Everyone was talking about the bashings. Jack and George, a couple who'd been together so long they'd started looking like each other, told me about Lonnie while I was losing to them at darts.
“They caught him in the park by the convention center,” Jack said, throwing a perfect bull's-eye. I winced. That wasn't going to improve my already remote chances of winning.
“George's friend Scott said they beat the shit out of him. When did he say it happened, George?”
“Mmm…two nights ago, I think…or did he say three?” George was usually pretty quiet and as good at darts as Jack. “Can you imagine? A harmless old man in a raincoat with a yen for sharing. The way he opened that coat was practically performance art. What kind of person could hurt someone like that?”
I grimaced and shook my head. I'd known people who'd do a lot more to someone like Lonnie than beat him, but not in this little city.
“I heard he's over at Harborview hospital. No insurance, you know. Don't you work over there?” Seeing me nod as I lined up to throw a twenty that I needed to stay in the game, he went on, “Maybe you could stop in and see him.”
I hit the 14 instead, which crushed any hope I had of even making a good showing.
“Maybe I will,” I said, though I knew I wouldn't.
After losing miserably, I wandered over to the pool tables. John was leaning over for a tricky shot, and I paused to admire the view, as did everyone else within eyeshot. John is an ace pool player, with a scrumptious body and a sweet nature.
“Hey, did you hear about Randy?” I overheard a tall blonde ask as his buddy and I watched John make the shot. “Yeah, just last night. He was coming out of Hombres and he had to piss. They caught him in the alley with his pants down. Broke his jaw in two places-fate worse than death for a blow-queen like her. Can you imagine her with her jaw wired for two months? Might as well join a convent.”
I had to smile a little. I knew Randy, and it was true.
I stayed late. Chatted with John a little, and refused to play even a friendly game of pool with him. He would've felt bad, beating me the way he would have. So I listened and watched while he gave me another lesson on the finer points of pool. I'd always had a little thing for him.
And then it was time to go. Last call was announced, and I got into my coat and started for home.
I have to admit, I was a little keyed up with all the talk about bashers that I'd heard. I had my umbrella poking out of my bag for a quick grab. It's got a two-foot long ice pick in the haft-yeah, it's a concealed weapon, and no, I don't have a license. So sue me.
I heard them in the alley just before the first one stepped out in front of me, so I wasn't completely surprised. Not completely, anyway.
“Hey man, got a light?” He asked, waiting for his buddies to move in behind me. I fumbled in my pocket and thought furiously. They were all big guys, with the kind of affluent, Gap store good looks that screamed suburban kids in the city for a little fun. They were scum in my eyes, and deserved whatever they got. But how was I going to explain to the police that one short, slightly pudgy fag took out all five? There were questions about me that I didn't want to answer. I was surprised by how irritated I was at these punks for putting me in this position. I decided to play along for now and see how the situation developed.
So, when the lead guy grabbed me and pushed me into the alley, I stumbled convincingly and screamed for help. I figured it was what most people in my position would do. In the confusion, I lost my bag-so much for my Zorro aspirations. I got up and put my back to a dumpster and squared off with the first one in the stance that I'd learned from the bare-knuckle fighters I'd trained with so many years ago. He laughed at my antique style, but when my first punch flattened his nose, he stopped laughing and snarled.
“Oh, faggot wants to fight, huh? C'mon guys, get him!”
They rushed me, and just about the time I was losing my temper and the first kick landed on my ribs, the cavalry arrived. Wonderful-another witness.
“Hey boys, looking for a little action?” The voice from the mouth of the alley was a throaty contralto. The owner of the voice stood for a moment, backlit by the streetlight, a wisp of steam from a utilities grate winding about her ankles…it was pure theater. I couldn't help being impressed.
The bashers were impressed by the clingy black dress slit to the hip and the stiletto heels, I think.
“Go `way, bitch-we're busy.” The tall blond I'd punched knew what he wanted. I noted with some satisfaction (and a twinge of hunger) that his nose was still oozing blood a little and looking definitely misshapen.
But two of my attackers peeled off to go after her. I saw her slip off her heels; apparently, the two closing in on her didn't see this as an ominous sign. Then things started happening very quickly.
I used the distraction to scramble to my feet, blocked another punch from the blond, and saw one of the bashers who'd gone after the girl come flying back toward us like he'd been shot from a cannon, crashing into a pile of boxes just beyond me. But it was the words the girl shouted as she took out the next one that shocked me. I'm sure that the bashers didn't recognize them, but I did, and I knew it was ok to stop playing.
I snagged the blonde's hand out of the air as he threw his next punch, twisting and snapping his wrist in one move as I slid past him. With the same hold I whipped him around, dragged him forward and kicked him in the crotch. I dropped him as I felt a blow hit me on the side of the head and spun to face the next one. I let myself go a little: bared my teeth and growled at him. He screamed and tried to run, but I swept his legs and kicked him in the head, putting him out for the duration.
I looked around for the last one. He was trading kicks and punches with the girl about ten feet away. I scooped up a board from under the dumpster and slugged him with it from behind. He went down without a sound.
We stood there a moment. The girl was not a girl. Sometime during the scuffle, his wig had come off. It lay in the filthy alley, looking like someone had stepped on it. Several times.
“You ok?” I asked.
“Never better. I think I've ruined these stockings, though. They're silk. You owe me.”
“Let's go, right now. I don't want to see them anymore.” I could feel the desire growing in me. It was time to go.
We called the police from a pay phone. Then Sandy, my fair rescuer, agreed to allow me to buy him breakfast-as a first installment on the stockings, you understand.
Mike's is a twenty-four hour diner, with cute waiters and some pretty fine breakfasts. Everett was the lead waiter that night, so the music was deep, soulful blues. We took a booth toward the back.
“You handle yourself pretty well in a scuffle.” I commented, as we each perused the menus.
“Once you got started, you did ok too…what were you waiting for, the cavalry?”
“Who'd have thought the cavalry would arrive wearing a wig? By the way, does that go against my account too?” The much-abused wig had taken up residence in a dumpster just before we left the alley.
“That old thing? That why I rushed to the rescue: I was hoping that wig wouldn't survive.”
I laughed and Everett arrived with breakfast: my usual mocha and toast, and a vegetarian omelet, hash browns and orange juice for Sandy. I nibbled my toast and sipped my coffee and watched Sandy eat for a few minutes. I love watching people eat, and Sandy was more interesting than most. He ate with small, efficient bites, everything cut neatly and deftly, and with frequent dobbings with his napkin.
“I hadn't heard anyone yell that particular phrase in a fight in a long time,” I said casually as Sandy paused for a sip of orange juice. His eyes widened as he looked at me, and I was impressed that he didn't choke on his juice.
“Um…what phrase? Oh, you mean that back in the alley?” He was the picture of casual indifference, but I'd seen the momentary surprise.
“Uh-huh. Where'd you learn that anyway?”
“Oh, just something my mother taught me…she said it distracted people in a fight.”
“Ah, then your mother was the armsmistress then?”
“Why yes…err, no, I mean…maybe I'd better be going….”
I rested my hand on his wrist, not hard enough to stop him if he really wanted to go. “Stay, please. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. It's just that you're new in town-because I know I'd have heard of you if you weren't-and it is a small community, and I'm just curious about you.”
“Well, don't be. I'm just a small town boy from Pennsylvania.”
“Really? What part? I have relatives all over that area…”
“I'm going to show you something Sandy, that I never show most people. But I have a feeling you're not `most people.'” With that, I let my fangs descend and my eyes burn red, the demon that burned within me staring out for a moment. I continued, “Yes, I'm a member of the Kin, Sandy, though some of your people would disagree. I think you are too. You're a long way from Elf-hame, the land underhill.”
Sandy was clearly shaken, but he smiled bravely. Our kinds were traditionally deadly enemies, but he was a sidhe alone and far from home. For a moment, he let his glamour slip, trading trust for trust.
His chin was sharp and narrow, and his cheekbones could have cut glass. Sharp, pointed ears rose behind each temple, and his hair was thick and glossy black. His eyes were tilted at the outside corners and the pupils were slits like a cat's. He was inhumanly beautiful.
Then the mask slid back into place and he was just an attractive young man in a dress, wearing too much makeup.
“So welcome to town, Sandy.”
He laughed. “Why, thank you. Are there many of us around?”
“Oh yeah, we're everywhere. Seely and Unseely alike, we pretty much give up all that when we come out, and just try to get along in the community.”
“Makes sense to me. Never did like all that `traditional enemies' stuff anyway.”
“So what are you doing tomorrow night?”
“Taking my second payment on those very expensive stockings, I hope.”
I smiled, and sipped my mocha.