By Michael J. Ciaraldi
I was sitting on the bench waiting for the bus when I saw a young man come around the corner; he was a scrawny-looking specimen, dressed like any other student in jeans and a T-shirt. But his clothing didn’t look like it had been oh-so-artfully ripped; it looked more like he had been on the losing end of a fight.
I saw him look over his shoulder and say, “Look, guys, I don’t want any trouble.”
The couple who followed him seemed in much better shape. The tall fellow said, “We told you before – we don’t want your kind around here.” His short, stocky, female companion followed up with, “Yeah, what he said.”
The scrawny kid started to protest. “Hey, I have as much right as you –”
The girl shoved him hard. “Shut your face!”
The tall guy spoke soothingly, “Now, now, Sammie …” He gently pushed her away. “…there’s no need for things to get unpleasant.” Then he grabbed the kid’s arm and started to twist. The kid gasped. “I’m sure we can reach an understanding with Jim here.” As he continued to twist, the kid moaned in pain. “Do you understand what I’m saying?” He threw the kid to the ground. “Come on, Sammie. We’re through here.” He headed back toward the corner.
“Sure thing, Al.” She followed him.
I took my tote bag in my hand, stood up, walked to where Jim was struggling to rise, and offered him my other hand. “Here, let me help you up.”
Jim got to his feet and mumbled, “Thanks.” He started dusting off his clothes, using his hands.
I reached into my tote bag, took out my whisk broom, and offered it to him. “Try this.”
He gave me a shy half grin and accepted it. “Thanks again.”
Jim finished cleaning his clothes, then handed the broom back to me. “Thanks, ma’am. How did you happen to have a broom in your bag?”
“Oh, I try to always carry what I might need. Maria’s the name.”
We solemnly shook hands.
I gestured toward the bench. “Have a seat.” We did.
I knew I had to get the conversation started. “So, why were those bullies picking on you?”
“You heard them: they said they didn’t want ‘my kind’ around here.”
“And what kind is that? No, wait. It doesn’t really matter, does it?”
Jim thought for a second. “I guess not. If a bully wants to pick on someone, he doesn’t really need a reason. Any excuse will do.”
“How does it make you feel, when one of these bullies insults you, or knocks you down?”
“I feel embarrassed. Ashamed at my weakness. Angry. Sometimes so angry I think I could kill them.”
It was time for a little historical perspective. “I remember something that Mohandas said...”
“Mohandas Gandhi. You know him better by the honorific ‘Mahatma,’ which means ‘Great Soul.’ He once said, ‘There are many causes that I am prepared to die for, but no causes that I am prepared to kill for.’ He lived and died by the principle of non-violence, including non-violent resistance to violent aggression.”
Jim objected. “And where did it get him? I remember from school that he died a hero, but he still died by violence. You asked me how I felt. Well, sometimes I get so mad I think I could kill them for what they’ve done to me, and to keep them from doing it again, to me or to someone else. But then I do nothing. I feel like a coward for not fighting back.”
“There’s another thing Gandhi said: ‘Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.’ I think he meant that sometimes you need to act, but sometimes doing nothing requires the greatest courage of all.”
Jim seemed lost in thought for a few moments, then stood up. “Thanks, Maria. You’ve given me a lot to think about.” As he started to walk away, Al and Sammie appeared again.
Sammie might have been pretty except for the smirk on her face as she asked, “Still here? I guess some people never learn. Do they, Al?”
“Yeah, I think he needs another lesson.”
Al circled behind Jim, then whipped his arm around Jim’s throat and got him in a choke hold.
Sammie sneered, “And we’re the ones to teach him.”
She punched Jim hard in the abdomen, driving the breath from his body. Jim started to double over from the pain and shock, but Al’s choke hold kept him upright.
Sammie pulled a folding knife from her pocket, snapped it open, and moved it toward Jim’s face. “Maybe my initials in your cheek will help you remember. Too bad we don’t have time to snuff you, like we did that homeless guy last week.”
I got up from the bench, picked up my tote bag, and approached the group, saying, “Excuse me, young lady.”
Sammie snarled, “Get lost, you old bag.”
Old bag? I may look like somebody’s grandmother, with my graying hair tucked neatly into a bun, but I think ‘old bag’ is a bit much. Nevertheless…
“But this is important. Did you ever see the movie ‘Crocodile’ Dundee?”
Sammie turned to face me, puzzlement starting to wash over her face. “Yeah. So what?”
“Remember the scene where the mugger pulls out a knife? And Dundee says, ‘That’s not a knife.’ Then Dundee pulls out a much bigger one and says, ‘That’s a knife.’”
“Yeah. So what?”
“Well, you see, you have your knife. And this is mine.” I reached into my tote bag and pulled out my trusty 1219C2 Knife, Fighting Utility, “Ka-Bar.” Not as big as Dundee’s, but it would do. I stabbed it deep into the left side of Sammie’s abdomen, slashed across, twisted it and jerked upward, then pulled it out. It was the classic seppuku technique, just not self-administered. Sammie screamed, fell to the ground, convulsed, and lay still. Al and Jim looked on in shock.
I turned my attention to the taller bully. “And you, young man. Don’t you have something better to do than choking my young friend here?”
Al released his hold on Jim and backed away with his hands outstretched before him. “Look. Let’s not do anything hasty.”
“Oh, I never do anything hastily. Jim, move away. That’s a good boy.”
I leaned over, wiped my knife on Sammie’s clothing, then put it back into my tote bag.
“I won’t be needing this anymore. Now. Al, is it? I think we really need to discuss your future behavior.”
I pulled my Colt M1911A1 (in .45 caliber) out of my tote bag and aimed it at Al. “Do you promise not to bully anyone anymore?”
Al gulped, then replied, “Yes, ma’am. I promise. I surely do.”
I thought about this for a few seconds, then: “Considering that your late accomplice has just confessed to murder…I don’t believe you.”
I fired two quick shots into Al’s torso, then one into his head. I was already putting the gun back into my tote bag as Al collapsed to the ground.
I turned to Jim. “That’s called the ‘Mozambique Drill’ – a quick double-tap to the torso, then a shot to the head to destroy the brain or the brain stem. Remember it, Jim.”
Jim looked at me in horror. “You killed them! What about all your talk about Gandhi?”
“We used to have a saying back when I was in the Marines: ‘There’s a fine line between being peace-loving and being a damn fool.’ In this case I had the choice of letting them injure you, maybe even scar you for life, or doing what I could to stop them from doing it to you or to someone else in the future.”
I turned to leave, then paused. “Well, good day, Jim. Oh, pick up those shell casings and dispose of them properly, would you? Brass is recyclable, you know.”
As I walked away, I thought, I’ll need to clean that knife more thoroughly when I get home. Maybe I should get one of the “Next Generation” Ka-Bars – the stainless steel doesn’t hold an edge as well, but it’s much more corrosion-resistant than the carbon steel used in the original…
Michael J. Ciaraldi teaches Computer Science and Robotics Engineering, and runs the Playwrights Workshop, at WPI. His writing has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
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