Jack Canon's American Destiny

Friday, September 13, 2013

Excerpt: Guys Named Jack by Mark LaFlamme

But that was all. Before I could complete the diplomatic line, someone shoved me from behind. It wasn’t the big knock-you-down kind of shove, but I stumbled a few steps and as I did, I reached out for Julie again. I got my arm all the way around her and pulled her close. I looked over my shoulder and there were two more of them; men in do-rags and baggy jeans. One of them was black, one was white. They were smiling or grimacing or whatever it is that thugs do. Their faces were hard and scarred and full of nastiness. They were the kinds of faces you see staring out from the newspaper pages when you read headlines like: YOUTHS CHARGED IN CABBIE SLASHING or SUSPECTS DETAINED IN HOME INVASION.

They were trouble with a capital T and in my head thoughts were whirring, trying to calculate the best course of action, but even more than that, trying to estimate the worst case scenario.

That’s what happened in the early seconds, anyway. But the moments that followed somehow grew fantastically long. It felt, I would decide later, like I was watching this drama unfold on a high-quality Blue-ray disc, one I could drop down to super slow motion just by toggling a few buttons.

The squash-nosed punk had moved closer to give me a little shove of his own. At the same time, the pair behind me spread out so that there was one on either side.

I heard one of them say: “Ain’t you a sexy little snapper?” and a second later I heard Julie gasp. Not a Hollywood “how dare you!” kind of gasp, but more a fast gush of air, as though she had been punched in the stomach.

“You don’t mind loaning us your lady, do you Homes?”

I don’t know which of them said that. Next to me, I felt Julie moving closer, trying to get her arm around my shoulders. On the periphery I saw one of the men dart at her from behind, his hand slapping at her backside. I heard Julie gasp again.

And that, as best as I can recall, is when the weirdness began.

I didn’t let Julie grab onto me for comfort. Instead, I drew my own arm away from her, placed my hand on her shoulder as gently as I could, and pushed her away. She stumbled a little bit, off the sidewalk and into the street. I imagine now that her eyes were wide, filled with pain and confusion, wondering why I was casting her off when we so clearly needed to stay together in this problematic time.

But my eyes weren’t on Julie then. My eyes were on Squash-Nose as he moved ever closer. From the corner of my eye, I could see the bricks that made up the side of a bank to my left. I estimated it to be four feet away.

Fantastically long, that moment. In it, I had time to judge the distance between myself and each man in this impromptu street party. One was two feet behind me and slightly to the right. The other was closer, perhaps a foot and a half and to the left.

I remember thinking – or rather hearing – ga. More of a sound than a word. Completely foreign to me and yet somehow familiar. The strangeness had begun.

I was breathing evenly through my nose. I shifted just slightly so that my left leg was ahead of my right. I adjusted my weight just so. I felt my hands pulling back, rising so that they were in front of my shoulders, palms out. Not a boxer’s stance. Not at all. If anything, it felt like I was inviting old Squash-Nose in to do his business.

I thought: What are you doing? Put your damn hands down, fool!

But that didn’t happen. Instead, those frantic, racing thoughts departed, like fog burning off on a hot morning. I breathed evenly through my nose and before I knew I was thinking anything at all, I thought: Dragon.

The word jumped into my brain like it was on springs. And as it did, I felt my knees bending, the rest of me dropping down in a squat. I shifted all of my weight to my left leg and then pulled quickly back. As it happened, my right arm bent at the elbow and shot back so fast I could hear it displacing the air like the tip of a bullwhip. My elbow went back like a dart and I felt it driving into the soft, vulnerable area just below the thug’s rib cage. My elbow hit that resistance and kept going, boring into that mushy zone so close to the lungs.

He released a whistle of air that was half gasp, half scream. As it departed his lips, I snapped my hand up and back, striking him between the nose and upper lip with a flat, wet sound. A moment later, I heard him hit the ground with a sound that was like laundry being dumped onto a floor.

My legs straightened and in my head a voice whispered: Horse.

I stood and faced Squash-Nose, who didn’t appear to have moved at all as his friend was so quickly downed. I faced him, but my focus was to the left. Again, before I knew it was going to happen, I spun in that direction – spun as though my ankles and feet were connected by ball bearings. I twisted to confront the thug moving in from my left and as I did, my arm went up as though I was flinging a hat into the air. The back of my wrist caught him on the inner arm just as he was bringing his fist around toward the side of my head. The blow knocked his fist off target and threw him off-balance. He stumbled dizzily in my direction and as he did, my right hand went out behind my right ear and then shot forth with the air-cutting speed of an arrow. I thought: Tiger.

The open hand blow landed square on the end of his nose. I felt it crunch beneath the heel of my palm. It sounded like a fistful of uncooked spaghetti being snapped in two.

Thug number two didn’t whistle or scream or much of anything else. There was a fast “guh!” and then he went down, landing on the sidewalk just ahead of the spray of blood from his nose.

I spun back to my original position. Horse, I thought again, and the word both soothed and fueled me.

Squash-Nose was still there. I had time to notice that the greasy smile was gone, replaced by the wide O of numb shock. My eyes flicked from his face to his right hand, which had dipped into a pocket and was now rising with a short stub of dark metal.

There was a sharp click. The knife blade that jumped into play was smeared with grime. It didn’t gleam or twinkle in the gray light. It just came at the middle of me as the attacker moved in. I forced myself to look away from the blade, cut my eyes to his wrist and arm instead.

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Genre – YA / Thriller

Rating – PG

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