It was a little thing but it disappointed him anyway. He wanted to hear the “tink” as he threw the empty beer can on the floor behind the passenger seat of his Mustang. You could never hear that “tink” with the first can because there was nothing for it to hit against, but with each empty after that first one, the chances of hearing the “tink” got better and better. He shrugged. It was his second beer, which meant that it would have to be a lucky toss to hit the first empty. He was lucky about half the time. He could have looked where he was throwing, but that would have broken the rules. His rules. Another rule required that because he had not heard the “tink” he would have to open another can while he sat in his driveway.
He had not planned on drinking on the way home from the Food City. He had promised his wife he would not drink while he drove anymore, but a promise to her did not change anything. A promise to her was just to shut her up. Besides, a cold beer was how you took the edge off after “locking in.”
Locking in was what a pilot did once the computer had zeroed in on a target. Locking in did not mean you were going to fire on the target but it did mean that an attack was only a nanosecond away. When you got locked in, your focus on the target was complete and nothing else mattered. If the attack was triggered then destroying your enemy was all that mattered. Who else might get hurt, what it would cost, even your own pain were irrelevant once you were locked in.
He had not been looking for trouble. He was just pulling out of a parking place at the Food City when a punk kid told him, “Get your head out of your ass and watch where you’re going.” It was true, he had not been looking when he backed up and he did come close to hitting the kid’s car. But nobody talks to me like that, he told himself, at least nobody was going to do it twice. That punk would not do it twice. That’s for sure.
He got out of the Mustang and walked over to the punk’s car. He walked slowly, taking his time and glancing around the parking lot several times. He was casual and confident, knowing he was being watched, but avoiding looking at the car until he was nearly there.
“What did you say, Shirley?” he asked calmly as he leaned into the open window.
He could see the punk sizing him up. As for the kid, he was the stereotype of a wisecracking stoner: long greasy hair, pale skin, pimples, a baggy black T-shirt with some kind of monster on it, and a cigarette over his left ear.
A nice-looking, well-groomed younger girl sat on the passenger side of the front seat. Her Food City shirt made him think this was the punk’s sister. Clearly she was too classy for the stoner.
There were two good-sized kids in the backseat, but a direct stare at each one ensured they would stay where they were.
The punk hesitated, probably concerned about how he looked to his entourage, but a prolonged gaze at the intensity in the eyes that were locked in on him made the decision for him.
That was the moment he had been looking for. The moment his target realized his fate. The last slow exhale and the slump of the shoulders as the eyes went blank. He did not really even need the fight itself; the exhilaration came from the victory.
When he saw the humiliation in the punk’s eyes, he asked again, “Come on, Shirley, and tell me, what did you say?”
“Nothing,” the punk answered softly.
“That’s what I thought.”
“That’s what I thought,” he repeated out loud to himself as he sat in his driveway savoring the memory. As he rubbed his good luck piece, a custom-made gold ace of diamonds amulet hanging from a gold chain around his neck, he finished the third beer. He tossed the empty over his shoulder and waited for the sound.
He laughed. His life could not have been better. Taking the grocery bag under his arm he strolled toward his home. He never saw the person waiting in the shadows by his front door until he felt the arm around his neck. He recognized the sleeper hold, but too late to do anything about it. It was a blessing for him to be unconscious while three of his ribs and his upper right leg were broken with what the doctor said was a blunt instrument, probably the baseball bat lying next to him when he was found.