The Wrong Thing to Say
by Bill Baber
wasn’t very tough as a kid. That wasn’t a good thing in the blue-collar
neighborhood where I grew up. Fighting was a way of life and your toughness or
lack thereof determined your standing in the local social order. I got my ass
kicked on a pretty regular basis. I knew my place.
there were a few kids on my block I could hold my own against and we would
fight at the drop of a hat over anything and everything from sandlot ball games
to whose old man had the nicest car.
had just started junior high school when just before dark my mother sent me to
the corner store with two dollars to get a half gallon of milk.
as I got off my own block, three older boys who had a reputation as bullies
you goin’ scrub? “ One asked.
moved in. The biggest punched me in the face. It felt as if my nose exploded.
Blood splashed on to the pavement. Another pushed me to the ground. There were
hands in my pockets.
returned home to find my old man had just gotten home from work. He sat at the
kitchen table drinking a bottle of beer.
hell happened to you?” He asked. “And where’s the milk?”
told him what had happened.
your ass back out there and don’t come home without milk.”
started to cry.
can either go fight for what was taken from you or get a beating from me. Your
didn’t want my pop knocking me around so I went into the street with a baseball
boys were still on the corner. I ran at them and started swinging. Two of them
went down, covering their faces.
me my money back.”
I got home my old man told me he was proud of me. That was the first and only
that I wasn’t scared of much. I grew a few inches and filled out some. I would
fight anyone over anything. I started to get a reputation around the
neighborhood. After getting kicked out of high school, I wasn’t doing much.
Training at a gym thinking about a boxing career and just hanging out being a
Daugherty ran a little syndicate in our part of town- he loan sharked and
charged small businesses protection. He put me to work- using me as muscle when
someone didn’t pay. Guys with gambling debts would come up with the cash,
especially if I had to get rough. Some of the old folks who owned businesses
were a different story. I don’t know anyone who could feel good about stomping
some old guy who busted his ass every day to make a living.
neighborhood was mostly Irish but some Chinese folks were moving in. Frank sent
me to a little grocery on Irving Street. When I tried to tell the old man
behind the counter he needed to cough up two hundred a month he acted like he
didn’t understand. A woman who I guessed to be his wife watched with cold, dark
eyes as he went behind a curtain.
moment later he returned with a guy my age. Short, slender.
have business with my father?”
explained the purpose of my visit.
if we don’t pay?”
gets hurt,” I explained.
Get out and don’t come back.”
laughed and started for him.
I remember was a blur of feet and hands. And pain. I got the worst beating I
had ever had.
went back to Daugherty’s, bloodied and bruised.
told him what happened. He backhanded me.
your ass back down there and don’t come back without it.”
walked into the store with a .45, shot the kid and took everything out of the
gave Daugherty the money.
laughed at me.
you’re only getting one ass kicking today. Lucky you.”
shot him too.
he should have said he was proud of me.
would have been the smart thing to do.
crime fiction and poetry have appeared widely online and in numerous
anthologies. His writing has earned Derringer Prize and best of the Net
consideration. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was
published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a
spoiled dog and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is
working on his first novel.