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Three Nights in Chicago

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Jerry doesn't hear what the guy says, just sees Dean pick him up and throw him over the bar. Bottles and tumblers explode into nasty glittering stars. People gasp, someone screams, and then everything is quiet. Even the band has stopped playing. Jerry looks at his partner, who glares at the guy spitting blood on a bed of broken glass. There is colour high in Dean’s cheeks. He pants, clenches and unclenches his fists. Then someone is pushing through the crowd towards him, and patrons go about their business, and the musicians pick up where they left off. Jerry goes to Dean, wanting to be near him.

“What’s the trouble here?” Dark suit, shiny shoes, slicked hair. Jerry spots the ring on his pinkie. It’s the owner, flanked by two huge men.

Dean stays silent.

The bartender, who is struggling to help the poor bloodied bastard to his feet, pipes up: “Fella was provoked.” He gestures to the groaning mess on the floor. “Had it comin’, I say.”

Jerry, acting as usual with little to no planning, says, “Yeah! I heard the whole thing!” He throws his arms around Dean’s neck and beams at the grim-faced owner. “My Deanie would never start somethin’ like this, Mister. He’d only finish it.”

The guy looks Jerry up and down. His lip twitches. “Man, you guys never switch off.”

Jerry grins, every bit the Idiot from the act. Dean has relaxed a little in his arms and turns to the owner.

“I’ll pay for the damage.”

“Now, let’s not be hasty here.” He reaches over the bar, grabs the dazed customer’s lapel and pulls him close. “Maybe you oughta pay.”

The guy shakes his head, mumbles something.

“Sorry, didn’t catch that.”

“Not. My. Fault.” He dribbles blood. “Guy’s crazy. Just threw me.”

“That ain’t right.” The bartender puffs up his chest. “Now, I don’t care to repeat this fella’s language, but he said some things liable to make a nun swear.” He looks at Dean. “I say he’s justified.”

“Fuckin’ Dago.”

The owner hauls the bastard over the bar and shoves him into the arms of the heavies. He’s laughing, but it doesn’t touch his eyes. “Go on, fellas.” They drag him, kicking and screaming, from the club. The other patrons look pointedly in other directions.

“Sorry for the trouble, gentlemen.” The owner holds out his hand. “We love the show.”

Dean shakes briefly. Jerry leaps forward and pumps the hand up and down. “We love your club, Mister. It sure is swell!”

The owner laughs and turns to the bartender. “Their next drinks on the house, okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have a nice night.” The owner strolls away, shaking hands with a select few patrons as he passes. Dean and Jerry turn to the bar. A couple of waiters have arrived with dust pans and brushes. The bartender helps them with the worst of it, and then turn to the club's star attraction.

“What’ll it be?”

“Same again. And a Shirley Temple for my little partner.”

Jerry beams and hugs Dean’s arm. The bartender looks from one to the other, but he doesn't comment.

“Comin’ up,” he says, as Dean and Jerry climb onto barstools.

He sets about making the drinks. Jerry watches him, a little fascinated by the process. Dean lights a cigarette and smokes in silence. Despite his outward calm, sitting so close Jerry can feel the tremors that rumble under the surface. It must have been bad, whatever was said. Jerry’s heard people call Dean that before, but he never reacts so violently. That word rolls off him, leaving barely a hair out of place. So what could have forced his hand? He can't think, and he doesn't like to ask. Instead, he replays that incredible moment over and over: his partner, Dean Martin, lifting a guy up in the air - one hand in his armpit, the other between his legs - and tossing him like a sack of potatoes. No, not that, Jerry thinks. It looked almost too easy for Dean, so perhaps that wasn't the right simile. Like a pillow, maybe. Something light, something effortless.

Jerry's still in his reverie when the bartender sets down their drinks. They thank him, and as he sips Jerry watches Dean closely. Looking at him now, you would never believe him capable of such an outburst. His expression is soft, almost thoughtful. He looks to Jerry just about the most gentle it is possible to look. Then again, he always looks this way to Jerry. But looks can be deceiving, and Jerry can tell he's still stewing.

Dean's leg bounces. It knocks against Jerry's knee, against the bar. Jerry watches for a while, and then puts a hand on his thigh. Dean stills beneath his light touch. He glances at him. His gaze skitters over Jerry's face; all his young partner offers is a small smile. They turn back to the glasses on the bar. They don’t speak, just sip their drinks and listen to the buzz. If anyone sees the two men sitting close, the one with his hand on the other's knee, they don't say a word.