Chapter Twenty-Four: Besieged
Now, the attendants of the senators carried clubs and staves which they had brought from home; but the senators themselves seized the fragments and legs of the benches that were shattered by the crowd in its flight, and went up against Tiberius, at the same time smiting those who were drawn up to protect him.
When I got down to the front door Sari was inside getting up off the floor and Gavin was trying to shut the door against the crowd, fighting their bodily surge like a scene out of a zombie movie. Another young guy—couldn’t have been much older than twenty—was standing with us in wide-eyed shock. His ball cap was on backwards and his now reddened cheeks still had traces of baby fat. I could tell just by looking at his frozen expression that part of him that had been unblemished by spontaneous acts of violence was forever changed. He was the other bouncer, the one who had probably spent his hours at the door flirting with the girls and putting on a show of toughness to guys as harmless as he, and who had now encountered true danger that will change his life in some small but lasting way.
Gavin finally got the door shut against the mob who might have spent a hour in line only to find the place suddenly closing. We all watched him part cursing, part laughing, part muttering oaths to the higher powers that be. Now he breathed heavily and looked out a peephole in the door.
I asked Sari, “What happened?”
“I came down to tell Gavin to shut the place down. I didn’t need to, he got spooked.”
Gavin turned toward us, still under the influence of Masterpiece Theater, “I think I heard one of them bloody Russians waiting in line.”
I asked, “Why, what did they sound like?”
“Well it wasn’t English and it wasn’t Spanish.”
“It’s good you did that. Alan sent some of his Russian goons. They could be outside and they might even be inside already. We have to watch everybody. We invited you into our group text. Let us know if you see anything suspicious.”
“Right, old boy.”
I took Sari by the arm, pulled her aside, and whispered into her face, “I think Rayne knows.”
Sari laughed, “She thinks she knows. Don’t worry. Right now she probably thinks lots of crazy stuff. The three of them did an astounding amount of the mix. I’d be surprised if she didn’t come up with that idea.”
We had walked out into the main bar area and stood checking out the crowd which now numbered several dozen. The bar was busy, two or three deep with partiers trying to get a drink from two overtaxed bartenders. It was the kind of demographic you’d expect here: mostly white and all in their twenties. Standing out were the smattering of non-whites and one bald guy, probably an uncle that tagged along to drink the booze and ogle the girls. This kind of population did not help spot the millennial children of Soviets here to spy.
Sari spoke over the music and without a break in her scrutiny of the crowd, “We have to pack up and get out of here.”
“He’ll just follow us wherever we go.”
“We can lose him.”
I didn’t think so--he and his Slavs seemed too determined and resourceful--but I said nothing.
After getting nothing from me, she said, “I called the ferry captain. He’ll be here four o’clock. We just have to make it until then, then sayonara to this place.”
Gavin was now standing beside us. I felt like I needed to do more so I told them I was going to walk around. They agreed it was a good idea and we all broke up to better watch the crowd.
I swiped an empty bottle from a table to carry as a prop as I mingled and watched. I went to the sliding doors that led to the dock and the sand, counted nine people, most of them smoking or vaping or just hanging around as second-handers.
Out of a nervous desperation I texted our group: Anything?
Rayne: Nothing that we can see. I see you though. :-)
I was drawn to the area near the bar where the stairs went upward. The mix was up there, the gun, Rayne. I was about to look up the stairs when a figure caught my eye. They had turned at the other end of the stairwell no more than a dozen feet from where I stood. I recalled there was a wait station there, a place where servers rang up orders on the computer, got sodas, hung out. It was similar to the one upstairs where I hid the mix. But there were no servers at this hour, only bartenders at the bar. All employees had been accounted for.
I walked quickly toward the alcove trying to spot Gavin or that other bouncer kid to no avail. The alcove was dark when I pushed aside the curtain, but there was light to the side, light for the stairway to the basement. I took a step closer to the top of the stairs and just before they turned out of view at the bottom I saw a lady’s legs and on them those distinctive fishnet stockings. That was no waitress. It was the girl I had seen on the beach while waiting for Alan.
I texted to the group: Basement
I went down the stairs quickly and as quietly as I could, the noise from upstairs receding with each step. At the bottom I looked around the corner. To the left were rows of canisters with hoses leading out of them. They supplied the soda fountains. To the right were shelves with plastic containers, boxes. Ten feet straight ahead was the door to a walk-in freezer. The rest of the basement led from there off to the right. I went forward and looked around the corner. The unfinished basement extended fifty feet straight back, cinder block walls lined with supplies, a series of fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling. She was walking slowly to the back, texting on her phone, reading it. She was tall for a girl, maybe five-ten. Blond hair, cut-offs, sandals.
I looked at my phone. One reply.
I checked the girl. She had come to the end of the stretch. What was she doing down here? Should I just go after her, confront her?
She was looking upward, then reached up and fiddled with something. I put the phone in my pocket, decided to go after her, walking quickly, my approach unnoticed.
Something she was struggling with gave way, metal banged, then hinges creaked. It was a door, some kind of delivery door for the soda or the beer. She was letting somebody in. How had Alan described them? Resourceful?
Where this hatch had opened was a square of sunlight and blue sky. I was closing in on her, fifteen feet, now ten. Then I stopped and watched. A figure from outside blocked the daylight, a leg stepped down backwards into the basement, then another. He lowered his bulk and turned, ducking so as not to strike his head on the low clearance.
It was Rudi.
The girl said something to him as he took things in and immediately spotted me. He smiled like an old friend and looked like he might be about to say something. But he didn’t, he just started walking toward me. Fight or flight were my options. Stay and face this tank and surely be left for dead or turn and run and hope those biking muscles could sprint me faster upstairs than he could catch me.
But the mix still flowed strongly through my system, endowing me with a mind vastly superior in terms of strategy, judgment of tactics and most likely a kind of dumb muscle Will to Power. I could take this commie offspring with my American brawn, my constitutional Yankee aptitude for playground fights and saloon brawls.
Or so I thought. I had never actually been in a fight, never taken a punch or hit another. I breezed through life like many white guys of my species, never encountering much in the way of bullies or mean kids from the other side of town, not to mention gangs or muggers or resourceful Russians who not only will fight you, but kill you.
Rudi was on me before I could react and had my entire throat in the palm of his hand. He lifted me and pinned me against a set of shelves with boxes, random things. I kicked out, not even sure if I made contact, took hold of his wrist which was like a telephone pole shoved under my jawline into my larynx. I could feel my head filling with blood, getting hot, pulsing red. I saw the girl over his shoulder, thought desperately I could make an appeal to her, but she was on her phone, chewing gum and texting like any other blond down the Jersey shore, doing whatever they’re always doing on there.
He looked in my eyes, “Hey it’s mister big man. Going to shoot me in balls? Told you, now it’s my turn.”
With his other fist he hit me in my balls. The pain shot out from that area, leaving my entire lower torso feel like it was erupting. Vomit clogged in my lower throat under Rudi’s grasp, snot or spittle shot out onto his wrist. Even my eyes fluttered from the shock to my system. I was going to be strangled there in that basement, stupid feet dangling, balls beaten. What had happened to me that summer? Was I somehow destined to die then and there or had something gone horribly wrong and it shouldn’t be happening? I thought of that girl’s feet sticking out in the motel room, of the inevitability or lack thereof of historical events, how it would be a great social studies lesson if I wasn’t about to die then and there.
Then something changed in the room. Although my hearing was filled with a jet engine roar, like I was falling and the wind was rushing in my ears and through my head, I knew something had been said, somebody was talking. I found I had been thrown aside by Rudi like the corpse I almost became and was on my back looking up at the white strips of fluorescent bulbs. I put my hands to my throat, but it didn’t alleviate the choking feeling. Breathing was hard and when I swallowed it felt like a tennis ball was lodged in my throat. Choking sounds came out when I tried to breathe—which is all I wanted to do.
I looked up and Rudi’s back was toward me because Francesco had arrived and was brandishing something at him which had taken his attention from me. They had entered into some kind of fighting stance.
A sharp jab struck my side and I moaned and went fetal. Somebody had kicked me. I looked up and it was the Russian ice cream shop girl. She knew how to kick—and while wearing sandals. She brought back one of her fishnetted legs and was going to kick me again, but I instinctively kicked in her direction and by complete luck kicked out the one foot she stood on. It went out from under her and she fell back landing on her elbows, her phone falling and bouncing away. She scampered after it since it clearly held a higher priority than whatever else was going on.
I looked over and Francesco had a sizable kitchen knife and was dancing about with it, sketching circles and figure eights in the air with it. Rudi hovered before him with his big hands at the ready like he was blocking basketball shots. Francesco lunged at Rudi, but Rudi easily stepped backward while coming down on Francesco’s head with his fist. Francesco was propelled into the floor like somebody who had dived into water only to find it was ice. He wasn’t moving.
Since it had worked so well with the girl, I thought I would try my luck and kick Rudi’s feet out. It didn’t work—it was like kicking a tree trunk. He turned to me his gadfly, bit his bottom lip in annoyance and pulled a fist back to his shoulder to pound me. Still on the floor I scampered, I rolled, I did whatever it took to get away from him. I ended up colliding into a collection of wooden chairs that had been stacked on the other side. Rudi had gotten ahold of my ankle just as I grabbed at one of the chair legs. The whole over-stacked matrix of chairs collapsed. The sound of its wooden avalanche was something between struck bowling pins and hard candy knocking against your teeth and reverberating through your skull. Rudi’s grip didn’t lessen though and he pulled me within range of the swing of his fist.
In desperation I swung the chair I had snagged upward toward him. I lucked out again and its foot stabbed him in the side of the face. It was enough of a distraction for him to detour his fist to the chair and its impact broke it, its pieces clattering to the floor. That left me holding its wooden leg and I used it to swat at the hand he had on my ankle. It worked, I was free, crawling about on the floor like a kicked dog. I took another chair and threw it at him. He deflected it with his arm. I snatched another chair by its legs and stood holding it before me. Chairs were everywhere. He was tossing them to the side to clear a path toward me. The girl yelped and covered her head as they flew in her direction. I brought the chair back like I was swinging two bats and when he was within range I smashed it on him, aiming for his face. But again he blocked it and it broke into its constituent parts. This left me with two legs which I used to beat upon him. I got in some good shots and kept him at bay because he was shielding himself with raised arms and ducking down.
Broken chair legs as clubs. It had a historical precedent. Wasn’t it the murder of Tiberius Gracchus by Roman senators, cited as the introduction of violence into Roman politics? Weapons weren’t allowed in the senate so they improvised and used the the legs from broken benches as clubs. Those and staves. We read a primary document on it in class one year. The mob had used clubs and staves. A kid asked what staves were. I hadn’t read it all ahead of time and I didn’t know. I stood there staring at the word as if it would miraculously come to me, but it didn’t. What the fuck were staves?
That was going through my head like background noise, like a song might as I’m riding my bike. Blurbs of ancient history surfacing as I fought for my life, swatted at Rudi and tried to step through the obstacle course of scattered chairs. Now the girl was throwing chairs in my direction and yelling things in their common language. I was getting backed up against the wall and Rudi was moving in. The swatting wasn’t working so I started jabbing and that didn’t work either. Rudi got to me, swatted me with his fist. It hit the side of my head like a two by four—there was even a bonking sound within my skull. I fell to the side and caught myself on the small steps Rudi used to enter from that hatch.
I tried to swing out in his direction but missed. When I looked up I was somewhat happy to see Rudi had a bloody abrasion on his cheek and he was pissed off. At least he wouldn’t kill me without getting a scratch. Now he would tear me apart, bash my head in or something. I couldn’t find the energy to fight back. The girl called out again. Rudi had his arms out toward me when another set of muscular arms appeared around his head, one wrapped around his throat, the other at eye level. A bald head above his head. It was Gavin and he had jumped up and latched on from behind. Rudi staggered backward, clawing up at the attachment. Chairs scraped and scattered. The girl picked up a chair piece and looked at the two of them for an opportunity to club Gavin whom I saw had gotten a tight koala hold on Rudi’s upper half.
I had to help out Gavin. Rudi had moved back and slammed him against the cinder block wall. A noise came out of Gavin, an ooph from the violence of the crash and air being forced out of his lungs. But he held on. Rudi took two steps forward to repeat the backwards crush. I had gotten unsteadily to my feet and ran a fist as hard as I could up and into his gut which was more solid than I thought it could be. It actually hurt my wrist. Rudi made his own grunt and shot an angry eye my way.
The girl smashed a chair over my back and neck. It wasn’t as bad as Rudi striking me, but it made me fall over nonetheless. On the ground I cursed her. She swung a chair at me again but the legs made contact with the floor and it collapsed into pieces. I rolled. In front of my face were Francesco’s feet. He was buried under a chair or two. He had the knife somewhere over there.
Gavin made another sounded as he was smashed into the wall. I looked over. Now he was off Rudi and on the ground wincing from the impact. Rudi swung his boot at him but Gavin fell to the side and the boot put a hole in the concrete block. Gavin got up and rushed Rudi as if to tackle him. Maybe Gavin was a wrestler, wanted to get him on the ground. Rudi caught him and they locked into grappling on their feet.
I stood to help Gavin but noticed movement behind me. The girl had thought of the knife as well and was stepping through the chairs to get at it. Every instinct I had, the entire ethos of my upbringing, taught me not be rough with girls. Don’t even put your hands on them. At school the most dreaded crisis for a teacher was a girl fight. You have to break it up, but you can’t handle them too much, use much, if any, force. My life was clearly at stake, but I didn’t know what to do about her. She was young, she was pretty, she was dressed like an everyday girl down the shore. And she was intent on killing me and all my friends. Was I to get the knife and thrust it in her chest? Punch her?
She was moving a chair to get at the knife when I reached her. I pulled her up by her shoulder and she had the knife. Not having any of the stiletto in the alleyway finesse that Francesco had, she lifted it above her like they do in slasher flicks. That left me time to grab her arm. She was gritting her teeth, growling, still forcing the downward motion so I squeezed her wrist hard, harder until her grip involuntarily opened and the knife fell. Then she bit me, chomped into my chest like a zombie. I could feel the skin pull off. All that chivalry? The inculcated nonviolence against women? Gone. I punched out at her hard and it landed on her boob and she yipped and bent over holding her chest. Then I wound up and punched her as hard as I could in the side of her hard blond head and she fell over, knocked out cold.
Gavin and Rudi were still fighting, both of them emitting war cries interspersed with the expletives of battle. They were haphazardly making their way down the stretch back toward the stairs that went upstairs. They were embraced, throwing each other about, making close-quarter jabs, headbutts, knee kicks. I ran their way.
I’ve never watched much fighting on TV, but in passing I’ve seen some of those ultra violent matches where they’re locked in a cage and the rules concerning what they cannot do are limited. That’s what it looked like with these two guys. They were just trying to beat the shit out of one another, to break something or beat the other senseless so that the other is incapacitated. Gavin was big and strong and could apparently fight well, but Rudi was so much larger and didn’t seem especially worried about losing the fight. Now he was on his knees and had Gavin at the bottom of the wall where it met the floor, punching him over and over again. Gavin had his arms up around his head for protection. Rudi got up and kicked Gavin’s face with a blow limited in energy but still morbidly impactive.
I knew I was useless against Rudi. There was no point in hitting him or jumping him or trying to hold back that fist pommeling like Gavin who didn’t seem to be moving anymore. They had made their way to the other end near the walk-in freezer. There wasn’t time to go back for the knife so I looked for anything I could use as a weapon. In back of Rudi at the freezer was a two by four propping up some air conditioner or fan device. I pulled it out, got a good grip and swung it at Rudi’s head. Despite the confined space I got a good hit in. I heard the thonk against his head. His knees wobbled and he turned to me with a bloody open mouth and on his cheek a dangling eyeball Gavin had torn out. I could see the blue iris looking at me askew from the end of its stringy cord.
I knew I had to strike again quickly. There was no room and no time for a full swing so I jammed the end of the lumber into his face. His head jerked back from the impact and the eyeball lost its tethering and fell to our feet. He was so punch drunk the blow had little added effect. His arm reached for me, grabbed my shirt with his bloody knuckles and pulled me toward him. With an upward stabbing motion between us, I hit him again, this time on his chin and that snapped his head back, made a fresh rivulet of blood pour out his mouth, probably from a severed tongue. He teetered, faced me again, and pulled my shirt and me closer yet, tried to get another arm up and into the action. I grasped the two by four in both hands and forced it lengthwise against his throat, shoving him back against the wall. His one good eye looked exhausted, not quite comprehending. He stopped fighting. I put my weight into the timber and pressed his muscly neck into the wall.
Movement from the back. I thought the girl was coming back but it turned out to be a groggy and concussed Francesco. He said nothing, but ran to us on unsteady legs and plunged the knife into Rudi’s side. The side of Rudi’s face with the good eye contorted. Francesco stabbed him again and again, made some sort of cry between grief and hatred, stood there jabbing his side and chest until the sound of the thrusts became wet with blood and he still went at it like there was a valuable ore to be mined in there. Finally the one good eye that Rudi watched me with like we were old friends rolled upwards and his dead weight slid us down the wall.
I sat back and looked at the three of them. Rudi’s entire side was red with blood, his head fallen forward. Francesco sat next to him, weakly stuck him with the knife a few times, crying as he did it because Gavin was clearly dead, curled up on the floor below Rudi, his puddle of blood about to join Rudi’s pool that fanned out across the floor at a glacial rate.