He looked like a hulking troll, so was it any wonder he had a Lou Ferrigno complex?
Something about Pinto’s voice, the way his eyes bored into Sam’s - he couldn't help but hang on the giant’s every word.
The sweaty, plump fingers around his neck helped.
Pinto gave Sam’s throat a squeeze. “Back when there were only thirteen channels. Not this batshit app crap we got now. And Lou Ferrigno was all that and a bag of chips. A man's man, you know?”
Sam tried but couldn’t croak out an answer.
Pinto kept talking. Saliva collected on Sam’s lower lip. Like the rain, it dropped to his unshaven chin. That lip trembled a bit, not that Sam gave two shits. He minded more about the five hundred bucks Pinto offered to knock him down.
“No one can argue it. Not me. Shit, Sam. I wanted to be that bag of chips. Not Bill Bixby even once. Would have been a better show if he was green the whole time.”
Pinto towered over him. A tanned Frankenstein’s monster in a white polo and black jeans, with muscles like eighties Stallone and a bald head like Kojak. Sam's eyes drifted over Pinto's massive shoulder. A gust blew trash behind the man's man. Funny. Amongst the newspaper and brown tissues, he spotted an empty Doritos bag.
“Kids were afraid of me. Was big even then. It’s the hormones in all the fast food my mom fed me as a kid. It’s in all the meat products, I heard. Fuck if I know what's true or not. But I was bigger than them, much bigger. I mean, check me out.”
Pinto released his hold and Sam fell against the concrete wall. At the end of the alley, cars zipped past in the rain, sending misty spray into the night. The rain washed the sweat from Sam’s brow but didn’t help the hot dampness under his green flannel. His loafers slipped off when Pinto yanked him up by the neck. Water pooled in one; the other lay sideways, sopping wet.
He wondered if he took on more than he could manage. Gulped air. Throat hurt. Sam watched Pinto down half a bottle of Hennessy at Vesuvio. Got him talking. Practically dared him to bet on who’d win in a fight, the ripped newbie, or the wiser thug. The more he mentioned it, the more they talked about the life, working odd jobs in the dark, things that would get them in front of a judge, the more they bonded. Wouldn’t be a mean fight. Just a friendly contest between goons. Five hundred for two tries. Bartender agreed to hold the cash.
“Haven’t been in the biz long, but I know ‘bout you and that Kerouac guy, the writer everyone loves here in San Francisco. People in our biz. They talk ‘bout this Sam guy who quotes him. I grew up three hours south of here. No one knows Kerouac,” Pinto said before the bet.
“Alley outside is named after him,” Sam said.
“South he’s a nobody.” Pinto leaned closer. “After I piss, we’ll go in that alley. I’ll take that bet. Get two tries each. No way you can knock me down, big rep or not. I’m a wall. Watch my drink.”
Sam did just that.
Minutes later, he leaned against the back wall of City Lights Bookstore opposite the bar. Bile gagged in Sam’s throat. The man’s man didn’t lie. Sam staggered to his shoes. Slid them on. Cold alley water felt good.
“When we played Hulk, I was always Lou Ferrigno. The raging beast. The regular-sized kids tried to beat me up and I chased them around the playground. Did it every day at recess. I was never the scientist or the cop. I was Ferrigno every time. And you know what, Sam? Loved every second of it. It made me who I am, even balder than a baby. I’m still all that and a bag of chips.”
“With the constitution of a raging beast. How much did you drink? Be curled in a ball by now.” Sam rubbed his neck. Pinto moved fast after that first sock in the jaw. Sam’s knuckles were red and sore, but it didn’t so much as split the guy’s lip.
Sam hadn’t fallen yet. Neither had Pinto.
“Last round, Sam. Better make it a…”
Left hook hit him flat in the nose, even knocked his head back. Pinto lurched, but remained firmly planted. The giant grinned. A ring of blood formed around his right nostril.
“Shit is right, Sam. Now I get my second, second…” Pinto shook his head, his eyelids fluttered. Confusion furrowed his hulking brow. He fell to his hands and knees.
“Called flunitrazepam,” Sam said. “Knockout drug I put in your drink. You’ll come to in a few hours and I’ll feel guilty for a minute. Keep some pills in my wallet where most guys keep condoms. Useful for when you run into a bag of chips.”
Pinto sputtered. “Cheating.” Rain formed rivers on his scalp.
“You’re new, Pinto. Thugs always cheat.”
About the author:
Patrick Whitehurst writes from Tucson, Arizona. He's the author of five nonfiction books for Arcadia Publishing, "Berge Manor," and the novellas “Monterey Noir” and “Monterey Pulp.” His stories have appeared recently on the Punk Noir website, in the anthology “Shotgun Honey Presents: Recoil,” in Pulp Modern magazine, and elsewhere.
“Everybody flat on the floor if ya don’t wanna get plugged!” The kid waved his pistol at the glum, threadbare crowd lined up at the teller’s barred window. Compliance came with murmurs of irritation.
“Jesus Christ,” said Gunselle. “I just bought this dress, and I don’t think the floor’s been swept since Coolidge was President.”
“Cut the wisecracks,” said an unshaven older man by the door. He pushed his hat up off his forehead with the barrel of his pistol. “And get down before I put you down.” He tossed the kid a leather satchel.
Gunselle set her handbag on the floor, then dropped to her knees after lifting the hem of her new dress, a pink shirtwaist model with black buttons. It wasn’t her bank. She’d driven a safe distance to Sausalito to exchange a couple dozen fresh C-notes for twenties. Something done for a printer when she didn’t have a contract to fulfill. She already visited two banks. She kept twenty percent.
The kid ran around to bust through a gate at the side of the teller’s cage. The other robber kept lifting a window shade to peek at the street. He was as nervous as a man jumping into murky, shark-infested water. The kid started throwing things around. He sent the middle-aged teller and two glowering clerks out to lie down with the others.
“Hey, Glamour Puss,” said the older man, pointing his revolver at Gunselle. “I told you to get down. On your tits.”
“I’m okay here on my knees,” said Gunselle, “but these are silk stockings, and it’s gonna gripe my middle kidney if I get a run in one of ‘em before my lunch date.”
The man walked over to stick the barrel between her eyes.
“I’m telling you for the last time, Doll. Get prone. And quick. One slug from this gat will ruin that pretty face of yours. Forever.” As a second thought, he cracked her on the side of her skull with the butt of the grip.
Gunselle fell to her hands and knees. The blow hurt, and she could feel something oozing down around her left ear. She just had her hair done. Fifteen bucks. Washed. A permanent wave. Then the man pushed her over with his foot.
“Some gunman you are,” she said, lying on her side. “Scared to pull the trigger?”
A customer not far from the door scrambled to his feet and darted outside. The bell made a happy ding-a-ling sound as the door closed behind him. Gunselle chuckled.
“Aw, shit,” said the man who just clobbered her. “Huey, let’s go. The cops are gonna be here any minute.”
The kid seemed to be taking his sweet time filling the satchel with cash. The bank must be flush. Gunselle heard him slam a drawer closed.
A voice blared into the bank from outside.
“Drop your guns and come out with your hands up!” The escapee must have found a policeman stuffing finger buns into his mouth at the bakery next door. A siren wailed in the distance.
Gunselle could see the shadow of the officer’s cap at the bottom of the window shade. A real thug would just blast the squatting fuzzy through the thin lower panel of the door, then skedaddle. The siren had to be ten blocks away, but the stupidity of men rarely surprised her.
“Now you’re screwed,” she pointed out.
“Get up.” The man grabbed her arm, pulling her to her feet. His hat fell off as he jerked her into the teller’s cage. Huey cowered there, his gun shaking. The older mug pushed her down against a cabinet door behind them. She could feel her right stocking give way.
“God damn it,” she said. It was an ugly run.
“What’ll we do?” the kid asked his partner.
“Better send the others out,” Gunselle suggested. “It’ll be the gas chamber if one of ‘em gets drilled in the crossfire. Don’t worry, though, boys. They’ll let the cops know you’ve still got me to deal with.”
“Everybody outside!” screamed the older man through the teller’s window. The lobby emptied in a hurry. “Now what?” he asked Gunselle, settling down to face the door again.
“Thanks. I was hoping you had a better idea.”
Gunselle reached into her purse for the little Savage .32 she carried to protect herself against the vagaries of the day. After shooting each man in the side of his head, she emptied half the contents of the satchel into her purse, moved Huey’s revolver to the hand which corresponded with his new bullet hole, sighed at the dark spots on her lovely pink dress, put away her pistol, then scrambled out of the cage, across the lobby, and into sunshine.
“It’s all over!” she screamed, clutching the purse tight against her chest as officers hurried her away from the horrible scene. “The damn fools had no idea what to do, so they just up and blew their brains out.” After a gentle cop helped her to sit on a bench outside the bakery, Gunselle pulled up the blood-stained skirt and lifted a shapely leg to expose the torn stocking. “There I was, minding my own business. Running errands on a pretty day. It wasn’t my fault the bank got stuck up.”
“No,” said the officer.
“Do you think they’ll pay for a new outfit?”
“I bet they will,” said Gunselle, getting to her feet, trying to remember where she parked her car.
About the author:
Russell Thayer received his BA in English from the University of Washington and worked for decades at large printing companies. He currently lives in Missoula, Montana.
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