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.