The man lay sleeping on the park bench, one of only two benches in the little neighborhood oasis of green. The corner tract was well-tended, lush, green and shady. Whereas the heat in Ukiah was pushing ninety-five, under the spreading oak leaves, the park felt as though it were luxurious and a pure delight, except for that sleeping guy. He had a newspaper folded over his face, which lent him an air of respectability, but he was still out-of-place in the well-kept corner sanctuary.
We had just pulled into the corner parking lot, across from the park, and were contemplating a stroll across the street, to wait the twenty minutes until our appointment, out under the trees. Now we hesitated. We were not close enough to the scene, to see how the man was dressed, the view being partially obscured by low-hanging boughs of the oak trees, so it was hard to tell what sort of individual he was.
“Who cares if some bum is just napping on a bench?” I asked. “We won’t pay any attention to him, and he won’t pay any attention to us.”
Jacie responded, “It’s kind of creepy, isn’t it?”
“Why is it creepy? If he were ranting and raving, or foaming at the mouth, it would be creepy. As it is, he’s asleep, and that’s the way he’s going to stay. Probably sleeping it off.”
“How much time do we have?” asked Jacie.
“Close to twenty minutes. Come on, let’s take a stroll.” We got out of our truck, locked it, and started across the street, when we saw a group of neighborhood toughs kitty-corner from our spot outside the park. They were dressed uniformly, in black trousers, and white tee-shirts. They wore the trappings of the gangs, and they were a chilling spectacle. We had completed the crossing of the street, and drawn up behind a barrier, formed by a series of landscaped flower boxes, which allowed us to view the scene without being seen.
The drama unfolded without delay, and was concluded less that a minute later. The youths had made a bee-line for the sleeping man, (let’s call him Rip) and Jacie and I had contemplated heading back in the direction of the truck, when we realized that Rip had been pulled to his feet, and was now surrounded by the four thugs. For that’s what they were, pure and simple. They were four ruffians together, who went about the ‘hood, running roughshod on the denizens within their domain, and striking terror into the hearts and minds of anyone uninformed enough to venture into their locale.
That appeared to be the case, as we stood and watched the rapidly developing scenario. What we had expected to see, was some sort of buildup, to what would undoubtedly be a sordid and violent act. I was in no physical or psychological mode to be able to help the hapless victim, being sixty myself, with little or no means of defending myself, or some bum, against the likes of these dudes. Even if I had thought to whip out my phone and try to summon Ukiah’s constabulary, the effort would have proved fruitless. It was all over before the shooting started, so to speak.
Our attention was riveted on the central player, a mean-looking guy, with a long, frizzy pony-tail. He had been the one to originally grab the sleeping man by his coat, after first sweeping the newspaper aside. However, as he was in the act of dragging the man to his feet, be became aware of two things simultaneously: the man was not a bum, and he was rather well-prepared to face a group of obstreperous gang members.
He had a steel ball, the size of a large plum, in his left hand, which was attached to a thin metal cable, strapped to his his wrist and he was very adept, at what appeared to be a home-made device. He had heaved the ball right into the face of the first guy, hitting him square in the nose, and causing it to spray out a stream of blood, while simultaneously letting out a stream of invective.
When bloody-nose’s buddy to the left lowered his head and charged right at the “victim’s” stomach, the attacked man responded by whirling to one side, as the miscreant waltzed by, and directing a well-placed boot to the side of the charging man’s knee, effectively incapacitating him, while at the same time, using the man’s forward momentum, to cause him to divert his route, right into the third member of the gang, causing them both to go down in a heap.
The fourth punk, a scrappy little rooster of a kid was not about to stay out of the fracas, but he was a sneaky little snake, with a blade in his hand, which he swiped across the man’s chest, with a sideways trust, which looked as though it had been well-practiced. Unfortunately for the kid, the “bum” from the bench, was a master at the art of defense, avoided the swipe, and sent that steel ball out one more time, as it came to the end of its cable, and wound itself around the arm with the knife. At that juncture in time, the cable was jerked back with all of the force in his possession, and the kid about had his arm torn out of his socket.
His resounding screech of pain was still reverberating in the air, when he of the bloody nose, saw that they were not opposing the weak and defenseless bum they thought there were dealing with, and signaled retreat. And it was over that quickly. The gang had dissolved, my curiosity was at a high peak, and we still had all but one of our minutes still to wait. We strolled over to Rip, cautiously observing this individual, while dying to get a handle on what it all meant.
“Very simple,” said Rip. "These same guys jumped my uncle a week or so ago, and I am just back from Afghanistan, with an attitude problem, you know? My uncle is still in the hospital, but he’ll mend quicker now.” With that he was gone, leaving us to pick up the strewn newspaper. On the front page was an article about the recent assault of a Ukiah man, a man who was still recuperating from his injuries. We had a feeling that his recovery would now be hastened along. You have to love a man with an attitude.