LOCKED HORNS AND CROSSED SWORDS

May, 2019

‘And so it’s like this, okay. It’s my masterpiece, my crème de la crème. My ingenious sociological theory.’

            Three gentlemen sit around a rickety table in ‘Winton’s café’, Brooklyn. The short, skinny one is sitting up in his seat and waving his arms, the others lean back with their arms crossed. His voice is slightly raised over the surrounding chatter.

            ‘You’re out of your fuckin’ mind, pal,’ says Benny, while balancing a toothpick between his teeth.

            ‘It makes sense. You just don’t wanna admit it.’

            ‘Ay I haven’t heard this, what’s it about?’

            ‘I call it, the attachment theorem,’ the skinny one says, his fingers pointed forwards like firearms.

            ‘Jesus Christ.’

            ‘I’m listening.’

            ‘So there’s this person, right? This person you see on the street-‘

            ‘What a crock of sh-‘

            The boss slams the table. ‘Shut the fuck up, Benny! Let the man talk. Go on Michael.’ A few nearby customers turn their heads, before returning to their meals.

            ‘So there’s a guy right’

            ‘What’s he look like?’

            ‘He’ll say It don’t matter.’

            ‘Yea cause it don’t matter, Benny. Could be anybody. Anyway, the level of attachment you have with this guy is zero right? Doesn’t exist.’

            ‘Depends if I know the guy.’

            ‘But you don’t know the-! Look, this is a stranger okay? You’ve never met this man in your life, he just walked past you, right?’

            ‘Right.’

            ‘That man is at your lowest attachment level, cause you don’t know him. Now take someone else but make ‘em the person who serves you your food in a restaurant. Cute lil waitress or something.’

            ‘Okay.’

            ‘Here we fuckin’ go.’

Michael picks up his fork and begins to wave it around. It’s his orchestra baton, and this is his finale.

‘That chick? She’s higher up your personal attachment pyramid than the last guy.’

            ‘Cause she’s hot?’

            ‘No, cause you spoke to her.’

            Benny laughs. ‘The fuck’s an attachment pyramid?’

            ‘But I still don’t know her.’

            ‘Exactly!’

            ‘Benny shut the fuck up!’ Michael points his baton at the boss. ‘You’ve shared a moment of intimacy that you didn’t with the other guy because she’s asked you what you want, and you told her what’s what.’ He points to the waitress behind the counter. She bobs up and down as she fills up a pot of coffee. ‘Like look at fuckin’ Betty Boop over there, okay? She knows you like your eggs sunny side up now. She knows that you take your coffee black.  Shit like that y’know.’ Michael points to the yolk-stained plate sat in front of the boss.

            ‘Mm’

            ‘You follow?’

            ‘Mm.’

            ‘Now let’s take it up another notch. Take your regular barber. The dude knows your hair. Knows how you like it.’

            The boss holds his hands up. ‘It’s true, he does.’ Benny rolls his eyes.

            ‘You don’t see miss cutie-pie over there asking about your fuckin’ curls ay? Point is, your attachment to your barber is higher than with the waitress, and so it’s higher than Mr Rando you see on the street.’

            ‘Woah.’

            ‘Yeah, mind-blown.’

            ‘Christ almighty! Okay then, Mike, if you’ve really thought this shit through, what goes at the top huh?’

            ‘Whadaya mean’

            ‘This pyramid dumbass, what goes at the top?’

            ‘It’d be family, right?’ the boss says. ‘Your Momma, your Papa, your Brothers and shit.’

            ‘See? Boss knows what’s up.’ He turns to Ben. ‘It’d be your family dumbass.’

            ‘Yea, dumbass.’

            Michael and the Boss begin to snicker. Benny drums his fingers on the table. ‘Okay, and what if you don’t have a family no more? What if you don’t have no girlfriend or no friends?’ Is the pyramid a set thing, or can it fluctuate? Some doll bumped into me on the street yesterday, what if we hit it off? What if we started fuckin’ holding hands or got a coffee, a bite to eat? What then?’

            ‘Geez Benny you’re overthinking this.’

            ‘Yea Benny come on, I haven’t thought about it that much.’

            Benny stands up, clutching his cutting knife in his left hand while hitting the table with his right to punctuate his words. ‘So it can’t be a thesis! Y’know how long it takes to get a PHD? Four! Four fucking years of hard work! And you think that this half-assed bullshit makes you academically qualified? That you’re now Stephen Fuckin’ Hawking or some shit?’

            The boss stares at Benny. ‘Sit the fuck down!’ he says under his breath.

            ‘Alright Benny be chill, don’t blow it.’

            ‘You ain’t shit Mike. You’re not! You’re not smarter than any of us, else you wouldn’t be here! You wouldn’t be sat here waitin’ to rob a joint like this. Like a fuckin’ low-life!’

            The customers begin to murmur, a few of them head for the exits, some reach for their phones. The three gentlemen reach into their pockets and pull out pistols and point them at the civilians.

            ‘Alright on the ground assholes! Wayda go Benny, way to fuckin’ go’.

            ‘Don’t blame me for this, Boss. Blame fuckin’ Mike!’

            ‘Hey, this ain’t my fault! I was jus’ talking!’

            ‘Talking a crock of shit.’

            ‘Fuck you!’

            ‘Fuck you!’

            ‘Pardon me for interrupting fellas, but if you hadn’t realised, we’re in the middle of a fucking robbery! Like It or not it’s go time. We’re not getting outta here with nothin if you two don’t shut up!’

The boss kicks the table over and begins to swagger around it. A cacophony of screams can be heard from under tables and bar stools. Mike and Benny stare each other down from behind him. R&B classics flow from the speakers situated around the café, the audio sounds oddly tinny.

‘Alrighty fellas, let’s not make this any more difficult than it needs to be, okay?’

            He got no response.

‘As you can see, my colleague over here has a bit of a hot-head, so I advise you all to shut up and let us do our job. else he’ll probably blow your head off.’

            ‘I do not have a fuckin hot-head, asshole!’

            The boss throws his hands up, a gladiator in his colosseum. ‘Case-in-point. Look, all we want is the money, and then we’ll take our leave, okay? Now, would the manager of this joint please show themselves?’

            From behind the counter a middle-aged man stands up. His shaking legs appear to struggle from the task. His underarms are drenched in sweat.

            ‘T-that’d be me, sir.’

            ‘Beautiful! Now, put the cash into my colleagues’ bag if you wouldn’t mind.’ He gestures to Benny. 

‘Bag? I ain’t got no fuckin’ bag.’ The music playing briefly skips.

’Scuse me?’

Benny pulls out his pockets. The boss whips his head around to Michael, who shrugs his shoulders.

‘Yeah me neither, boss.’

‘Benny, I told you to bring a goddamned bag.’

‘Yea and I don’t have no goddamned bag, so what?’

‘So how are we gonna carry the fuckin’ money if we don’t have no bag to carry it with, huh dumbass?’

‘Yea, dumbass.’

 ‘W-we can get you a ba-‘

Benny clenches his jaw at the managers voice. He points the gun at him. 

‘Not another word asshole, not another word. Not unless you want your face rearranged’.

The managers sobs and wails of terror begin to echo through the diner. 

‘Benny drop the gun, okay?’ The boss walks to a cash register and smashes it open with the butt of his gun, revealing the cash inside. It produces a sharp chime. ‘This wet wipe’s snottin’ like a motherfucker now. It’s embarrassing.’

Benny gestures his gun towards Michael, his eyes still locked on the manager.

‘Well maybe if he had let me talk-‘

‘Me?! What did I do wrong?!’

‘p-please don’t hurt me-‘

The three gentlemen invite the man to be quiet simultaneously. The boss picks up a fistful of dollar bills and holds them above his head.

‘Assholes, The dough is right here! All we gotta do is find a bag and get the fuck out.’ He looks over at the manager, ‘Ignore my colleague, sir. Like I said he has a bit of a hot head.’ Benny shakes his head and rolls his eyes.

The boss leans in and raises a hand to his mouth, ‘Now, do yourself a favour and find a bag for us to dump this all in. He’s not kidding about the whole face rearranging thing.’

The manager drops to the ground and returns moments later with a black garbage bag. The boss stuffs the cash he’s holding into the bag, and while Michael watches the civilians, Benny opens the other cash drawers.

‘Finally, some fucking teamwork!’ the boss shouts. He looks over at Benny, who he spots looking at one of the customers. His cheeks are almost as red as her hair.

‘Benny, stop being a creep and focus!’

The girl stares back at Benny with a similar blush on her cheeks, her teeth protrude slightly from her top lip. Michael spots her during his patrol and points his gun at her. She cowers to the ground, her head tucked between her legs. 

‘The fuck you doing, Mike?’ says Benny.

‘Me? The fuck are you doing, man? You’re supposed to be getting the cash.’

‘I am, asshole. I’m just…’

‘Jus’ what? Admiring the scenery?’ 

Benny’s cheeks flush a deeper scarlet, ‘Fuck you.’

‘Fuck you!’

‘Oh my good holy Christ! Benny, get your shit together and help me with the cash.’

‘I… I can’t believe it.’ Mutters Benny, ‘Aren’t you…?’

‘What in the name of all that is holy on this earth has gotten into you?’ the boss says. He shoots looks between his partner and the customer on the ground. Her head is now raised. 

‘This has gotta be a joke,’ says Michael.

The manager bursts into hysterical tears and attempts to vault the counter. The boss hits him on the head with the butt of his gun, knocking him out cold. His head hits the service bell on the desk. ‘Stayin’ alive’ blares from the speakers. The boss wipes his hands on his shirt.

‘Christ, what an asshole. Benny, enough of the jokes now, okay pal?’

Benny kneels in front of the girl. He slicks his hair back and clears his throat.

‘You okay?’ he asks. Michael and the boss fail to keep their mouths closed.

‘Yes, thank you. I’m okay.’

‘I like your accent. It’s cute,’ says Benny. She giggles. Benny holds his hands out and helps the girl to her feet.

‘I must be fuckin’ dreaming,’ the boss says. 

‘I’ve turned over a new leaf, fellas. I can’t do this no more. There’s more to life than money, I realise that now.’

The customers start to murmur, which is swiftly silenced when Michael pulls out his gun. Benny puts an arm around the girl’s waist. He throws his gun to the floor and turns to his former colleagues.

‘It’s been an honour working with you, boss. Michael, I hate your fuckin’ guts and think that your theory is a fuckin’ sham.’

The doors to Winton’s café swing open, and several windows smash at the same time. The girl locks Benny’s arms behind his back and pushes him to the floor, hand-cuffing them together. Several armed members of New York S.W.A.T team point their rifles at Michael and the boss. They place their hands on their head.

‘On the ground, assholes!’ a S.W.A.T member says to the duo. He watches as they fall to the ground, their eyes wide.

Benny looks at the girl, wincing at the tightness of the handcuffs. Under her blue-trench coat a police badge can be seen.

‘H-how did you-?’

‘Undercover police,’ she says, winking at him. ‘None of you were bright enough to check to take our phones off us, so I sent out my co-ordinates and played the waiting game. The time you spent gawking at me was exactly what we needed.’ She begins to talk to the leader of the team.

‘We shouldn’t need backup now. These creeps aren’t any trouble,’ she says. 

The three Gentlemen are dragged into the back of a police van. The seats are hard and uncomfortable. Benny’s face is drawn and pale. Michael sighs deeply.

‘Guess my stupid fuckin’ theory wasn’t so stupid after all, ay pal?’ says Michael, jabbing Benny in the ribs.

‘You have no idea how much I want to smash both your fuckin’ faces in,’ the boss replies.

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