It was one of those raw-boned October days in the midwest. The sky was a leaden gray and the temperature hovered somewhere down near freezing. Rain had been falling fitfully all day, sometimes harder but never stopping. A biting breeze blew the raindrops this way and that without cease.
Graham trudged down the street dejectedly. Trudged, because his POS car was sitting, dead as a stump, in his driveway. He sometimes thought that a scabarous coating of rust and a whole lot of congealed engine fluids were the only things holding the damned thing together.
As was often the case, he had put in a call and made arrangements to get the old beast running again. He had the money but it was money that could have been better spent elsewhere. Lord knows there were no shortage of folks out there with a claim on Graham's meager earnings. The wolf wasn't quite huffing and puffing the door down yet, but every day was a challenge keeping him at bay.
Graham cursed bitterly as his foot slipped on a sodden mass of leaf mold, nearly falling flat on his ass. Add a broken bone to the list of things he really did NOT need to deal with. His boots were worn and scuffed but still had decent tread in most cases. They were at least keeping his feet warm and dry.
Graham hunched his shoulders in his too-thin coat, glad that some part of him, at least, was warm and dry. If the baby hadn't needed milk, Graham would sure as hell not be out for a stroll on a day such as this. If nothing else, the mini-mart would offer him the chance to pick up some beer and a pack of smokes.
A stray breeze blew rain in Graham's flushed face and focused his thoughts nicely. It was only another couple of blocks and he would be there. Then he could look forward to the prospect of an unpleasant walk back home. As cold as it was, he knew his hands would not appreciate the walk. He ducked his head and forged on.
A long-dormant sixth sense suddenly prickled the hairs on the back of Graham's neck. He spun about, instinctively dropping into a defensive crouch. He smelled the threat before he saw the man, but there he was.
He had slipped out from behind a tall stand of hedges and was directly behind Graham just that neatly. Graham swore to himself, realizing that he must have walked right past the guy without the slightest inkling that the man was even there. Damn, he was getting old...old and sloppy.
The man was a few inches taller than Graham and maybe thirty pounds heavier but not all THAT threatening otherwise. He was looking rough, really rough, and fading fast. His skin was saggy and pale under a thick mask of dirt and whiskers. His eyes were red, sunken and a bit wild. His lips were pulled back thinly around the broken stubs of teeth in sore need of dental services.
Graham was hardly dressed GQ in his steel-toed work boots, jeans and a faded polo under his hooded coat but this fellow looked a hell of a lot worse off. His feet were mostly covered by grayish sneakers...no socks. His pants were of an indeterminate dark color under a crust of mud, grease and other substances. He wore an old army trenchcoat, belted with a length of fraying cord and, it seemed, no shirt underneath. His long, greasy hair straggled out from beneath a shapeless dark stocking cap. Yeah, looking in dire need of a VERY extreme makeover. He did have one compelling feature though.
Clutched in his grubby right hand was a pistol. It was an ugly, short-barreled automatic. The hand holding it was trembling but still more than steady enough to cause Graham concern.
Graham forced himself to hold the man's gaze. He heard a voice from his distant past harping on that a man's eyes would telegraph his intent more accurately than watching his hands would. It had been too long ago for Graham to recall if that had been good advice or not. It didn't seem a bad idea at the moment.
The man's voice was low, raspy and strained. "Easy there dude. Gimme your money, your watch and your rings and I won't have to use this thing." His head bobbed downward in the general direction of his gun before fixing Graham's gaze.
Graham cocked his head to the side, one eyebrow arched upward. "Uhh no. No, that is NOT gonna happen today, chief."
His assailant was caught off guard. "I don't think you got me, asshole. You must got a lotta money on ya to make you argue with me but I WILL shoot your ass. Now...give it up!!"
Graham straightend up slowly, his hands open and placating. "Oh no. I DO understand you. I am just NOT in the mood today...asshole. I got like eight bucks cash and a debit card that even I don't remember the PIN to most of the time. I just don't have the slightest intention of giving it to you. So, if you wanna shoot me, get on with it or I got better places to be."
The man seemed to be considering actually shooting Graham when something he had no clue of took place.
Somewhere from the deep recesses of his memory, Graham recalled himself as a far different man than he was now. He had been younger...buffer...and fearless to a fault. He had been young with no wife, no kids, no bills and no responsibilities. He had lived for the day and been ready to die at the drop of a hat. That Graham struggled up out of his monkey hind-brain and took control of him.
Standing just beyond his arm's reach was a threat. His left hand clenched into a fist and shot out and up. The back of his hand struck the man squarely in the face...hard and sudden. As the man cried out with surprise, his hands went instinctively toward his broken nose.
Graham stepped in and clamped onto the attacker's right wrist. He bent and spun, bringing the arm down and barring it as the elbow of his free hand crashed into the man's temple. The attacker crumpled to his knees, still conscious but only barely so.
Graham held the imprisoned arm outward and stepped over it. He dropped to his back and pulled, dislocating the guy's shoulder with a sickening pop. He rolled over the man's now-useless limb and knelt with both knees on his shoulder blades. He held both fists together and hammered them down with murderous force on the back of his attacker's head. Graham heard bone crunch and the man went lifelessly limp. It was over as quickly as it had begun.
Graham was breathing more heavily than he had imagined possible. His hands were shaking and his legs seemed unwilling to hold him up. His head swivelled left and right looking for any signs of anyone. The narrow street was as empty of traffic of any sort as it had been minutes before.
Acting more from instinct than plan, Graham rifled the pockets of the man. He came out with a jumble of items...a fistful of wet currency, a battered cell phone, three pocket knives of varying sizes, a pack of Camels and a dented Zippo. He transferred the items to his pockets.
He reached under the body and retrieved the handgun. He popped the magazine and locked the slide open. He retrieved the magazine and the ejected round. Damn! It HAD been loaded! Both gun and magazine were stowed away.
Graham knew he needed to get gone and fast. With an absent-minded kick to the corpse's ribs he started walking in the direction of the mini-mart. His breathing had calmed and his adrenaline rush was fading. As he walked on, Graham lit one of the Camels and sucked in the harsh smoke gratefully.
Puffing in time with his footsteps, he wondered if pawning the gun would cover the cost of the parts to fix his ride. Maybe this day wasn't going to turn out so bad after all.