"As long as you care what people think of you, they will think of you in a way that serves their interests. You care too much about pleasing idiots."
Tony remembered the words of his father well. He was 15 when he signed on to help with a harvest in California. The days had been long, especially for the young, dirty teenager, who hungered to be respected as a man. The foreman seemed to know Tony's desire, and took advantage. He rode Tony's back like a workhorse bound for dog food. Young Tony only wanted to please a hard man who couldn't be pleased; a man who was bitter beyond repair after too many years of working in the dirt for too little pay. Tony's dad came to him one evening as the sun set.
"The question to remember, son, is – what is it that pleases you?" His father leaned in at his side. Ripe, golden rays of light streamed through the branches. Dust from the day's work settled into a peaceful stillness that felt like cleansing rain on weathered skin. The air was fresh again. Evening birds chirped echoes of gratitude under the open sky. Tony felt the weight of his father's hand on his shoulder, and forever remembered his breath in his ear. It would be the last time they saw each other.
The question still eluded Tony Lopez, though he thought of it often when his mind was tired. The only thing he remembered better than those words was the sensation of the foreman's face when he struck it with the back of his hand. He was holding a set of pruning shears that added weight to the blow. He remembered the look on the foreman's face, spitting blood; the way his lips curled into a snarl; the way the tough old man came at him, fists clenched; and the way the metal shears hooked into his ribcage. The vengeance felt good, like scratching a deep itch. Just the memory of it was empowering. But when Lopez thought on his father's words, he was plagued by a feeling that he was no closer to answering the question now than he was then.
The foreman lay dying in the dirt, his eyes wide in disbelief. He clutched at the wound. He grunted and writhed, trying to catch a breath. Frothy blood foamed between his fingers and pooled in black soil.
Tony didn't linger to watch the rest. He knew what he'd done. He stared briefly into the man's eyes, then left the field before anyone noticed. He ditched the bloody glove and shears, and shouldered a small backpack that already held everything he owned. He raised a thumb to the passing cars on the highway, and was in Los Angeles by dawn.
At the time, he only remembered the first part of what his father said. You care too much about pleasing idiots. He made a vow: Never again would he cater to another's opinion. A young man with wounded pride is a dangerous thing. It was only much later that the question – What do you want? – bubbled into Tony's sleepless nights. To be respected, was the only answer he could muster.
A noise woke him up. He was lying on a sofa. Afternoon light filtered through the living room window. It took a second to remember exactly where he was. He heard the noise again – a thud on the door of the laundry room.
Lopez sat up. He wiped his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, pinching the bridge of his nose and blinked a few times, collecting himself. There was another bang on the door down the hall. He sighed and grabbed his .38 revolver.
"Cabron, if you're trying to knock yourself out, I can help you with that," he barked. He was annoyed to have his rest interrupted. He imagined the man-child lying on the floor in the binds of duct tape, kicking around with the pillowcase on his head.
"It really doesn't serve you to bother me right now," he said, untying the elaborate system he'd rigged around the doorknob to keep it closed. "It's quiet now, but you're still going to get a kick in the head, Cabron." And maybe the butt of my gun against your skull, too, he thought.
He burst into the little room and was surprised again – there was nothing on the floor.
Logic caught up to him a second too late.
"YAAAAHHH!" his captive sprang from darkness above.
Tom knew he would only get one chance to hurt Lopez, and that Lopez would almost certainly have a gun in his hand when he came in. If he came in. Tom's main worry was that Lopez would notice the discrepancy on the floor before coming into the room where Tom could hurt him.
After the long battle with his binds, he'd rested in the dark and licked the rashes on his wrists and legs. He didn't dare turn on the light. Lopez might see it under the door and know something was up.
Finally, he decided he was as ready as he would ever be. He started by rattling the heavy washer and dryer. When there was no reaction to that, he kicked the door until he heard Lopez shout down the hall.
Boot steps approached. Tom slunk on top of the washer. He kept a steady crouch and quiet breath, and pictured what he wanted to happen. With luck, he would spear Lopez in the eye with his elbow as he rained down upon him. Stun him long enough to get control of the gun or whatever he might be carrying, Tom thought.
His heart jumped as Lopez opened the door. He heard the threats on the other side, but didn't register specifics. He breathed deep, then exploded.
"YAAAAHHH!" he seemed to sail over a football field as he guided his left elbow into the villain's face, all his weight flying behind it. A soft spot depressed where the elbow landed.
Lopez crumpled to the linoleum, stunned. His left eye was already swelling shut, and the air was knocked out of him from being smashed into the hard surface.
Tom scrambled to get his feet, searching for the gun. He found it in Tony's limp hand, but he was so jacked up he fumbled it onto the linoleum.
The gun landed with a THUD that induced more panic. Tom picked up the pistol again and pulled the hammer back. He staggered out of the room., anticipating blows that never came. He half turned and fired as Lopez tried to lift his head.
The bullet grazed Tony's right temple. Blood splattered. His head snapped back. Tom didn't wait to see the results. He was already running down the hall and out the back door.
He raced to the barn where the family kept an old car with keys. He slid the heavy door open on the barn, and jumped in the car. He turned the key so hard it might have snapped off. The engine coughed. Once. Twice.
"Com'on! Com'on!" Tom yelled. Stomping his foot on the gas. He looked through the windshield, expecting to see Lopez in the way. There was nothing. He glanced back down at the dashboard, then at the gun next to him, and relaxed just enough to take his foot off the gas.
The car roared to life. The bald tires spun in place and then thrust the car forth in a cloud of gravel.