Brent hung his head down and filed in. He hated P.E. and made no secret about it.
“You’re a fag, Marquez!” Russ Carlton spouted.
“A dickless fag!” chimed in another.
“You’re a dickless fag who sucks dick!” Now there was a chorus.
“Do it, Steinman!” Russ commanded.
That was the cue for Gary Steinman, a skinny, pathetic-looking kid with a generous brown bush of frizzy, crumpled hair, to fall in line behind Brent. With both hands he grabbed the waistband of Brent’s shorts and underwear and pulled down with all his strength, until they were dangling around Brent’s ankles. Gary’s efforts were rewarded by a cacophony of belly laughter from everyone.
As Brent pulled up his shorts and began to run away, Russ affirmed to the group: “See, I told you he was a fag!”
“Yeah, what a pussy!” exclaimed Gary.
Brent ran past Coach Nieman and into the locker room.
“Where do you think you’re going, Marquez?” asked the Coach. Brent ignored him. Then he turned to Russ. “Carlton, go get Marquez and bring him back out here."
“Come on, Steinman,” commanded Russ as he ran after Brent into the locker room. Steinman followed him like a trained dog.
Brent spun the lock on his gym locker and opened it. The locker room smelled: a combination of the stench of armpits, sweaty balls, and dirty stale socks. He was just putting a leg into his jeans when the two arrived.
“Suit up, Marquez. Coach wants you back out there.”
Brent pretended not to hear Russ and kept putting on his street clothes.
“What are you, deaf, faggot?” asked Steinman.
“I heard you. I’m not going.”
“Get him, Steinman," Russ said as he shoved Gary Steinman into Brent, slamming Brent’s back against the locker. Like a cobra, Brent came back at Steinman, grabbing his left arm, which he twisted behind his back, and applying pressure upward, causing Steinman to wince as he turned and smashed his nose against the locker door.
“Who’s the faggot now, Steinman?” Brent bellowed into his ear.
“Let him go, Marquez, or I’ll fuck you up,” threatened Russ Carlton. Brent ignored Carlton and kept up the pressure.
“What’s going on here?” Coach Nieman’s voice boomed through the locker room. Brent wouldn’t let go. He pushed harder on Steinman’s arm until he thought it would break and ground his face into the locker. Steinman’s wire-rimmed glasses bent at the nose, fell off, and hit the filthy locker room floor.
“No fighting, Marquez. Let him go, now!” barked Nieman. Brent let go of Steinman and gave him a push to the floor. “You two: back outside. Marquez: to the VP’s office, on the double!”
“This isn’t over, faggot!” said Russ, walking backwards and pointing his finger at Brent threateningly.
Brent left the Vice Principal’s office with a two-day suspension from school, which was fine by him. It was nothing but a wasteland of adolescent scum, as far as he was concerned. The classes were a joke, and the so-called students seemed to be in a popularity contest over who could be the most ignorant.
As Brent closed the door of his locker and turned around, there stood Russ Carlton and about eight of his friends. What a surprise.
“You wanna fight, pussy?” said Carlton, shoving Brent against the locker, the combination dial digging into his spine. “I’ll kick your ass!” Brent dared not shove back. There were too many of them. He popped back on his feet and Steinman shoved him back into the locker, followed by a body slam from Nate, another push from Joe, and a sock in the stomach from Briscoe.
“You call this a fair fight?” Brent said, gasping for air. “One against five?”
Russ cackled like a chicken. “The Mexican wants a fair fight!”
“I’m not Mexican.”
“Sorry, I forgot. I guess that’s not your brown skin, is it? You must have just rubbed shit all over it.” Russ laughed again, accompanied by his band of delinquents. He leaned into Brent so closely that Brent could smell his dead-fish breath, and he sniffed at Brent’s neck and grimaced.
“Smells like beans to me. How ‘bout you Briscoe?”
Briscoe stuck his big, long nose right under Brent’s earlobe and sniffed.
“Yup, beans and tortillas.”
“It’s official, Marquez: you’re a beaner!” said Russ, and roared with laughter, to the chorus of guffaws and chortles of his entourage.
“Tell you what. Steinman, here, has to earn his wings. Plus, that wasn’t a fair fight in the locker room today.”
“Yeah, he ain’t been initiated yet,” said Briscoe.
“Did I ask you, dog breath? Like I was saying, Steinman needs his first fight. Saturday, 12 noon, Knapp Park. Be there or we’ll come and get you, and I don’t have to tell you what that’ll be like.”
Russ slammed Brent back into the locker and walked away, followed by Steinman and each of the boys, until Brent fell on his butt on the concrete. He picked himself up, dusted off the knees of his filthy blue jeans, and decided right then and there that he would never back down from any bully.
He sat at the table, patiently. At first glance, he appeared like any other ordinary person, unless you looked a little bit further. Then you could see that he was different than most people. Oh, he could put on the charm and act like everyone else. But this time, he was staring – an intense, unwavering fixation that made you want to look away, run away.
“You’re pretty brave, you know?”
“Either way, this has to be settled.”
There was a darkness in his eyes – an emptiness so deep that if you were unfortunate enough to catch his gaze, you also caught a chill. Those eyes kept staring ahead – two ebony pools with no reflection; an endless void, a black hole.
“This isn’t a game, you know.”
“I know that better than anybody. You need to call this off, immediately.”
His lips curved upward, as if to form a smile which turned into a sneer. He clenched his fists tightly until his knuckles began to turn red. He was a professional. Being a professional meant not only being skillful at what he did, but also being careful about whom he did it for. And who he did it to. He didn’t like to make mistakes of judgment.
“You’ve really got guts, I’ll give you that.”
“When the stakes are as high as this, you have to. So, do we have a deal?”
“There’re no refunds. That’s a rule.”
“You can keep the money. I consider it well spent.”
He leaned forward across the table, his reptilian eyes still staring forward, expressionless and empty.
“Did you bring the termination fee?”
“Yes. It’s all there.”
A black bag was placed on the table. He opened it and thumbed through it, his eyes all the while fixed. Then a malicious, sardonic grin spread across his lips.
“Then I suppose the contract is terminated.”