I’ve wasted a lot of my life sitting on my ass in front of a TV. Well, I personally don’t consider it wasted, but most people would. I can always reference something in life to some small exchange of dialogue in some B movie where I learned a lesson in Technicolor courtesy of MGM or the like.
I end up saying shit all the time comes straight out of a movie. Hardly anyone else has the particular talent to pick up on the fact that I am a total plagiarist. A couple of years ago, I had a lengthy exchange with a young woman in Overton Park. She told me I had helped her understand her mother’s problems better than any therapist she’d seen and that I should take the twenty bucks she offered me.
I took the money but have felt guilty ever since. Everything I said to her I got verbatim from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. I gave her nothing but a rehashed page from a 30-year-old TV script, and she gave me genuine gratitude and enough money to eat on for over a week.
I am a plagiarist. Even my Quixote-esque move to the streets is a cliché. The noblest thing I have ever done is a damned after-school special.
Now what am I doing? Waiting on the dude that ruined my life so I can cathartically avenge myself in some ridiculous way?
“I vow to be original this time!” I say, much too loudly. People steer wide around me and quickly cut their eyes at me and then away. Crazy homeless dude talking to himself. Cliché.
I fucking hate myself sometimes.
I’m cracking. I know this. But there’s still time. Time to get Bob. Time to wall his ass up in some dreary passage way. Shit, that’s from Night Gallery, 1967, via the old Poe story. How do I kill this prick in a way that is uniquely me?
I pull in a drag on a Swisher Sweet I lifted from the Exxon as I make my way back downtown. I am at the crosswalk across from Autozone Park, in full sun. Right where Bob came by. Feels great on my busted face. Bob is a creature of habit. That burger he had was not some miserable squashed thing from Burger King. It was a diner burger with a nice little wrapper to hold in all the toppings. Got to be Hueys-to-go.
TV taught me how to pay attention. There are no mistakes or accidents in TV. Every damned thing happens for a reason. For a reason, dammit.
I blow smoke as the wind shifts and feel my eyes turn red. I flick the ashes and stick the thumb of my other hand in my one unbroken belt-loop in my jeans. “Anyone have the time?” I say to the 11:15 crowd, as casual as a Delta lawyer.
“11:16, Punchy,” says the police officer who is suddenly in my face. Same craggy old beat-cop that was so helpful yesterday. “Time to get movin.’”
“Officer,” I say as obsequiously as I can manage, “I’m meeting someone here in a few minutes.”
“Oh, no shit,” he says as he takes my arm, “Elvis?”
Considering the fact that just yesterday I saw a formerly dead, bloated guy at this intersection, the notion of running into The King gets me tickled. Suddenly, I’m laughing. Hard. Real genuine soulful guffawing.
“Elvis!” I say nearly doubled over and feeling a head rush that’s affecting my balance. “Oh, damn that’s funny….”
“So what’s in the cigar, friend? I’m not that funny,” he says while holding me up with one very powerful arm and reaching behind his back with the other.
My laughter abruptly stops when I feel the cold steel on my wrist.
“Other hand, Punchy,” he says as casually as if he’s asked me to pass the salt. “You seem a bit too out of it, even for out here. You’ll scare the tourists.”
I’m terrified. Not about being arrested. That happens occasionally. It is an occupational hazard in my line of work. I have made a spectacle of myself a bit, and I am tired enough from lack of sleep to appear inebriated. I get his concern. But I am terrified that I’ll miss Bob.
“Seriously, man, I really am meeting someone. Here, let me walk the line, touch my nose… Z, Y, X, W…”
He has one hand securing my cuffed wrists behind me and the other on the collar of my light jacket.
“I’m arresting you for public drunk,” he announces, a little louder than I think necessary. “Let me tell you your rights.” He Mirandizes me as we move down the street.
I strain against him enough to see the street but not enough for him to interpret me as resisting arrest, hoping to catch a glimpse of a black SUV. Total time since I was cuffed is about twenty seconds, and we are already in a fairly unused alley with no patrol car in sight. He hasn’t radioed anything about what he is doing or who he has arrested. In fact, he doesn’t have a radio.
I’ve watched enough television to know something is not right. Not right at all.
“Hey, Officer,” I say, as conversational as I can with my feet touching the ground every third step or so. “I’ve been here awhile, and I don’t think I know you. Transfer from somewhere?”
We “unroofed” tend to know the local law enforcement fairly well. New faces show up downtown only rarely. I look at his shirt and finally notice that there is no pin with his name on it. I get a sour feeling in my stomach.
He turns me around against the sun-warmed brick of the alley with his hand on my throat.
“Yeah, transferred,” he says as his free hand goes to his pistol, “from Phoenix.”
I hear the schick of metal against leather as he pulls his pistol, then a dull sickening thud that seems to shudder through both of us. I may have pissed myself a bit.
He lurches forward and his grip on me loosens. Suddenly he’s hugging me like a lost brother. He slumps to the ground like a sack of wet sand, and I see Brennon smiling behind him, a length of re-bar in his hand.
“Brennon, you stupid fuck!” He cowers and the light goes out of his eyes like a scolded puppy who’s piddled the floor. There is a distant sense of pride I feel for him, but I can’t acknowledge it right now. “He wasn’t gonna kill me, Brennon!” I say this because it makes sense, but my pounding heart tells me I don’t believe it.
“Do you…” Brennon says, a mixture of fear and awe in his voice, “do you think I kilt him?”
I make myself look down. I have seen dead people a few times on the highway or frozen in alleys but am unacquainted with the freshly deceased.
The guy is at least in his fifties but powerfully built. Like a boxer from bare-knuckle days. I’m still bothered by the fact that he doesn’t have a radio. What kind of cop goes out without the ability to call the cavalry?
Glancing around to make sure no one has followed us to investigate, I crouch down and begin searching him. Attached to his belt is a cell phone. I pocket it and continue looking. By the time I’m done I have found the phone, a wallet, a small bottle of white pills. No sign of a badge or anything identifying him as a police officer.
“C’mon, Bren, we gotta head out before the real fuzz show up.”
“You won’t tell will you? You won’t tell that I hit him?”
“I’m not telling anyone shit. Let’s go.”
“I’m a cop killer. They’ll kill me… they’ll…”
He begins to convulse, doubling over into himself sobbing. For someone with absolutely no sense, he sure has a sense of mortality.
I turn and face him, grabbing his shoulders with my hand.
“Look, Bren, he’s not a real cop. He’s pretending. You were defending me, so no one is going to arrest you.”
Not that you’d ever convince a jury to convict him. One look at Brennon, one word out of his mouth, and you know that this kid couldn’t maliciously hurt anyone. Half mental kid takes out a thug posing as a police officer? At the worst, he’d end up in a psych ward with three meals a day and a bed.
We make our way back to the street, blending in the best we can with the lunch crowd. It’s hard to blend when no one wants to stand within ten feet of you, though. I try to decide where we should go from here. Somewhere safe, somewhere I can piece my thoughts together and figure out what the hell is happening.
Sammy’s. It’s not far and by the time we get there, the lunch crowd will be finishing up. Maybe he’ll even offer us something to eat. Sammy’s good people. Real good people.