Ruth, gentle as her heart was, knew what was coming, but at that particular moment she didn’t have any trace of pity left in her heart for the bully of a husband she had been forced to marry. Rupert Henderson was first to the batwings, and one look at the scene made him gasp and turn away, swiftly making his way to the backdoor even as people rushed past him to the street, led by an excited Wailer Vroom. Rupert Henderson let himself out quickly through the backdoor and made his way down the back alleys. His fear was palpable.
Jonathan Afful looked at the huge, hard man facing him. He was aware that all the boardwalks were crowded, and that finally a day of reckoning had crept up on him. For a moment he was so crippled with trepidation that he didn’t know what to do as his eyes roved and his mind raced. He was not a coward, and he was a confident fighter, but that look in the other man’s eyes spoke of a terrible retribution that broke down his iron will. But how? Nobody could escape that death on the damn Falls! Who is this man? The devil himself more like!
That aside, Chris Bawa had seen Jonathan beating his sister. Jonathan Afful suddenly recollected, in a crazy sort of way, all the stories he had heard about how the famous fight between Ted Bawa and his son had begun, and the warning the young boy had given his father about touching his sister or mother. Those stories didn’t seem so preposterous now, and as he looked at the man walking toward him he was suddenly reminded of a lion moving in for the kill. Words were not necessary between them. Jonathan Afful knew what he had done, and he knew just how vengeful the man might be feeling.
Chris was perhaps six paces away when Afful slapped leather for the gun at his waist. To him, it was far better to catch Chris by surprise and gun him down before anything unpleasant happened. His gun was halfway drawn when Chris’ hand flashed down and up in a blur of speed. This was what Uncle Chad had taught him, and this was what had saved his life in the countless death battles in prison. To Chris, Jonathan’s draw was as slow as a tortoise taking a dawn stroll.
Chris didn’t even fan the hammer of his gun because his thumb had already primed it before it cleared leather, and he shot from the hip without breaking stride, the bullet smashing into Jonathan’s gun and tearing it out of his hand. It took a second for what had happened to dawn on Jonathan, and even then it was only because he saw the smoking gun in Chris Bawa’s hand. He shot my gun outta my hand, Jonathan Afful thought, and his eyes went wide with sudden trepidation. The bastard hadn’t even broken stride, and Jonathan had not even seen his hand move! No, nobody, but nobody, could be that fast on the draw…
“You ain’t getting it that easy, pard,” Chris Bawa said, and suddenly his gun was back in its holster, again in a blur of speed. And then Chris Bawa stopped within touching distance of Jonathan Afful. He didn’t move, however, but just stood where he was, his death eyes glaring at the giant.
Across the street the windows of Sheriff Nick Cobby Grant cracked open, and although no one saw them he and Moses Ledi, his second deputy, stood rigidly and watched the drama on the street. Moses Ledi was in his late thirties, round-faced and fat, his waistline betraying a sizeable paunch. His head was huge and bald, his eyes a bit protruding. He had huge full lips and startling reddish eyes. He looked disheveled most of the time, and had a kind of lazy air that was as deceitful as it was false. Of the three lawmen he looked the less menacing. In fact, many a time criminals had picked him out for ridicule, and hadn’t lived to savour it because more often than not they ended up dead. He was fast with a gun, but that morning what he saw on the street as the scarred man drew and shot Afful’s gun out of his hand made Ledi whistle softly, his huge eyes narrowing into slits of hardness.
“Now how fast was that?” he whispered, his voice a little flat with professional envy. “Hell, did you see that, Cobby?” Cobby Grant puffed on his cigarette, rolled it from one end of his mouth to the other, and his jaw worked tightly.
“Amazing,” he said quietly. “I have a bad feeling this guy’ll turn out to be a real headache, Mo.”
“Who the fuck is he?” Moses asked.
“Chris Bawa,” Cobby Grant said and took out his cigarette and ground it out on the window sill. “Had the privilege of being at his trial in Friar Valley a decade ago. He has changed some, yes, but it is definitely him.”
“The bad Bawa? Old Ted’s black sheep? The fella that shot up Aggrey’s little girl?”
“Same motherfucker,” Cobby Grant replied.
“Ain’t he supposed to be in the clinger? Heard he got twenty years or so.”
“Nope, fifteen. I’ll bet he’s out on some pardon or something, what with all them pardons being bandied about by those clueless politicians. Would need to draw the Judge’s attention to it and have it looked into, thought. Floyd came in earlier with that story about Jack Dean being misused at Roy Sampson’s place. Sent him to check it out, but now it all makes sense. Dean tangled with this bastard, more like, and got busted up bad.” Moses leaned forward and peered hard through the window slats.
“Now that changes the complexion of things some, doesn’t it?” he said, and his voice oozed that particular brand of menace criminals had come to hate.
“Want me to break it up now?”
“Nah,” Nick Cobby Grant said, shaking his head once. “Let’s see what’ll happen now that Jonathan’s lost his gun. Ugly bastard’s had it coming to him for a while. It is bad the way he treats that little wife of his.”
“You think that big guy will gun down Jonathan?” Again Cobby Grant shook his head.
“I don’t think he’s that kind of guy. He’s pretty clever. Note that so far he hadn’t made any move at Jonathan, but is only reacting to Jonathan’s actions, forming himself a nice defense. But I know Jonathan. He might be pretty scared by now, and he’ll make the first move, you mark my words.”
“You think the stranger could win a knuckle-hustle against a man as big and as efficient as Jonathan?”
“Always been telling you that size doesn’t cut shit in a dog fight, Mo. Bawa will level Jonathan, and I’ll take him in after that.”
“Ten on Jonathan,” Moses said with a dark smile.
“Twenty down on Bawa,” Nick said.
And then Jonathan chose that particular moment to make his play. One minute Afful had been facing the calm stance of Bawa, and the next moment he let out a blood-curdling yell and flew at Bawa, fists balled and swinging. Many people claimed to have seen Jonathan swinging, going in with straight blows, uppercuts, hooks and kicks. Many claimed Bawa had not moved, and that the blows had seemed to go right through him. Those nearer, however, saw better, and they would narrate it in a different way; they were the ones that said the fight had resembled a supremely fine matador facing down a gigantic, enraged bull.
Jonathan Afful did all the huffing and puffing, but to Chris Bawa the man was as slow and as clumsy as a turtle on land. Bawa’s feet moved lightly on the ground, one moment presenting a clear target, only to vanish as the huge man honed in for the kill. Like a fine ballet dancer, Chris was always a step ahead of the giant’s move, and finally Afful stopped, panting and regarding his antagonist with eyes maddened with fury.
“A fucking dancer you are, ain’t you?” he asked in a breathless voice, and then he marched off the street and kicked out violently at one of the wooden planks forming a narrow fence in front of The Bliss. He bent and hefted a nice little rectangular piece of wood, and the crowd gasped when he turned toward Chris Bawa again.
Now the silence was total because everybody could see that such a weapon in the hands of such a brute could lay a man’s head open like a ripe melon with just a single blow, and they thought that under that circumstance the scarred man would be forced to use his gun again. What they didn’t expect was what Bawa did; he moved in to meet Jonathan Afful. The giant gripped one edge of his weapon in both hands and moved in for the kill. His first swing was a vicious arc meant to smash against the jailbird’s face, but Bawa moved his head and upper body back, and the tip of the plank whistled so close to his face that people later swore the distance hadn’t been more than a hair’s breadth.
With Jonathan’s body twisted to one side with the momentum of his swing, Chris stepped in and delivered a short right blow into the ribs of the giant. Those closest to the fighters saw the terrible agony on the huge man’s face, and those far away witnessed that agony by the great scream that emitted from the bully’s throat.
Doctor Anaman later confirmed that Jonathan Afful suffered three broken ribs in that single blow. The agony Afful felt at that moment was so intense that when he looked at his antagonist he felt sharp spikes across his vision. At that moment, like all bullies, Jonathan Afful lost heart for the fight. Maybe he would have stopped it right then if his eyes hadn’t picked up Ruth standing on the boardwalk almost directly opposite him, her face filled with an expression so smug and a sneer so contemptuous that it cut him to pieces.
Even though mere breathing was sending shafts of pain down his sides, he thundered toward Chris Bawa with a mighty roar and with his plank raised. One moment Chris was a good five paces away, and the next moment he was within arm’s length of Afful who still had the heavy wood raised. Bawa sank a fist into the huge man’s heart. The air whooshed out of Jonathan, and Bawa kicked him hard in the inside of his knee, dislocating the kneecap. Chris hammered a paralyzing blow into Jonathan’s right shoulder, and as his shoulder dislocated and the pain seared through him he screamed pathetically, and tears stung his eyes.
He dropped to his right knee, his weapon falling harmlessly from his hand, and as he gazed up into the face of the scarred devil towering above him, there was total surrender on his agonized features, and for the first time there was fear of another man in his eyes.
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Jonathan Afful was a drivelling, snivelling terrified hulk of meat at that particular moment in time. He tried to hold up his hand in supplication as terror tore through him, sure that death was knocking at his door. He knew people thought Chris was beating him because he slapped Ruth, but Jonathan knew that his attempt to kill Chris on the waterfall was having a big say in the savage beating he was receiving.
Chris slapped Jonathan so hard that blood flew out of his nose, and Jonathan keeled over to his right, smashing his left cheek on the ground. Barely conscious, he felt his hair being bunched and pulled up, and then Chris backhanded him across the mouth, splitting his lips, causing the giant to moan deeply. He would’ve fallen over, but Chris was still holding his hair.
“Come near my sister again, and I’ll kill you,” Chris said. His face swollen savagely and pained red with his own blood and spittle, a terrified Jonathan Afful tried to nod and plead.
“Pleeassh!’ he mumbled through his smashed lips. “Pleassh hasshh mersshy!” Obviously he didn’t know who Chris Bawa was. The scarred man’s right hand swung in, his fingers held together and rigid, only the thumb separated, and he crashed the space between thumb and forefinger into Jonathan Afful throat, just like Uncle Chad had once done to him in the forest. The paralyzing blow temporarily swelled up Jonathan Afful’s windpipe, choking off his air supply. Suddenly, he was on the ground, left hand scratching pathetically at his throat in a vain attempt to clear passage for air, the burning pain in his throat causing him to wheeze and gurgle in a most horrible manner, and his legs thrashed wildly. His tongue lolled out, his huge face contorted with such agony that Ruth, for all the secret pleasure she had derived from the fight, shut her eyes with a sudden rush of pity.
Foamy drool bubbled out of the Jonathan’s mouth, and he trembled wildly. The crowd watched, appalled and suddenly feeling a great deal of unease. Many thought the huge man was dying, and many turned their faces away, unable to watch a man reduced to a horrible low where he behaved like a rabid dog. Jonathan made growling sounds as he thrashed around on the floor pathetically, dimly aware that he was dying, and making him feel desperate, his heart filled with a fear he had never known in his life! And then, thankfully, the paralyzing effects of the blow ebbed, and Jonathan dragged air into his lungs, the blue of his face gradually faded, and then those who were closest heard a terrible sound emitting from the throat of the once powerful man. Jonathan Afful was weeping pathetically!
When Chris Bawa moved past him Jonathan Afful’s left arm came up defensively, covering his face and cringing from his tormentor, like a child shielding himself from a father’s cane. It was the worst kind of humiliation, the lowest depths of submission, and this was what finally ended Jonathan Afful’s once perfect reputation.
The New Territories was a hard place. Violence reigned, and life was a war. What held a man high was his pride, and to see Jonathan cringing with terror in front of another man suddenly stripped him of any modicum of fear and respect he had once carried in the town. He would go on in Little Rock, but respect for him, as dictated by the harsh unwritten laws of the New Territories, would never soar again.
“You okay?” Chris Bawa asked his sister as he turned his back to the three lawmen crossing the street toward him. Tears were coursing down Ruth’s face, but she took faltering steps and fell into her younger brother’s arms. Her body trembled as she held on tightly and cried. The three lawmen paused behind Chris Bawa, and although he didn’t turn round he was sure their hands were hovering near the butts of their holstered guns.
“You’ll come with us now, Mr. Bawa,” Sheriff Cobby Grant said, aware that his deputies, Floyd and Moses, had flanked out, their hands covering the butts of their guns.