in his mouth. “But you don’t have to woa’wey about that, do you?”
George inhaled a cloud of rich tobacco smoke as he rubbed his freshly shaved head. The bristly patches of gray hair pricked his fingers, but he felt mostly smooth scalp. “Baldness is hereditary,” he explained. “I have no control over it. You choose to look uncivilized. Do you think women like men who look like they were raised by wolves and a lazy bear?”
“Is Estham coming?”
George heard a familiar lisp interrupt his and Tommy’s conversation. “I’ve already told you, Paco, “ he snapped at a dark-complexioned Spaniard, with a potato-shaped head and bulbous eyes. “Sam’s phone is off and I haven’t seen him since his date with a Basque girl.”
“When did you tell me that?”
Was the little turd taking the piss? George had told Paco at least five times that the part time tour-bike operator had dropped out of sight since their decision to implement the final solution to rid Barcelona of the evil forces which terrorized the city’s innocent citizens.
George turned from the Spanish humpty-dumpty and faced the final member of the group—a pock-marked man, with a new Louis Vuitton baseball cap cocked to the side, a shiny puffy jacket popular with hippity-hoppers on his slender shoulders.
“Have you spoken to Jared and his crew?” George asked Morgan from France, aka the French Slim Shady.
“’ave you not ’eard? Jaraad iz dead.”
“What?” George gasped. “How?”
“They killed im at Po-art Olímpic last week.
“Then it’ll just be the fou’ of us?” Tommy’s voice cracked, as if the answer made a difference to tonight’s plan.
“That seems to be the case.” George shook his head to rid himself of the chill that stroked his ribs whenever the conversation turned to death. He had only met Jared at their meetings. His agreeing to join their operation had felt like a Faustian bargain. George perked up from an inappropriate sense of relief at the tragic news until he realized Jared might have been a spanker and a thug, but he didn’t deserve to die so young. Who knows? He might have found Jesus.
George tried to focus on the task at hand, not a dead hoodlum, as he stood to address his troops. He was a rail-thin man with a pronounced Adam’s apple who ironed his clothes and liked to wear button-down shirts tucked into hiked trousers. On his upper lip was a trimmed silver mustache, which had been in vogue in Britain before the facial hair became associated with Adolf Hitler, although it remained popular with World War Two veterans, like George’s recently deceased father.
“Four men committed to a cause is better than an army of a hundred mercenaries,” the proud son of a soldier declared, clapping and rubbing his hands together. “Right, chaps. Who wants a drink? My shout.”
The three men raised their hands and George picked Paco to help with the order. They came back ten minutes later with four small cola bottles and highball glasses, three-quarters full of Cuban rum.

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