Bureaucracy 67, 3170: Tough Guys

Daniel is a large man. Large as in burly, not butterball. He has the tell-tale mannerisms of an old Marines combat veteran, which make him seem even more formidable. Like nearly all expert tattoo artists, tattoos of varying quality cover much of his body, permanent mementos from the apprentices he’s taken on during his career. His facial piercings highlight them nicely. The overall effect is quite intimidating.

I’ve traveled to this small coastal town to meet him for the first time. My ex had been dating him and felt it was serious enough to introduce us. When you have children, divorce is in many ways a legal fiction.

Daniel is (like most scary-looking men I’ve met) a really nice guy. Interesting, too. In fact, we’ve talked the night away. Now it’s 2am and I’m out of cigarettes.

I enter the local quickiemart and walk past a clump of local punks huddled by the door, planning their mayhem for the night.

Asking the cashier for the smokes, I pull out my money. All I have is a $100 bill. Damn. “Can you take this?”

“Oh, sure!” She counts out my change. Loudly.

“twenty… fourty… sixty…”

I glance at the punks. As I feared, I had their attention.

“eighty… ninety…” the cashier finished up.

“Um, thanks.” I stuff the twenties into one pocket and the rest into another. Fat lot of good that does when your mugger knows exactly how much you have on you, though.

Turning to leave, I’m not relieved to see that the thugs are gone. They’re waiting outside for me, I know.

I grab my keyring tight in my fist, leaving a single key protruding from between my fingers. Not a particularly powerful weapon unless you land it in a choice spot, but it can hurt plenty enough. I stride out of the store at a fast clip.

A block later, I hear their footsteps behind me. About a half of a block away. Don’t turn and look. Don’t break stride. I’m going to walk by a police station, they won’t hassle me until I get past it. After that, I have two blocks before I reach Daniel’s place. I might make it.

Past the cop shop now. The footsteps are closing on me. I pick up the pace. I’m now resigned to the fight. I just want to get close enough to Daniel’s that the commotion will draw his attention.

The night is crisp. My adrenalin is pumping. My senses are crystal clear. I’m scouting ahead to find a suitable battleground. I’m visualizing different fight scenarios, each with me emerging victorious. I feel like the hunter rather than the hunted. I am unafraid. In control. My opponents think of me as a clueless mark.

That makes me even stronger.

Surprising.

Dangerous.

I am ready.

I am also at Daniel’s door.

Reaching for the door, I look back. There they are, five feet away from me. The door swings open and Daniel’s towering body steps out. He looks at my eyes, glances at my weapon, and looks up at the goons. Their faces grow pale.

“Did you make some new friends?”

“They were about to rob me,” I say, watching them scatter into the night.

I walk in and close the door. “I had it under control, though. I’ve faced worse.”

“I gotta hand it to you, John. I’d have been shitting my pants. Those were some scary-looking guys.”

I don’t think he understood why I found that so funny.