Jack could feel the coldness already, although he had been lying in the alley for only a few moments, at least as far as he could remember. It wasn’t the coolness of the evening, or the time of the year. He knew that the cold chill of death was touching him. There was an awareness that he hadn’t long to live, but he wouldn’t have chosen any other final act, had he the choice.
It had been an epic battle straight out of the books of Louis L’Amour, beginning with the reason he entered it in the first place. It might have been heroics, but mostly it was chivalry. But this hadn’t happened in a desert, a forest, or even in a western town, yet the values were the same. The sanctity of a woman was involved, and of the most importance in his eyes. He would pay the price for it, the ultimate price, but one he couldn’t avoid, wouldn’t avoid, and hadn’t avoided.
It started with his unusually sharp hearing ability. The muffled cry caught his attention even as he stood just short of the blaring horns, the coughing engines, and the scattered yells that guided the taxicabs alongside but not into each other.
The dull voice, a low giggle, also guided him, but not away from the danger of a collision, but instead into one of a more personal response. He waved the cab off and turned down the block, across the front of a clothing store, and towards a dark alley almost too narrow to pass down. In fact it wasn’t really an alley at all, but merely the distance between two buildings that had risen too close to each other, yet not wide enough for a vehicle. It was wide enough for pedestrians, if one was foolish enough to enter it, or even to pass too close to it’s foreboding shadows.
His eyes peered around the brick corner of the dress shop where he had seen a young woman leaving just moments before the interruption of his taxi ride. He couldn’t help but to noticed the slender body, the skirt that ran eloquently down to the bottom of her shoes, muffling the sound of them on the sidewalk. The stripes that ran it’s length were met by more of the same that ran vertically over the blouse, but swerving and curved as they amplified the angles and swellings of her upper body.
His eyes naturally followed the sweeping curves of the lines upward until they were dispersed by the sharp collar that flared out from the bosom, the top of it covered in blond curls that dropped down from underneath the delicate hat perched on the top of her head, slightly angled. It also had a dip in the brim that concealed her face, but gave him the glimpse of a pink cheek, reddened over the cheekbones.
He hadn’t seen her eyes. He didn’t dare or he would have been drawn into them, instinctively guessing that they couldn’t be anything but beautiful. All women dressed so eloquently had beautiful faces, nothing could ever convince him otherwise. He turned his head before reality could confuse his preconceptions, alter his dreams. Even then he realized that it wasn’t only the clothing, or the makeup, but just being feminine itself was enough to draw him in heavily to her.
There wasn’t any room in his life for women, especially a beautiful one. He had no such right to claim such a woman, especially not to consort with one of them. It was a gloomy thought about his own appearance, as rough shod as most faces could be in his opinion. He placed her image in the back of his mind, but couldn’t push it back too far, her sight far too appetizing, even as little as a glance that he had taken of her. Perhaps this is why he had heard the cry for help, wanting badly to hear something from that direction, although preferably not a muffled scream of fear. He amplified it in his mind and knew that it was what he had heard. There was only one course of action that he could take, even if it meant seeing her face in all it’s beauty, it’s infatuating glory. But he knew it could also end in another result.
As he lay in the alley he realized that it was this conclusion that he had purposefully avoided in his forethoughts. He thought only of the woman and her safety, because it was the only thing he could think of once he had heard her voice. Even muffled, it was a dream, a prayer, and a symphony calling him to his fate. It was a call of the sirens of old, urging sailors to their inevitable fate.
Beyond the depth of the two buildings was a true alley, running behind the two structures, crossways to the space that the two of them shared. It was illuminated by a single light, itself dangling from the rough wooden pole erected for its ability to spread the illumination to the distance of the alley. It was out of his sight, around the back corner of the dress shop, but it created shadows that moved against the wall of a building on the other side of the alley. They grew as the figure making them approached the wall, then shrunk and disappeared as they stepped away from it. He could make out a couple of different shadows as they jumped in and out of the light and created these shadows, he hoped there were no others that weren’t between the light and the side of the distant building, hidden from him.
As he approached he could hear several voices mixing their coarse, deep sounds with the tiny voice of the woman. Her denials continued, the fear causing the thin voice to raise into almost a squeal that was difficult to hear, even as he stepped quietly down the dark space between buildings. He heard the teasing voices and was happy that it had only gone that far before his arrival.
Only once did he strike a bottle lying there, causing a single clink as it spun and hit something hard. It wasn’t very loud and he doubted that anyone could hear it over the increasingly loud voices and the shrill squeaking of the woman. He stepped more carefully as he had learned and didn’t make a single noise the rest of the distance to the alley.
A loud and fear inducing laugh echoed between across the alley, and the squeak paused, cut off suddenly, perhaps by a hand across the throat. The fearful thought made him move quickly as he stepped into the lightened area of the street light. He was not calmed by the sight he saw ten feet from him. As expected, a large man had his single hand around the throat of the woman. The larger man turned in the alley that was now also occupied by the nearly equally large man who had emerged from the same space where the assault had begun. His smile was wicked and showed no fear, perhaps only amusement. He had good reason to smile.
Jack’s face was finally confronted with the face that he had avoided seeing back on the street. He paused, seeing a face that even his delusions would have had a hard time creating so well. Her face turned right into the light above and glowed into the eyes of her intended rescuer. The tears already run down her cheeks leaving them streaked, light colored marks that ran to her chin and disappeared under it to run down her throat. But those tears remaining were pooling in her eyes, making them appear even larger, increasing the darkness of her makeup induced shadows. They also cause Jack to hesitate, to stare into them dangerously.
He fell with his eyes full of stars, but not those of beauty or of the night. These were impressed on his brain as something heavy struck him cleanly on the back of his head. A third man had stood behind him, and it only took a second before he struck, while Jack was still dazed by beauty.
Even stunned, he rolled over quickly and spun, dragging his body towards his legs, and nearer to his attacker. He swung a foot at the knee, but it jumped backwards quickly, out of range of the kick intended to break, or at least twist the kneecap. In was his misfortune to land on a bottle or other rubbish, sending his feet out from under him and landing him on his side. Jack was on him instantly with a crawl as quick as any spider could have achieved.
He fought the man’s arms as they tried to grab his collar and shoulders. Giving up on that, he struck him cleanly with a fist to the side of Jack’s head. But as he punched he allowed that side of his defenses open. Jack struck a quick return blow to his head, then followed it by several more punches spread across both sides of the man’s face as he lie on his back.
But his face was only hurt, it didn’t stop him. He finally grabbed the arm of the last punch Jack threw and pulled it sideways with both hands, while suffering a few more blows to his unprotected face form the other fist. Pulling the arm outward and down he threw Jack off of himself and into a roll. He stood up as quickly as Jack. His face was bloodied, but mostly bruised by the hardened knuckles of Jack’s fists. He spat out a bit of blood as the two men eyed each other during the momentary pause as they evaluated each other.
Suddenly Jack felt a sharp pain in his side as a second man hit him just below the ribs from behind. It was a powerful and unprotected blow that bent Jack’s knees. As he crouched from the pain the man kicked him just below the back of the knee. Only Jack’s experience had saved him from a dislocated kneecap. His weight had shifted and the leg, although bruised on the back of his calf muscle by the kick, was knocked in front of him.
Catching his balance quickly, he shifted it back to the kicked leg and spun on it painfully. As he bent over into a defensive crouch, his trailing leg brought his foot up into the face of the first attacker. He clearly heard the crunch as his boot ran headlong into the nose of the man he had had on the ground. The man stumbled backwards until his shoulder blades collided with the brick of the building behind him. His head must have hit it also as he slid down until he was sitting on the debris kicked there by endless feet.
But these were experienced street fighters just as Jack was, and as he stood to see if his victim would rise again, he was grabbed across the upper arms and held very tightly. He tried to throw his weight one way, then another, but the arms that held him were very strong. He also tried to lean forward to throw the man over himself, or even to throw them both to the ground, but he was held up by the strength of the man’s shoulders and his balanced stance.
While attempting to get free of the grasp, Jack looked down the alley. It was clearly no longer used for vehicles because it had been blocked at both ends by fencing just higher than most people’s heads. Jack could only guess that it was done for the safety of the shops on either side of the alley, probably to keep thieves from robbing them from back windows and doors. Shortsightedness or a lack of communication kept the cracks between buildings from being blocked also. This made the alley a playground for the gangs that was even more safely hidden from the police. Even at a glance Jack was sure that the fences were routinely climbed or jumped over for access from the dark side of the population. The woman had been dragged into hell.
Looking downward, Jack finally noticed that the assaulting man had his leg extended between and in front of his own, giving him the leverage that kept Jack from tossing him over his head. Jack stomped on the top of the foot as hard as he could.
The scream deafened Jack’s ears as the surrounding arms let go suddenly. He surely had broken several bones in the foot, the crackling sounds assuring Jack of his success. Jack turned quickly and drove an uppercut into the chin of the one-footed man with all the strength he could gather from his shoulders. The man’s pain opened mouth snapped shut and crunched as several teeth broke into shattered pieces and flew in all directions. The blood that followed quickly hit Jack in the face. He felt the warm sticky splatterings hitting him from the top of his forehead to the base of his neck. The rest of the body collapsed backwards, propelled slightly upward first by the force of the hard fist at the end of Jack’s wrist, then crashing against the wall behind him.
Jack glanced in all directions, making sure that there were no more bad guys lurking behind or around him. One body still lay against the block wall, while the other lay flat halfway across the alley. It didn’t seem to be moving.
Jack faced the large man holding his charming victim by the throat. If she could speak at all it was so little and thin that he could hear none of it. Her arms weakly flailed, pounding against the wrist that held her slightly off of the ground. One shoe dangled from a toe while the other had rested in the filth of the alley.
The large man grinned at Jack. Jack did not grin back. He thought that if these two henchmen were lesser than the big man himself, he was in a world of trouble. Besides his size, with the strength able to hold the woman off the ground with a single arm, he hadn’t a single reason to fear Jack. He lifted the woman a foot off the ground and laughed while Jack cringed just from the imaginable pain the woman must have felt.
But her fighting decreased and he feared that she may have lost consciousness, or her life. Slowly her arms dropped until they dangled at her sides. Without a fear of Jack, the man looked into the face of her, wrapped his lips over half of her face in a neanderthal-like kiss, and laughed so loudly that it echoed across the walls of the alley. It seemed to Jack that he was the only one able to hear it.
He carelessly tossed her towards the wall of the building. Only her unconsciousness kept her from striking her head against the bricks. Instead she collapsed just short of it into a heap of blood-spattered stripes. Her face was illuminated by the street light and Jack feared the worse when he saw the blood on her. Then he saw the long lines of darkness running down either side of the big man’s face.
She hadn’t had much of a defense against the strength and size of him, but she had scored what she could until he overpowered her and held her at arm’s length. The parallel cuts were obviously deep because Jack could see where the skin had puckered and separated, filled by dark blood that still ran down and dripped off of his face. Jack had no doubt that the man probably laughed at her as she dangled afterward, but cuts like that had to hurt no matter how tough he was.
As he thought of it, the man turned towards Jack while bringing his hand to his face. He rubbed the back of his hand across his wounds gently, telling Jack that he had been right in his assessment. He might even have seen a cringe as the man’s hand touched it, but it was hard to tell with the shadow of his forehead blocking the light from above.
“Speed.” Jack thought as he approached the man. It was his only hope to survive. Even a man as big as him might be very quick, but it was still his only hope. As fast as Jack could he threw six punched directly into the nose of the slightly larger man. About the third strike, slightly off-center, he heard a crunch as the cartilage of the nose broke. A small amount of blood trickled from his nostril as he stopped yet another punch from hitting him in the face.
His hand covered Jack’s easily, even though the size of their bodies were roughly the same. This guy’s hands were huge. Jack winced as his fingers were slowly crushed into each other. There was only one escape, and Jack swung his free hand to the elbow of the arm and hand that were mangling his hand. Instead of hitting it, he dug his finger into the joint as deeply as he could. It wasn’t easy as the man’s muscle was a tough as a football, fully inflated with cement.
Suddenly the hand released, but not before a matching fist smashed against the skull of Jack. He was thrown sideways and landed with his back against a wall. Fortunately while Jack rolled himself back to his feet, the man rubbed at his elbow. The paralyzing intrusion by Jack’s fingers must still have been numbing the rest of the man’s arm.
His grin suddenly gone, he stepped over to Jack, but not within reach by the crouching man. Jack sidestepped until he no longer had his back against the wall. He gave up his protection from behind, but had much more room to maneuver afterward.
Jack tried another punch, but the fist was grabbed at and nearly caught again, only a severe jerk pulled it free before it too began to be crushed. He landed two quick punched to the throat with the other hand as he freed the other. The big man backed off two steps, coughing while holding his throat. Jack smiled then, seeing revenge for the treatment of the woman.
While some martial artists have been known to build up their strength to keep from being hurt by the most sensitive blows, even kicks to the crotch, this bad guy hadn’t developed those skills. Jack saw it as his only remaining hope. He kicked him several times in the groin, until the top of his foot hurt from bouncing off from the least-well directed blows, those that rattled off of his thighs before the groin.
The man crouched in pain, but still able to stand. Jack stepped back out of arm’s reach, having gotten closer with each kick, his leg getting more exhausted with each delivery of a blow. Using a side kick he slapped his foot into the jaw of the victim, hearing a snap before the jaw dropped uselessly. The brute lifted his hands and cradled the broken jaw, unable to speak, and unable to smile also. Jack liked that part of it the best.
A final blow was a solid direct-line strike with the foot, the whole weight of his body behind it. His head snapped forward, then backwards as the body careened against a wall. Jack was sure he had heard more crackling bone breaking sounds, but he thought that he might have hit the already broken jaw along with the neck. He stood in front of his victim, waiting for it to either step forward, smile, or fall.
Suddenly Jack felt a sharp pain piercing his back, this time above the bottom of the ribs. Jack knew instantly that this was not a fist or some other blunt instrument. It was also silent, and shoved him as the hilt of the knife struck his back with the force of a fist behind it. He felt it being withdrawn, which was just as painful as the stabbing had been. It seemed to burn like the knife blade had been heated to red hot intensity. Because he flinched, the knife also turned as it emerged, cutting more tissue than the first cut.
Jack spun quickly, fearing both a loss of consciousness as well as another stabbing. The palm of his hand struck the very near face of his attacker right under the nose and rose upwards. Jack was sure that the strike was probably fatal, driving his nasal bones into the brain as intended. But he wasn’t finished. As he bled he twisted the knife in the hand and wrenched it free. With a single movement he ran the very sharp and very large blade across the throat of the dying man. Blood spattered Jack once more as the arteries were severed and the head nearly fell off backwards.
Turning once more, he ran the knife over the throat of the still stunned and standing large man. More blood spattered Jack, but it was only mixing with his own. The knife had gone cleanly through his chest and had opened a wound between his ribs.
As he fell he noticed the woman had stood up and had been watching in horror as blood flew everywhere. With his last conscious effort he pointed down the opening between the two buildings. He never saw whether she left or not, passing out on his way to the ground.
He still lay there when he opened his eyes slightly. He could no longer feel the pain of the slash through his body, his face didn’t feel the pain of fists pounding it, and he no longer felt hatred for the assaulters of the woman. But he was sure that they had died before him. He was numb except for the coldness that was creeping through his body. Sometimes it felt like it was coming outward from his bones, but then his skin would chill him, causing a shudder of discomfort. The motion cause some feeling of heat, or was it pain, he wasn’t sure. He relaxed, as it was the only thing he could still do.