The small beams of light tickle as they hit me. I laugh, but the little man just keeps pointing his gun and firing like it’s going to do something. When I reach him, that’s when the fun begins. I grab the small space weapon and I feel it crunch under my fist along with his fingers.
I let go. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I never want to hurt anyone, but I always do. It’s just part of being who I am. You get used to it, I guess, but the guy just keeps crying and screaming about his broken hand. The rest of the bar is starting to look now and the tiny man is on his knees begging me not to kill him.
I don’t do that, at least not anymore.
I reach down and pick him up by his silvery backpack and toss him through the front door of the bar. I wouldn’t want JJ getting mad for annoying his other customers. Of course, JJ never gets mad at me. He just gets disappointed, and that’s always worse.
I walk outside and the spaceman is slumped up against the wall of the building across the alley. I hadn’t meant to throw him that hard. He doesn’t look like he’s moving.
I bend down next to him and I hear the door open behind me. “Leave him, sugah. He’ll be fine.”
“He’s not moving,” I say in that lumbering way that seems too slow, even to myself.
Georgia kneels down next to me. When she leans forward to unhook the man’s space helmet, I notice I can see down the front part of her shirt. I look away. I don’t want to be rude.
“He’s only stunned,” says Georgia. She has her fingers on the man’s neck. “He’s still breathing.” She stands up. “For heaven’s sake, Edward, you got to learn to worry less about good-for-nothing-scum like Retro Rocket, here. He deserves a lot worse than this.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt him…” I say, feeling frustrated.
“Don’t give me none of that bull. You used to run for the Atello crime family. I’m sure you hurt plenty of people worse than this back in the bygone days.”
“That was a long time ago. I was just doing what I was told to do.”
“Oh, now there, there, don’t get all defensive,” she pats me on the shoulder like a child, but it does feel nice. “I only meant we’ve all done things in the past we regret. Trust me I got enough regrets to fill a grain silo the size of Arkansas. Now, come back inside, sugah.”
I look back at the spaceman.
“He’ll be fine,” she leads me back into the bar by the hand. “He just needs to sleep it off.”
Georgia was right, because when I went out later to check on him, he was gone. He must have flown off using that stupid jetpack of his. She was always right, and she was always nice to me. I like Georgia, but she didn’t seem to like that spaceman. After we went back inside the bar, she said something about how he liked small boys a bit too much. That seemed strange to me. I mean, I like boys and girls and puppies, though they tend to not like me. I guess I am kind of scary looking.
Georgia was right about something else too. I did used to hurt people, a lot. That was when they called me Two-Ton. I hate that name, but my brother gave it to me. Well, he wasn’t really my brother but we grew up together in the orphanage. We stuck together because we were both born “different.” His real name was Carlos, but most people called him Stone, on account he could turn his body to rock.
Carlos was the smart one. He watched out for me, and told me what to do. We made a group together, that we called The Heavies. We worked for a lot of people and did a lot of bad things, but Carlos always said it was for the best. “We were just earning a living,” he’d tell me, but then he up and died. So, I had to go to work for the Atello family.
Mr. Atello -he liked it when people called him Don but that wasn’t his name- said Carlos was killed by a rival crime family because he was late. At the time I didn’t know what he meant, because I was always late to get to places, and Carlos was always the one waiting on me. I’m very slow. I understood later that Mr. Atello meant Carlos had been killed because he owed some very bad people a lot of money.
So, with my brother gone I had nowhere to go. Mr. Atello gave me a job, but it wasn’t like working with Carlos. The Atelloes didn’t treat me nicely at all. They always called me names, just like the kids in the orphanage used to do. They always wanted me to hurt people too, even to kill people. I did it, but I didn’t like it. Mr. Atello’s favorite was when he had me squeeze people till they didn’t move anymore.
It was the only life I knew till I met JJ. The Atello family wanted him to pay something called protection, for his bar, but JJ refused. Mr. Atello said I needed to teach him a lesson, but it was JJ who taught me the lesson. He showed me a better way. I know it sounds kind of sappy, but it’s true. Then he offered me a job. I still have to hurt people sometimes, but usually they deserve it.
I always thought that it’s kind of funny how you get reminded of a thing and then it keeps popping up over and over again in one day. It was like the time when I was telling JJ how much I liked peanut butter and on that same day I found half a peanut butter sandwich waiting for me in the backroom. JJ called it good luck, but today it wasn’t good at all. It was bad, very bad luck.
It happened when I was outside checking people waiting to get into the bar. I have a list of people I am supposed to watch out for. Most of the time I am looking for any villains that have been banned by JJ, but sometimes I have to make sure no one is a superhero or some kind of cop. JJ says letting them in will make the customers nervous, “and when these customers get nervous that’s when things go bad,” but I’ve messed up a few times. I’m fine with admitting that.
One time I let this gumshoe in because he was dressed up like a giant honey bee with a mask. He started taking pictures for some court case, and when the other customers figured out who he was, they almost killed him. I was able to stop them, but not before they had beat him up bad. I had to carry him to the hospital and leave him in the emergency room. I felt bad about just leaving him, but JJ said it was for the best.
Now the list JJ gives me has pictures of the people I am not supposed to let in. It helps. A lot of people try to disguise themselves to look like something else, but I’m really good at recognizing faces. I hardly ever let the wrong people in these days.
One of those people I’m not supposed to let in is Antonio “The Painter,” Atello. He’s Mr. Atello’s son and he’s a certifiable psychopath. Someone once told me they call him Painter because he likes to paint walls red.
“Well if it isn’t Too-Dumb,” says Painter as he walks up to the door. The two men standing behind him in suits start laughing as if it is the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I hate that name even more than Two-Ton.
“I’m not supposed to let you in. JJ wouldn’t like it.”
“Forget that old has-been, Eddie. I’ve come to talk to you. My old man’s not feeling too well these days, you know.”
“Mr. Atello is sick?”
“Not sick enough,” says Painter. “I’m next in line to take over the family business…”
“Not if Vinnie the Octopus has anything to say about it,” says one of the men behind him.
“Would ya shut-up,” says Painter. It looks like he is going to hit the man, but instead he puts his arm around me, well as much as he can reach. “Listen, Eddie, I know you and me haven’t always been pals, but I could use a man like you in my new operation. You have a particular set of talents that I always valued. Who knows you might even become a made-man one day, if you play your cards right.”
“I work for JJ now,” I say proud of my new job, but Painter stills make me nervous. Most people call him unpredictable. Sometimes he’d be your best pal, then sometimes he’d be your worst nightmare. You never knew what mood he was going to be in.
“C’mon, it’ll be just you and me, Eddie, all the way to the top, once my old man is out of the picture. In fact, I was hoping you could help with that too. Dear old dad isn’t feeling quite himself, but the doctors say there is a chance he might recover. Now if a certain old disgruntled ex-employee were to pick this moment to exact his revenge…” he put his finger to my chest. “Such an occurrence might all but ensure my place at the top. Once I’m there, I’ll make sure you’ll be there right with me. I promise.”
“I’m done with that kind of work. I don’t hurt people like that anymore…”
“Suddenly you’re going soft on me? Who cares about the old man? Think about it, Eddie, my father’s not a very nice person. He deserves this. Then it’ll be just you and me.”
I hesitate. “I don’t know, Painter…”
“I thought I told you never to come around here.” The door to the bar swings shut and JJ is standing there looking angry. He’s using his cane today because he said the cold weather was making his leg stiffen up.
“Beat it, pops.” Painter laughs. “This is between me and my old friend, here.”
“Edward, I need your help bringing a new keg out from back. Gill broke the handcart again.” JJ looks at me as if he expects me to come inside with him.
I start to move, but Painter puts his arm in front of me. I obediently stop and put my head down. I can’t look at JJ.
“You want to spend the rest of your life working as some sort of glorified doorman in a dive bar that caters to lunatics in costumes or do you want to make something of yourself.” He rubs his fingers together. “I’m talking big cash, Eddie. Stick with me and you can afford the finer things in life.”
“There’s nothing fine about where that life leads. I’m not going to let you bring him back down this path again.”
“What’re you going to do about it, throw a calendar at me?” Painter shakes as if he’s scared, but I think he’s just pretending. Then he starts laughing at JJ. I want to say something, but I’ve never been able to stand up to Painter. He was always so scary.
“You’re a spoiled child who cares more about getting his own way then the consequences of his actions. One way or another that will catch up to you, and I won’t let you drag Edward down with you,” says JJ quietly. His eyes have this look like I’ve never seen before. It makes me feel cold inside.
“Choose your words carefully, old man. I don’t take no disrespect from anyone, especially senior citizens such as yourself. You don’t want to see what I do to guys who cross me. They say I’m crazy, you know.”
“I’ve known plenty of people like you in my day. You claim to like the mayhem, the chaos of it all, but it’s a cover. The truth is that you’d rather burn the world than face it. You’d rather kill your own father than confront him. When you come right down to it, you’re nothing but a coward.”
Painter is suddenly angry, so angry that he turns red. “Teach this has-been a lesson.”
One of Painter’s guys takes out a small club and laughs as he walks toward JJ, but he stops laughing when JJ’s cane breaks his teeth. Then even as he’s cursing, JJ uses his cane to knock him from his feet. He places the end of it on the man’s chest and presses some kind of button. Painter’s goon screams again, like he’s being shocked by electricity.
“I had this cane built special for…” The gunshot is so loud in the alley that it hurts my ears.
JJ falls to ground, and blood is starting to stain the sleeve of his flannel shirt. I move toward him to check if he is okay, but Painter’s voice stops me.
“Stay right where you are, Too-Dumb.” He’s still pointing his gun at JJ. “Actually take a few steps back.”
I don’t know what to do. I wish Georgia would come outside, she would know what to do, but she doesn’t. JJ once told me he had the walls of the bar soundproofed so no one outside would be able to hear what was going on inside. I guess it works the other way around too. No one inside heard the gun shot.
I look at Painter. Part of me want’s to rip his head from his shoulders. Instead, I step away from him and JJ. I can’t stand up to Painter. No one ever could.
“That’s a good monster,” he says. “Now here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to pay my father a visit, and afterwards I better hear that he ain’t breathing no more. I don’t care if you shoot him or hug him to death, but I want him dead, because if he ain’t…” Painter motions with his gun at JJ. “He will be. Coppice?”
“I’m not playing.” He takes a step toward JJ and cocks the gun. “That first bullet just grazed him. I won’t miss a second time. You know I don’t miss, or at least your old friend knows I don’t miss… What was his name, Juan?”
“That’s it. He was in some heavy debt to us. Normally we’d just break a guy’s legs if he owed us that much money, but with your buddy’s powers my father thought it was just better to cut our losses and make an example out of him.”
“You killed Carlos?” I look at JJ still lying on the pavement and I think about what it felt like to lose my brother. I don’t want to lose JJ too. They say I’m slow to do most things and that includes getting angry, but not this time. I feel my fists tighten so hard that they’re shaking. Suddenly, it starts to get hard to see anything else but Painter, and I don’t feel afraid of him anymore.
I don’t think he even noticed as he keeps talking. “My first shot took your friend in the head. He never even saw me. I couldn’t give him the chance to turn into that rock form of his, now could I? Now, I’m going to do the same to your new boss, unless…”
I run at Painter and now it’s his turn to be scared. He points his gun at me and starts firing. The bullets tickle as they hit me. I ignore them. I am usually so slow, but now I move faster than even I thought I could. I grab the gun and most of Painter’s hand. I squeeze till I hear something break and he starts screaming. It’s the second time I’ve broken someone’s hand today, but this time I don’t feel so bad. I toss him against the alley wall with a yell. Part of the brick crumbles when he hits.
His last goon in the suit drops his own gun and holds up his hands. “I weren’t thinking of doing nothing,” he says as he helps up the man JJ took down. Together they run off down the alley leaving Painter where he is.
“Are you okay, JJ?” I ask as he stands up.
“It’s a scratch.” He picks up his cane. “Take your friend over there and put him in the dumpster behind Constantine’s Bakery on the corner of 8th and Helios. It’s owned by Vinnie the Octopus. I’m sure he’ll be very interested in the discovery one of his employees makes tonight when they go out back to dump the stale bagels.”
“And, Edward,” he hesitates as he opens the bar door, “hurry back. I still need help with that keg.”