Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1647056-The-Suitcase
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Entertainment · #1647056
A humorous and quirky story about a man and a suitcase.
An oft-repeated proverb optimistically proclaims the obvious: Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Almost no one ever reads past this grandiose sentiment to find the quiet disclaimer buried in the small print at the bottom. The officer of the Titanic in charge of icebergs on April 12 1912 didn't bother to read it over his breakfast sausages. He probably should have. At least the part that says, "We in no way guarantee that it won't be the last day." But his story took a bad turn and is long over. This is JP's story. He didn't read it either. For what it's worth, he should have.

The day in question was still stuck on its back, waving its arms and legs randomly and gumming its toes. JP was up, sitting at his prodigiously stained and cluttered kitchen table. He was savoring his breakfast, a lukewarm gruel of equal parts boredom, resignation, and envy of all those more fortunate than he was, precisely one less than the population of the universe. A few stale schemes and overripe plots had been stirred into the porridge pot, and all was smothered with a thick layer of clotted self-pity. It was for him comfortable and familiar fare. The Breakfast of Losers. It wasn't filling, but there was nothing more substantial to be had in his kitchen.

He was more intelligent than he appeared to the casual observer, though only just. But he was bright enough to be given to frequent and markedly unproductive bouts of navel-gazing, mostly as a good excuse for not actually moving as such. He was so engaged when his stomach suggested noisily to his inner self that the most ponderous question in his life might not so much be Why am I here? or How do I get in touch with my deepest feelings?, but rather How do I get some lunch? JP was, to steal a quote from WC Fields, perennially impecunious. Steal was the operative word; it blended seamlessly with the general theme of the only livelihood he'd ever known.

Without a clear idea of which nefarious plot might result in the highest likelihood of lunch, JP slipped on his cleanest T-shirt and his running shoes, slung his coat over his shoulder and set out to see what opportunities the day had on offer. He locked the door against his landlord making good on his chronic threat to seize his possessions in lieu of rent. JP had changed the lock - it has been mentioned that he was not completely unintelligent. It struck him in a melancholic but oddly humorous way that the entire contents of his apartment, liquidated at current market value, wouldn't make a down payment on a pint of flat beer at The Dumpster Neighborhood Pub. Rent was out of the question.

He slunk out the back door of the decrepit house in which he occupied one of the basement suites and up the few cracked steps to ground level, stepped gingerly around the piles of rotting garbage and broken glass, and proceeded along the narrow muddy walkway toward the street. Suddenly a demented cackling, punctuated by the slap of running feet, filtered through the tall fence alongside the path. He turned toward the sounds just in time to catch a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of a suitcase-sized object sailing over the fence. To be accurate, it wasn't so much sailing as plummeting. Quickly. And heavily. Galileo would have been pleased. Very shortly another sound brought to mind a bat striking a gourd.

When he next opened his eyes he was lying in the mud with a blinding headache. Only a few minutes had passed. The cryptic letters S-M-I-E-T-S-O-N-A were square dancing and trading partners before his eyes. They were artistically escorted by a bevy of colorful stars and accompanied by an orchestra composed entirely of instruments each of which made an irritatingly loud ringing noise. He shook his head, with unpleasant results. He closed one eye and the letters slowly settled into their chairs and proclaimed SAMSONITE. "A suitcase," he swore, "A freakin' flyin' suitcase!"

He groggily managed to get to his feet on the second try and stared balefully at the luggage that had lately laid him out. He wound up and punted it as hard as he could. It moved about two inches and did not seem at all bothered, leaving JP with bitter feelings of unsatisfied revenge and a throbbing toe. "Hmmmph," he grunted, with the familiar sense of having been soundly bested by an inanimate object. He wrestled the heavy case out of the mud and slopped his way back to his suite. He'd forgotten entirely why he had gone out in the first place. A trail of muddy footprints followed him to his door.

He swept a pile of plates, cutlery, crumbs and bills to one side of his kitchen table and set the case down. It was made of a metallic grey indestructible plastic. It resembled the one touted on those old TV ads, casually ignoring the elephant standing on top of it. A long and violent history was carved and stomped into its venerable physiognomy. It could easily have been a part of the matched set that Hannibal had picked up in a Carthaginian bazaar for his camping trip in the Italian Alps. It may well have been stood on by several elephants. JP figured it weighed about fifty pounds. "Lucky it didn't friggin' kill me," he muttered.

He fished around in a kitchen drawer for some kind of tool, came up with a metal skewer. After breaking that off in the lock he pulled a pocket knife from his jeans and flipped out the smallest blade. He worked the broken skewer out of the lock, cut his finger quite expertly, and broke the blade off in the lock. A little agitated, he stomped over to the drawer and separated a flat screwdriver from the tangle of knives, plastic forks, elastic bands, string and bills. He managed to extricate the knife blade from the lock. But even with the added lubrication of copious amounts of blood, he was unable to spring the lock. "Dammit!" he swore. He hoisted the case with the broken end of the screwdriver stuck in the lock over his head and flung it to the floor in frustration. It lay there, gloating at him. Breathing hard and dripping sweat and blood, he bent over and picked it up. As he did, his thumb brushed the clasp and it opened, to disgorge 300 one-half inch thick stacks of grey-green paper on to the kitchen floor. It hadn't been locked.

He sat down hard on the floor in disbelief, amid the scatter of neatly packaged US $100 bills. Stunned, he tore the wrapping from one bundle and riffled through it, counting 100 bills. "Crap!! That's . . . that's like . . . like about . . ." He grabbed a pen from the table and stumbled through the math on the back of his hand. "That's like 10,000 bucks!!!! Jeez!" He gasped like a beached mullet. Getting in the mood for large numbers, he counted the stacks into a pile. "300 packages. That's . . . like . . . like . . . crap,  I can do this . . . that's three million bucks!!!" He gasped like a school of beached mullets. Plans were already taking shape in his brain, which had years' practice in rehearsing what to do if a few million dollars ever flew over a fence and struck its owner on the head.

Three hours later JP was still sitting awash in stacks of hundred dollar bills. He had dreamed his way through at least twenty million dollars. Suddenly there was a loud banging at the door. JP saw the knob turning. But the lock, unlike JP, didn't mind working. He held his breath, willing whoever it was to give up and leave. No such luck. Whoever it was rattled the door in the frame.

"Open the door, dude! It's me. I can hear you breathing from out here. What the frig ya doing? No, I don't wanna know. Just open the door!"

"Crap! It's Leo." JP looked from the pile of money to the door and knew something had to change quickly. He tested out the idea of whacking Leo over the head with the suitcase. He didn't like that plan, mostly because he wasn't sure how hard you had to hit someone to knock him out but not actually kill him. He only reluctantly tolerated being a thief; murder was just not in him. Then he tried on telling Leo the truth, and liked that even less. He couldn't see that going down for free, and he was already feeling proprietary of his three millions.

"Hold on, man. You scared the crap outta me. Gimme a minute." The stacks of bills flew back into the suitcase like a scene from The Sorcerer's Apprentice. JP snapped the case shut and tossed it behind the couch. He peeled off his muddy jeans and T-shirt and deposited them on a pile in the corner of his bedroom, and replaced them with a marginally cleaner set. As he shuffled to the door, the motley collection of objects that had earned various ranks of seniority behind the couch exercised their tenure and ejected the suitcase.

He cracked open the door. "Leo, what's with all the bangin', man? The cops after you again?"

"Like I'd hide out here! Safer in the donut shop. Sumthin' goes missing, first place they come is here, cause you're the crummiest thief on the planet!"

JP affected a hurt look, but it was a lacklustre performance, because he had to admit Leo was right. Not out loud though. He tried to muster up an indignant reply and failed.

Leo continued, "Anyways, I'm bein' good til my probation's done. Just cruisin' by and thought I'd see how my old buddy was doin' and . . ."

"Ya mean ya thought ya'd see if I had the fifty bucks ya say I owe ya. I already told ya I'd have it the next time a big sack of money landed on my head." He couldn't keep a straight face at that.

"What're you looking so pleased about? Ever' time I see ya, ya always look like a cat peed in yer shoe."

"Never mind that. Can't be miserable every day. Too much friggin' work. Ya know how I feel about work. Anyways, I ain't got yer money yet. You'll be the first to know when I win the lottery. And I uh . . . , I gotta be at the clinic at one o'clock, so beat it. Gimme a call later and maybe we'll grab a beer. Maybe I'll even buy ya one. None o' that preppie designer stuff though."

Leo peered around JP into the room and noticed the suitcase lying beside the couch. "Hey, what's with the old suitcase? Ya hafta actually work to take a vacation, ya know!" he laughed.

More ideas blossomed in the newly emancipated fantasy center of JP's brain. "Yeah? Show me the rule. Maybe I'll go hang out in Paris. Or maybe Scranton . . . or Des Moines. Just kidding. I got it from the hock shop yesterday. It was way cheap and I needed somethin' to store some o' my junk."

"Yeah, well ya got a lotta that and not much else. Alright. See ya later. And since yer so fulla good spirits today, ya should muck out yer hallway. It looks like those footprints they paint on the floor in Walmart, but made outta mud."

Leo clumped up the stairs and kicked open the outside door. JP saw the perfect trail of prints leading through it, right to the door of his suite.

Something wasn't quite right, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He locked the door. He knew exactly what would dispel the feeling. Three million dollars. He picked up the case from beside the couch, set it on the table again and opened it. He sat down and stared adoringly across the table at the contents. All that cold cash emitted a warm sunny glow that temporarily restored his mood. He tried to reboot his fantasy train from where Leo had derailed it. But a little black cloud began to form and soon he felt the first cold drops of alarm pattering on his thick skull. Shortly it was a downpour.

Sometimes, in fact it happened enough that you could safely say always, what was clear to anyone else was a mystery to JP. In all the excitement he hadn't yet bothered to ask himself the most obvious question: "Why would someone throw a suitcase full of perfectly good money over a fence, unless they were in trouble and had to get rid of it?"

The next question nipped at the heels of the first one like an irritating little terrier, "Wouldn't it be less like getting rid of it and more like stashing it to come back for later?"

"Won't the guy be a bit upset when he finds the case gone?"

"Won't he wonder where it's gone to?"

"Wouldn't he do some nasty things to get it back?"

"Wouldn't a guy who walked around town with three million bucks carry a big gun?"

The questions formed a pack. They began to yap and worry at him. He found himself wishing he had a sack of biscuits or a good thick roll of newspaper. Then one stared him in the eye, bared its fangs and snarled at him, "Won't he see the dent in the mud and the footprints and know where it's gone?"

He leaped out of the chair, closed the case and propped it up on the other chair. He ran outside, untangled the landlord's garden hose enough to get it down the path, and messily obliterated all the prints that were outside. Frantically he searched around and found a mop and bucket behind a pile of junk in the furnace room. He filled the pail and swabbed the prints off the stairs and the hallway. Smugly satisfied with his efforts, he figured the former owner of the case, and he didn't mean Hannibal, wouldn't know where it had walked off to. He locked himself back inside his apartment to work out what came next. Which turned out to be a pit bull, size XXL: "What if the guy's already been back and seen the prints, and he's just waiting for dark? Or gone to buy more bullets? Or a bigger gun?" After all, he'd found the case, or rather it had found him, hours ago now. He sighed heavily and collapsed on to the wobbly old chair. There he sat, hunched over, elbows resting on the table, head resting on his palms and fingers drumming arrhythmically on his skull. The tapping fingers avoided the tender new lump on his forehead. He snuck occasional glances across the table at the battered suitcase propped up on the other even more dilapidated chair. The right half of his rattled brain hoped the case would not be there the next time he looked. The left half eyed the right half, weighing the pros and cons of a lobotomy. For the moment though, both halves were still on speaking terms.

"Man, you are one lucky dude!" said the left.

"Man, you are one stupid dude!" replied the right.

Occasionally they agreed, "Man, you are one dead dude!" 

Neurons in his brain flashed like summer lightning in the clouds. JP dealt out and as quickly discarded all the possible ways to award the win to his left hemisphere. But the right hemisphere looked to be holding the best hand.   

All this abnormal cerebral activity was making JP hungry. He remembered what his mission had been before being waylaid by the three million dollar meteorite. "If I'm gonna die, I'm not gonna die hungry," he figured. "A millionaire owes it to himself to not ever be hungry." He cracked open the case and peeled a few bills from the stack he had ripped open. Then he tipped the couch up on its back, jammed the case up behind the springs, and set it back on its feet. Three of its feet anyway. The fourth was a couple of very overdue library books. It took several minutes to wrestle all the stuff that had been behind the couch back behind the couch. Apparently things that come from behind a couch are subject to the same set of rules as things that come out of a suitcase when on vacation.

JP thought, "He'll never find it here" and, more importantly, "If he does find it here, he won't find ME here." He started out down the walkway again, keeping a watchful eye out for any ominous signs of impending doom. He survived the bus trip to town without incident, though a nasty looking fellow in the bus shelter with a suspicious bulge under his coat caused him some alarm. The fellow stared malevolently at him and reached slowly under his coat. JP was in such a state that he was on the verge of returning home for another change of jeans. The man extracted the bulge and took a huge swig from it, following that up with a juicy belch. JP relaxed and grinned at himself.

He got off the bus feeling flush with excitement and his new financial status. He decided to go all out for dinner. He tucked in his T-shirt and scraped as much egg yolk and peanut butter from it as he could. Then he strolled casually into the finest restaurant on the block, Chez René. An elderly lady with statistically improbable bright red hair seated therein remarked to her friend, whose head was landscaped in equally unlikely faintly pink frizz, "Is he the one, Bertie? Just what do you suppose is the matter with him? He looks like he's never seen the inside of a restaurant. Bit of the lost underfed puppy about him, isn't there?"

The maitre d' gave him a look that conveyed seven kinds of disdain and wilted him where he stood. With sudden inspiration, JP put on his best Donald Trump face, pulled the sheaf of bills out of his pocket and made a show of counting them. The head waiter sniffed, but he knew very well that money and refinement don't often come wrapped in the same package. Reluctantly he showed JP to a table, though in the deepest darkest corner of the room. He slid out the chair and frowned suspiciously at JP's back as he sat down, then turned and strutted purposefully toward the kitchen. JP, overwhelmed by the unfamiliar and opulent surroundings, was blissfully unaware.

He opened the leather-bound menu and studied it like a Talmud scholar poring over a Torah. It may as well have been Hebrew, for all the sense he could make of it. Foreign words like confit and compote and fumet and escargot, which he attempted to pronounce softly several times with varying results. And wasn't Gorgonzola some slimy sea-monster from a Japanese horror movie? He raised a quizzical eyebrow. He smiled with relief and drooled a little when he read 'New York Steak with Baked Potato and Sour Cream'. "That's it! A 16 ounce steak!" He was so hungry he felt faint. His jaw gaped when he read the price. "My last car was less than that!" he muttered. Sudden panic froze his face. "What am I doing here?" Suddenly remembering, he relaxed. "Right. I'm the richest guy in the place." Tense anxiety slid into a smug smile.

The two elderly women a few tables away felt like they had first row seats to a mime show. JP's emotive performance would have reduced Captain James T Kirk to overwrought tears on the Enterprise bridge. It would have sent Jim Carrey shrieking back to mugging school. It would have had Marcel Marceau climbing the walls and going, of course, nowhere. Bertie and Gertie bobbed and chattered about him like two bright-headed budgerigars. They were delighted and considered sending him a rose.

JP decided on the steak and was getting restless and hungrier by the second. He was just about to  pick up the wine booklet when a dapper man in an impeccably tailored dark suit bustled up like a crow on a mission. A waiter. Finally! He gathered steam to vent on the fellow, but was quickly stoppered.

"Excuse me, young man. I am the manager. My maitre d' believes there may be a situation here," in a French accent somewhat redolent of Chicagoese.

JP was deflated. When he opened his mouth to protest, all that came out was "................!"

"I am told that you are carrying a large sum of cash money in $100 bills. Forgive me, monsoor, but you do not seem the type to be in possession of such a thing." His eyes and manner suggested that forgiveness was not high on his wish list. "We have had a problem with counterfeit money lately. If you please, I would like to examine the bills before I allow a waiter to take your order." Again, the politeness was only a grudging concession to civility.

JP was no stranger to counterfeit bills. He could pick one out in the dark, in fact had done just that several times, to avoid spending his hard-earned real money. So he knew these were legitimate; that was the first thing he'd thought of when he was sitting amidst them in his kitchen. They were real alright.

He was used to humiliation. It was comfortable territory. And he was too hungry to argue for his rights. He sighed, pulled out the bills and handed one to the manager. Local mobsters frequented the restaurant, so the fellow had also seen his share of counterfeit bills. He knew when accepting them was in his interest, i.e., continuing to breathe. This was not one of those times. He took the bill to the bar, which was adjacent to JP's table, and examined it under the light. After much fuss, he scribbled something on a scrap of paper and returned and handed JP the bill.

"My apologies, sir. The bill is genuine. I hope you understand we must be careful. I will send a waiter to take your order." His apology and sincerity had as much in common as Karl Marx and his comrade Groucho.

JP flipped open the thick wine book and read through it with careful deliberation. He studied each offering closely. Finally he made up his mind. "Red," he decided. Still no waiter.

He glanced toward the kitchen and saw a face quickly disappear behind the curtain, cell phone at one ear. "Strange," he thought. "There's a phone at the bar."

He played with the cutlery, making patterns on the table and trying to figure out what each utensil was for. He was a simple three-tool man, knife optional. "Waddya do with three forks, two spoons and two knives? And what's this thing?" he wondered. Still no waiter.

When he looked toward the kitchen again, the curtain was open. The manager was whispering in the ear of a large man stuffed into a suit made by Frankenstein's tailor. They were looking his way. JP was a lousy thief, but he was a paid up member of the guild, and any thief could tell a cop from a human ten times out of ten in a nudist colony. It was a prerequisite. The big guy's suit may as well have had "POLICE" stenciled on it. He must have come in by the back entrance. JP didn't recognize him.

JP had no idea what was wrong, but experience had taught him that he was usually to blame. He was up from his chair and out the door before his forks even hit the floor. The cop moved quickly for a big man. But as he thundered past the elderly ladies' table toward the door, one of the chairs at their table suddenly tipped over and made his acquaintance. Cop and chair went down in a tangle of legs. Not to mention a shower of cutlery and French Onion Soup au Gratin.

As things settled, the ladies agreed it had been altogether a satisfactory dining experience. Gertie confided to Bertie, "Clarence was right. I do believe that boy is just the client we're looking for. What do you think?"

"I do believe you could both be right, my dear." She quickly keyed a number on her cell phone.

JP meanwhile was in a hurry. A defining attribute of a crook who wants to remain gainfully unemployed and at large is that he has to be a fast crook. The worse the crook, the faster he has to be. When the peer rankings came out each fall JP was consistently in the lowest percentile. At a streamlined 140 lbs and in mortal peril, JP would have put The Flash in some difficulty. He didn't see the big silver Bentley whispering away from the curb as he sped past, raced around the corner and pinballed through the traffic to the other side of the street. He cut through the local high school's practice field, where the school's star sprinter was training. He was a muscular young lad with thighs the size of fire hydrants. JP blew by him like he was a fire hydrant. The kid ground to a halt and fell to his knees with a sob. JP was out of gas now, so he ducked into an alley, gasping. He would have vomited up his lunch, if he had had any.

He didn't hear sirens or anything that sounded like 220 lbs of cop in hot pursuit, so he poked his head around the corner. There was a drug deal going down in the schoolyard and a mugging across the street and two drivers going toe-to-toe beside a freshly dented car. Business as usual. JP's heart crawled back down his throat and went back to its desk. He snaked his way home via backyards and alleyways, and resisted the urge to flag a cab or hop a bus. He didn't notice the big silver sedan a half block away each time he crossed a street.

Meanwhile back at Chez René, Gertie and Bertie were assisting in a criminal investigation. After counterproductively helping the downed police officer to his feet, they eagerly offered their services as witnesses. There was some slight disagreement between their versions. After a very confusing tag-team interview during which he was unable to utter a complete sentence, the detective reviewed his recording and determined that he was in search of a suspect with one brown eye and one blue eye, and possibly one green eye. He weighed somewhere between 110 and 220 lbs and had a prosthetic leg. When he had come into the restaurant he was a "smidgen over five feet tall", but was "well over six feet" when he left. He had long brown hair, but only on the left side of his head. The other side was short and green. That at least made sense, but only narrowed the suspect list down to half the population in the city between 10 and 35 years old. Sigh. He almost suspected he was being had.

Gertie whispered to her friend, "Cool Hand Luke. Newman's lying on the ground and Strother Martin says to him........."

"I have to disagree. I thought we communicated rather well. That man just has a failure to understand."

"Just so."

The cop also interviewed the maitre d' and the manager, but was so stupefied from trying to keep up with the ladies that he forgot to turn on his recorder.

JP snuck through the alley that ran behind his house, keeping watch for suspicious characters other than himself. He squeezed through the fence where he had loosened a couple of boards for emergency exits. His place was dark. He crept to the wall and peeked through each window in succession. No lights and no action, a good sign. He crouched shivering in a dark corner of his yard for half an hour, just to make sure the cops hadn't identified him and decided to drop in for tea and scones and perhaps a spot of inquisition. If they had come, the police would have heard his famished stomach yowling from the street.

"All clear," he concluded. He quietly opened the outside door and tiptoed down his dark hallway, where he tripped over the bucket he had left there earlier. Still no noise from inside his suite, though he wouldn't have heard it over his heart thumping in his ears. He carefully inserted his key into the lock and turned it, then thrust the door open and executed a perfect tuck and roll into the dark room. He sprang to his feet to surprise any cops or robbers who may have been in attendance, only to discover abruptly that his entrance manoeuvre had ended under the table. He crawled out, rubbing the new lump on his head, and switched on the light. All was as he had left it. There wasn't a dustball out of place. He reached up under the couch; the suitcase was still there.

Now that all his adrenaline had been burned up in the escape, JP eased out of survival mode and modulated smoothly down a half step into worried. He could see no reason why the manager had set the police on him. For once he could honestly claim he'd done nothing wrong. He wondered if maybe he had overreacted, that the cop had just been there to pick up the mandatory monthly contribution to the Policemen's Brotherhood. It had all happened so quickly, but he knew that people like him who stayed around to ask questions usually ended up answering questions. And he'd heard the splintering of furniture in his wake. No, he knew that he was the object of the cop's affections. But why?

He called up his brain for a critical analysis of the situation. After a suitable delay it told him, "Here's the deal. Your couch is stuffed with three million dollars belonging to someone else who should have been, but wasn't, standing by with a crowbar awaiting your reappearance on the scene. The cops are chasing you, and for no apparent reason, as unlikely as that sounds. You're just lucky the chase only lasted eighteen feet. And right now all is as calm and peaceful as a Zen Buddhist pajama party."

"So you have no reason to be alarmed," his left brain assured him.

"Phhhhhhffffff! Neither did Noah until he heard the weather forecast," his right brain protested.

"Don't worry. Be happy!" his left brain channelled Bobby McFerrin.

"About what you'd expect from a guy who smokes his weight in spliffs every day before breakfast!" replied the right.

The right and left hemispheres continued to make rude gestures at each other across the corpus callosum.

All the internal noise was getting to him. He turned on the TV to drown it out and to take his mind off his stomach, which was attempting to gnaw its way to freedom. He didn't bother to look in the fridge or cupboards. Compared to him, Old Mother Hubbard was Martha Stewart. He disinterestedly watched The News at Six, where a past-her-prime interviewer with hair like Marilyn Monroe and makeup like Marilyn Manson was questioning a bear in a suit in front of a downtown restaurant. The somehow familiar warthog-like face of the interviewee drew his attention. The cop from this afternoon!

Despite a swollen cheek and fat lip, he managed to deliver a statement in what sounded exactly like English, but was not remotely intelligible to anyone not intimately familiar with O'Toole, Stonker X. (1978), The Compleat Policeman: Elements of Style and Syntax. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

"A male individual of indeterminate build approximately in his early twenties was virtually apprehended by police after allegedly attempting to utter what appeared to be a counterfeit bill in what is believed to be the denomination of one hundred United States dollars on what has been determined to be the premises of a business on or about five o'clock PM today, in contravention of Section 476a, subsection A, paragraph 3 of the state Penal Code. The individual in question was purportedly observed to be acting in what was in all likelihood a possibly suspicious manner by an alert restaurant employee, who obtained possession of the bill and thereupon subsequently performed an examination of it. Determining it to be counterfeit to the best of his knowledge for all intents and purposes, he notified police, who attended the scene of the attempted criminal activity. The alleged perpetrator fled and managed to elude police after the pursuit was called off due to concern for public safety going forward."

JP's chain of thought developed a kink and came off the sprocket during the first sentence. After four replays he was sure the cop was indeed talking about him. And he knew that someone was lying about the incident. But why?

He sat on his three million dollar couch, deep in thought, though if you stood up in the deepest part you'd barely get your shorts wet. Suddenly there was a pounding at the door! He leapt up. "May as well go down fighting," he reacted, "But no one said it has to be a fair fight." He hefted the Louisville Slugger that he'd had since high school and kept behind the couch. Where else?

He bravely threw open the door, then stepped back and took a mighty swing. Luckily Leo was used to having objects, usually fists, come at him from unexpected directions, and ducked. While JP picked up the pieces of the doorframe Leo complained, "Do I look like Kato to you, ya friggin' idiot? If ya really don't wanna buy me a beer, just say so. Dint your mom ever teach you to say 'Who is it?' real nice when ya answer the friggin' door?"

"Get real! Only ever taught me one friggin' thing. Don't get between her and the ol' man when he was pissed. An' that bastard only ever taught me three things. How ta shoplift beer, when ta duck, an' fourteen years a the sight o' him was enough."

"Whoa! Touchy subject. Sorry I brought it up."

JP shrugged it off and muttered that he'd been expecting company. That seemed to satisfy Leo. Mollified, he strolled over and threw himself on the couch.

"You get this couch from the dump, dude? Feels like it's fulla bricks."

"You don't know the half of it, man."

"Hey, ya wanna hear something totally cool? I wuz talkin' to my buddy whose bro is a cop and he told me a great story."

"I had enough of cop stories for today."

"No, really. You'll like this one! Some lowlife was in René's today, y'know, that fancy diner downtown, and starts flashing a big wad of hundreds. What a moron!"

"What's the matter with that? Is money illegal now?" JP sniffed as he turned off the TV.

"What's with you? Anyway, the major dude who works there don't like the looks of the guy so he decides to grind him. He figures the stuff's fake, so he grabs a bill from the guy and checks it out. And waddya think! It's real! The loser's got his pants fulla real hunnerd dollar bills! And I guess he don't look like no Donald Trump, so the dude figures it's gotta be stolen. Usually no problem, he don't care as long as he can put it in the bank. But he don't like this guy's attitude, so he's all over him."

"What attitude? Just a reg'lar upscale dude with lotsa scratch, right? Lucky guy. So what?"

"Hey, were you there, man? I don't know what kinda faces the guy was throwin'. Just tellin' ya what I heard. Anyway, shuddup or I won't tell ya the best part. I guess anytime a big whack o' new money gets stolen, by like George Clooney and Brad Pitt or something, the cops put out a list of serial numbers and businesses put it up on the wall. So he writes down the number off the bill, checks the list, and it's there! It's on the friggin' list! And the doofus is still sittin' at his table playin' with the cutlery!"

JP held his tongue, with some considerable effort.

"So he calls the cops, but the guy gets lucky and escapes. But here's the way cool bit. You remember that dude who hijacked that plane ten years ago? I saw it on TV. Made the cops give him three million bucks stuffed in a big new shiny metal suitcase before he let the passengers go. They took off for Havana, but when the plane landed he wasn't on it! Sweet, huh?"

Even JP could see that the plane wasn't the only thing heading in a decidedly southerly direction, and gaining speed. He fiddled nervously with the remote.

"They figured the guy'd got killed escaping, but a few years ago bills from the haul started showin' up all over the country. Always only in one place at a time. And the loser gets nearly busted every time he tries to spend one, but always gets away. My buddy's cop brother was killin' himself laughing. Said he'd have better luck spendin' Monopoly money. There ain't a Kwik-E-Mart in the world don't have those numbers up beside the till. Said the loot'd be worth more as couch stuffing. Hah! Great joke, huh?"


Remembering the manic laughter that had accompanied the suitcase's debut, JP knew who the joke was on. The remote concentrated hard on staying in one piece.

"The part they can't figger is why so many different guys show up with the bogus bills. It's like someone tries it a buncha times, then they give up, and then another guy gives it a go somewheres else. Makes no friggin' sense, huh? Cop says the guy who tried today was half as smart as a cinder block, but way faster. They're keeping it all quiet cause they're right on his ass. They get the pesos back even if they can't pin it on the dude, and they'll put the owliest DA on his butt they can find. The lawyers'll hoover up everything but his jockstrap, and they'll probly chew on that."

Now proceeding due south at terminal velocity. "Hmmmmph," sighed JP resignedly, almost in tears.

"What's that? You pretendin' to think or somthin'? Anyway, about that beer......."

"Nah, I'm not up for that anymore. Kinda crappy day. Just feel like crashin' for a coupla days. Anyway I'm totally busted. The deal I had goin' went inside out. Friggin' ugly headache too."

"Jeez, man! Ya need someone to hold the rope while ya jump out the window? Guess that ain't much of a cure, you livin' in the basement. Gotta say, yer head does look like ya stuck it in the garburator."

"Garburator woulda been way more fun."

"Awright, well. My poor heart won't take all the excitement here. I'm off ta see the world." 

Leo hoisted himself off the couch and ambled toward the demolished doorway. He examined it and advised, "You really gotta get yerself on Extreme Makeover, dude." With what sounded uncharacteristically like a hint of concern, he added, "And hey, take it easy, man. Any day on top of the dirt is a good day."

"I guess," said JP quietly as Leo eased the door into the remains of the doorframe. "Later, dude."

JP had decided; he knew what he had to do, unthinkable as it was. But first he wanted one last look at his tainted fortune, the ruins of his dreams. No longer worried about being disturbed, he hauled out the case and dumped the cash on to the floor. He ripped the wrapping from every last package in turn, riffled through the cash, and stacked it carefully back in the case. When the last one was nestled snugly in the case, he piled the torn wrappings on top and slammed it closed.

It was still heavy, but somehow lighter than it had been. JP slithered into his jean jacket, grabbed the case, and left his apartment. He angrily booted the bucket down the hallway. He knew the police would still be on the lookout for him and the notorious suitcase, so he meandered along back alleys and through yards toward town. He stopped for the occasional rest, as he was feeling weak from hunger. A storm was gathering out over the lake. Fighting the fierce moisture-laden gusts robbed his energy.

If he hadn't been so dazed, he would surely have seen the big silver car a few times during his trek.

He trudged tiredly into the heart of town without incident. The cops were busy securing the donut shops and ticketing speeders who threatened the fabric of society. JP arrived at his destination without any confrontations.

The Burns Building, a hundred year old, 20-storey stone edifice. JP knew, as he made it his business to know these kinds of things, that the big oaken doors would not be locked at this time of a Friday night. The night custodian would be oblivious behind his desk, snug in the arms of Jack Daniel. JP was bright and alert now, intently focused on what he was about to do. He inched past the snoring walrus in the custodian uniform, then hustled to the elevator and boarded it for the fateful ascent. It creaked and groaned and threatened to concede to gravity. It labored as if it was hauling itself up on a few remaining strands of hundred year old steel cable running over square pulleys. Somehow it delivered him safely to the deserted twentieth floor, though it had to rally twice to get past the fifteenth. JP found the exit stairs and lugged the suitcase up to the battered steel door which gave out on to the roof.

He shuffled across the dirty tarred gravel to the edge of the roof, where he laid down his burden and sat on it to rest. He gathered himself, stood, and vented a deep sigh. He leaned precariously over the waist-high ledge and looked down, a long way down. The street was thronging, vibrating with wired partiers and tired businesspeople heading home after a late evening at the office, or at least that's what their wives and husbands had let on they had been led to believe.

"Perfect!" he exclaimed. The swirling wind plucked the words from his mouth. With a grunt, he hoisted the heavy case and set it down on the ledge. He thumbed the latch and opened it. Fingers of air reached in and stole away with a few bills from the top and tucked them into the deep black pockets of the night. Quickly, so as not to give his mind a chance to change itself, he upended the case over the edge. He watched as the green flock caught the blustery air under its wings and fanned out. Each bill rose, fell, scudded and pirouetted, plotting its own chaotic course to earth. His view of the street was completely obliterated. It was a green Christmas.

He regarded the scene solemnly for a quiet minute. Then he could hardly see for the tears streaming down his cheeks. He was laughing so hard he could barely stand up. He turned away from the edge, wiped his face on his sleeve, and closed the empty case. "It's just you and me now, Samson!" he gasped, and broke down in giggles again. The rapidly increasing decibel level of car horns could be heard even on the roof of a twenty storey building. JP was still chortling like a mad hatter as he closed the roof door behind himself. He steeled himself for another bumpy flight in what was probably the earliest known ancestor of all elevators. "Well, I'm going down anyway," he observed, and had to lean against the wall until the hysterics passed.

Miraculously the elevator door creaked open and presented him to the main floor, alive. The guard was equally as dedicated to keeping people in as he had been to keeping them out. JP strode out the door into pandemonium. There were cars deserted in the street with doors wide open and hordes of people chasing the worthless bills that fluttered enticingly just out of their reach. It was a scene from The Magic Christian. JP marvelled at the sight.

He didn't notice the silver Bentley at the curb until the passenger door swung open and a deep authoritative voice commanded, "Get in, son." He thought of running, but figured he wouldn't get far, so he obeyed. Climbing in beside the driver, a remarkably large man in a fine tailored uniform, he glanced into the back. He saw two faces he didn't recognize. But they knew him.

Gertie asked, "Are you hungry, son?"

His jaw dropped. The answer he had been frantically assembling didn't match the question. "Yeah," he mumbled suspiciously, "Why?"

Bertie said, "Because we know a great place to eat, and we have a few questions to ask you."

He found this all rather odd, but they looked harmless enough. Forgetting about the giant seated behind the wheel, he thought, "Maybe I won't die hungry after all."

Perhaps to prove a point of sorts, they insisted on Chez René's. To his astonishment, the restaurant staff treated him as if he were Bertie or Gertie's long lost grandson. It seemed the events of the afternoon had been wiped away with the spilled onion soup. JP waited for the bubble to pop, knowing he wouldn't be able to outrun the shock wave this time.

But there was no explosion. The ladies ordered a feast for him. Like grannies everywhere, they marvelled at the volume of food such a skinny little fellow could ingest in one bite. They complimented him on his efforts, encouraging him on. They asked him about himself and patiently awaited his replies, which were loudly punctuated by chewing and swallowing. 

Eventually his brain realized that his stomach was foundering and instructed his hands to lay down the shovel. So the two old friends and the one new friend talked. JP was unaware that they made sure that he did most of the talking. They gently drew out of him thoughts that he'd never before put into words. Words that began to flow and spill over like champagne froth. He was left with a sense of wonder that all this had been inside him, and felt simultaneously emptied and filled.

The old women revealed just enough about themselves to earn his trust, a gift he had never before offered anyone. It was obvious that they were the closest of friends, and they did confess to an obsessive fascination with old movies, but they certainly didn't let on that this was because flickering shadows on celluloid were all that remained of the time when they had lived.

When they dropped him off in front of his house, he thanked them with a shy, unaccustomed grace. He had the mildest inkling that the man who walked up the path with the empty suitcase was not exactly the same boy who had struggled down it only hours ago with a heavy burden. He had not the least hint yet of the real treasure that had landed on his doorstep. Or, should we say, treasures.

Bertie watched JP until he disappeared around the back of the house. As the big Bentley crept away from the curb she nudged her friend. "I had no idea this job would be so much fun. After seeing what Clarence went through with George Bailey that Christmas, I thought we were really in for it."

"It's a Wonderful Life was only a movie, Gertie. I sometimes wonder if watching all these old movies is good for you."

"Well, Clarence is still talking about it. And it was a documentary after all, my dear."

"True enough. And he is our boss. We'll just have to show old Clarence that he's not the only one that can lead a man to what lies in his heart."

The Bentley glided around the corner and faded silently into the mist.
© Copyright 2010 allenalien (allenalien at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1647056-The-Suitcase