I stood conspicuously on the subway platform, a couple dozen feet away from him, waiting
for him to notice me.

He was well over six and a half feet tall and he carried his heavily-muscled 280 pounds gracefully. His mostly close cropped hair was decorated with some fancy razor work designs shaved into his right temple. It looked like a hairy linoleum block print. At the base of his skull were a few rat tail braids with some beads in them. The tails drooped down over the broad folds of his neck and draped over his collar.

His eyes, deep set over a nose ridiculously small for his broad, brutish face, were those of a ferret, or perhaps a badger-- dark and glittering. This was the man they called "Bad News"-- one of the most abominable human beings it has ever been my pleasure to encounter.

There were few who knew him for what he was. I did, however. Bad News was professional muscle, a sociopathic intimidator and thug whose livelihood, until recently, consisted of making collections for his crack dealer bosses-- sometimes from reluctant debtors. These latter individuals never shorted their benefactors more than once. Bad News saw to that, handily.

Lately, he'd developed a sideline, just for himself. He wasn't really what most people would call an entrepreneur but then, he didn't need much skill or any capital at all, really, to set himself up. He chose the insurance business. He was the entire company -- policy writer, salesman and principal beneficiary. His staked and claimed territory included several businesses adjacent to various locations where he made collections for his employers.

Only a week before, he'd broken the arm of the wife of an elderly merchant, a delicatessen owner who had been remiss in his "insurance policy" payments. Breaking arms was only one of Bad News's specialties. There were several others involving butane lighters, power tools and any sort of blade at hand. As the horrified man looked on, holding his sobbing wife, Bad News punched himself in the face until his own nose and lips bled, and then held a warning finger within an inch of the trembling shopkeeper's face. "And this? Well... it could happen to you, motherfucker," he warned, backing out of the shop with a mad grin on his face.

The clock on the white tiled wall of the subway showed me it was nearing 4 A.M. The platform was deserted except for an old man dozing on a bench, some distance away.

Subways depress me-- although I don't know why they should-- and I decided I'd best get the matter settled forthwith. I moved two steps toward Bad News and he turned at the motion and stared at me. I merely stared back, not impolitely, then took another couple of steps toward him. He frowned.
"What the hell are you lookin' at?"
"I'd think it was quite obvious, even to someone of your limited gifts, that I am looking at you, Mr. Ellison," I replied, for that was his surname.
"You know me?" He had a hoarse, unpleasant voice.

I smiled disarmingly and moved closer. (Please do not second-guess me: I had no intention of pushing him in front of a subway train.) His eyes, mean and suspicious, roved over me like quicksilver, measuring me. He didn't seem to perceive any physical threat from me-- and rightly so.
"How come you know me, shorty?" he said.
I shrugged my shoulders with just enough indifference to make it unconvincing.
"I know many people," I said truthfully, evasively.

Bad News was curious about me now, but more importantly, he was already beginning to show signs of obvious impatience and temper. The situation was developing precisely as I knew it would-- as it had happened countless times before.

"I know you from someplace," he said. "I remember the beard. I never forget a face, dude." He sneered. "You ain't no cop. That I know. You're too small to be a cop. But I seen you before, shorty. Where?"

I shook my head. "You're mistaken, Mr. Ellison. We've never met before." I stepped closer, until he stood just inches away from me, looking down from his great height. He poked my chest with a thick, hard forefinger, forcefully enough to rock me backward slightly-- a jabbing reminder of the tremendous physical strength of the man.

"You know what? I don't like you. Now, who are you workin' for? Who put you on to me? You got about ten seconds to tell me," he rasped.

I remained in position, moving my feet only slightly to turn almost sideways to him. Bad News moved with me, staying in front of me, (apparently) thinking I was about to run. I had no intention of flight, though.

It was then that I heard the rumble of the subway train coming through the tunnel. Looking to my left, down the track, I could just see the headlight. The timing, I thought, was excellent. Bad News glanced briefly at the train also, then looked quickly around the subway platform. It was still deserted.

"Five seconds, bitch," he said, and suddenly there was a note of greater urgency in his voice. "Five more seconds to tell me who sent you after me."

We were standing quite close to the edge of the platform, Bad News directly in front of me, with his back to the track. I smiled up at him.
"You think something's funny? Tell me, or I'll break your goddam leg."

It mattered little to him that the train was approaching. Bad News always executed his threats, no matter the odds. I gauged the time carefully. Four seconds, three, two...

Bad News's mouth twisted spasmodically as his anger vented itself, and he reached for me. I sidestepped him, placing myself just out of reach, and said "Please allow me to introduce myself, Mr. Ellison." And I swept off my hat, rather elegantly I thought, given the awkwardness of the moment. I bowed to him ever so slightly and broadened my smile. I didn't touch him. I never touch them.

Bad News's little ferret eyes widened incredulously-- a reaction I have come to expect and which no longer surprises me. He uttered a strangled sound-- an animal bleat of fear-- and involuntarily stepped backward.

He twisted as he fell off the platform, bounced hard on the track and grabbed the third rail with his outstretched, clutching left hand. There was a delightful blue-white flash as he did so, followed almost immediately by the screech of the braking wheels of the train-- too late.

Bad News had been mistaken, of course. He had never seen me prior to our meeting on the subway platform. He could not-- unless I wanted him to. Naturally, the train engineer, the dozing old man and the handful of commuters who came to stare in horror at what was lodged under the train's wheels could not see me, either. Perhaps some of them would, one day.

One of the definitions for Bad News's -- Ellison's-- Christian name, Axel, means "divine reward". I chuckled and replaced my hat, fitting it carefully over my horns.


(From a story by my father, Wayne Hyde, circa 1957)

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