It’s a cold night. The wind bites at my face and pulls at my ears as I quicken my pace toward the small record store where I’d meet my explosives contact. We’ve been exchanging messages that past two days through a hidden site on the dark net using encrypted channels. We avoid using any form of signals, as our adversaries having state of the art surveillance capabilities and could quickly squander our efforts thus far if they had any reason to be suspicious of our presence in this city. The reality is, we’ve been using couriers and dead drops since we started our mission, and it brings me great peace doing so as my growing paranoia has no room for stressing over operational security. Speaking of which, I think I’m being followed today, thus why I began jogging in this unspeakable cold.
I turned the corner and ducked into an alley that lead to the next block. I crouched behind a large brown dumpster basked in the fading light of the Chinese restaurant whose aroma aroused a fierce appetite within me. I spotted a man standing on the sidewalk with his back to me. Had I passed him on the way here? I don’t recall. He was still as a statue and after several seconds craned his neck towards me and we made eye contact. I did not move because it seemed impossible he could see me at this time of night, even with the light above me which could hardly illuminate the garbage. A tightness in the chest, a rush of adrenaline filling my gut, the muscles in my legs screaming for relief. Five minutes passed and the man had not moved until finally he was picked up by a small car with its headlights turned off and drove away.
“Are you dumpster diving?”
I jumped up and looked into the face of a teenage boy holding a black garbage bag. He stared at me harshly, his brows bent low, lips turned down.
“I can call the police and have you arrested,” he said.
I stared into his eyes and stepped closer. “I’ll cut your eyes out and drill holes in your knees, you little snitch.”
The boy dropped the bag of trash and nearly fell in his hasty retreat back into the confines of the greasy establishment. I chuckled and continued my journey to the record store and felt a pang of regret for drawing unnecessary attention to myself. I was beginning to resent this mission. And the increasing number of people who started to follow me instilled a sense of unease. Some of them would call out my name and quickly turn their heads away to pretend it wasn’t them, a silly school boy game. And then there were times I was staring straight into the eyes of a man who would say my name and his lips would be still and I would focus intensely on his gaze attempting to extract the nuanced meaning behind his method of communication. Alas, I am yet to crack the code.
I spotted a liquor store that also seemed to know my name as it beckoned me towards its neon signs advertising Miller and Budweiser and Grey Goose. I stepped inside, triggering a sensor which emitted a musical note that caught the attention of the old woman behind the counter who looked up from her magazine to smile and say hello. I smiled back despite the overwhelming hatred I felt at her formality. Self-sacrifice of principles in the name of a greater cause, I guess. Where otherwise I would completely ignore this bitch and continue minding my own business like she should be, I had to now pretend I was just like the other sorry souls she smiled her wicked, cruel smile at; her nasty yellow teeth guarding a diseased tongue that needed to be cut out or gliding across my cock.
I plucked a bottle of cheap vodka off the shelf and twisted the cap off for a quick drink.
“Sir, you cannot do that in here,” the hag said.
I drank greedily just to spite her. Had she kept her mouth shut I would have managed the small sip and been paying and out the door by now. But she had to open her stupid mouth, so I was going to keep drinking.
“You cannot drink that in here, sir!” she said.
I brought the bottle away from my lips. “I’m going to pay for it, what’s the problem?”
A man with a buzz cut emerged from the back. He was built like a bull, his arms bulging with ropes of muscle and thick veins snaking across the forearms and neck.
“Yeah, what’s the problem, Janet?”
The old woman rose from her spot behind the counter and dropped the magazine. “I told this man he cannot drink straight from the bottle like that and he continues to do so.”
The man looked at me, then to the bottle, then back at me. “You have a hearing problem?”
I smiled, the warmth of the vodka coating my insides, my throat feeling hot and my mind growing sharp. “My hearing is just fine,” I said before taking another drink.
The old woman, Janet, let out a sigh and the man said to me, “Sir, you need to pay for that and leave immediately or I will call the police.”
“Fuck you!” I said.
“Fuck me?” he said. “Fuck me?” His voice rose to a high-pitch whine as he continued repeating, “Fuck me?” as if I had imposed a grave proposition that awakened a rage and confusion so deep that it tore him away from the confines of civilized society. Now he saw me as a true savage, and I basked in this. I had liberated this man and he was now seeing me in my true form, he was experiencing life as it ought to be experienced. One barbarian pitted against another, flesh against flesh, bone snapping bone.
I welcomed the first blow that made my jaw crack. I fell backward into a rack of mixers and caught my balance before he launched another comically large fist into my face. I tightened my grip around the bottle in my hand and brought it crashing against his temple, a tear welling up in my eye mourning the utter waste of good medicine on this beast. The blow sent him to his knees and I shoved my boot into his mouth breaking several teeth against the steel toe. The old woman was screaming now, screaming and begging me to stop. I straddled him and held the broken bottle against his throat. His eyes went wide and he tried to speak. Nothing but blood and chipped teeth bubbled out and I spat in his face and told him I was going to come back and kill him and the hag behind the counter for hassling me because I was brown.
I stood up, dropped the bottle piece and reached into my back pocket for my wallet and pulled out a twenty, then fished for sixty to pay for the man’s deductible for his hospital visit.
I dropped the bills on the front counter and said, “This is what happens when you open that disgusting mouth of yours.”
I sent a musical note into the air as I passed through the doors and shuffled back down the street, the icy wind relentlessly pulling at my face like the clawed hand of a bear pulling me into its den. I always felt this perceptible resistance whether it be from the cold, heat, fear, or desire. It was always there, and I was always dancing with it, and tonight my tango had just begun.