Abby and the tough guys

Midway through The Shadow Hunter, Abby accompanies Raymond Hickle to the Venice boardwalk area for dinner. In this pair of scenes, which I cut on my own initiative because they weren’t strictly necessary to the plot, Abby and Raymond encounter some trouble.

* * *

"Restaurant's right up there," Hickle said, changing the subject. Abby almost answered, then became aware of trouble.

There were two of them, dressed in the baggy, oversized pants and sweatshirts inspired by loose-fitting prison garb. The taller one was black, his hair done up in cornrows, and his partner was Hispanic, with long, greasy hair bobbed in a ponytail under a baseball cap. Neither was older than twenty. They were watching her from the doorway of a souvenir shop under a striped canopy. Occasionally their gazes flicked to Hickle but never rested on him. Having sized him up already, they had concluded that he was of no importance.

They were gangbangers or gang wannabes. On the crowded boardwalk they were unlikely to try anything serious. Still, they could make things unpleasant if they wanted to. And Abby knew they did want to. She could feel it, and her intuition was rarely wrong.

Hickle hadn't noticed the pair at all. He was saying something about the restaurant. She let him talk as they passed the souvenir shop and the two watchers in the doorway.

She knew exactly how they would do it, and she was right. As the shop receded, the two young men drifted out of the doorway and moved up behind her.

"Hey, lady, where you going tonight?"

"You look so very fine. What you be doing, hanging with this punk-ass loser, anyway?"

"Yeah, lose this loser, like my man Fresh tell you. You don't wanna be wasting your time with him, corazon, when you got us around."

Hickle heard the voices and glanced at her, and she said evenly, "Don't sweat it, Raymond. Keep walking."

Their assailants trailed them, clinging like shadows. The smaller one chattered at high speed in a nasal monotone. The one called Fresh expressed himself more slowly, relishing his performance, taking time for emphasis, drawing out the sounds of words with an actor's finesse.

"You ain't letting this guy get any, are you, sweet thing?" Fresh purred. "Any of that honey-sweet pussy, what I mean. 'Cause this here pooh bear sure don't look like he deserves a lick of that honey pot, no way."

"You can do better than him, corazon."

"Shit, he got pimples on his neck. You see that, Freddie? Red splotchy blotchy stuff all over his pasty white neck ..."

"Whoa, I see it, Fresh. That's fucking gross, man."

"Motherfucker that ugly don't hardly deserve to live."

"Me, I ain't got no pimples. Check me out, corazon. I'm a grown-up man."

"Me too. Second that -- what my man Freddie laid on you. Ain't neither one of us no pimple-faced faggot."

The last word made Hickle stiffen, and Abby heard his slow exhalation of breath. She glanced back at the pair. "You guys ought to get some new material. The stuff you're using is lame."

Fresh was offended. "We be making conversation, is all. We see a foxy, sweet thing like you strolling along, looking so fine, and we want to get to know you, see? Now you tell your boy good-night, and we go clubbin', don't you know? We show you a good time."

"Make you happy, corazon."

Abby tried again, using her best level stare. "Make yourselves scarce, okay? You're getting on my nerves."

"We be getting it on, all right," Fresh said, "but it ain't your nerves we're after, sugar pie."

"You need a guy with cojonescorazon. That's us. This guy you're with ain't got no balls --"

Hickle turned, facing them for the first time. "Shut up," he said with an effort at menace that was defeated utterly by the tremor in his voice and the blinking of his watery eyes.

Freddie and Fresh laughed. "Got a problem, Stridex?" Fresh asked. Stridex, Abby recalled from her teenage years, was a brand of acne cream.

"Shut up," Hickle said again, "and leave us alone."

"Ooh, you hear that, Freddie? The Stridex man is giving orders now."

"He a real tough hombre," Freddie said with a sharp-toothed, vulpine grin.

"Why don't you let your lady fight for you?" Fresh pumped his lanky arms in a parody of shadowboxing. "She ain't so scared as you, white boy. She could maybe take us, what you think?"

Abby figured this was true, but she could hardly demonstrate her streetfighting skills in front of Hickle without blowing her cover. "Come on, Raymond," she said softly.

She led him to the restaurant, only a few steps away. Behind them Freddie clutched his heart in a melodramatic appeal. "Don't leave us, corazon!"

"Ain't healthy to eat too much of that stringy white meat, sister," Fresh advised. "You need to taste some sweet, sweet chocolate from time to time."

"You need what I got!" Freddie pumped his hips.

"You need a real man, baby, not some sack of pimple pus. He won't get you hot where it counts. He can't light your fire 'cause he don't got a fuse --"

Hickle pivoted, racked by an internal explosion of rage. "Fuck you!" he screamed. "Fuck yourselves, you -- you fucking garbage, you worthless shit ..."

He was out of breath and words. Abby pulled him inside the restaurant, closing the door, but not before she heard Freddie say in a wounded tone, "He call us shit, Fresh."

His partner, more ominously, said nothing at all.

* * *

[After dinner, the tough guys make a second appearance.] 

Before leaving the restaurant, Hickle excused himself to use the men's room. Abby stood in the doorway watching the boardwalk. The crowds were heavier than before, the music louder. Yards away, bursts of flame ballooned out of the darkness and vanished with a hiss -- a street performer was blowing fire. She smiled at the applause of the spectators, and then her gaze settled on Freddie and Fresh waiting on the concourse a few doors down.

They hadn't liked being called shit and garbage. They had loitered near the restaurant for the duration of the meal. They meant to cause more trouble. Serious trouble this time.

Abby glanced back inside. Hickle wasn't around.

"Oh, hell," she murmured.

She stepped out of the doorway and walked toward them, meeting Fresh's gaze. He was the alpha male.

"Where's your date?" Fresh asked as she drew close.

"I ditched him. So were you serious about getting it on?"

The two kids exchanged a glance. "Sure was," Fresh answered warily.

"Let's do it then. In here."

She moved away from them into an alley between two of the shops. They hesitated, then followed. She let her purse slide down from her shoulder until she was swinging it lightly in one hand.

"You mean it, corazon?" Freddie asked.

Abby smiled. "Hey, I thought you guys were up for a little action." She walked deeper into the shadows. Whitewashed brick walls rose on both sides, high and windowless.

"This is a fuckin' alley, lady," Freddie said.

"So? You never did it in an alley?" She twirled the purse.

"Somebody could see us, is all."

"For me that's part of the thrill." The three of them were in full darkness now. "You're not scared, are you?"

Fresh took charge, stepping boldly forward. "Fuck, no. We ain't scared."

"Ain't scared," Freddie echoed, following his lead.

Abby faced them. "Great. So who goes first?"

"Me," Fresh said, advancing another step.

"You got it."

The toe of her shoe caught him squarely in the groin, and as he doubled over she snapped two more kicks at his private parts in quick succession, and he went down in a writhing pile. Freddie yelled something, lunged for her and missed, and she whipped the strap of her purse over his head and jerked him backwards, off balance, and as he overcorrected to steady himself she used his own inertia to slam him face-first into the wall. He groaned and slid to his knees. She pulled her purse free.

The whole thing had taken less than five seconds. Abby looked at the young men huddled on the pavement in separate knots of pain. "You said you wanted to get it on," she reminded them.

She left the alley, smoothing her hair, and returned to the restaurant as Hickle emerged from the men's room. "Hope you weren't waiting long," he said.

"I kept myself occupied."

They strolled down the concourse, past a pickup basketball game played under sodium-vapor lights. Hickle's eyes darted, and he had trouble maintaining his end of the conversation.

"You seem distracted," Abby said.

She saw the swallowing movement of his Adam's apple. "I'm just wondering if those two creeps are still around."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry. The way you talked back to them, I'm pretty sure you scared them off."

Hickle looked at her, absorbing this idea. He puffed up a little, and for that moment he was the confident man he'd always wanted to be.

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