What will a cop's life be worth in the future?
Cradling the gun in my right hand, I pressed my left palm against my heaving chest and thought, What have you done, Stan Walinsky? In the alley behind The Crazy Cuban, the sweet stench of over-ripe bananas and rotting pork filled my nostrils. Crouched next to the trash bin where I had stashed a change of clothes, my rapid, shallow gasps made little puffs of vapor, whisked away by the chilly, swirling wind. I hadn't run four blocks in twenty years. My arthritic ankles and knees throbbed in protest while sirens wailed in the distance.
Guns - I don't like guns. Didn't like them before I went out and bought one. And now, after killing a cop, I like them even less. Out in the country, where I practiced under the tutelage of my old college roomie, Danny Amalfitano, I cringed with every shot. The plastic pistol felt so foreign in my damp hand. My palm still sweats every time I close my hand around that sucker, even when it's as cold as it is right now.
Danny assured me that if I really wanted to go through with it, this would be the right piece for the job. He should know. He spent five years in the joint for bank robbery, but before his arrest he socked away a pot-full of money from at least four other jobs the detectives couldn't pin on him. Undetectable by the bank's security scanners, the lightweight Glock kicks less than a bigger gun, and the custom-built silencer muffles the discharge to little more than a whisper. A technical marvel, to be sure, but I'm not comfortable with it, and I'm a pathetic shot when trying to hit anything more than ten feet away.
Why did I have to shoot at that patrolman who saw me running? Why did I even start running? I might as well have held up a sign saying, "Hey, I'm the dumb ass you're looking for!" How could I have been so stupid? I felt like a rabbit, hiding behind a rock with a pack of hungry wolves after me.
Shivering, due to frayed nerves as much as the cold, I stared up at the darkening sky, framed in brick by the venerable walls of the surrounding, run-down tenement buildings. A lot of things other than the sky were turning dark. An hour ago, when I strolled into Boston's Commonwealth Savings and Loan, the sun had been close to setting for me in more ways than one.
An easy score, according to Danny, I originally planned to rob Patriot Federal, but got cold feet at the last minute. Instead, I went to my regular bank and applied for a personal loan, which is what I promised my wife I would do today. I figured the worst thing that could happen there is that I might leave empty-handed. Sometimes, however, as Loraine would point out, I don't figure so good.
My teeth began to chatter as I changed clothes. I said good riddance to the Glock and chucked it into the dumpster. After stuffing my bank-job outfit into my leather satchel, on top of the baseball cap and Santa beard I never donned, I slung it over my shoulder.
Flakes of wet snow landed on my eyelids, making me blink. Hoping it didn't turn to rain, I dug back into the bag for my ball cap. I pulled it down over my shaggy gray mop, limped back up the narrow alley, and out onto the sidewalk for the nine-block journey home. Even though it hurt to walk, walking gave me a chance to clear my head, do some thinking, and settle my nerves. What a pitiful, stoop-shouldered sight I must be, I grimaced. If the police come after me now they can have me. I couldn't run anymore if I had to.
Yesterday, I deliberately left my phone in the country, twenty miles west of here where Danny and I went to shoot tin cans and crows. Danny suggested that the police might pinpoint my location by getting a satellite fix on the phone's transmission chip.
At first I felt lost and naked without it, but I started to enjoy not being interrupted every few minutes by a text or news update. I thought about calling Danny when I reached the house, or got arrested, whichever came first. He'd lecture me and be almost as pissed as Loraine at the mistakes I've made, but he'd know a good, hard-case lawyer.
Sixty-two years old, laid off two years prior from my job as a new-car sales manager, my severance and medical benefits ran out a while back. I had to sell my car and the modest house in the suburbs where my wife and I lived for twenty years. Thanks to the economy, the sale netted us far less than what we needed. Now, the money from the sale and our life's savings is gone.
After convincing us to accept a ridiculously low bid so she could concentrate on more lucrative properties, the realtor still made a bundle. The bitch. She's not the only one who's profited from my misfortune.
The young handymen and plumbers who painted the house, replaced the hot water heater, fixed the leaky plumbing, repaired the cracks in the driveway and put on the new roof - they all got theirs, and the buyers got a bargain. But who could blame them?
The more I thought as I shuffled along, the more I realized how bad I F'd up. I wondered if the police would be waiting for me by the time I got home. I guessed they probably would. They'd be there with Loraine. Damn... Merry Christmas, Stan.
~~~How could something as simple as asking for a loan have gone so wrong? After taking my application to the chief finger-snapper, the young loan officer returned, closed the door to his glass-walled office, and lowered the blinds. Not a good sign. He wanted to make sure other bank customers didn't see my reaction if I became upset. "Insufficient collateral, Mr. Walinsky," he proclaimed from his cushy, burgundy leather chair.
On his desk, the engraved nameplate listed him as Ron Doe*, Junior Loan Officer. The asterisk after his last name identified him as a clone. His title, Junior Loan Officer, meant Doe boy served as a bag man, nothing more than a conveyor of decisions and money. He didn't give the orders - probably had to ask permission before making coffee, or going to take a whiz.
"Where's Bobby P.?" I inquired. Bobby had been VP of the loan department for ages. Over the years he had okayed several loans for me. Bobby and I were tight - from way back, you know?
"Mr. Pantoliano retired last month, Sir." The rookie folded his hands on top of the desk, cocked his head to the left, squinted, and continued. "If he were here, he'd say the same thing. You don't have any income, you've sold off the majority of your assets, and you've decimated your savings."
Mr. Doe with-an-asterisk got up again to speak to his superior after I sighed and halved the request, cutting it from twenty to ten large. If I'd asked for ten cents, the kid wouldn't have been able to say yes or no on his own. I considered asking him for a dime when he came back with the second rejection, just to see what he'd do. I didn't mind wasting his time, but I decided against it because it woulda been wasting mine, as well.
I understood. My wife wouldn't, but I did. The bank's policies pretty much mirrored the country's. If you're old, don't expect any favors. Last night, Loraine prayed for a Christmas miracle, bless her heart. I had hoped for a little Christmas leniency from the institution where I've banked for as long as I've been married. After all, I've never been overdrawn - not once in forty years.
The banker's thin, synthetic smile failed to convey a hint of the consideration I felt I deserved. It pissed me off. From sweeteners to attitudes, I don't appreciate a fugazi - a fake. I'da been better off doing business with some shylock from the old neighborhood. Yeah, the vigorish woulda been brutal, but I'da got my loan and at least some measure of respect from a guy with a real family. I stared into those unsympathetic eyes and gritted my teeth.
The disingenuous expression on the face of the stranger behind the desk changed to honest fear when he spied the pistol I raised and pointed at him. That made me feel better, somehow. I remember nodding with genuine appreciation at the authenticity of his reaction a moment before pulling the trigger.
As "Deck the Halls" played on the overhead speakers, I stood and watched in awe while blood and brain tissue dripped down the closed mini-blinds behind my victim.
Compelled by morbid curiosity, I walked around the desk.
The back of the kid's head had a nasty hole in it. Lucky for me, busting through the bones must've slowed the plastic slug down enough to keep it from shattering the glass wall. I picked it up off the carpet and stuffed it in my pocket. No sense in leaving crucial evidence behind if you don't have to. Before leaving, I glanced down at the plate filled with Christmas candy. "What, no peppermint stick?" I asked. "You're not gonna offer me one as a parting gesture?"
Eyes wide open, mouth gaping, head tilted back, still oozing gore, Doe boy didn't answer.
I shrugged, slipped out of the office and scanned the lobby. Nobody seemed to have heard the shot. Danny Amalfitano did me a solid when he convinced me to purchase that silencer. The bank guard stood near the front door, chatting with some blonde in a short skirt with knee-high boots. He never even glanced in my direction as I eased by him. I got about a block away before I heard the bank's alarm go off. That's when I panicked and broke into a run.
~ ~ ~Eight blocks from home, I pondered my situation as I trudged along. The falling snow and the Christmas lights in the businesses and the homes I passed woulda picked my spirits up if I hadn't been in such a funk.
Loraine and I live in town these days, squeezed into a tiny, two-bedroom, rat and roach infested rental. Passing the CVS reminded me that the two prescriptions she refills monthly run about six hundred clams. My lovastatin, which I don't take anymore, would set me back another three bills. Medicare no longer pays for drugs if you're over sixty. Thanks to the politicians, I thought, and then reconsidered.
Today's economic woes aren't caused by a political party, socialized medicine, automation, or overbreeding. The finger of blame can only be pointed at one thing - clones. Make that clones and the technology that makes them possible.
Bad heart? Modern Medicine can grow new valves, cloned from the remaining healthy cells of your bad ticker. Whatever your ailment, if you're young, or rich, the cure can probably be found in gene therapy and its related applications.
With the dawning of the twenty-second century barely more than a week away, businesses employ medical science to construct perfect employees with the aptitude to perform specific tasks. If your pre-employment application bloodtest indicates that you aren't genetically predisposed to excel in a particular environment, you won't be interviewed, much less hired.
Passing by James Coney Island Hot Dogs, I slipped on a patch of ice and almost fell. Looking up at the restaurant's logo, I figured I could work at a fast food place if those jobs were still handled by humans. They aren't.
Automation and clones have pushed the kids and old folks out the door. The hot dog meat isn't real anymore, either. Instead of Coney Island, they oughtta call the place, Cloney Island. I grabbed at my crotch. Yeah, I got your hot dog, ya bastards!
In 2099, if someone proves to be a genius, depending on the demand for people with their talents, genetic dupes are produced and sold to the highest bidders. Fully grown and educated, they can be rolled off an assembly line like American cars from the 1960s. If the clones are overproduced, found to be defective, or fall out of demand, the surplus units are eliminated, or in some cases retrained to serve in some new capacity. I'm guessing Doe boy fit into that category.
Three blocks from home, I pulled the bill of my Red Sox cap down on my brow to better hide my face. No news vans, no helicopters, no stream of patrol cars... I couldn't believe I made it this far. Surely, the police knew I had been the last person in Doe boy's office. My account info shoulda still been on his terminal. Even if they failed to see it, the head honcho who nixed my loan would know Stan Walinsky had been talking to his junior officer.
Perhaps I have a guardian angel. You know, like the one in that old movie, It's a Wonderful Life. Maybe I just experienced a Christmas miracle. Could some heaven-sent glitch have caused the security video of my little incident to go unrecorded?
I imagined Loraine's explanation for why the poIice hadn't collared me yet. The police know right where you are, and what a pathetic loser you are. They aren't in any rush because they know they won't have to go to any real trouble to take you into custody.
She didn't always talk like that - not until I got laid off. During the four decades I brought home a decent paycheck, she held me in fairly high regard, I thought. But after two years of watching me lay around the house, Loraine became an expert at the fine art of nagging and convinced me to get in touch with Danny to see if he could find something for me. She always liked Danny... maybe a little more than I would prefer.
I could see it in her eyes. Loraine adores excitement. She likes to go, and do, and see, and spend. Oh, yeah, she loves to spend. But what woman doesn't? Could be, she grew tired of worrying about making ends meet, and decided to send me out on a limb to reach for the brass ring. Tantalized by the allure of the big payoff, she craved a piece of the pie in the sky that dangerous Danny managed to get a slice of.
I opened the rickety gate to the waist-high fence that framed the little patch of dried, dead grass Loraine calls our front yard. After closing it behind me, I limped the last few steps up the cracked, paved walkway to the edge of the three cement steps that rose to the porch. They're small steps, but when you have arthritis and the steps get slippery, well, you get the picture. I took extra care and went up slow and easy, like the old man I'm getting to be. I looked around. Still no police.
When I pressed my thumb down on the front door's tongue latch, it refused to budge, reminding me that it needed some WD-40 sprayed into the lock mechanism. I'd been planning to do that ever since we moved in. Loraine had started coming in the rear entrance, from the alley, because she couldn't press down hard enough to open the front door anymore. Okay, let me go get the WD-40 out of the garage. When the police arrive, and I say, "Come in," at least they won't have to break the friggin' door down.
My empty, one-car garage says the same thing every time I raise the door. "Hey, loser, where's your BMW?" Funny how it sounds a helluva lot like Loraine.
Standing at my narrow workbench, under the meager light provided by a forty-watt bulb, I shouted back. "It's gone, okay? Remember when I came in here last week for duct tape? I told you the same thing then. It's gone. It's as gone as my pension. It's as gone as my..." I picked up a hammer and whacked it on the unfinished wood, causing loose nails and everything close by to bounce around. "It's as gone as my good name that I worked so hard to build."
By the time I found the WD-40, frustration pooled in my eyes and began to dribble down my cheeks. I used my sleeve to wipe the droplets of self-pity away and pulled on the rope that closed the garage. "You don't need a BMW in Boston," I reminded the empty space as the big door rumbled down. "You don't need a car at all." And that's true, thanks to the city's aging, but still-dependable mass transit system.
Before returning to the front door, I noticed a black Mercedes parked in the alley. Danny's car. The front door could wait.
When I opened the back door, he stood in my den with a glass of scotch and my wife. On the wall behind them, the video screen displayed the paused image of a reporter holding a microphone, standing in front of Commonwealth Savings and Loan.
"Stan," Danny seemed relieved as he raised his glass. "We've been worried about you. Loraine tells me you went to the bank to get a loan. How'd that go?"
Danny's bushy eyebrows twitched upward. He knew what I had really planned to do.
Loraine's perfectly tweezed brows arched, as well. She hadn't known anything...unless Danny had let the cat out of the bag.
She held the DirecTV remote in one hand and a drink in the other, which seemed odd to me. Loraine rarely drinks, unless it's some fruity concoction when we go out. I couldn't recall the last time I saw her with anything other than wine at home.
"You guys celebrating something?" I studied Loraine's face, searching for signs of guilt. Surely, she isn't doing Danny behind my back? I couldn't detect anything beyond what appeared to be genuine concern.
"No, Stan. Should we be?"
Maybe she needed the drink to calm her nerves...maybe. Danny could have suggested it. Danny always needs a drink if there's liquor to be found.
"Did you get the loan?" Danny asked, and took another sip of my scotch. He sounded like he knew the answer, but wanted to give me a chance to explain.
"I, uh..." Staring at the floor, I fumbled for what to say. Finally, I just shook my head and said, "No."
"Were you there when it happened?" Loraine asked.
"When what happened?" I looked up.
"I saw it on the news." She gestured at the frozen picture behind her. "They said a gray-haired man shot a cop."
Her cell rang before I could reply. Loraine laid the remote down and picked up her phone. Before she answered, she said, "I tried to call you, Stan, but you never answered. Danny said you must've left your phone in the country, yesterday." She glared at me for a second and then turned around, focusing her attention on the incoming call. "Yes? Yes, this is she." She turned back toward me and stared. "My husband?" Her eyes grew wide. "You think he did what?"
So much for my Christmas miracle. The police knocked on the front door a few minutes later. From my recliner, resigned to my fate, I shouted, "Come in," and then remembered that I never fixed the latch. The door shook for a moment before Loraine flew across the room, cussing me.
"Sorry officer," she said to the first of three who swept into the room.
I didn't resist and they didn't rough me up, which I appreciated.
Danny slapped me on the back as they applied the cuffs. "Don't worry, Stan. I'll call Vinny." Vinny Scarpello handled Danny's case when he got busted ten years ago. Everybody figured Danny would spend twenty hard years, instead of the five easy ones he ended up doing at a minimum security facility. The difference between his case and mine was, of course, Danny stole a hundred grand, but he didn't kill a cop. I did.
As Loraine cried, the boys in blue read me my Miranda rights, led me out through the door, down the three steps, and out to the waiting patrol car for my ride downtown. I wondered if they'd shove my head down and toss me in the back of the squad car like a sack of potatoes. They surprised me.
"Watch your head, sir." The officer pressed down gently on the crown of my head and allowed me to ease into the seat before instructing me to watch my feet and legs while he closed the door. The gentle treatment continued all the way up to my trial, which started and concluded a lot faster than I woulda suspected.
Forty-eight hours after my arrest, I sat in the courtroom waiting for the judge's verdict.
Vinny leaned over to prepare me for the worst. "I'm afraid it ain't gonna be good, Stan. The video evidence from the bank is indisputable, and the cop that died...that was messy." He shook his head as the bailiff shouted, "All rise!"
Behind me, I heard Danny call out softly, "Stan!"
I turned to see him holding Loraine's hand. That bothered me. With his free hand he gave me a thumb's up and mouthed the words, "Good luck."
Good luck? What would be good luck? I wondered. Ten years? Maybe I'd get paroled in four with good behavior?
Vinny had spent all of about five minutes with me. I've never paid attention to legal matters. I've never watched the courtroom channel with its trials on satellite. Hell, I've never even downloaded the ap for the online newspaper. I couldn't be sure how the justice system treated crimes of this nature.
My legs started to shake as the judge mounted the steps to his bench and stared down at me.
"Stanislav Vladimir Walinsky, based on the video evidence provided by the prosecution, you have been found guilty of damaging property belonging to Commonwealth Savings and Loan by illegally discharging a weapon within Boston's incorporated city limits. You are hereby sentenced to clean the office, or pay to have the office cleaned where you killed Ron Doe, a retrained clone who served as a junior loan officer. This is to be done within the next twenty-four hours. Furthermore, you will pay whatever documented expenses the bank incurs in securing a new clone to replace the deceased copy. Failure to comply will result in incarceration at a nearby correctional facility, not to exceed one week."
Vinny sat down hard and slumped forward in his chair. He placed his elbows on the table and his head in his hands as if this were the worst verdict he could have imagined.
I didn't share Vinny's pain. "Vinny?" I shook his shoulder. "Vinny, did I just hear right? Did I understand the judge correctly?"
Vinny leaned back and stared up at me. His face a picture of defeat.
I sat next to him. "All I gotta do is clean Doe boy's office within the next twenty-four hours?"
Vinny nodded gravely. "Yeah, Stan," he put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. "Geez, I didn't think it would come to this. How degradin' to have to clean a clone's office. Besides, blood and brain tissue ain't so easy to get out of a carpet. But what can I say, the judges have been crackin' down on cop killers lately. You just can't kill a copy and get away with it, anymore. Cops, I swear...next thing you know, they're gonna start lettin' them vote."
"What about the policeman I fired at? Aren't they going to charge me with something related to that?"
"Nah," Vinny waved his hand. "Thanks to that silencer, and the fact that you're such a lousy marksman, I doubt they even knew about it. If you had hit that patrolman, or if they even thought you tried, you wouldn't have been treated so well, trust me. Killing a cop is one thing, but killing a policeman..." He shook his head. Vinny and I stood as Danny and Loraine made their way to the defense table and joined us. Again, they were holding hands and, as good as I felt, I couldn't remain quiet about it any longer.
"Uh, you can hold my hand if you want to, Loraine. Or, do you prefer Danny's?"
Danny let go, and Loraine, looking a little embarrassed, took my hand. While the four of us chatted, the bailiff walked over to tell me I was free to go. Free to go...my god, that sounded sweet.
"You and Loraine want to go for a ride?" Danny asked. "It's a gorgeous day and most of the snow has melted. I think I can find that spot where you left your phone, Stan."
"Yeah," I nodded. "A drive in the country would be nice. But first, can you take me to Wal-Mart? I need to pick up some cleaning supplies."
word count: 4,205
I am delighted to announce that World Castle Publishing has released one of my novels, The Falcon and His Desert Rose, in paperback and e-Book format. The first three chapters are offered on Amazon.com as a sneak preview, so that you, dear reader, may consider whether to add this tale to your literary collection. I invite you to visit the World Castle website, or you can order a copy from Amazon.com
I always appreciate hearing from readers. Feel free to comment or ask questions regarding anything you see. Write to me at email@example.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
You may also get to know me on Facebook... http://www.facebook.com/album.php?id=1625773285&aid=36414