A LITTLE PROBLEM
By Dale T. Phillips
The guy halted in the doorway of the bar, which was purposefully well-lit. I like to get a good look at everyone who comes through that door, so I can size up what kind of trouble they might give.
His gaze darted around the room, as if he was afraid of looking at any one thing for too long. And then he took a step as if he'd had to will himself to make the effort.
Sure, we had a reputation, but I believed his trepidation was based on the fact he was a shade under five feet tall. In a world where you're always looking up at people, you learn to live like that.
He made it over to the bar, and climbed up on one of the stools. Both Lola and Carmen were working, but they'd looked him over when he came in, and they had the sense to know he wasn't in the mood for their kind of business. He had something on his mind, alright, but it was more in my line of problem fixing.
“What can I get you, sir?” I set a square paper napkin before him, with our logo, 'Bar Sinister,' imprinted on it. He looked down at the napkin and seemed to gather his courage.
“Uh, brandy, please.”
So he wasn't much of a bar guy. I nodded, and went to get the top-shelf stuff, the brandy that was really smooth, good, and not cheap. This guy needed some Dutch courage for what he wanted to ask. I poured a measure into a snifter and set it before him.
“Thank you,” he said, not meeting my gaze.
“I'll be right here if you should need anything else, sir,” I said. No sense pushing him, he'd work up to it in his own time.
He took a hesitant sip of the brandy, and looked surprised. He drank some more, and after about five minutes, had emptied the snifter, so I went over.
“Another one, sir?”
He bobbed his head slightly in response, and I went to pour a fresh one. I set it before him, and took the first glass away.
“Thank you.” There was a spot of color in his cheeks, and he looked a degree less scared.
“Will there be something else then, sir?”
He quickly looked up. “You can tell that?”
I smiled. “Long practice, sir. You're a man with something on his mind. A problem, perhaps, that needs fixing.”
He nodded. “I've heard about this place. They say you can take care of things.”
“What is it you need, sir?”
It came out fast, something he was finally confessing. “I need you to beat someone up for me.”
Now that it was out, he gulped down a healthy swallow of brandy.
“Understood. I'll need a little background, though.”
His eyebrows went up. “Background?”
“Yes sir. Despite our reputation, we're rather discriminating on some of our policies.”
“Oh,” he said, his face tinged like an instant sunburn. “Well, uh, it's rather personal.”
“It always is, sir, and you can rely on our discretion. May I venture to suggest that this man is bullying you?”
His mouth opened, but he recovered quickly. “He won't stop. He keeps pushing and pushing, seeing how much he can humiliate me. I've never done anything to him, so I don't know why he does it. But I can't take any more.”
“We can take care of things, sir.” I took out a pen and wrote a number on another napkin, and turned it so he could see. “That is the price for our service.”
He gulped, but bobbed his head again to show his acceptance.
“You have it with you?”
“Please follow me into the office.”
I got out from behind the bar and walked to the side, to a well-padded door, and he followed. I went into the office and turned on the light. I indicated a chair in front of a desk, and went to the other side. “Please have a seat. We'll take the cash in advance.”
He sat, reached inside his pocket, took out a thick wad of bills, and began to count out hundreds.
“I see you came well prepared.”
He looked up. “This is all I have. But this needs to end.” He finished counting, and pushed the stack of bills over to my side. I picked them up, went to an old-fashioned safe, spun the dial, and opened it. I put the money inside and closed the safe door, then came and sat behind the desk.
He looked nervous. “When will you, uh, do it?”
“In a week. But it's a bit more involved. We like to solve problems so they never reoccur. If we simply do it one way, the way you request, it's temporary.”
He was frowning. “Are you saying you want to have him killed?”
“Not at all. We're going to arrange it so you solve your own problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“You're going to fight him. You're going to kick the shit out of him, right here in this bar, in front of people.”
He stared at me. “Are you out of your mind? I'm an accountant. I've never been in a fight. I'm not strong, and my hands are soft as butter.”
“None of that matters. I'm going to show you how to do it.”
He shook his head from side to side. “Maybe you're a good boxing coach and all, but–”
“You're not going to box. You're going to hit him quick, hard, and very dirty. He won't have a chance.”
“Look, I'm not the guy–”
“Not yet, you're not. All your life until now you haven't been. But in a week you will be. And for the rest of your life, you'll never have to worry about a guy like him.”
“I'm telling you–” He looked close to tears.
“You've always been afraid, because of your size. Everyone's bigger, stronger, tougher. So you learned to take whatever they dish out. You learned never to stand up.”
He watched me, his eyes wide. His voice was almost a whisper. “I can't.”
“You can, and you will. You think you're too weak to hurt him. I'll show you how to hurt him in less than thirty seconds, and put a beating on him so bad, he'll never challenge anyone again.”
That made him think. “What, like karate?”
“No. Good, old-fashioned knowledge. Think you can learn one move a day for seven days?”
“How about if I tell you you get a full refund when you do?”
He chewed his lip. “What if I say no?”
“Your money stays in that safe, and nothing changes for you.”
“That's not fair!”
“Very little is,” I said. “The question is, what are you going to do about it?”
“I guess I have no choice.”
“You have a choice. Make the choice to end this, starting now.”
He looked at me, misery leaking out of his eyes. He was beaten again, before he even started, as he always had been. “What do I have to do?”
I went to the corner, where I kept some equipment. I spent a lot of time in the bar, and had enough stuff on hand to keep in shape. I slipped on a padded mitt, the kind used by martial arts trainers. I walked back over and held the mitt down at his eye level. “Hit this hard enough to convince me you want your money back.”
He started to get up. “No,” I said. “Sitting down. Punch it.”
He stared at the mitt, and swung an ineffectual fist at it. I barely felt it.
“Try it like this,” I said. “Straight out, from the shoulder, twist a little, and snap it.”
He punched again, still not well. I shook my head. “That's about a dollar's worth coming back to you. I thought you wanted your money back.”
His lips pursed, and he swung again, harder. The blow had a little more zip to it. “Okay, five dollars. Again.”
Another punch. “So it's not money you're after.” I reached over and cuffed him with the mitt. He looked at me as if in shock. I cuffed him again.
“Stop that,” he said.
I cuffed him one more time.
“I said stop it.”
“Make me,” I said, my voice hard. “Hit the goddamn mitt like you mean it, or I'll keep doing it.”
With a grunt, he punched, driving his fist into the mitt. It wasn't Muhammed Ali good, but good enough.
“Not bad,” I said. “That would have hurt. You had it in you, you've just never let yourself get angry enough.”
“You didn't have to do that,” he said, his eyes blazing.
“Yeah, I did. I'm your trainer, not your friend. I'm teaching you how to get mad enough to hurt someone who deserves it. In two minutes you learned how to throw a decent punch, starting from nothing. It felt good to hit it and make me stop, didn't it? By taking action, you removed a humiliating annoyance from your life.”
He looked at me, frowning in concentration. “But that's not enough.”
“No. Your straight-on fist punch is only for the first shot. Even though you see it in movies and on television, punching like that in a real fight is for the birds.”
“Because without proper technique, force, and training, you can't stop a guy with punches like that. And the skull has very thick bones, while those in the hand are small and fragile. Hit his jaw or another part of his head, you'll probably break your hand first.”
“What do I do instead?”
“Open your palm like this, fingers back, and drive it up under his nose.” I showed him. “That's how you come up out of the chair. Now he's wide open. Close your fist again, but now you hit him with the outside. It's called a hammer-fist, and it's great, because you can hit anything as hard as you want without hurting yourself. You're going to use it to come down and snap his collarbone, here. Only takes a few pounds of pressure, and he won't be able to fight back at that point.”
He looked skeptical. “What if I miss?”
“You won't. That's what we're going to practice. And you'll have insurance, a little something extra in your hand to add to the force you hit him with.”
He smiled. “Brass knuckles?”
“Nah. They're for chumps. All you need is a roll of quarters.” I handed him a roll from off the desk. “Now make a fist around it, and leave a half-inch sticking out from the bottom. Yeah, just like that. Then you'll come back sideways and break his jaw with a couple of shots. But don't hit his temple, you don't want to actually kill him.”
“And that will be enough?”
“Not by a long shot. You're not just going to give him a couple of sucker punches and let him go on his merry way. You're going to hurt him long-term, so he knows what you're capable of.”
“How do I do that?”
“All those things I showed you are in the first ten seconds. Then you get him to the floor. Kick him behind the knee, right here, and he'll go down. Then you work him over with kicks to the ribs and kidneys, stomp his hands, and last of all, break both his arms.”
“Jesus. That sounds like a bit much.”
“Anything less, and he'll come back at you as soon as he's able. You want him in recovery for a long time, looking at those hands and arms he can't use, with so much broken he can't take care of himself. He'll be taking his meals through a straw. You are going to shock him with the violence of what you do to him. After that, he's going to be afraid to do so much as raise his voice to anyone ever again.”
The guy looked at me. “You're going to turn him into me.”
I smiled. “Yes.”
He thought about it. “I don't want to turn into him.”
“You won't. Bullies are afraid. That's what makes them bullies. Doing this will make you a bit sick. You'll feel bad, and won't want to do it again. But you'll always remember you can, and that will change you. No one's ever going to walk over you from that point on. He's a predator, you'll never be. But you don't have to be prey anymore.”
“It all sounds so primitive.”
“It is. We're here because we had ancestors that survived and reproduced. They had to fight and win, or die out. Are you willing to be the last of your kind, or are you going to spend two minutes in survival mode, and never have to worry about a guy like him?”
“What if he calls the police?”
“He won't. He'll break into a cold sweat when he thinks of you getting near him again. He'll make up some story about being mugged by a gang.”
The guy looked at me. “How do you know so much about him and what he'll do?”
“I used to be him.”
He pondered that. “What happened?”
“Somebody showed me how to be a better person, before this happened to me.”
He was silent for a long time. “Show me again.”
I drilled him on the moves for an hour, at the end of which he could deliver a pretty decent shot. I told him to come back the next day.
When he returned, I had the heavy bag set up, so he could get the feel of what happened when he connected. By the time he was done, he was sweating and flushed, but getting the hang of it and grinning just a little.
On the third day, we went through the footwork. I'd laid the bag on the floor, and showed him how to kick and stomp. Basic, simple moves, repeated over and over, until he could do them in his sleep.
On the fourth day, he learned how to break an arm while the opponent lay there helpless. We used some sticks that approximated the resistance, and they made the same sound as a snapping bone, so he could get used to it.
On the fifth day, we put it all together, from the first punch while seated, to the last snap, crackle, and pop. He was letter-perfect by the end of the session, smoothly flowing from one violent sequence to the next.
Day six saw us run through it until there was no doubt in his mind. He would hit and keep hitting, going through to the end. I told him to call the guy to come to the bar the next day at a certain time, and to show up a half-hour before then.
On the day it was to all go down, the guy was nervous as hell. Back in the office, I started the talk to get his mind prepared.
“I want you angry when he comes in,” I said. “Angrier than you've ever been in your life, except now you're going to do something about it. So angry you don't think, you don't talk, you don't hesitate. You hit him as soon as he's in range, and you don't stop until the end.”
I went through all the types of humiliations and injustices the guy had suffered through all his life, all the insults and put-downs, and focused it all into coming from this one bully. When I got done, the guy was pumped, his fists opening and closing.
“One last thing before you go out there,” I said.
“You know what a 'buffet' is?” I'd said it with the “t” pronounced at the end, like the name of the financier, not the meal.
“That's some sort of a smack they give a knight, isn't it?”
“Correct. When someone was knighted, they gave him a good sock up side the head and told him that it's the last blow he'll ever receive without doing something about it.”
The guy looked at me for a long moment and nodded. “I understand.”
I slapped him so hard it left a blazing red mark on his cheek. He was breathing hard and fast, mad as hell, and totally ready.
We went out into the bar, where three of the working girls were present, and four patrons who would know enough to sit and watch events unfold without interfering.
I put him at a table seated toward the door. I handed him a pair of sunglasses. “Put these on.”
He looked up. “Why?”
“Because if he sees your eyes, he'll know something is up.”
The bully came in a few minutes later, and I watched him in the doorway. He was about five-ten, with a bit of a gut, and thinning hair on top. He looked around the bar until he spotted my client, and smirked. He was all ready for fun and games. He walked over and stood before the smaller man, towering over him and looking down with a sneer. He opened his mouth to say something, but never finished.
It was perfectly choreographed. Without any preliminaries, my client punched the guy hard in the balls, then erupted out of the chair with a palm strike right under the nose, which straightened the bully back up. I saw the roll of quarters shift to the right hand, and descend on the bully's collarbone like a hammer. A few more well-placed shots, and then it was time for groundwork.
My client never paused, just went to work like we'd practiced, right to the end. Two of the girls were pretty tough cookies, but even they were wincing, and one of the watching patrons looked a little green around the gills.
And then it was over. I went over to the client, who was shaking all over, and huffing like a steam engine. I took the roll of quarters from him and sent him back to the office. It had its own bathroom, so even if he threw up, it would be okay.
I beckoned Tara over. “Take him home, stay with him. When it all wears off, he's going to need you there, to talk it all out, so be a good listener. After that, he'll need you even more. Have him come back when he's ready.”
She nodded. She was a pro, and didn't need long explanations. I called our private taxi service, scooped the shattered bully off the floor, and dumped him into the cab that came up, giving the driver instructions to take the guy to County Hospital. Then I went back into the bar and poured a round on the house for everyone there.
Two weeks later, the guy came back, right about when I thought he would. He glowed with confidence, and looked healthy and fit.
I greeted him. “How's it going?”
“Great,” he replied. “I've joined a gym to get in shape, and I've even got a girlfriend now.”
“Yeah. I, uh, want to thank you. It was absolutely horrible, but it changed me. I still can't believe it. But I'm not afraid anymore.”
I put a stack of money on the bar.
He looked at it. “What's that?”
“Full refund if you solved it yourself, as promised.”
He made no move to pick it up. “Keep it. I know what you said, and why you said it, but it was worth it. You can't put a price on what you did for me.”
“What you did for yourself.”
He smiled and shook his head. As he turned to go, he took a last look at the spot where his life had changed. He shook his head again and walked out the door. He might have been five feet tall, but he walked out like he was King of the World.
Dale T. Phillips has a number of story collections published in book form, including "CROOKED PATHS," five tales of mystery and crime. His fourth Zack Taylor mystery novel, "A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT," will be out later this year. He a member of Sisters in Crime, and is on their Speaker's Bureau.
Copyright © 2014 Dale T. Phillips. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!