Six or Seven Inches from Pinkie to Thumb

Two policemen are beating a man. A third watches the crowd warily.

“Move along. Move along,” he says, and gestures with the butt of his gas gun. Not threateningly; the gun does not say, “I will move you, I will move you.” The threat is there in the wide jaw of the gun, wider than a man’s spread hand; in the nervousness of the policeman, in the quietness of the crowd.

Behind him the other two are methodical. Efficient. There is no cruelty in their beating, no teasing offers of escape, no faked weariness. They beat the man remorselessly, working him over until he is too bruised and battered to stand or to struggle. They are glistening with sweat, upper lips golden in the sunlight.

One of them checks to make sure the man is still alive. “He breathes,” he says. The third policeman is less worried.

The crowd breaks apart, drifts back along the street. One of the policemen speaks into a radio. The three stand protectively around the beaten man, postures slack and waiting. The one with the gas gun hums to himself, one of the new songs, a popular song.