Brass Knuckles by Bradley Mason Hamlin
He said I was looking at his girlfriend and maybe I was but I didn’t mean anything. He was shorter than I by a couple of inches, and I’m not tall, but he looked hard and mean. Maybe he had to make up for the shortage.
I said I wasn’t looking at his girl but he pushed me as soon as we stepped outside the Navy bowling alley. I made the rookie mistake of trying to say something more. He answered with a crazy fast fist smashing into the left side of my jaw.
I went right down. As the little cartoon birds and stars circled my head, one of my buddies helped me up. With that nice adrenaline rush I was ready to reciprocate the violence but two other sailors from the idiot’s company pulled him away.
They smiled as they dragged him off and he struggled against their hands like a disobeying dog on a leash because he wanted to mix it up more and so did I. My face felt hot and hurt more from embarrassment than his knuckles but I felt a mixture of relief and disappointment as they hauled him off.
The next morning in the Seaman Apprentice training camp, as I leaned against the chain link fence and smoked a Lucky Strike, one of the recruits that had helped muscle the guy brought me a message from the other side of the fence.
He looked at me through the metal links and said, “Arturo sends his love.”
And I had to laugh. It reminded me of my days on the streets of Northeast L.A. I knew I had made a new friend after all and soon I would be able to introduce myself properly.
I gripped the brass knuckles inside my peacoat and smiled. My apprenticeship was coming along just fine.