And their songs were gay as fuck too, singing together in little high voices for Christ’s sake. What guy would be caught dead listening to that? But my mom played their records a lot when I was a kid, and I learned their music when I was too young to know better, and now I got this line going ‘round and ‘round in my brain: In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade . . .

My nose is fucking wrecked. It’s huge at the bridge and I don’t want to believe it’s broken, but… My eyes finally have stopped tearing up and the bleeding from my nostrils seems to have almost stopped. I can hear the drunks and the noisy fucking rap music on the radio outside as I look in this chipped ancient mirror under the antique light fixture in this old fashioned bathroom in the bowels of this rotting Victorian house. What can I say? I’m a vain son of a bitch and it pisses me off to no end. I look like a complete asshole. I’ve got my hair greased back and I shaved up nice and pretty. Even put on aftershave. I came here with every intention of hooking up with Lucy—this fucking gorgeous, stacked little brunette who works at the Bunny’s Shoes in the mall—and now I’ve got this fucking glowing Mr. Potato Head nose hanging off the middle of my face and big red splotches going down the front of my white T-shirt.

I know this dude from way back. His name is Mark Huffington, of all fucking things. He’s a boxer now, as I can attest to, and I fucking despise the motherfucker. He’s one of these white guys who are more Mexican than your greasiest vato in your junkiest alleyway in your poorest barrio. He talks like fucking Cheech Marin for Christ’s sake, but he looks like fucking Ritchie Cunningham. Except he’s tough as hell because he’s become a boxer.  I had totally forgotten that fact; I sure as hell wouldn’t have mouthed off if I’d remembered. He’s got one of those skinny builds where he looks like nothing, but underneath his shirt he’s made up of all these hard flat muscles. I’ve seen these wiry fuckers on Friday Night Fights, and only now I know exactly why I got my lights turned off. I’m about his size but I don’t run fifteen miles every morning or bounce medicine balls off my abdominals or punch a heavy bag for six hours a day or whatever the fuck he does.

He was sitting in the living room, drinking a forty, hanging out with two of his Norteno gangster buddies that he brought to this party—and talking shit, loudly, about white dudes, like he’d never looked in a mirror before. When he said white dudes are all pussies I asked him who the fuck he was kidding. I told him just quit it, dude, I remember you back in sixth grade when you used to be white too. I was pretty drunk.

He said, hey, bitch, in his ridiculous Mexican-American accent. He indicated the next room with his chin and said, keep walking, alright? You fucking stupid-looking Elvis impersonator faggot. He started chuckling and his gangster buddies said ooooohhhh and clapped their hands and laughed at that one.

I said, Elvis impersonator, ha-ha. At least I know what fucking race I am. You’re about as Mexican as fucking Taco Bell, Mark Huffington.

Then he stood up, furrowed his brow, and said, seriously, fuckhead, just keep walking before you get knocked out. I stood toe to toe with him, almost touching noses. He had this dead-faced glare and I have to admit it shook me up a bit. I just looked at him, didn’t puss out, and finally he started to turn away, saying fuck this clown.

When I said yeah, fuck you too, I saw his body spin and that was the last I knew for a minute or two. I was out cold before my head bounced off the hardwood. My next memory was trying to see through hot tears and someone was picking me up and these chicks were screaming and guys were crowding into the living room, laughing and yelling. Mark Huffington and his crew finally left amid the tumult, with promises to come back with their “boyz” and level the whole fucking house … I just wanted to crawl off for a while like the wounded animal I was. I couldn’t see for the tears and the thick, salty, coppery blood that was gushing out of my nostrils and trickling into my mouth. If you haven’t been there, to be spinning from shots of Jack and eight or ten beers, blind from tears, with your nose busted and gushing like a water main, trying to get your balance with forty screaming drunken idiots swirling around you in a cramped little living room, is no fucking fun.


Someone’s banging on the bathroom door and a girl slurs, “Come on, goddamnit!”

I sigh and look closer at my nose, touch it and wince. I smile in the mirror, just to see if I can pull it off, and I look even stupider. Fuck.

I pull the door open and walk out in the buzz. The girl, a blonde dyke-looking surfer chick, goggles at me, leaning away like she thinks my nose is going to explode all over her. I make my way through the young bodies crowding the house, wading into the overloud music—now throbbing reggae—and find my friend Devon in the kitchen. He laughs and hands me a beer and slaps me on the shoulder. “Fuck, dude,” he says. “You got drrrrrrrop’d!”

“No shit?” I say, feeling pretty pissed. My voice vibrates my nose, and I feel my eyes start to tear up from the sensation, and I get this sudden urge to drrrrrrop Devon and pull the rust-streaked old refrigerator over and smash out the window and kick a hole in the back door. But I just stand there, mouth-breathing, and nod in grim frustration.

Then I see Lucy—the thing I’ve been dreaming about—with some other chick, both sparkling fresh and still sober, just showed up, but with red beer cups in their hands . . . and Lucy sees me and her eyes get big. The cunt starts giggling with her cunt fucking friend, and while they’re leaning together and making their way out of the kitchen as fast as they can I’ve got a great side-view of one of her big perfect tits outlined under the thin white material of her wifebeater, and all I can do is breathe and shake my head . . . Those were meant for ME. I had stepped into Bunny’s Shoes and invited her to this fucking party this afternoon and she’d come looking like a fucking carnal feast for ME! But I’m nobody to her, really; just some cocky guy who hit on her at work—and now I’m a nobody with blood all over him and a swollen, red, fucked up nose.

And then the commotion. Sure, I half know what it is but a big part of me thinks it can’t really be. Everyone makes threats but who ever makes good on them? I follow a bunch of people as they wash through the living room and make their way outside and there, beyond the ancient picket fence of the front yard, are a bunch of silhouettes under the streetlamps. I can see right off it’s Mark Huffington and about ten more of his hard assed gangster buddies. Some dudes from the party are on our side of the fence and they’re all talking in these false basso, testosterone-drenched voices, and the gangsters are saying things like “fuck you, Homes,” and “Step out here, bitch!” and the white dudes are trying to negotiate, trying to come off hard but not so hard that they have to back it up with force. Pussies. Guilty as charged.

I start moving. When you’re drunk like this you seem to float like a spirit sometimes, just willing yourself along and finding yourself transported, second by second, to your destination. I’m suddenly down the steps, across the dark yard and over the shrubs and the fence and into the neighbor’s yard. I’m walking fast and businesslike, breathing heavily through my mouth, fishing out my car keys as I go. Now I’m a block up and the trunk of my old Dodge Dart is open in front of me, and I dig under the lining and take out this junky-ass .45 automatic.

I bought it for forty bucks from some fat crackhead who lives in the hills out in Cordova. Devon and me went to score coke off him and we hung out with him and did a couple of lines, just to be sociable, and he asked if either of us wanted a good pistol. Christ knows where this pile of shit got the thing, but he waddled down the hall of his burnt out, reeking mobile home and came back with this weapon in his hand.  It was pretty beat up, but something about it grabbed me. He explained it was from World War II as he pushed an old-looking clip into the handle. We went out onto his front porch and he let me shoot a couple of trees with it and it was a pretty cool feeling, having it explode in my hands and watching the wood chips spatter out from the oak trunks. So I told him I only had forty bucks and he said done, and explained that he got the thing for free. I felt kind of dumb handing him the two twenties; I probably could have offered this strung out slob five bucks. He just wanted to get rid of the thing.

Then he told me if it was ever traced back to him my days’d be numbered, and he meant it, he said. Threats from a three hundred pound crackhead who smelled like rotting pepperoni. What the fuck did I care?

I go over all this as I weigh the thing in my hand, standing in the dark behind my car, and I hesitate, but I think why the fuck did I buy it then? I slam the trunk lid and stuff the keys back in my pocket. I thumb the safety, crazily, wanting to make sure it’s off. Now I’m going up the sidewalk and I have a sideview—an outsider’s view—of all these gangsters in their baggies and their button down shirts and their bullshit pimp style they think fools anyone when they all still live with their moms. I’m moving like I’m on rails. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. I’ve got the .45 raised and I wrench my fucked up voice out of my throat to save the vibrating in my nasal passages: “MARK!” I say, and everything halts. Everyone catches sight of my gun. I’m ten feet back, so nobody can grab me, and I’ve got all these guys covered, moving the gun back and forth like I’m in a fucking Tarintino movie. “What now, bitch?” I say, straining with every syllable to keep my voice out of my nose.

But I can see—now that it’s way too late—that it’s a dumb gamble. Mark Huffington isn’t a boxer because he likes it. He’s a boxer because he’s an insecure motherfucker and he’s got to prove to the world he’s some kind of superhuman badass. And now I’ve just given him, on a platter, the chance to prove it in motherfucking spades—to stare right down the barrel of a gun and not even flinch.

He steps toward me right off, like he’s hungry for it. He has his arms out at either side, at the ready. He departs from the clump of gangsters and advances, acting his part. He’s lean and narrow and he’s wearing a baggy T-shirt with a fat gold chain on the outside. His brown hair is cut right down to the skin on the sides and gelled up hard as plaster on top. He starts closing in, crowding my space, his gaze flicking from the gun barrel to my eyes and back to the gun barrel. “What’s up, Evans? That even a real gun?” His barrio accent is thicker than ever. He can’t even help himself. “You gonna shoot me or what, Homes? ‘Cause if you do you better fucking kill me, I can tell you that.” Now it’s me and him and everyone else is a spectator. I take a step back and hate myself for it. There’s light gleaming off his cheekbone, and I see all his buddies watching, and all the partiers inside the picket fence are watching too, and in spite of myself Simon and fucking Garfunkel start in my head: In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade …

The fuckhead moves at me a little faster and now I’ve got to run or not run, and I stop and say, “I’ll do it, man!” sounding like a fucking geek, forgetting to keep my voice down in my throat.

“Then do it, Evans,” he says, quietly—a direct challenge that nobody else can even hear. I can see the wet of his eyeballs reflecting some shard of light and then he moves, fast, and in that nanosecond I’m responding to that goddamned sucker punch, flashing back half an hour to when I got dropped like a bag of wet shit, and I respond by gritting my teeth and closing my grip on that pistol like it’s his windpipe, feeling the kick and watching pieces of Mark Huffington’s forehead spatter off like chips of wood off those oaks …  

Now I’m edging backward, in shock but moving at the same time, waving the gun at all the Mexican gangsters, sliding along the sidewalk in reverse like Michael fucking Jackson spacewalking. The gun report is still echoing, the sound rolling over the dark neighborhood and washing away into town.

Everyone’s frozen except some that I can see ducking behind things. In the ringing silence I hear one guy say “no waaay” sort of breathlessly, like he’s stoned and this is a cool scene in a movie. The gangsters seem to be drawing back into the shadows, quick and quiet, like coyotes at the outer ring of a fire’s light. And I can see Mark Huffington stretched out on the sidewalk, not groaning, not shifting—relaxed is the word. Every muscle and joint loose, the body flattened against the pavement. The fucker’s dead as can be.  Realizing this, I turn and run.

No way they’ll put me in jail for this shit, it was self fucking defense. Everyone saw the guy sock me . . . I sprint up to my Dart, slow down and look at it resting against the sidewalk, but I just keep going. All those fucking high speed chase shows on TV. I know how that shit goes . . . Now I’m hauling myself over this tall wooden fence, scraping the shit out of my arm ‘cause I’m still holding the .45. I’ll cross through yards and alleyways like a motherfucking ninja. Make my way to the Greyhound station, hit up the ATM, and just vanish. But I land in the yard and fall back against the fence as this huge dog starts barking and straining on his chain. He’s just a black bulk in this light but he looks like a motherfucking Rottweiler and I can see he’s actually dragging his doghouse across the yard, inching toward me. I point the gun at him but say fuck that. I just move, claw up and fall over the fence at the other end of the yard. The whole time the dog’s going like a goddamned machine, filling his lungs and pumping out these eardrum-shattering barks like he knows exactly what’s up and wants to tell everyone where I am.

I’m clawing over another fence as I realize I’m muttering to myself—licking the warm blood off my upper lip and sort of chanting, “I am leaving I am leaving but the fighter still remains . . .” I finally land back on the sidewalk—one block over I guess—and I stand there wheezing through my teeth, bracing myself against the fence, trying to force Simon and fucking Garfunkel out of my head.  That gay ass song somehow makes everything worse, makes me wish I could just walk back to my mom’s right now—just step back through time and start over before all of this crazy bullshit. Now the fucking tears are blurring the streetlights like I’m looking through a stained glass window. I’m blinking and blinking, trying to shake off the spins, when I hear the goddamn sirens. They’re not far off and they’re getting louder by the second, layering in on top of Simon and fucking Garfunkel in my brain, punctuated by the rhythm of that barking fucking dog like some insane musical arrangement . . .  I push off the fence and start moving again. I’ve got to get the fuck away from this chaos. Jesus fucking Christ, who am I kidding? My life is fucking over.

Matthew Louis edits, publishes and contributes to the underground pulp fiction rag
Out of the Gutter.