The mark was easy. A country hick that wandered into the wrong alley of City Center, my alley. So, I welcomed him to our crusty city by relieving him of his bulging wallet and cheap watch. I didn’t even have to pull out Bertha, my six-inch bowie knife. Just the threat had him shaking like a California earthquake.
I can hear the sirens already; the rube must have called 911 from Sam’s Corner Deli. No worries, there are plenty of alleys, backstreets, and dark corners in my hunting grounds.
Tucked in a shadow of another alley I watch as my most recent benefactor recreates his story to two patrol officers. I almost laughed out loud when he stands in my footprints and tries to look like me. I’m more menacing than I thought. Good.
“There is no fear of God in your eyes,” a voice said with the grating tone of a broken clarinet reed. Turning from the comedy across the street I see one of the dozen or so homeless hags that scramble for what others throw away. They are useful to me as they putter along the streets of City Center. Residents take no notice of them but out of towners always react in predictable ways. Some with visible revulsion, others with compassion. Those compassionate ones are my best prey.
“What did you say old woman?” I growl. I do have to keep the natives in line from time to time. “Were you talking to me or just babbling some old nonsense?”
She turned from her dumpster diving, looked me in the eye and slowly said in that same grating voice, “there is no fear of God in your eyes.”
“There is no god,” I growled as I pulled Bertha from the sheath. I dodged around a pile of pallets and slipped into a sliver of sunshine slicing between the buildings. She needed to see who I was and the danger she was in. “There is no god to be feared or worshiped only hunters, prey, and those that grovel on the ground.”
“There is no fear of God in your eyes,” she repeated with more firmness than before. Our eyes locked. Her will stronger than I imagined. I moved a few steps closer and made sure she could see Bertha’s cold edge. As I did so her eyes widened and then closed in laughter.
“Officers! There he is!” I heard as if a loudspeaker had aimed all its power down the alley. “He’s got a knife!” I heard the footsteps and felt the officer’s shadow darken the alley. I froze, there was no escape. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. “Drop the knife!” one officer yelled. “On the ground, get on the ground!” another bellowed. I did as I was told, there was no other option. The hunter became prey.
The rube identified me. The police collected his wallet and watch from my pocket. Bertha was bagged and tagged as evidence. For six years I hunted City Center without being caught or suspected. My Public Aid Lawyer managed to get a plea deal which landed me a five-year stretch, three if I behave myself. But that’s not the end of the story.
I’ve done time before. Not much though, this was the longest stretch so far. Thirty days as a Juvenile, 90 days in county at the small town where I grew up. This stretch was harder, even though it was only a medium security state prison. I managed by falling back into my world, finding the hunters, seeing the prey, and identifying the grovelers.
About a year in everything changed. I had worked my way in with those I call hunters. We ran the place. The guards didn’t care so long as the peace was kept and that we were all good little prisoners doing what we were told. If that took an occasional beat down, the periodic theft, the random embarrassment, or worse, but the peace was kept then they were good with it.
We all had jobs, mine was in the laundry. Every day all I did was load and unload the giant machines for eight hours a day. Exactly how that was to prepare me for the outside world I still don’t understand. But I did my job aiming to get out as soon as possible.
Just like every other day for the past few months I was loading and unloading when one of the pushers rolled his large hamper my way. I had pegged him as a groveler early on. Young, stupid, and out of his depth. Drug charge or so they say.
“Your Kirk, right?” he asked in a voice that could barely be heard over the machines.
“Yea,” I muttered, “So?”
“Well, I have a word from the Lord for you,” He said with a trace of tremor in his voice.
I thought about making an example of him but boredom and curiosity combined against me. “Ok, so spit it out. Tell me what the big guy has to say,” I mocked.
“Umm, God says ‘hi’” he said looking everywhere but me.
“That’s it? No big pronouncement of how evil I am? Or how much He supposedly loves me? Just ‘Hi’?”
“Umm, yea. That’s it,” The shakiest jailbird laundry pusher in the world replied.
Ok, I’ll play along. “Well tell the big guy ‘hi’ in return,” I said with a small chuckle and a shake of my head.
He left without saying a word, in fact, he didn’t say anything to me for the rest of the day as he brought loads for my hungry washing machines. Come to think of it this was the first time I’d ever heard him speak at all.
The next day the scene was repeated with the word being “I know you.” My response back was “know what about me?” I expected the jailbird to launch into a monologue but he left just as silent as before. The third day the word was, “I know everything from the number of hairs on your head to the many scars left by your father.”
I turned with sudden anger on the jailbird. “You’ve been spying on me! Watching me in the shower or something. God isn’t telling you anything, you’ve seen my scars,” I yell cocking a fist to cause him some permanent pain.
“No, no,” he whimpered. “I’m in D block, you’re in C, the only places I’ve ever seen you are here, the yard, and eating. God told me those words.”
“I don’t believe you, then someone else told you.”
“You’ve seen me around, I don’t talk to anyone. Ever.”
That much was true. The guy was a mouse. Keeping his head down and mouth shut hoping to stay off everyone’s radar. Classic groveler.
“Even if I did see your scars, which I haven’t, I wouldn’t know that your dad caused them,” the jailbird offered.
My arm slowly relaxed as that bit of light cut through the darkness of my soul. No one knows except for me. “God told you about my scars? About my dad?”
“No, He just gave me the words to say. I’ve been praying for you. Praying for a lot of the guys in here. I did some stupid things but landing here changed my life. Brought me back to Jesus and took away all the things I thought were important but weren’t. Even so, it took me a week to work up the courage to give you the first message.” Something changed in him while he said this. He went from the shaking mouse that couldn’t look me in the eye to a confident man looking into my soul.
“Hey, you! Get back to work!” a guard barks.
“Let’s talk tonight, C block commons,” I whisper. He silently nods and pushes his cart out of the laundry.
That was the beginning of a new life. Today I’m back in City Center for the first time since my arrest. New job, new look, even a new outlook. I would have been back sooner, but a condition of my parole was that I stay away from my old hunting grounds.
I savor every morsel of a Pastrami on Rye at Sam’s Deli before my next call. My job isn’t glamorous, but it does keep me busy. I’m one of those copier repair guys. So, I settle my bill with Sam and head out with my briefcase style repair kit.
Crossing the alley, the same alley that I was arrested in, I just had to look. To remember that day and the old woman with her cryptic words. As I walk deeper in I sense movement in the shadows.
“Well, well, well. Said the spider to the fly,” I turned and saw a figure emerge from the shadow. “I don’t know why you entered my web but it’s going to cost you. Hand over your wallet.” The figure said with the familiar threatening stance.
I laughed, “Not much there I’m afraid, but you’re welcome to it” and threw the wallet at his feet.
He picked it up and rifled through it. “five bucks? That’s it? No credit cards? What’s in the case?” He asks hoping for a larger score.
“Just tools, screwdrivers and such, nothing worth fencing.” I offered. “Say, I’m kind of new at this so don’t freak out or anything, but God wants to tell you something.”
“Great, a religious nut,” he mutters. “Go on, what does the big guy want?”
“God says ‘hi’”
We just stand there for a few moments. I think he expected more and I was waiting to see what he’d do next. It was one of those frozen in time moments that are a blink of an eye but feel like minutes.
“Everything alright? Is this man bothering you?” A Police officer asked from the entrance of the alley.
“Umm, no officer. Everything is fine. I just dropped my wallet and this fine gentleman is returning it to me,” I replied. The mugger, following my lead, hands it back to me.
“Thanks, man,” the mugger whispered. “Tell God “hi” for me.”
“You can do that yourself,” I whispered back. “Thanks,” I said at a more normal volume before the wannabe hunter slips out of the alley.
“Thanks, officer,” I said walking to the entrance.
“You sure you are ok? I know that guy and the trouble he causes,” The officer said.
“No problem officer.”
“Say, don’t I know you? You look familiar.” The officer asked.
“Well, you did arrest me once. Actually, it was in this very alley about five years ago” I said pointing back at the shadows.
The officer thought for a moment, “Yeah, that’s it. You pulled a large knife on a homeless woman and had mugged a tourist.”
“Sorry to say that was me. Say you don’t know if that old homeless woman is still around?” I asked.
“No, she’s long gone. You know how it is,” The officer said. “Why do you ask?”
“Nothing big, I just wanted to tell her that I see things differently. That’s all.”