All the Rage
By Wilson, F. Paul
Tor Books Copyright © 2006 Wilson, F. Paul
All right reserved.
"What did you think?" Gia said.
"Well..." Jack glanced around as he gathered his thoughts, not quite sure what to say.
He, Gia, and Vicky had just exited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and now stood atop the high granite steps. The sun had been low when they'd entered and was well gone now. A tiny sliver of moon, a glowing fingernail clipping, hung in the sky. Below them, singles, couples, and groups lounged on the steps, smoking, eating, cuddling, hanging out. Water splashed in the oblong fountains left and right. And beyond the steps and crowded sidewalk, Fifth Avenue traffic crawled along despite the fact that rush hour was long gone. Exhaust fumes wafted up on the evening breeze that billowed the huge dark blue banner suspended above them, trumpeting the Cézanne exhibit.
Jack ran a quick apparel check, comparing his clothing to what the other museum goers were wearing. He'd gone for a slightly more upscale look tonight--light blue oxford shirt, tan slacks, brown loafers--and was pleased to see that he blended pretty well. In a bow to the current trend, he'd had his brown hair trimmed a little shorter than he preferred. He could pass tonight for a teacher or an accountant out for an evening with his wife and daughter. No one worth noticing. And that was perfect.
Jack watched Vicky doing her own scan, but hers concentrated on the sidewalk. Her dark brown hair had been unwound from hercustomary braids into a single long ponytail for her trip to the museum. He could read her eight-year-old mind: Where's the ice-cream man? Where's the pretzel guy? For a girl who couldn't weigh more than sixty pounds fully clothed, she could eat like a long-haul trucker.
He turned to Gia and found her pale blue eyes staring up at him as a small smile played about her lips. The breeze ruffled her short blond hair. She looked dazzling in a snug blue silk sweater set and black slacks.
"'Well' what?" Gia said.
Jack scratched his head. "Well, to tell you the truth, I don't get it."
"Cézanne. Why he's so famous. Why he's got his own show at the Met."
"Because he's considered the father of modern art."
Jack shrugged. "So they say in the brochure, and that's all fine and good, but some of those paintings don't even look finished."
"That's because they aren't, you ninny. He abandoned a number of his canvases because they weren't going the way he wanted."
"Yeah, well, finished or not, his stuff doesn't do anything for me. How do they put it? It doesn't speak to me."
Gia rolled her eyes. "Oh, God. Why do I bother?"
Jack threw an arm around her shoulders, drew her close, and kissed her blond waves. "Hey, don't go getting all huffy now just because I don't like this guy. I liked Monet, didn't I?" He still remembered colors of sunlight so vibrant he'd felt the warmth radiating from the canvases.
"Monet's easy to like."
"You mean a painting's got to be hard to like to be good?"
"Not at all, but--"
"Mommy, look at those men!" Vicky said, pointing down to Fifth Avenue. "They're gonna get hurt!"
Jack turned and saw a couple of middle-aged men in jackets and ties strutting through the slow-moving traffic, seeming to dare the cars to hit them. More than a couple. Jack spotted more--a dozen, maybe two dozen, all well dressed, all in their forties, all swaggering like street toughs.
A car honked and one of the jaywalkers gave the driver the finger as he kicked a dent in his fender. When the driver got out he was jumped by two of the men and pummeled until he ducked back into the car and locked the door. They high-fived each other and continued toward the museum.
On the sidewalk to the right, one of the men snatched a pretzel from a cart as he passed. As the vendor went after him, he was grabbed by three of the well-dressed goons and knocked to the ground. They kicked him a few times and moved on, laughing.
"Jack?" Gia said, and he could hear the unease in her voice. "What's going on?"
"Not sure," Jack said.
He didn't like the looks of this. Unless they were a gang of middle-aged Gypsy Kings on a rampage after knocking over a Barney's--and Jack wasn't buying that--these guys were acting way out of character. For himself he wasn't worried, but he had Gia and Vicky with him.
"Whatever it is, let's stay clear of it."
One of the troublemakers pointed toward the entrance to the museum and shouted back to his buddies. Jack didn't catch what he said, but the others must have thought it was a great idea because they started streaming up the steps after him.
"Let's move over to the side," Jack said, ushering Gia and Vicky away from the center door and closer to the column supports at the downtown end. "Soon as they're in the museum, we're out of here."
But the well-dressed goons were easily distracted. Instead of making a beeline for the door, a number of them stopped to harass people along the way. Fights broke out. Within minutes the formerly peaceful steps of the Metropolitan Museum degenerated into one large multicentric brawl.
"Oh, Jack," Gia said, pointing directly below them. "Help her."
Jack followed her point, saw a paunchy guy in a blue blazer with some sort of gold crest on the breast pocket. He was trying to nuzzle a young woman who'd been sitting alone on one of the landings, smoking a cigarette. The more she pushed him away, the more aggressive he became.
Jack glanced around. "I don't like leaving you two alone."
"Just chase him off before he does something awful," Gia said. "It won't take you a minute."
"All right," Jack said, heading down. "Maybe you could point out something more interesting to my little friend--like the fountains, say--while I see what I can do."
Jack figured he might have to do something quick and nasty to Mr. Paunch if he wouldn't cooperate. Didn't want Vicky watching.
As Jack trotted down the steps, the slim brunette had risen to her feet and was struggling with the older man who had at least a hundred-pound advantage. The expensive clothes, the good haircut, and the shiny, manicured nails didn't go with the feral lust in his eyes.
Jack was within a dozen feet of them when she shouted, "I told you to get lost!"
"Now, now, sweetie pie," he said through clenched teeth as he pulled her closer. "You don't really mean that."
She stabbed her lit cigarette at his eye. He jerked back and turned just enough to save his eye, but the burning end caught him solidly on one of his jowls. As he cried out in pain and raised his hands to his face, the young woman landed a forty-yard punt between his legs. The guy's face went fish-belly white as he dropped to his knees, holding his crotch. She kicked him again, in the chest this time, and he pitched sideways and rolled down a few steps.
The woman whirled on Jack, snarling. "You want some of the same?"
Jack stopped and held his hands before him, palms out. "Peace, lady. Just coming to help." He nodded to the battered man, prone on the steps, holding his crotch and groaning. "But you seem to have things under control."
She gave him a quick smile. "Thanks for the thought." She looked around at the melee. "What's gotten into these creeps?"
"Damned if I know. Best if you just--"
The fright in Gia's voice spun him around and he was taking the steps up two at a time before it fully registered that she was struggling with two of the middle-aged yuppies.
"Hey!" he shouted as fire scorched through him.
Vicky batted at one of the men's legs, screaming, "Leave my mommy alone!"
The man, whose round face and pushed-up nose reminded Jack of Porky Pig, turned and shoved Vicky away. "Get lost, kid!"
"No!" Vicky cried, and kicked him in the shin.
His face distorted with rage, the guy grabbed Vicky and lifted her off her feet. "You little bitch!"
Jack's anger turned to panic as the man carried the screaming Vicky toward the end of the top landing. Jack veered away from Gia and poured every ounce of strength into his legs.
"I'll teach you to kick me!" Porky shouted, raising her higher as he neared the edge.
Vicky's terrified wail rose in pitch as she saw the stone steps sloping away before her. Jack reached them just as the man was flexing to fling her. He hooked Porky's elbow, yanked him back and around, turning the guy and Vicky toward him. Jack swung his left arm around Vicky's waist and smashed his right elbow into Porky's startled face.
As the guy staggered back, Jack put Vicky down and advanced on him. With Vicky safe now, Jack's rage had room to bloom. He let the darkness boil out of its cell and take over.
If Porky had had an ounce of sense he would have run. Instead he charged. Jack sidestepped at the last second, drove his fist into the flabby belly--a solid solar plexus shot--doubling him over. And still Porky wouldn't quit. Even bent almost in half, he tried to grapple Jack's waist. Jack didn't have time to dance; he had to get to Gia. He clubbed the guy on the ear, grabbed him by the back of his coat collar and the back of his belt, and gave him the bum's rush toward the end of the landing. At the last second, Jack lifted him and sent him sailing in the flight he'd intended for Vicky. Screaming and kicking and windmilling his arms, Porky hit the granite hard and kept going, rolling and tumbling the rest of the way down.
Jack didn't wait to see him land. Turned and ran back to Gia and her attacker.
"C'mon, babe," this guy was saying as he pawed Gia. "Stop fighting it. You know you want it."
As Jack arrived he spotted a similar crest on this one's blazer. That was about all he had time to notice before the guy slapped Gia across the face.
Something detonated within Jack then and things got fuzzy. Vision constricted to a short, narrow tunnel, sound warped to a muddled roar, and he was grabbing the guy by his blow-dried hair, ripping him off Gia, and slamming his face into the base of the stone columns. Once, twice, and more, until the meaty crunches became wet slaps. Then he threw him against the museum's front wall. As he repeatedly body slammed the man into the granite blocks, Jack became aware of a voice...Gia's...shouting his name. He released the guy and turned toward the sound.
Gia stood below, on the next landing, clutching her hysterical daughter in her arms. Saying something about getting out of here.
Jack shut his eyes, forced a deep slow breath. Sounds filtered back, rising in volume. Gia's voice, loud and clear.
"Jack, please! Let's go!"
Sirens rose in the distance. Yes...definitely time to go.
But as Jack stepped toward Gia and Vicky, he saw alarm widen their eyes. That prepared him for the slam against his back and the arms wrapping around his throat in a stranglehold. The impact knocked him off the top step. Locked together, he and his attacker were pitching forward toward a granite-hard landing. Jack twisted in the air, wrenching the heavier weight of his attacker around to position the other beneath him. The hoarse voice raging incoherently in his ear cut off abruptly when they hit the steps. The other guy had taken the full impact on his back, cushioning Jack.
Jack rolled off and was shocked to see that it was the same guy he'd pulled off Gia and battered against the wall. His face was a bloody mess and he shouldn't have been able to stand, let alone attack. Wasn't standing now--lay sprawled on his back, gasping for air. Had to have at least half a dozen broken ribs. But then he groaned, tried to roll over, and for one incredulous second Jack thought he was going to get up and come at him again. But then he slumped and lay still. Guy was a hell of a lot tougher than he looked, but not that tough.
Looked around at the chaos. People shouting, screaming, punching, kicking, falling, bleeding. The Odessa Steps from Potemkin
in real life. Thankfully no baby carriages in sight.
What was wrong
with these guys? Who were they and why were they acting like a Mongol horde? None of them seemed to know when to quit. But what disturbed Jack more was their willingness to hurt. You don't see that in the average person. Most people have a natural reluctance to do damage to a fellow human being. Jack had had that once. Took him years to overcome it, to clear an area within so he'd have a space where that reluctance didn't exist, a place he could step into, a mode he could enter when necessary and find a willingness, an enthusiasm almost, to inflict damage before it could be inflicted, and do so without hesitation. Hesitate and you're lost. Maybe dead. Better to give than receive. Always.
These guys showed none of that natural hesitation. Good thing most of them were doughy and didn't know how to fight; otherwise this would have been a truly scary scene.
Jack took Gia's arm and led her and Vicky to the side and then down. He glanced back to his right and saw Porky at the base of the steps, near the fountain; he was screaming curses as he crawled toward the sidewalk, dragging one leg behind him. Jack wanted to go down there and break a few more of this particular jerk's bones, but no way he was leaving Gia and Vicky alone in the middle of this riot.
When they reached the sidewalk he took the sobbing Vicky from Gia and hustled them downtown. He noticed an adrenaline tremor in his hand as he raised it to hail a cab.
How had such a nice evening turned so ugly?
Copyright 2000 by F. Paul Wilson Continues...
Excerpted from All the Rage by Wilson, F. Paul Copyright © 2006 by Wilson, F. Paul. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.