It all started when she winked at him Jesse was walking down the sidewalk, minding his own business. He glanced up. He had just enough time to raise his eyes from the low-cut dress to her eyes when it happened. She lowered one long, dark lash and winked suggestively. Then he was past, turning to look back, trying to catch a glimpse of her and to figure out what he should do.
In his haste, he walked straight into a lamp pole. He hit it face first, scraping his nose painfully, and all around him the roar of traffic shifted to laughter, then back again before he could clear his vision to see who thought it was funny. He scanned the crowd. A fat man in a baseball cap and overalls smiled And winked.
The man was almost past him before Jesse extricated himself from the pole and turned.
“Hey!” He shouted. “Hey you.”
The fat man didn’t turn. Jesse started after him, but the man turned at the corner and crossed. The light changed, and before Jesse could step out into the street, a bus ground to a halt, less than a foot in front of his face. He blinked.
“Jesus,” he muttered, “Where the hell did that come from?”
He glanced up. The driver held the door open with the long, jointed handle that swiveled. He shook his head. She smiled, winked, and before he could open his mouth, or move, the door swung closed and the bus lurched away from the curb. Jesse reeled back. When the bus had passed, he saw a woman with a baby in a stroller. She saw him staring, and frowned. Jesse looked down and the baby opened one eye very wide, and winked.
He turned away, ready to run, but as he spun he saw them. Old men, young women, girls and boys and bums, and as he met each gaze, they winked. Bold winks, lewd winks, shy winks, fluttering multi-winks. Jesse spun and darted into the crosswalk, not looking back, and not looking ahead. He kept his eyes to the pavement. Brakes squealed. He leaped to the side. A car came to rest inches from him. Just beyond the glass, the driver, a middle-aged, pasty-faced businessman smiled at him — and winked.
Jesse cut his hand on the glass, but it shattered. A moment later the jewel-like bits of safety glass showered his legs and his feet as he reached inside and took the man by the throat.
He saw them through the opposite window, leering, smiling, staring in shock, winking, winking WINKING.
He slammed the man’s head on the steering wheel. Then again, and again. With each pounding stroke, he screamed. At first he was too angry to be coherent, but by the time the police arrived and they dragged him away from the car and the pulpy mess that had once been the driver’s head, they could make it out. Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!
They cuffed him and tossed him into the back of the squad car. Downtown, the booked him. As they walked him back to a holding cell, he passed the visitor’s room. Inside he saw a big, bald man with thick, pale lips and dead eyes. On the near side of the glass, a woman sat, talking into a phone. She hung up and rose. She turned to Jesse, but she didn’t even look up. He stopped, fighting the two officers dragging him along.
“It’s her!” he cried. “God damn it, it’s her! She’s the one who started it. She’s the one who…”
The billy club came down hard on his temple, and the world went black.
When he came to, he was lying on a cot. There was a single bare bulb dangling far over head. He shook his head gently, but even that small motion hurt. Slowly, Jesse sat up, and as his sight cleared, he saw that he wasn’t alone. He slid his gaze up the huge, bulking form of the bald man with the dead eyes. As Jesse tried to press himself back through the brick wall - the big man curled his lip in a near smile — and winked.
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