Gunther had his back to me when I stepped out onto the street. He was still yelling. Phil’s gang was there too, whooping and hollering and egging him on.
“Shizz ain’t no match for the Big Guns!”
“Yeah, you tell ‘em!”
“Gonna get us some sweet justice!”
"Teach those uppity Bible-Thumpers a lesson!"
Gunther spread his arms wide. “Your prayers cannot save you!” he howled. “So what will it be, Sullivan? Who among your crew is man enough to fight me?”
I took a deep breath, and stepped out to the middle of the road.
The gangsters stopped their whistling. Gunther noticed, and he turned around. The only thing moving was the wind. It blew through his thick, dirty-grey hair. He squinted at me as the street lamps flickered on in the dusky light.
“Who’re you?” He grunted, in a much smaller voice than the one he’d been using before.
It took a moment to get my mouth and my voice working right. “I’m the one who’s going to fight you.”
I’ll hand it to him, he actually blinked hard at the notion. He shook his head. “Get on back to your treehouse, boy! Fighting’s a man’s game.”
I made a big show of scanning the sides of the road. “I don’t see anybody else,” I said. “Guess it’s just you and me.”
His expression turned hard and dangerous. “You don’t know what you’re doing, fool. Come a little closer and I’ll turn you over my knee and tan your hide!”
I shifted my grip on the rope. “You think you can come here and wave your gun and use big scary words to terrorize a small community, just because a former partner in crime said you could.” I raised a finger and pointed at him. “But you made one big mistake.”
If I hadn’t been so concentrated on running through my plan in my head over and over again, I might have noticed the way his body hunched over, his grip tightened on his gun, and all the signs pointed to a quick end to the conversation.
“What mistake would that be?” Gunther demanded slowly.
A normal person would take the hint and stop talking. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had been telling Big Sulley to convince him to let me come out here, and I plowed ahead. “You presumed to threaten our faith,” I pointed to the shards of crucifix on the road. “You set yourself against the Almighty God--and it’s in His Name that I am going to defeat you. You signed your own death warrant when you dared to threaten God.”
Gunther’s face twisted in an awful sneer, and he turned positively purple as he bellowed and charged toward me. It was as if he actually transformed into the wild animal I’d been thinking him to be. That made it easier to get into position to do what I had to do. I had a tree right beside me, with a branch hanging over my head. I dodged to the side and tossed the lasso out in front of Gunther. The rope draped neatly over his neck. Gunther didn’t seem to notice the new collar as he changed directions to get at me, but by that time, I had tangled the rope through the brass knuckles, and now I tossed it as hard as I could toward the branch. It went straight up, and sank right over the other side of the branch. Gunther was nearly on top of me, so the minute the brass knuckles fell into my line of sight, I lunged forward, gripping it in both hands. I was nearly hauled over backwards as my arms suddenly had all of Gunther’s massive weight on it, but I dug in my heels and kept pulling. I heard the frantic gurgling sounds and I kept running, throwing my entire weight on the rope. I couldn’t run any further, but Gunther still hovered just above the ground, pawing at the rope with his thick, rough fingers. I sank to my knees, hauling on the rope for all I was worth. The rope bucked and wriggled as the large mobster struggled to breathe. I was almost curled into the fetal position, and I dared not relax until I didn’t feel any movement on the line. Only then did I dare to turn my head and look up.
Gunther the Mobster hung high in the tree, face nearly black, his body completely slack. I finally let go of the rope, and the huge body hit the darkened street with a wet smack. I heaved a huge breath, at the same time I wondered how long it had been since the last time I took a breath. Phil’s gang stood absolutely silent.
I stood to my feet. Lights were coming on in all of the houses around us. Where only minutes before there had been closed curtains and barricaded windows, people were standing and staring and talking among themselves right in front of the windows.
Gunther lay where I left him, facedown in the asphalt. I rifled through his clothes and pulled out any weapons I could find. The man had guns strapped to his shoulders, ankles, and to his belt, but he had blades of various sizes and shapes secreted in even more places around his clothing. I had quite the pile on the sidewalk next to me when I finished. This done, I pulled the end of the rope down from over the tree branch and used that to lash Gunther’s ankles. Using the brass knuckles as a handle, I pulled the unconscious body right toward the knot of gangsters. They backed up and let me pass. Nobody seemed very eager to get too close to me. I dragged that man all the way to 19th Avenue, where Phil and the rest of his gang sat back and waited. I saw a lot of bottles and cups and even a few grills open, like they were so sure Gunther would win the fight that they had set up a celebratory block party in advance.All chatter died as I came into their midst, dragging the body behind me.