Courting Trouble


Kraj overheard three men talking shit about him outside. Two cars down from where his Subaru sat parked, they leaned on cars and jawed among themselves about the type of man Kraj was, based on the rosary that hung from his rearview mirror.

“Motherfucker’s some religious nut or something,” Red Cap said.

“Nah, his girlfriend put that thing in his car because she wants God to protect him,” Blue Shirt said.

“Any man drives a Subaru needs to have his wedding tackle checked out,” Black Man said. Red Cap laughed and passed Blue Shirt a bottle. Kraj wondered how they would feel if they knew the rosary’s beads had been cut from human teeth he’d personally removed with pliers and a jackknife.

“Hey motherfuckers!” Kraj yelled out the window. “Who do you think you’re talking about?”

“You a guilty motherfucker?” Red Cap said, looking up at the window. “That your car?”

“That’s my car,” Kraj said. He closed the window to the sound of the men laughing. He yanked a t-shirt out of the laundry basket and put it on, checked himself in the bathroom mirror. Still big and ugly.

When he reached the men, no one had a smile on their face. They’d spread out across the sidewalk in a loose formation. Blue Shirt gripped the bottle by the neck like a baseball bat. Red Cap had turned his cap backward, and Black Man, the biggest among them, faced forward, his hands loose at his sides. He looked ready for anything.

“You guys don’t like my car, fuck off,” Kraj said. “You disturbed my rest.”

“Who the fuck you think you are?” Red Cap said.

“You busted my noogies when you didn’t know who owned the car. I think you are all pussies.”

“Did you say noogies?” Blue Shirt said. “Are you fucking twelve?”

Black Man took two steps forward and raised his arm. That was all the invitation Kraj needed. He took a quick step toward Black Man and punched him in the throat. Black Man staggered back, choking, but by then Blue Shirt had conked Kraj upside the head with the bottle. Thank God it didn’t break, Kraj thought. He was ugly enough without scars. He felt his ear go warm and put his hand up to check for blood without knowing it. His hand came away clean.

Red Cap swore and grabbed at Kraj’s arm, but missed as Blue Shirt punched Kraj in the stomach. Kraj exhaled, tried to breathe down the pain. He clutched at Red Cap but caught the neck of his shirt instead of flesh, ripping the cloth from his body. “Fuck me,” Kraj said. He’d envisioned this going a little more easily.

“That’s right, fuck you,” Blue Shirt said. Kraj took the bottle away from him and tossed it into the street. In the same motion he picked Blue Shirt up and tossed him over the hood of the car. Black Man had recovered by now and jumped at Kraj with a roar. Kraj met him with a palm to the nose, cartilage crunching under the flat of his hand and spraying blood as the man took a breath.

Red Cap came after Kraj quickly and punched him right in the heart. Kraj took the blow with a heavy grunt and threw a poor left to the side of Red Cap’s head. It took only three more hits, one a hammerfist, for Red Cap to collapse on the sidewalk. A window opened across the street and a woman leaned out.

“I called the police on you heathens,” the woman yelled. “This is a nice neighborhood.” Kraj flipped her off and continued into the street to deal with Blue Shirt.

Blue Shirt had come to his knees, his hands raised, skinned up badly, rock embedded in his palms, Kraj saw. “No mas,” Blue Shirt said. Kraj left him where he sat. Black Man sat in the middle of the street, stupefied. Kraj kicked him in the stomach, then turned to his Subaru. He unlocked it and removed the rosary from the mirror, kissing the crucifix as he did.

No sense courting more trouble.

~ fin ~


Rusty Barnes grew up in rural northern Appalachia. He received his B.A. from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and his M.F.A. from Emerson College. His fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared widely, with stories forthcoming in Mystery Tribune and Toe Six.