I was walking down the long, darkened hallway when I saw my former professor, backlit by the doorway at the opposite end. I knew he’d been sick, but I didn’t know what to say. I pitied him. His disfiguration bothered me so much I was afraid to look at him. I pretended not to notice when he called out to me. Burning with shame, I ducked into the nearest classroom. The shorthand instructor and his female students gazed at me, startled. “Your late,” he said. “Take your seat in the back and get out your steno pad.”
Mary scanned the crowd milling about the parish hall. She’d arrived late and had just enough time to grab a cup of coffee and speak to a couple of friends.
She was wending her way toward the pastry table when a lone figure in the corner caught her attention. He stood there taking in his surroundings with a placid expression. He must have wandered in off the street, she thought. Best to find him something to eat and send him on his way.
As she moved in his direction, he turned and made eye contact. There was something about his confident smile that unnerved her. You never know what these people will do.
She was just about to speak to him when someone from behind called her name. It was an old friend who’d moved away more than a year ago. By the time Mary looked back the homeless man was gone.
Slowly the crowd made its way to the sanctuary, each to his customary pew. As the organist began the opening song, Mary clutched her hymnal, stood and faced the procession. She’d forgotten that today the new bishop was visiting and would deliver the sermon.
Younger and trimmer than most bishops she’d known, he looked elegant in his miter and robe. Again, they made eye contact as he passed, again the confident smile.
She’d driven through this neighborhood once… in the daytime… with her doors locked. She’d taken the wrong exit from the expressway. Here she was now, standing alone on a darkened corner.
The man said to meet him at nine PM. It was nine-thirty. She pulled her sweater tight against the chill and tried to merge into the shadow of the telephone pole. She reminded herself that she had no alternative. This was, after all, an illegal transaction.
A late model Cadillac pulled over to the curb. The tinted rear window slid down without a sound. She found herself staring into the face of a large man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and fur coat.
“Are you Monty?” she asked.
He nodded slowly. “You Eunice?”
“You got the cash?”
She fumbled in her purse and pulled out the envelope of twenties. As she passed it, he gave her an appraising look.
The package she received in exchange was heavier than she expected. She fingered the corner of the wrapping.
“Don’t open that here,” he hissed. “You got what you wanted.”
She hefted the grip in her left hand and caressed the barrel with her right. God help me! she thought, But I’ll never again be a victim for anyone.
His voice softened. “You know how to use that thing?”
It was September, and the rains came early, gray curtains sweeping the dappled white sand. Across the horizon, the leaden sky and the dark rolling seas were as one.
The beachside bar’s lone customer sat on a stool just outside the reach of the spray and nursed his drink, appropriately a Dark and Stormy. His long, gray hair and beard, streaked in white, matched the scene outside.
He turned and gave the slender waitress an appraising look. He put her age at maybe thirty. As she turned, he adjusted that estimate to a very young-looking fifty.
She smiled back. She’d lost count of the years she’d spent waiting for the man who told her that someday he’d return. She could no longer recall the contours of his face or the sound of his voice. Why she’d stayed here she couldn’t say. Lean months were coming, and she’d be damned if she’d spend another dreary winter living off unemployment.
“How you coming with that drink?” she asked.
“I could use another. How about you? What are you having?”
Taken aback, she glanced at the bartender, who gave a shrug and returned to cleaning glasses.
“Get this man another round, Sammy, and make mine the same.”
The customer turned out to be a writer in his late seventies, though she’d never have guessed. He explained that he and his dog had been travelling for nearly a year now. The dog was waiting for him back at his RV.
“Where are you going from here?” she asked.
“I thought I’d run down to Gainesville. I haven’t been there since I graduated more than fifty years ago. How about you? Do you plan to stay here all winter?”
Again, she glanced at the bartender. He shook his head and never looked up.
“I can collect my paycheck and have my stuff ready by seven,” she smiled.
“I’ll be here.” As he paid for his drinks and started to leave, he said, “By the way, what’s your name?”
“Like the song.’
“Like the song.’
He was a survivor. Somehow, Tashawn Darcy had endured a year in prison and come out alive. Sent there for possession with intent, he’d learned to read and write, things that never mattered to him as a hustler on the streets of Atlanta. But the study spent preparing for the GED never prepared him for the challenge he now faced.
The elderly white lady passed him a cup of tea and plate of cookies as her friends clutched their books and focused their attention on him. “So, tell me, ladies,” he asked, “What do you think of Mr. Raskolnikov?”
Mike brushed the hair out of his eyes and let it fall down the left side of his head where it belonged. On the right side his scalp gleamed through the tightly shaved sidewall. His parents were still irate over the haircut. He didn’t care. It was just another part of his new identity, freed from the bondage of expectations.
He stared at his image in the mirror, the black T-shirt pulled tight across his flat chest and abdomen. It read “I finally discovered that the hokey pokey was not what it’s all about.” He smiled. It would give his mom something else to say besides, “Michelle, why can’t you just dress like the other girls?”
Bits of trash, riding the wind, crisscrossed the METRO station platform, heedless of the human swell that awaited the approaching train. Mariano pulled his hoodie low over his face, as much to avoid eye contact as to preserve what little warmth it provided.
Every day was a challenge for Mariano, running the gauntlet, worried he might be stopped by the DC police for no reason. His employer had given the fake ID but a cursory glance. It would never pass closer inspection.
From the corner of his eye Mariano saw the man in the dark suit trip and fall in what seemed a slow-motion pirouette. What happened next was but a blur. Mariano never heard the train’s horn or the passengers screaming. He never felt the arms reach out to grasp him as he lifted the man from the track.
The train squealed to a stop and the crowd cheered as Mariano rolled over and caught his breath. He gazed down into the face of the person lying beside him. In an instant he knew he’d seen the ICE officer somewhere before. The look of recognition staring back at him told him the experience was mutual.
The hot, dry day had become a cold, dry night. Buffy clutched the mylar blanket around her. She cursed Uncle for sending her here and her companions for leaving her in such a bad neighborhood. It mattered not that they thought she was dead. She was very much alive and determined to stay that way.
From out beyond the dunes she heard a low whistle. They were coming. She jacked another magazine into her M-16 and waited. “Killing is our business,” she reminded herself, “and business is good.”