“That’s the thing about this city…” he thought to himself. “There’s never any doubt whether you’re the hunted or the hunter, the taken or the taker.”
Every night, Jerry walked this same street, and every night, he would see something that maintained his utter lack of faith in humanity. “It’s a good thing there’s no bridge on this route,” he would often think. He had actually changed his path home from work to specifically exclude one tall bridge already. Some days it was just too hard not to jump off.
This new path didn’t afford that opportunity, but if he wanted it bad enough, he could probably still access a number of the skyscraper rooftops that were currently funneling filthy rainwater onto his head.
He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and pushed his shoulders up further to close the collar of his trench coat. He wore his hat low on his head, and this combination made it impossible to know who was inside the walking bundle of clothes.
Jerry always judged the nights through the small slit that was between coat and hat, especially when it was pouring.
Downpours like this one were a double-edged sword in his mind. It was impossible to be heard if you needed to get the jump on somebody, but if somebody were going to jump you, you wouldn’t hear them either. So that’s how he lived on nights like this- half ready to strike, the other half ready to be struck. He’d be damned before he’d let the second half be correct though.
“Wonder what it’ll be tonight?” he continued to think as he passed one of the more popular alleys on this block. He was almost home. He hadn’t seen anything too extreme, but he knew better than to assume the rain would keep the scum inside. The air smelled like trouble.
He had lived in the country as a child, and he remembered how a large rain would purify the air. Everything would smell of clean, glistening leaves and wet dirt. Here, it only exacerbated the already sickening smells of too many people packed together in too small a space-- Thai food with too much garlic, wet clothes that stayed in the dryer too long, someone’s urine-soaked pants discarded on the sidewalk. All of these things might be tolerable as a singular expression, but when run through the blender that was West End, they became a noxious odor that chased the decent inside… as if there were many decent left here.
“Hey, maaan…” a call came through the thunderous din. They must’ve yelled to be audible, but the voice still sounded forcefully relaxed.
“Hiding something,” Jerry thought, and he stopped immediately, turning his whole body toward the call. His hands were still in his pockets but poised for a quick strike.
“What is it?” Jerry’s voice came out gravelly and harsh… too many cigarettes today, not enough whiskey.
“Whoa, brotha. Take it eeeasy.” A body followed the voice from the shadows of the alley. The man was moving slowly, and as the line between light and dark crept up his clothes, Jerry could see he was holding his filthy calloused hands palm-out in surrender. He wore the typical attire of what used to be called ‘punk.’ Too many piercings adorned his face. His eyes were bloodshot, pupils huge, and his hair was shaved on either side, with a short mohawk running down the middle and tipped with red dye. “I was just wonderin’ if you could spare a few bucks, ya know? We’re kinda haaard up back here. No place to go in the storm either, ya dig?”
Two more stepped into the light behind him, one holding a bat stained pink on the end.
Jerry stood solid as he replied. “Are you selling me a bat?”
The lead punk let out a short sinister chuckle. “You’re funny man. Real funny.” He stopped smiling. “Gimme your wallet!” he growled.
“Take it,” Jerry replied calmly.
A chorus of devilish laughter was the only response, as the three started to close on him. Jerry took two steps back until he was on the edge of the curb. A trashcan in a cast-iron frame stood to his left. His hands were still hidden.
Without a word, the hefty bald guy lunged forward, his bat raised to strike.
“Too slow,” thought Jerry, as he deftly stepped to the right, and using Fat Baldie’s momentum against him, Jerry grabbed the bat with one hand and redirected him with the other, crashing his face hard into the welded metal.
No celebrating… Jerry turned back to the other two. Mohawk looked uncertain all of the sudden.
“I’m not interested. That bat doesn’t hit,” said Jerry.
“You son of a—“ screamed Mohawk, but he was cut short by a fist striking his Adam’s apple.
As Mohawk hit his knees, gasping and splurting spit, he clenched his neck with both hands and looked upward pleadingly until Jerry’s stiff boot sunk into one of his eye sockets. He flew over backward, his skull striking the concrete.
The remaining thug was far too scrawny to fight unsupported. He looked to be several years younger than the other two as well, and he’d mostly been quiet to this point, other than the laughing. This one had an abrasive cackle that made Jerry hate him immediately. The cackle sounded frightened now though… unsure of himself, suddenly alone.
Cackle’s hands dropped to his sides as he surveyed the situation, and he turned to run.
“Too late, kid,” Jerry rasped, as he snatched the delinquent by his short hair and lurched his head backward on his neck. The boys hands shot upward instinctively, and he clawed at Jerry’s wrists. Jerry’s anger made him impervious to the loss of skin and trickle of his own blood, and he push-walked the punk over to the trash can frame. In one fluid motion, he swung the boy’s neck down against the top edge, and he felt a large snap reverberate through his arm.
Rainwater diluted the blood on the concrete as Jerry strolled away, the same as it always did. He wondered about what kind of dirty creatures were in the river feasting on this blood where the excrement of the city flowed in. They were probably cleaner than the creatures that bled it. He pushed his hands back into his pockets and lifted his shoulders again.
“Back into my tank,” he thought.
When he arrived at his home, he did the same thing he did every other night. He washed his hands, poured a whiskey with two rocks, lit a cigarette, and sat down in his office, behind the desk. He pulled out another burner phone, dialed the police again, and when they answered, he growled, “5th street in West End. You’ll see ‘em.”
There was no response on the other end. There never was anymore… just a click, and then he broke the phone in two and tossed it in the trashcan on top of the one from yesterday.
“Forgot to take out the trash,” he said to himself.
“I thought you did that every night, daddy,” a fragile voice responded from his open door.
Jerry jumped, startled. “I thought you’d be asleep by now, sweetie.”
“I was worried,” she said as she looked back at the floor.
His daughter was still pretty beaten up. She was sitting in a wheelchair, and she still had a black eye on one side. The other had healed. Her lip was still slightly swollen, and one arm and both legs were still broken and in casts.
“Was it…” she paused. “Was it them this time, daddy? Did you get them?” Her voice choked as her eyes watered.
“I got them this time, baby.”