It’s just after one in the afternoon. The game starts in less than an hour and I only have two 6 packs of beer. And I told Cadillac Joe that I’d put twenty bucks down on the Cards to win by two runs. That sounded like easy money on Sunday when I ran into him. Now, four days and three straight losses to Detroit later, I look like an idiot. Still, win or lose, the Cards are my team. And I’m throwing twenty bucks at Cadillac more as an investment than a bet. Cadillac’s scum but he sometimes knows things that help me keep the peace in the neighborhood. Who needs to be threatened, who needs to be smacked around. Standard stuff.
It’s cool out today. Maybe 60 degrees. Perfect weather for a World Series home game, but I’d rather get a few things done outside and catch the game on the radio. There’s a small grocery store within walking distance on Easton Avenue where I can get two more 6 packs of beer and leave my bet with a pretty girl who works there and knows Cadillac.
Outside of the grocery store I see a young dude pacing back and forth. He’s wearing jeans and a blue jean jacket and he’s got his hands pushed down deep in his jacket pockets. He suddenly stops pacing and quickly walks into the store. Maybe he’s on drugs. I don’t know. He looks harmless enough.
Inside I look from left to right across the front of the store for the pretty girl. And there she is. Working the customer counter. And there’s the blue jean jacket dude, standing in line behind an old guy wearing a porkpie hat. The old guy is trying to return a jar of pickles. I get behind the blue jean jacket dude and I can hear the old guy complaining that he can’t open the jar. He wants a jar of pickles he can open. The girl takes the jar and tries to open it. She bangs the jar lid against the counter and tries again. Nope. The old guy is telling her he tried the same thing. He tried everything. I step to the side and see the blue jean jacket dude has his head facing down and his eyes closed. He’s mumbling to himself. I take a big step forward past him and the old man and hold out my hand and lock eyes on the girl. Linda it says on her name tag. That’s right. Linda. Linda is looking more lovely every time I come in here.
-Mind if I try?
-Oh, thank you, Johnny.
Lovely Linda knows my name. Huh. I give the lid a twist and hand it back to the old guy and give Linda a small smile. Then I step back behind the blue jean jacket dude. As I do, I see that he’s holding something heavy in his right jacket pocket. Ah shit.
I lean forward and in a low voice say to him, naw, man, you don’t want to do that. He whips his head around and then half turns his body. His pupils look normal, though he’s jumpy as hell. Not on drugs, I guess. Just adrenaline. Scared about what he’s planning on doing.
-What? What do you mean? Fuck off, man.
-Hey, I’m just saying, if you plan on pulling that out and pointing it at anyone, it’s gonna get ugly real fast. You probably won’t be walking out of here. You dig?
He takes this in for a second and then looks back at Linda. She’s telling the old guy that she can’t give him a partial refund for his time and trouble. The old guy is now stamping his left foot as he talks.
The dude violently shakes his head and then stares at me.
-Fuck you, man. Alright? Fuck you.
-Buddy, I’m telling you right now, you pull that out and I’m gonna break your arm into more pieces than you can count. You’ll never use it again. You want that?
-Well, fuck it. I’ll have a matching set.
He pulls his left hand out of his jacket pocket and I see that it’s a cheap wooden prosthetic.
-Your arm, too?
-Yeah, man. My arm, too. Pretty fucking sweet, huh? $89 a month in army disability. Four days in country and I got my whole fucking arm blown off. You think you can support a pregnant wife and two kids on $89 a month? Huh, motherfucker? You wanna trade with me?
I look him in the eyes. I’ve been to war. I’ve been shot and stabbed, gutted, left for dead. But that was a long time ago. And I’ve still got both arms.
-You need groceries?
-What? Yeah I need groceries. My kids are eating beans three times a day while me and my woman go without. Why the fuck do you care?
-I don’t. Or maybe I do. A little. I don’t know. I’ll give the girl at the counter twenty bucks and you go get that amount in groceries. But first you give me the gun.
-What? Who are you, man? I can get more than twenty dollars with my gun.
-Yeah, and I can break your neck before you get the gun out of your pocket.
-Man. I gotta feed my kids. Not just this week. Every week.
I put my hand out, down low.
-I can get you on as a janitor at Roosevelt High. Down in Tower Grove. It’s minimum wage but it’s 40 hours and has benefits.
-Yeah. If you give me the gun.
The old man stamps his foot one last time and turns around and walks passes us. I look up at Linda and she’s looking at me with a big smile. Then she looks at the blue jean jacket dude who is still turned my way. Linda gives me a questioning look. I wink back and her eyes widen before she smiles again and looks away. Now she’s looking downright gorgeous.
-You’d do that for me? Get me a job?
-Yeah. And buy you twenty dollars worth of groceries. For the gun.
He shakes his head once and then again and says something to himself under his breath. Then he slowly pulls out his right hand and hands me the revolver. I look up and see Linda’s eyes go wide as she catches a glimpse of the gun. Well that’s not good.
I ask him his name.
-Danny. Piotrowski. Everybody calls me Peaches.
I raise an eyebrow and look at him expectantly.
I take the gun and slide it in the back of my pants and let my shirt fall over it. I’ll take it apart when I get home and destroy it. When I get home… Shit, the game’s going to be on soon.
-Show up at the school early Monday morning, Peaches. Ask for the vice principal. He’ll be expecting you.
-Thanks man. I mean… well, thanks.
-You know what happens if I see you doing something like this again, right?
His smile fades a bit and he looks at me like he’s just now seeing me. We both look to be about the same age. 20. Maybe 21. But I guess he hears something in my voice that says I’m older. Much older. And I’m coming from a place of experience.
-Uh, you break my arm? I mean, look man, I’m not going to do anything like this again, ok man? You don’t have to-
-If there’s a next time, I’ll drag you out into an alley and snap your neck. No questions asked. No excuses. Your blown-off arm, your Army service and four days in Vietnam, your wife, your kids – none of that will matter. Just snap.
I’ve said words to this effect hundreds of times to other men. And to some women. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s exactly what they needed to hear to go straight, to walk the line. Most of the time, though, it’s only temporary. A piece of shit is a piece of shit. Time will tell for Peaches.
He walks quickly away and grabs a small shopping cart and disappears down the aisles. I turn to Linda and smile.
-I’m going to leave twenty bucks for that guy for groceries. Oh, and can you give Cadillac Joe a message from me?
-Tell him I need him to keep an ear out for a guy named Peaches.
Linda suddenly laughs out loud.
-Johnny! A guy named Peaches?
-Yeah. It’s complicated.