Entry 9 – Not Pulling Any Punches
My attention was drawn to a commotion ahead. A rather tiny and lean woman was loudly arguing with a giant of a man, even though the argument seemed quite one-sided – she screamed at him while he listened calmly. His sharp features, long black hair and chestnut-colored skin spoke of Native American origin while his calm behavior and crossed arms contrasted starkly with the woman’s fury. He seemed almost amused by the situation and I had no choice but to admire his composure. I sure was glad I wasn’t on the receiving end of that lady’s scorn.
The man saw me and vaguely beckoned in my direction. The woman turned around, shielded her eyes and stared at me for a few short seconds, then broke into a brisk walk.
She was short, like, really short. Five feet five at most, but what she lacked in height she clearly more than made up in energy and anger; a pint-sized nuke in human form with a chip on her shoulder. God help me.
I absolutely despised this type of women – tomboys in merc business always felt like they had to compensate for something, which is why most of them were insufferable in their attempts to measure up to the men, either by behaving like screeching harpies or by being forcibly masculine. Either way, I was sure the earlier argument had nothing to do with me so I just smiled at her and extended my hand, hoping for a warm welcome.
Or not. The outburst caught me completely off-guard and left me confused. She was kinda cute – short black hair, sharp Latina features, thin lips... not my type, but still I felt compelled to keep looking into her dark eyes and took me a short while to actually notice what she was screaming at me.
“....pushed around by some fucking gringo Murdoch sent me. This is MY fucking job! And who the fuck orders the vehicles painted black in the middle of a fucking desert?! Do you have any idea how hot it gets inside, you fucking retard?! Or you think they all come with air conditioning, you shit-for-brains?!”
I actually did think exactly that. Turns out, they didn’t. Huh. Then again, I ordered nothing and had no idea I’d be in Arizona the next day, so there was that. In the meanwhile, it took only a few seconds for a wide, loose ring of people to form around us. Wherever you are, whatever you do, one thing remains the same – people will always be drawn to drama. And the lady had a lot of drama in her.
I needed to de-escalate the situation using my natural charm. And what better way to calm down a diminutive demon than a witty remark?
“Easy there, shortie.”
Another one of my famously smart ideas. Several things happened at once.
Her eyes went wide. The crowd collectively gasped. The Native American man covered his eyes and forehead with a massive hand as if he didn’t want to see what would inevitably come next. A sharp tang of pain on my chin and my world fell into darkness.
A short while later, I woke up in a medical tent feeling more embarrassed than I have ever felt in my entire life. On my first day on the job – in the first minutes even – I got my ass handed to me by a girl who knocked me out cold. Granted, I wasn’t ready, but whenever I tried to find an excuse for myself, the words “girl” and “short” were never too far away, banishing any thoughts that would make me feel better to oblivion.
Well, okay, there was one thing that DID make me feel better.
She was sitting backwards on a chair right next to my stretcher, her face flush with embarrassment. She noticed I was awake, bit her lip and looked really unsure, almost vulnerable. I wasn’t sure what to say either, so we just sat there for a few minutes in silence. As the situation gradually became more and more uncomfortable, I felt compelled to be the first to break the barrier of silence.
“So... uh.... that happened. I... uh.”
And that was about as far as I got before she propped one hand against her face and extended her other hand in a greeting.
I got up wincing and slowly, gently shook it.
“Sam Thorpe. A pleasure.”
She sighed and looked around. Having spotted two glasses and a pitcher of water, she got up and brought one for me. The other she emptied in one long gulp.
“That’s one hell of a right hook you got,” I added while taking a sip.
“Left hook. I used my left arm. I always carry things in my right arm; nobody ever expects a hit from the other side that way. It’s a trick I learned...” she paused for a short while, “a long time ago.”
I nodded appreciatively.
“Nice, neat trick.”
She eased up a bit – a tiny bit, clearly still unsure how the day was going to go. That alone told me she messed up big time and if I pressed the issue, there would be consequences. Time to play my cards right and be magnanimous. No use in having bad blood in the camp on day one.
“So, uh... look. Let’s forget this ever happened and tell me what’s been going on that it got you riled up so much, alright? I don’t wanna cause any trouble, I just...” I shrugged, “wanna do my job that I’m paid for and all that. So what d’ya say?”
She nodded slowly, carefully.
“Alright. I can fill you in. How much time you got?”
I spread my arms.
“As much as I need. Wouldn’t mind a bite or two though, and a drink.”
She had a nice smile. I would have smiled back, were it not for my broken lip. Leaving my things near the bed (the tent was otherwise empty), I picked myself up and walked out with her. The day was finally starting to look up.