The Faint of Heart Work for a
by Lester L Weil
It has been a hard day. I've been working on old telephone
wiring in the downtown area. All the new feeds are underground, but there are a
lot of older buildings that have to be upgraded. I stopped for a couple beers
after dropping off the work van but they have only added to my fatigue, and
done nothing about my depression. I'm feeling old and my knees hurt, and I
slept wrong last night and can hardly turn my stiff, aching neck.
I didn't have the energy or will to fix dinner, so stopped at
Rosie's, the little diner up the block from the company garage. Sitting, eating
a chicken potpie, my eyes and my mind stray across the street to Johnny's Bar.
I see it all again in my mind.
I'm in the back room of Johnny's Bar, trying to fix their
screwed up phone system, so they can get on with running their real
business—they are the largest bookie joint in town. The building is ancient,
and the interior doors still have transom windows above them. From my perch on
a stepladder where I'm trying to fish a new wire into the wall, I can see
through the transom into the small office across the hall.
Johnny is in there, counting the money that his runners dropped
off, and I wonder again if he is the original Johnny, or just another
“Johnny-come-lately.” He finishes counting and banding the stacks of cash, and
pushes the desk to the side. Behind it is a safe with a keypad. He punches in
numbers at the four corners and opens the safe. I quickly translate the four
corners into 1, 3, 7, 9.
Inside the safe is more money than I make in five years.
I sigh and
finish my potpie, pay the bill, and head toward my crummy apartment. The dirty
streets seem dirtier than usual, and this adds to my general funk. I'd like to
retire and move somewhere warm, Florida or Arizona—not California, costs too
much to live there.
1, 3, 7, 9
goes through my mind. 1, 3, 7, 9. More money than I'd ever see in one place. 1,
3, 7, 9. Added to my puny pension, it would be enough to retire on. 1, 3, 7,
9—1, 3, 7, 9—1, 3, 7, 9. It was like a mantra, my feet moving in rhythm with
goes back to Johnny's.
Before Johnny could turn around, I got off the stepladder and
moved to the other side of the room. 1,
3, 7, 9 soaked into my brain. I could hardly concentrate on my work for the
rest of the day, thinking of the safe full of cash. I made the decision that
The next day when upgrading the feed wire to the alarm, I wired
a cut-off switch. Now I can turn off the alarm without knowing the code and I
know the combination to the safe. What could be easier. Three minutes in and
out. I just need one more thing.
* * *
It is six
months later, and I again sit in Rosie's and eat one of her potpies. Johnny's
Bar is still across the street. Johnny still runs his bookie joint and must
have made a killing on this year's Super Bowl game. And I'm still working, my
knees still ache, and I'm more depressed than ever.
lack the one thing needed to rob the safe and retire to Florida. And that's a
backbone. I cannot seem to work up the nerve to just do it. I've set out to do
it several times, but I always turn back and fail to take the final plunge.
this vision of myself. I'm 80 years old, bent, and hobbling along with a cane
on my way to work at some miserable job. All because I just didn't have to
heart to just do it.
of heart have to work for a living.
Lester L. Weil is an ex-professional
bassoonist, ex-professor, ex-custom furniture builder, ex-house builder. He is
retired in Arizona, near the Mexico border. He publishes
The Flash Fiction Press
and is fiction editor at Silver Blade
He has stories
by Saturday Night Reader, 365 Tomorrows,
riverbabble, Doorknobs and
Bodypaint, Flash Fiction
magazine, The Screech Owl, Yahara Prairied