“You think you can intimidate me? Girl, I was in the United States Army for fifteen years,” said Vice Principal McNab. “I’ve been dealing with jumped-up little shits in the school ever since. I can handle myself.”

Charlie grinned and snapped her knuckles loudly enough that the bartender looked up, startled at the sudden sound of dry twigs. “Major, huh? Bet you fought a lot of paperwork,” she said. “Must have been some real long division in there to be harder than handling a bunch of kids.”

McNab was on his feet, his barstool toppling loudly. “You do not question my service, girl, or my patriotism!”

“Must not be very sure of it, if you think it won’t hold up to a couple questions,” said Charlie, suddenly very intent on her fingernails. “Get a lot of papercuts in the line of duty there, G.I. Joe?”

“Look, you two, if you’re gonna yell, I gotta ask you to take it outside,” the bartender said with a sigh, casting a forlorn glance at his near-empty tip jar.

“You wanna see what they taught me?” McNab shouted. “Go on than, take a swing, girl. I’ll give you one for free. But don’t think I won’t hit back on account of you being a lady.”

Charlie squared her impressive shoulders and raised a hand in a taunting “come hither” gesture. “Ain’t no ladies in here,” she said, “no gentlemen either. I don’t need a free shot. Hit me with all you got, desk jockey.”

With a huffing noise like an overheated rhinoceros, Vice Principal McNab stepped forward and threw a right hook. It was the sort of thing they might have taught in Basic decades ago, and Charlie simply leaned her shoulder into the blow, literally shrugging it off.

She followed with a slow, powerful smack to the middle of McNab’s chest, deflating him like a leaky bellows.

“Here, let me help you with that,” she said. Leaning over, she righted the barstool that McNab had upset and then picked him up effortlessly, perching him on it and laying his gasping face on the bar. “Huffing and puffing with your head down. Army desk job all over again, huh?”

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