THE RETIREE’S EPIPHANY
Callaghan was not paying much attention to his surroundings when a car pulled
up alongside him and someone got out. He
almost walked into the young punk who was now blocking his way on the sidewalk.
wallet, old man,” said the punk.
looked around like he was waking from a dream.
He was recently retired from working construction and hadn’t really
found anything to do with his new-found wealth of spare time. It was still early,
only about eleven
o’clock, and he hadn’t strayed too from his neighborhood. But apparently
he had strayed far
enough. He’d been….restless.
you my cash, but I’m keeping my wallet,” he said, taking his wallet from his
back pocket. “Credit cards, drivers
license….all that stuff is really a pain in the butt to replace. Here,
take the cash.”
making the rules here, Jack. Gimme the
giving you the damn wallet. If you won’t
just take the cash, you’ll have to fight me for the wallet.” James
had no idea why he said that. He hadn’t been in a fight since high school.
kiddin’. Give it up.”
take the cash, I won’t even call the cops.
If you beat me up, that’s assault.
Assault and robbery. You ready
for that?” said James without hardly any tremor in his voice. He assumed
what he hoped looked like a
credible karate fighting stance.
buddy, ya need some help over there?” A
car had pulled up behind the car the would-be robber had gotten out of and the
driver looked at the two of them through his passenger side window.
the new arrival was offering help to him and not the stick-up guy.
low-life’s trying to steal my wallet. I
didn’t bring my phone; could you call 911 for me?” he said.
“Arnie! Get in in the
damn car. We’re gettin’ outta here.
Lizzy!” said the robber, now known as
“So, we got
first names, Arnie and Lizzy,” said James.
“You two new at this?”
called and I got their license number,” called the guy in the second car.
that fuckin’ douche bag, Arnie,” yelled Lizzy.
“There’s lots more old farts with wallets in the Bronx. Let’s
walked over to the car. “Who you calling
a fuckin’ douche bag?” he said, kicking out one of the tail lights.
started driving away without even taking time to close the passenger side
door. Arnie yelled at her to stop and
ran to catch her. She slowed down enough
for him to jump in and they took off, turning the corner at the next block.
no foul, right?” said the man who had pulled up earlier. “I can
give you a ride home if you want.”
walked over to the passenger side window and looked in. “Don’t you
think we should wait for the
cops? Those dopes didn’t get anything,
but we can still give them their descriptions.”
call the cops. Get in.”
looked down to the passenger’s seat and saw a .45 was pointed up at him.
hell,” he said, and started walking away.
almost fifty years of taking orders from somebody or other, James had told
himself that in retirement he wouldn’t take any guff from anybody. And
now something he couldn’t quite put his
finger on had also taken place in his psyche.
drove slowly next to curb, pacing James.
“I’m Bobby. You’re….?”
your style, James. I’ve got some work
now and then for somebody like you. Ya
retired,” said James. “I’m done havin’
people tell me what to do.”
ask nicely rather than tell ya. That
work for you? Small jobs at a thousand a
stopped and laughed. “Who do I kill for
a thousand a pop?”
is for things like drop-offs and pick-ups; stuff like that,” said Bobby. “Maybe
do some driving for me when I have a
stop to make and wanna leave the car runnin’.
If I need ya to kill somebody, I’ll pay more.”
never even had a parking ticket in his life.
But retirement hadn’t proven to be very much fun so far and he felt this
Walter Mitty rush coming over him. If
this guy was for real, James thought he could maybe finish this life with a
opened the door and got in. “I’m at 812
Chestnut. You go a few blocks down 233rd
Street, then down Bronxwood, and then…”
where Chestnut Street is.”
said James after they had been driving for a few blocks. “It would probably
be a good idea if I had
one of your small jobs sooner rather than later. If I have too much time to
think about this,
I’ll probably come to my senses and chicken out.”
seem like a ‘chicken out’ kinda guy to me,” said Bobby. “I’m
a pretty good judge of human
nature. But I’ll get ya somethin’
tomorrow if it makes ya feel better.”
day, James got a call from Bobby. Bobby
had given him a throwaway cell phone and three hundred dollars in good faith
money. He had also given James a .38
Special and a new shoulder holster.
James felt the phone, money, and gun were probably Bobby’s way of
manipulating him, but he had decided overnight that this was something he was
going to do.
first job was to take the trains down to the Bowery in the East Village and
pick up a package from what turned out to be an upscale flower shop. Bobby had
decided that since James didn’t
have a car, James would use buses and the subway. With cabs there was more record-keeping
involved and also closer face-to-face contact.
to talk to the manager about placing a large order for a funeral,” recited
James to the young woman behind the counter.
will the funeral be?” came the required response.
dead yet,” answered James.
woman walked into the back and came out with a woman closer to James’ age who
was carrying a shopping bag with the store’s logo.
new,” she said.
around the block a few times,” answered James with a chuckle.
you have trouble finding us?” asked the younger woman.
smiled at her and then said to the older woman, “Aren’t young people just precious?”
care and I hope to see you again,” she said, handing the bag to James. “Soon.”
didn’t trust Bobby and he didn’t think he’d be able to trust the clients Bobby
sent him to visit. Something at that first job made him think the possibility
of danger had just been ratcheted up a bit.
He had seen
something when he was leaving the flower shop that he was pretty sure he wasn’t
supposed to have seen. When he had
reached to open the glass door to go, the reflection in it was that of the
front counter. Only the younger woman
was in that reflection.
not entirely surprised by this. After
the goings-on of the last twenty-four hours it would have been hard to surprise
him. He used that lack of presence in
the reflection for what it was – data.
It told him Bobby was most likely not the highest level of authority in
this organization. He was probably just
a delivery boy like himself.
been flattered when he thought the woman may have been sending a friendly vibe
his way. Now he realized he may have
interpreted it incorrectly. Even so, he
knew he was really committed to this walk on the wild side when he found
himself hoping Bobby would have another pick-up in the Bowery soon.
thought she had very nice eyes.
went by before Bobby told James he had a pick-up for him in the Bowery. James
had had one drop-off near Times Square
during that time period and it had gone well.
meantime, Bobby had arranged for James to get a private investigator license
and this entitled him to get a concealed-carry permit for his .38. The private
dick cover was important because
even if James never had a need to pull out his piece, the chance of him being
frisked during a routine stop could cause problems for everybody if he had no
WILD FLOWERS was the
name of the shop
and the password phrases were the same.
James was handed the shopping bag and felt a thrill when the woman held
the bag a little longer this time, causing a lingering touch of their hands.
we’re not supposed to exchange names or engage in conversation, but you could
call me “Rose” if you’d like. And
there’s a little coffee shop down the block; we could have some coffee and keep
the conversation light and not work related.”
James. You can call me James,” said
James with what he hoped was a warm smile.
“A coffee break sounds swell. I
don’t bother much with petty work rules.
I do my job and that’s what I get paid for.”
a table by the window and ordered coffee and croissants. For a minute, they
just watched the
passers-by hurrying to and from their important business doings.
mother with a stroller accidentally bumped their table and Rose’s cup of coffee
looked like it was going to end up in her lap.
But both the spilled coffee and the cup and saucer stopped in mid-aid
and hovered a few inches above the table.
reacted quickly. He had set his cup down
and had both hands around Rose’s cup just as its fall had been arrested. Now
he held it, leaning across the table
looking at Rose, while a loud, but not unpleasant, choral refrain sang in his
head. Slowly, the cup in his hands
allowed itself to be lowered to the table and the errant coffee surged back
into the cup without a drop spilled. The
refrain slowly subsided.
his hands from the cup and smiled at Rose.
trick,” he said.
this raises some questions,” said Rose.
“I was hoping to be friends.”
possible,” said James. “And when I say,
‘Anything’s possible,’ I mean just that.
told Rose about the attempted robbery and meeting Bobby. He told her how he
had gone from a
mild-mannered retired construction worker to an underworld bag-man.
happened to the way my brain’s wired during that robbery attempt. I mean,
my idea of reality and some of my
core values have changed. I don’t know
if I’m explaining it very well, but I’m not completely ‘me’ anymore.”
that a lot of ‘you’ is still in there,” said Rose. “You
just appreciate the ‘more’ there can be
in life. And you want it. Am I
James stared at Rose. She had put into words what he hadn’t been
able to do.
left your flower shop the first time, there was a reflection of the front counter
in the glass door. Your side-kick was in
it, but you weren’t. At some level, I’d
like to know more. But maybe I should
just keep letting the whole scenario unroll day by day. For some reason I trust
you. What do you think?”
“I think we
both have to be very careful for a while.
I’m going to go back to my shop and you’re going to deliver the package
to Bobby. Please don’t mention our
coffee date to him or anyone else. If
it’s okay, I’ll be at your house at ten o’clock tonight to talk.
the Bronx, at…,” started James.
where you live, James.”
have to invite you in?’
would hope you would,” said Rose.
meeting Bobby in the park to drop off the package, James stopped at a liquor
store and picked up a couple bottles of merlot.
They had chips and dip, so he got some of them too. He laughed at himself
for the preparations –
they made him feel like a nervous school boy.
But he had to admit he was enjoying the feeling.
o’clock, the doorbell rang. When James opened
the door, he found Rose standing on his front porch with a bouquet of roses and
a small cake box.
welcome, please enter my humble abode,” said James.
done,” said Rose. “Do you trust me
enough to take off that shoulder holster?”
“I kept it
on in case you showed up with Bobby,” said James. “If that happened,
I was going to kill
him. I don’t know what would have
shrugged. “So, merlot and chips and
dip. I’m impressed,” she said, looking
at the array on the coffee table. “I
bet you even did a little straightening up.
You consistently show me that I’ve not made a horrible blunder.”
the flowers and cake box on the table and kissed James on the lips. It wasn’t
a passionate kiss; just a “good to
see you” kiss.
James took off the shoulder holster
and set it
on an end table. He opened one of the
bottles of merlot and poured two glasses.
“To us,” he
said, toasting her.
Rose said back to him.
next hour they talked about music, books, and art. They talked about current
neighborhood, and the cost of a bottle of good wine. They talked about everything
except that Rose
was most probably a vampire.
killed those two who tried to rob you,” said Rose, finally bringing up
something work-related. “He ran into
them at a 24/7 they were trying to hold up.
He shot them both in the back and fled the scene. Now the police are
looking for him. Damn him, he knew a low profile was essential
to his position.”
big boss be pissed?” asked James.
‘big boss,’ James. And yes, I was very
that piece of information sink in. “If
you’re here to ask me to take care of him, I don’t know if I can just straight
out kill the guy. Not without him
actually being a threat to me. Even
having gone through some kind of weird epiphany, there would have to be a good
reason for me to kill somebody. Even
that would be the case, so I had Leah kill him.
Leah’s cover is one of being my assistant at the flower shop, but she is
also my protégé, learning the darker arts.”
there’s somebody who is obviously good at acting her part,” said James.
“I would have never expected she was capable
of taking Bobby out.”
here tonight to make you an offer. Leah
and I are going to relocate to London soon.
I’d like you to get a passport if you don’t have one, and also put your
house on the market. If it doesn’t sell
right away, I have a friend who will buy it.”
me? What’s special about me? What
can I offer that some other schmuck
can’t give you?”
“I like you
James, that’s ‘why you.’ I’d like you to
be my companion. My human
companion. I would like you to keep my
human side alive. Do you think you’d
like to do that?”
Leah? Couldn’t she do it?”
“I’ve done something
to Leah that has made her
more like me than like you. What do you
say? After London, it may be Paris. Or
Maybe Cairo. Are you interested?”
wiring in James’ brain continued its evolution.
He thought about the sharpened stake he had made from the end of a
garden rake handle. It was easily
accessible just under the couch. His
mind played out what would happen if he plunged that stake into Rose’s
heart. He saw her eyes open wide in
surprise. Her body would then explode in
a cloud of dust that would drift to the floor.
His doorbell would ring and Leah would be standing there with crimson
eyes and long canine teeth. She would
say, “I’m the new boss and have you to thank for it. May I come
could just as easily conjure up the scenario that would play out if he didn’t
use the stake. If he chose to, he could
watch that scenario play out for minutes, hours, or even years.
looked at Rose standing in front of him waiting for his answer. He decided not
to see what his future with
Rose would be. Not knowing seemed more
human to him.
said. “Hell, I
haven’t been more interested in my life.”
is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and is the
submissions editor of Yahara Prairie Lights. He has had poetry and
flash fiction published in One Sentence Poems, Near to the Knuckle,
Yellow Mama, Shotgun Honey, Theme of Absence, Drunk
Monkeys, The Flash Fiction Press, Black Petals, and a number
of other online magazines.