After a late lunch and more hot coffee, we hit Nevada Street just as the feeble sun dipped beneath the horizon, and the snow flurries stopped. On this gray day, it would only be a short few more minutes until full-dark. It was not a good time. It was the time of day when the rough guys come out to play. It was the time of day when bad stuff happens. I could see a couple of rough guys just down the street and on the other side. Skulking next to an abandoned car up on cinder blocks. A couple of “gangstas.” Complete with hoodies. Bulges in the pockets too.
I didn’t think they were sacks of candy.
I figured we probably had five good minutes before the shit would start.
Trouble was—Brick wanted ten.
We stood on the sidewalk in front of the old house, leaning on an ancient and rickety picket fence. I could see that Brick was lost in thought and memory. He didn’t seem to notice or care that we might just be a couple of sitting ducks. Jedediah ‘Brick’ Wahl didn’t carry weapons of any sort. Not even a pocket-knife, as it turned out, and wise-guy Johnny O’Brien had left Old Betsy back at the hotel, thinking there would be no use for it this day. I wanted to do things right. I wanted to be legal. Being legal might just turn out to get me killed, I thought.
I felt just a little naked and vulnerable. My hand almost reflexively closed around the watch. I transferred it to my outside jacket pocket—ready for instant use. It was probably the best weapon I owned, although at this point, I had not begun to routinely think of it that way. Little did I know I had a better weapon yet, just waiting to be put into action.
“My father was born here,” Brick began. “The man who created me. Well, not actually in the house. In a hospital over on Seven Mile and Meyers. It was called Grace Hospital. Long since gone now. Torn down years ago to make way for a Home Depot.”
“Progress, I guess.”
“This was a beautiful house then Johnny, back in ’49. And a lovely street as well. Tree lined. It was like a tunnel driving through them in the summer. Dutch elm disease killed them all. There was one in the front yard that arched over the house. The leaves rustling in the summer breezes was the most soothing sound I ever remember hearing in my life. The windows stayed open all night in that pre-air conditioning times. The music of that tree would lull you to sleep sometimes.”
“This was what we used to call a ‘neighborhood’, my friend. Everybody knew each other. All kinds of businesses and stores and shops within just a block or two. All gone now, of course. Empty, burned-out, or bulldozed away. Everyone that’s left—well, they all stay inside. Afraid of the night.”
He had been right. The “neighborhood” had turned into what closer resembled the surface of the moon. Looked to me that he daytime here was little less scary than the dark. It was hard to see the near ruin of the building in front of me as having ever been a livable residence, much less a nice house. I couldn’t quite squint my eyes that much.
Death and destruction had long ago come to Nevada Street. As in The Never-ending Story, the nothing was everywhere.
“The Detroit riots were in ’67, but it was even pretty decent back when I was a kid in the seventies,” Brick continued. “But then something happened. Something went bad. Something moved into the city. For the want of a better word, I guess I’d have to call it ‘Evil’. Sure, you can blame the economy, blame the Democrats, the Republicans, General Motors, the post-industrial revolution period, or whatever else you like. But you just can’t get around the fact that the goodness here took a hike, and Evil moved in. Most of these empty houses are used now for doing drug deals, and for the dumping of bodies after the deals go bad.”
“The houses here used to be close together. Most of them are gone now. Long ago burned down for the insurance money. I’m surprised, Johnny, that dad’s old house survived. He worked for a while right next door at an appliance store, garage and gas station. It was called Ned’s. It burned down a long time ago too.”
I looked around. Where Ned’s used to be was an empty and weed-infested parking lot. On the other side of the house was a vacant space. A brief outline of what was once a basement was the only evidence that a structure had ever existed there.
Brick went on. “Right across the street, was the Detroit Bank and Trust.” Now it was a tenement liquor store, complete with flea-bag apartment on the second floor. “Around the corner I used to run to Perry’s Butcher Shop to pick up stuff for mom to make for dinner. Next to that was The Rainbow Bar. Gutted now. A gang-banger hangout. A guy with no legs used to sit right over there on the corner of Nevada and John R. and sell pencils. He did a good business too. Everyone liked him. Johnson’s Milk was a few blocks up on John R. It came in glass bottles, Johnny. Glass bottles. The house was heated with a coal furnace. The coal was delivered by the quarter-ton, from a company called Blue Diamond. Dad shoveled the coal into the furnace all day long in the winter. At night he would bank it up so it would last longer.”
Brick was in memory lane. I could see that I was going to have a tough time getting him out of it. I could also see that the two goons down the street had decided to make their move. Brick and I must have looked like easy pickings for them–a quick payday.
They had pulled their guns. A couple of rather pricey and nice looking high-capacity semi-automatics. The two gangstas held them down low, next to their sides, with their fingers on the triggers, as they hot-footed it toward us. From the way they went about it, it looked to me that this was probably not their first attempted robbery.
“Time to go Brick,” I said. “We’re about to have company.”
Brick continued to stare at the house for a few seconds more. “Are they definitely coming at us?” he asked.
“Definitely,” I said, again wondering how the man was seemingly able to see out the back of his head.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Brick replied, as he slowly turned to face the two rapidly approaching men.
“Why is that?” I asked.
Brick sighed. “Because I really don’t like to hurt people.”
The two goons reached us. I guess so as not to be stereotypical, one was an African-America. The other was a white-guy. Neither looked like they had recently graduated Princeton. The guy on Brick’s right, the black-guy, was the first to throw down, turning his pistol ninety degrees, to a much more cool-looking “gangsta” horizontal plane, and pointed the muzzle about twelve inches from Brick’s forehead. I’ll call him “Bandana Head.” The other genius, the white-guy, kept his gun at his side, but idiotically advanced to within three feet of us. Him I named “Hat on Backwards.” Bandana started to speak, but for some odd reason, the words never left his mouth.
My hand tightened around the watch as I began to reach for Brick. It was time for us to say bye-bye. This what not exactly what I had intended, and was certainly not the best way to illuminate Mr. Wahl vis-à-vis the watch, but circumstances being what they were, I figured I had to do what I had to do. Mr. Brick was going to be in for a fun-house ride in a moment or two—sans the funhouse.
My hand never reached him.
I swear by all that is holy, I never saw the man move. Just as suddenly as he had appeared before us, Bandana Head was crumpled on the ground, and clutching wildly at his throat, trying his best to breathe and get some air into his lungs. Magically, Brick was holding Bandana’s pistol in his left hand, and just as magically, used it as a very effective pair of brass knuckles to smash directly into the face of Hat on Backwards. As Hat cascaded to the concrete, unconscious long before his face plowed into it, Brick deftly snatched his pistol from his hand as well. He now had a firearm in each hand—not bad for a guy that had just stated he would never touch one again.
He didn’t keep them for long.
Brick jacked back the slide on each pistol, ejecting the round from the gun’s chamber and then popped both of the magazines. Then, holding each pistol by the butt, he smashed first one and then the other hard down onto the cement sidewalk, severely deforming the end of both barrels. They weren’t round anymore, and damned sure no bullets were going to be shot out of either one of them anytime soon. Not at least without blowing the gun to smithereens in the process.
Having completed that maneuver, Brick casually tossed what was left of each of their heat onto the chests of each man, and said to me, “You ready to go, Johnny?”
“Jesus H. Christ,” I stammered. Under normal circumstances, I don’t really like to invoke the name of Deity, and certainly in in vain, but this seemed like a pretty good time to make an exception to that rule. I looked at old Bandana still choking on the ground, and asked if Brick thought he was going to be alright. I could see that Hat had pissed his way too loose and sagging pants. They didn’t look all that stylish anymore.
“He’ll be fine, Johnny. For about the next ten days though, he’s going to be eating only ice cream, and probably through a straw.”
“How did you do that?” I stammered again. “What did you do?”
Brick smiled. “An old trick my mother’s father taught me when I was a kid. It’s always held me in good stead.”
“What do you call it?” I asked.
“Move fast and hit hard,” he replied.
“Bet you didn’t have too much trouble with bullies when you were a youngster.”
“Never more than once, I have to admit,” he said, again with a grin. “Come on, Johnny. Let’s get out of here before the reinforcements arrive. I’ll treat you to a beer on the way back.”
“After that little display, my friend—I might just take it. And by the way, Brick—I’ve thought it over. You’re my partner.”
In another few moments, we were back in the Town Car, turning off Nevada Street and onto Woodward Avenue, heading back downtown toward the Hilton. I had been right. It had turned into quite a day after all. And it wasn’t over yet, either.
Not by a long shot.
Thanks so much for reading. In a few more days, we’ll finish Part One of THE RECKONING. See you then. Have a great day everyone!
Dumb Pun of the Day:
I’ve been reading a really good book on Anti-gravity. For some strange reason, I just can’t seem to put it down.