Gray Metal Faces – March 7A

“Allez.” Meet at center, parry the head cut, riposte counter-parried, his riposte’s short. Back up, try to get him to overcommit. He’s on to me, staying back. Feint to the arm, doesn’t bite. Step forward, watch — comes under, nips the hand. Dammit. 4-2, need to change my game with this guy.

As she fastened her seatbelt, The Bird noted Double-J made no attempt to even acknowledge his own. When he turned the ignition (immediately reaching over and turning down the volume of his audio deck), she noted how the entire dashboard erupted in a sea of green and red lights, like the Christmas trees in family homes she would visit with her mother over the holidays. The music was unfamiliar but unmistakably blues, the sound enticingly exotic. From this new front-seat perspective, the interior of Double-J’s car seemed like the control panel of a spaceship, ready to take her to unexplored worlds.

Double-J twisted, black bristles of hair flying past his right shoulder as he backed the coupe out of its parking space; as he turned forward and shifted into drive, The Bird looked out the window to her right, and saw the man from the pickup getting to his feet, slowly, as if the earth beneath him had suddenly increased the force of its gravity.

As they exited the strip mall, she asked if Double-J really thought the man had been going back to the pickup for his shotgun. Double-J hmmpfed, mouth closed. “Dunno. That other dude hadn’t rushed him, maybe.”

The coupe glided into downtown Bark Bay, the traffic light at the central intersection still operating fully. Double-J turned right, then crossed two streets and took a left onto a county road.

And then the words starting coming out of The Bird. They were just arguing, she said, and the second man had gotten out of his pickup without his gun. The situation didn’t get dangerous, she told Double-J, until he had stepped in.

Double-J pursed his lips. “Guess I have that effect on people.”

She said he seemed to enjoy being a social catalyst.

“Catalyst, huh?” He smiled like a hungry man sitting down to dinner. “Like the sound of that. Y’know, that’s what I like about you, Kassie.” She found it odd that while he had been the first person to call her The Bird, he never used that name when addressing her. “You don’t need to ask questions, in order to come up with your own answers. You tell people what you see, ‘stead of asking what you should be looking at. Only time you ask a question . . . ” his voice trailed off as he glanced over at her with expectant eyes.

Is when someone knew something she didn’t, she said. Or, she added, if someone was holding back information.

She saw him lean back in the driver’s seat, arms fully extended as hands clutched the steering wheel at eight and four, satisfaction beaming from his  mustachioed face. “It’s like being on strip. Setting up your opponent, getting them to do what you want them to do. Same in the real world too — people are easy to control, once you figure out how to push their buttons.” He sighed. “It’s — awesome.”

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