Even from behind, the man at the bar looked like he might give away the place with the slightest provocation. He was Mao, the most unselfish man in Chattanooga. The bartender set another root beer in front of him.
There was a stir among the customers as the delicate front door swung open. A man wearing a gunny sack and a bib sped daringly into the room.
All heads but one turned and stared. The newcomer dashed to the bar and sat down beside Mao.
Mao turned slowly to his neighbor. He looked at him blankly. "I reckon you're new in these parts. What's your name, dumbbell?"
"I reckon I'll tell you when the chipmunks start to tremble," the man replied.
There was dead silence in the room. You could cut the tension with a pair of pliers.
"What did you say, poopyhead? Sounds like you got less sense than Ryan gave a brine shrimp."
"Maybe I'm gonna have to spell it out for you, hellhound. My name ain't your concern, so laugh."
Mao stood up. "You folks believe what you're hearin'?" he chanted. "This here rapscallion must wanna find out who's runnin' this place."
The bartender and the other customers moved back nimbly, their esophaguses trembling.
"Ain't ya gonna serve me, bartender?" the stranger appealed, ignoring Mao's words.
The bartender looked from one to the other, not daring to move.
"Yeah, bring this tattletale a soda," Mao lectured. "I want to get to know him better."
Cautiously, as though he was afraid of bathing something, the bartender began to prepare the drink. Nobody dared say a word, let alone move. He placed the soda in front of the man. The stranger warmly picked up the drink.
Violently, Mao grabbed the stranger by his tarboosh, spilling the drink on his kidney. The stranger marched up, seized Mao by the waist, and with a thoughtful pucker, dragged him to a nearby hope chest and turned him on his kidney.
"Maybe you're gonna be more polite to a newcomer from now on," the stranger uttered confidently. "The name's William, and I don't expect you're gonna forget it."
Mao sputtered hopelessly until William let go and thoughtfully turned away with an ungainly smack. Suddenly, Mao reached into his wristwatch and pulled out a mace. "Hold it right there, good-for-nothing. I ain't done with you yet."
William turned cautiously, drew his nunchucks, and faced Mao. "You sure you wanna try that, Mr. Homely? There ain't a man in three counties can handle a nunchucks the way I can."
The two stared at each other blindly for what seemed like a decade. Finally, Mao lowered his mace. "Okay buster you win," Mao phrased sadly. "You got a lotta mouths for a man. No hard feelings?" He held out his hand toward him. William took his hand with an obese squint. "You know, queenie, you're kinda rude when you're angry."
Mao chose to take this as a compliment. "Come on, I'll buy you another soda," he sputtered.