FATE - DAVID PRICE
He bought her when he was just out of basic in 1968. He knew the Army M-6 bayonet was a decent knife and he damn well knew he needed a bayonet in Vietnam. But he wanted a little more. He found it in the Randall 14. He wore her upside down in her custom leather sheath strapped to his web gear and just over his heart. She saw him through two tours. Why the hell he volunteered for the second one, he still doesn’t know. Even to this day. It somehow seemed right at the time but half way through that second tour, he began to question his sanity.
The Randall was his best friend. She became something more than a knife to him. He sharpened her every night when he could. He believed her steel tang would protect him from an AK-47 heart shot. He never had to find out. Oh, he was wounded a couple of times, shrapnel and a thru and thru in the meat of his right thigh. It missed the bone. He came home with two purple hearts and two bronze stars. He didn’t talk about it, any of it.
Spider and Mimo had grown up together in the Detroit public school system. They both came from the projects and shared a common bond. They were both losers.
Spider got his name from his tall gangly appearance even as far back as elementary school. He was always tall for his age but it was the long spindly arms and legs coupled with a weird way of moving his arms in cadence with a long stride that cemented his nickname. In those days he wasn’t brave enough to be a bully, at least not to humans. He had no fear of insects and small animals. During the summer following fifth grade, he discovered the power of a magnifying glass. Most every day that summer, he could be found cooking ants, spiders and any other insect that crossed the sidewalk running next to the projects.
In junior high, he progressed to small cats, kittens and birds. The cats and kittens he plain tortured and killed in a variety of disturbing ways. The birds were a much more difficult catch. He borrowed a friend’s B-B gun. He would sit all day, still like a military sniper just to get a chance to kill a robin or a sparrow.
The cat killings bought him a year in a juvenile camp where he then learned to ignore the suffering of humans.
After his first tour, he was on R&R in the Philippines. Most guys tried to see how much they could drink and how much ganja they could smoke while trying to get laid every day. Instead, he became introspective and decided he needed to honor his knife by learning how to best use her. He spent most of his leave, training with a Filipino martial arts weapons expert. He learned about stance, weapon retention, stick, parry and slash. He practiced hour after hour until the flow and rhythm of his sweeps and passes were fast, smooth and as natural as throwing a baseball. The blade work was combined with the martial arts techniques of leg sweeps, foot traps and distracting feints. He could arc a carotid strike with jackhammer speed that delivered three or four jabs in less than a second. The result would be a carotid artery shredded beyond repair and a bleed out in less than a minute.
During his second tour, all that training saved his life in a hand to hand fight with a jungle sentry. He let his practiced techniques take over. It ended so fast it scared him.
Mimo was a kid others looked up to. He was naturally bright and did well in elementary school where homework was minimal. His smile and quick wit served him well. All of his teachers liked him.
He was a good athlete and a leader. He adopted Spider and allowed him to be his friend. Spider felt accepted and important when he was with Mimo, something he never felt in his dysfunctional home.
By the time they hit high school their lives changed for the worse.
Spider became more bizarre in his thinking and his fantasies. Never a student, he virtually stopped attending school. He spent his days browsing comic books in a variety of stores until he was inevitably kicked out of each one. He had no money so his comic collection was acquired by means of the five finger discount.
Mimo’s smile and charm didn’t follow him to high school where he never studied. Even his natural intelligence failed in classes where specific knowledge was required.
By the time they were both sixteen, they were totally out of school. Their life degenerated to drinking cheap wine, beer and huffing any substance they could get their hands on from glue to gasoline. What brain cells Mimo possessed were slowly killed off.
Now Spider’s dark side was given an outlet in Mimo’s increasingly antisocial disposition.
They began funding their cash needs by strong arming younger kids for their lunch money as they walked to school. Most of the victims knew them and feared them so their criminal efforts went unreported. They believed they had a good thing going. They were able to get high in some manner every day.
It came to an end when they leaned on a precocious little girl who immediately told her parents. Once they were arrested, word spread and several other victims came forward. The end result was they both served eighteen months at the county youth correctional facility.
He was discharged as a staff sergeant. When he returned home to the States, he had a hard time adjusting. He was damn glad it was over and that he was safe but, at night, he dreamed of the war and all the things he wanted to forget. When he was awake, he drank way too much in an attempt to quiet the demon inside him who missed the jungle and wanted to return.
The one thing he always kept near him was the Randall. Somehow she could keep him safe even now. He found a custom leather worker who specialized in gun holsters. He told him he wanted a shoulder holster rig that would hold her secure under his left upper arm. No elastic or wimpy straps, he wanted a solid leather shoulder brace that fit like a glove and went over both shoulders and fastened to his belt on the right side. He paid extra for fancy tooling with the little rosettes you see on expensive saddles. It cost him most of what he had in the bank but it was worth it. She was a work of art.
The rig fit like it was part of him. No shoulder ache or fatigue no matter how long he wore her. Many a night, he passed out in an alcoholic-induced fog while wearing her.
He eventually found work as a process server, security guard or bail bond agent. His Randall was always with him. The butter brown leather was quickly stained dark brown from his sweat.
He never married. He had a few girlfriends over the years but the relationships never lasted.
Spider and Mimo had learned a lot in the youth correctional center. Things like how to fight as a team, how to spot vulnerable inmates and how to take advantage of them. Spider was no real physical threat but his fascination with making weapons from the most innocuous implements always left him well armed. He demonstrated early on that he was willing to kill or maim with the slightest provocation.
Using a pack of stolen staff matches, he melted down several plastic toothbrush handles into a dirk which he sharpened to a point on the cement sidewalks in the exercise yard during free time.
Later, when challenged by an older inmate who was testing him, he struck out in a rage and stabbed his tormentor in the face and neck. Four or five quick, deep strikes and he dropped his weapon and walked calmly away. The tormentor remained in the hospital for several weeks and lost an eye. Upon his release he was transferred to a different facility. His attacker was never identified. Spider’s reputation was made.
Mimo on the other hand was the cool calculating one. He stayed in the background and was a watcher and a schemer. He discovered the weight pile in the exercise yard and put it to good use. His natural athleticism was enhanced by his workouts. In a matter of months, he was sporting arms that everyone noticed. He was good with his fists and proved it on more than one occasion.
Together they were a formidable pair. Mimo was the brains and apparent muscle while, in truth, the brooding Spider was the feared hit man. Everyone knew he was an assassin waiting for a target.
Shortly after their release, Mimo and Spider both turned eighteen. Now it was a new game. Arrest meant jail and potential prison time.
At night, alone in his room, he sharpened his Randall. He worked his way through countless sharpening stones over the years. Always he practiced his slashes and stabs, over and over. It really was a thing of grace and beauty to see his arms flow through so many perfectly executed moves, like a Tai Chi practitioner in high speed.
Now he was in his sixties, living on Social Security and a small VA disability check. The boarding house he called home provided him with a bed, a chair and a half sized refrigerator. He added a little TV and a hot plate. It was all he needed and it was all he could afford. He lived in a rundown section of downtown Detroit.
His days were simple. He brewed a couple cups of coffee in his room upon arising. Then he did a little PT routine he composed of three sets of pushups and three sets of doorway chin-ups. He was in very good shape for a man his age.
He’d go down to the library to read the paper and occasionally check out a book. Maybe he’d see a couple of vet buddies for coffee at a little café a few blocks over. He tried to eat right on his limited budget. He was very fortunate, his health was good.
Once a week, he treated himself to a couple of beers at Formosa, a very low-end Asian bar in his part of town. It was frequented mainly by ex-military, especially ex-navy. It was run by a couple of middle aged Asian women who still spoke English so heavily accented that you could barely understand them even though they had both been in the States for over twenty years.
His age showed on his face with deep lines and crags. To look at him, you might guess him to be in his early seventies, rather than his real age of sixty-six. Then you might notice his erect posture, athletic stride and quiet confidence. But, all in all, you’d probably just see an old man.
Back in the community and now adults, Mimo and Spider drifted from pick-up job to pick-up job. So it went for a couple of years. They cleaned up warehouses after hours, worked in a lumber yard stacking wood and cement bags and sometimes found work as part of the cleanup crew after Lions and Tigers games. It all amounted to pocket change. They always had a buck or two but they needed a way to get a better payday.
About the time they were turning twenty, they rolled their first drunk. It was easy, a couple of smacks upside his head and a search through his pockets and they were $80 to the good. The drunk hardly knew what had happened and he sure as hell couldn’t identify anybody.
Then Mimo learned to roll queers. He would hang around outside a gay bar until some guy picked him up. A simple agreement to step into the alley for a quickie and Spider would be waiting with an eighteen inch length of heavy duty chain. On one end was a padlock, on the other was a dozen wraps of duct tape to make a six inch handle. The victim would get on his knees and Spider would step out and swing the modern day version of the medieval ball and chain. These deals usually scored a hundred or two and the victims weren’t about to file a report.
This was their life, day work when they could get it and night work every week or so.
Recently, they learned that Social Security checks came in on the first of each month. Old guys waiting for that check couldn’t resist taking out half the amount the day it hit their bank. They spent way too much early in the month and lived on Top Ramen and peanut butter sandwiches the last two weeks. But that first two weeks they would drink up a storm.
These guys were made to order. If they picked the right victim, they usually scored several hundred. Just scout the herd and find the loners and stragglers, like the big cats of Africa.
He was looking forward to tonight. Friday, he pulled several hundred out of his bank. His rent got paid first. Then he bought staples and food for the rest of the month. The balance was spending money till the fifteenth when he would pull out another hundred and a half for the rest of the months entertainment. He never overextended himself. He budgeted down to the penny in a ledger.
Tonight, he was going to Formosa for his weekly visit. He was too old and too poor to have a girlfriend but he definitely favored one of the female bartenders. It was his chance to have a little conversation and do a little people watching. Actually, the bartender was the one he watched the most. For the cost of a couple beers, he could check her out for a couple of hours.
Mimo and Spider smoked a little weed and talked over their next caper. That’s what they called their robberies. It made them seem like little adventures.
“We’ve got to get something going Saturday night. The checks came in Thursday. The old boys will be out this weekend.”
Spider looked up and just nodded. He was there for any deal Mimo put together. They were both low on cash and needed a good score.
Mimo said, “Let’s check out a couple of the bars on the south side. There are a lot of those single room boarding houses down there. Almost all of them have stag guys on some kind of disability or Social Security.”
Spider nodded. He liked these little “stings” that Mimo put together. He always got to lump some old fucker and got paid for doing it. They were a perfect stand-in for his abusive old man. It satisfied all his needs in one evening.
He got dressed for his big night out. Several years ago, he bought a single rigid soccer shin guard at the Goodwill. It was in a box of miscellaneous sports equipment labeled, “Your pick - $1”.
He adjusted it to fit over his left forearm. Ancient warriors never went into battle without some type of shield. It allowed protection of the opposite hand bearing the sword, dagger or axe. This was his contemporary version. He never went anywhere without the Randall and usually wore his little shield under his jacket.
He pulled out his best pair of faded Levi 501s. He put on a clean tee and a nice flannel shirt. He put on the Randall rig and secured it to his belt. Then he pulled on his arm protector. He ran a comb through his wavy white hair and put on his waist-length plaid jacket. It was perfect. The jacket fit tight at the waist but bloused in the chest for easy flexibility. Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront”. He was ready for a little relaxation.
Mimo and Spider hit a little hole in the wall sports bar around 8:00 P.M. It was a typical dive bar with two pool tables and a couple of overhead TVs tuned to a boxing match. The action was light and most of the patrons were guys in their late twenties and thirties, drinking beer, shooting pool and swearing.
They nursed a couple of beers at the end of the bar. Mimo observed, “No action here. These guys all know each other and look to be scrimping on every beer. Probably don’t have $100 total between them.”
Spider nodded. “So what do you want to do?”
“Let’s cut over a couple of blocks and find some old timers' bars.”
He walked the eight blocks to Formosa. Winter was fast approaching and the chill was in the night air. He had a routine and he never varied from it. He’d arrive at 9:00 P.M., hope his favorite stool was empty and proceed to nurse two beers, one per hour, till he left at 11:00 P.M.
He opened the door and stepped in. He looked down the bar and saw the empty spot at the end. Great, this was going to be a good night.
He made his way down and swung his leg over the stool, cowboy style. It was only a few minutes before the routine began. He’d been coming here for several years. It always started the same way.
She said, “Hey, Mr. Jack. What’re you having tonight?”
He always had the exact same thing. But the routine had to be played out.
“Good evening, Suji. I think I’ll try a bottle of your best Bud.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Jack, coming right up.”
The very few people who knew him just called him Jack. They knew no other name. His real name was Jackson Stone. In a little word twist, his father named him after his favorite Civil War general, Stonewall Jackson.
He made himself comfortable, put his boots on the bar railing and took his first sip.
During the next two hours, he would make casual conversation with Suji who always worked this end of the bar.
She was Korean and in her late forties. She married a GI and came to the States about twenty years ago. The marriage didn’t last but they had a son and she had custody. He was a junior in high school. The dad actually paid child support but Suji needed to work all the hours she could get to stay afloat.
She was really the draw for him. He enjoyed talking to a woman who responded as though she was actually interested in him.
He knew the boundaries and didn’t cross them. They each played their part in the little performance.
Mimo turned the corner and saw the neon lights of two bars just a block from each other. One was The Lion’s Den, obviously another sports bar. The other was Formosa. Isn’t that some city in Asia, he thought.
“Let’s try Formosa. Sports bars ain’t gonna cut it for what we’re after.”
As soon as they entered, Mimo smiled. The place was busy and there was a sea of bald heads and white hair.
They made their way down the bar to the end and took a little table in the corner. It offered a good view of all the action and anyone using the head had to walk past them.
They ordered a couple glasses of Vodka rocks, with two cans of Red Bull on the side.
They sipped and talked. Instead of checking out girls, they looked for potential victims. They were looking for a sign that would identify their next mark.
It was a little after 10:00 P.M. when he saw them arrive. They looked out of place. There was no real girl action outside of the female staff and no contemporary music. There were only two TVs and they were small screen and only visible if you were sitting at the bar.
He watched them make their way to a table. They both looked to be early to mid-twenties. The tall gangly one was wearing an oversized black hoody with his head and face partially obscured. He walked funny. It made him think of Icabod Crane. The other one was solid, athletic and carried himself with confidence. Together, they were an unlikely pair. What was their connection, he wondered.
They walked past him and sat down a few feet away.
He had a bad feeling about them but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Soon, he forgot about them as he focused on watching Suji work and their occasional verbal exchanges.
At 11:00 P.M. sharp, he signaled her that he was ready to settle up. The tab always came to $10 for the two beers. He gave her the usual $20 bill and told her to keep the change.
She responded as always: “Thank you, Mr. Jack. See you in a week.”
He got up and walked out.
After an hour, they had identified several potential targets. Then, at 11:00 P.M., they watched the old guy at the bar pull a roll out of his pocket and peel off a twenty for the bartender. There was a twenty below that one. The roll was fat enough to hold several hundred dollars.
They shared the same thought. Mimo dropped enough cash on the table to cover their drinks and they discreetly followed the old man out the door. They slowed their steps to give him a half block lead.
He had walked two blocks when he became aware of the sound of footsteps behind him. These streets were very deserted at this time of night. His internal radar went off loud and clear.
He walked another block and the footsteps followed. He could tell there were two of them.
As he began to pass the next alley, he turned a sharp left into it and quickened his pace. One side of the alley was lit by the moonlight. The other side was in total darkness. Twenty feet down the dark side, he felt a recessed doorway. He pressed his back to the door and totally disappeared. At that moment, SSgt. Jackson Stone returned to the jungle.
The old guy turned left into the alley. What was he doing? Mimo and Spider started to jog. When they reached the alley entrance, they couldn't see anything. No movement. No footsteps. Nothing. Where the hell did he go?
They heard a noise at the end of the alley near several dumpsters pressed against the building wall and illuminated by the moonlight.
Mimo whispered to Spider. “He’s taking a piss behind the dumpsters.”
They proceeded toward the sound. Just as they approached, a cat jumped out of the far dumpster and scurried off down the alley.
They turned to look at each other.
He stepped from the darkness into the middle of the alley. He was half-exposed by the moonlight and half-hidden in the shadows.
“Hey, jerk-offs. You looking for someone?”
They turned quickly to see him standing behind them. His hands were in his jacket pockets, his legs apart in a firm stance.
“Say, old man, do you have the time?”
They advanced on him and started to separate with every step. They were going to come at him from opposite sides.
“I’ve got all the time you’ll ever need.”
As they advanced, he didn’t move.
Is this guy stupid, Mimo wondered. Why doesn’t he try and run?
As they closed in on the man, Mimo could see the man had his left hand in his jacket pocket but the right hand was actually inside the lowered zipper of his jacket. Who did he think he was, Napoleon?
Spider was now half-obscured by darkness, while Mimo was in full moon light.
With one step, the man disappeared into the shadows. Spider pulled his hand out of the hoody’s pocket and let the chain fall to its full length with the lock now swinging from side to side. Spider heard a sound and stepped into the darkness and snapped the chain up and then down where he figured the man to be standing.
The man raised his left arm protected by the soccer guard. It absorbed the force of the descending chain which wrapped around the rigid brace as the lock looped it.
He pulled his left arm in and Spider, still holding the chain, came with it. The Randall swung in an upward arc making penetration just below the left rib cage and plunging deeply into Spider’s heart. There was an audible gasp.
Mimo yelled, “Spider!”
Spider’s face appeared out of the shadows as he fell face first into the light.
Mimo removed a razor sharp knife from his pocket. With a flick of his thumb the blade locked into place. There was no sound, except the pounding of Mimo’s own heartbeat. For the first time in his life, he was scared.
“Show yourself, motherfucker.”
And then, a few feet in front of him, the man appeared. He was bent low, in a fighting stance, with both hands forward.
Mimo could see the seven-inch blade in the man’s right hand.
Mimo jabbed quick and straight towards the man’s belly. The man moved as if he anticipated the strike. His body turned slightly and his left hand caught Mimo’s thrusting elbow and pushed it wide of its intended mark. It looked like they were executing a synchronized dance move.
The man thrust low between Mimo’s knees and then pulled left and up. The blade cut through fabric like it was butter until it found its mark: the femoral artery.
Mimo felt a searing pain inside his right thigh. He fell to the ground and pressed both hands to his thigh to stop the flow.
The man pivoted on his right foot and administered a textbook side kick with the edge of his boot to Mimo’s throat. The force knocked Mimo flat on his back. He felt the man step hard on his face, pinning him to the asphalt.
The man leaned down and delivered a jackhammer strike to Mimo’s carotid artery.
Mimo felt very cold and then nothing.
The man stepped over to Spider’s body and used the hood of his sweatshirt to wipe the Randall clean. He would give her a proper cleaning once he was back at base camp. For now, he didn’t want any of the sticky blood to soil his custom rig.
He turned and walked in a purposeful, controlled manner to the end of the alley. A right turn and he had five blocks to go.
The moonlight reflected in the two pools of blood as they ran together from opposite sides of the alley toward the steel grate of the nearby drain hole.
As he walked, he realized he couldn’t go back to Formosa for a long time, if ever.
Then he thought of what had transpired that night. He was surprised to feel a tinge of sadness and sorrow pass through him.
Damn, he thought, I’m really going to miss Suji.
BIO: David Price is an ex college jock and retired probation officer living in California. His work can be found on Thuglit, Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers, Flash Fiction Offensive, A Twist of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, Darkest Before the Dawn and Crooked.