By W. Sautter
Copyright W. Sautter 2011
Jack looked good for his age. He was in his late sixties but gave the appearance of one in his mid-fifties. He had an athletic look evidenced by the absence of the usual “beer belly” sported by many men of his age. He stood erect and lacked the stoop that one might expect of an elderly man. He bore a full head of hair with little greying except at the temples and some in the eyebrows. When he neglected to shave his snow white whiskers helped to reveal his true age. It was for that reason that he rarely appeared unshaven. Laziness never deterred him from his morning grooming duties. It was only when the rare bouts of devastating discouragement and despair overwhelmed him did he fail to attend to them.
He told himself, “Looking good on the outside just may help to make you feel better on the inside”.
Unfortunately his self-admonishments didn’t always work that well.
In spite of his to his attention to his outward appearance, Jack’s constant inner vengeful thoughts continued to wear on him mentally.
He stood in front of the window in his shabby, third floor walk-up and stared out onto a cold, gray day.
His thoughts mirrored his vision.
“How did it happen?” he thought to himself rhetorically for the millionth time. He knew the answer but it was hard to accept without stirring the rage that continually boiled within him.
Fearing the angst it repeatedly caused, he chased the thought away and continued to stare.
The relief was brief.
Again, it flooded his memory.
It was a Wednesday morning.
Dressed in his robe with coffee in hand, he opened the door of his condo and reached for the paper. The two-inch type of the front page burned its message into his brain.
“TYRON COLLAPSES” – it read like a death notice. It was.
. He dropped his arm hung to his side and his hand clutched tightly. He turned and walked slowly back into the house
He’s heard rumors but there were always rumors – rumors of triumph and rumors of catastrophe – ever since he began working for Tyron. None of which ever came true, until now!
He sank back into the living room, easy chair and began to read.
“Yesterday, at the close of trading Tyron, one of the largest corporations on the NYSE, declared bankruptcy. Investigations into the collapse have begun. Fraud by executives at Tyron is high on the list of causative factors leading to Tyron’s downfall.
Tyron’s CEO, James Wheeler is suspected of funneling millions of dollars into his own accounts while altering records of company finances…”
He mused to himself at his own surprise. He had remembered the entire text of that article. It was at least two years now and he still remembered it, word for word.
He continued his vacant stare.
Suddenly, the ring of the telephone startled him from his trance.
“Dad! Did you see the TV today?”
“No.”, he replied.
“Turn it on. They have the verdict.”
He hung up the phone and snapped on the TV.
“This latest news bulletin. James Wheeler, Hal Meter and several other high- ranking executives who have been found guilty in the collapse of Tyron have been sentenced today.
Mr. Wheeler who has been free on bail over the past year has been sentenced to a ten thousand dollar fine and six months in jail. The others of those convicted received fines of up to five thousand dollars and three months of community service.
Judge Arthur Gavin instructed Mr. Wheeler to report to jail in two weeks, deferring to his attorney’s request for more time so that he may get his affairs in order.
Here comes John Hurley, Wheeler’s lawyer now.
Mr. Hurley – what is your opinion of today’s sentencing?”
“I think Judge Gavin was extremely fair. Justice prevailed. The judge’s sentence speaks for itself. That’s all I have to say. Thank you.”
Jack rocked back in his chair and clicked off the TV. His stomach churned and he felt a sickness come over him.
“Six months and ten thousand dollars!
The words echoed over and over in his head and amplified upon each rebound.
The phone rang again.
What do you think Dad?”
“Well, it’s the way things go. Justice in America isn’t based on black or white as some people would have you think, it’s based on green!
I guess it has always been this way. Maybe someday it may change but I’m not so sure, unless someone makes it happen. “replied Jack.
“You’re right, Dad.
“Have you thought about my idea of you moving in with us? You know how I hate to see you living down there. I worry every day. I know the neighborhood or should I just call it the ‘hood’.
It’s really unsafe and I worry!”
“Listen Honey – we’ve been over this a million times. I’m not about to give up my self-respect. I really appreciate your concern and your and Dave’s offer, but I can’t.
I know the area here is not the best but I’m okay. I just watch my step and it works out fine. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine” Jack answered.
“Now, let’s not talk about it anymore.
How’s the kids?” interrupted Jack.
“They’re good. I’ll call you tomorrow.
Bye Dad. I love you.”
Jack put down the phone and reverted back to the vacant stare to which he had become so accustomed.
His mind again drifted and old images flooded his memory.
He vividly remembered the day when Mark peered through his open office door and excitedly announced “Hey, Jack did you hear what’s going around?”
Mark was one of his colleagues for over twenty years and was always had his ear to the ground at Tyron. Mark’s rumors were generally right on the money.
“What’s it now, Mark?” Jack asked eagerly.
“Three thousand are biting the dust!
By the end of the week!”
“Where did you hear that?” Jack answered.
“Ned, down in Human Resources, he told me and he said he heard it from a couple of pretty good sources” Mark answered.
“Well, if that’s true the tide is certainly getting higher. Two thousand last month and now another three! I wonder why?
According to the annual report we’re doing great. Revenues are up, profits are up and our stock price is on the rise.” wondered Jack.
“That’s all true but I did see that a couple of the suits were selling off pretty good amounts of their stock?” replied Mark.
“Yeah, I saw that too, but I also heard that both of Wheeler’s daughters are getting married and you know the receptions are not going to be held at the local VFW hall. They’ll cost a bundle. That’s probably why he’s selling.” Jack suggested.
He remembered all of it like it was yesterday. At the time it was like a faint, distant clap of thunder, warning of the approaching storm – an unheeded warning.
Jack’s memory fast-forwarded. The tide of layoffs did indeed rise and as it rose, simultaneously the stock price fell. Which one moved more quickly, it was hard to tell?
After every round of layoff announcements, Jack anxiously awaited for his notice to be next.
It never arrived and each time he felt a sigh of relief.
Then, Tuesday morning, July 8th, eight A.M. Bam! Right between the eyes!
Jack pulled into Tyron’s parking lot.
A team of security guards stood at the door as he saw Mark exiting the building. He walked towards Jack’s car. He was carrying two large, plastic shopping bags, one in each hand. He nodded for Jack to pull over. Jack stopped and rolled down the window.
“Go get your shit! The party’s over” he spoke.
“What’s going on?” asked Jack excitedly.
“Didn’t you listen to the radio this morning? Our stock fell by ninety percent in overnight trading and this morning we declared bankruptcy. They’re letting people in one by one to clean out their desks. The Feds are upstairs right now.
Better go get in line to get your stuff”, answered Mark who then turned and continued walking towards his own car.
Jack glanced over to the far side of the lot to see a large flock of black birds soar from the puddle at which they had been drinking and vanish into the distant gray mist. It was if they were mocking him by their sudden, spontaneous flight and symbolized of all his years at Tyron, The countless hours which he had devoted to the company flashed through his thoughts. The myriad of spreadsheet figures over which he had agonized during the past thirty years were now just a faded dream.
Jack had struggled to give his all to Tyron each and every day. He knew that as so goes Tyron, so goes he and his future. It was a thriving company for decades and had warranted his complete faith, so much so, that nearly all of his retirement assets were in the company. Tyron’s strength and endurance over good times and bad had allowed him to sleep soundly night after night.
As of this day those restful hours would morph into nights of unrelenting anxiety and dread.
His memory then flashed to another corner of his mind.
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am. She put up one hell of a fight.”
“Thanks Arnie, I appreciate your coming.”
“I’m sorry Jack. I don’t know what else to say.”
“I understand. Thanks Arnie.”
The line stretched around the room and out into the hall of the funeral home. Sally, Jack’s wife had lots of friends. She was the kind of person who was always there for others and now it was their turn and they were all there for her.
Jack drew in a deep breath through his nose and swallowed hard. He continued to greet the horde of well-wishers.
Sally got sick about two months after he had lost his job.
“It was a terrible time to get ill”, he thought to himself, “but then again it’s never a good time to get cancer.”
“That’s not what I meant!” he chided himself.
No medical insurance, it disappeared with his job. Then eight months of operations and chemo. The cancer consumed her and the little money they had left after their 401K had collapsed along with Tyron.
Then more distant memories consumed his thoughts.
Do you think you have everything? Look around again just to be sure. Check the basement again.” commanded his daughter Jane.
“I’m sure. I can’t take much with me anyway. It’s only three rooms you know.” replied Jack.
“Okay, grab the box and let’s go” she said.
Jack reached down and picked a large cardboard carton packed with pictures and a few books. Lying on the top was a large frame displaying military medals and decorations.
“Be careful. Please you don’t want to drop that” she exclaimed as Jack carefully lifted the box.
They walked through the front the door out towards the car. Jack stopped about halfway there, turned and looked back at the house.
“Thirty-five years, gone in a flash”, he muttered to himself as he got into the car.
Suddenly, the open door of his memory slammed closed.
“Oh shit”, he thought to himself. “I can’t keep rolling this stuff over and over in my head. It’ll drive me crazy for sure.”
“Go out and get some air. Have a smoke and forget it”, he muttered to himself again.
He shook the painful memories from his mind, stepped through the apartment doorway, closed the door and rattled the handle.
“Gotta make sure it’s locked, not that it would really make any difference”, he thought.
“If they want to get in, the lock will only slow them down for a couple of minutes. And besides, what’s there to steal?”
He proceeded down the winding stairs to the front of the building and over to the bench near the sidewalk. He drew a cigar from his pocket, unwrapped it, snipped the end and lit it. As the first puff of smoke issued from his nose, for a second, he was back at the Club. A snapshot of the first fairway, with its lush green hue, flashed through his mind as he exhaled with a long, slow sigh. After a minute or two his reminisces faded.
“Thank God!” he thought to himself. His torturous recalls had finally ceased, at least for a while.
“How ya doin’ Jack?” came a voice over the tap, tap, tap of the bouncing basketball on the adjacent playground.
“Not bad, Hal”, he replied unconvincingly.
“How about you?” replied Jack.
“Okay, for an old man I guess. The knee is acting up a little again. Other than that, not bad.”
Hal was a tall, light skinned black man. He stood with a bent over slouch like a man carrying a heavy load and waked with a slight limp, He sported a crew cut with his remaining hair which surrounded the glistering bald spot just above his forehead.
He sat down beside Jack while continuing to speak..
“I guess it’s that old wound from Nam again. They never did get that piece of metal completely out.
“Did you hear about Matty?”
He immediately continued the story without leaving even an instant for Jack’s answer.
“They walked him down to the bank and made him cash his social security check and took the money.
“What do you mean ‘Took the money’?” asked Jack excitedly.
I thought I told you the other day. I guess they haven’t gotten to your building yet.
They got a new thing goin’. They come to everybody’s door and say they’re collectin’ for the Fire Prevention Fund. They call it the FPF. They get fifty dollars a month from everybody.
Matty didn’t pay so they marched him down to the bank and got the money out of him.” answered Hal.
“What’s this FPF stuff anyway?” replied Jack.
“Here’s what they say. They’ll make sure that no fires start in your apartment if you pay your dues. If you don’t pay, they’ll make sure that a fire does start.
You know Petey, the guy that lives in the building next me? He refused to give them anything. He’s a pretty tough guy, an old Special Forces guy from Nam.
Well, a week or two ago he leaves his house to go to the store and when he gets back, his door is knocked off the hinges and his bed is on fire. Lucky he got home when he did so he could put it out in time or the whole place woulda went up!”
“What happened after that?” asked Jack eagerly.
“Petey’s payin’ dues like everybody else” answered Hal in a resigned tone.
“Who are these guys anyway?” Jack continued.
“A bunch of guys from the neighborhood here. Young guys you know.
They started their own gang – they call themselves the Firemen. They wear a little tat on the arm. It’s a flame with the letters FM in it.
Petty crooks and dealers who decided this is an easy way to make money. Let’s face it, they’re right! They’re dealing with a bunch of old people. How hard is it gonna be?” Hal answered.
“So why doesn’t somebody call the cops?” asked Jack.
“Are you kiddin’?
The cops don’t want any part of down here. And second, who’s gonna call?
If they find out who did, you can be god damn sure that guy’s gonna have some serious problems, if you know what I mean” Hal answered.
They sat silently, Jack slowly puffing on the cigar and Hal thumbing through the newspaper he had brought with him.
“Any good news in there?”
“Yanks won three in a row. That’s about it” Hal replied.
They continued to sit with Hal sporadically commenting on the items he was reading in the paper and Jack courteously responding.
Then, after an hour or so, with his cigar consumed to an inch beyond his lips, Jack arose.
“Well, that’s about it for today. Gotta go up and get supper together. See ya tomorrow” Jack said as he turned and walked towards his building’s entrance.
The front door of the building closed behind him with its familiar squeal of metal on metal and he proceeded up the narrow stairs towards his apartment. As he slid his hand up the banister his grasp weakened. There was something slippery, very slippery, on the banister, preventing a firm grip.
He looked closely in the dim shadow of the hallway. It looked like blood. He lifted his hand towards his face. It was blood all over the hand rail and the steps.
He continued up the staircase trying to avoid stepping in the trickle that covered each step. He arrived at the second floor and moved down the hall toward the next flight. As he made the turn, he saw the blood stream leading through the open door of apartment 2-B.
He approached the door and carefully pushed it wide open with one hand, not knowing what to expect. He cautiously peered in.
“Ellen!” he called.
He carefully stepped over the blood trail and into the apartment.
In the kitchen, he found her seated on the floor leaning against the cabinet door, bloodied and sobbing.
“What happened?” he exclaimed in a startled voice.
“He…He…” she gasped.
What?” asked Jack anxiously.
“He came to rob me” she stammered.
“Where are you hurt?
Let me call the police.
Where’s the phone?” asked Jack.
“No! No! Don’t! He said if I did he’d be back to kill both Suzy and me.
Please don’t. I’m okay” she whimpered.
With Jack’s help, she attempted to lift herself from the floor.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Where did all this blood come from?” he asked as he looked for her wounds and found none.
“From him” she answered in a soft, quaking voice.
She got to her feet and hobbled over to a chair near the kitchen table.
“I’m okay! Would you give me a glass of water? she stuttered. He obliged.
“Now what exactly happened?” Jack continued.
“I was sitting right here, getting Suzy’s dinner ready. I was opening the can of cat food when I heard a noise at the front door. It was like a thud. I started to get up to see what was going on and suddenly there he was in the kitchen doorway. A big guy, with plenty of tattoos holding a crowbar.
‘I need some cash. Whatta you got?’ he said.
I told him that I didn’t have any, except what’s in that drawer.”
She pointed to the open drawer at the other side of the kitchen.
“He looked in the drawer. There was only about twenty-five dollars and some change in there. That got him real mad.
‘You got more than that’ he yelled.
I told him I didn’t but he didn’t believe me.
I really didn’t!
Then, he went over and grabbed Suzy by the back of the neck and said ‘If you don’t tell me where the rest of it is this cat is history’ and then he turned on the gas stove and was bringing her over towards the flame.
When I saw that I guess I just snapped. I had the can lid on the table and I grabbed it and sliced it down his face and neck.
Then the blood started pouring out and he dropped Suzy and the crowbar and grabbed his neck. I could see the blood was shooting through his fingers.
When he saw all that blood he yelled ‘Don’t you tell anybody or I’ll be back for both of you.’
Then, I guess he panicked because there was an awful lotta blood and he ran for the door and took off down the stairs.
There’s the crowbar over there.”
Jack looked over to where she pointed to see the blood covered crowbar lying on the floor near the doorway.
“I gotta call the cops” and he hurriedly dialed.
A recorded voice issued from the phone “You have reached the police department for an emergency please press…..”
“If you do I’ll tell them it never happened, so don’t” shouted the old lady.
“He’ll be back anyway, even if I don’t call the police” Jack answered.
“Maybe not! Don’t call”, she said again in a quivering voice.
Jack lowered the phone from his ear. He knew this wasn’t going to be the smartest thing he’d ever done but the look of terror on her face convinced him. He hung up the phone and helped to clean up the blood from the floor and the cabinet doors.
He had a hard time sleeping that night. Maybe he should have called the cops after all. If something else happened to the old lady, he’d be to blame. Then again, if he did call, like she said, she would deny everything, so what would be the point?
The next day Jack met Hal on the bench in front of the building as usual.
“Hey, ya know what I heard? I heard the boy that was runnin’ that FM gang I was tellin’ you about the other day got himself pretty cut up” said Hal
“What do you mean, ‘Cut up’?” asked Jack.
“Well, the way I heard it, he was jumped by an uptown gang and they cut him good. Almost ear to ear. He just made it to the hospital in time. They had to give him a couple of pints to save him. Too bad” Hal answered.
“What do you mean ‘Too bad’? asked Jack.
They shoulda let the son of a bitch die. That’s what I mean. Them goin’ around takin’ advantage of everybody like they do. Especially the old people, like us.” replied Hal sternly.
Is he still in the hospital?” asked Jack.
“Not from what I hear. Couple people said they seen him walkin’ around with a big bandage on his neck. That gang kinda stopped collectin’ those dues for a week or so while he was gone but from what I heard they’re right back at it again now” replied Hal.
“Did they ever come to get dues from you Hal?”
“Not yet. But I think they’re comin’. They’re kinda workin’ their way down the block from buildin’ to buildin’. They haven’t got to mine yet. I’m pretty sure that they’ll be comin’ soon and to your buildin’ too” Hal answered.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I’d like to say that I’m not gonna give ‘em nothing but who knows. If they got Petey to pay up, I don’t know. He’s a tough buckaroo and he paid. What about you, Jack?” Hal asked.
“I don’t know either. I guess I’ll have to wait and see” Jack replied with uncertainty.
They both sat on the bench in silence, Jack puffing on his cigar and Hal staring into the distance. Then Jack broke the silence.
“Did you ever hear of Patrick Henry?”
“Patrick who? Where does he live?” asked Hal in a perplexed voice.
“No. Patrick Henry was a famous patriot during the Revolutionary War. He said ‘United we stand, divided we fall’” answered Jack.
They both again sat silently.
“Do you know what that means Hal?”
Ya gotta stick together or you’re done for” answered Hal.
“Who are we gonna unite and what are we gonna do? We’re all old guys.”
“We’re old but we’re not dead and we’re not stupid” replied Jack.
There was a pause.
“Did you ever play Bocce, Hal?”
“How would you like to learn?
There’s a Bocce court down at the other end of the park. Nobody ever uses it. I’ve got the balls. Let’s go down tomorrow and I’ll show you how to play” Jack said.
“I guess. It’s gotta be better than sittin’ here all day” Hal replied.
“And Hal, ask Petey to come too. Okay?” Jack added.
“Sure” answered Hal.
The next day they arrived at the park.
“Hey, Hal you made it, and you brought Petey with you.”
“Yeah, Jack this is Petey, Petey , Jack” as they shook hands.
Petey was short and stocky with a waist size exceeding his chest size. He looked like an old body builder who hasn’t seen the inside of a gym in years but he still had managed to retain some of the assets of his long past former appearance. His arms and shoulders looked strong and they somehow had maintained the muscular sculpturing of his former weight lifting days. He had a round face and deep set eyes with dark wrinkly, “turtle skin” as he liked to call it, below each. His hair was thin, wispy and receding but covered his entire head. He had large hands covered with liver spots. When he spoke it was in a raspy, growling voice which camouflaged his relatively mild disposition
“You guy ready for some Bocce lessons?” asked Jack.
“You know, when I was a kid, I used to ride my bike down to the park in the summer and watch all the old Italian guys play Bocce. They spent the whole day there puffing those short, little cigars, tellin’ stories and playing. Some would play Bocce while the others played Pinochle on the picnic tables and then they’d switch back and forth.
They used to let me play once in a while and that’s how I learned. It was a lot of fun. I even saved up my money and bought a Bocce set. Here, let me show you. It’s kinda like bowling and horseshoes combined.”
Jack took out the balls.
“I’ve had these since I was a kid.
“See this little one, it’s the pallino.
The first player throws the pallino. Then he throws a second big ball and tries to get close as he can to the pallino.
Then the next guy throws to try to get even closer. The guy who’s furthest away always gets the next shot until we run out of balls. Closest to the pallino gets one point for each.
Thirteen wins” Jack explained.
They began to play.
“Hal tells me you live over by him in the gray brick building.”
“Yeah, been there for about three years now” replied Petey.
“How is it?” asked Jack.
“Are you kiddin’? It’s like all the other places in this neighbor, it’s for shit!
But everybody’s gotta live somewhere and I guess this is it for us” sighed Petey.
“How’d you wind up here?” Jack continued to question.
“I wound up broke, that’s how. Not a pot to piss in.”
”Hal told me that you were in Special Forces during Nam. How long were you in the service?” Jack continued to question.
“’Bout eighteen years.”
“And you didn’t get a good pension?” Jack asked curiously.
“That’s a long story.
A long sad story” replied Petey.
“We’ve got all afternoon” said Jack.
“I don’t even wanna talk about it.”
“Let Hal tell ya. He knows the whole thing.”
Jack turned to Hal and saw him get an approving glance from Petey.
Hal then began.
“When Petey was in Nam he had a commanding officer and well, they didn’t see eye to eye about a lot of stuff.”
“Stuff? What kind of stuff?” interjected Jack.
“Treatment of civilians for one. One day a girl in the village that they secured came to Petey and told him the Lieutenant forced her into sex. He told her that if she said anything, her whole family would wind up being collateral damage, if you know what I mean” Hal continued.
“Sure, I do” Jack interjected.
“Well, then when Petey went to the Lieutenant and told him what he had heard the guy threatened him and the kid.
You don’t know Petey very well, but I do and he’s not the kinda guy that’s gonna back off, so he told the Lieutenant he was goin’ higher up with this stuff.”
“And?” questioned Jack.
“And then the Lieutenant went back to the girl and forced her to accuse Petey before he could report it.”
“So what happened then?” asked Jack eagerly.
“I did three years in the pen and got kicked out of the service. That’s what happened”, Petey interjected and then he continued on with the story where Hal had left off.
“Shay, that was the guy’s name, he got the girl to testify against me and he got some of the guys in our company to say it was true too. From what I got later on, he told them ‘If you don’t go with me and say what I tell ya, you’ll be the point man on every mission from here on out’.
You know what that means; you’ll probably be a short timer. You’ll probably be goin’ home real soon, in a box.
So all of them got scared real quick and they went along with Shay and I got my three years.”
“And here’s the bitch of it. He wound up in the Pentagon, a full bird colonel. I heard he retired a couple of years ago. Nice pension. The whole deal” Petey said in a bitter tone.
“And what happened to you? How did you wind up here?” asked Jack soberly.
“When I got out of the service, well, kicked out, I of course, went lookin’ for a job. What kinda job are you gonna get with my record? Not a good one, that’s for sure.
So I kinda bounced around from one shitty job to the next and I finally wound up here. Broke!
Never got a military pension, of course. They took my chances of gettin’ that when they put me behind bars.
All I got is some social security and not even very much” he explained.
“Sounds like you really got a screwin’” interjected Jack once again.
“I’d say so. And ya know what! I think about it every goddamn day. I don’t know what’s worse, what happened or just the thinkin’ about it day after day after day.”
“I kinda know what you mean” agreed Jack.
“Well, I guess there’s nothin’ I can do about it now” sighed Petey.
“Maybe not, but I’m not so sure”, replied Jack as they continued the Bocce game.
“Hey, ya know Hal; you never told me how life treated you. We talked a lot but every time I brought it up you kinda danced around it.
Since we’re all here spilling out our guts I think it’s your turn now” said Jack.
“Ain’t my turn. No use whinin’ ‘bout things gone by” Hal replied.
“I don’t think anybody’s whining, just telling like it is. What do you think Petey?”
“I guess. I showed you mine maybe you should show us yours Hal?” responsed Petey.
“Well, I suppose but there ain’t a hellava lot to tell.
Grew up down south. Didn’t have shit.
Dad got sick and we lived on Social Security. He got what the doctor called dementia. He was a pretty old guy when I was born.
Ma, she couldn’t work. She had to take care of him. She wasn’t gonna put him in any home and I didn’t blame her.
The homes in those days were run by the state and they were pretty poor. Wasn’t no Visiting Nurse stuff either, not in those days, not where we lived.
After a while the money we were getting just wasn’t enough so she hadda get a job. She use ta lock the old man in the bedroom and go to work and hope for the best” Hal answered.
“How about your brothers and sisters. Couldn’t they help out?” asked Petey.
“Got no brothers or sisters.
Anyway, the town we lived near was a good old southern football town. When you when to high school you was expected to play unless you was crippled. Everybody had to play. They’d won thirty-two games in a row when I got there and were state champs for five years straight.”
“So did you play?” interrupted Jack.
“Are you kiddin’?
Two hundred and ten pounds, six foot two. Didn’t have much a choice, don’t ya think?
Ma didn’t want me to play. She was always worried that I’d get seriously hurt and I could understand that. Havin’ one person she loved bein’ a mess was all she could bear. But she finally agreed to let me play and I did like it and I was good at it too.
Don’t mean to be braggin’, but real good. All-State three years runnin’.
Still got the rushin’ record at the high school from forty-five years ago.
When I got outta high school, I had a bunch of college offers. I went to State cause it was close to home and I could help out Ma when I had to.
In the end it didn’t make a lot of difference cause Dad died before I even started college.”
Hall paused for a moment.
“Well, anyway, like I was sayin’. I got a scholarship to State. They called it a scholarship but I kinda looked at it as contract to play football. I don’t remember seein’ the inside of too many classrooms but I do remember seein’ lots of locker rooms.
I played four years. Started three of ‘em. Second team All-American as a senior. Then after the season when I was a senior, I got a Certificate of Attendance, no diploma, just the handshake and the certificate.
You know, in those days that was generally the way things worked. Most all the guys I played with got the same deal.
I went home and got a job driving a bulldozer. That was about the best I could do. But believe it or not that was a pretty good job in my town and I guess I only got it cause I was kinda the local football hero.”
“So you were a heavy equipment operator all your life?” asked Jack.
“Nah, only for a year or two.
One day I read in the paper about a guy I played with at State. He was playin’ pro ball and doin’ okay so I decided to call my old coach and ask him to help me out. I knew I was better than the guy playin’ in the pros.”
Again he paused
“And so?” Jack prodded.
“Well, this was the fifties you know. Coach told me that there wasn’t too much room for a black guy in pro ball unless you were like Jim Brown.”
“What about the guy you saw in the paper, the guy you played with?” asked Petey.
“He was a white guy.”
“So then what?”
“I got a factory job. Worked there for forty years. The company got sold and the pension was sold off too.
That happened a lot in those days. They’d buy a company, steal the pension money and then collapse the company. “
“Do you have a family?” interrupted Jack again.
“Yeah, I raised a family. Wife died in eighty-five. Cancer!
My son lives in California. I keep in touch but he’s gotta live his own life too. He’s doin’ alright but not great.
Anyway, I got my Social Security. They couldn’t steal that and I get food stamps and a little rent help by the government, so I’m hangin’ in.
That’s about it man, and here I am” Hal concluded.
“It must really piss you off when you watch football today? Guys making millions” said Petey sympathetically.
“Born too soon I guess but that’s the way it is. What can ya do?” he replied with a resigned tone and a sigh.
With the Bocce game completed they all walked home.
Jack – The protagonist
Petey – Jack’s friend and accomplice in achieving revenge
Hal – Jack’s and Petey’s friend
Mrs. Murray (Ellen) – Jack’s downstairs neighbor
Sandman – Leader of the Firemen street gang
Deuce of Spades (DS) – Leader of the Firemen after the Sandman disappears
Clyde (DFN) – a Fireman who becomes Jack’s accomplice
Larry – an old Vietnam vet who runs ‘Larry’s Fishin’ Hole’
Charlie – owns and runs The Lunch Box eatery in the neighborhood
Wheeler – the ex-CEO of Tyron (Jack’s former employer)
Morris – Clyde’s little nephew who is recruited for Jack’s plan
Sparky – Wheeler’s dog
Tim – a State Trooper and a friend of Larry’s
Places and Scenes
Tyron – Jack’s former employer
The bench – seating in front of Jack’s apartment building where he, Hal and Petey often meet
The Lunch Box – an eatery where the Firemen frequently hang out
Larry’s Fishin’ Hole – a fish farm owned by Petey’s friend Larry whom he met in Nam