I headed west, toward the subway, avoiding puddles as I went. I never step in puddles in New York. They are as likely to be piss or blood as water, and the water is nothing to trust.
Before I got a block, I was braced by a large man in a ragged suit. He was not quite the size of a Clydesdale. His nose was spread over his ruined pug's face. His single eyebrow was split by a fine white scar. One ear was twice the minimum daily requirement of cauliflower, and the other was half-missing in action. If this guy's face were a road, 4-wheel drive couldn't hack it. I expected a panhandler. I didn't expect an expert blow to the solar plexus.
I can defend myself pretty well and this galoot was not too fast. But the gut-punch winded me and hurt very effectively. So I back-pedaled, flying to retain my balance.
I found my feet, sucked in a painful breath, and smashed the son of a bitch as hard as I could in the middle of his chest. His piggy eyes widened, and he whooped in air. I knew I had slowed him down. I reached into my pocket for a black-taped roll of nickels I keep for these emergencies, and cocked my fist.
He lumbered toward me on instinct and I caught him flush on the flattened schnozz with a punch that started somewhere in Canarsie. I saw his eyes go out of focus. Then I saw a red flash and a number of stars as something heavy came down upon my head, like Maxwell's silver hammer. I went down, not out, but not precisely conscious either.
As I lay on the sidewalk, I dimly saw a greasy nerd, horn-rim glasses held together at the bridge of the nose by a flesh-colored Band-Aid. In his hand was the lid of a steel 55-gallon drum, with a head-shaped dent in it. He smiled a snaggly smile, and spat on me.
"You Jew fuck! You ruined my sister's life, and I'm gonna ruin you."
Given my state of mind, I had no clue what he was talking about. I sure didn't recognize him. He gave a nod to his companion, and the thug started to kick the living shit out of me. As I writhed this way and that, I caught an occasional glimpse of my neighbors, who were watching this with the detached air of Olympic judges. I expected them to hold up cards reading "9.6".
Greaseball began a clenched-teeth commentary as his friend attempted to put me through the uprights. The gist of it was that I had somehow developed evidence that put his sister in the slam. That the client I did it for was a fucking Jew bastard, and that I fit the description as well. And that when his friend was finished I would be eating gefilte fish through a tube for the rest of my pain-wracked life.
Suddenly, a cop car careened around the corner, and the two toughs took off through a nearby alley. This is one time I was happy to see the heat.
They checked me out, and called for an ambulance. I assured them that I had no idea who had done this, but it seemed to be a grudge.
The ambulance crew arrived, gave me a quick look-see in the vehicle, and decided that I was not damaged enough to waste more of their time, or a hospital bed.