Black Short Stories : The Stopper


Feb 26, 2002

The Stopper

Early Sunday Morning

Of all the public toilets I’ve used over the years, airport toilets are number one on the filth parade. I don’t know what it is about an airport but people just seem to be more, I don’t know --- scuzzy? Or maybe it’s the hurry up atmosphere that makes men, I don’t know about women, I don’t visit their facilities, act like first class, low class slobs.

I’d just gotten off a red eye from Chicago, looking for thirty-one hours of lost sleep, barely maintaining a full bladder and strangling a short temper. At 3:30 in the AM, SFO was down to a trickle, a gift from the Gods; I was grateful.

On my way to baggage I found a latrine and was in the process of finishing off an extremely satisfying piss when I heard the click, clack, click of luggage wheels being pulled across the tile floor. Over my shoulder I saw a man my age, maybe a little older, disappearing behind the partition separating the urinals from the stalls.

I was dead tired, but years of training can’t be denied. In a quick glance I saw expensive loafers with tassels, a rumpled silk suit, probably Italian, an obscenely large diamond pinkie ring, and a strange looking travel bag. A Platinum Rolex pushed at the French cuff of his left arm. The clacking noise stopped, followed by the squeak of a stall door.

I shook off and was zipping up when two kids slouched through the door. They didn’t throw me a look, but these two were definitely trouble. Mr. Silk Suit, Pinky Ring Rolex was in deep ****, none of which would be his own. The kids exchanged a street smirk, then started a slow stroll in the old man’s direction. I muttered a quiet “son-of-a-*****,” grabbed my attaché, collapsible umbrella, and hoped I might be wrong -- I **** well knew I wasn’t.

The kid with dreadlocks didn’t look like much; he was small, maybe six foot, six one. He wore street gangsta’ baggies, but the loose clothes only emphasized his skinny frame. His buddy was a different story. He patronized the same tailor, but the similarity ended there. This guy was about an inch taller than me, six, six; maybe six, six and a half and his baggies couldn’t hide the three hundred or better pounds he was packing.

He was Samoan, or if you’re into political correctness, Pacific Islander. I guess that covers Fiji, Tonga, Hawaii, and Bali, if real people really give a ****.
The boy was big --- If trouble started, I’d have to end it quick, no Mr. Nice Guy.

I heard the crash of a stall door, a terrified shout, and the unmistakable smack of human flesh being hit.

“Git the ring, Shank, git the ****in’ ring, man.”

I stepped around the partition, but the Samoan’s back blocked any observation of the festivities. Then like a jack-in-the-box, the little guy, I’m guessin’ Shank, jumped into view holding the Platinum Rolex in the air.

“Yo’ git the ring, Sammo -- Yo’ see this mutha’ ****a’? -- This a Roll-ee-X, man. This mutha’ ****a’ take care our smoke for a long time, Sam-ee-oh.”

Shank’s eyes were glued to the watch, and he turned it to catch the light. The kid was wired, probably crack, maybe black tar. Add the robbery induced adrenalin rush; his dreadlocks did the bounce while he twitched and bopped to a rhythm only he could hear.

He tapped the air with what looked like a bundle of three or four concrete reinforcing rods about two feet in length, wrapped in black electrical tape. Not a bad beater if your victim’s layin’ round lookin’ to be beat. If your victim’s not a masochist, however, the weapon’s heavy, not good for quick work.

The Samoan forced his bulk into the stall. A brittle pop, probably the old man’s pinky finger breaking, was followed by a weak cry --- Then little dreadlocks saw me.

“Yo, Sammo, we gots us ‘nother one.”

The Rolex disappeared in the voluminous folds of Shank’s pants. Stepping forward, he reached across his body, nudging Sammo’s huge *** with the rebar.

“Hurry up, man, maybe this old guy got some cash for us.”

Shank looked me over, legs wide, the rebar club now resting on his shoulder. Two thoughts crossed my mind; with his dreadlocks and oversized clothes he reminded me of the stick-figure scarecrows I’d seen on a train ride through the farmlands of Iowa; May of 1950, I think. Secondly I wondered how this kid survived; long hair and big clothes are great things to get hold of, and usually if I get a’ hold, I’ll hurt all your body parts --- real bad.

Pinky Ring / Rolex was trying to fight back. Sammo, limited by the confines of the toilet stall was having a tough time; the unit shook and creaked. I heard the wet snap of a slap and the old man screamed.

“Gino, Gino, --- wha’ the **** are ya’? Get this fat piece a **** offa’ me.”

Sammo’s head and shoulders appeared above the top of the stall, he had the old man by his lapels. He very deliberately administered a head butt the old boy went limp, and Sammo let him drop.

Shank smiled one front tooth was gold, the other badly chipped.

“What you say, Gino? You Gino. Right old man? You gonna’ save yo’ frien’ Ginoman?”

The kid waved the rebar club in front of him and began to swagger forward. If I hadn’t been so tired --- If they’d only been screwing with me I might have found this dummy’s act comical. Instead the icy cold feel of what I used to call my “maim mode” settled over me --- I decided to hurt this *******.

He advanced. I let my eyes grow large and my mouth form a little O of fright. This pleased little dreadlocks, and he moved toward me a mite faster, looking forward to the bashing he planned to give out.
I took a couple of unsteady steps back, letting my eyes dart back and forth. My show of fear had the desired effect Shank’s eyes became slits. His face took on a vicious, predatory cast. Pointing his makeshift club like a sword, he rushed me.

I stepped forward raising my attaché case, deflecting the club to my left. Twisting my body I drove my right elbow into his chest just below the sternum. To Shank’s surprise his breath was gone, his diaphragm momentarily paralyzed. He dropped the rebar and for a split second I saw the terror in his eyes; the realization he’d made a terrible mistake.

I didn’t hesitate. Dropping my case, I bunched his shirt in my left fist jerking him toward me as I drove my right fist, still gripping my collapsible umbrella, up under his chin. I heard the subtle crunch of his neck vertebrae and his body went instantly slack --- I let it settle to the floor.

Picking up my attaché case, I looked for the Samoan. Sammo had apparently finished with the old man he stood resting one big arm on top of the stall door, staring hard at his partners body scattered at my feet. I had no idea how much he’d seen, so I took a couple of steps back and shrugged my shoulders.

“I gonna’ **** you up, man”

The Samoan’s voice was soft --- Quiet.
Sammo pushed away from the stall, reaching behind his back.

If he were going for a gun, things would happen very fast, but it was a knife, a big Bowie type thing you see while channel surfing at one o’clock in the morning. He held it in his right hand, low and a little to the side, cutting edge up. He’d definitely seen too many Rambo flicks.

I backed away, giving myself plenty of room to maneuver. It looked like I might need it. Sammo was coming slow, his eyes taking in every move I made. He was smart, a lot smarter than little dreadlocks; but sometimes a guy can be too smart.

As he cleared Shank’s body, I moved forward, betting he’d seen most of the skirmish between his partner and me. As I moved in, I swung the attaché case in a low arc toward his knife hand. He’d seen me use the case to block Shank’s club, and he brought his knife hand up. At the same time he reached across his body, swatting the case away with his left hand. That opened his left side and I moved in quickly.

My collapsible umbrella has a chrome tip about two inches long, its diameter about the size of a cocktail straw. When Sammo crossed his body with his left arm, I came over the top, pushing that little chrome tip downward into his left eye. His scream ripped the air as his big hand slapped my attaché against the partition.
I jerked my umbrella free and a stream of blood began to squirt from the eye, but Sammo hung on to the knife, clamping his free hand over the wound. The kid had balls; I’d give him that.

He broke out in a heavy sweat his big yellow teeth clenched tightly against the pain. He looked like he was ready to resume the fight --- I just didn’t have the time.
I made a pivot placing a solid kick where I figured his knee joint should be and guessed right. The knife clattered on the tile floor, he went down curling into a fetal position, growling like a wounded bear.

I’d made a real mess, opened myself to a hassle with the local cops, all because a guy my age was too stupid to put his Rolex and pinky ring in his pocket. No question about it, I was overly tired.

I didn’t have to check Shank’s carotid to know he was dead. Sammo’s knee joint had a new angle of articulation. I’d not only misjudged the force of the blow to Shank’s neck, but the knee kick as well.
Sammo was leaking blood all over the tile, and the growl he started out with was turning into an irritating wail --- Sammo needed some rest and so did I. Taking an extra second for calculation I administered a minimum impact kick to the side of his head --- The Samoan went to sleep.

I checked on the old man. He was breathing ok, so I tapped him awake,
gathered my things, and went home to bed.

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