|Randy crouched in the ramshackle shanty he called home. The frigid air stung his exposed skin as he wrapped another layer of cloth around his arm. I need to get out of this hell hole or I'll freeze to death. He swigged down a few mouthfuls of whiskey, and felt the familiar burn as it cascaded down his throat. His body warmed and numbed, he drifted out of consciousness.
The sunlight twinkled on his eyelids as he stirred from his stupor. His joints were stiff, but the warmth of the rays felt good on his aching body. Still woozy he pushed open the makeshift door and stumbled outside. The wintry air struck him and it felt like being pricked by a thousand needles. Randy shivered.
Henry, another bum whom he listed as his only friend, had a shack in an alley two blocks down and across the street. I wonder what old Henry is up to this morning? Think I'll find out. He often queried Henry for all the street gossip, and he also could have been a damn good weatherman.
Randy rambled down the street steadying himself against street signs, fences, stairways – anything that appeared sturdy. He crossed the street to blaring car horns that sounded like massive freightliners in his head. His head pounded out waves of pain, so he rested on the curb for a few minutes to help clear his mind. Need to score some codeine later. He once again pulled himself up, and turned the corner where he spied Henry’s shack.
“Henry!” he shouted and waited for a response. Nothing. “Henry!” he yelled louder. While the shout caused an avalanche of pain in his head, he enjoyed sparring with Henry more.
Something inside stirred. The shack wobbled. The sound of heavy breathing and grunting struck Randy’s ears. He smiled.
“Get up you old coot! It’s nearly nine o’clock,” He lied. He had no idea what time it was.
“Yeah, yeah. Go back to yer pile ‘a rubble and leave me alone,” Henry voiced, cross and husky.
“Come on,” Randy banged on the door a few times, “we’ll go down to the square. It’ll be warmer there than the docks.”
Henry yanked open the door. His wild gray hair stood on end and leaned off to the right. His beady brown eyes squinted in the sun. He shook his finger at Randy. “I told ya never ta wake me up a’gin.”
“Fine. Stay in there for the rest of the day. I’m going to the square to get a few dollars for breakfast.”
Henry rubbed his grizzled goatee, and seemed to ponder Randy’s suggestion. A skull tattoo showcased his bare right arm. His other arm was wrapped in rags, while the rest of his body was covered in dirt-wallowed clothes. His pungent odor – a mix of booze, dirt, and sweat -- rolled out with him.
“All right. We cud do some signin’. Jus don’t take my corner. That’s me lucky corner now.” Henry’s mostly toothless smile crept over his aged pitted face. He turned and picked up his panhandling sign that read ‘Anything will help.’
Randy’s head still throbbed. The blast of a car horn echoed down the alley. He stumbled from the sudden onset of pain. Henry, in a rare display of nimbleness, grabbed Randy’s arms and steadied him.
“Whoa! You got the ring-a-dingers in yer head don’ ya?”
“Here ya are,” Henry patted down his clothes then retrieved a few pills from a grimy pocket and offered them to Randy, “These’ll fix ya right up.”
Randy took them from Henry and retrieved his whiskey flask. He chucked the pills in his mouth and took a hit on the bottle.
“What were those?” Randy half-heartedly inquired. Like it matters.
“Tylenol and somthin’, I think. It’s what the ‘Bug’ said they was anyways.”
“Need to get some more codeine. I’m out.”
“Yeah. You owe me some now.” Henry looked off to the west. “Looks like it’s gonna get cold tonight. C’n see it in the sky. Maybe snow by the looks a’ things.”
Randy trusted Henry’s weather predictions. He certainly does have a knack for it. “We’d best get a spot at the shelter then.”
“Naw. Can’t drink. They search ya for drugs. And ya haf ta take a shower. Son of a bitchin do-gooders.”
“I think I’ll go. I’m outta drugs anyways. Way warmer than my place.”
They ambled down the sidewalk bathed in abundant sunshine. The morning chill had worn off. Randy’s bloodshot eyes darted between the ever increasing people, as the church clock tower struck 8:30.
They arrived at Public Square and Henry took his normal corner, while Randy took up the opposite corner through the tree filled block. The paths ran like an X through it. A heroine junkie named Leroy lay on a bench, as Randy sat down and leaned back against a tree trunk. He took out his cup, dropped three pennies in it, and began to jingle it at passing pedestrians. A red-headed woman in full business attire kept her head down and ignored him. Typical.
A young white lady turned and spotted Randy after one such jingle. Randy grinned and nodded trying hard not to show his teeth. She dug a handful of change out of her purse and dropped them with a clank into the tin cup. She never looked at Randy. Instead, her eyes seemed unswayed from staring at the sidewalk and she moved along.
“Thank you ma’am,” Randy called. The lady continued on and did not respond.
Randy stared at the people walking by. He used to be one of them long ago. He couldn’t recall just how long. To them, he was invisible. The only thing that might gain their attention was the clinking of change in his cup. A feeling of despair swept through him. No one cares. He peered into the cup, now containing three quarters a nickel and three pennies. His only chance of survival rested upon these souls or the 'do-gooders' down at the shelter. He took his whiskey out and sucked down the last of it.
Nearing lunch time, Randy collected all of $2.42. It was enough for a couple burgers at McDonalds and a cup of water. He gathered his sign and tucked the tin cup under his coat. Meandering through the path, he spotted a squirrel with an acorn in its mouth scurrying up a white oak. He paused to think. Damn thing is probably better off than me. Lumbering to Henry's corner, he saw the old man asleep against a 'Yield' sign post. His sign crooked on his chest. Randy glanced in his cup where four one-dollar bills lay crumpled and jumbled inside. Several coins sat in the bottom. Randy thought for a moment about taking a couple dollars.
"Hey, Henry. Wake up."
"Uhhh?" Henry blinked his eyes a few times. "How did I git here?"
"We came together. You old fool."
Henry grunted and instinctively looked down in his cup. "Whoa! Looks like about six dollars. I remember da one gave me some foldin' money, but the other must've been when I fell asleep."
"Great. You get more asleep than I do awake."
"I told ya it's ma lucky corner." Henry grinned. "I'm hungry. Where ya wanna go?"
"Mickey D's is fine. I only got about $2."
They ambled down the sidewalk, wedged between the tall buildings of downtown Cleveland. The familiar row of blue awnings on Ontario Street shaded them intermittently. Cars zoomed by and faint car horns would sound as people rushed to their destinations. A man carrying a briefcase and chatting on a cell phone hurried past them. He eyed the building numbers seemingly in search of a particular address. Posters hung in the windows. One in particular had a black man carrying his smiling son via piggyback. Other posters showed other fake people trying to sell their fake products.
In contrast, two black people -- one man and one woman sat at the bus stop. The elderly man donned a heavy coat and sportsman cap while the heavy-set woman wore blue medical scrubs. Both were content to ignore each other -- The man by reading a section of newspaper, while the woman appeared to text on her phone.
On the opposite side of the street, a dilapidated bridal shoppe sign hung like a relic to someone's past dreams. The ancient block building stood with several broken windows in its second floor and an ugly frost covered what Randy thought might at one time, have been a nice store front on the lower level. Henry didn't seem to notice as he was too preoccupied with looking at the sky. Probably thinking about the weather again.
They turned onto Prospect Avenue and then again onto 2nd Street as they weaved among the signs, posts, and fire hydrants. Passing people dodged them, trying hard not to make eye contact. A few would glance their way. The wind from the winding canal hit Randy's face. Henry squinted at the sudden onset. They spied the tall "Hard Rock Cafe" sign near the water's edge, but they would step into the Skylight Tower City Center entrance and find their way to McDonald's. They made it just before the lunch crowd.
They ordered their burgers to go to avoid the sales tax. Henry ordered a vanilla shake in addition. Randy knew better than to ask for a sip. Henry would share just about anything, except food. Randy peered out a row of large windows facing the canal. The waters were moderately choppy and a tugboat drifted by. Some clouds had crept in and caused the sun to peek-a-boo behind them from time to time.
"Look. I don't know what will happen with the Applegate estate. We've got to find the son." A tall man dressed in a suit spoke into his cell next to him.
Randy turned. Applegate? That's my name. His attention piqued, he listened further.
"I think he's dead more than likely. He dropped off the map years ago. (pause) I know it's a long shot, but Charlie said the judge owed him a favor and we could at least see if the guy is filing a tax return. We have the social. (pause) Yeah, well in eight months it'll go to the three cousins. (pause) I'll be back to the office after I eat. I'm at McDonald's of all places. Ok... Ok... Yeah... Bye."
The man slipped the cell into his inside coat pocket and stroll over to the counter and nodded to the cashier. Her short-cropped black hair and pudgy form held out a sack. She nodded back. "Come back soon, sir."
Randy followed him.
"Thanks." The tall man turned and came face to face with Randy. "Sorry buddy, I don't have any change."
Randy squinted at the man who cocked his head and furrowed his brow. "Did you want something else?"
"You said something about Applegate."
"Yeah. I'm an attorney for Friedman, Rauser, and Brown. It's an estate."
"That's my name."
Henry sauntered up and took a slurp on his shake. His eyes darted from the tall man to Randy and back again.
"Look. I get it. You'd like a little pocket change. I think I do have a buck or two." The man lifted his wallet out of the other inside jacket pocket and retrieved a five dollar bill. He held it out to Randy who took it and shoved it deep in his layered clothing. The man nodded, smiled, and scooted around Randy who stayed silent.
"Wha' was that about?" Henry inquired.
"I don't know. I guess he didn't believe me. Thought I was just wanting some money."
"Hey, you got a fiver out of it!"
"Yeah." Randy pulled the five back out and looked back as the man spun through the revolving door and out of sight. Randy walked to the counter and ordered a chocolate shake. The teen made change and wrinkled her nose at the sudden onset of odor that accompanied Randy.
Randy noticed a tattoo with the word "Fang" just underneath her sleeve. She slid the shake over to Randy and retreated back to the cook window where a couple burgers lay.
Randy's mind trickled with images of his father, and the last words he'd heard from him. "Son, you need to straighten out your life. If you can't turn it around, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the company and move out."
"If you can't help me, your only son, I'll save you the trouble. I quit. I don't have a father any more." The echo of that door slamming still sent a chill through him. His father was right -- Drugs ruled him then, and still did.
"You gonna drink that thing or just stand there wid your mouth hangin' open?" Henry asked.
"Oh. Sorry, Henry. Let's go." He took a long drag on the shake to demonstrate he was back from his short daydream. I wonder. The urge to contact his father -- a feeling he'd not had in years -- crept upon him. He held out the shake to Henry. "You want the rest of this?"
Henry looked perplexed, but didn't question. He snatched the shake away and began slurping.
Randy spun through the revolving doors and turned right. The Hard Rock Cafe sign dominated the scene with the river beyond. He crossed the street and felt the sharp wind on his face. Henry sidled alongside of Randy and they stood in silence watching the scant ships fight the current and wind as they trudged up and down the waterway.
Randy's head settled down as the pills Henry gave him kicked in, but the cold made him numb again.
"We doing any more signin'?" Henry asked breaking the quiet.
"Maybe later. I need to do something. I'll catch up to you later."
"All righty." Henry flipped the empty cup into a nearby trash can and glanced at Randy once more before pushing up the sidewalk back toward his shanty.
Randy couldn't stop thinking about his father. He recalled the multiple times he'd come home from work drunk and lay into his mother. His mother would say things like "You're never home." and "I'm tired of this crap and being shit on." When his father had had enough, well he let his fists fly. He remembered the blood and his mother's sobs so vividly that he turned and looked at the sidewalk for the red drops. Stupid. Successful bastard, but God my father had a temper. I never really forgave him for that.
Randy glanced up and down the street. Friedman something and Brown. I think I can find that.
After asking a few people he finally got a teenager to look up the address -- just five blocks from his shanty -- on her phone.
Randy trudged through the streets keeping his eyes down and only looking up at street signs. Lost in a whirlwind of thoughts the last one came to him as he stood before the tall office building; "It's an estate." He pulled open the glass door and entered. Two pot-bellied security guards eyed him. The first squinted as the pungent aroma that was Randy, hit the man's olfactory senses.
"Sir, can I help you with something?" asked the red-haired man.
"Yeah..." Randy's voice trembled a bit. "I ... uh... need to find an attorney. I was told to see a Friedman Brown?"
"Well there is an attorney up on the 8th floor. Friedman, Rauser, and Brown. They're mighty expensive. Perhaps... You might have the wrong building, or maybe you should find another attorney."
Randy noticed the taller dark-headed man unbuckle his gun holster. He swallowed hard as both the guards eyes bore down upon him.
"No. I just need to see them about an estate."
The guards glanced at one another. The taller man shrugged. "Let him through, Murph."
"Empty your pockets, place everything in the bin, and step through the metal detector, sir." The red-haired man smiled. "You don't have any drugs on you I assume?"
"As a matter of fact. No. I'm all out at the moment. No booze either."
They both grinned and the tall man even chuckled a bit.
Randy stepped through and no alarm sounded.
"The elevators are over there. You want room 812."
"Thanks." Randy nodded and proceeded to the elevators.
"Whew. That guy reeks." Randy heard them whisper.
The elevator doors opened and he walked down the hall eyeing each number until he stood before a fancy mahogany door. A plaque next to the frame stated "Friedman, Rauser, and Brown, LLC Attorneys at Law" He reached and twisted the knob. A sick feeling welled inside of him as the numbness wore off. His very soul ached along with his bones.
A stout black-haired lady with her back turned to Randy typed at a computer keyboard with a crisp flat LCD monitor before her. She heard the door close and spun around with a wide toothy smile. "May I hel..." Her gaze fell upon Randy and she pushed away from the counter. She stared at Randy and an awkward silence ensued. A flash of fear followed by disgust pushed over the lady's tan face.
"I'm sorry." She attempted to regain her composure. "May I ... uh... help you, sir? Were you looking for an attorney's office?"
"Yeah. My name is Randy Applegate. I need to speak to a tall guy. He saw me at McDonald's today."
She blinked hard a few times, slid back one step as Randy's odor reached her, and replied, "Oh, I think you might mean Steve or maybe Charlie?"
"I think he mighta been talking to Charlie."
"Ok." She pushed the intercom. "Steve. This is Marie. I have a Randy Applegate here to see you."
"I don't know any Randy... wait. Applegate did you say?"
"I'll be right up."
Randy noticed the name plate that read "Sheri Gonzalez" on her desk. Look at her. All fancy and stuck up. That business suit and her perfect hair, outfit, and matching shoes. I remember that.
Randy sat on the edge of overstuffed chair. He fidgeted with an empty pill bottle in his pocket. He was suddenly aware of his coarse beard, odor, and mismatched clothing. He stared at a dirt smudge on the back of his hand. Kinda looks like Abe Lincoln. He smiled at the silly thought and rubbed it off (more like smeared it) with his opposite sleeve.
A door off to Randy’s left opened and the tall fellow named Steve wandered through. He grimaced at the sight of Randy, but stuck out his hand and bore a smile.
“Hello, Mr. Applegate. Please do come in.” Randy shook hands. His eyes shifted down to the man’s shiny shoes.
They two mazed their way back a couple of hallways and into a side office where a large window displayed the city’s skyline. Randy stopped at the doorway and took it all in. I’d forgotten what the view was like from these places.
“I take it…” Steve started, but realized Randy wasn’t listening. He increased his volume a bit and began again… “I take it that you are here about the estate?”
“Oh… Yeah. Who was it that died?”
“That would be Thomas Applegate Jr. Is he any relation?”
“You could say that. He was my father.” Randy nodded and tears welled in his eyes. Just hearing his name like that sent a chill through him. He blinked a few times not wanting to cry.
“Your father?” Steve repeated. “So you’re the missing son? We all thought you were dead.”
“I’m sure you did. Last I saw of the bastard, he never wanted anything to do with me. The feelin’ was mutual. I just wanted to find out if it was him. That’s all. I’ll get out of your hair now.”
“Wait.” Steve stood up. “You do want to claim the estate I presume? I mean if you’ll submit to a DNA test.”
“Nah. I don’t want any money. Just give it away. It isn’t mine.”
“The estate is 3.6 million dollars. Surely you’re kidding.”
“No,” Randy said flatly.
“Well, since we have located you you’ll have to sign a waiver. I’ll draw that up.”
“Nobody needs to know you found me. I just wanted to know about my father.” Randy turned and took a few steps toward the door.
“Where can I find you? I have to at least have a waiver. Nelson will insist on it.”
“Nelson? Nelson Fitz? My cousin? That rotten, no good son-of-a-bitch!”
“Yeah. If you don’t stake a claim. Well, he gets it all.”
“Where do I sign? It’ll be a cold day in hell before I give it to him!” Randy pounded a fist in the middle of Steve’s desk. A dirt splotch signified exactly where.
“So you want to claim it then?”
“You betcha. I’ll give it to charity or something. Never to Nelson.”
“Well ok then. I’ll need a little hair for the DNA test, fingerprints, and a signature. I’ve got that right back here.” Steve turned, pulled open a filing cabinet drawer, and retrieved a thick file with a perfectly straight label of Thomas Applegate Jr. Estate. He pulled a few papers from it and slip them across the desk at Randy.
Randy eyed them for an instant then picked up a golden pen and signed each one. After taking fingerprints and a hair sample Randy sat down and looked around the office. A picture of Steve, a woman and three children sat in a frame on the filing cabinet. The mahogany desk, matching chair, and plush surroundings completed the scene.
Steve ticked off each signature and glanced at Randy. “Well, if this is all verified you’ll have a nice house, a solid portfolio, and a summer home on Kelley’s Island. You’ll also be the majority stockholder of Applegate, Inc. maker of various motor parts.”
“Applegate, Inc? You mean the old man incorporated? I can’t run a business like that.”
“You really won’t have to. Tom hasn’t been in good health and really has let his staff run it. You can meet them if you’d like.”
“No. I’ll just…” Randy shook his head. What have I gotten myself into?
“Don’t worry. We’ll guide you through it all. How about we get you a hot shower and some food?”
“Yeah. That sounds ok.”
The last sensation Randy had was the smell of Sheri’s citrus hand lotion as he exited with Steve.
Steve's home consisted of five bedrooms, three baths, and a two car garage in the suburb of Avon Lake complete with a white picket fence which spanned the length of the front lawn. The spiral staircase to the second floor along with the vaulted ceiling, sunken livingroom displayed the posh lifestyle of a high-powered lawyer.
Steve led Randy to the bathroom and laid out a full set of towels and three kinds of soap. Randy said nothing. He only admired his surroundings and kept coming back to "3.6 million dollars". How am I going to manage 3.6 million dollars? That's what me and the old man fought about all the time is money. Maybe I should have went to see him after all.
Randy snapped out of his thoughts.
"Yeah. Just not used to such nice things. You want to show me how to turn this thing (pointing to the shower controls) on?:"
Steve smiled and and let out a chuckle. "Yeah. Took me a couple times before I figured it out too."
Steve adjusted the controls and showed Randy the hot water mix to cold. Randy nodded.