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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1642203-First-Day-on-the-Job
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Other · #1642203
Homeless people can contribute to society, can't they?
word count 10009









First Day on the Job























A story by Kris Seal











































I had risen early. It was still dark. I brushed the newspapers aside and sat up rubbing the sleep from my eyes. A new day was upon me. I crawled to the front door and pushed the cardboard flap of my house open. My bones creaked as I stepped out to meet the cold morning. I inhaled a lungful of stale air. I had to get up early if I wanted the prime real estate. I looked out over the various bodies huddled under their makeshift bedding. A fire glowed dimly in the rusted out barrel at the other end of the alley. Its needs abandoned during the night. I turned around, pulled the Kenmore flap back, and reached into my humble abode. My panhandling tools were under the dirty trench coat that served as my bed. I lifted the corner of the Bogart bed and pulled out a squirt bottle, a magnum black marker, and a fresh scrap of cardboard.  What would I write today?



‘will work for food’ was the biggest cliché of the homeless. No, that wouldn’t do. I needed something that popped. I racked my mind trying to come up with a catchy slogan. ‘will beg for justice’ no that was wrong. Too direct. ‘ help me and one day I might help you.’ The phrase sat well. I whispered it aloud. The words slipped out like syrup over a pile of flapjacks. They felt good on my tongue. I hoped I didn’t make too much noise whispering today’s mantra. I looked around nervously to see if anyone was stirring. The alley remained still. I bit the lid and pulled the marker out. By the waning light of the moon, I scrawled the words across the cardboard. They looked as good as they sounded.



I glanced over towards the Maytag dishwasher box nestled up against the back wall of Master Kang’s Fine Chinese Eatery. Lou, the upstaging bastard, was still asleep. His filthy yellow snow boots peeked out past the manufacturer’s warranty. An unsteady wheezing clambered through the thin walls of the appliance box. I smiled. Maybe it was one of his night terrors.



Before I continue, let me explain a few things about Lou. The man had it out for me. He had it out for everyone. The day after I had hit the streets. Lou was there. I remembered walking the streets like a lost puppy. I had no idea where I was going to stay for the night. I thought about packing in at a shelter for the night. I stood across the street from the shelter, building up confidence or tearing down prejudices. I don’t know which, maybe both. The night encroached fast and the wind began to howl. I knew it was warm in there, but my misaligned sense of dignity wouldn’t allow me to enter.  Instead, I turned down the nearest alley way, hoping the chilled air wouldn’t follow.



As I made my way down the alley, I clutched at my chest with both arms. The tee shirt provided little help against the cold. In hindsight, I should have hidden some items from the repo men, like a jacket or maybe a sweater. While I was standing there in the alley thinking about all the warm clothes that I used to own, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. A shadow stepped out to greet me.       



“Fell on hard times have you?”



I peered through the thickening gloom. Squinting, I tried to get a good look at the man.



“What’s it to you?” I said gruffly hoping my voice sounded tough enough to bluff my way out of a confrontation. 



“Whoa pump the brakes, Mister. Just thought you could use a friend tonight, that’s all.  If you want to keep to yourself, suits me just fine, but it’s awfully chilly out here. ”



His unnaturally white teeth shone bright in the dark alley. Something about that smile broke down my defenses. Looking back I should have recognized that type of smile. It was a salesmen’s smile. All my life that smile had been getting me into trouble. Oh yes sir, a man of your stature definitely needs this Cadillac. You can swing the payments. Trust me. This four bedroom ranch house is perfect for you. My arms are twisted. You won’t find a better deal in the whole city. Trust me. This will help you get twice as much work done. Just a small sniff, and busy, busy you’ll be. Trust me.   



He turned his back to me and started to walk away.



“Wait, don’t leave me,” I said with an eager quickness. All my faults placed in the open. He pursued them in a way that a middle aged woman might look through her neighbor’s discarded memorabilia at the annual city wide garage sales. Self-loathing wasn’t for him. He put it back down and clucked his tongue. A wanton need for acceptance, now, that was something he could use.  A penny for your thoughts, a friendly smile for your insecurities.



He stopped and lumbered back towards me. He peeled off his most outer layer of clothing and held it up to me.  “Here, take this coat.”



I did as he said and wrapped the coat around my shoulders. It smelt horrible, but it kept the cold at bay, and I was thankful. He reached inside the massive furls of his clothing with a gloved hand and pulled out an amber colored bottle.



“This will warm ya up,” he said as he offered the bottle to me. I took the bottle from him and flipped it over looking for a label. There was no label. I looked back at the stocky man and raised an eyebrow. He nodded his head, urging me on. So, I unscrewed the cap and took a healthy pull from the bottle. He was right. The liquid raced down into my belly. The warmth spread throughout my body like a summer day. The bitter sting was a faint afterthought. I held the bottle at arm’s length, thinking he would want the next nip.



“Have ya another, I’ve already had my fill.”



I conceded and took another draw. The booze was working at an alarmingly fast rate. Normally, I could handle my liquor with the best of them, but this stuff was potent. Slowly, my muddled mind came around. It was potent for a reason. I was being drugged. My knees buckled and I fought to stand, but my muscles reacted like molasses. The ground felt like the right place to be. I sank down to the concrete and closed my eyes.



I woke around noon shivering. The stocky man that I would soon know as Lou was gone. He had taken his coat back, along with most of my clothing and the remaining money that I had been able to hang onto. It was in this moment that I knew I would have to put away all my old detrimental tendencies. Become more than myself. In that last slap to human decency, he had freed me. 





……………………………………………………….



I took off from the alleyway, my head held high so the thick beard wouldn’t scratch against my neck. The cardboard mantra tucked under my arm. This was the day. Lou wouldn’t beat me, not today. While he slumbered with the overstuffed woman’s designer jacket curled around him, I was making my way to the best spot in town.



The traffic was light on my way to Wilshire and Shultice.  I crossed the dual lanes of hard asphalt and made my way to the welcoming grass of the medium.



“Jerry if you ever go straight, a state job is the one to take,” I said aloud to the deserted night. The grass that separated the cold concrete was my own private Eden.  I seriously considered taking my worn sneakers off; let my dogs run free and I might have if it wasn’t so cold.  The sun would soon peek through the downtown district. I readied myself. I put on my sympathy face. The corners of my mouth drooped. The sparkle in my eyes faded to a dull grey. I hoisted the much deliberated upon sign up to my chest. The suburbanites would soon be on the move.



The Hondas, Toyotas, Fords, and Chevrolets began to pour in. They rushed towards their high rise prisons. As they drove by me, I looked at the different faces. Each one unique, but the one common thread shared with the varying demographics, ethnicities, and genders, was pity. The pity they all had for me. Sure, they expressed it in different ways, but it all boiled down to the belief that they were better than me. I did nothing to change their belief. It was better for business. Who wants to give money to somebody doing all right?



The first donator of the day was an old lady with bluish hair. She was driving a rust-colored Dodge Omni. She held the dollar within her frail hand and extended her arm out towards me. I almost didn’t take the dollar, but the look on her face changed my mind. It was a mixture of grandmotherly love and pathos. I felt that she probably needed it more than me, but I didn’t want to disappoint her. Some people are naturally unselfish and taking the money would make her day. I reached for her hand to take the dollar. I closed my hand around hers. Her skin was as thin as paper, but her veins pumped a lively blood, both warm and inviting.  I smiled as wide as I could while I pocketed her dollar. She smiled back at me. The glow of helping a stranger held tightly within the wrinkles of her round face.



“Don’t you worry about the ‘might.’ I already feel like you have.”



“Thank you ma’am,” I replied. The light turned green and she was off.



I wished every person was as nice as she was. I sat down on the soft grass of the meridian as the cars whizzed by, the green light granting me a momentary reprieve. The cardboard sign rested in my lap. The next motorist was a surly bitch. The Lexus rolled to a stop beside me at the red light. The black tinted window rolled down with an electric whirl. Her puffed up bleach blond hair scraped against the ceiling of her car, and her face looked clownish to me underneath all that make-up.



“What the fuck is wrong with you? Honestly. There are millions of people in this city who make a decent living. They get a job and contribute to society. Why can’t you? You fucking leach. Everyday, I go to work and I see trash like you loitering about, bringing the property values down. You make the rest of us sick.” 



She spat at me through the window of her fancy car. The white froth landed on my cheek. The light turned green and the rear tires of the Lexus squalled on the asphalt. I wiped the spittle from my cheek with the backside of my hand as I watched her speed away. I would say she was the one with problems if anybody asked me, but of course they wouldn’t. I still had three to four hours left at the intersection. Hopefully that was the worst that I would encounter.



The day turned out to be fruitful despite the occasional tirade from a pissed off motorist. I made fifty four dollars. A good haul by my standards.  I even had enough money to take the bus. I made my way to the concrete bench at the end of the street, and sat down amongst the normal people. They looked at me cross, but public transportation was everyone’s right. Yeah, I stank, but fuck ‘em. They could deal with it.



The bus came to a stop in front of the bench with a screech of its air brakes. The overweight driver pulled on the linkage that split the side doors open. I waited for everybody to board. I took the three steps fumbling in my pocket for the $2.50.  I dropped the coins into the payment can and made my way towards the back of the bus. All the seats were filled, so I held onto the stainless steel grip that hung from the ceiling. The random bodies pushed up near me, and I felt normal for just a little while.  The bus made countless stops and the passengers jostled around vying for position. Finally, the bus came to my stop. I pushed through the crowd of people and made my way to the street.



It felt good to get off the bus. I could only stand so much normalcy, plus some of the people in there stank worse then I did. The doors shut behind me, and the bus rolled on down the street, leaving me alone once again. I looked up and down the street figuring out exactly where I was. In my head, I calculated how far away I was from Jonny’s Stores and Mores. Five blocks is what I came up with. I’d have to get to walking, if I wanted see if I was right.



I stood in front of Jonny’s Stores and Mores slightly pissed. Seven blocks. That was how far it was from the bus stop.  I should know the city better than that. This city is my city. I’m a part of her. She’s a part of me.



The door chimed an electric rendition of Waylon Jennings’s ‘Good ole Boys’ as I entered Jonny’s Stores and Mores. Jonny looked up from his copy of Penthouse to see who came in. He saw that it was just me, and went back to perusing the glossy girls. I navigated the showroom full of lawnmowers, wood chippers, chainsaws, mini-bikes, and go-karts, making my way to the front desk.  Standing before the cheap Formica counter, I cleared my throat.



“Rent’s past due,” he said flatly, keeping his eyes trained on the girly magazine.



“That’s why I’m here. I got the cash, see. All’s good,” I said pulling the wad of crumpled bills out of my pocket.  I placed the cash on the counter and a couple of coins hidden within the folds of the dollar bills fell out and clinked against the counter.



Jonny looked up from his magazine.  His eyes settled on the random mass of money on the counter, and then he looked up at me.



“Are you shitting me, Jerry?”



“No…it’s all there.  Forty dollars. Count it if you don’t trust me.”



“Jesus Fing Christ, Jerry. You didn’t give hand jobs to get this, did you?”



“What! No. It’s legit.”



Jonny sighed heavily and tilted his chair back onto its hind legs.  He reached for something hanging on the back of the wall facing me. He dropped the chair on all fours and tossed the vending machine style key towards me all in one smooth motion.



“That will take care of the security lock. Another day and I would have auctioned all your worthless shit to the highest bidder. Bring the lock and key back when you’re finished.”



“Sure thing, Jonny. I’ll bring it right back.”



I reached for the key and slide it off the counter. I held the key tightly in my hand as I exited the store. I knew how close I was to losing everything. I was grateful that I had made it here in time. The door chimed again as I left Jonny’s.  Outside of the store, I let my heart slow down. Dealing with Jonny, always unnerved me, but everything was all right now. I bent down, pressing my hands against my knees. I took several deep breaths.



If it wasn’t for Jonny, this would be the perfect outpost, the perfect sanctuary. I gathered myself and made for the storage sheds.  108. That particular shed housed all my secrets. It was where I kept my gear. I rushed towards the shed.  The sunlight came slanting in through the overgrown sunflowers and milkweeds. For a man that owned a lawnmower shop. Jonny didn’t seem too concerned with lawn maintenance.



I stepped out onto the gravel that surrounded the storage sheds. The layout of the sheds resembled a labyrinth. Tin buildings sat chaotic against one another. I felt like Theseus without the ball of string, but as I walked over the dust chalked rocks, the terrain slowly began to reveal itself to me. My shed was on the North West end. I hit a few dead ends before I found it. The unassuming tin door looked just like all the other tin doors in the complex. In my previous life, one of my drug dealers told me that if you wanted to hide something, leave it where everybody could see it. He was high at the time, so he probably didn’t know what he was talking about, but it fit this situation to a tee.



There were two locks on the door. An industrial master lock and a smaller combination lock with a green dial. The master lock was Jonny’s. It was placed there to kept me out until I paid the rent, or until the mandatory wait period was over, and he could auction everything off.  I grabbed the cold lock, slipped the key inside, and turned. The lock popped open, and I slide it off the door. I left the combination lock alone for the time being. I pocketed the master lock and headed back towards Jonny’s. I didn’t want to give him a reason to check up on me, while I was doing my important preparations.                 



I opened the door to Jonny’s shop and ‘Good ole Boys’ sprang to life. I walked up to the counter and placed the lock and key down. 



“Jonny….Jonny, you back there? I’ve brought your lock back.”



“Yeah, leave it on the counter and piss off. I’m busy here.”



  Jonny was a dick, so I did what ever I could to feel better about dealing with him.  I turned around and let a great fart rip. I hoped it would linger.  On my way out, I passed by a ridiculously overpriced go kart. From the depths of my throat, I conjured up a thick and creamy wad of phlegm. Rrrrcckkk…..spppuut. It landed on the steering wheel and stretched down to the seat. I stifled a laugh as Merle once again talked about those good ole boys.



I made my way back to my storage shed, and turned the combination dial back and forth releasing the lock. I pocketed the lock and bent down to grab the handle at the base of the door. The butterflies fluttered and swooped in my belly. It happened every time.  I tensed my muscles and jerked my arm up. The overhead door slid open on its tracks with a satisfactory clang of gears and chains.

 

Before I go on, I’ll let you in on a little secret about the true me. The panhandling that I did during the day was a front that bankrolled my operations. It was a good racket. I considered the spare change flung from the tinted windows of ongoing traffic, a second tier type of tax. A tax levied that would ensure the safety of the good citizens of the great city of Detroit. I was a homeless man by day, but I thought of myself as a guardian angel of the streets by night. And within the walls of storage shed 108 was my lair, my sanctuary, my base of operations.



I shut the door behind me and flicked on the lamp. The powered unit was a bit more expensive but well worth it.  The naked 40-watt bulb illuminated the room with a soft glow. The shadows from my equipment spanned across the far tin wall with an unnatural length, but it was a welcoming sight to me.  The reason I picked this place and put up with Jonny and all his B.S. was simple. He threw away a lot of useful components. Take the grappling gun for example. I found most of it in the dumpster behind Jonny’s Stores and Mores.  It used to be an aftermarket jeep wench from a ’82 model Cherokee. With a few modifications (the stock of a Daisy Red Rider BB Gun, an oxygen tank from a deceased geriatric named Gerald, and three 60d nails bent back around and lashed together), it was now a streamlined instrument of justice.



I walked towards the far corner of the shed and placed my hand lovingly on my suit.  Considering all the contraptions and tools that I had built, my crime fighting suit was still my favorite.  It was made from fifteen pairs of wrangler jeans. The toughest material made for the general public. And I’m not talking about the sissy 20 x varieties. The denim that I used was industrial strength. It could stop a snake bite, but I didn’t stop there. Oh no, far from it. I used an old Singer sewing machine that Jonny had thrown away to sandwich strips of thick roofing tin between the fabrics. If Dr. Frankenstein had focused on fashion instead of reanimation, he might have created something like my suit.



I stripped off the various layers of clothing, until I stood there in my long johns (this was Detroit, and it was cold). I pulled my suit off its rack and squeezed inside the tight, custom getup.  I flexed and stretched, getting a feel for my new heavy skin. It felt good. I grabbed the mask off the department store mannequin’s head and shoved it into the pocket of my coat. Then, I pulled the civilian clothing over my crime fighting suit so that I could blend in on the streets. I picked up the Shocker (The Shocker was a modified nail gun. Instead of one nail, it shot out two sewing needles. The needles were attached to electric motor windings that provided a 5000 volt shock, thanks to a 12 volt motorcycle battery and a transistor. It was good for one shot up to fifteen feet. I used a paint ball gun’s CO2 canister to power it) and shoved it into a makeshift holster under my trench coat. I looked down at my dirty clothes. No one would guess that under this disguise was a hero. I looked around my lair to see if there was anymore useful tools of the trade that I needed before I went out on tonight’s patrol. I considered picking up the Rumbler ( a 3/4 inch electric impact wrench with an assortment of tips, my favorite had three dog chains with master locks at the end of each), but I thought better of it. Surely the Shocker was enough heat for tonight. Best to stay under the radar in public places. Plus, my stomach was rumbling, and I knew I would have to get something to eat before I could perform my duties. I closed up shop, put the combination lock in place, and assumed the role of dirty vagrant once again.



The closest place to get a bite from Jonny’s was a mom and pop’s restaurant called Korova’s Confections.  They were Russian immigrants, who specialized in sweets, mostly. The Big Tula gingerbread was to die for, but they had been trying their hands at American cuisine as well.  Their Frito chili pies and lazy daisies were pretty good. I didn’t know what kind of sweet spice they used in their chili, but it was different, and I liked it. The place was only three blocks away. I figured I would stop off there to get a quick bite to eat before I went to work cleaning up the city. That was, assuming I could find my way out of this tin park labyrinth.



After a few wrong turns and another couple of dead ends, I found myself free and out on the street amongst the people. From here it was a straight shot to Korova’s, and thank God, I was starving. The sidewalks were congested, but manageable.  I made my way through the throng of people. They were oblivious to my secret. I could almost taste the Frito pie. I rounded a corner, and there it sat.



I pissed off a couple of motorist and had one close call involving an elderly Chinese man on a Ducati motorcycle crossing the street, but that was all behind me. The restaurant didn’t look like much, but neither did I for that matter. It was a good match. I opened the door and entered Korova’s.  The place was pretty small. Four preformed, quick-stop style booths rested against the west wall. Cookie crumbs, chili, and dried icing defiantly covered the table tops.  A Russian version of Singing in the Rain blasted over the cheap PA system. I noticed a group of unruly teenage droogs standing near the cashier. The grey haired proprietor was involved in a heated dispute with the four young men. I wondered if my services would be needed.



“Just pay the old ruskie bitch, Alex,” said the tallest of the four.



“But her food made my guts all jumbly wumbly. I don’t like my guts being all jumbly wumbly,” said Alex with a soft spoken intensity that was unnerving.



“D-D-D-Do-Don-Don’t worry about it Alex. I g-g-got this,” said the runty one of the bunch. He pulled his wallet out of the white slacks that he was wearing, and flipped it open. He fished a few bills out and handed them over to the old lady. She grabbed the bills from his proffered hand and shoved them into the cashier forcefully. She licked her forefinger and scraped out a couple of coins from the cash register. She tossed the coins on the counter.



“You go now. No more trouble.”



Alex stared at the old women with a sneer plastered across his face. I tensed and took a step forward. For a second, I thought that maybe I would see a little action for once.



“Yeah, we go now,” said Alex imitating the old women. He snapped his fingers and pointed through me at the door.  The four of them turned foot and headed my way. Alex, the leader of the group, shoved his shoulder into mine as he passed.



“Outta my way, Bum.”



The rest of his crew snickered at the remark. He kept his eyes on me until he left the restaurant. If I wasn’t in public, and if I had my mask on I would have shown the young punks something, but I needed to protect my secret identity.  Plus it’s not good to fight on an empty stomach.



I dismissed the youth with a shake of my head, and walked up to the counter.



“Hello ma’am, how are you doing today?”



“Hmmmm,” she grunted twirling her finger, hoping I would get to the point.



“Okay then, Um, do you still make the Frito chili pie?” I asked.



“Va”



“In that case, I’ll have one Frito chili pie.”



“You vant drink?”



“Dr. Pepper, please.”



She turned her head towards the kitchen and screamed in Russian to the cook. It sounded like a bulldog getting strangled, but if I got some food. I didn’t care. She could yell at me and it wouldn’t matter. She turned her head back towards me and for a second I thought that she might actually do it.



“Hot peppers?”



“Please,” I said relieved.



She looked to the ceiling and touched her fingers against her thumb figuring out the bill, then yelled back at the kitchen once again.



“Six forty eight,” she told me.



“Yeah sure, of course.”



I rifled through my pockets, feeling for the loose change that I had earned earlier today. She took this time to fill up a white Styrofoam cup with Dr Pepper. When it was full she put a lid on it and sat the cup next to the cash register. I pulled out my remaining cash and placed the wad on the counter.  The old lady sighed and began untangling the money. I stared around the shop absentmindedly.



“I need eight vore cents,” she said.



I stopped looking around and met the old lady’s stare.



“What?”



“Eight vore cents. You know a dime or three pennies and a nickel. Either vill vork.”



“Just a moment,” I told her while I searched my various pockets. My search wasn’t fruitful. I found it ironic after all the times I had asked people for spare change, I didn’t have any.



“I guess I’ll just have the Frito chili pie, then.”



“I’ve already poured drink.”



“Well, are you thirsty?” I asked hopefully.



“Only vor vodka”



“Shit,” I muttered under my breath. I thought about going out to the corner and doing a bit of begging, but this neighborhood wasn’t known for its generosity. It might take an hour to get a dime.  I looked to the ground. Maybe somebody had dropped a few coins. There wedged halfway under the baseboard of the counter was a quarter. I dropped to the dirty floor and pried it loose. This was turning out to be my lucky day. I popped up and looked at the old lady with a smile.



“Aha,” I said lying the grimy quarter on the counter.

“Good vor you,” she said. The morose expression never leaving her face. “Sit. I bring vood to you.”



I grabbed the soda and made my way to the back booth. I sat and wiped the crumbs to the floor with a sweep of my arm. The Shocker fell to the side and caused my coat to stay open at a funny angle. I sat the drink down and arranged my clothing. When that was done, I took the lid off the soda and gulped half of it down.



“Ahhh,” it was good and I smacked my lips boorishly. I looked up and saw the old lady making her way towards me, a paper boat held in her hands. The chili was heaped so high that it threatened to spill over the sides, but the melted cheese held it steadfast. She plopped the entrée down in front of me, and damn did it look good. It sure beat the slop that I dug out of Master Kang’s dumpster.



“Enjoy,” she said more as a command than a suggestion.



I grabbed the plastic spork and went to town. I shoved dangerous amounts of chili and Fritos into my mouth, and chewed with my mouth open. My mother would have been so disappointed.  A pepper brushed up against my tongue, so I grabbed for my soda and drank another quarter of it.  The Frito pie was better than I had imagined it would be. I was about halfway done with the monstrosity, when a man in his twenties with a jean jacket, a chain wallet, and a bald head entered the shop. I looked up from my meal just long enough to acknowledge his presence. 



I had another sporkful of chili halfway to my opened mouth when I heard a yelp of surprise. I looked up and saw the baldheaded man waving a gun at the old lady. I dropped my spork.



“Gimme the cash!” he screamed and stomped his foot.



The old lady gave the robber a look that would curdle turpentine. She turned her head to the back and yelled something in Russian.  The robber smacked the old lady in the mouth with his gun hand.



“No talking! You think this is a game! I will fucking end you if you don’t gimme the cash. Now open the register and hand it over!” he yelled.



The old lady brought the back of her hand to her mouth and wiped away the blood. She casually glanced at the smear, and then hit the no sale button on the register with her bloody hand. The register dinged and the money tray popped open.



“Yeah, that’s the stuff I’m talking about,” said the robber.



I knew that I had to do something. This was the moment I had been waiting for. I could finally prove myself and save this helpless old lady. I started to slide out of the booth and make my move. One cheek was free, when the robber turned around and saw me.



“Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing!?!  I will put a bullet in your worthless ass and sleep just fine tonight if you don’t slide back in your little booth,” he hollered at me.



I peed my pants a little and slid my overhanging cheek back into the booth.



“Yeah that’s it, hero,” said the robber smirking with a crazy look in his eyes.



“Leave my customers ve. Here is the money,” said the old lady.



The robber turned away from me and looked at the old lady. Then his eyes zeroed in on the brown paper sack that she was holding rock steady in her hand.  He snatched the paper sack and turned to run out. In that moment, I felt ashamed. If a little old lady had more backbone than me, what was I doing trying to be a super hero? The robber took a sprawling step towards the door. The shame turned to anger. I wouldn’t let this happen. I was going to take control. I jumped up from behind the table and ran towards the thief. He was running at full speed, but I made it to the door just before he did.  I was about to bark out a command of stop, when he smashed the butt of his gun into my face. The pain spread out from my nose. A black rose bloomed in front of my watery eyes. The both of us tumbled forward. My head smacked hard against the plate glass door. Stars kept the black rose company. I faintly heard the gun tumbling against the tiled floor away from us.



My body was pressed up against the door, so the thief couldn’t get out. He kicked me  again and again screaming for me to get out of the way. If there was any good to come out of this, it would be that my armored suit actually worked. I barely felt the kicks to the gut. I just wished I could say the same about my head.



“The bald man! Get the bald man, Yerik!” yelled the old lady.



“Oh, shit,” said the robber. He stopped kicking me.  “We can work something out, can’t we?” muttered the robber feebly.



I heard a deep, guttural grunt. I uncovered my face and saw a seven foot tall blond beast wearing an apron and a displeased look.  I thought about the evil boxer from Rocky IV, the one that killed Apollo Creed. Well, this guy looked like he could kick that guy’s ass with his eyes closed, plus he made a mean Frito chili pie. Yerik grabbed the robber about the neck. His hand swallowed everything from the top of the robber’s chest to his chin. He reared back and struck the thief once. It was lights out for him. Yerik released his grip and the robber slumped to the floor unconscious. The huge cook turned around and went back to his post behind the grill.



I sat up and rested my back against the door with a look of disbelief on my face. The old lady was shuffling towards me.  Her thick soled shoes went clackedy-clack against the tiled floor. I looked up at the old lady. She smirked at me and nodded her head in approval.



“What the f…., I mean, did that jus…, did he just, did I stop him?” I said with a note of incredulity.



“vell, my boy, Yerik, stopped him,” said the old lady pointing back to the kitchen, and then continued.  “But you did good, Bubba.”



She patted my check, lightly. It stung a bit. She turned away from me and planted a swift kick to the robber’s belly. He didn’t stir. Yerik must pack one hell of a punch, I remember thinking.  I was about to see if my weak legs could support my weight, when I heard screeching tires. I jerked my head around to the door. Two patrol cars came to a rest just shy of the sidewalk, before the smoke even had a chance to clear, the front doors of the cruisers burst open.  Four men in uniforms were barreling in at the diner door with guns drawn. I had just enough time to scoot over before they were in the diner exerting their authority.  The youngest of the bunch swung around pointing his standard issue revolver right at my swollen face. I didn’t see what the rest of them were doing. I was preoccupied.



“DOWN ON THE FLOOR, SCUMBAG!”



I did as I was told. The excitement and disbelief of the situation turned to dread.



“SPREAD’EM, ASSHOLE!



I thought it was an odd choice of words, but I was too scared to share this observation. Instead, I spread my legs as wide as comfortably possible, and I laid my hands palm down on the floor, like I was polish man trying to make a dust bunny angel.



The police officer that I was beginning to think of as a rookie, either that or a massive dick bent his head down and whispered in my ear.



“Give me a reason. I dare you.”



He started to pat me down. He checked my arms first. I hoped the coat added enough cushion so that he wouldn’t notice the hard strips of tin sewed into my ‘special’ suit. He didn’t mention anything to the other officers, so I was still in the clear. He went over my shoulders next. I felt the firm pressure of his grip. He moved down along my back and the sides of my torso. There would be no way he would miss the Shocker. Sweat began to bead on my forehead. It mixed with the dirt on the floor. Now my face was bloody and muddy. His hand inched ever closer to my hip.



“No, not him. The other,” said the old lady in her thick accent, and I never heard words as sweet.



“Christ, Jefferies! Give the super cop act a rest will you?  You heard Nadyenka. She said that isn’t the guy. What’s wrong with you?” said a senior sounding police officer.



“Sorry boss,” replied Jefferies while he took his hands off me.



I blinked slowly and started to breathe again. I heard the clinking of metal. I turned my dirty face to get a look at what was happening. Jefferies held a pair of cuffs in his hand. He rolled the unconscious man over then he slapped the handcuffs around the thief’s limp wrists.



“MacCruiskeen, give me a hand with this piece of shit, will ya?” said Jefferies holding a tethered arm at the elbow.



“Language, Rook,… Language,” replied another officer as he made his way over to Jefferies. He bent down and hooked his elbow under the unattended arm of the thief. Together the officers rose. They dragged the robber out of Korova’s. His knees left two clean streaks on the tiled floor like a pair of pythons giving up on the jungle.



I sat up again wondering if it was a wise choice considering everything that had happened.  I dabbed at my nose, then held my hand out to inspect. A fair amount of blood dripped down my digits. I wiped them on my dingy sweatpants, and then continued the inspection. I carefully caressed the lumpy terrain of my face and head. They had the texture of a wet sweet potato. I wasn’t pretty to begin with and I’m sure the beating wouldn’t help. Without thinking, I spat a stream of bloody saliva onto the floor. I felt guilty, so I tried to locate the bloody spot and wipe it up.  The floor around me was heavily speckled with blood anyways, so I thought a little bit more wouldn’t matter. Plus I’m pretty sure that some of the stains were dried ketchup.



I looked up from the floor to see where everyone else was. One of the officers stood next to Yerik, pad and pen in hand, trying to translate his grunts and gestures into a coherent statement.  The other officer, or Boss as he was referred to by Jefferies, stood beside Nadyenka. They talked and laughed like old friends.  I thought they made a strange pair. He was tall, fit, and black as the night. She was short, plump, and white as the full moon.  He said something to her that I couldn’t quite make out. Nadyenka placed her hand on his thick forearm and nodded gratefully. Then, the pair of them looked at me. I felt uneasy.



The officer made his way over to me. I shied away at first. I wasn’t exactly on good terms with the police, but he extended his arm towards me instead of a gun. It hung in the air for a moment as I considered him and his motives. His face appeared jolly and genuine. I reluctantly grabbed his hand and he hauled me to my feet. The sudden change of position and probably loss of blood, left me light headed. I swooned and teetered. The officer placed his other hand on my shoulder and steadied me.



“You all right, Son?” he asked.

“Yeah, just give me a minute,” I replied the adrenaline waning quickly. 



“Take all the time you need, Son.”



I bent down and put my hands on my knees. I took a couple of deep breaths. The officer’s hand remained on my shoulder. I stood up and got a grip on myself.



“You good?”



“Yeah”



He removed his hand from my shoulder and spoke, “As far as Ms. Korova is concerned, you’re quite the hero.”



I smiled weakly.



“I just need to ask you a few questions, standard procedure. Is that all right?”



“Uh, yeah sure, fire away.”



“What is your legal name?”



“Jerry Krull”



The officer raised an eyebrow, but didn’t make a comment. His pen bobbled as he began to write.



“K R U double L,” I said to stifle further inquires.



“Place of residence?”



“The alley behind Master Kang’s Fine Chinese Eatery,” I replied with burning cheeks. 



“Pretty good egg rolls,” he said trying to lighten the mood, and then he flashed a goofy grin that was nothing like a salesman’s.



“Yeah, I guess they are,” I said not knowing why. After eating what seemed like thousands of them from the dumpster, I had developed a specific and intense hatred for Kang’s egg rolls.



“Occupation?” he said looking me in the eyes. “Sorry, I gotta ask. You know… Procedure.”  He shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head slightly.



“Bumming? I bum. I mean, I’m a bum,” I said not sure how to answer his question.



He nodded his head and wrote on his little pad for way longer than I thought was necessary.



“Okay Jerry, can you tell me what happened here?”



I pointed up to the counter at the Nadyenka and Yerik.



“Didn’t they tell you?”



“Yeah, they told me their versions, but I’d like to hear yours.”



“Well, I came in and got a Frito pie, then th--,” I cut my words short when the officer interrupted.



“Just a Frito pie? You mean to tell me that you came to Korova’s and didn’t try any of the Tula bread or even a Piroshky?”



“Isn’t it too late in the day for pastries?” I asked.



“It’s never too late for pastries, Son,” he said. Then, I guess he needed to clarify himself, so he continued, “Sorry, I get a little worked up over Nady’s sweets. Go on with you’re statement.



“Okay, yeah, so there I was eating at the far booth when that guy the other officers arrested came in waving a gun around and demanding money. She handed over the cash to him, and he was making a break for it, so I tackled him. We fell to the floor, and then I kept the gunman distracted long enough for the big man to get a hold of him. After that, you guys showed up, and that Jefferies guy stuck a gun in my face.”



He didn’t say anything for a while. There was just the busy scratching of pen on paper.



“All right, that about does it,” he said slapping his leather bound notebook shut. “Oh, and don’t worry about Jefferies. He’s new. He means well, but, yeah, we’re still working with him,” he said then paused for a moment before he went on. “On a personal aside, I just wanted to thank you for what you did for Nadyenka. Without her sweets, I wouldn’t know how to get through the day, Honest.”



He extended his arm out to me open palmed. I grabbed it without hesitation and shook vigorously.  As I stood there shaking his hand, an idea began to come together deep in my mind. Batman had Commissioner Gordon. If I was going to be a masked avenger, maybe I needed a man on the inside. The first hurdle would be gaining his trust. I had no idea what I could offer a man that was so established and decorated to curry favor with him. He let go of my hand and I stood there in front of him racking my brain. It was an awkward moment. I rubbed the back of my neck and stared at the dirty floor. That was when Nadyenka interrupted us with an answer to my prayers.



“Excuses, Lieutenant Good. I vanted to give man coupon for services.”



“Yes of course, by all means,” said Lieutenant Good as he took a step back.



Nadyenka stood in front of me and held out a yellowed scrap of paper with undecipherable words written upon it. I looked at Lieutenant Good and he urged me on to take the slip of paper. I took the paper and tried reading the words to no avail.



I smiled politely then asked, “What’s this?”



Nadyenka replied, “Is good vor one item on menu vor everyday, one week only.”



“Nooo, I couldn’t possibly accept this after what you went through.”



“No, you ave to take. Is good, yes?”



“Yeah, it’s good, but I think I’m gonna have to give it to the real hero of the day, Lieutenant Good. He deserves it more than I do.”



I watched Lieutenant Good as his face lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning. I offered the slip of paper to him and he grabbed the paper delighted.



“Really, one sweet free everyday for a week? I don’t know what to say. I guess, thank you is all I can say. Thank you, Jerry.”



“Don’t mention it, Lieutenant Good,” I answered.



“Hell! Call me Al, and if you ever need anything let me know, all right?”



“Sure Al, I’ll let you know,” I said smiling. I looked at Nadyenka and she was smiling, then I looked back at Al. He hadn’t stopped smiling since I gave him the coupon.



“Well, thank you all but I need to get going. I’m free to go aren’t I?” I said keeping my eyes on Lieutenant Good.



“Yeah, Yeah, you’re fine,” he said staring down at the coupon.



I looked at his name tag just to make sure I had it right. I was terrible at remembering names, but for some reason if I read them, it made it harder to forget. Etched in brass under his lapel, I read Lt. Alfred S. Good.  I thought to myself Yes, all is good.  I waved and bid my farewells. I exited the store with a little skip in my step. I was pretty sure, I had my inside man.



The cold air felt good against my swollen face. I pulled my hand inside my jacket sleeve. I raised it to my face and carefully wiped away the blood and filth. I was reborn. I had just been through a trial by fire. I set off. My feet chewed up the city’s sidewalks.  I looked at the world in a different light.  Usually I passed by the pimps, drug dealers, and addicts with my head down. I gave them a wide berth, but not today. I walked in a straight line with my head held high. Most of the people could sense that I was not a man to be fucked with. They graciously moved out of my way. The ones who didn’t got the shoulder. Their cries of ‘hey, watch it asshole’ fell on deaf ears. I walked like this well into the night. I didn’t have anywhere else to be. Plus, it felt good to be empowered for once in my life.



I was pretty close to my stomping ground when I spotted a pimp getting a little rough with one of his girls. He was tall and wiry, and seemed to like leather, a lot.  He wore a red leather jacket and black leather pants. A fingerless, studded glove adorned his right hand.  He used it to slap the girl.  I had taken a hell of a beating today. Now, it was time to dish some of my own. I looked both ways, and then crossed the street. I psyched myself up on the way. C’mon Jerry, you can do this. Look mean. Look tough. Look that pimp in the eye and tell him to get his damn hands off of her. Who knows? Maybe she would give me a special reward for helping her.



The pimp turned his head and spotted me. The element of surprise was lost. I kept going anyways. He turned around to meet me. A gold cross danced at the end of a small chain connected to his ear.  He flicked a switchblade and held in his gloved hand.



“You got a problem!” the pimp seethed.



I froze. Maybe, I hadn’t thought this through all the way. He looked confident, and the girl really wasn’t that pretty.



“I, uh, was wondering if you had the time?” I replied meekly.



“Do you see a watch?” he said and then pulled up the sleeves of his jacket, reveling naked and toned forearms.  “Man, get the fuck outta here, before I cut you!”



I did just as he said and turned tail. I heard a high-pitched, obnoxious laugh coming from behind me. I assumed it was from the prostitute. Then there was a dull smack, and she cried out in pain.



“Shut up, bitch. I ain’t through with you.” said the pimp.



I went down the first alley that I came to. I recognized the place. It was about four blocks away from my home. I decided to call it a night. It was really late and I could feel the fatigue settling into my bones. I would start again tomorrow after my panhandling. As I walked back to my place, I did a mental checklist of the things that I needed to accomplish before I became a full fledged protector of the innocent. I already had a suit and gear. I thought I could count on Lieutenant Good to be my inside man, considering the look on his face after I got him free sweets for a week. The only thing that I lacked was the ability to fight. I made my mind up. I would sign up for a self-defense or karate class as soon as I got enough cash. I knew it would be hard, but I was just going to have to cut out frivolous items like hot food and, I shuddered at the thought, booze.



I was a couple of blocks away from my home and thinking about where the nearest dojo was, when I heard a cry of pain. It came from the next alley over. I hung my head down and shook it from side to side. This city never took a break.  I wondered if I could sneak past the danger unseen.  I crept up to the corner of the adjacent alley. As I neared the corner, the cries of pain were mixed with fevered fits of laughter. I pressed my back up against the wall and took a peek.



There were four guys dressed in white surrounding another man on the ground.  From the looks of the guy on the ground, he was in pretty bad shape. One of the guys in white held a short length of chain. He swung the chain down across the helpless man’s chest. Shit! I thought. Being so close to my home and down a filthy alley, I was certain it was somebody I knew. I hoped it wasn’t Carl. He was my favorite drinking buddy.  I didn’t know what to do. There were four of them. I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.  I looked away and placed my head against the cold bricks of the wall. I stood there listening to the chaos, hating myself. One of the attackers spoke.



“Now, that’s a bit o’ the ultra-violence, I’ve been missing, hey chaps?” he said accompanied by an outburst of evil mirth. 



I knew that voice, but from where? Then it hit me. These were the droogs from Korova’s. A bunch of high school punks who had watched too much Kubrick. Surely, I could handle high schoolers.



“Fuck it,” I whispered.



I pulled out my mask and slide it over my head. The beard made it a little tricky, but I managed. Then I tossed my trench coat to the ground, and pulled the sweater over my mask. The sweater landed next to the trench coat. Finally, I hooked my thumbs into the waist band of my sweats, and pushed them down. The sweats caught for a moment on a rivet of the Shocker’s holster. It took a firm tug, but then it was free. I stepped out of the crumpled mass of cotton.



I rounded the corner and tried to stick to the shadows as I made my approach. I would definitely being needed the element of surprise, if I expected this to work at all. I pulled the Shocker out in preparation. The droogs were taking turns kicking at the poor man. They didn’t see me. I wanted to get a shot at the leader of the group. It might just give me the advantage. Alec was his name, if I remembered right.



I was getting close about thirty feet away. I knew I couldn’t get any closer without being seen. A street light illuminated the scene.  It was now or never. I took off at a sprint the Shocker held out at shoulder’s  height. The droogs stopped dead in their tracks, trying to figure out what exactly was happening.  It wasn’t everyday that they encountered a crazy man decked out head to toe in denim pointing a cobbled together weapon at them. I had a bead on Alec. Just a little closer and I could fire. I pumped my legs. It was almost time to fire. I pulled the trigger, but Alec was a step in front of me.



He dove to the ground, as the needles and motor windings flew over him. They struck the big doughy kid with the chain in the Adam’s apple. I kept moving forward. The big kid shook like an epileptic at a Pink Floyd concert. I couldn’t believe that the Shocker actually worked. I grinned despite myself. I was right in the middle of them now. The big kid fell to the ground. I smashed  the butt of the Shocker into the stuttering kid’s face. He yelped in pain and staggered back, but stayed on his feet. Damn, I was in trouble now.       



The sawed off pool cue knocked me to the ground. Broken glass, used condoms, cigarette butts, and drug needles littered the ground. I looked up at the accosted man to see if it was Carl and to check on his condition, but to my surprise, it was the man I hated most in the world. Lou’s eyes drooped as he tried to stay conscious. I had put my life on the line for that piece of shit. I flipped over on my back disgusted, and tried to block the incoming kicks.



“Looks like we get a two for one special tonight, hey boys!” laughed Alec



“G-g-ge-get’ em g-good, Alex!” said the stuttering kid holding his nose.



Shit, I didn’t even get the guy’s name right. I thought as the kicks rained down. By now, I was in a lot of pain. I tried to grab at one of the high schooler’s jacket to haul myself up.  Maybe, I could still run away. The pocket gave way and I fell back down, but as I fell, I noticed that something had joined me on the ground. It was white and roughly the size of an egg. The shuffling feet smashed the item, then I realized what I was seeing, a big bag of cocaine. With my elbows, I pulled my face to the pile of cocaine. I stuck my bloody nose right in the middle of it and snorted like there was no tomorrow.



My eyes dilated to the size of dimes, and the pain faded away. I clenched my fists and sprung up like a coked up jack-in-the-box. The kids were taken off guard. I grabbed Alex by his collar and slammed my forehead into his nose. I felt it break and he slumped to the ground. I turned around and kicked stuttering Stan straight in the nuts. He toppled over as well. The unnamed assailant took off. Doughy Dan was still out from the Shocker. I picked up the sawed off cue stick  and gave Alex and Stan a smack in the head for good measure.



“Jerry, is that you?” croaked Lou.



The drugs were still heavily coursing through my blood.



“Fuck you, Lou!” I screamed, dropping into a crouch and knocking the shit out of him.



I stood up and ran to the alley where I had shed all of my clothes.  Without slowing down, I snatched up my clothing and continued on. I made it to the main road. I had to get back to Korova’s.  My feet slapped hard against the pavement.  The pimp from earlier was still working his girls. I slammed my fist into his face as I went by. I picked up a discarded cardboard box, and ripped a flap off as I ran. I was racing the dawning sun.



The sun was peeking through the cityscape, when I stopped in front of Korova’s Confections.  I threw the cardboard flap on the ground, and then fished inside of my jacket for the magnum marker. I found it and pulled the cap off with my teeth.  In hurried handwriting, I scrawled the message.



Lieutenant Good



Two blocks east of Kang’s down alley  Violent drug dealing youth Unconscious Send ambulance



Sweet man

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