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A Grimly Risen Moon
Last Whiteman Chapter 6
The smoke-clouded barroom on the first floor of the Hamilton Tavern was packed with the wastrels, rogues and bad men of five countries and ten races. But none of these drew so much respect from his fellows in this den of pimps, kidnappers, strong-arm robbers and second story men as Fernando. Hence, when trouble had reared its peeping, snooping head among the tents this morning, word eventually filtered back to Fernando, as lesser pimps gathered about him with news from the word boys that scouted the streets for them.
The normal concern was the police.
There was also the militia duty they had taken upon themselves to ward off the Tenties.
With the Watchmen and the Guardsmen they had long negotiated an uneasy peace, sometimes broken, but never shattered, as their rackets, which centered around providing cozy companionship and fenced goods to Corporate Officers and straw buyers for parties best unmet, benefited from a certain civic order.
Fernando, a journeyman boxer of some standing, never knocked out, only beaten twice by Baltimore men in the ring, by the hulking Gorilla Jones and Slick Gimp Marshall, did not see himself as the third best fighter in the City, but the champion of his Puerto Rican race. He had worked on oil rigs when the oil still flowed up out of the once green earth and had soldiered in Cuba against the Commies, in Germany against the Rooskies, and in Australia against the Chinks. Fernando was a proud man, rarely beat his whores, fed them well—even let some of them keep their given names—and did not traffic in boys.
Fat, sweaty Gold Cane Hopkins slid up to Fernando to needle him some more about what needed done, about who needed to be doing it, his fingers bedecked with gaudy rings, his blubbery lips trundling on, “Ma Man, Fernando Heavy Hand! We cain't have no muvachucka out o' Hintalan' nosin' 'round 'bout our bitchez. Ifin dis hintalanda been juz goin' upside Yusef Allen's head ova he dirty bidness in boyz—I'd say led it go, let da Police whoop dat ass—you see dis muvachucka think he John Wayne, like as if he rode in on a horse.”
Fernando glared over his half-drunk pitcher of Pabst Blue Ribbon, down into that blubbery face, “I suppose you'll be hanging back in the shadows, eh' fat man?”
The dark face of the pimp flushed and he stood from his stool and tapped his cold-chased cane on the hardwood floor and spun the heavy metal head in his big hand, “Heavy Hand 'ill have me on his left side, en woe to da fool who get's dis cane upside his chump do-right head.”
Then to Fernando's right spoke Geraldo, the Puerto Rican Hebrew with his beady hawk-like eyes and sweep of mustache, tapping the switch blade that jutted ever ready from his back right pocket, “Fernando, I'm on his back—be removing a kidney and scalping his Hinterlander ass. Then we'll see if he's white like they say.”
Gold Cane then chimed back in, “Heavy Hand and Gold Cane will face him down and the lawyer of knives will take him down. En jus' in case, loog, Fern, we got Rat-Face Willy wit his whipstick on my nine-O'clock, en Salvador Slim ova here [the bird-faced Central American with a beak like a parrot, lifted a glass of rum to his summons to infamy] on you three O'clock wit da trashcan lid and bike chain!”
Fernando began to rise and cast his lot with his fellows, somewhat bitter that he would not have a fair fight with the Hinterlander and then had to smile as Ohio Joe, all of fourteen years, a high yellow creature who was just cutting into the business by pimping out his mother and older sister, declared that he too was in, popping up between them, all of 80 pounds, and raising a brick up like it was a scepter of some ancient king and chortled, “I'll brick his butt back up ta where he come!”
Feeling a bit like a villain, Fernando stood straight and looked around and declared, “Six to one, with a brick to the blind side of the head and a knife in the back... I suppose disposal will be the work of it—let's roll!”
Bar stools and high chairs scraped loudly across the wood floor, Ohio Joe chortled in his endearing way and Gold Cane Hopkins put a big, woman-slapping hand on his shoulder and assured him, “With Fernando Heavy Hand on point, dis trailer trash chump will be feedin' da rats fo da moon do rise.”
Something did not feel right about this.
'Why can't he and I simply fight?'
The Hinterlander could be seen leaving the mechanic's tents and was headed, with obvious intent in the flicker of the street lights, giving off as much soot as light, coming their way. The old electric lights had failed and the light poles had been cut down when Fernando was a boy, steel trash baskets set on the stumps as they were kept burning with chopped up car tires. This was the Rogues Hour, the moon as yet unrisen and the man could clearly be seen striding to the tent of Mistress Frey.
Geraldo snuck around behind and Ohio Joe darted ahead with his brick to skulk behind the fortune-teller's tent. This was already a mess—no plan at all. They were lucky these were not Watchmen they came against and that he was alone.
That rankled his pride.
Fernando cleared his throat as Gold Cane walked by his left side, Rat-Faced Willy next to him with his whipstick made of a coat hanger, fishing sinker and electrical tape. To his right was Salvador Slim, most dangerous of the lot in a gang fight, with that trash can lid and heavy chain.
The man, looking outlandish to be sure, like an Old West bounty hunter with a karate belt wrapped about his hat and engineer boots suggesting the outlaw biker—but his mien speaking of law above law—stopped and stood calmly to their approach.
Fernando had to make something decent of this in order to get his fighting blood up, “Stranger, we have business.”
The man then swept back his coat revealing a great knife and a hammer or ax tied down to each thigh—and like that Ohio Joe blew the caper, charging out from behind the mystery woman's big tent and heaving a brick, too heavy by half and too far to do much harm. As the savage boy grunted with his herculean effort the brick described a languid arc towards the stranger's right shoulder. The brick would have hit, if not for the stranger's reflexes, whose hand rose with his turning head, catching it in one gloved hand—shooting gloves they were, which suggested a gun.
Even as this portion of the unmade plan was undone, hope sprung eternal as Geraldo slunk forth from behind Yusef Allen's great tent with his switchblade gleaming in his hand. Then the stranger pivoted like a Major League pitcher of old and threw that just caught brick like a tumbling, square fast ball. The impact of the brick as it removed the lower portion of Geraldo's once charming smile was sickening and caused a moment's hesitation among all but Fernando, who walked onward even as Ohio Joe, whose courage could never be denied hereafter, charged in barehanded and was launched, as if dead, through the sooty night air by a sideways karate kick.
Two of their band were now dead, one with a broken neck, the other with a broken back, and their territorial ire was up as they came on in a loose crescent.
The stranger darted hard to his left and drew his great knife in one motion, taking the bike chain of Salvador Slim across his back as he transfixed their best weapon man with that big shining knife, then turned the gored man as a shield towards Fernando, and shoved him at Fernando's feet, arresting his forward progress. Salvador Slim, slimmer by the loss of his guts, reeling out like some much fire hose—boy, Fernando missed the fire trucks and a vision of him seeing the last one to blare its alarm and come to the rescue when he was a boy somehow crept into this mess of blood and guts.
Gold Cane, was good for his word and came on with a ghetto war cry, “White muvahucka, you done yo lasz!”
The great heavy-headed cane was wielded with two hands and the stroke was coming right for the stranger's hatted head on the downward diagonal. That is when Fernando noticed—and was ashamed of himself for not picking up on it right off—that although the man threw like an orthodox fighter, he fought with that knife out of the southpaw gate...and slip that stroke of the heavy cane he did.
Gold Cane Hopkins' heavy, fat head flew from his shoulders in a gout of gore and that was enough for Rat-Faced Willy, who broke and ran.
'This is it, the end,' Fernando thought as he stepped around poor dying Salvador, who was trying to pull his guts back into his belly, and put up his dukes against that wicked knife.
“I might not be a good man—but I'm a man!” snarled Fernando as he let loose his Negro-knocking right overhand, a Hail Mary pass of a punch, with a leap that would have made any boxing trainer cringe but was needed to get past that devil of a knife. If that punch landed, despite the obvious brawn of this silent, sooty Whiteman, Fernando Heavy Hand knew that the stranger was going to sleep. Only Gorilla Jones, a black man of some 290 pounds, had been able to handle Fernando's right overhand.
A searing pain laced his wrist as it was broken by the backward beat of that heavy blade, the mightiest punch ever “throwed” in Baltimore deflected, the barkeep, named Motive Witherspoon would have to say, recalling his witnessing of this brief epic battle.
Then as Fernando gritted his teeth to throw that equally heavy left hand as a widow-making hook for the head, the man shuffled side ways just out of range and as the vicious punch arced in front of his sinisterly bearded face, with a boxers busted nose, Fernando knew that he was dealing with one of his own battling fraternity and that he had thrown his last punch. The pain of his knee snapping clean in half under the heel of that heavy boot was lessened some by the fact that his weight was still transferring to his right side. Yet he fell left, over the broken knee and crashed to his hip on the crumbling asphalt, his face level with the knife held in that sap-gloved hand.
Fernando was a man—all he really had, other then his whores. So he propped himself up on his left hand and looked the man in his cold blue eyes and had to give his respects, “Maybe, if it were still your world, we could have boxed and wowed the crowd.”
He wondered if he would lose consciousness before or after his head leapt from his shoulders. His throat he did bare for his just deserved end.
Then the man stepped back, sheathed his big knife, gathered the curtain of his black coat about him, gave a nod of respect, and turned on his heavy heel and entered Mistress Frey's tent.
Heavy Hand Fernando's voice followed the stranger with a rasp of pain and a stride of dignity, “We are dogs, us pimp kind. But we ain't rats! Cops will neva' ged a word from me.”
And the moon rose to bear silent and uncaring witness to their plight, soot-streaked from the crudely burning streetlight, over the grim stone quarters of the Watchmen, which Fernando recalled, had once been the church attended by his Mamma and Poppy when to the world he was still a boy.
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