An Old Tough

The night draws long and sucks wind.

Tom was back in the big city. He had moved away some time ago, but something instinctual had brought him back, like that innate characteristic of migratory birds. He hopped off the Greyhound and stretched his cramped up limbs after the long bus ride. He scratched the grey stubble on his chin and breathed in deep. He almost choked, his lungs no longer accustomed to the smog and car exhaust. He retrieved his weathered and worn duffle bag that contained his life from the storage compartment beneath the bus and dropped it between his feet. He took a long swig from the flask he wore on his hip and lit a cigarette before he slung the bag over his shoulder and made his way down the street with no particular place to go.

It was late and almost everything was closed. He had a few hours to kill until morning when he would be able to lookup a couple of old friends and find a place to crash. The neon lights hurt his eyes as he made his way down the main drag. He was about to light another cigarette when he came across a twenty-four hour coffee shop. He figured it was as good a place as any to kill a couple of hours, so he went inside. A few bums slept at a couple of the tables, but the place was otherwise empty. He ordered a coffee and sat down and planned out his next move.

There he sat and sipped on his coffee. Time dragged on infinitely slow and he found himself needing a smoke something fierce. He left his unfinished coffee and his duffle bag at the table where he would have a view of them from the window and he stepped outside.

Three youths in their early twenties had congregated just outside the coffee shop harassing the few people that walked by. Tom paid them no mind and lit his smoke. The youths spoke with bravado in raised voices. Tom continued to ignore them.

A guy on a bicycle rode up, hopped the curb and dismounted with a jerk. His clothing was worn and his dark hair greasy. Tom noticed how jittery the guy was. Probably in need of a fix, he thought to himself as he took a long haul on his cigarette.

“You holdin’?” The guy with the bicycle asked one of the three youths.

“How much you want?” The shortest youth asked back.

“How much you give me for the bike?” The guy with the greasy hair and shabby clothes asked as his eyes darted here, then there, resting a moment suspiciously on Tom, who ignored him.

“I’ll give you a forty-piece for the bike,” the short youth answered.

“Come on dude, it’s a fuckin’ Bianchi,” the greasy haired guy said as he fidgeted. “Check out how fuckin’ light it is.”

One by one the three youths proceeded to check out the bike, lifting it and examining it this way and that. The greasy haired guy grew anxious and began to fidget even more. Tom continued to ignore them and smoke his cigarette.

“Okay, I’ll give ya an eighty-piece,” the short one negotiated.

“It’s a fuckin’ Bianchi,” the greasy haired guy said obviously more aggravated.

“Fuck guy, you would sell your mother for a forty. Take the eighty-piece and shut the fuck up,” The tallest youth spoke up.

The short youth reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of white rock and handed it to the greasy haired guy, who in turn looked it over, rubbed it against his teeth to check the quality and then thought better of it. While he did this, the tall youth didn’t like the way the greasy haired guy looked at him, so he started a beef.

“Watch how you look at me, or I’ll smack you upside the head,” the tall one threatened.

The greasy haired guy quickly thrust the piece of white rock back into the hand of the short youth and quickly snatched the handlebars of the bike back. He ran and hopped on the bike and quickly rode away before any of the three youths had time to react. Without a target for his anger, the tall youth turned his attention to Tom, who was lighting a cigarette off his previous cigarette and looking through the window of the coffee shop to keep an eye on his things.

“So what’s your deal? You a crack-head too?” The tall gangly youth asked aggressively.

Tom ignored him and continued smoking his cigarette.

“I’m fuckin’ talkin’ to ya,” the tall youth pressed on.

“Fuck off and leave me the fuck alone!” Tom said as he flicked the ash on his cigarette.

“Talk to me like that old man and I’ll smack you upside the head,” the tall youth threatened.

“I’m warning you now boy, you better have some respect and leave me the fuck alone,” Tom said asserting himself in no uncertain terms as he flicked what remained of his cigarette on the road.

The tall youth took a clumsy swing at Tom, who was ready for it. In one fluid motion Tom ducked the punch, and stepped under the swinging arm to come up behind the youth. Tom grabbed the back of the tall youth’s head and used momentum to smash the tall youth’s face into the brick wall. Blood splattered everywhere as the tall youth collapsed and held his face screaming in pain. Another of the youths rushed Tom from behind, but ran into a quick sharp elbow. The youth reeled backward from the blow as Tom turned around. Before the youth was out of reach Tom grabbed him by the back of his head. Tom pulled the youth’s head down and met it full force with his knee which caused a large cracking sound and a geyser of blood to erupt from the youths face.

Two of the youths rolled on the ground and Tom turned his attention to the last youth standing, the short one. The youth was struggling to pull something from the pocket of his hoodie. Tom caught the glint of cold steel in the youth’s hand reflecting the streetlight. Tom casually slipped out of his denim jacket and twirled it a couple of time so one sleeve wrapped around his right hand. The youth jabbed and poked and slashed with the blade while Tom calmly stepped back out of range each time. The youth overstretched and Tom slapped his jean jacket across knife and knife-hand. With the blade covered, Tom quickly stepped in, grabbed the youth and threw him to the ground. Tom then came down with his boot and stomped on the head of the youth. The heel went thunk and the skull of the youth gave way to the force.

“Fuckin’ Punks!” Tom spit.

Tom slipped his jacket back on and took a long pull from his hipflask before going back into the coffee shop to retrieve his duffle bag. He slung it over his shoulder and left. As he walked down the street he could hear sirens approaching. He turned onto a side street as an ambulance and a couple of police cars raced toward where the three youths lay.

Tom made his way across town to an old friend’s place. Later that day he was watching the news at his friend’s apartment when he heard about the drug deal gone bad that left three youths in hospital in critical condition. Tom laughed as he lit a cigarette and looked at his friend who had asked Tom what his plans were.

“Think I’m gonna be leavin’ town again soon. This city ain’t nothing but trouble.”

T J Therien


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