They grabbed her on the 1400 block of Washington Avenue. There were three of them, teenage punks led by a boy with a ponytail of greasy blond hair. Legionaires by the colors they were flying, the last all-white gang in the zip code. Maybe in the city. The others had been slowly muscled out by rival blacks and Hispanics. The Legionnaires wouldn’t last much longer. Not that that would be any comfort to the girl.
She was in her early twenties. Pretty. Brown hair and long legs. She was wearing a dress and heels, and although I didn't know where she’d come from, I figured I knew why she was out this late---a random act of chance. It could have been a flat tire, an argument with her boyfriend, a missed bus—-that was all it took to get her in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wasn’t that always how it happened?
I watched her exit the subway across the street and walk down the storefront sidewalk. It was just past midnight. The stores were closed, and the streets were empty except for the girl and two Legionnaires, Blondie and a hulking, leering brute missing one eyebrow. She passed them both without stopping, but her hand did slip inside her purse, when Blondie made a catcall.
The boys started following her, pacing her down the street. She glanced back when Blondie called out to her, and that was when the third punk came out of the doorway he’d been hiding in and tackled her. Laughing, he wrestled the can of pepper-spray out of her hand and tossed it aside. Then the other two were on her as well.
This was bad. I’m no hero. I’m a thief with a specialty in B&E, although there’s very little I won’t steal, given the chance. The only thing I shy away from is robbery, especially armed robbery. That’s the kind of thing that gets you put inside for a long time. I’m too smart a thief for that.
Unfortunately, I’m also a dumb gambler, and lately my luck has been really bad. I owe Big Joe Rosetti five grand that I don’t have and I only have two days left to pay up. That’s why I’m here, sitting in a stolen van, directly across the street from Haverman’s jewelry store.
Haverman’s is small time, as jewelry stores go. Typical security---alarm seals, barred windows, reinforced doors. A guy I know took care of the alarms for me. All I have to do is bypass the physical locks, which is no problem at all for me, and then steal whatever I can get my hands on.
It should have been a quick snatch and grab, netting me enough money to pay back Big Joe and maybe have a little something left over for myself. Instead, I’m sitting across the street watching a girl being assaulted.
She was screaming her head off. Blondie and his pals were laughing, not even trying to shut her up or drag her into an alley. They were going to bang her right on the sidewalk.
I didn’t like the thought of that, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I could fight if I had to, but I wasn’t some ninja who could wade into a group of people and starting tossing them around like Frisbees.
Lights were coming on in some of the upstairs windows up and down the block. Someone had probably already called the cops, which meant my job was screwed. There was no way I could get into Haverman’s with this going on.
Time to go. Tomorrow night I would steal another car and then come back, and pray the alarms were still out of commission. If not, I was in big trouble. All because a few young punks had picked this street to hang out on tonight.
If they were going to ruin my night, I might was well try and ruin theirs.
I started the van’s engine and laid on the horn. That got their attention. They stood up, angry faces squinting against the headlights as they looked in my direction.
“What the fuck’s your problem, pal?” Blondie called to me.
I leaned my head out the window. “Only problem I got is with your mother. Whores should know better than to have kids. They always turn out just like you.”
Must have hit a nerve. Blondie’s upper lip curled back into a snarl and his hands balled into tight fists. I looked for the girl, but she was gone. She had wasted no time pulling her clothes together and getting the hell out of there while the boys were distracted. Good for her.
Time for me to go, too.
“Get that motherfucker, Sammy!” Blondie shouted. Too late, I realized he was talking to someone alongside the van.
I shifted into gear as a flurry of motion erupted in the driver’s side window. A punch stunned me, hands grabbed me. I panicked and fought back, but in doing so, I must have gunned the accelerator, because the next thing I knew the jewelry store window was coming for the windshield. The van jumped the curb, bounced across the sidewalk and crashed through the store window. Glass shattered. My head hit the steering wheel and I saw stars. Blood streamed from my broken nose and other cuts on my face.
I shook my head, trying to clear it, as someone yanked the driver’s side door open and hauled me roughly out. I threw a punch, and then a kick, but mostly I just tried to cover up and protect my face and balls as a barrage of blows rained down on me. Four, maybe five guys. I caught a glimpse of Blondie’s face, grinning, nostrils flaring from exertion, maniacal gleam in his eyes, and thought ‘this is what I get for not minding my own fucking business’.
I blacked out once. Twice. I don’t know how many times, but they eventually stopped beating me. They probably thought I was dead. I sure felt that way. I blacked out again.
The sound of Blondie’s voice brought me briefly back to consciousness.
“Get it, get the shit!” I heard him say.
I couldn’t move, but my head was positioned perfectly for me to watch them steal the jewelry---_my_ jewelry---stuffing it down their shirts, into their pockets, and then rushing out of the store.
Sons-a-bitches, I thought. Then I blacked out for real.
I came to in the hospital and what did I see? Doctors, nurses, police, reporters. And the girl I had helped.
She took my hand and looked deep into my eyes as if searching for something.
“Thank you,” she said.
I managed a weak smile. God, my head hurt. Everyone had a thousand questions for me to answer, but I had one of my own.
“What’s the date?” I asked, and they told me.
I nodded and closed my eyes, trying to figure out my next move. I still had one day to pay back Big Joe.by Peter C. Spahn