Copyright © 2012 JL Merrow
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
There were three of them, all dressed in hooded jackets, as if they thought clichés were the best thing since sliced victims. Their hoods were pulled down low over their faces like cowls as they stalked towards me. The monks who mug, I thought, letting out a mortifying little hysterical giggle and desperately trying not to panic. I sped up a bit, but they sort of milled around me, and I found myself crowded into an alleyway.
My stomach roiled, and not just because I was crammed in next to an overflowing plastic rubbish skip with a pungent reek.
“What you got, Chinkie?” the biggest one asked. “Let’s have it.”
I hate that. I really hate it. I mean, if you’re going to be racist, at least get your facts right. “I’m not Chinese, I’m Anglo-Japanese. And I know martial arts,” I added desperately.
“Go on, then—let’s see you.” They stood around, laughing at me while I tried to remember the karate-kid pose and—crucially—what you were supposed to do next. Get your head kicked in, probably.
“You’re just a skinny little poof,” the big one said. “Come on, hand it over.”
“What?” I clutched my violin case a little tighter.
“Everything. You can start with that—might fetch a few quid on eBay.”
Another one laughed. “It’d make a good fire.”
I stepped back in horror, wincing as the back of my head cracked against the brick wall. Bright sparks of pain spread across my vision. “Please don’t hurt my violin!”
This time, they all laughed and came towards me.
I’ve never learned to fight. Always relied on my height to make people think twice about attacking me, and my long legs to get me out of any sticky situations that might nevertheless arise. All I could think of was protecting my violin. I hugged it close to my chest—which was apparently as good as painting a big Hit Me sign on my stomach, because that’s what the biggest one did.
My lungs seized, and I doubled over. I managed not to fall, but only because the wall was right behind me and the rubbish skip propped me up on one side. My violin was easily pried from my weakened fingers as I struggled to breathe.
I thought they were going to hit me again, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I curled up tight, my empty arms over my head. Oh God. I was going to die. I wondered if Stinky Cheese Guy would cry at my funeral. Would he even bother to turn up, the bastard?
Then a new voice rang out in the alleyway. A strong voice, booming with masculine authority. “Oi! Leave him alone!”
I risked opening one eye. Oh. My. God. It was Karate Crumpet. He stood at the mouth of the alley in front of a throng of gleaming white suits, bouncing on the balls of his bare feet, fists clenched in front of him and a snarl on his face.
I managed a gasping, wheezing breath. He’d come to save me, and brought the pyjama posse with him. I could have kissed every single one of them. Even the ugly ones, and the hard-faced girl with the Essex face-lift up-do.
The looks on my muggers’ faces was priceless, as they went from menacing thugs to would-be innocent bystanders in nought point three seconds. “Nuffin’ to get worked up about,” one of them said, holding up his hands. “We was just talking, all right?”
“Conversation’s over, gents. I suggest you be on your way.” There was a brief staring match, which Karate Crumpet won hands down—not that he ever did put his hands down; sensible man. I wouldn’t trust those bastards as far as I could throw them. Which was probably nowhere near as far as Karate Crumpet could throw them. The trio did that we’re going now but we could take you easy if we wanted to swagger out towards the main street.
“My violin!” I croaked, realising one of them still held it.
The hard-faced girl stepped forward and held out her hand, the ends of her black belt swinging with subtle menace. The hoodie thrust the case at her sullenly. She managed not to drop it, thank God, and cradled it lovingly as she brought it back to me. I felt horribly guilty about judging her earlier. “Here you go,” she said. “Are you all right?”
“F-fine,” I stuttered, hugging my violin.
Karate Crumpet came up to ask the same thing, his clear blue eyes staring into mine from about six inches away. I wondered briefly if a manly swoon was in order, but I didn’t want to drop my violin after they’d gone to so much trouble to keep it safe. Then I tried to take a step forwards and realised I might not have any choice in the matter.
His arm was around me in an instant. Warm. Solid. Supporting. Comforting. My libido decided it’d be willing to get mugged every day of the week if this was the outcome. My midriff, pain blossoming across it, wasn’t so sure.
“Did they hurt you?”
“M-my stomach,” I managed.
“Let’s have a look.” There was a tug on my violin case, which I resisted for a moment before common sense reasserted itself and I let it go, back into the capable hands of up-do girl.
And then—oh my God, Karate Crumpet was pulling up my T-shirt. I was caught between arousal, desperate hope no one would notice my arousal and fervent regret I hadn’t done a few more sit-ups lately. We all peered at my middle, as if it had suddenly sprouted a TV screen like a Teletubby. There was a reddish patch, but no obvious signs of massive internal haemorrhaging. “I’m okay, honest,” I protested a bit more strongly now.
“Well, I hit my head…” I put my hand up to the back of my head—and stared when it came back smeared with blood. “Oh. Ow.”
“Right, that settles it. I’m taking you to A&E.”
“I can’t!” I blurted out. “I’m meeting Keisha.”
He gave me a startled look. “You can text your girlfriend on the way.”
“She’s not…” I cursed as I remembered something more important than setting him, as it were, straight. “She hasn’t got a phone. It broke, and she can’t afford a new one.”
“She’ll forgive you. Come on, let’s get you looked at.”
“I could just go to the slam first…”
“No arguments. Lauren, can you take over with the class?” At the hard-faced girl’s businesslike nod, he turned back to me. “I’ll take you. I’m parked not far away. Right, Lauren, everyone, I’ll see you on Tuesday.”
He gave a little bow. The posse bowed back and chorused something that sounded like “Ooss”.
“But…” I held out a hand, my fingers clutching violin-wards.
“Don’t worry. Lauren will take good care of it, and you won’t have to worry about dropping it if you come over a bit faint, okay?”
“O-okay,” I quavered.
The posse jogged away, up-do girl carrying my violin, which added a nice surreal touch to the already weird sight of them all bounding through the streets. I hoped I’d get it back, but on the other hand, if I got to keep Karate Crumpet instead, it was probably a fair trade.