This was bad. I had to be careful with this one. I grabbed the cuffs and loped to the front door. I clamped one end of the cuffs to the inside doorknob. There was a knock. I swung the door open.
“Hi there!” I said. I grabbed the man’s right hand with mine and jerked him inside as I clapped the other end of the cuffs on his wrist. It was all an awkward, lurching dance. He was quite surprised when I slammed the door shut and he found himself in this position. He glared defiantly into my eyes.
He was short. Too short to get hired at the police department. He was a heavy drinker and a pervert. I threw a right cross that caught him on the point of the jaw. His jaw clacked a bit with the force.
Boxers call this spot on the jaw “the button”. It triggers a knockout reflex. I always find it humorous to see someone knocked unconscious. In a millisecond all expression drops from the face. It always cracks me up. I could barely contain myself as he slumped to the floor, one arm hanging from the doorknob.
A shot to the nose would probably have caused more long-term damage, but that wasn’t what I was after. I wanted immediate submission, and that’s what I got.
I went to the kitchen and got another beer.
I sipped the beer at the dining room table. The house was still once more. Big Joe laid there in a heap, resting quietly. I wondered if there was more trouble afoot.
I could see him from the dining room, but not the kitchen. There was a wall that separated those two rooms. The beer went down smoothly. It was one of those mornings. The beer would be gone soon. Two bottles left.
I rummaged through cabinets till I found a stash of hard liquor. I poured a glass of whiskey neat and began sipping that, standing by the cabinet.
BOOM. Deafening roar. Plaster, tile and glass rained all over the kitchen. I dropped to the floor instinctively. Evidently, Joe had a gun on him.
“I’m not going out like this, man!” Joe cried out.
“Be cool Joe.” It’s all that came to mind.
“Yeah right! Be cool. You dry-gulched me man!”
“Dry-gulched you? Chill out. You’ll be okay.”
My ears were really ringing now. One thing movies and TV never capture properly is the immense noise of a gun battle. He had a large caliber handgun by the sound of things. No doubt the neighbors were a little curious right now.
“Big Joe, knock that shit off. Let’s work this out”
“No. I think I’ll just keep shooting.”
Pieces of the ceiling ricocheted off walls. Glass seemed to explode from the floor. One piece hit me in the ear. Blood was running down the side of my neck and something was in my eye. I crawled deep into the kitchen and curled up in the furthest corner. I was slipping into fear. Slipping into myself. Surrender. No. I can’t do this. Courage. What is it? It’s doing something that I don’t feel like doing. I don’t feel like doing this. I started it. Make a move.
I rose to all fours, blood dripping, ears ringing. The air around me was beige fuzz. My temples pounded. I needed to find my voice. It could not betray me. I cleared my throat.
“Hey Joe. Let’s make a deal.” A little quiver, not bad.
“Yeah, right! Here’s the deal – fuck you!”
He had stopped shooting though. No doubt ammunition was a factor. Another factor was the police. I could feel an hourglass spilling sand somewhere.
I wondered what Crystal was doing. I knew she was at work, out there in the egghead realm, but I wondered if she was wondering how I was.
Crystal had taught me to play backgammon. We used to play for hours. I read somewhere that the original name for backgammon was some Greek word that meant “idiot run”. All in all it was good advice for the game itself. I found myself in a serious game of strategy, and I did not have an advantage. I knew that if I was in Big Joe’s shoes that I would be pissed. Vengeful. It would be a mistake to sell him short right now.
I hopped up on the counter and opened the window over the sink and removed the screen. It was a very bright day and I felt sad to be leaving this place. I had liked it very much. I crawled out head first and rolled into the wet grass. For a short while I lay there, breathing the air and looking at clouds. A dog barked in the distance and an airplane hummed along somewhere. It was now a nice day for a walk.
I went over the wall and back into the alley. My little pool of vomit was still present, coagulating in the sunlight. There was a bread truck in the alley and a bread man pushing a cart of bread up a ramp and into the receiving area of a grocery store. I walked in behind him and found myself in a milling band of delivery men, all waiting for a receiving clerk to check them out. Restroom. There it was.
The restroom had a lock in the doorknob and a little bolt that slid shut. It made me feel secure.
The mirror reflected a bloody, stressed out face. My shirt was speckled with both blood and vomit. My hair was smashed on one side, sticking out willy nilly and matted with who knows what. I made use of the warm water, the soap, and the paper towels. As usual, I cleaned up nicely.
For those people who have never shopped from the back rooms of grocery stores I must submit that it is a beautiful experience. The receiving clerk will rarely look you in the eye for fear that you are a vendor that needs his help to check in your merchandise and sign your paper work; of course the stains on my shirt were a dead giveaway as to my station in life at that particular moment.
I selected a nice denim shirt from a rack of seasonal clothing that was situated in a discreet corner of a storeroom. A pack of chocolate cupcakes caught my eye. I grabbed them and wandered about looking and feeling rather rakish in my new, clean shirt. There was a chain link cage that the liquor was locked up in. I used the hanger that my shirt had been on to pull a pint of cognac out, and then made my way back to the restroom.
With the door locked behind me, I dropped the lid of the toilet seat and made myself comfortable. The cupcakes hit the spot. Then the cognac called me to it. It was sweet, warm and soothing. It was gone before I knew it. I sat for a moment, awash in serenity. A feeling of comfort and belonging settled over me. I may as well have been in my own home. I staggered to my feet, ready for anything, and stepped out of the restroom.
The first order of business was more cognac. The hanger was still there next to the cage and I appropriated another pint. There was no longer a need to be discreet. I swaggered about, swigging cognac openly, defiantly.
Yeah. That’s the ticket.
“Hey! Fuck you! Pepsi fucker!”
The Pepsi guy kept walking. Chickenshit bitch.
“I’ll fuck anything! I’ll fuck anybody!”
Yeah. Swig more. Swing around. Bread fuckers and Coke fuckers were swirling past. There was a spinning collage of bastards. I was running now because I couldn’t stand up.
I went headlong into a cart full of shit. I got to my feet and found myself running again. Straight back to my little toilet fort. I locked the door and took deep breaths. Cognac filled the air and seemed to blur my vision. Fumes burned my eyes. I had a bottle in my hand. What’s this? COGNAC. My lord. Good cognac. Cognac air and cognac breath and cognac hands. I was transformed into a Cognac God. I twisted off the cap and took a long pull from my cognac hand. It went into my cognac throat and coated my cognac stomach.
I looked into the mirror and smiled. My my. Look at this bastard. An urban super hero on his own out here in the jungle. I could beat any system. I could make it anywhere. Just drop me off on any corner, Anytown, U.S.A., come and find me in a couple hours. I’ll be drunk and clean and I’ll be wearing a nice shirt. My fingers squirt cognac and I squirt some into my mouth. Roll it around and taste the grape. Yeah.
The bottle was empty. I pissed, and then sat down on my throne to reflect.
Two pints. What was that? What did that mean? I think two pints is a quart. A quarter gallon? A fourth of a gallon is more than a fifth of a gallon. What was a fifth? Well of course it would be a fifth of a gallon. A pint and a half? Now wait a minute, a pint would be an eighth. Two pints would be a quarter. This sounded familiar. Let’s backtrack…..fuck that. The bottle was empty. I was real drunk. When I get this drunk I get real hungry.
I needed bread. I remembered a bread truck. I opened the door and ran through dark rooms with amazing grace. Then sunlight. Bread trucks. Orowheat. Yes. That sounded nice. Up the step and into the nice smell. Nothing like bread to smell.
What’s this? Bread fucker on the ground behind me.
“Fuck you!” I stole a line from big Joe. “I’m not going out like this!”
“Get outta my truck! Get out right now!”
I grabbed a loaf. “Back off, bitch.”
He backed up. Down the step, face to face. I sneered my most contemptuous sneer. I blew cognac to him. His head snapped back in revulsion. I ran laughing through the alley. Bread like a football, carried like a loaf of bread. I cut the mustard. Who cut the cheese? Laughing football day in an alley. Cut left, cut right. Right into the street off and running with the cool air flowing past my ears.
A running machine to the trees that would save me. My old friend: the orange groves.
(to be continued)
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