Push – Episode 2

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’m awake.”

“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.

“What’s wrong?”

“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?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Good. Here’s the plan.”

 

 

 

Push – Episode 1

A gust of wind whipped up the stairs that descended to the subway. A distinct odor of urine greeted Fred Gillian’s nose and he breathed out quickly to void the stench. He held his breath and a grimace on his face as he walked past exiting passengers from the station. No one seemed to notice or care about his displeasure. He scooted past a homeless man sitting on the steps who reeked of a sour body odor, and he wondered if this man was the offender.

He let out a loud breath when he reached the bottom of the stairs. The horrid smells had given way to a stale, mildew stench like rancid moss on wet concrete, which was not exactly pleasant but better than tangy urine and body odor compressed in the small space of the stairway.

The crowd thickened noticeably. A train arrived, not his, and unleashed a torrent of harried passengers who bolted for the exits bumping and pushing against him as he went against the tide. His nose, always sensitive, caught a myriad of smells as humanity rushed by him – sweet perfume, over-done cologne, sweat, musk, and many others too subtle to recognize. He caught sight of a comely young woman in a tight dress and watched her vaunt her way through the crowd, hips swaying ever so gently.

His attention diverted, he bumped into a body. A grunt followed, a curse. He apologized, and the crowd swallowed the body before he could focus on a face among the sea of faces heading toward him. He angled his feet to his right and dodged his way to the edge of the crowd waiting for the flow to subside so that he could resume his march to his train.

In that instant, he smelled it again, that distinctively awful body odor from the homeless man he had tip-toed past on the stairs. He scanned the crowd rushing by him, both to and fro, but he could not spot the putrid man in the tattered clothes. He couldn’t remember exactly what he looked like, but he stood in such sharp contrast to many of the people around him, that he knew he’d recognize him in an instant, like finding a colored button in a drawer full of black and white ones.

He shook off the aural recognition and continued on his way. The crowd thinned and his steps became more natural. He pulled out his phone and checked the time. Two minutes. His train would be on the platform soon. He picked up the pace, his heels clicking against the dirty concrete.

With over 90 seconds to spare, he arrived at the platform. Another crowd had amassed on the wide tiled path along the edge of the tracks. He nudged his way to the front and stood a few feet from the bright yellow caution band that capped the platform. A sign etched into the concrete warned him to stay back behind the marked area.

He exhaled again but this time to relax. He had made his train. He’d be home on time tonight and by 9:30 he’d be in his bed ready to sleep away the frustrations that had made his day tortuous. He looked down the platform toward the tunnel. No sign of the train appeared. He shifted in place, hopeful that the train was not delayed. Greta wouldn’t be too understanding if he was late yet again.

In his line of sight, many people with necks bent stared down into their phones. Others chatted with people near them. A few children played near their watchful parents. The noises of the station filled the air and rose above the chatter of the impatient passengers. Shoes squeaked. Heels clicked. An errant horn echoed through the tunnel. A few pigeons fluttered through the air. Fred waited.

A faint breeze rustled across the platform. It slowly gained momentum, and Fred relaxed even more. The train was just a little late. He waited for the headlights to appear in the tunnel, and once he saw them, he could taste being home soon. He just wanted to get away from the cramped confines of the city even if for only another hapless weeknight.

In the instant that the train turned the corner and forced more air down the tunnel, Fred caught the scent of the homeless man again. He turned around and scanned the crowd. He didn’t see the man anywhere among the suits and dresses that surrounded him. The smell made him wince and unsettled his stomach. He stepped closer to the edge of the platform until his toe touched the yellow band. He hoped the homeless man didn’t get on the same car as he did. Being in such a confined space with someone who smelled so bad would be uncomfortable.

He stood on his toes as the train rattled closer to the station. The noise and the breeze engulfed him and swallowed the cacophony of the crowd. It felt as if he were hanging his head out of the train window as it rushed through the countryside. He felt the urgency of the oncoming train and remained poised to board quickly to get a seat before the impending crush of the crowd left him standing.

In an instant as the train charged toward him, he felt hands on his back. The force was so great that his head whipsawed before the weight of his body carried him over the edge of the platform. He had no time to react, nothing to grab onto to save himself. He only caught the blur of someone running away from him, disappearing in a crowd that had parted in horror. Fred screamed, a last gasp of fear as he fell from the platform.

Before he fell to the tracks below, the train caught up with him and impaled him with a blunt force that knocked him unconscious. A crescendo of screams filled the station as witnesses unwillingly watched the last seconds of Fred Gillian’s life flash before them. Many looked away. Others rushed to help him as the train ground its way to a stop. In the chaos that followed, no one noticed the lone figure quickly making its way toward the exit.

Killing Thomas

Story ideas seem to bubble up all the time. I sketch them out in my notebook, and when time permits, I flesh out a chapter or two to get a feel for the voice of the story. If I like it, I keep going and turn it into a novel. If not, I just put it aside in case I can use all or part of it later. If the character captures my imagination, I know it’s worth turning into a novel. Needless to say, I have quite a few first chapters that are still lingering in my files. Here’s one I just fleshed out. The working title is Killing Thomas. Not everything is as it seems.

His eyes stared at me insistent in their surprise, pleading really. I watched as his pupils widened, suggesting he understood what we had come to. His mouth froze agape demonstrating his fleeting state of mind. His dark hair floated in his wake beneath the surface of the crystal blue, Caribbean lagoon. His hands grasped mine, not in the loving way that I had imagined in my heart of hearts but in a way that suggested resistance as people are prone to do when they are being murdered.

The last of his breaths bubbled to the surface after the thrashing of his feet subsided. He had caught me a good one in my right side after I had submerged him and he realized that I wasn’t being my usual kindred, playful self. Something had changed, and he had sensed it; although, he arrived at his conclusion too late to change his fate.

I let him float a minute, lifeless and still in shock, in the sparkling water. I wanted to look at him through clear eyes after my pulse had settled down. The thumping in my chest slowly receded like the gentle waves that lapped the lagoon. The fading sun licked my face as salty drops ran down the side of my head. Whether it was sweat or seawater, I wasn’t sure.

I looked at Thomas again. His beautiful eyes pleaded to the heavens to no avail. I gave him a grim smile and sucked in some of the humid air that had engulfed both of us just a short time earlier. That had been harder than I had expected. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go.

I turned and kicked the water to pull myself from its waist-high depth. I trudged to the shore and glanced back only once before I broke into a trot across the cool, white sand. It felt good to my feet like powdered sugar with just a little bit of grit. I couldn’t remember ever putting my feet in powdered sugar, but had I ever done it, that’s what it would have felt like.

I reached my moped still tilted away from the cracked road where we had left it an hour ago. An hour. I checked my watch. It had taken longer than I had expected. Courage in planning rarely translated into swift execution.

The moped puttered and whined as I crested the hill leading away from the lagoon. Soon someone would find the body. They’d call the police, and there’d be an investigation. I trusted my plan. Meredith had promised it’d work. I wasn’t sure I trusted Meredith, but I needed to be rid of Thomas.

Water streamed down and away from my legs as I picked up speed along the narrow road back to civilization. My swim trunks swished in the seat making me feel like I was still sitting in the warm water, and every hair on my bare body waved in the wind. I felt like I was in a vast wind tunnel being blown dry in the generous Caribbean sun. The smell of saltwater mixed with the musty odor of that lifejacket Thomas had worn still clung to my body. I wrinkled my nose in the wind as if I could flick the smell away.

The exasperated moped bounced along the dilapidated old road and jarred me for a moment. I almost lost control of the damned thing before a sharp curve, but I released the accelerator just a little and wobbled into the turn before I regained control. My teeth clanked together rattling my brain, another shock to my system. I felt stunned and disoriented. It had all happened so fast. I shook my head and throttled forward. I couldn’t get away fast enough.

The 15-minute drive from the remotest point of the island seemed to take forever as if the wheels of my little motorbike were trudging through molasses. My wrist ached from twisting the accelerator to its limit, but I didn’t care. I had to get away from Thomas. He had caused enough damage already.

I crested one last hill above the tiny Caribbean village and the glaring white walls of my hotel came into view. The hotel was the largest building by far in the village. It had once belonged to royalty on the island but had been converted to a hotel when the last push for independence sent the royal family scurrying to a more civilized country. I felt sorry for the family for a brief moment as I descended the hill into the main street of the village. Such a beautiful place, however remote, deserved to be enjoyed. I doubted they had ever returned once they left. Such a shame. Then, I remembered, that I could never return either. Once I stepped onto that boat to leave the island, I would never see this place again.

I zipped through the roundabout at the center of town narrowly missing a few circling cars that promptly honked at me. I ignored them and continued on my way toward the hotel. I couldn’t get there fast enough and the moped resisted the whole way as if it knew it had become an accessory to a crime.

Meredith sat on the stone bench under the canopy on the left side of the hotel entrance reading her book when I pulled the moped into a parking space near the front of the building. She didn’t even look up at me or acknowledge that I had arrived until I was standing over her. She looked so calm and normal as if I had just gone kayaking in the sea rather than drowning someone with my bare hands.

“Are you ready to go?” she asked when she looked up from her book.

“What do you think?” I asked. I tried to be emphatic and commanding, but my hands shook uncontrollably and my voice was just as shaky.

“You should change into some dry clothes. I put some in the bag for you.”

I looked at the two suitcases next to the bench and saw a white bag with the word “Hilton” on it. I grabbed the bag and walked quickly back into the hotel. I struggled to change clothes as fast as I could. I thought I heard sirens nearing the hotel, and my heart jumped in my chest. I almost fell face first into the toilet in the stall where I changed out of my swim trunks. I didn’t bother drying myself off because the wind had mostly taken care of that for me, but the dry clothes clung uncomfortably to my body as I pulled them on. I stepped back into my sandy shoes and left my trunks hanging on the back of the bathroom stall door. I had not been careful in my planning so another piece of evidence left behind didn’t matter. If I was lucky, I’d be long gone before the cops put the pieces together.

“Try to look calm,” Meredith admonished as I walked toward her. I hunched over slightly and glanced around hoping no one heard her. What a strange thing to say. It would surely raise suspicions, but no one was close enough to hear her.

“I am calm,” I whispered when I stood right over her. She looked up at me and shook her head. I faked a smile and she turned her attention to the dark, old man dressed in a hotel uniform. She asked for a taxi.

“Where are you going?” the old man asked. It almost seemed accusatory.

“To the dock.” Meredith replied.

The old man blew a whistle, and after a moment, an unassuming and unmarked vehicle ambled up the stone driveway and stopped before us. This painfully skinny black man slid out of the driver’s seat and said hello as he helped us load the luggage into his trunk. He smelled of coconuts and had an easy smile about him that made me relax for a moment. I had forgotten about Thomas by the time I sat down in the cushy backseat of the man’s car. He was chatty and Meredith was more than happy to oblige with idle conversation. I just stared out the half-open window enjoying the breeze that massaged my face.

The dock was three or four miles from our hotel, but somehow, I had lost myself in the smell of saltwater and the warm breeze that blew away my worries. It seemed to take only a minute or two to navigate the narrow, crowded streets leading to the dock, but I knew it took much longer. I had been here too many times before to believe otherwise. Nevertheless, the skinny man pulled our luggage from the giant maw of a trunk and sat them before us at the dock. Meredith paid him handsomely as usual and we turned and walked toward the boat waiting at the end of the pier without a word between us.

I looked back one last time before we stepped onto the boat as if I expected Thomas to be there. He wasn’t. For a moment I saw the look in his eyes as he took his last breath, and I must have winced because Meredith asked me if I was okay. I shook my head to say that I was, but the trembling had returned by the time I sat in my seat next to her. She looked at my hands and then back at my face. She said nothing as she turned toward the window.

The boat roared to life and pulled away from the dock. I looked down the long pier. No one ran toward the boat. My escape was almost complete. Thomas was no more, or so I hoped.