This excerpt is from Candy and Blood. Available for purchase on Amazon now.
For all his woofing, I honestly don’t think The Hamster actually expected Rocco to answer his challenge. His surprise slipped through his bravado just before the chink in the armor was cinched closed, but I spied it all the same. A touch of fear accompanied his surprise, and as the six-foot-five-inch, 280-pound behemoth crashed down from the top bunk like Jack’s infamous giant, I didn’t blame the five-foot-five Hamster for being afraid. That’s not to say I felt sorry for him—after all, he had brought it all upon himself.
At the time, I was living in a dorm-type setting with six men in the cell. It made for some tense times, as different personalities tended to clash, and neither conflict resolution nor intelligent conversation was likely to occur. In this particular instance, The Hamster took umbrage at the smell emanating from the ass of the inmate on the bunk below Rocco, so he tried to remedy the situation by pointing his fan at the stench. The offensive smell didn’t bother Rocco; what did bug him was the fact that the cold air of the fan was hitting him, and we were smack dab in the middle of the coldest January in one hundred years. That isn’t hyperbole.
Rocco told The Hamster to turn the fan away from him. The Hamster tried to explain about the noxious fart fumes, but Rocco was adamant about getting the fan turned so the air wasn’t hitting him. The Hamster put his shoes on—an implicit threat that he was readying for a fight—then he flat-out challenged Rocco to climb out of the bunk and make him turn the fan. Rocco wasted no time doing so, and the ground nearly shook as he alighted heavily upon it.
As I sat on the six-foot high top bunk over The Hamster’s bunk, Rocco could nearly look me straight in the eye without tilting his eyes up at all. The Hamster’s tiny head barely reached the level of the top bunk. He was nearly the height of Rocco’s monstrous barrel chest. Initially, it seemed certain to be a massacre, with Rocco dismantling the little guy with embarrassing ease, but there was no backing down now. Without further preamble, it began—and then stopped almost as quickly.
The Hamster was 54 years old at the time; Rocco was 57. Neither was in any semblance of physical fitness or in their prime. The Hamster swung first, quickly, trying to catch Rocco off guard. The punch connected with Rocco’s fleshy cheek but did not faze him. Rocco brought down a sledgehammer fist that glanced the side of The Hamster’s face. The Hamster lowered his head and wrapped his arms around Rocco as far as he could, then pumped his legs to propel his opponent backward. Rocco was forced to retreat a couple of steps, but he rained down haymakers on The Hamster’s exposed back as he did, making solidly hollow thumping sounds. The Hamster began to stand, and Rocco pushed him away as if he had no heft whatsoever. There was a ragged and painful sound coming from The Hamster as he struggled to breathe. Rocco, too, was doubled over and fighting to suck oxygen into his lungs.
“Wait! Wait!” The Hamster hollered, his hands held up in front of him to ward off an attack that wasn’t coming.
“Go ahead,” Rocco replied, “catch your breath.” This he uttered between gasps of his own. Neither was much prepared to go on; it seemed like the altercation was done before it’d really begun. But it turned out The Hamster had no honor or sense of protocol. This wasn’t terribly surprising to me.
The Hamster had sunk to his bunk while Rocco slumped into a chair, both of them gathering their breath after their brief burst of violence. Suddenly and without any forewarning, The Hamster flung himself across the three feet of floor and cracked Rocco in the face, connecting cleanly with his orbital socket bone, which would eventually bruise and swell into a black eye as evidence of the fact that The Hamster stole on him. I assume that The Hamster was hoping for a knockout punch; instead, his breaking of the agreed-upon truce only enraged the beast.
Rocco roared (literally, it sounded more like a roar than a yell) and burst from his seated position with a barrage of fists that The Hamster managed to mostly dodge or deflect so that they landed on his shoulders and arms rather than his pea-sized head. The Hamster had leaned forward, and Rocco clocked him with a vicious uppercut square in the center of his wee forehead, and I could tell that the punch had made The Hamster weak in the knees as he sagged forward. He managed to wrap his arms around Rocco’s ample middle (though he didn’t have a prayer of actually making those arms reach all the way around Rocco’s considerable circumference) and held on for dear life.
Rocco squirmed against the little leach that had latched onto him and managed to wrap his fleshy arm around The Hamster’s scrawny neck. Their struggles had taken them all around the available open area of the small cell, but as Rocco yanked on The Hamster’s head and neck like it was the cap on a bottle of pop he was trying to twist off, they were positioned right next to my bunk, just below me. With each successive attempt at decapitation, Rocco rose up, and his broad shoulders hit the edge of the bed upon which I sat and sent the whole thing up onto two corners. With each repeated yank, the bunk bucked and leapt like a rodeo bronc. All I could do was hold on for dear life as it came crashing down and tilted in the opposite direction before Rocco knocked it back again.
The Hamster was making some truly tortured choking sounds but still managed to squeak out: “Stop, stop!” Rocco relented. “Not my neck, bro,” The Hamster explained. “I got shot in my neck.” Apparently there were now rules to this particular throwdown.
From then on it was a laughably “civilized” conflict. They wrestled and swung at each other for a minute or so, then sat down to recover a while before heading into the lazy fray once more. After four rounds of this slow descent to peace, The Hamster finally conceded victory to Rocco. In truth, the fact that The Hamster had managed not to get his head ripped off probably made him more of a victor, but that’s not how the win was calculated. They both had a few abrasions and a bit of bruising, which they washed and nursed.
It was necessary to avoid the eyes of C/Os and snitches for a few days while they healed. For weeks, there was only a polite quiet that passed between them, but then the barrier began to melt and eventually the men were best of buddies as they talked, laughed, cooked, and ate together. I freely admit to being flabbergasted by the outcome.