Tuesday, February 24, 2009

THINGS WE LOST ON TUESDAY (published in Six Sentences)


- Revelations
- Chains That Bind
- Fly Away
- 10-60
- No Quarter
- In Darkness of Dawn

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

BETWEEN THE LINES (from Powder Burn Flash)

The guy just didn’t shut up.
One of the first lessons you learn is to keep quiet, especially when you don’t know any other cons, but apparently no one had taught him that.
Stark discovered that the first time he got sent up - he had been a tough kid who didn’t back down, no matter who got in his face and he wasn’t afraid to show it. One of the older inmates he once rode with pulled him aside a week into his stretch and said, “Just do your time and don’t say nothing to no one.”
“Don’t matter how long they give you or what kind of friends you got outside,” he added. “Ain’t nobody in here you can trust.”
Stark remembered what that old con had told him as he leaned into the table and poked at the food on the tray, his appetite gone while this guy named Randy went on and on. Monmouth Detention Center was a county lock-up, a sixty-eight man tank filled with dopers, petty criminals, low-life thieves, and DUI’s. Randy was like most of them – a hard luck story, attitude, and cockiness that hadn’t yet been hardened by experience. At least he hadn’t tried convincing anyone he was innocent, Stark thought.
Stark was four months into his year sentence for assaulting a drunk outside an Asbury Park bar. It had been his bad luck to wind up in a jail where he didn’t know anyone, so he did his time quietly. Sometimes he got into a little pushing and shoving with one of the short stint speed freaks or exchanged words with some of the older cons looking to flex, but mostly he kept to himself. He didn’t trust anyone in the cellblock and he found out quickly that it was better that way. The last thing you ever wanted to do was call attention to yourself.
Probably a lesson to remember for outside the jail too, Stark thought, although he wasn’t sure it made the same kind of difference.
Randy was a greasy, long-haired punk who looked like he had never done more than a week of lock-up. If he had, Stark thought, Randy would have known better than to run his mouth in front of strangers. He was just a cherry trying to make up for his inexperience with tough cool and bullshit.
“Used to put on a uniform and go through apartment complexes dressed like somebody from the cable company, carrying a clipboard and a tool box,” Randy bragged, barely able to swallow an ear to ear grin. “Go knocking on doors at lunch time. When a chick answered I’d tell her there were problems and I needed to look at her converter box to make sure everything was okay.”
“If she said no, I’d say ‘You want to miss your shows, it don’t matter to me. But I ain’t coming back for another two weeks, so the choice is yours’.”
“Be surprised how many let me in once you told them they wouldn’t get to see Dancing With The Stars,” Randy said with a laugh. “Hit ‘em a couple of times once they open the door and most times they just let you do what you want.”
“You so smart, how is it you got caught?” Stark asked from across the table.
“Somebody rat?” another guy asked.
“Nah, nothing like that,” Randy said with a laugh. “Got into this place up in Union and the chick’s biker boyfriend shows up in the middle of the afternoon. He was this crazy psycho and I had to jump half-naked out a second floor window to get away. Landed wrong and got the wind knocked out of me.”
“She didn’t press charges but the cops got me for breaking and entering.”
Stark stared a hole into his coffee cup.
“Something funny about getting sent up on a breaking and entering?” Stark asked.
“Nah, it ain’t that,” Randy said. “Heard he didn’t believe his old lady and busted her up pretty badly, and she didn’t do nothing except let me in.”
Stark shook his head and forced a smile along with everyone else, amazed that this guy was so matter-of-fact about it. Like the story was worth a laugh, and that sharing it with everyone got him accepted.
That night Stark stood outside the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist and waited. Showers were the best place to take someone out – blood washed off easily, clothes didn’t get stained, and it was impossible to see through the thick, opaque shower curtains. Stark dropped two bars of Ivory soap in a sock, knotted the end, and held it coiled close to his body.
When Randy stepped into the shower Stark moved in quickly behind him. He smashed the sock against the back of his head, dropping him to his knees with one blow. Before Randy could turn around Blunt cracked it across the side of his head, crushing his skull and shattering the bones in his face. Randy slid face down on the tiles, blood streaming from his ear and nose; instinctively curling into a fetal position as Stark pummeled him relentlessly with the sock. He beat him unconscious, stomped a foot into his gut for good measure, then furiously lathered his hands with the bars of soap before dropping them into the hot water puddling at the drain.
No one saw anything, no one knew anything, and the subsequent investigation didn’t last long – within a few days Randy was old news.
That Saturday Stark got his ten minute phone call, waiting on line for two hours at the pay phone so he could talk to his brother.
“Remember that guy you told me about,” he said. “You know, the one you caught jumping out your old lady’s window?”
There was a moment of silence before his brother grunted a hesitant yes.
“Got a funny thing to tell you about that,” Stark said.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

LAST WALTZ (posted in StrangeRoad.com)

I leaned into the Cuban’s chest, grabbed his shoulders, and tried pulling him into a tight embrace before he could dance away. He was tall, hard, and lean - the sweat on his body glistened under the overhead lights. I wrapped my arms around him, but he needed space and distance - room to move without me hanging all over him. The Cuban banged a right into my ribs that backed me up a step and then he shoved me away.
Two more minutes.
Two minutes didn’t mean that much, I thought. Be lucky to last that long.
Especially with the Cuban banging that fucking right into my ribs all night.
The night had started with promise and hope, but it was gone now.
Everything hurt. I could taste blood in my mouth – thick and acrid. It’s a taste you never forget; the bitterness hangs in your throat like stale coffee then hits your stomach with a nasty kick. More blood streamed down my face, mixing with sweat that stung my eyes. I couldn’t blink away the pain burning one eye and it was impossible to see out of the other eye. The skin on my face felt tender and raw, throbbing no matter how often my corner had pressed the cold steel bar against it between rounds to control the swelling. But worse, something inside was definitely broken - when I sucked in a deep breath the pain squeezed the air from my lungs like a vice. The noise from the crowd engulfed us but all I could hear was my own labored breathing as I rasped for air and moved around the ring, trying to find safety in the distance.
I shook the sweat from my eyes and sprayed the Cuban with blood. Popped two jabs towards him to create room between us, hoping to stay out of reach and fool the crowd into thinking I was still in this fight. The Cuban easily blocked my jabs and circled, cutting off the ring. He was fast - nine rounds into the fight and he hadn’t slowed down or lost a step, and I couldn’t keep up with him.
We danced around each other; cautious and careful yet opportunistic for any kind of opening. Nothing about his movements betrayed his intentions. His eyes were focused and determined. Not a hint of fear or doubt in his expression. There was a look in his eyes that I recognized as something that had once belonged to me when I was younger; before time had worn away everything I owned. Now I wondered what the Cuban saw when he looked into my eyes – was it something soft and weak, or even less than that? I offered a left-right combination but he slipped the punches and worked his way closer with sharp left hooks. He found that same soft spot in my ribs and dug each punch into my body so hard that at first there was nothing, then all air rushed from my lungs as my insides imploded. All I could do was hold on to his arms to keep from dropping to one knee.
Ninety seconds.
Ninety seconds could feel like an eternity. Especially when my legs were gone and I had nothing left. There were no lucky punches and no miracles waiting to happen – just ninety painful seconds taking forever to fall way from the clock.
He was relentless in his assault and all I had were instincts and memories, and neither offered much help. I waved a jab and moved away, then tried hiding behind my gloves as the Cuban backed me towards the ropes.
It was that right hand that was killing me. I couldn’t do anything to stop it from crashing into my body over and over again.
Whatever will I had left to fight disappeared, and in each shot I felt every punch I had ever taken. There was no place to run, nowhere to hide, and nothing else I could do. In that instant I saw myself for what I was – a tired, beaten fighter suddenly too many bouts past his prime. Holding on to a dream, and holding on to something from the past, that was no longer mine to own. All that potential of youth was gone - if it had ever really been there the way I had fooled myself into believing it was. I should have realized the truth before I ever got into the ring - I was just a stepping stone on somebody else’s path.
Two quick jabs came at me then a right over the top. The Cuban whacked my arms and brought an uppercut underneath that slammed into my chin. By then I had lost the ability to connect thoughts with actions, and in a dozen different ways I felt helpless against each punch he threw.
I remember thinking that I didn’t want to look foolish. There were too many people watching – too much shame and indignity to go out that way. I had known for a long time that I would never get that title shot, no matter how many hours spent sweating in the gym, pushing my body past limits I never knew existed, and struggling through meaningless fights under the harsh stares of apathetic crowds. I would never go out on top as champion. But I didn’t want to be one of those guys you would see grabbing for the ropes in desperation, legs splayed in different directions, trying to find something solid underfoot to remain upright no matter what it took. Lurching and staggering from side to side, arms flailing like windmills. Eyes glazed and watery. Sad, beaten, and pathetic.
I didn’t want to be exposed like that.
Sixty seconds left in the round.
I just wanted to hang on that long.