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He struts down the center of five points like a spider on the prowl, the pride of a daddy long legs, the venom of a brown recluse. Bill the Butcher; a man who lives by the blade and is respected by all. A man Tommy fantasizes to be at least a few times a week, having worn out over a dozen DVDs in over a dozen years watching his all-time favorite character in Gangs of New York.
Respected by all. Hell, Tommy would have settled for a few, but something about him made others see him as nothing but a ego-boosting punching bag. A curb of a gutter to rid one’s shoes of whatever shit clung to the bottom. Maybe it was his kind nature, his soft voice, his tall lanky body. He didn’t know. All he was painfully aware of was the fact that he had been bullied literally all of his life. From those first memories on the playground to the rest of the tormenting school years that followed. From summer jobs slinging burgers to his career now as an accountant slinging numbers, no matter what group of peers Tommy was surrounded by he always found himself the butt of all their jokes, his only defense being that of self-deprecation, as it would be the closest he would ever come to actually being part of the gang.
And so he would come home to a studio-type apartment, finding solace in the character who demanded respect. Better to be feared than loved? Given the fact that Tommy never felt the latter to be like Bill was to be like God. Almighty. All-powerful. All would be so perfect if only he could be like this butcher he so idolized. The control he would have. The men, who always looked and spoke down to him as if he were an underclassman pipsqueak despite his towering height. The women, who always thought themselves too good for him, claiming through their smug looks they were not only out of his league but that he didn’t even deserve to be in the friend zone. To be in the human league.
If only like Bill, they would all be on their knees, those assholes paying just for the privilege to be in his company. The bitches ready to serve, to open wide, to take in all in their utter state of submissiveness. If only like Bill.
But the seed had been growing, hadn’t it? Why just the other day, when he had been waiting in the chow line of his firm’s cafeteria. That blonde from the third floor whose outfits always complimented the slender contours of her body, the result being countless glances by the time she clocked out at five. Used to all the attention, she found it flattering when it came from the eyes of an admiring woman or a gawking male, as long as their aesthetics were in the same league, that is.
From all others it was a nuisance, an irritation bordering on the verge of #MeToo, even when the pair of eyes did their best to avoid looking, as in the case of Tommy, finding himself right behind the tall blonde once it was too late to create some distance between the two. How he had tried his damnedest to keep his line of sight on the buffet style array of food. But he couldn’t help but peer her way as he moved on down the line, for if he hadn’t he probably would’ve ran right into her, or at least stepped on a heel.
The dreaded moment had come right before reaching the cash register, Blondie making a last-second decision to stop and reach back for an apricot, as a result the back of her hand brushing up against Tommy’s.
That look of horror, I’m too good for you, disgust, a triad of arrogance smudged across that pompous face sent his heart pounding like a war drum, in turn bringing his blood to an instant rapid boil, one of Bill’s lines spewing from his lips while ending it with a word of his own.
“I don’t give a tuppenny fuck about your moral conundrum, apricunt!”
If only Tommy could have captured Blondie’s reaction on video, all that plastic vanity contorting into utter shock. Before she could recover from it he breezed on past her, brushing up with just enough force to let her know her trashy assets were of no temptation to him.
As Tommy walked away he could see Bill in his mind’s eye, his alter ego giving a tip of his top hat for that last eloquent word, apricunt.
Just the latest in a series of brazen reactions to come out of Tommy his colleagues had noticed as of late, as was the oddities of his shifting physical appearance, including that full thick stache he had grown out over the summer.
Ah, yes, the gradual transformation had been coming along nicely, Tommy looking from his idol on the flat-screen to a twelve-inch action figure of Bill adorning his center shelf
then back to the wall mirror he was now standing in front of. With the top hat, personalized tailored clothes, butcher’s belt with all its sheathed razor sharp blades, Tommy’s excitement matched what he had felt earlier in the year when he had first learned that his twenty-fifth high school reunion would coincide with Halloween. Sometimes the stars really did align in one’s favor.
When Tommy arrived at his ol’ high school gymnasium his prediction was confirmed, most of the class of ’93 following the trend of dressing up as what was most currently popular, including politicians, social media manifestations and superheroes, all going through the process of getting a name tag stuck to their outfit while signing in, Tommy’s reading: Tommy Jenkins as Bill the Butcher.
The initial compliments were intoxicating, most of his fellow Gen Xers immediately identifying the iconic film character and genuinely impressed by Tommy’s uncanny resemblance. But when they’d look down to his name tag and recall the name with memories of their high school days the cool factor dissipated quicker than it had appeared, plummeting Tommy all the way back down to freak, geek, bottom of the totem pole. Something he had feared and knew in the bottom of his heart to be an almost certainty, and now it was.
Not even an hour into the night’s reunion and it was as if he had been transported back in time, back to the Halloween parties of adolescence when they’d all either gather around him to laugh and taunt or avoid him like the plague, both of which would leave deeper and deeper scars in his psyche each and every time.
Amidst the base pounding hits of the 90’s Tommy could hear the choruses of laughter coming from all directions, as he just knew they were all reminiscing of past ridicule at his expense. Alone by the punch bowl giving every effort he had to make it look as though he were standing by himself on purpose, just to sip and take in the scene. He didn’t even have to close his eyes. Having relived this hell at least once a month for his entire adult life before waking up in cold sweats the torment was a constant unconscious reminder, only now being as real as when it first happened.
But in the most unexpected of occurrences; “hey, cool costume!”
Tommy turned around to find Sandra Bullock eyeing him from top hat to boot. That is, Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man.
“Lieutenant Lenina Huxley, awesome!” he said.
“Wow, you really know your stuff. Lieutenant isn’t even on the name tag,” she replied
It was then that Tommy did look at her name tag; Christina Lafayette as Lenina Huxley. She hadn’t looked at his, hadn’t realized who he was, that they had once been lab partners in science class. That she had come up with one of the names the whole school would forever brand him with.
Test tube Tommy.
“Wanna dance?” Christina asked with a smile of an interested girl. Mariah Carey’s Dreamlover was starting up, and before Tommy could collect his thoughts she took him by the hand and led them out to the dance floor. He had only ever practiced behind drawn curtains and locked doors but could now get away with subtle moves on the account of that tall hat atop his head.
Talk about a dream! Dancing with such a cute girl, being a part of the crowd, just being normal. So this is what it was like.
“So Gangs of New York is one of your favorite movies?” Christina asked as she looked up to him while continuing to move to the beat.
“All time favorite. And Demolition Man is yours?”
“I wouldn’t say all-time favorite, but definitely up there. I’ve always found that concept of subliminal rehabilitation techniques really interesting.”
“I know, right!” Tommy enthusiastically said. “I still really think it’ll be possible someday, and can really change mankind.”
“And how about those seashells?” Christina laughed. “They never did explain how they worked. That’s been driving me crazy for years!”
What a connection these two were having, Tommy having completely forgotten the threat of humiliation surrounding him. Maybe she had changed, grown-up, grown a heart.
The music then went into a softer track, If I Ever Fall in Love by Shai. They looked into each other’s eyes, and as smooth as the transition from one song to another Tommy tipped his top hat with one hand and offered Christina’s his other. She took it and they began to slow dance.
To feel her, to smell her, to hold someone so close was a human instinct desired by all, was it not? Why did he have to wait so long? Why did he have to go through so much to get to this point?
The connection of two becoming one suddenly broke off, Christina’s body becoming rigid before stepping back, causing Tommy’s eyes to jolt open and discover everyone around them standing in stillness, silence, judgment. He looked back to his dance partner. She no longer had a look of sincerity across her face, but instead that all too familiar better than you gaze, now having realized just who she had been dancing with.
Simultaneous laughter broke out amongst the crowd, Tommy’s pounding heart, boiling blood about to again ignite…
“I, um- I have to go to the bathroom,” Christina now said coldly, the crowd parting as if in an 80’s flick as she headed towards it.
Like a switch being flipped Tommy’s eyes narrowed as they zeroed in on the back of Christina’s head while his hand went down to his butcher’s belt for one of his blades, whipping it out and releasing it into the air in one swift movement that was so fast the crowd had to catch up with their gasp of shock only after the knife had embedded itself below the base of Christina’s skull.
“Whoopsy-Daisy!” Tommy belted out as she fell to the floor, but instead of his audience laughing out as they had done for Bill the Butcher they shrieked back and began to scream.
Everything about Tommy had changed, all inhibitions gone, his demeanor now entirely like that of his hero, cleaver in one hand, long blade in the other, raising his voice for all to hear.
“At my challenge, by the ancient laws of combat, we are met at this chosen ground, to settle for good and all who holds sway over the five points: us natives, born rightwise to this fine land, or the foreign hordes defiling it.”
And with this declaration Tommy began to slice, hack, pierce, he now being on the bloody battlefield of the five points as Bill the Butcher, severing body parts, tendons, main arteries, throats, the warm red spatter taking him deeper into the scene he had fantasized about countless times, the screaming, pleading, dying a soundtrack to this massacre four decades in the making.
Only when all had ceased to move, either by death or by those lucky enough to flee the scene did Tommy stop, his heaving like that of a beast slowly returning to a more natural state of breathing, at which time he fell to his knees and began to cry. To weep for the boy who had been so excited on his first day of school to make new friends only to learn of the word that would end up dominating his whole life; bullying. To sob for the middle-aged man who had not even been allowed the length of two songs to experience the human touch of intimacy.
And so he would be locked away for the rest of his life by those who had failed him from the beginning, to be treated like the animal they had helped him become.
The animal that would now rule over his state’s most notorious prison, his own personal five points, butchering his way to the top in record time and taking his place atop the throne of his cement kingdom.
Bill the Butcher he had become.