The moon hung low in the sky glimmering behind the skyscrapers of Big City.
It was dark by the time Matthew and his mother Clare finally made it home. The pizza was delicious. Matthew kept expecting his bacteria-vision to return and show the horror of the disease all over the pizza like it did in the bathroom. When nothing happened, the heavenly scent overcame his reservations and he dug in with gusto. Eating his share of the pizza, his mother seemed pleased to see his appetite returning in light of their move to Big City.
The drive home was quiet, neither of them felt any particular need to fill the silence. Honestly, there wasn’t much that needed saying. Matthew considered his evening, and not for the first time, questioned his sanity. Only the two fish in his pocket solidified the idea that something had happened, even if he wasn’t quite sure what that was. His hand pressed against his thigh, he could feel the outline of the fish there.
The drive home skirted the center of Big City and he could see its towering buildings from the road on the freeway. Each skyscraper radiating a subtle malevolence, as if he could feel them thinking their rigid and conforming thoughts. Lights flickered on and off and Matthew imagined each building’s lights taking on near-human faces formed of window squares and scowling at him, as he passed. Only after they passed them did their lights return to normal.
The drive took about twenty minutes and they arrived home in the Western Quarter of the city. Their home was a tenement complex with three buildings facing each other in a triangle with a centralized parking area, filled with small kiddie parks and pathways. Each building also had smaller parking regions on the back side. The buildings were twenty stories tall and had eight apartments on each floor. Painfully dull, but imminently affordable, this was their home for the foreseeable future.
Clare opened the inner building doors with her key. Each door was created from a strong aluminium filled with a bullet-proof plastic covered in scratches and the occasional burn mark. Despite the vandalism, the Plexiglas was still intact and kept the right people out of the building.
Clare moved with practiced alacrity, had her key out, opened and closed the door to the building before some shady characters could follow her in. She ushered Matthew ahead of her and he scooted as quickly as he could to keep out of her way. She stopped at the mailbox room before going upstairs. Matthew waited outside and saw some toughs follow a slow, older woman into the building. He wanted to say something but slid back into the door to the mail nook, hoping to remain out of sight.
“Hey there, Granny. Got something for me?” One of the three youths, probably around seventeen or eighteen stepped in front of the older woman as she tried to slip in unseen.
For their first three weeks in the building, Matt had managed to avoid the local ruffians by getting home early and staying home after dark. He had seen the local bullies when they were first moving in and only his father’s menacing presence kept them at bay. He was sure they would keep an eye out and notice, his father didn’t come around as much. Matthew wanted to forestall this particular confrontation with the local bullies as long as possible.
“Nothing. You have already taken my last dollar until I get my check at the end of the month.” The old woman had a defiant look in her eye, but it was pure bravado. There wasn’t a thing she could do to stand up against these three. And they knew it. They closed in on the old woman and surrounded her. Jackals would have been proud of their technique. They leered and smiled, their crooked teeth all the more menacing for their willingness to bare them.
The leader, the biggest of the three, wearing a red hoodie, reached into his pocket and pulled out a switchblade. Something cheap, but sharp. He pressed the button and its blade flew forth with a menacing snap in the hallway. The old lady paled. “You know you could put all of this bad blood between us aside if you told your granddaughter to come and work for me. She’s really pretty.”
Backed up against the wall, Granny’s mouth took a tight line and she hefted her purse as if she would attack them with her last ounce of strength. “I would never tell her to work for you. Never! I’d rather die.”
Red Hoodie, turned his hood back and leaned in. He drew his switchblade close to the old woman and hissed. “That can be arranged. You might slip and fall down the stairs. We’ll have her, whether you want it or not. And if you won’t cooperate, we’ll just take what we want when you’re… gone.”
Before he knew what he was doing, Matthew shouted as loud as he could, “Leave her alone. Can’t you see she just wants to go home?”
The second largest of the toughs turned and his head was huge, blood-red eyes, big as saucers peered out from under his hoodie. He looked at Matthew and the menace in his stare was like a physical blow. “Hey small fry, wait your turn, we’ll get to you in a minute.”
“I said leave her alone. I’m not scared of you.” Matthew assumed a fighting stance with his arms half extended like his father taught him.
“Oh, Small Fry knows kung-fu. Look guys, he is taking a stance. Ooooh, I’m so scared.” The third bully had a huge gap between his front teeth big enough to drive a truck through. But his fists were the size of small engine blocks. Matthew was already regretting his decision.
“Run along, Granny, we’ll play again, soon.” Big Red shoved the old lady out of the way and all three began their approach toward Matthew. “Small Fry, do you know who I am?”
Matthew, to his credit was committed and snarled out with as much bravado as his one hundred pounds soaking wet would allow, “Three bullies picking on an old lady. Come and pick on someone who can fight back. If you’re not too scared.”
“We are the Konahama Gang and we run this project and every one around it. You’ll show us respect every time you see us or we’ll beat it out of you. In case you didn’t guess, I’m Konahama. Teach him some respect.” Konahama gestured with his chin. Gap-tooth and Big Eyes, jumped forward and with a series of clumsy attacks, showed they too, knew some kung-fu. Matthew responded reflexively and repelled their initial attack but they followed up quickly and the difference in their age, height and weight soon took its toll.
The smaller boy’s spirit was willing but his body was simply unable to handle the older and stronger boys blows. He managed to give as good as he got for the first fifteen seconds. Both bullies would sport a shiner as he managed to reach under their sloppy technique. Then he fell under the rain of heavy fists and kicks. It took all he could muster to keep from taking too many hits to the face. Once Matt went down Konahama planted his size thirteen boot into the smaller boy’s rib cage.
“We’ll do this again soon, Small Fry.” Konahama kicked once more before the mail room’s secured door began to open again. Then the three teens ran out the door laughing into the darkness.
Clare came out the room and her response was to be expected. She reached into her purse and gave chase to the three boys but they had already faded away. She picked up Matthew and he pushed her hands away. “I’m okay, Mom.”
“Nothing. Just some local kids welcoming me to the neighborhood.” This isn’t over.
“Are you hurt?”
“Nothing worse than Dad ever did during training. I’ll be okay.” Clare noted he had taken very few blows to his face, a testament to the training his father insisted they both take as the family of a police officer. He always reminded them that criminals might decide to take their revenge on the officer’s families. Clare helped Matthew into the elevator and they made it to their apartment. A hot bath would take the sting out that beat down. School would numb the rest.
* * * *
Konahama, Big Eyes and Gap-tooth ran to the next tenement building across the way kicking out some headlights of cars in the parking lot. A tall, lean figure followed behind them bouncing a rubber ball. The ping of the ball could barely be heard over the sound of nearby traffic. The three bullies approached the back door to the building and found themselves in the small entryway between the street and the building’s interior lobby.
All of these buildings used this area as a security space requiring a key, a card or to be buzzed in by a tenant to enter. Unfortunately, the lock was able to be picked and the three of them were experienced in breaking and entering, one of their primary means of making a living. Big Eyes took out a small pack from his pocket and removed his lock-picking set.
The other two took watch, Konahama looked into the lobby while Gap-tooth looked out into the parking lot. He saw a shadow flitting between cars and the flicking parking lot lights. He wasn’t sure what it was but he didn’t want to say anything to piss Konahama off any more than he already was. Nothing Konohama hated more than an interrupted beat-down. He thought he would go outside and investigate it himself. As he opened the door, something hit him square in the forehead, stunning him and knocking him back into the small foyer. The small projectile trapped in the room began to bounce around faster and faster. The door closed behind Gap-tooth as he fell into the room.
The superball doubled its speed each time it struck anything. Its second bounce struck Gap-tooth square in the nose with a satisfying crunch before spinning off to bounce around in the tight quarters. Konahama, as surprised as Gap-tooth fell backward onto Big Eyes, heard the pinging of something in the room with them. But it was already faster than could be tracked with the naked eye.
It struck Konahama and Big Eyes repeatedly, each blow harder and faster than the last. Knocking them around the room, soon they were unable to do anything more than cower in the corners. After a few more minutes and repeated blows, all three were rendered blissfully unconscious. The ball continued its terrifying bouncing without cease.
A tall, lean and hooded figure opened the door, walked in and closed the door behind himself. He dodged the flashing ball with an acrobatic spin, stuck out his gloved hand and captured the ball mid-flight.
Slipping the ball back into his pocket, he looked around at his handiwork, seemingly satisfied. Whistling a jaunty tune he walked back into the parking lot, bouncing the ball, its distinctive ping echoing in the distance.
Small Fish, Big City © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved