(J01E05) Red Letter Day – II

Violence is never a good idea.

I learnt that right after my first dust-up in school, while sitting outside the Principal’s office (the other guy was three years older so they didn’t call my parents after all. Police intimidation tactics are imported directly from our educational system, I believe).

The reason violence is never a good idea – which I learnt as I held my knuckles under ice after the next dust-up – is because it is a damn sight easier than neeti or diplomacy or negotiation. As a last resort it fits the bill perfect-o, but use it any earlier and you risk forming the most expensive habit on the face of the Earth.

I’m pretty sure the two guys shredding books in my apartment knew that as well as I (the third happened to be taking a leak as I burst in); so, in retrospect, the subsequent dust-up was none of our faults.

I thrashed both dudes senseless, and enjoyed it more than they did, but we were sorely aware that leading with lunges instead of lines was ill-advised.

If we happen to meet again in prison I will tell them I forgive the assault upon my person. I will also ask them to forgive the broken teeth and kicks to the liver.

The third bastard, however, came at me with a knife from behind.

I don’t regret breaking his arm in the slightest.

*

I walked out of my flat bruised and cross.

The dude with knife had had a couple of joint joints in a fancy cigar case in his jacket pocket, but not one of ’em yielded a single match. There was probably a lighter lying about someplace but I didn’t have the heart to sift through my meager library one torn page at a time.

I would walk to the corner panwadi, get matches, and come back and kick one of the dudes repeatedly until they woke up and talked. It would probably be the one with the knife.

I ran into a girl on the bottom flight.

It will eventually turn out that I already knew her, but right then she was just a pretty chick on the landing who happened to be smoking.

“Lady, could I trouble you for a light?”

“Um, yeah. Sure. Are you okay?”

“Jonesing for some nicotine, but otherwise cool.” Who was this person drawling out of the corner of my mouth? I obviously had enough bruising on my face/neck to look like shit. Probably should’ve been seeking medical aid instead of playing Third World Tough Guy on the landing.

Then again, she offered me her own coffin nail, so I must’ve been doing something right.

“Thank you,” I exhaled. “Now I’m golden.”

“You sure? No dizziness or loss of co-ordination?”

“What do you mean?” I saw that she’d pulled out her phone instead of a matchbox.

She pointed behind me. There was a thin trail of blood leading down the stairs, culminating in a hole right above the back of my knee.

“Oh, man,” I groaned. “My last jean pair of cleans!”

“Jimmy,” she was holding the phone steady against her ear, which was swaying quite alarmingly. “Stay with me. Please.”

“How d’you know my name?” I wondered aloud, and then fell against her like a bowling pin on a landmine.

*

I came to a couple hours later.

The room around me seemed less like a hospital than a small, rudimentary dispensary – two beds separated by a makeshift wall of curtains, girl sitting on oddly-shaped chair next to the bed.

Pretty sure I heard the squawking of birds somewhere in the background.

“Please tell me this isn’t a veterinary institute.”

“Please tell me that gash is from a household accident.”

I sat up and gingerly inspected the field dressing. It seemed solid.

“Sorry for getting you involved in this, miss.” I avoided her eye.

“You still don’t remember me, do you?” She, on the other hand, was hellbent on staring. “Don’t worry. It will come back. The people who did this, on the other hand-”

“You went back to my flat?!”

“The trail of blood was rather helpful. Nobody home, though.”

I swung my legs off the bed and for a moment my vision was clouded by a thousand black wings.

“You need to rest.”

“Ain’t much else to do,” The drawl was back. “The trail’s gone cold.”

“Unless you’re forgetting something,” The bright fluorescent tube glinted off a fancy cigar-case in her hand.

“Are you sure we can smoke up in here?”

“Observe,” she said, opening the box. One of the joints was still intact; the contents of the other dusted the casing like green-and-brown flecks of paint.

“That was a perfectly serviceable blunt!”

“Get your head in the game, Jimmy.” The way she said it brought back some vague memories of… food?

There was a small, bent piece of cardboard at the bottom of the case; she picked it up and began smoothing it out.

“Is that the roach?”

She nodded. “I’d heard of these but never actually seen one before.”

“Hey, it’s all right. Public perception paints marijuana as-”

“Oh, hush.” There were words on the cardboard. “I mean this was less a J than a calling card.”

“And what does it say?” She held it to the light. “Well, fuck.”

*

-You certainly seem to wake up in hospitals a lot.

-I thought you weren’t reading the notebook.

The painkillers are nearly gone. I can count my ribs without looking down. My least favorite numbers in the world are 6, 7 and 8.

-I got bored. Also-seriously? Amnesia to avoid naming a girl? What sort of writer are you supposed to be?

-Like you found the guys that trashed my place.

-The descriptions you gave belong in a badly-made 80’s action flick. Besides, our regular channels of information are.. rattled.

-They’re scared. Nobody wants to fuck with the Crow’s masters.

-This just gets messier and messier. And yet you dragged that poor girl into it.

-Didn’t ask for her help even once. And she’s way tougher than either of us, Mandy. You’ll see.

-Can we stop with the testimonials and get to the important bits already?

-Right after you get me some painkillers. Or saw off some of dese ribs.

-Again with the avoidance of pain. You might have a problem, you know?

You don’t know the half of it.

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