A Different Kind of PainbyHeathen Hemmingway©
He was an unassuming fellow, entirely unremarkable at first glance. He was wearing a black suit, one that fit him but didn't seem tailor made for his form. He didn't look chic or stylish; he was just a guy in a suit. On close inspection one might see that he was a little wide in the middle, the tell-tale stomach of a middle-aged man who could stand to invest in more exercise. He was wearing worn-looking black leather harness boots, and at the moment the right one was planted on the chest of a very healthy looking young man, lying flat of his back and bleeding from a dozen or so small cuts and scratches. The boot was making a merry mess of his fashionable V-neck shirt, the well defined muscles of his torso tensing as his assailant ground the boot into his chest.
"What's the matter Kid?" The man in black growled. "Not what you were expecting from the old guy?"
The young man tried to move, inching back and squirming. The man in black pressed his boot down harder, turning the heel in and twisting it slowly.
"I shouldn't have to tell you that's a bad idea." The man said, expressionless. "You and me are going to communicate for a little while, then I'm going to decide if you get to go home. So long as you play nice."
"I ain't telling you shit." The young man hissed. "And you're about to regret this."
He planted both of his arms flat and pushed up hard, turning his body to one side and swinging hard with his left arm. He landed a hard punch to the man's lower right calf, giving a smile when he winced and pulled the heavy boot away from his chest. The young guy rolled to his right and stood, turning around with a dramatic spin and stopping in a fighting stance.
"How's that feel, old guy?' He sneered. "I'm about to show you what five years of MMA feels like."
The man in black reached down slowly, deliberately, as if he had all the time in the world at his disposal. "Truth be told, Kid, it didn't hurt much, but..." He rubbed at his calf for a moment, sliding two fingers inside his boot and then stood upright again, cocking one eyebrow then smiling broadly. The young man found this to be terribly unsettling; the man didn't seem to be alarmed in the least. He wasn't on guard or ready for a fight, instead he was just standing there smiling at him. He opened his right palm and looked at it, tentatively. His expression changed and he gave an audible sigh of relief. "If you had broken this, I'd have to cut your tongue out and eat it while you watch." He said, flexing his right hand and then pushing the thumb outward. A dull silver blade slowly sprang from his hand, like an angry red hornet crawling from a gourd.
The young man instinctively took a wary step back. The man in black was looking at him in a way that left him baffled, as if he was someone in a museum studying a particularly detailed piece of art. There didn't seem to be any apprehension or fear about him; instead he was just standing there watching him with an old straight razor in his hand, like someone pondering the logic behind the eccentric chaos in Starry Night or The Scream upon seeing them for the first time.
"It's older than the both of us put together." He remarked. "It would be a damn shame if it got broke."
The man's calm was panicking his younger counterpart. The young man steeled himself, trying to regulate his breathing, so as not to let his shattered nerves get the better of him. 'I'm in the ring.' he thought to himself, and with that thought he had another. He remembered a lesson given to him by his boxing coach, back when he was barely a teenager. His coach was the atypical boxing patriarch, a salty and gruff Navy vet named 'Cap' who boxed in his youth, both in and out of the service. His sage advice always came with a sandpaper-coarse veneer of wisdom. 'If you get ya ass backed into a co'ner you got to improvise kid, you got to be creative. If you not in the ring then the rules don't matter fa' shit. You gotta fight with some pride but you still gotta do what it takes to walk away with ya life.'
The memory inspired him, forcing him to think reflexively. 'Be creative, yeah I can do that.' He hiked his right foot up behind him and at the same time reached down and slipped the shoe off of his raised foot and threw it overhand at the man in black, all in one swift motion. As the man put his arms up and tried to dodge the ungainly projectile, the young man charged in and dropped low to the man's left side, delivering a hard punch to his abdomen. 'If you gotta fight dirty then don't fuck around. Get in there and get it done.' He heard his coach's voice echo. 'Put one in the kidneys if you can. Hurts like hell an' knocks 'em down quick, too. And they gonna hurt for days with it, too. You can't walk off a good shot to the kidneys boy. It takes time to recover from that kinda hit.'
The young man rebounded and stood back, feeling a fierce pride. Cap would've been proud of his improvisation and his speed, and his voice came to him again. 'You can't just whoop their ass, you gotta hurt their pride. That way if they see you again you know they're not gonna fuck with ya. They're gonna remember it and it don't matter if there's ten of 'em they're still gonna leave you alone. They don't wanna carry that embarrassment again. You do that and it's a done deal man, it's over. When you hurt a man's pride it's a different kinda pain, one they can't ignore. '
The man in black reeled, back-stepping once, twice, then clutched his right side and gnashed his teeth. The young man charged in for a finishing shot. As he closed in the man in black suddenly dropped his upper body down low and rushed him, shoulder checking him square in the chest. His feet left the ground and he fell hard, landing on his back. His breath left him in a harsh cough. Once again the man in black was standing over him with a boot planted in his chest. He was rubbing his side and chuckling to himself.
"That was a good one, Kid, I'll give you that. But I'm afraid you're tapping a dry well there. And if you're gonna fight dirty, don't fuck around."
The man lifted his boot and delivered a quick kick to his head. For a brief instant he saw the block tread on the sole of the boot, just before the world went black.
Later, in the dark.
His vision slowly returned, eyes blinking uncontrollably as he regained consciousness. His head felt like it was freefalling, reeling downward in an odd dervish of grays and browns. The urge to vomit was strong, and he was too weak to resist. Waves of nausea rolled over him. He expected to heave at any moment but thankfully the dizziness and vertigo slowly began to fade. His eyesight painfully resolved itself, and he saw he was sitting at a dark table in a small room. The walls were battleship gray and there were heavy brown curtains draped on them, behind which no light could be seen. A single bare bulb hung overhead, casting a lazy yellowish-white light. A thin strand of beaded chain hung from the light fixture. He heard a ratcheting clicking sound and the light suddenly bloomed into a painful brilliant glare. He closed his eyes and looked down, wincing from the harsh light stabbing at his eyes.
A voice came from nowhere.
"So it's like I said. We're going to communicate, you and me. "
He looked up to see the man in black sitting across from him. The shock of seeing him sitting there was secondary to the pain he felt from head to toe. His whole body was aching, a sore hurt that seemed to permeate his bones. Even trying to speak was dearly miserable, he hurt so badly. His head slumped forward, thudding onto the table with a hollow sound. He felt an alien sense of lifelessness, the sensation of vertigo still spinning in his head.
"A bad hit to the noggin will do that to you, but you probably already know that, being a boxer." The man in black continued. "And since you look like you're not up for much talking right now, I'll be a nice guy and do most of the work."
The young man tried in earnest to offer up some sort of response, if only a baleful glare. He managed to lift his head and sit upright, but the effort felt so monumental that once he was sitting straight up the vertigo gripped him again and his head slumped down. As badly as he wanted to look the man in the eye, he simply could not.
As the man in black sat there watching his young captive struggle to keep his senses, he was struck with a rather hurtful memory. The young man reminded him of a cat he had for many years. She was a very unique blue tortoise shell cat, and she was with him for almost seventeen years. In her last days she fought a desperate struggle to maintain her balance and ability to move around. He had decided to have her euthanized, as the pain of watching her suffer was too much to bear. A terrible feeling of indecency and selfishness swept over him as he watched her fighting to cling to life, and he cursed himself for not doing it sooner. He wrapped her in a bath towel, crying like a child as he drove to the local veterinarian to have her put down. He had her in his lap, and not two miles into the trip he felt her kick and spasm through the thick fabric of the towel, and then her whole body suddenly went rigid. The man sat there behind the wheel of his big black Crown Vic as it idled on the shoulder of the road, clutching the dying cat to him with tears streaming down his face as he felt the last warmth and life slowly ebbing away from her. When she was gone he turned the car around and took her home to bury her.
He picked out a spot near the back end of his property where he liked to catch his breath after a long walk, resting atop a small earthen hill surrounded by old-growth oak trees. He came back to the spot weeks later and planted a rose next to her grave, with the honest intentions of keeping it pruned to cultivate the rose bush's growth. He decided that it would me more befitting to let the rose grow wild, blooming when it saw fit to and not when he wanted. While standing there looking at the newly planted rose, he thought it would be best that he didn't have any more pets after that.
He had always loved animals and in his youth had all manner of pets. When it came to pets he was an equal opportunity kid; he would adopt just about anything that didn't try to eat him alive or terrify his mother so bad that she simply wouldn't allow it. He had a number of dogs over the years, and now late in life he often daydreamed about owning a Labrador. Something about their personable demeanor and intelligence appealed to him, and despite adopting a great variety of pets in his life, he'd never had one. Something about a Labrador convinced him that they had a sense of understanding about them, one that made them unique. As an adult he traveled too much, and that was his most important reason for not buying a Lab. He hated the thought of a big handsome dog like a Labrador being cooped up and alone all day, and since he wouldn't be able to give the animal the time or attention it needed, he elected not to have one at all. A cat, however, was a different creature. Cats live with a comfortable indifference that dogs most often lack. A dog left alone all day can be a distraught and emotional creature, yet a cat will happily nap the day away without a moment of worry so long as there is food, water and a place to do their business.
Without realizing it, the man in black had drifted off into a semi-daze. Memories were vague and elusive fragments to him, like finding a random puzzle piece at the bottom of a drawer, but not quite being able to remember what image the completed puzzle would make. Many long months passed after his cat died, and he found himself living uncomfortably with her ghost, goose stepping around corners where she was want to dash between his feet. Many nights he would find himself absentmindedly reaching to the foot of the bad, expecting her to be in the customary spot by his feet. Over time it dawned on him just how many spots in his home she had made her own, and he gave her all of them without a backwards glance.
Months later he was standing in line at the customer service desk in the grocery store, waiting to buy a book of stamps. Two older ladies were standing nearby talking, one of them clearly upset. She was sniffing and fighting back tears as she spoke.
'The no-kill shelter is full as usual and I just can't foster her anymore.' He heard the woman say. 'I can't keep her now that I'm looking after Bill since his stroke.'
She was holding a flyer, and he craned his neck to read it. All he could make out was a heavily pixilated photo of a spotted cat and the word Fiore in big block letters. He looked away quickly, knowing that if he didn't that it would get the better of him.
'And I won't even think about taking her to the Humane Society, she's a special needs girl. They won't be able to take care of her and they'll just kill her.'
He felt his heart sink, and for a brief moment he was possessed of an urge to just walk away and buy his stamps elsewhere. Instead, he spoke up.
"Ma'am, not to interrupt, but I couldn't help but overhear you..."
Hours later he arrived back home, a grocery bag full of various items in one hand and a new pet carrier in the other. He sat the carrier down in the kitchen and opened the door, sitting cross-legged on the floor.
'She's a special needs girl.' The lady had told him. 'When she was a kitten she started having trouble walking. The vet discovered she had a tumor or lesion of some sort on the left side of her brain. They had to remove it. They don't know if it's a result from the tumor or lesion being there the first place, or from them removing it, but now she can only walk in right-hand circles.'
The lady looked at him with a nervous apprehension as she told him, and he could tell that she was worried that he wouldn't want the animal in such a state.
'Her motor functions are compromised, but other than that she's a perfectly healthy girl. She can use the litterbox just fine and she's been fixed. She won't make a mess in your house, I can promise you. And she can get around just fine, once she learns her way. She's a tough little girl.' The lady continued on. 'I just can't stand the thought of someone sticking a needle in her and putting her to sleep.'
"You don't have to worry about that, ma'am." He told her. "I'm retiring soon, and I'll be able to spend plenty of time with her."
The words 'retiring soon' echoed in his mind as if saying them meant that he had reached a milestone or made some final decision. 'Maybe I am.' He thought. Maybe I really can.'
After several minute passed, the cat slowly crept forward and peered out of the carrier, first her head, and then slowly her haunches emerged. When she put a foot on the tile kitchen floor, she instantly drew back. The cool tile floor was apparently an alien surface to her, and for a moment she pulled back into the carrier.
"It's ok Girl." He said, trying to soothe her.
She cautiously made her way out, and once her body was entirely out of the carrier, she turned and walked around the carrier to the right. She made a loop around and he was able to get a good look at her for the first time. She was a petite girl, maybe six to eight months old. She was spotted with big blotches of color that reminded him of a healthy Holstein cow, with random patches of tan, struck with darker brown stripes here and there throughout in spots.
'Her name's Fiore, with an E at the end. It means flower in Italian.' The lady explained to him.
The cat slowly approached him, her eyes big with fear and confusion. Her spots did look like a flower of sorts, a cow-spotted flower. She was a very unique and pretty cat.
"It's alright Girl." He told her. "Nobody's going to stick a needle in you."
The man in black heard a sound and he was suddenly pulled from his daze. The young man sitting across from his was struggling to free himself, and not having much luck at all. He sat there watching him for a few moments, waiting for him to give in and start calling for help. The young man was growing more frustrated each moment, and after several more seconds of futile floundering he finally gave up his attempt.
"Motherfucker you're gonna regret this." He hissed. "You can't do this to me. You're gonna lose your badge. This isn't how cops are supposed to work."
The man in black was struck for words at first, and then he realized that the young man had mistaken him for a cop. This amused him to no end.
"Well." The man said, intentionally drawing his words out slowly. "If I had a badge, I might be concerned by that. But seeing as I don't, you'll forgive me if I'm not too moved."
He reached down into his right boot and pulled his razor out, sliding it open with a practiced turn of his thumb. The young man's eyes instantly fixed on the blade and he grew very still and quiet.
"And this ain't no interrogation." The man in black said. "This is more of a..."
He placed the razor against his forehead, turning the back of the blade against the skin and slowly raking it across, and then snapped it shut and reopened it with a careless grace. It was obvious that the blade was very familiar to him, like an extension of his hand or an extra finger.
"decision making progress." He continued, after what felt like an eternity to the young man. "You see, I'm normally compensated for this kind of work, but I chose to volunteer for this little fact finding mission. So what I need from you is to answer a few questions for me, and I'm not going to ask for your cooperation. I'll have it, one way or the 'nother."
His voice had taken on a rather odd quality, as if he had unintentionally started speaking in some exaggerated Southern dialect. 'I cho'se tah volunte'ah for this litt-ul fact findin' mission'.
The gravity of the situation took hold of the young man, and he sighed aloud in resignation.
"Cocksucker." He spat quietly. "Ok, whatever it takes man. Whatever it takes."
The man sat there for several moments, gathering his thoughts. He also wanted the young man to realize just how perilous his situation was.
"So did you rape the girl or not?" The man asked, staring into his eyes. "It's just yes or no. Nothing else, or I start carving."
Tears started to well up in the young man's eyes. Before he spoke, the man in black already knew. At first he fumbled for words, then seemed to remember what the man in black said. 'Yes or no, nothing else'.
"Yes." He whispered, and then said it again louder. "Yes. I did."
He started crying, trying his back to fight back the tears. The man in black just sat there, letting him cry.
"So, as I understand it, after you raped her, you didn't see fit to leave town or head for the hills. You decided to hard time her girl, right?"
The young man's face grew red, anger instantly boiling up from his gut.
"Wasn't bad enough that you raped her, you had a little fun antagonizing her afterward, didn't you?"
His anger was rising, like a steam kettle over a quick flame. He stopped crying and started breathing heavily, shaking his head to clear the tears from his face. The young man wasn't just angry; he was ashamed, so ashamed that his pride was stabbing at him.
"No, you're the jock, the hotshot boxer, the wannabe pit fighter. " The man in black went on. "Nobody was going to listen to her, or take heart to her side of the story. Your parents have attorneys on retainer, where her mom has two jobs and rents. You didn't just rape her; you terrorized her afterward to keep her from talking. Didn't you? You had to humiliate her, again, and intimidate her. You even tried to convince her it was her fault. You tried to make her believe it was her fault for saying no to you. Right?"