The two men stood at the bumper of Taylor's truck cocooned in the dim blue light behind The Paradise Lounge. The broken asphalt around them was potted and puddled with rank summer rain. Mosquitoes hummed and swarmed.

Quelling the instinctive impulse to defend himself, Taylor, the older, forced his arms and his words to hang loosely as he measured the distance between himself and Stroud. "If you intend to take a swing at me," Taylor said, "this would be a good time to do it. Otherwise you run the risk of somebody seeing." The other man, Stroud, half Taylor's age and strapped with twice his muscle, hovered within arm's length, the younger man's body hard and bent as angle iron. He did not speak. "Time's runnin' out," Taylor said.

A rising torrent of anger produced an almost imperceptible quaking in the younger man's shoulders, like the stuttering second hand of a jammed clock. The blue halogen overhead carved twitching shadows in the sinew of his forearms and made cold dirty icecaps of Stroud's tight knuckles. A bead of sweat perched on his knotted jaw.

Taylor said, "You can probably take me -"

"I intend to," Stroud spat. Blood rushed inside the younger man's ears, and the mainspring of his oscillating rage brought his face so close to Taylor's that for a long second each inhaled the sour, hot breath of the other man's whiskey.

"I'm not questioning the outcome," Taylor said. "But I can promise you two things. First, I'm going to hurt you. You may be the one left standing, but I promise you I'll give you something to take with you. I am going to hurt you, boy. Second promise. There's no way you don't come away from this looking like a coward. You deck a man twice your age? Lots of glory there, huh Stroud? Don't think about it too long, boy." Stroud's chest and shoulders swelled to pitch. "Time's up," Taylor said. "That door is about to open. Somebody's gonna walk out. Somebody's gonna see. And everybody's gonna know. Do it."