They weren’t making muggers like they used to.
After trolling for about an hour through the unseasonably warm May night, here was the second he’d found—or rather had found him. Jack was wearing a Hard Rock Cafe sweatshirt, acid-washed jeans, and his I New York visor. The compleat tourist. A piece of raw steak dangling before a hungry wolf.
When he’d spotted the guy tailing him, he’d wandered off the pavement and down into this leafy glade. Off to his right the mercury-vapor glow from Central Park West backlit the trees. Over his assailant’s shoulder he could make out the year-round Christmas lights on the trees that flanked the Tavern on the Green.
Jack studied the guy facing him. A hulking figure in the shadows, maybe twenty-five, about six foot, pushing two hundred pounds, giving him an inch and thirty pounds on Jack. He had stringy brown hair bleached blond on top, all combed to the side so it hung over his right eye; the left side of his head above the ear and below the part had been buzzcut down to the scalp—the Flock of Seagulls guy after a run-in with a lawn mower. Pale, pimply skin and a skull dangling on a chain from his left ear. Black boots, baggy black pants, black Polio T-shirt, fingerless black leather gloves, one of which was wrapped around the handle of a big Special Forces knife, the point angled toward Jack’s belly.
"You talking to me, Rambo?" Jack said.
"Yeah." The guy’s voice was nasal. He twitched and sniffed, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "I’m talkin a you. See anybody else here?"
Jack glanced around. "No. I guess if there were, you wouldn’t have stopped me."
"Gimme your wallet."
Jack looked him in the eye. This was the part he liked.
The guy jerked back as if he’d been slapped, then stared at Jack, obviously unsure of how to take that.
"What you say?"
"I said no. En-oh. What’s the matter? You never heard that word before?"
His voice rose. "You crazy? Gimme your wallet or I cut you. You wanna get cut?"
"No. Don’t want to get cut."
"Give it or I stab you in the uterus."
Fighting a laugh, Jack said, "Wouldn’t want that." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. "I left my wallet home. Will this do?"
The guy’s eyes all but bulged. His free hand darted out.
Jack shoved it back into his pocket.
"You crazy fucker—!"
As he lunged at Jack, jabbing the blade point at his belly, Jack spun away, giving him plenty of room to miss. Not that he was worried about any surprises. Most of his type had wasted muscles and sluggish reflexes. But you had to respect that saw-toothed blade. A mean sucker.
The guy made a clumsy turn and came back, slashing face-high this time. Jack ducked, grabbed the wrist behind the knife as it went by, got a two-handed grip, and twisted. Hard.
The guy shouted with pain as he was jerked into an armlock with his weapon flattened between his shoulder blades. He kicked backward, landing a boot heel on one of Jack’s shins. Wincing with pain, Jack gritted his teeth and kicked the mugger’s feet out from under him. As the guy went down on his face, he yanked the imprisoned arm back straight and rammed his right sneaker behind the shoulder, pinning him.
And then he stopped and counted to ten.
At times like these he knew he was in danger of losing it. The blackness hovered there on the edges, beckoning him, urging him to go Mongol on this guy, to take out all his accumulated anger, frustration, rage on this one pathetic jerk.
Plenty accumulated during his day-to-day life. And every day it seemed to get a little worse.
He knew now the origin of that blackness, where it hid in his cells. But that didn’t make it go away or any easier to handle. So when one of these knuckle draggers got within reach, like this doughy lump of dung, he wanted to stomp him into the earth, leaving nothing but a wet stain.
A thin wire here, one he Wallenda’d along, trying not to fall off on the wrong side. Spend too much time there and you became like this jerk.
He did a ten count and willed that blackness back down to wherever it lived. Let out his breath and looked down.
"Hey, man," Polio fan whined. "Can’t you take a joke? I was only—"
"Drop the knife."
The bare fingers opened, the big blade’s handle slipped from the gloved palm and clattered to the earth.
"Okay? I dropped it, okay? Now lemme up."
Jack released the arm but kept a foot on his back.
"Empty your pockets."
Jack increased the pressure of his foot. "Empty them."
He reached back and pulled a ragged cloth wallet from his hip pocket, then slid it across the dirt.
"Keep going," Jack said. "Everything."
The guy pulled a couple of crumpled wads of bills from his front pockets, and dumped them by the wallet.
"You a cop?"
"You should be so lucky."
Jack squatted beside him and went through the small pile. About a hundred in cash, a half dozen credit cards, a gold high school ring. The wallet held a couple of twenties, three singles, and no ID.
"I see you’ve been busy tonight."
"Early bird catches the worm."
"Yeah? Consider yourself a nightcrawler. This all you got?"
"Aw, you ain’t gonna jack me, are ya?"
"Interesting choice of words."
"Hey, I need that scratch."
"Your jones needs that scratch."
Actually, the Little League needed that scratch.
Every year about this time the kids from the local teams that played here in the park would come knocking, looking for donations toward uniforms and equipment. Jack had made it a tradition to help them out by taking up nocturnal collections in the park.
The Annual Repairman Jack Park-a-thon.
Seemed only fair that the oxygen wasters who prowled the place at night should make donations to the kids who used it during the day. At least Jack thought so.
"Let me see those hands." He’d noticed an increasingly lower class of mugger over the past few years. Like this guy. Nothing on his fingers but a cheap pewter skull-faced pinky ring with red glass eyes. "How come no gold?" Jack pulled down the back of his collar. "No chains? You’re pathetic, you know that? Where’s your sense of style?"
The previous donor had been better heeled.
"I’m a working man," the guy said, rolling a little and looking up at Jack. "No frills."
"Yeah. What do you work at?"
The guy lunged for his knife, grabbed the handle, and stabbed up at Jack’s groin—maybe thinking he’d find a uterus there? Jack rolled away to his left and kicked him in the face as he lunged again. The guy went down and Jack was on him once more with the knife arm yanked high and his sneaker back in its former spot on his back.
"We’ve already played this scene once," he said through his teeth as the blackness rose again.
"Hey, listen!" the guy said into the dirt. "You can have the dough!"
Jack yanked off the glove and looked at the hand within. No surprise at the tattoo in the thumb web.
These guys were starting to pollute the city.
"So you’re a Kicker, eh."
"Yeah, man. Totally dissimilated. You too? You seem like—"
He screamed as Jack shifted his foot into the rear of his shoulder and kicked down while giving the arm a sharp twist. The shoulder dislocated with a muffled pop, nearly drowned out by the high-pitched wail.
He hadn’t wanted him to finish that sentence.
The Rambo knife dropped from suddenly limp fingers. Jack kicked it away and released the arm.
"Don’t know about the rest of you, but that arm is definitely dissimilated."
As the guy retched and writhed in the dirt, Jack scooped up the cash and rings. He emptied the wallet and dropped it onto the guy’s back, then headed for the lights.
He debated whether to troll for a third donor or call it a night. He mentally calculated that he had donations of about three hundred or so in cash and maybe an equal amount in pawnable gold. He’d set the goal of this year’s Park-a-thon at twelve hundred dollars. Didn’t look like he was going to make that without some extra effort. Which meant he’d have to come back tomorrow night and bag a couple more.
And exhort them to give.
Give till it hurt.
Excerpted from By the Sword by F. Paul Wilson
Copyright@ 2008 by F.Paul Wilson
Published in 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.