Stage Dressing

1961 – New York City-

Some people are masters of intimidation. There’s not much behind their bluff, but reasonable humans see the crackle of madness in the eye and don’t want to mess with the strange dude with the twelve-inch blade tucked into his boot.
Douglas was large, more than a bit flabby, but the madness stamped into his gaze made people think that he might just be mad enough to grab his snickersnee and stab you. But, of course, the knife was a convincing theatrical prop obtained from an uncle who was an actor. And the psycho-killer pose was a routine learned from the same uncle. But hey, as we all said, “fake it till you make it.”
Douglas was our secret weapon. Our phony wannabe street gang didn’t have much in armaments, tough guys, or reputation. But we had won some alleyway confrontations by putting our super weapon forward. So we all stood in a wedge behind Douglas and his routine and grew cocky.
That ended the night the Irish kids came up from Saint Nicholas Avenue. We took positions, and Douglas began to run through his routine. The Irish kids stood firm, and the group parted for their leader Sean. Sean casually pulled out a sizeable homemade single-shot .22 zip gun, Pointed it at Douglas, and fired. The bullet flew off somewhere in the dark, but the noise was loud in the alley and scared the shit out of our group.

Sean discarded the spent zip gun, and his boys were on us with chains, sharpened car antennas, and knives. Our group tried to scatter, but we were knocked flying as Douglas used his heft to be the first off the scene. I was in the rearguard with my two-by-four studded with three penny nails.

Our “gang” officially disbanded the next day, and we left the nasty stuff to neighborhood toughs more capable than we were. However, it did sting that the new gang recruited only Douglas from our group. Stripped of the knife and psycho routine, a big guy was useful if only as stage dressing. Which pretty much was all he had ever been.

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