Steam raising off a fresh cup of coffee, Jenkins walked back out to his post. People had already begun to filter into the roped off area of the streets where the crowd could stand leaving an open sidewalk for the people who were not lucky enough to get the morning off.
A homeless had already sat on the wrong side of the rope cordon. He smoked a cigarette with a long ash that threatened to drop at any second. This man holding a sign on his lap that simply said, “God Bless” had on a military surplus jacket hanging open with a loose sweater under it and at least one T-shirt neck visible. The bulk of his clothing contrasted with the ropey sinews of his neck and the shallow depressions that were his cheeks. Jenkins had vaguely remembered seeing him around here before. That was a good sign. It meant he wasn’t a trouble maker.
The homeless man was sitting out of the way of the main walkway in the pocket that formed the display window of Stripling’s Pharmacy. He was off to the side of the door, so Jenkins felt he would leave him alone, at least for now.
The crowd continued to deepen as the beginning of the parade drew nearer. Out of the crowd a young man in a suit and tie. He had two coffees and a bag from the breakfast joint a block over. He sat down next to the homeless ma, handed him one of the coffees and opened the bag.
The homeless man said, “Oh, thanks.” He seemed honestly surprised.
The young man said, “I forgot sugar and cream.” He pulled an egg sandwich out of the bag.
The homeless man said, “Oh, no. Black coffee. Great, man. Thanks.”
A woman from the back of the cordoned off crowd had turned at the two speaking. She said, “Leave that man alone. You boy. Get away from him.” The young man stared up at the woman, and the homeless man got to his feet spilling his coffee in the process.
The woman said, “Just give him a dollar and walk away.” She reached into her purse. “We don’t need the likes of you encouraging them.”
Jenkins put his hand on his gun. He had seen people get shot for stupider reasons in this city. He tried to get between the woman and the young man, but it was difficult to move between the people who stopped in the walkway to watch.
The woman pulled a hand full of coins out of the bottom of her purse and threw them to clink and roll at the feet of the two men. “You don’t want to give up the cash, sharp dresser. You don’t have too. Now leave that man alone. Maybe he will get enough money so he will leave.
The young man muttered a few things about God and his salvation and backed away from the woman until he was far enough to turn around and push his way through the oncoming crowd. But the homeless man was agitated moving his hands in and out of his pockets and muttering to himself. Jenkins was afraid that he might become a problem to deal with. He was happy he hadn’t decided to send the man away earlier.
But as he approached the homeless man stopped fidgeting and began to shake. Wide eyed he stared at Jenkins. He pointed and said, “I know you. I know you.”
Jenkins said, “If I see you around here again today, I gonna have to haul you in.” The homeless man backed away not taking his eyes away from Jenkins and not stopping to pick up his food, his cup of money, or his sign.
The rest of the parade seemed to go on without any other problems. Jenkins liked the extra pay, but he wasn’t sure he liked the city’s choice of honoring a vigilante as its mascot. This was the murder day parade a mashup of Mardi Gras, and Halloween. The grisly black and white floats depicting amputations and decapitations rode through the parade route and the people on the floats dressed as ghosts or zombies of all the criminals that had been killed on the city streets.
At least, that part was fitting. The Murder Day Parade is set on the 22 of October to commemorate the day 10 years ago when the city first won the dubious honor of being the murder capital of the world. Probably because most of the murders that occur are of the criminal class, the city decided to embrace the title. In fact the people of this city built up a mythology around being the murder capital, and they invented The Murder Man, a stealthy avenger who dressed in all black except for a red “M” on his chest who went around at night with knives slicing criminals to pieces in the darkest parts of the city. And just like Santa Clause at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade an actor dressed as The Murder Man himself throws candy to the children.
That night Jenkins got home to a dark apartment. He turned on the TV and waited. He looked up at the clock on the kitchen wall. It was a black oval with gold filigree and the face had roman numerals in a fancy script with serifs that curled and looped. Just like everything else in life it was fake. A cheap plastic piece of junk from the discount market. But it told the time. The same time that his stomach was telling him. He pulled an Old Mexico frozen chicken chimichanga from the freezer and tossed it in the microwave. It wasn’t a home cooked meal but he wasn’t going to wait any longer. He walked over to the phone on the counter nearest the kitchen table. Like he imagined there were no messages. He didn’t think that she would still be at the clinic. They close their doors two hours ago. But he called anyway.
The phone rang and rang. When the answering machine picked up he listened to the message wondering where she might be and if she was safe. When the machine beeped he kept his ear to the phone and did not say a word. He only hung up the receiver after the answering machine hung up on him and he heard the busy tone.
He took his chimichanga, a plate, a fork, and a can of light beer to the easy chair. He turned on the cooking channel so at least he could imagine he was eating something nice. Then he ripped open the chimichanga with his fork and watched the steam escape.
Jenkins startled awake to the sound of keys and someone pulling on the door. Instinctively his hand went to his hip. He felt a sinking feeling when he didn’t find his gun, and he jumped to his feet trying to stumble off the sleep.
The door opened. It was Elly. She dropped her keys and stumbled when she stooped to pick them up.
Jenkins said, “You’re drunk.”
Elly said, “Did I forget to tell you? It was Samantha’s party. Today was her birthday.”
“What if you were dead?”
“I’m tired. Why don’t we just forget about it and go to bed?”
He laid in bed until Elly started to snore softly. Then he got up and paced the apartment in the dark.
A couple weeks later, Jenkins and Elly went upstate to visit his sister’s family. Ever since their parents passed away they met at her house for an early Thanksgiving dinner. They pulled up to the house in the cheapest rental they could find. This year Christine had outdone herself. There was a real scarecrow a pair of old pants and an old flannel shirt stuffed with the orange leaves fallen from their sweetgum tree. It was held up by two planks nailed together like a cross. It was lashed at the shoulders, wrists, and ankles and slumped like a crucified Jesus. On the door hung a rustic wooden sign that said “Happy Harvest” and there was a pumpkin and a couple of gourds on either side of the brick steps.
Christine and her husband, Stan were waiting for them at the door. The smell of turkey and dressing roasting in the oven wafted out the door. Jenkins said, “Smells delicious like always.”
Christine said, “You can never really appreciate the smell until you leave the house and come back in.”
Jenkins hugged his sister first. Then, he shook Stan’s hand. It was one of those vice grip handshakes. One of the ones that says, “I don’t care if you have a gun in the glovebox of the car. I think I can kick your ass.” But with Stan being 10 years older and CPA he could keep his handshake and his illusions of grandeur. They are all he will ever have.
Christine led them into the living room to prod her two children away from the TV and get them to say high to their aunt and uncle. Jenkins walked up behind her son Freddy who was sitting on the couch. He clasped him on the back and said, “What are you doing with your hair, Stan? It’s looking fuller every time I see you.” Freddy turned around on the couch and gave his uncle a hug.
Christine said, “Get your knees off the couch, Freddy.”