Marvin Cantor had had another bad night like all of his other nights over the past few years. He drank too much, wandered the streets until the wee hours of the morning, and then collapsed next to the dumpster at Schulz’s Deli. At least he was purposeful in where he finally slept. He knew old man Schulz would give him food in the morning. He always did. Marvin needed the kindness of strangers. That’s all he had. He had lived on the streets for several years, and without that kindness, he would have been been dead by now.
Marvin felt something push against his thigh, a nudge. He shifted in his sleep and huddled closer to the dirty brick wall beside the dumpster. The rancor of rotten food filled the air. Someone had taken a hose and washed the alley next to the dumpster giving the area a foul, moist odor that would have made most people want to leave it immediately, except for Marvin. These alleys provided him with some measure of privacy. The crowds on the street stayed away from these alleys unless they had a specific need to be in them.
Marvin felt the nudge again.
“Wake up,” a disembodied voice said.
Marvin, eyes still clamped shut to ward of the pain of another piercing headache, moaned and buried his face into his backpack that doubled as his pillow. The backpack, torn and soiled, reeked like the dumpster. He kept days-old food in his pack in case he couldn’t find any other food to eat. He didn’t mind eating food that was beyond a few days past its prime. He couldn’t be picky. He had to eat.
“Wake up!” the voice said again, this time more authoritative and firm.
At first, Marvin had thought Schulz was waking him for his breakfast, but Schulz usually spoke lightly and kindly to him, and if Marvin didn’t wake up immediately, Schulz would leave the food next to him and come back to check on him later. Oftentimes, Marvin would wake to the food and leave for his day’s journey around town, begging for money and scrounging for items in the garbage that he could eat or sell for a few bucks. If he was still there when Schulz returned, the men would talk, or mostly Schulz would talk to him. Schulz always tried to talk him into going to the shelter for help. Marvin didn’t need that kind of help.
Marvin heard shuffling in the alley, like someone stepping toward him, and then, he felt a firm kick to his side.
“Wake the fuck up, you bum!” the voice said.
Marvin grunted and arched away from the force, clutching his back. The sharp pain competed with his headache for his attention. He wanted to cry. He opened and then squeezed his eyes shut trying to ward off the pain and the tears. When he turned over and opened his eyes, he held his arms over his head to defend himself from further blows, but the owner of the voice, through the veil of the hangover and his watery eyes, stood back away from him. Marvin couldn’t see the man’s face.
“You awake?” the man asked.
Marvin mumbled something unintelligible and grimaced toward the man as he scooted up against the brick wall.
“I ain’t got no money,” Marvin said.
“I don’t want your money. I have plenty of my own,” the man said, his voice mocking Marvin.
“Why’d you have to kick me?”
“I needed you to wake up.”
“I have a job for you.”
The man stepped closer and his face came into view in the growing daylight. He squatted down and rested on his haunches for a moment. The man was relatively young but he had a hardness about him that suggested trouble. A long, slender nose dominated his trim face with two dark, close-set eyes peering above sallow cheekbones. Clean-shaven and doused in a lot of cologne, the man reeked in his own way even in the smelly alley.
A realization hit Marvin. “I don’t do that shit, brother. I’m not that hard-up for cash.”
The man shook his head and frowned as if he had been insulted. “Sit up, you dumb ass, I’m not into that. I have a real job for you.”
Marvin felt some measure of relief despite the threat that still hung between the men. He followed the man’s orders and sat up to be eye level with him. He mashed something in his backpack with his hand and shifted to avoid damaging whatever it was under him. He pulled his leg toward him and realized he had lost one of his shoes. He quickly scanned the area around him for his shoe.
“My shoe is missing.”
“Well, if you take this job, you can buy yourself a brand new pair of shoes.”
“How much are we talking about?”
“A thousand bucks.”
Marvin’s heart stopped and he caught his breath. He’d never seen that much money. He thought of all the booze he could buy. He could party all week on a thousand dollars. He could even get one of the ladies on German Street. His mind whirred in spite of the headache, and all he could think about was the money. Money.
“What’s the job?”
“In short, I need you to push someone onto the train tracks. Make it look like he jumped in front of the train. Like a suicide.”
“What?” Marvin sat up straight. His voice shook. “You want me to kill someone? I can’t do that. No way, no how. I can’t go back to prison.”
“Do you want the thousand bucks or not?”
Marvin paused and thought again about what he could do with that much money. He’d love to walk into Schulz’s deli and buy one of the fresh sandwiches and one of the pies, not the days-old ones that Schulz gave him.
“If you do it right, no one will know. You won’t go to prison.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have it all planned out. All you have to do is follow my orders and not fuck it up.”
Marvin thought for a moment, but his mind still reeled from the headache and he couldn’t think clearly.
“Okay,” he said meekly.
“You’ll do it?”
“Good. Here’s the plan.”