“Let me speak to him alone if you don’t mind.”
The other two left the room shutting the door behind them.
“What do you mean?” he asked me again.
“I mean exactly what I said. The world needs dangerous men and it needs them badly.”
“Why,” he asked, seeming genuinely confused. “I thought dangerous men were, well, dangerous…”
“Of course they are.” I said.
He seemed puzzled, still grasping at his thoughts.
“But I still don’t understand.”
“It’s obvious you don’t,” I replied. “And that’s the shame of it all. But let’s assume you’re open minded and willing to learn. Yeah, that seems like a good place to start, you make your assumptions about me, I’ll make my assumptions about you, and we’ll see where that takes us. So, are you open minded and willing to learn?”
“I guess so,” he replied.
“Well then, your guess is as good as mine, isn’t it?”
He didn’t reply, so I didn’t continue. After a while he was finally confused enough to try and prompt me.
“Sir, I’m still not getting this.”
“No, you’re not. And maybe that’s my fault as much as yours. But let’s play this from another angle son. What did you just call me?”
He struggled a moment, thinking back on his sentence. When he thought he had thought long enough he answered.
“And why did you call me sir, son?” I asked.
“Well because you’re older than me, because that’s the convention… because I respect you?”
“That’s part of it I guess. Maybe.”
I stood up and walked over to him, bent down and stared directly into his face. At close range. Just a few inches away. I could smell his breath, he could smell mine. I could see the tiny round light flecks and my reflection in his eyes; he could see the bloodshot in mine. He held in with me as long as he could, then turned away, his eyes dropping reflexively. I stayed on him. Didn’t move. Didn’t flinch. Didn’t look away.
“Sir, you’re making me uncomfortable,” he finally stammered.
“Is that right?” I said standing back up. “And why do you suppose that is?” I asked leaning back on my desk right in front of him, my arms out beside me, relaxed, but useful.
“Because you’re too close, because I was sitting in the chair and couldn’t get away, because…”
“Uh-huh, couldn’t get away. I see. Couldn’t stand up and walk away, couldn’t keep looking at me any longer, couldn’t stand up and step towards me any. Well, assuming that’s all true about you, how about we explore one more possibility,” I said lifting my hand and twirling my right index finger horizontally like it was a wheel. “Keep going son you’re bound to hop on the right track sooner or later. Let’s see if you can read sign and deduce all at the same time.”
He seemed distracted, or maybe temporarily flummoxed. But I could see the gears shifting. He was coming to it, like it or not. He looked at his own hands, then looked at my still turning finger, then glanced around the room, shifted uneasily in his chair. The he said very quietly, “Because you make me nervous?”
I raised an eyebrow inquisitively and kept turning my finger, more slowly this time. Keep at it kid, I thought hard at him. You’re gonna get this sooner or later. Just one more leap.
“Because you’re dangerous,” he finally said, looking me in the eye again. I smiled broadly, turned and went back to my chair.
“And son,” I asked him, “What do you do when you meet a dangerous man?”
He paused to consider, but it was his gut that did all the over-under work.
“I…uh, uhm… usually, I… don’t really know,” he answered.
“Would you like me to tell you what you do when you meet a dangerous man?” I said.
“Uh… sure,” he said, sliding around in his chair again. “I mean, I guess.”
“You guess a lot don’t ya kid.” It wasn’t a question.
“Well, I mean, it’s just a little disconcerting, is all,” he replied.
“Of course,” I said. “I get that a lot.”
I let my words drift off into silence. Finally he asserted himself again, sort of.
“Well… are you going to tell me?”
I folded my hands together interlocking the fingers, obscured my mouth with my construct, and imitated the hesitancy in his voice.
“Well… son… uh, ermm, do you want me to tell you, uh, you know, or do you want to keep on guessing until you can give a straight answer?”
His eyes dropped again.
“I want you to tell me,” he replied, more flatly, more directly this time.
“Good. Gooood. Very good. These are just my initial observations of course, but here goes. When you meet a dangerous man you shift around in your seat. Like you do in your head. You start thinking to yourself, ‘will, or how exactly will this guy hurt me.’ You start having trouble thinking. You breathe shallow and uneven. Your heart beats off-key. You start making excuses to leave. You become unsettled, passive, accommodating, weak-kneed, calculating position for your own safety. You drink the drink you’re offered. You eat the food you’re offered. You smile nervously. You laugh tepidly, timidly, but still you laugh. You dissemble inside yourself, hope for external distractions. You begin looking around for either an escape route or someone else to protect you. You become confused with doubt, consumed with fear, paralyzed by uncertainty. That sound about right, son, just generally speaking? As a first stab at the subject?”
He didn’t reply. Not out loud anyway. What he was telling himself was anyone’s guess.
“I’ll take your lack of strenuous objection as an acknowledgement of my astute observational skills. Do you wanna know what I do when I meet a dangerous man?” I asked him.
Rather than speak he nodded his head almost imperceptibly in the affirmative.
“Well, see, I have sort of an altogether different reaction when I meet a dangerous man. I tend to sit or stand perfectly still, watching him carefully, to see what he’ll do, what his habits are. I observe exactly what makes him dangerous.
His hands, the way he moves, how he talks to others, his influence, his level of confidence or lack of it. I look at his mannerisms, his physical gestures, does he lean to one side too much, is he flatfooted, injured, does he favor one eye, not hear well, how quick or slow is he?
I start looking for weaknesses. I don’t think, ‘how can he hurt me,” no, I think to myself ‘will I need to hurt him,’ and if so, ‘how exactly will I do this?’ Where is he most vulnerable, how do I take him down with the least resistance, and the quickest, where do I ambush him, and when? Is this guy a public danger, a private one, both? What’s the best environment to limit him to?
I become fixed, active, braced, set, poised, aware, resilient, relaxed, and also calculating, but not for my own safety. No, I start calculating how he won’t be safe anymore. Because I’m there. I drink the drink I’m offered if I feel it’s safe to do so, I eat the food I’m offered if I feel it’s smart to do so. I smile a little and I laugh a little, but I don’t confuse doing either for friendliness or fear. It’s just a play for appearance, and a chance to note more.
I don’t need an escape route; I look for ways to get at him. To get closer. To advance. I know the closer I get the less dangerous he becomes. I don’t need someone to protect me, if necessary I’ll do the protecting for others, and if necessary I’ll be the one he needs protection from.”
He looked at the cup of coffee and the Danish he had been ponderously and abstractly consuming. I smiled again, broadly and genuinely.
“Don’t worry son. See, aside from what I just told you there’s one other thing you need to know about dangerous men.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Just this. There are two kinds of dangerous men in this world. There are the dangerous men who hunt men like you. And who stalk women and children, of course, and anyone else they can dominate, or that fears them. That’s the kind of dangerous man who makes a guy like you look for an escape route, or makes you look for someone to protect you.”
When I didn’t say anymore he was quiet a moment and then he asked what I knew he would ask.
“And what’s the second kind of dangerous man?”
“Me,” I said.
“You?” he said, but it wasn’t really a question.
“Me,” I repeated. “And that’s why the world needs more dangerous men, and needs them badly. Because for every one of me there’s ten of the other kind. So whereas not all dangerous men are equal, it sure wouldn’t hurt to even the odds up a bit until they are. Then we’ll see how things square at the corners. And if they don’t which corners are sharpest and cut the deepest. Or are hardest to whittle away.”
I stood up and walked around my desk and up to where he sat. I waited. When he rose to his feet I shook his hand vigorously and in a friendly fashion. As if I’d known him for years. I slapped him on the back, I smiled, I laughed. I led him to the door and opened it wide for him.
At the exit he turned and looked at me as hard as he knew how. I saw myself reflected in his eyes again. He opened his mouth to speak, seemed to think better of it, and didn’t. I nodded as if we were old buddies.
“If you ever need a safe escape route son – I’m certainly not it,” I told him. “But if you ever need a really dangerous man for a truly good cause, I’m available.” He nodded in reply, and I almost got the feeling he understood.
Then I shut the door, walked to my desk, and went back to work. There were still dangerous men to hunt, and miles and miles to go before I could sleep again.
Sometimes it’s a helluvah world, ain’t it?
Sometimes it’s just one helluvah world.