Monday, January 14th, 2008...9:59 pm

todd moore | tasting the blood

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I found the blackjack just a few yards away from a railroad switch. It was lying right out in the cinders like it had just been dropped. I picked it up and slapped the jack head into the palm of my hand. The impact stung my skin and made the bones in the palm of my hand ache. I looked up and down the tracks to make sure nobody saw me pick it up. Then I walked down through the weeds and then through a hobo jungle before ducking underneath the old railroad bridge where I could get a better look at the jack.

It was all black, had some wear on the grip and some nicks and dings in the slick hard leather on both sides of the head. Also, on one side scratched in the leather was the word Whiskey and the words I think I killed. The rest of the sentence was either worn out or simply left incomplete. I slipped my hand into the knuckle band and let the leaded weight of the jack drag my hand down a little.

When I showed the jack to Jerry he said, How much do you want for it? At first, I didn’t want to sell it. I liked the way it felt when I swung it around and I liked the way it bumped against my leg when I slid it into my right front pocket. But Jerry kept saying, I gotta have it, I gotta have it. His old man was in the next room sleeping off an all night drunk and I was afraid Jerry would wake him up. He was a dangerous man, sober or drunk. Finally, Jerry threw a switchblade and a five dollar bill on the table and said, With that I can kick the shit out of the old man any day of the week. Come on, lets trade.

I’ll think about it, I said. I watched Jerry’s face fold up somewhere between a frown and sheer rage. Okay, he said. But I wanna do something. What’s that, I asked. Lets go down and see Frankie.

Frankie will kick the living shit out of you and then he’ll start in on me, I replied hefting the jack. Not with that he won’t. Why don’t we break it in on Frankie, Jerry said. He smiled and the white scar on the right side of his face smiled, too.

We found Frankie sitting on a bench outside Reno’s Billiards. He was reading a Batman comic book and only looked up when he heard the steel clips on the bottoms of Jerry’s shoes clicking on the pavement. Frankie put the comic book down and said, You coming back for more of the same. Frankie had one eye. He’d lost the right when somebody had smashed a long neck beer bottle across his face and a sliver had stuck in his eye.

Jerry waited for Frankie to come in close. Frankie’s main thing was to get you around the neck with his left arm and then deliver half a dozen cheek breaking blows with his right. I’d seen him fight before and he always operated the same way. He was big enough and strong enough and never had to change his tactics.

As soon as Frankie hooked that arm out to make a grab, Jerry ducked in and slammed Frankie hard in the face with the jack. I heard it connect. It sounded like something crunching underfoot. Frankie stepped back, almost stumbling. He had his right hand up to his face and there was blood at the corner of his mouth. You motherfucker, Frankie said. The words came out of him like a low growl.

When Frankie rushed in, Jerry was ready. He meant to hit Frankie in the nose. I remember once when his old man was trying to tell us how to fight. Go for the nose, he said, lunging around the room drunkenly with his fists held out against the black air. The nose is what you wanna break. Shatter the nose.

Jerry’s blow caught Frankie just above the right ear and mussed up his ducktail and he almost went down but caught himself on the sidewalk. When he stood up he had a thin streak of blood starting to come out of his hair. Jerry was laughing and that really got Frankie. The laughter that came out of Jerry was thin and high pitched, just this side of a howl.

Frankie said, Now, I’m gonna kill you real good. He walked toward Jerry with both hands out. He was big and his hands were big and the blood on his face gave him a spooky, desperate, broken look. Jerry stepped back from the first roundhouse and then walked in swinging the jack from high up, bringing it down hard across the middle of Frankie’s face. I’d heard that sound before. It sounded like my old man’s razor strop when it landed. Frankie was just starting to fall sideways and Jerry was right there hitting him again and again. One in the jaw, one across the eyes, one in the ear.

Frankie was still in midair when a guy called Crackers ran out of the pool hall and grabbed Jerry from behind. By this time Frankie was sitting on the sidewalk with the blood coming down his face in three streams. He was trying to get up but his legs wouldn’t work and after a couple of tries he just stayed there, shaking his head, with the blood going in all directions.

When Jerry broke free of Crackers the blackjack came out of his hand and bounced once on the sewer drain before it rolled through the opening in the iron grate and splashed in the gutter water below. Crackers looked over at Frankie who was still shaking the blood off his face and said, You want me to call the cops? What, Frankie said, trying to get hold of a parking meter so he could stand up. I said do you want me to call the cops? Fuck the cops, Frankie said. No cops. Okay, Crackers replied. But you little fuckers better take this shit down the street before I change my mind.

Jerry winked at me and we walked a block to the movies. An old double bill of George Raft gangster films were playing and the usher knew us and let us slip in for free. I bought a large coke and a popcorn. Jerry said he wasn’t hungry and then ate half of my popcorn anyway. There was a scene where Raft uses a 45 auto to pistol whip a guy and Jerry said, See that. He was shaking all over. Then Jerry leaned close and said, I tasted his blood.

You what, I asked. During the fight I tasted his blood. And, you know what. It tasted so good.

Todd Moore books are available via the Metropolis Shop Page here…

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