Prose Header

You Deserve a Break Today

by Rick Jankowski

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


As Ricky reached for the handle, the door to the bar opened and light and sound streamed into the night. A pair of elderly women staggered out. One was heavy with short curly, silver-blue hair. A cigarette dangled from her lip and she wore a black T-shirt with white lettering that read, If it moves, fondle it. Her jeans were skin-tight, exposing a muffin top. She puffed on the cigarette, then flicked it against the wall of the bar. It bounced off the wall, tumbled to the wet sidewalk and hissed out.

The other woman was wearing a paisley dress, knee-high stocking and open-toed sandals. She was slim with long, stringy hair, a craggy face and a pointy jaw. Her left hand carried an open bottle of beer. As she stepped forward, she slipped on the wet sidewalk and waving her arms crazily, managed to maintain her balance and not drop the bottle. Arm in arm, the two of them zig-zagged toward the Mustang.

“Too late to get out,” said Jimmy, peeking out the back window. “Quick, on the floor.”

Ricky and Jimmy scrunched down as low as they could. Ricky’s hand banged into a canister of hair spray that rattled under the front seat. “Not much room back here,” he said.

“Shhh,” said Jimmy. “They’re right outside.”

The heavy woman ambled to the driver’s side door. Three tries and a scratched door later, her key penetrated the lock, and she plopped into the front seat. The slim woman took a swig of beer, placed the empty bottle against the curb, then climbed into the passenger seat and slammed the door. The whole car rocked and Jimmy braced his hand against the floor.

“What a night, Brenda,” said the heavy woman, her voice slurring. “I wuz hopin’ we were gonna get lucky, it being your birthday and all.”

“Me too, Darlene, but them guys was losers. Never paid for a round and that one guy kept scratchin’ his butt, then puttin’ his hand on my leg. Some birthday celebration. Gino promised he’d set us up with a coupla live ones tonight, but eee-ew, we can do way better than that!”

Darlene put her thumb in her mouth and pulled at the underside of her front teeth.

“Damn dentures been botherin’ me all night. Be a sweetheart and get me that CVS bag in the back seat. Need my denture cream.”

Brenda turned toward the back seat and her eyes met Jimmy’s.

Jimmy’s face blanched and he waved a half wave at her. “Happy Birthday?” he croaked. Then he handed her the paper bag.

Brenda stared at Jimmy, her gaze never leaving his face. With her right hand, she hiked up her dress and retrieved a silver derringer shoved into her waist band. She aimed it at Jimmy and cocked the trigger.

Jimmy screamed, “Shoot him, I’m a manager.”

Brenda pivoted the gun.

Ricky glared at Jimmy, then he closed his eyes and braced himself.

Brenda pulled the trigger and a flame spurted out of the top of the weapon.

Ricky opened one eye and then the other. He slumped back. “Oh, thank God,” he muttered. “It’s a lighter.”

Brenda laughed, a high shrill laugh. “Hey, Darlene,” she said. “Looks like Gino came through. You boys want a hit?” she said. “I got more than enough to get us all in the right mood.”

She opened the glove box and palmed a small pipe. She packed it to the brim, lit it using the Derringer, and inhaled deeply. “Straight from Colorado,” she said, coughing. “Rocky Mountain High!”

Darlene turned in her seat. “Did Gino pay by the hour or for the whole night? Either way, he’s a real doll.”

“I like the fat one,” said Brenda, taking another hit. “Somethin’ to grab onto.”

“And you sure are purty,” said Darlene, eying Ricky from head to crotch. “Love your hair. Can’t wait to pull it with both hands. I bet he paid you double!”

Darlene clicked her dentures, then pressed a button on her arm rest. All four door locks thumped closed.

Panic in his eyes, Ricky’s Adams apple bobbed and he started to speak. Jimmy interrupted him.

“Yeah,” said Jimmy. “Gino said to show you gals a real good time. Said do whatever you want as long as you want. He didn’t say you were hot. Gimme that pipe. I’ll take a hit.” Jimmy leaned forward and Brenda passed him the pipe. He clamped it between his teeth and took a long, slow draw.

Darlene patted her hair and smiled. “Well, we do look purty good for being on the far side of seventy, don’t we?”

Jimmy took another draw and sank into the back seat. “Heck, yeah. I woulda guessed 48, 50 tops.”

Brenda laughed. “You talk nice. I like you.”

Darlene took the pipe from Jimmy and then glanced at Ricky through half-lidded eyes, “And you seem like the strong silent type. Gino knows what I like and I bet you can put that tongue to better use than talkin’!”

She took a hit and passed the pipe to Ricky. His hand quivered as he slid the pipe stem between his lips, took a quick puff and began to sputter.

“He’s kinda new to all of this,” said Jimmy. “I’m showing him the ropes, so don’t you worry. He’s gonna be real good!”

“Ohhh,” said Darlene, slurring her words. “A virgin! We got us a virgin. Don’t you worry, cutie pie, we’ll make you do it over and over until you get it right.”

“So,” said Jimmy reaching into the bag and pulling out the square package. “What are we gonna do with these? I don’t know about Ricky, but they’re wayyyy too small for me. Let’s stop somewhere so we can get somethin’ that fits right.”

Ricky glanced at Jimmy and mouthed, “What are you doing?”

Darlene inserted her key into the ignition and revved the engine. “There’s a Seven-Eleven just down the block,” she said and backed out of her parking space. She shifted into drive, turned the wheel and pressed the gas pedal to the floor.

Ricky and Jimmy tumbled against the far door as the car screeched on the wet pavement and shot down the street.

* * *

Jimmy bent to one knee and ran his index finger across a group of colorful boxes as he read the labels aloud. “Lubricated, extra sensitive, reservoir tip, ah, here it is, magnum size! You got 10 bucks?”

“What? You’re not really considering...” said Ricky, his voice sputtering. He glanced out the front window of the store. Darlene beeped the car horn and waved at him to hurry up.

“C’mon,” he said “Look at them. They’re old enough to be our great-grannies.”

“You got a lot to learn,” said Jimmy. “They’re experienced. Think of the things they know, the things they can show us!”

“I’m not sure I want to see those things,” said Ricky. He blinked rapidly. “Besides, every minute we’re here is a minute Vanilla Shake and the money get further away.”

“Damn,” said Jimmy. “You’re right. I sorta forgot. Sex, money... gotta get my priorities straight.”

Ricky bent low and tilted his head toward the rear of the store. “Look, there’s a back door. If we keep down, we can sneak out. It’s only a few blocks to my car.”

Jimmy sighed and slid the magnums back onto the shelf. Then, crouched down so their shoulders almost touched their knees, they crept past the hamburger and hot dog buns to the back door. As they neared it, the store clerk glanced their way.

“Hey,” he yelled, “you can’t go out that way, there’s an...”

Ricky pushed the door open and an alarm shrieked. Jimmy stood transfixed as he watched the doors to the Mustang spring open. Ricky grabbed him by his shirt sleeve and tugged him into the alley and away from the store. A moment later, the clerk appeared with his palms covering his ears. Brenda pushed past him.

“Hey,” she yelled. “Where ya goin? Things were just about to git real good! If you need more money...” She waved a handful of bills at them.

Jimmy turned around, “Another time, babe!” he shouted. “Something really big has come up!” He blew her a kiss and then he and Ricky disappeared into the night.

* * *

The blue light rotated hypnotically and alternate shades of dark and light skittered across Jimmy’s face. “Why are the cops here?” he said, his voice quivering. “It was an accident. I didn’t mean to hand out the money. Now I’m gonna go to jail. Oh, God. You know what happens there! You should have backed out of the lot when I told you.”

“And go where?” said Ricky. “They’d just track us down. C’mon that cop is waving us in.”

Ricky led the way into the restaurant. Jimmy shuffled behind him. Two police officers stood at the front counter. The officer who had waved them in was short, round and bald. He was munching on a chocolate chip cookie. The other was tall and thin. His shirt was starched and his shoes were a glossy black. He took notes while he talked with a red-haired woman, who stood behind the counter.

“That’s him,” said the red haired woman, pointing a finger at Jimmy.

Jimmy’s face drained of all color. “I didn’t mean...” he said, his voice so low it was inaudible. His leg buckled and Ricky grabbed his elbow to steady him.

“Hey, Anna,” said Ricky. “What’s going on? Something happen on the third shift?”

“You the second shift manager?” said the tall officer, his gaze focused on Jimmy. His voice was deep and commanding.

Jimmy nodded his head imperceptibly. The officer stepped closer. “Seems like you got a problem,” he said.

Jimmy’s voice squeaked and a stain spread under his arms and down his shirt. The air smelled of sweat. “I didn’t mean to...” he mumbled.

The round officer shoved the last of the chocolate chip cookie into his mouth and swallowed. Small crumbs spewed from his lips as he spoke.

“No one means to, son,” he said. “But you should have done a better background check.”

Jimmy stared blankly at the officer.

“I’m sorry, officer,” said Ricky. “I don’t understand.”

“A better background check,” boomed the tall officer. “On one,” he looked at his notes, “Andy Barker. Also known as Andy Rivers, also known as Andy Sparrow, also known as George Malone.”

“George Malone,” said Jimmy. “Who’s George Malone?”

“Andy is George Malone,” said Anna.


“Andy lied to you when you hired him, son,” said the round officer. “His real name is George Malone. He’s a con man. He gets hired at a fast food place—”

“Like this one,” said Anna.

The round officer nodded. “Exactly like this one. Worms his way in, then BAM, he creates some kind of disturbance, cleans out the cash registers and disappears.”

“I was late,” said Anna, looking at her shoes. “In the five minutes after you left and before I arrived, he somehow cleaned out the registers. All the money is gone. I’m sorry.”

Jimmy said nothing for a moment. Then he patted Anna on the arm. “Could’a happened to anyone, even me. Sounds like he’s a real professional. Just get here on time from now on. I’ll smooth it out with corporate. After all, you deserve a break today.”

Anna smiled and wrapped her arms around Jimmy. “Oh,” she said, “You’re the best.”

The slim officer stared at Jimmy. “Better talk to corporate about doing better background checks,” he said. “Oh, one more question,” he said, tapping his pen against his notebook. “You didn’t see a good-looking woman talking to Andy before you left, did you? Blonde hair, big busted? She’s sometimes in on the play. Likes to drink diet cokes and distract guys with her... her décolletage.”

“Her what?” said Jimmy.

“Her cleavage,” said Anna.

A crimson stain spread across Jimmy’s face. He gulped and his voice rose an octave. “No,” he said. “No one like that was in the restaurant. I’m sure I would have noticed her.”

“I doubt,” said the round officer, “that you’ll see Andy again. But if you do, call us immediately. He’s dangerous. Sometimes he carries a gun. He hit a Burger King last month.”

“Right before we hired him.” said Jimmy.

* * *

Jimmy watched the patrol car pull out of the parking lot, turn left onto Harlem Avenue and drive slowly away. A minute passed and then another before he turned to Ricky and said, “Not a word to anyone about any of this. You understand?”

Ricky nodded. “Yeah, we’ll look like idiots.”

“And that recording: delete it first chance you get.”

Ricky nodded and the two of them walked in silence to Ricky’s car.

Jimmy opened the passenger door as a car pulled slowly into the parking space next to him. Jimmy’s eyes widened. “A red Mustang,” he whispered. The driver’s side window slowly descended. “Run,” Jimmy yelled. “It’s Andy. He’s back!”

Before Jimmy could take a step, a gray curly head poked out of the window. The sweet scent of weed filled the air.

“There you naughty boys are,” said Darlene. “We told some of our lady friends about you two. Wanna go hot-tubbin’? You won’t need your trunks!”

Copyright © 2016 by Rick Jankowski

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