The Kick In The Head
The crowd was impatient. Every few seconds someone would yell out: “Hit him!” or “Traitor!!!”
Justification and encouragement of violence were met with cheers and hollers of agreement. The Goat, whimpered ‘Please’ and ‘I’m sorry’ and similar entreaties to his captors, glancing nervously from one face to the next, hoping for just a hint of mercy, fearing the worst. Only three people were calm and still and quiet. The Boss, stoic, unwavering in his stare of the two men in the centre of the ring; Del, standing in front of the Goat, baseball bat in his right hand, left hand raised up to his mouth, almost as if he were stroking a non-existent beard in thought; and Ella, mesmerised by the scene, heart racing in anticipation of what she was about to see, unsure what she should be feeling, what she should do, what even she could do.
It was a moment in time; one of many millions of moments in the lifetimes of those gathered there. But it was a moment that to Ella seemed to be the longest, most helpless moment she would ever experience. Was she about to witness a murder? If she jumped in and tried to stop them killing him, would they kill her? What kind of person was she if she didn’t try and stop them? What kind of person was she if she wanted to see them do it? Or if she helped!?
Finally the crowd fell silent as Del raised his hand and started to talk.
“Oh, Ty” he said slowly. “Why’d you do it? You knew that we would find out and it would come down to this.”
“I’m…I’m sorry” pleaded the Goat, “I, er, I wasn’t thinking. Please…”
“No Ty, that’s not right, you were thinking. You had a choice to make. And choice is a wonderful thing, a real privilege. You have to respect that privilege and the people that have provided you with that choice.”
The crowd was silent now, hanging on Del’s every word. Only the crackling of the fire and the desperate breathing of the Goat could be heard. Del began to twirl the baseball bat in his right hand. The Goat and the crowd tensed even more. Ella held her breath. She wanted to close her eyes, but somehow just couldn’t.
“And you see, now you’ve taken a choice away from me. You made a choice and that has consequences. You were thinking. You were thinking of yourself. You chose you.”
Del twirled the bat a little faster, he shifted his feet slightly. The Goat’s eyes focused on the spinning bat, full of fear, heavy with the expectation of the pain about to be inflicted.
“And now we have no choice but to give you a message to give to your new friends…”
The crowd took a massive collective intake of breath as Del appeared to bring the bat out of the spin and into a swing.
But instead the bat fell to the floor behind Del and a millisecond later the Goat hit the sand too having been completely suckered by a harsh left hook from Del’s other hand. It was a phenomenal move and caught everyone by surprise. There was a second of silence while the crowd processed what just happened and then a mighty cheer erupted. Ella realised her jaw had dropped open and quickly shut her mouth. She glanced around and noted the Boss roaring with laughter. He had wanted a show and certainly he had gotten one.
The Goat began to stir but Del was already crouched down over him and he landed three or four more weighty punches to the head. The crowd cheered and whooped with each punch.
Now Ella closed her eyes. She did not have to see the blood spraying with every hit. She could not close her ears though to the sickening crunch as each punch smashed into the Goat’s head.
“Good one Del!” yelled the Boss. “Let the boys have some fun too.”
Del dragged the Goat to his feet and a bunch of the guys emerged from the crowd and gathered around them. Del pushed the Goat at one of the men, who promptly smashed him in the face, sending him reeling back, toward another member of the crew, who punched him in the kidney and pushed him off toward another punch, and another and another. Again Ella momentarily pondered whether these guys were actually going to beat the poor Goat to death and whether or not there was anything she could do about it. What would it mean if this man died, here in front of her? Did he deserve it? Does anyone deserve to be killed? Could she participate in such an event? Would she have to shortly once they were done with the Goat and attention turned back to her?
She became aware of a presence in front of her and opened her eyes. The Boss was standing there, smiling at her. She glanced around, looking for Del. He was no longer by the fire, nor was the Goat or the group of guys beating him up. She spotted a group of three walking back toward the parking lot, lugging something heavy. The glow from the fire obscured the view and made the darkness darker, but she thought one of them looked like Del and assumed that the heavy object they were carrying was the Goat. Or maybe the Goat’s body…
“Soooooo, Princess Ella” said the boss, “how’d you like our little show?” and then turning to the crowd “Bet she’s never even seen an R-rated movie, let alone some real life violence!” and he basked for a moment in the laughter of the crowd, like a king enjoying his court.
“I’ve seen lots…” Ella protested but she did not get to finish.
“Movies, schmoovies, honey!” and the Boss looked her in the eye and leaned in close. “This is real Princess. This is what happens at 2am. You wanna hang out with us, or on the streets in the early hours, you gotta know what you’re getting yourself into…”
“I can take care of myself!” Ella protested.
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Sure you can sweetheart! Sure you can.” and the Boss patted Ella on the cheek, like a Mafia boss who’s tired of his useless nephew.
By now Ella’s emotions were out of control, but in the same way that she always responded to her pain and anger caused by the barbs she perceived from her mother’s comments, she came out fighting.
“Do that again!” she stated forcefully.
The Boss was a little taken aback. “What?” he said.
“Do that again. Try and touch me” responded Ella.
“OK…” laughed the Boss, and he moved to repeat the tap on the cheek.
Ella swept his hand away with a quick block. The Boss reacted instantly and moved for a tap on the other cheek with his other hand. Ella dropped the beer she’d been nursing and blocked that too with her other hand and a faint smile came across her face.
“Oh, ho, ho! You think you got some moves, eh?” said the Boss. “Ok. Let’s see what you got Princess…”
Ella took a step back and positioned herself for battle. She glanced around; the whole crowd was focused on her and the Boss now, all was silent except the crackle of the fire. The Boss raised his hands, fists at the ready this time.
He swung a half-hearted left hook. Ella blocked it easily. He swung a right and Ella blocked that too. He smiled. Then threw a quick one-two, which Ella handled equally easily and cocked her head slightly to the side and looked him in the eye. He got the message and the next couple of swings were much faster and much harder. Ella blocked and ducked. The Boss swung again and Ella winced a little as the blocks started to hurt.
The crowd was trying to stay silent, but with each swing and block the ‘ooh’s and ah’s’ grew louder and louder. The Boss made another attack and this time Ella blocked, ducked and instinctively threw out a kick into the Boss’s kidney. The crowd gasped the loudest gasp that anyone there had ever heard.
“Nice!” the Boss announced as he took a step back to recompose from the unexpected attack. “Bring it on little girl. Bring it on…” he goaded.
He stepped in for another round of attack, this time he also brought the kicks. Ella was clearly fighting out of her weight class and the Boss had much greater reach with both the punches and the kicks. But Ella stood her ground, ducked and weaved, blocked and countered. Ella landed a couple more kicks, not significant enough to hurt the Boss but clear contact. The crowd was wild now. With each move the Boss was getting more and more serious. He had, not surprisingly, underestimated this young girl; she clearly had had a lot of training in tea-kwon-do or something similar and knew what she was doing. He brushed off an attack from Ella and then landed a big left hook. Ella’s block was ineffective and the blow saw her stumble backward and fall. The crowd went quiet.
Ella shook her head and composed herself. She looked around. The entire crowd was looking at her. She could feel their eyes. All of them willing her to stay down, stop the fight. But as always with Ella, she defied the crowd. She jumped back up and went straight in for another attack. The Boss had almost turned away, also thinking she would take the warning. Ella landed a kick on the slightly unsuspecting Boss before a longer, more fierce round of attack, block, counter and dance ensued. A portion of the crowd had found the courage to cheer Ella as she got back up and the noise now was deafening as the crowd cheered and whooped every swing, block and kick from both of them.
Ella thought she saw a brief opening and went for an epic roundhouse kick to the head.
At that moment a panicked Del arrived back on the scene and rushed to the pair of fighters.
“What the hell??” he demanded, “What’s going on here?” and he burst through the crowd, arms reaching out to separate the two protagonists.
Ella’s kick was indeed epic. It landed perfectly making a solid connection on Del’s face as he barged in between them like a ref in a hockey fight. Del went flying and crumpled in a heap on the floor. The Boss staggered backward from the push by Del and Ella shrieked loudly as she landed and saw what she’d done.
The crowd fell silent for a moment.
Ella clasped her hands to her face in horror and sucked-in air.
The Boss composed himself, put his hands on his hips, looked at Del, looked at Ella and slowly, slowly began to roar with laughter.
Given their cue the crowd too released their tension and started to laugh. Del shook his head, looked around slightly confused and sat back up. Ella dropped to her knees near Del and grabbed his shoulders.
“Oh my God, are you ok. I’m so sorry.” she said.
“Er, yes. Oh boy.” said Del, holding his chin and still looking a little dazed.
Everyone was laughing now and even Ella, comfortable that Del was ok began to chuckle.
The Boss took a step reached over and grabbed Ella’s shoulder. Ella looked up at him and brief wave of fear suddenly washed over her. What hell was she thinking? She just had a full-on fight with a grown-up, drug dealing (probably) gang leader! She could so easily have been killed. She still might!
“That was fucking classic!!!” said the Boss.