The whiskey poured into the glass, swirling back and forth, rising steadily. Norton observed with eagerness, the precious liquid couldn’t pour fast enough. The bartender laid down a fresh napkin, placing the glass on top.
“Whiskey straight doll,” She said, smacking her gum from the side of her mouth. “You holler at me if you need anything else, okay?”
“Will do.” He took the glass in his hand, gesturing his appreciation to her. He drank and savored every drop.
He was an alcoholic. He wanted to quit, he understood that lifestyle would ruin him, but he couldn’t stop. The liquor called out, seducing and leaving him at her mercy. Deep down, he loathed himself for not being strong enough to put an end to his addiction, but he could not control the situation any longer. He had paid the price, his wife of fifteen years and his two children were gone. His job was also in jeopardy, all because of her -the devils poison! But he no longer cared – he had hit rock bottom. Now the alcohol, his last remaining companion, would not abandon him.
“Can I get you another?”
Norton turned, an old man, short and feeble, dressed in a brown tattered pin-striped suit stood directly in front of him. He wore a wool fedora hat, matching in color, with a black band.
“Are you talking to me?” he replied.
“I do believe you are precisely who I am speaking to, Mr. Hamel.” He smiled at him, pulling down on his hat with a bony hand.
“I’m sorry, We met?”
“No, not exactly.” He sat opposite from him, struggling to slide into the booth. “My purpose for being here, Mr. Hamel, does not require us to be acquaintances. He leaned in. “Our business, can be handled over a drink – or two.”
Norton jerked his head, not understanding the things being said.
“Yeah? What kind of business would we handle, stranger?”
“Ah!” the old man said, lifting a shaky finger. “An important matter indeed Mr. Hamel!”
He motioned to the bartender for another round, then returned his attention to him. “First, let’s have a drink shall we? The occasion calls for one!”
“You call me by my name, but I do not recall yours?”
The old man chuckled, squirming in his seat.
“The name would be Pitts, Mr. Pitts! Tonight Mr. Hamel, I will offer you the one thing you long for. The thing you need most can be yours this night!”
Norton couldn’t help but find the whole thing humorous. Who was this old fool? What was this business he spoke about? The bartender placed a glasses next to each of them, then walked away. Norton raised the glass and took a drink, Mr. Pitts smiled and took one himself.
“Alright Mr. Pitts, I don’t know how you know my name or what you want with me, but I’m not in the mood to talk about nonsense tonight. I appreciate the humor, though, you’re….. funny. I would however, like to be left alone, to drink in peace.
“Here I thought we were getting along splendidly. I suppose I should of expected your kind to be so unwilling to listen to the wonderful things I am offering.”
“Mister, no disrespect, but I’d like to be left alone. So if you don’t mind, buzz off!”
“Will you not answer?”
“Will you not answer your cell phone?”
“What on earth are you blabbing about? You are really my nerves!”
“Your cell phone will buzz in five seconds, your sister, Sarah, will be inquiring about your weekend. I believe she wants you over for a delightful visit.”
“Enough! You need to -”
Norton stopped – his coat pocket vibrated.
“Go on, you will find that old Mr. Pitts is not as mad as you make him out to be!”
Norton drew the cell and looked at the screen – Sarah, just as he said.
“Norton, can you talk? I need to ask you something.”
“You were going to ask me about my plans this weekend.”
“How did you know?”
He lowered the cell, his heart raced. Sarah continued speaking, but her words drowned out from the shock. Moments later, however, relief spread through his body.
“Nice try, sis.”
“You can stop now, the joke is over. You had me for a second.”
“Brother, what are you talking about? Are you alright? Are you drinking?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
He hung up.
“Now I understand, clever! How much did she pay you to pull this stunt?”
“Still don’t believe me, eh?” Pitts said, sighing. “O ye of little faith! Even Jesus, however, sympathized with his disciples.” He flicked a small piece of lint off his sleeve. “Well, how then, can I prove to you Mr. Hamel, to show you the things I am saying are true?”
This guy is something else, he thought. The evening wasn’t going as he had planned, he felt hot and uncomfortable. The mood turned dull. What action must he take, to rid himself of him?
“A million dollars!” Norton said. “One million dollars, in cash, right here on the table.”
Mr. Pitts laughed at his request, stomping his frail feet beneath him. Norton broke out in a laugh of his own, realizing the absurdity of his demand.
“Alright old man, you really must go.”
Mr. Pitts calmed his laughter.
“Writing me off already?” Mr. Pitts said. “Is there no gratitude for what’s been done?”
“Done? Mister, all you managed to do is waste my time.”
“Oh, but you see, Mr. Hamel, I have done much more than that!”
Norton grew irritated.
“And what would that be?”
“Money, Mr. Hamel. Did you forget?”
“Money?” Norton said, amused. “Oh, you mean the invisible money on the table?” He pretended to be amazed, slapping his hands on his face like a child. “Sorry, old man, That won’t work.”
Mr. Pitts shook his head. “No, no, no, no! Not invisible, definitely not! You might want to take a look under the table.”
Norton laughed. “A million in cash, under the table?” It was the longest laugh he’d let out in some time.
But Mr. Pitts no longer laughed. He no longer smiled. He nodded at him to take a peek.
Norton’s laughter receded to a slight chuckle. Embarrassed, he leaned over and glanced under the table.
A black leather briefcase lay at his feet. His jaw dropped, not believing what he was looking at.
“I took the liberty of naming the tag, in case you still doubted, of course.” On the handle, a tag read:
His eyes lifted, locking with Pitts. How could that be? He was sure there was no case when he sat down. How could his name be on the tag? The old man had nothing in his hand when he approached him. A million things ran through his mind.
“All that is needed to bring about change, is a little faith Mr. Hamel.” He tapped the table with his hands. “Well, let’s have a look!”
The black briefcase rested on the table’s surface, it was in pristine condition. Norton’s hands glided over it, confirming to himself it was real and not an illusion. He undid the latches simultaneously, and began to lift.
Mr. Pitts stopped him. “Careful Mr. Hamel, you wouldn’t want greedy eyes coming across so much money.”
He lifted slowly, exposing only a fraction of what lay inside. His eyes widened, stacks of one-hundred dollar bills lined the edges. He shut it immediately. Mr. Pitts smile returned.
“How?” Norton asked, baffled.
“Don’t try to solve the mystery, I assure you, you will not succeed. Only, understand that I am what I have been stating from the beginning, a giver of gifts!”
“And this, this is my gift, resting on this table?”
Mr. Pitts took a deep breath and sighed. “No, I’m afraid not Mr. Hamel. This was merely a measure taken for you to realize something about me. How else would you come to believe?”
Norton hugged the briefcase. “Oh, I believe! There’s no more doubt, I believe every word!”
“Good Mr. Hamel, very good indeed. But now, how about we get down to business?”
“Business?” Norton said.
“Yes, the only business I have to be here. To offer you what you are longing for.”
“Longing? Old man, what I am longing for, what everyone longs for, is on this table!”
“No, Mr. Hamel.” He took a drink, then set the glass down. “What you long for is not in material things, or in stacks of money.”
“The hell it isn’t!” he said. “I’m keeping this case, no matter what you say, I’m keeping it!”
Mr. Pitts face showed disappointment. “Keep what Mr. Hamel?”
“The money!” he stated. “You’re not taking it, I won’t let you!”
“What money Mr. Hamel?”
“The money! The money that’s -”
It dropped on him like a brick. He lifted the case – empty. He searched for words that never came.
“That money, was never meant to be yours, Mr. Hamel. If it had, I assure you, it would be gone soon enough.”
Norton wanted to scream, to demand the money be put back. But he knew deep down, that whatever was happening, at that moment, was meant to be.
“Money comes and goes,” Mr. Pitts said. “Material things age and rust, but true happiness Mr. Hamel, that surpasses all.”
“What are you getting at mister?”
“Before you walked in here, you desired only one thing – to forget. Your wife, your children and the home you made for yourselves, no longer exist. You yearn for them to return, because that is the thing you long for, the thing that has always brought you true joy. You choose to consume and forget because the loneliness haunts you day and night.”
Norton’s emotions got the best of him.
“Yes. That is true, just as you have said. But my wife has made up her mind, she wants nothing to do with me. Believe me, I’ve tried countless times to mend our marriage, and every time, it’s all been in vain. Yes, I am haunted by the their ghosts, by the lack of their laughter and physical presence. So I drink, because it fills the void that is my misery. It numbs the numerous mistakes I have made over the years!”
“What if I can change all that? What if I can make all things new, just like it used to be. You do remember how it used to be don’t you Mr. Hamel?”
Norton stood silent for a long while.
“Yes. I do remember.”
“Mr. Hamel, I am here to give that back to you, you need only to accept it.”
He didn’t understand, who was this strange man, meddling in his his life?
“Who are you?”
“That, is a long story. But don’t concern yourself with such matters now, do you accept what I am offering to you?”
“Yes. I accept. But why me? Surely you didn’t come here from wherever it is you come from, to give me this gift without wanting something in return.”
Mr. Pitts was impressed. “Now you’re catching on, Mr. Hamel! You are correct, these gifts do require something in return, but do not bother yourself with that now. I would rather you concern yourself with answering your phone, it will be buzzing in three seconds.”
“My phone?” Norton said. “I don’t under -”
It was like deja Vu. Mr. Pitts smiled, adjusting the brim of his hat.
“Who is it?”
“Your wife, Mr. Hamel. Calling because she misses you, your children as well. They want you to head over to them.” He reached and drew his wallet out of his pocket. “Well, go on, you don’t want to miss this call, I assure you.”
He no longer doubted, he knew what he was saying was the truth. He answered the call.
“… I miss you.” His wife said. “The kids, they’re asking for you. They miss you terribly! Please come to us, we can talk about things. Perhaps, we can make us work after all.”
“I’m on my way.” He hung up.
He looked forward, blindly. He couldn’t believe what was happening, she wanted him back, she had a change of heart, she was willing to forgive him. The old man was far from mad, he was telling the truth the entire time.
Mr. Pitts began to stand, supporting himself on the edge of the table.
“Where are you going” Norton asked.
“My business here is done, Mr. Hamel. I have to be off, other pressing affairs call upon me.” He pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and tossed it on the table.
“Will I see you again?”
“Only time will tell Mr…” He paused. “Norton, only time will tell, Norton Hamel.”
He left him, disappearing into the crowd. Norton opened the empty briefcase and laughed, but it didn’t matter. He picked up the glass of whiskey, then stopped. He placed it back down. This time, she would not seduce him.
The 1985 Buick Skylark was parked at the end of the shopping center, a maneuver away from a quick exit down Jefferson Way. Mitch sat in the driver’s seat, picking away at the worn out foam on the steering wheel. He did not remove his eyes off of the Pawnshop in the distance.
He ran by the nickname Bandit, an ex-con who had done time in Pleasant Valley State Prison, for home invasion and possessing a large quantity of an illegal substance. They called him Bandit, because he loved being a thief. He figured out early in his criminal career, that stealing was the only thing he was adept at. He accepted it as a calling – and he loved it! He got better at it the more he exercised it, and never got caught up to the point of his incarceration.
His younger brother, Richard, sat in the passenger side, popping another handful of peanuts into his mouth, dusting the salt off his palms. Richard, or as everyone called him, Peanut, idolized his older brother. He desired to be just like him – an all out criminal.
“You sure about this guy baby brother?” Mitch said, doubtful. “There’s something about him, something that rubs me the wrong way.”
“Who, Sal? Absolutely!” Peanut answered. “He’s a solid guy – real cool. Don’t worry brother, we got this! He like, planned it all out and stuff.”
Mitch glanced at him, disbelieving at his words. He knew his brother, how gullible he could be. He would put his trust in the wrong person without paying it a second thought. It was just who he was, he couldn’t help it.
“He better be Peanut, I’m not about to go back in the joint on the account he makes a mistake.” He redirected his attention forward.
“It’s a great piece of equipment!” The proprietor of the pawn-shop said. “It sounds swell and it’s in excellent condition, I’ll let it go for a buck-fifty if it pleases you?”
Sal, stood at the glass counter, facing down at a sound system being shown to him. He wasn’t actually interested in it, he was there to take a head count of the people inside. Precisely as he suspected, only the old man and his wife were present, both earnestly trying to sell him on the device. Sal looked at it, pretending to show consideration.
Sal wasn’t cut out to be a criminal – but it didn’t stop him from trying. In fact, he wasn’t even raised around them. He received a good upbringing, with nurturing parents who gave him everything he wanted, and had decent schooling, up to the point where he decided to drop out.
He met Peanut through a friend who sold them marijuana – they hit it off right away. Peanut, befriending anyone who allowed him a minute of their time, and Sal seeking a lifestyle that wasn’t meant for him to live.
The plan was for Sal to enter the business, and confirm what he had been watching over the last two weeks. Every evening, approximately eight, traffic throughout the shopping center died down and customers rarely came around the shop. That would be the time to move – to pull off a robbery he put together from scratch.
He’d presented the idea to rob the pawn shop to Peanut, hoping that he would run it by his brother, as an attempt to get his foot in as certified bad guy. When Mitch was open to the idea, Sal felt that was his time to transition and was influenced to follow through with it.
After confirming the only people inside the shop was the old man and his wife, Sal would exit the shop and come back to the vehicle to give the all clear to Mitch and Peanut, who were waiting for him. Everything was going perfectly according to plan.
“I’ll tell you what,” Sal said. “Let me think it over, and if it makes sense, we have a deal. How does that sound?”
“Son, I’ve never been one to disagree with somebody on a potential purchase. You go right ahead and do that, well be right here when you make up your mind.”
He knocked the glass gently with his fingers, giving the old man his approval, then exited the shop.
He slid into the back seat of the Buick, shutting the rusty door after him. He sat still for a moment, fidgeting with his jacket, then fixed his eyes on both men sitting in front.
“We’re golden,” he said, confidently. “Just like I said, nobody but the old man and his old lady. It’s perfect! The safe is in the back and everything, I’m telling you boys, I couldn’t have planned this any better!” He tapped Mitch on the shoulder, playfully.
Peanuts demeanor changed instantly. He had discovered his brothers expression change, he knew that look all too well. A few months earlier, Mitch and Peanut drove south on route 41, when a Dodge Ram behind them blared its horn at them. Exhorting them to move over and let him pass, Mitch slowed his speed, further aggravating the driver. He zipped up around them, giving them the finger, shouting obscenities. He hurried off, maneuvering around several other cars.
Fifteen minutes later, in a gas station off of Grangeville, the Dodge Ram was parked at the pump, the driver was inside the Deli Mart, getting some cigarettes and a Red Bull. After his purchase, the raging driver approached the truck, unlocking the door and setting the items along the seat, before proceeding to fill the gas tank.
A barrel of a gun, dug deep into the rear of the mans neck, making his hairs stand. The hammer cocked and Mitch turned him over.
“You ain’t so tough now is you?” He lingered over him, that same look that he gave Sal on that parking lot, was the very same one he’d given to the driver. He hit him repeatedly in the face, opening gashes of blood, and knocking him on conscious. They rode off, leaving the man laying on the hot asphalt.
“…That’s sounds good to me,” Peanut spoke up, trying to soften the tension that loomed over Mitch.
Sal sensed his aggravation, leaning back into his seat. Mitch understood what his brother was trying to do, and ultimately submitted to it.
“Cameras? What about cameras?”
“Oh hell, big brother,” Peanut said. “They got lots of those in there I bet! You can get yourself a real nice one.”
“Security Cameras!” Mitch shouted. “Damn it Peanut, are you really that stupid?” He bent his gaze towards Sal.
“What about them genius? “Who do you suppose they’re going to go looking for when the cops get involved?”
“Then we grab the tapes, no big deal,” Sal said, carefully picking out his words. “Look, all I’m saying is, If we’re going to do this, we have to move now, before things change.”
“Yeah, exactly!” Peanut said, enthusiastically. “I mean, that’s why we’re here, right? Let’s go get this money and have one hell of a party after.”
He was right, they had to go. At the very least, there had to be a couple thousand dollars in cash stashed away in the safe. The jewelry in the displays would bring in a couple more.
“Then let’s get this done,” Mitch said.
They pulled black ski masks over their heads, extending and adjusting them so only their eyes, nose and mouths were exposed. Peanut handed a revolver to Sal from the glove compartment, instructing him to look it over. The brothers did the same. They left the vehicle, walking briskly towards the shop, weapons in hand.
The doors swung open, the sensor fixed to the frame, announced their arrival. Mitch was the first to go in, his weapon already raised and aimed at the old man, who stood motionless. After the reality of the situation set in, the old man began reaching for something behind the counter.
“No no no no no!” Mitch shouted, warning him to stop reaching. “Get your hands up, don’t be stupid old man!” After a moment, he thought better of it and did as he was told. He walked up to him, grabbed a handful of gray hair and rammed his head against the wall.
“Don’t make me splatter your brains all over this floor, you got that you old fool?” He motioned to Peanut and Sal to tend to the woman behind the displays, waving the gun towards her direction.
“Where’s the safe? The safe old man, where is it?”
“…in the back,” the old man said. “Back there, please don’t – “
“Then take your ass over there and open it! Move it!” He disappeared into a back room, shouting and pushing him to hurry up.
A black duffle bag smacked her in the chest hard, she clutched it with her shaking hands, before it had a chance to go down to the ground.
“Empty it!” Peanut demanded, motioning towards the jewelry inside the glass display. “Do it!”
Her hands quivered sorting through her keys, locating the right one moments after. She unlocked the latch, slid the door, and began filling the duffle bag with gold clumsily.
“That’s a good girl!” Peanut said, teasingly. “Where are the security tapes?”
“The tapes!” he cried, grabbing her by the arm, shaking her hard. “Don’t play stupid with me, you dumb broad. The tapes!”
She finally pointed towards the other side of the building, through a small room. Inside, the security system sat on top of a desk. Peanut gestured to Sal, instructing him to recover the tapes. He turned and made his way towards the small, dark room.
When he stepped inside, the room was dark, the only source of light came from a monitor that had a split screen four ways, monitoring every corner of the shop. Beside it, a tower blinked sporadically, causing a buzzing sound. That had to be the security system. He passed behind the device and yanked the cables attached to it. The monitor went dark.
The old man worked the dial on the large safe, soft ticking sounds came from its interior. Mitch was getting impatient with his lack of progress.
“Quit playing games with me and get it open!” He yelled at him, nudging the pistol into his side.
“I’m working as fast as I can son, I’m an old man. Please, just let’s keep calm.”
“Shut your mouth and open it already!” He pushed deeper, the old man winced.
The final tick came to rest, unlocking it.
“There, it’s open.”
“Then what the fuck are you waiting for, open it!”
The old man took hold of the large lever on the side of the steel door, struggling to lift it open. Tired of waiting for him, Mitch shoved him out the way, and moved up the lever himself.
The door swung open, creaking on its hinges, revealing what was inside. Mitch’s face lit up. Dozens of bills lined the inner shelf, labeled and color coded with different denominations. It was way more than they expected to find, over forty thousand dollars.
A single shot was fired. Sal’s head swung at the sound, the woman let out a loud scream, fearing her husband had been shot down. Peanut landed a heavy blow on her jaw with the butt of his gun, sending her crashing back against the shelving behind her, before falling on the floor.
Peanut, grabbed the duffle bag from the counter and tossed it over his shoulder. No shot was supposed to go off, no one was supposed to get hurt. Something must of happened, the old man must of forced Mitch to use his weapon on him. Sal came out, the recording device tucked under one arm.
“What the hell is going?” He said, apprehensively.
“Stay here! Keep your eyes on the door and the bitch!” Peanut sprinted towards the back room.
He got to the back room, turned and stepped in. He halted, frozen and numb. Mitch lay on his stomach, with a single shot to the back of the head.
The sight of so much money, blinded him, losing track of what was going on about him. The old man caught on to this notion, and reached for a pistol he had laid away on top of a cabinet, right where Mitch had shoved him towards.
“What’s going on?” Sal shouted.
Another shot went off, a body fell backwards, landing lifeless in the door – It was Peanut. Blood spurted out of the back of his skull, spreading around him in a pool of blood. Sal dropped the security system, hitting the floor, dividing the top cover from its casing. He pulled back towards the door, realizing their plan had gone horribly wrong. He turned, quickly reaching for the door, when a series of shots rang out from beside him. The old woman aimed and fired from her own weapon hidden away. One thing they could count on in a place like a pawn shop, was the abundance of weapons they held in their inventory.
Sal ran as hard as he could, not once looking back. He ran, feeling the coolness of the night on his perspiring skin. He raised the handle on the old Buick’s drivers side door, jumping inside.
The keys! He thought. I don’t have the keys! They lay tucked away in Peanuts dead corpse inside the store. He would have to continue running.
He opened the door and set about his exit once again. He felt a stinging sensation on his side, then he felt his clothing wet, sticking to his skin. Moving his jacket aside, he noticed his shirt was covered in his own blood. The old woman had shot him, his adrenaline kept him from acknowledging it. Fear filled him, he pressed on his wound, the blood bled through the shirt dripping through his fingers. His sight began to sway, his strength weakened quickly- he was dying. He sat back, shut his eyes and sobbed.
The old man sat on a chair, next to his wife. He took her hand, as the medics tended to her busted lip. Police officers were assessing the situation within the store, trying to put the pieces together.
An officer went into the store, informing them, they found the third suspect deceased in an old Buick at the end of the shopping center. They asked the old man to walk over and I.D. The man for the investigators. When they neared the vehicle, the door was swung open, and a man in his mid twenties laid back in his seat – dead. The old man peered in closer, taking a better look at him. It was the same young man, who hours earlier, spoke to him about a sound system.
A robbery planned by a wannabe criminal, a naive boy, barely a man, who sought a life not fit for him. A childish, careless brother, who never took anything serious. A man who trusted without considering the effects of doing so. A half empty bag of peanuts tucked away in his pants pocket, defining his entire life. A hardened criminal, blinded by the sight of the most money he had ever seen in his lifetime. A menace who took by force and wasn’t afraid to spill blood over it. A man who loved the thrill of of the steal, now lay betrayed by his own doing.
An old man, thought incapable of defending himself from a life and death situation. An old man, who his quick thinking saved not just his life, but of his loving wife. A business that seldom had visitors in the dead of night, was now surrounded by black and white cruisers, all there just to be in its presence. Strobing lights flashing blues and reds on its exterior, letting everyone know that it was the center of attention.
If there was ever individuals, destined for life’s karmic justice, it would be these unlikely three.
“Momma?” he said to her, softly. “Are you sad? Why are you crying?”
She looked upward at him slowly, knowing he wouldn’t understand.
“I’m not sad, I’m happy. I’m crying, because I’m happy.”
He opened his eyes – startled. No matter where his eyes wandered, blackness surrounded him. His sister, a year older, lay in her bed next to his, eyes open and ears listening. Jaime knew she was awake, he could tell by the sound of her heavy breathing and the way her fingers scraped the fabric along the bed sheets. Jaime sat up on the edge of his bed.
“Go to sleep, idiot!” Karen said.
“When aren’t they? Just ignore them, they’ll give up soon enough.”
Jaime sat there for a long time, staring into the dark, then complied and laid back down. Neither one of them said another word.
Jaime was five years old, and didn’t have a single ounce of mean in him. He was a sensitive little boy, who enjoyed wrestling and playing with his friends in the courtyard.
Karen, however, was the entire opposite. She was hateful and angry most of the time, something that Jaime couldn’t make sense of. She had no reason to be, she had everything a little girl like her could want. Against the wall in their bedroom, was a huge wooden shelf, lined up and crammed with dolls their parents gave her. More from her father, she was his favorite, it’s not something Jaime blindly assumed, he heard it from him a million times.
Outside their bedroom, in the kitchen, their parents yelled at one another. Her husband, Paul, had just arrived half an hour earlier. It was well past twelve in the dawn. He was intoxicated again, staying out all night with his brother, hanging out at bars and womanizing. He smelled of beer and woman’s cheap perfume. He came in demanding Mary to fix him something to eat.
“When are you going to grow up, Paul?” She said to him, exhausted.
“Don’t start with me Mary,” he said, annoyed at what he knew was coming. “Just fix me a hot plate will ya!”
“No. No more!” She took a pace towards him, and looked him in his half drunken eyes. “You’re a grown man, Paul. You have two children in that bedroom that hardly see you, and when they do, this is what they see.”
Her eyes watered at the borders of her eyelids. She simply wanted him to finally get it, to understand what he was doing was damaging them. Damaging her.
“For Christ sake, Mary, stop with the theatrics!” He gave her his back, and headed for their sleeping room. “When the plate is ready, bring it to me.”
She’d had enough. Ordinarily, she would let him go, she had no interest in arguing with someone as stubborn as him when he was intoxicated. Only that night, she had enough. She walked up behind him, pulling his arm gently, turning him to her.
“You destroyed me!” Her tone was stern, like a woman who no longer had anything to lose. “I was happy before you came along, before you arrived with your lies and your bullshit dreams for us! Everyone was right, they told me you were no good. But I had to listen to this stupid heart! Don’t you understand yet? Don’t you realize what you’re doing to me?”
“Let go of my arm,” he said, exasperated.
“Or what? You’re going to hit me again?”
“Mary, let go.”
“You coward! You still can’t look me in the -”
The back of his hand landed hard on the side of her face, she fell backwards, landing on her side. There was a silence in the apartment in that second, even the walls ceased to settle.
“You realize what you’ve done, you stupid woman!” He clinched his fists, and banged them against his temples.
Mary went numb, emotionless. Her eyes looked forward, but she discovered nothing. She felt the bite of the blow, yet felt no pain. She broke down completely.
“Get out,” she said, sedately. “Get out, and don’t come back.”
“Don’t even start that with me,” he replied immediately. “You know I’m not going anywhere.”
“Get out. Get out, or god help me, I’ll throw you out myself.” She stood, gazing at him with eyes that could kill.
They looked at each other for a long moment, then Paul turned to the sleeping room, hoping the altercation would end there.
“I mean it you son of a bitch, GET OUT!”
She walked towards him, grabbing the back of his shirt, pulling on it as hard as she could. She drew away, dragging him towards the door, leading to the outside. He turned, took hold of her arm, digging his fingers deep into her skin.
“Stop it!” He rocked her hard. “Don’t make me do something stupid Mary, let me go to bed!”
Her tears burst out, streaming down her face as she lunged at him, screaming and clawing at him. He tried to constrain her, but she was determined to get him out. She raked the side of his face, grabbing him by the hair with her other hand, pulling his head down.
In a paroxysm of rage, Paul pushed her hard, that no matter what grip she had on him, broke off, and sent her slamming against the door behind her.
“Is this what you want?” He towered over her, pinning her down, with his knees over her arms. “Is this what you want!” He slapped her repeatedly, she hollered and kicked, but was no match for him.
Jaime and Karen were at the threshold of their bedroom door, Jaime burst out a loud cry, his tears had no end. Even Karen, who was colder to such emotions, sat herself down and sobbed.
The loud commotion of it whole, began waking the neighbors. Silhouettes of human bodies appeared through the closed drapes.
A pair of tiny arms wrapped around Paul’s neck, the boy’s legs wrapping around his waistline. He pulled his father back with all his might, unable to dislodge him from his battered mother. After a while, Paul’s rage gave way to the notion of his son’s arms tugging on him. Instantly, he released Mary, turning his attention to Jaime.
Jaime jumped off, withdrawing a few steps back. He stood in a fighters stance, his tiny fists balled up tight, knuckles white at the peaks.
“Son,” Paul said to him. “No, son no, come here. I’m sorry.” He reaches out for him slowly.
“When I grow up,” Jaime said. “I’m going to break your legs!”
If Paul never felt regret, if he never felt shame and disgust in himself, that night he felt the full outcome of them. He sank to his knees, slumped over, weeping for the thing he had caused.
Karen held her mother, she trembled from the shock. Mary held her close, her cries, painfully reaching every person who heard it all outside. The night broke its silence, it did not allow rest for the weary, no serenity, only sorrow.
There was a sharp knock at the door. “Oak View Police Department, open up!” A police officer stood on the other side of the doorway. “This is the Oak View Police Department, open the door, or I will kick it in!”
Karen got up and opened the door, the Officer stepped in, gun drawn in his hands. His partner, a woman officer followed behind. The setting was just as it was, the boy still stood in a defensive stance, Paul on his knees. Mary was against the wall, weeping and holding her aching jaw. The policeman pointed to the ground, gesturing to Paul to get on his stomach.
“Get on your stomach, right now!” He reached for his cuffs, tucked away in its sack. Paul did exactly as he was told.
The woman officer, comforted the children, embracing them and trying to remove their minds off of what had just occurred. Mary sat there, looking at them, but not perceiving. Medics were now in the apartment, grabbing at her, trying to draw her attention. Only she just stared blindly, numbly. The night’s event ended just as it had started – silent.
In the morning, Jaime walked out of his bedroom, and stood looking out over the mess that was made in the living room. The violence of dawn lingered in the air, it made itself known in the objects scattered around the floor. He turned and headed to his moms bedroom, opening the doorway slowly. Mary was seated on the edge of the bed, hands together, on her lap. Her eyes were puffy from crying all night, even then, the tears found their way out.
“Momma?” he said to her, softly. “Are you sad? Why are you crying?”
She looked upward at him slowly, knowing he wouldn’t understand.
“I’m not sad, I’m happy. I’m crying, because I’m happy.”
It was supposed to be a wonderful experience, a new start for Frank. Well into his mid-forties, Frank had allowed a bad lifestyle to take a toll on his health over the years. He felt sick and sluggish, his bones ached and he felt his heaviest at 300 pounds – Not a good thing for a shorter man, or anyone else for that matter.
He stood over the bathroom sink that Saturday morning, looking at himself in the mirror. He wore nothing but his underwear, his bulging belly hung down, partially covering them. His underarms rested uncomfortably on the flabs of fat that had accumulated over time, his neck disappeared from view altogether. He no longer resembled the man he used to be, full of appeal and self-confidence. That was over fifteen years ago.
No more! he told himself. I will not allow myself to end up like this!
He purchased a scale the day before from Walmart, promising himself he would make changes to his overall health. He had made that promise to himself many times before, and many times before, he failed miserably in following through to keep that promise.
The first thing he swore to let go, was fast food and sugary drinks. This was the hardest part for him, he lived off of Mc Donalds and loved to pound four to five Coca- Cola’s a day. He would replace these unhealthy foods with a variety of Fish, chicken, fruits, and vegetables. As far as liquids go, nothing beats water. This would be his new discipline.
He stepped on the scale, it sunk and creaked from all of his weight. The red LED display Spiraled, scrolling random numbers, until it slowed down, revealing the correct weight on the tiny screen.
He got off, let the display reset itself back to zero, then stepped back on it, hoping for some type of mistake.
310lbs. No mistake.
Later that evening, Frank arrived at the mountain. The houses and streets around the trail site, trickled off and scattered, rather than sitting next to one another like they normally did. This was because the closer one got to the mountain, the more rock covered the land. Larger rocks, over ten feet tall in some places, encircled its perimeter. The trail ascended up the mountain 1,400 feet from its base, a popular destination for serious hikers and bicyclists for its beautiful views overlooking the city, and its many trails along the way.
Frank hadn’t climbed that particular mountain in over a decade, he was reminded of it by how difficult it had been just getting to the starting point. It was five o clock, and even though the trail did not officially close until nine, not many people ventured up past six. Already, Frank noticed the parking lot was clearing out and saw a good amount of people making their way down to their vehicles. Frank did not care, he wouldn’t climb more than he had to, just enough to feel he made a dent in his new commitment. He had his water bottle, towel and a folding knife clipped to his pants pocket, everything he needed, in his mind, to get the job done. He took the first steps up the trail and began his journey up the mountain.
When he had reached the mid-point, he was already taking deep long breaths. His shirt absorbed his sweat like a sponge, leaving a stain of white residue behind. He felt light-headed, so he took a knee and poured water on his head to cool off. A woman walking a small dog came up behind him.
“You gonna be alright there?” she said.
He looked up at her, water and sweat found their way into his eyes, making it hard for him to open them fully.
”Yeah…” he said, catching his breath. ”I guess I underestimated the trail a little bit.” He straightened himself up, trying to not let his exhaustion be so obvious.
” I’ll be okay…I just need to take a break for a minute.”
” I’d take more than a minute if I were you, ” she said, chuckling lightly.
He pressed his lips together, smiling with embarrassment.
”It gets harder from here, trust me. So be careful, it’ll be dark soon enough and the trails get a bit dangerous in the dark. Especially so so close to the edges.”
”I will, Thank you.”
She gave him a smile, took a swig of water from her container and continued her walk down, the dog led the way.
He stood, looking up at the trail winding up the mountain, contemplating whether to continue or not. He made the decision to press on, he had come too far to give up now. He made frequent stops the rest of the way up, the path getting steeper the higher he got.
After a fifty-five minute climb, he finally reached the top, collapsing on the ground from exhaustion. He laid on his back, eyes closed, the sweat ran off him and landed on the dirt under him.
Not bad baby! he said to himself. Not freaking bad!
After a long rest on his back, his legs were on fire and his soaked shirt was smothered from the dirt as he rose to his feet. Frank was ready to make his way down. But before doing so, he decided to take a trophy picture of himself along the edge of the cliff, overlooking the city below. It would make a nice Facebook post for all his friends and family to see. They would be shocked, they knew his habits well, and climbing to the top of a mountain is the last thing they’d expect from him.
Holding the cell phone above his head, he tilted it, making sure he was in the frame and the desired backdrop was in view. He planted his feet firmly on the ground, stabilizing himself.
The camera on the cell phone mimicked the sound of a shutter going off, he lowered it, placing it close to his face. He looked at the picture and approved.
As he stepped away from the edge, the ground beneath him gave way. A large section broke off and plummeted down to the rocks below. Frank went down, hitting his side on the edge of the cliff, he grimaced in pain. He began sliding off, his weight pulling him down fast.
Reaching and digging his nails in the dirt, he grasped on to whatever he could, anything to keep him from falling. There was nothing to hold him, he slid off completely and fell twenty-five feet to the rocky surface below.
He landed hard on a large boulder, his right leg taking the brunt of it all. His side and back followed, slamming into the rock, his head bouncing off leaving him in a daze as he tumbled to the ground below. He screamed in agony, the pain was unbearable with every movement he made. He felt faint and passed out shortly after the impact.
A coyotes wailing howl echoed through the night. The trees swayed gently, whispering in the wind as another coyote wailed in the distance. Frank opened his eyes, slowly, the night sky with its stars came into focus. His head pounded, the searing pain from his leg made him jerk and grimace. he lifted his head, it spun in circles, then slowly focused on the source of the pain. It was broken, it laid twisted, bent out of place. His ribs, shooting sharp pains up his spine, forced him down on his back again.
He looked around at his surroundings, huge jagged boulders towered over him, large trees swayed above him, obstructing the view of stars beyond them.
My phone! he thought quickly. Where’s my phone?
He reached into his pockets, carefully trying to avoid moving as much as possible. The phone wasn’t in his pockets. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and tried not to freak out more than he already was. He stretched his hands out against the ground and felt around for the device, perhaps it was laying nearby. But the more he extended his reach, only rocks and dried up patchy grass came across his palms. It was gone, probably resting at the bottom of the mountain as far as he knew.
He attempted sitting himself up against the base of the nearest boulder, but the pain was too great – everything felt broken.
Someone has to know I’m missing by now, he thought. They are probably out looking for me right now. No. Nobody knows I’m here, no one is looking for me. I haven’t spoken to anyone today….
Today? What time is it? How long have I been laying here? There was still light out before I fell…
He attempted several times to stand, but without the assistance of some kind, he wasn’t going anywhere. he looked around for something that could support his weight, but there was nothing around but rock and dirt. He collapsed, sobbing for a long time.
Help! he yelled from the top of his lungs. Please, somebody, help me!
He screamed until his throat hurt. His voice echoed throughout the mountain.
Someone had to of heard that, he said softly. Someone will hear it and come looking for me real soon. You just have to wait and have a little patience, you’ll see…
An hour went by, then two. Without a sign from anyone, he decided he couldn’t wait any longer, He braced himself and attempted to stand, his hands gripping the jagged edges of the mountain, he lifted himself grimacing in pain. Hopping on one leg, he looked up at the large boulders that towered over him like prison walls, preventing him from escaping. In frustration, He banged his forehead on the rocky surface.
I’m going to die here, he thought. I’m going to die on this miserable mountain!
Above him, where he once stood victoriously, came a rustling sound. Someone or something was up there walking through the shrubbery. He looked and listened intently.
The rustling sounded again.
Help! he shouted. Please help me!
The noise stopped, silence followed, Franks’ eyes scanned the rim of the cliff. For a brief moment, the pain was gone, non-existent in his hope.
Hello? Please, I’ve fallen and…my leg, I think its broken!
The rustling of dried shrubs being trotted on continued once again, getting closer and closer.
Two bright greenish orbs came over the edge, a dark outline of an animal obstructed the stars twinkling beyond. The animal let out a loud howl, raising the tip of its nose towards the night sky – a coyote!
To its left, appeared another one, it peered down at Frank. It growled, a third appeared next to it. They both howled, one first, then the other. They circled in and out of view, attempting to climb down from where they stood, but were unable to do so. One of them ran off, Frank could hear it going around, looking for a more accessible way down. Another took off the opposite way, searching for its own path. But the third, the first to appear, remained at the top, watching him menacingly.
Oh shit! he mumbles under his breath. Shit!
Stumbling back against the large crevices, he felt around for a grip desperately that might allow him to climb over, but nothing was in reach, it was too dark to see anything. One of the coyotes now stood at the top of one of the boulders, looking down at him, the other was clawing his way up on the other side. They locked eyes momentarily, a vicious snarl came out, revealing its deadly fangs to him. It lowered its posture to a striking position.
Pressing himself back against the mountain, Frank braced himself for the worst. His right hand brushed against his pants pocket, scraping it against something cold and firm. A knife, his pocket knife! On instinct, he pulled it out, flicked it open, and raised the tip of it as the heavy impact of the coyote struck him, sending them both to the ground.
The coyote wailed as the sharp end of the five-inch blade pierced its chest. It jumped back, crashing violently against the rock behind it. Frank swung the knife wildly, the second coyote now looming over him. A pain that made him squeal came from his injured leg, the coyote now had its teeth sunk into his flesh. It thrashed his head back and forth, tugging on his leg with full force.
Above, the coyote threw itself on top of Frank, sinking his teeth into his side. Both animals pulled and tugged, yanking Franks body back and forth. He stabbed the coyote that had him by the side repeatedly, but the beast only grew more aggressive. It released his hold on him, only to lunge at his swinging arm, biting down on it as it came in contact with it. It pulled back, yanking and shaking it. Frank lost hold of the blade, it went flying and smashed out of reach against the jagged rocks.
Helpless and in pain, Frank felt as the animals ripped and pulled away from the flesh, only to sink their teeth into him once more. His screams turned into moans, weak and faded. He was passing out – dying. The two beasts continued to ravage his body, snarling with mouths bloody under the moonlight.
The third coyote watched and howled with approval. It did so with dominance, as if it were the pack leader, watching his recruits prove themselves predators, capable of hunting, and killing. Tonight, it was Frank who was the prey they hunted.
A shot rang out, the bullet penetrated the coyote right between the eyes. Their brilliant glow dimmed at once, and its body slumped to the ground – dead.
The shot had alerted the others, they released their grip on Frank and clawed their way up and over the boulders. Frank laid mangled in his own pool of blood.
Another shot, this time hitting a coyote as he appeared over the top, it yelped before tumbling to the ground several feet below. A third shot fired, but missed the last coyote, ricocheting off the stone. It scampered off into the night.
A man, an officer aiming his pistol at a possible fourth threat, looked out on the scene. After inspecting the surrounding area, he made his way up the large boulder where Frank laid.
He found him at the bottom, twisted up and not conscious. Flashing his light down on him, he could see chunks of flesh missing from his side. The dirt absorbed the blood with hunger. He called out to him, but he got no reply.
”I found him!” he yelled out to other officers making their way up to him below. “it’s him, the lady with the dog was right, that was his car in the parking lot. It seems she wasn’t over exaggerating after all. Tell the medics to get up here fast, the poor bastard got ripped apart something awful! It might be too late already.”
That woman, the same one that passed him on her way down the mountain, had driven by the parking lot later that night. She noticed a single car parked, it struck her as odd. She entered the lot and pulled up right next to Franks vehicle. It was the same one She’d noticed on the way down to her own. She had gotten an awful feeling something was wrong, and that Frank was the one in serious trouble. She called the authorities and after some pleading, a number of officers volunteered to hiked up the trail to look for him.
Sometimes, the healthy thing to do is to stay unhealthy. That, at least, had been the case for a man named Frank.
Samuel stepped through the automatic doors, the cool refreshing air from the AC vents suspended above him hit him like a splash of ice cold water. It was summer outside, the heat dry and scorching – he welcomed the coolness of the fully air-conditioned department store. It was connected to the main mall, it led to endless stores and kiosks that provided something for everybody who paid it a visit that day.
He made his way through the wide aisle that led to the open establishments full of bustling shoppers. He went there looking for a baseball cap for his son, he planned on surprising him with it when he got home – a well-deserved reward for good grades on his report card.
A tall thin man, his head full of skull tattoos scattered throughout with flames in between each of them, pushed his way through customers with an urgency to make it to the exit doors. In his left hand, he held a cell phone to his ear, he spoke into it but his words were inaudible. He sweated profusely, wiping his forehead with his forearm and was constantly looking over his shoulder.
Samuel immediately had a bad feeling about him.
He stormed by him, briefly making eye contact. His eyes were wide, his lips cracked with a white coating over them. Samuel looked away quickly and kept walking straight. He looked back and watched him continue towards the exit doors.
He held several bags in his right hand – flower pattern blouses and delicate colored fabrics stuck out from the tops of them. A woman’s purse with a set of keys looped around the handle jangled as he walked. He disappeared from Samuel’s view, turning into an aisle that was a straight shot for the automatic doors leading to the outside – it was the last he ever saw of him.
Afterward, he looked around for any signs of trouble that could be connected to the man’s suspicious departure, but finding none, he came to the conclusion that things are not always what they appear to be. Perhaps he had judged the man based on his markings and the body language he exhibited. Everything appeared normal, people were busy and going about their business. No one was in distress, no authorities showed up looking for a tattooed man. After a while, he accepted it for what it was and pressed on.
With the baseball cap boxed and bagged, Samuel stood in the blazing heat once more, overlooking the sea of vehicles in the parking lot. Up ahead two patrol cars partially blocked his path, their siren lights silently flickering blue and red. A slow stream of moving cars attempted to get through, creating a small traffic jam. An officer spoke to a woman who sobbed hysterically, her black makeup smeared down her face and sat on a curb puffing on a cigarette. Another officer spoke to a second woman that appeared to describe someone to him, she placed her hands on top of her head and made circular motions. A crowd began to gather around them, Samuel getting close enough to hear their murmurings.
One man told another about a tall bald man with tattoos all over his head. He said he attacked the woman sitting on the curb and then ran off with her belongings. He struck her on the side of the face, knocking her down – an apparent robbery that took place in the food court in plain sight. The woman was a mere victim in the wrong place at the wrong time.
His gut feeling had told him something was wrong, that the man he had seen earlier rushing past him, carrying bags of women’s articles and clanking keys, was more than an assumption. It needed no explanation, it was an instinct that was wired in all human beings, a defense mechanism to identify potential danger. A gut feeling he dismissed altogether because those around him did not sense that danger and were too preoccupied with other things.
There was nothing Samuel could have done to prevent it from happening, (after all, it had already taken place) he was nowhere near the incident and merely happened to come across the evading thief momentarily. But it troubled him somehow, made him feel a great deal of guilt and irresponsibility. He kept playing his encounter with the tattooed man in his head over and over again.
He wondered if he would have said something to someone, anyone, could things have turned out differently? Maybe the tattooed man would be in a pair of steel handcuffs in the back of a cruiser, on his way to jail, instead of getting away with what he did. Perhaps justice would have been served and the woman rectified in this horrible occurrence.
However, it did not turn out that way. The fact was that he hadn’t said anything to anyone and the tattooed man did indeed escape from justice. He drove all the way home that day – silent. The events of that day affected him deeply, and over the course of months, he still could not find a way to move on from it completely.
He never did find out what had happened to the woman, or if they ever caught the tattooed man. Part of him did not care to know. He wanted nothing more than to get through a day without thinking about it. He told himself from time to time that he was caught, that he was brought to justice and the woman rectified. He hoped that was the case and that the tattooed man was not running the streets looking for his next victim.
Rodger sat there. The car was still running, cold and idle. The windows showed signs of defrost, but for the most part, icy particles still clung to the surface of the windshield. When he exhaled vapor rose and dissipated into nothingness. There was an eerie silence around him, a sorrowful sadness without a dash of hope. The red light turned green, but he did not engage the vehicle to move. He sat there without concern.
The pickup truck behind him honked repeatedly, followed by an irritated voice, urging him to move on. But Rodger remained still. He looked down at the revolver gripped in his right hand, it was cold and the smell of the inside of the barrel seeped into his nostrils. The hammer was cocked back and his finger was cautiously resting against it. A tear rolled down his face and landed on the chamber. The coldness of that morning did away with it fast.
He glanced at the rearview mirror, a driver approached him, the same driver who moments ago blared the horn impatiently. He watched him approach, what took less than a minute seemed to stretch out like an hour.
A couple bangs on the glass rang through the interior of the vehicle, dislodging icy particles from the glass surface, running down leaving streaks behind. The driver shouted ’what the hell is you’re problem pal?’ He banged the glass again, revealing more of the blurry figure inside.
A whirring sound was heard, the automatic motor within the passenger door struggled to lower the glass from the cold that froze it in place. After a while, it began to lower slowly. The freezing cold rushed inside swirling at every turn it encountered. A temperature that cold painfully enters a person’s flesh deep into the bone. But for Rodger, there was no pain. He felt no cold, only the numbness of what led him to this point. The window finally came to rest at the base of its frame. He was fully visible now, sitting there, gun in hand, eyes blank without emotion.
The driver backed off at the sight, not knowing whether to say something or run for his life. He suddenly realized that his spurt of anger might end up costing him dearly. Rodger looked up at him slowly, he studied his body language and the fear that rushed through his face. He stared at the driver for a long time, then slowly raised the revolver. Immediately the driver’s face became pale and felt his knees buckle beneath him.
“I tried. I tried to do the right thing. I’m sorry that I failed them. I’m sorry that you have to see this.”
A single shot rang out entering underneath his chin and exiting the back of his head. His body went limp and he collapsed back into the seat. The revolver fell from his hand and rolled to floorboard by his feet. Blood gushed out of his wound, covering anything it touched red. The driver fell back then began crawling away, crying for help to whoever would listen.
Rodger sat there still and cold, the vehicle idled as the green light changed to yellow then red. Spectators began to exit their vehicles and passersby turned their heads to the driver’s shouts. There was activity about that intersection that cold morning, an event unplanned to the people who were meant to be witnesses. There, a man driven to the point of death said his last words to the coldness of the day.