An inhumane heatwave scorched the city. After 2 millennia, God had grown weary of man’s story. All of man’s lies and broken promises drove Him to write the final act of the story early: eternal punishment in hell. But man is a persistent, adaptable, and above all, stubborn creature. And so, in spite of the heat, the residents of the clay oven city endured their lot.
The plants fared worse than the animals. Those trees audacious enough to challenge the supremacy of the hateful sun soon cripsed. Amongst the charred trees, a few residents milled about. The roaming residents believed the heat could be escaped, if not through waiting, then through movement. The roaming residents formed the minority of the neighborhood. The majority of the neighborhood, the inert residents, resigned themselves to the heat and sought shelter in the shade cast by the decrepit apartment complexes.
The neighborhood comprised a variety of buildings, but the majority were prewar and without air conditioning. Without A.C., the neighborhood’s best line of defense against the heat was alcohol. Residents with the funds or gumption to acquire alcohol did so, while those lacking in coin and character wilted in the heat. Among the fortunates, those who could afford to numb the heat with spirits, beer, and wine, was Ephraim.
Ephraim was twenty four. Twenty two of his twenty four trips around the sun were spent within a ten-block radius of his grandmother’s apartment at 165 Montrose Avenue in East Williamsburg. Ephraim’s other two trips around the sun were spent at the Queensboro Correctional Facility in Long Island City for the possession of an unlicensed firearm.
The firearm, a black glock nineteen, belonged to Ephraim’s childhood friend Andres. Andres, like Ephraim, was not a criminal. Andres, like Ephraim, was a victim of circumstance. Andres, a first generation Greek-American, was the son of a father that belonged to an endangered group of men who believed life to be a noble conquest. Fortunately for Andres, his father conquered life and then some. Andres inherited three spoils from his late father’s conquest: the prospect of a new life in America, a lump sum of cash from the sale of the family deli, and a healthy suspicion of American banks. Unfortunately for Ephraim, Andres did not inherit his late father’s integrity or ethics. So, when the question of how to protect his money arose, Andres’s answer was to buy an unlicensed handgun.
Andres, having been pampered by a charismatic father his whole life, lacked the nerve required to carry an illegal pistol; he quickly passed it down to Ephraim, his friend who, since elementary, had a reputation of being phlegmatic. Ephraim agreed to deal with Andres’s trouble for a hundred dollars. Ephraim’s quality of life was tenth-rate, but the hardships of life endowed him with first-rate calluses. Calluses which were now paying dividends with their ability to deaden the pain of heat. It was the easiest money Ephraim had ever made. The quick come up was lost even quicker. Ephraim was stopped and frisked for jaywalking by the police on his way home from Andres’s. The frisking officer found the pistol tucked in Ephraim’s waistband. And just like that, Ephraim inherited an eight year sentence abroad in Queens from the incompetence of an underpaid public defender. Thanks to an overcrowded prison and the non-violent nature of his crime, however, Ephraim was released on parole after serving two years at the Queensboro Correctional Facility. Ephraim was released on June nineteenth, the day that honors the end of slavery in America, which is six days after his birthday. Ephraim was twenty one years old now; he celebrated his belated birthday by jumping the subway turnstile at Court Square.
Three years had passed since Ephraim rode the G train home from prison. It had also, consequently, been three years since he had had three square meals a day. Which may be the reason the threat of being sent back to prison by violating parole was an insufficient deterrent to dissuade Ephraim from shoplifting beer from the Food Bazaar on Manhattan and Broadway.
Ephraim nursed his last beer while the sun reached its zenith. The small amount of shade from the decrepit apartment buildings evaporated in the direct sunlight. Ephraim walked over to a moribund tree and stood beneath its sparse shade. Ephraim sipped his warm beer and watched the block.
It was high noon, the hottest part of the day. The block was still except for the shimmering heat of the street. Ephraim saw the bowed legs from the far end of the block. The old man rocked down the street with a slow, even rhythm; his crosswalk signal expired. The cars in the street threatened the laggard to accelerate with their horns, but he lacked additional gears. The man was propelled by the heat. The bent legs swayed steadily, like a moored boat rocked by rolling waves. Ephraim watched the legs close in. He was fixated by them, but he was unable to decipher their magic quality. The day was too hot or Ephraim was too buzzed.
The man with rickets stopped under Ephraim’s tree and cleared his throat. Ephraim fixed his gaze on the gap between the man’s legs.
“Primo,” said Rickets, “¿qué tal?”
“Alright,” said Ephraim, “how’s everything?”
The words burned up in the heat. Ephraim knew how things were. Things were hot, unbearably hot. Everyone was burning up in the same hellhole, but Ephraim was polite.
“Ah, primo,” lamented Rickets, “my fucking legs are killing me.”
Ephraim’s beer perspired. Rickets watched. A slip of Ricket’s dull-pink tongue shot out from between his dry lips. The shot of pink ran back and forth over the white flesh of his lips. Ephraim winced.
“How about a sip?” asked Rickets.
“It’s my last one,” said Ephraim. Ephraim sucked his beer.
“Please Primo,” begged Rickets.
Ricket’s tongue worked over his cracked lips. Ephraim would give anything to stop it. He handed the beer over. The beer was a mass of frothing bubbles and backwash. Rickets tipped the bottle into his gaping mouth. His tongue flailed about his mouth, working like mad to catch the swill of the bottle. Ephraim stared at Ricket’s teeth. At least half of the original company had been lost in some unknown war. Rickets shook the bottle into his mouth. The beads of sweat shook free from the bottle and landed on Ricket’s grisled chin. The bottle was dry. Rickets burped, threw the bottle into the street.
“Gracias Primo,” said Rickets.
Rickets clucked his tongue and resumed down the street.
“De nada,” said Ephraim to himself.
The sun blazed overhead.
Ephraim leaned against the dying tree and occupied his mind with the women that walked by. Ephraim watched the curves sway past. Not one returned his gaze. Their large hoops bobbed in their ear lobes and the sun glinted off the polished jewels in their noses and navels. A fire engine blared it’s horn and raced down the street. The whole city was on fire.
The hours passed and the sun dropped from its former prominence. The shade on the other side of the street began to grow. Ephraim and the residents crossed over to the new oasis. Ephraim leaned against the rolldown of an old factory. He resumed watching the women walk past. There was nothing to do but avoid the heat and wait for something to happen. That was alright. Ephraim had learned how to wait in prison.
Ephraim needed work, but employers don’t hire convicts. Any unskilled work that popped up in the neighborhood required a connection to a foreman. Ephraim’s only connections were to his past. All Ephraim had was his late grandmother’s apartment, his old Jordan’s, and a tab that was up at the corner store. Ephraim’s stomach growled. He would need to eat soon.
The end of the day began. Cars rushing home clogged the streets, their car horns punching through the calm stupor of the neighborhood. Drivers, boiling in their tin tombs, resisted the inertia of traffic with honk after honk. All walks of working life were represented in the traffic jam, pissed contractors in pickups, secretaries in beat sedans tired from a long day of being harried by lonely men at the office, young dragster teens in lowered rockets speeding towards an unmarked finish line, hasidics with their minivan arks full of sweaty children, and so on. Ephraim watched the commuters of America, deaf to the humanity hidden in each other’s horn, suck down the same polluted air and jockey for an inch of pavement at a time. Ephraim’s stomach sounded its own horn. He needed to eat.
The din of honking overthrew the heat’s despotic rule. Ephraim’s patience waned under the new regime. The cries of his empty stomach were lost to the horns. Ephraim leaned into the tree with more of his weight to conserve his energy. An odd sports car tried to parallel park in the jam. The drivers laid on their horns, holding the note like the climax of an opera.
The noise was unbearable on an empty stomach. Ephraim turned out his pockets. Loose leaf tobacco, miscellaneous wrappers, and shreds of ripped up lotto tickets sprinkled the scorched sidewalk. A few pennies dropped to the pavement like stones and clattered. Nothing of value. Ephraim’s stomach growled. An eighteen wheeler driver sounded his horn. The force of the blast surprised the din of horns enough to quiet it. The driver, a middle aged man with red eyes and a loose jowl, seized the silence.
“COME ON FUCKER! MOVE!” he screamed.
The driver disappeared into his cabin. He pulled the horn cable again. Ephraim covered his ears. The other residents on the street stared at the traffic with glazed eyes. They were deaf to the horns and what they meant. Their minds were fried from the heat.
Hunger sharpened Ephraim’s mind. He flexed his body against the pain in his stomach and made his move. He hopped from one island of shade to the next, slowly making his way to the deli. A group of slouched men sat outside the deli in mismatched chairs. The same group of slouched men, their hunched bodies still as pond water, stiff as stone, timeless monuments to the human spirit, protectors of the bread basket, always sat outside of the deli. The slouched men never asked anyone for anything, they simply liked to be in the presence of the store. Ephraim hopped from the street to the shade of the deli’s awning and walked into the store. A small bell, dangling from a length of dirty rope, jangled as Ephraim opened the front door of the deli. The slouched men didn’t react to the sound.
“Ephraim!” a friendly voice called.
Ephraim smiled slightly. A stocky man approached the front counter. He had a thick mustache and a beaked nose. His eyes were wet and peered out at Ephraim from under a meaty brow garnished with dense, dark eyebrows. The man’s name was Mohammad. Mohammad owned the deli.
“Ephraim, my friend, I need to talk to you,” said Mohammad.
Ephraim was hungry; he tried to rush past the impending debt collection.
“I know Mo, the tab is almost up. Can you add a ham and cheese on a roll to the tab? Salt, pepper, mayo,” said Ephraim.
Mo leaned over the counter. His eyes were sympathetic, but his face was stern.
“Ephraim, my friend,” said Mohammad, “I need the money. I need the money today. The rent is due and I can’t afford Oscar’s flea medication.”
Oscar was the deli cat. He kept the vermin of the city at bay. Ephraim looked at Oscar: Oscar looked back at him. Ephraim was glad Oscar couldn’t talk, it allowed him to stomach his guilt in the privacy of his mind.
“I don’t have it Mo, if I had it, you’d be the first to get it,” said Ephraim.
“Ephraim, please. Everyone comes in asking for help, ‘Mo, please I need one more beer, one more coffee, Mo this, Mo that. Do you know that I was given the name of the prophet to honor him, not to be him?” asked Mohammad.
“Who helps ‘Mo’ when ‘Mo’ needs help?” continued Mohammad.
There was a moment of silence in the deli.
“The prophet?” offered Ephraim.
Mohammad exhaled heavily through his nose, closed his eyes, tilted his head towards the ceiling, and whispered some words in Arabic. Ephraim waited.
Mo finished his celestial communication and opened his eyes wide, “No one! No one helps ‘Mo’.”
Ephraim felt he had no right to ask for charity, but he felt the pangs in his stomach more strongly. Ephraim held Mohammad’s gaze, hoping the words would come finally. Ephraim waited so long for his words, he lost himself in the dark disks that framed Mohammad’s eyes. The disks were a beautiful black-purple. Ephraim had never spent so much time looking at those hollows, they screamed for sleep, but the screams were faint and far away, lost in the din of traffic. It must have been hard to see any type of light with those eyes.
“One more sandwich,” said Ephraim.
They were not the words he hoped for. The bell on the door jangled, announcing a new customer. The new customer, barely five feet in height, thin as a pole, but with a distended belly, walked straight to the diapers. She picked up the size one pack, eight to fourteen pounds. Ephraim watched the woman shuffle to the register. The woman placed the diapers on the counter. She avoided Mohammad’s eyes.
“How much?” she asked.
“Ten dollar,” Mohammad replied.
He licked his thumb and pulled a plastic bag from under the counter.
The woman dug in her purse. Then she dug in her pockets. She dumped a fistful of dollars on the counter and poured an odds and ends collection of coins over the crumpled bills. Mohammad uncrumpled the bills patiently and sorted the change. He pushed the foreign coins back to the woman. The woman picked up the rejected coins one by one and placed them back into her purse.
Ephraim tried to ignore the woman’s belly. He failed. One out and already another on the way.
“This is only $7.65,” Mohammad said.
The woman brought her face up from the floor and looked into Mohammad’s eyes. What she was looking for wasn’t there. The woman turned to Ephraim and asked for money.
“Sorry, I don’t have it,” Ephraim said. He really was sorry.
“O.K. mama, next time, when you have it,” Mohammad said.
The woman gathered the diapers under her arm, bowed her head, and shuffled out of the store. The bell on the door chimed again. Mohammad held his hands up and shrugged. Ephraim had nothing to add.
The name of the Prophet must have weighed heavily on Mohammad. Mohammad pointed down to Oscar who had coiled himself around Ephraim’s leg.
“Animals can smell liars, you know?” Mohammad asked. He looked at Ephraim knowingly. “One more sandwich.”
“Thanks Mo,” Ephraim said.
“Thank Oscar,” Mohammad retorted. Mohammad lifted the ham from the meat cooler. The carcass glistened with slime. Mohammad dropped the meat on the slicer, shaking the objects on the counter.
Mohammad flicked on the slicer and set to work. Ephraim squatted down and scratched under Oscar’s chin. Oscar purred, sat down, and scratched at his ear with his hind leg. Small black dots flew from Oscar’s ear and buried themselves into the finely woven fibers of the Bokhara rug.
“Ready,” called Mohammad.
Ephraim swiped the sandwich from the counter.
“Thanks again,” Ephraim said.
Mohammad held his hand up to say that was enough. The bell on the door chimed as Ephraim walked onto the street.
Outside, the sea of cars was still struggling against the inertia of the traffic. Hundreds of drivers pounded the sticky, rubber organs of their cars with their fists.
Ephraim scanned the sidewalk for a shady spot to sit. To the right, under the deli awning, one of the slouched men had disappeared, leaving his weather-worn desk chair vacant. The chair creaked as Ephraim sat down. Ephraim unwrapped his sandwich and sunk his teeth into the stale bread. A pustule of sour mayo spat into his throat. He chewed thoughtfully. What had become of the slouched man that was sitting here?
Ephraim scarfed the first half of the sandwich, but as the hunger in his stomach relented, he struggled against the tang of the spoiled food.
“EY! Ephraim, Yo! what’s good bro?” said a surprised voice.
Ephraim looked up from his sandwich. The voice belonged to Andres. Andres’s voice still had the same false bravado quality it had in elementary school. Five years had passed since the last time Ephraim had seen Andres. Ephraim decided Andres looked about the same as he always had, only fatter.
“Well, shit,” said Ephraim.
Ephraim watched Andres close in. Andres kicked his legs to the side as he walked. He used the momentum of his arms to counterbalance the swinging of his tremendous gut. Andres’s entire being danced with physics to coordinate the movement of his fleshy body. Ephraim stared in wonder. Andres stopped in front of Ephraim.
“Yo bro, didn’t think I’d see you out here. It’s been a hot minute,” said Andres, “Hotter than a motherfucker today too, phew.”
Ephraim was at a loss. When he was released, Ephraim thought he would exact revenge on Andres. Now that Andres was in front of him, he had nothing to say. Ephraim waited for Andres to continue. It didn’t take long.
“I’m good though bro, chillin. What’s new with you? Are those the same shoes from when you got locked up?” Andres asked.
A horn sounded in the street. The hate of the man honking sustained the wail of the horn. The driver had smooth, dark skin and a strong face.
“GO YOU STUPID BITCH!” the man screamed.
Ephraim and Andres watched the man with smooth, dark skin back up and shoot his car into oncoming traffic. Panicked and frantic honks from the lane of oncoming traffic filled the air. The man laid on his horn. The oncoming traffic stopped in response and the man merged onto the right side of the road. He had gained three car lengths. Ephraim turned to Andres, ignored his questions and said, “I see you’ve gotten fat.” As in Mohammad’s deli, words failed him.
“Fat is a sign of wealth. The Greeks knew that. It’s in my blood,” said Andres.
“What is? Fat?” Ephraim asked.
Andres studied Ephraim’s build. Ephraim was slender throughout with sloped shoulders.
“Ephraim, my friend, that hurts, you know? You shouldn’t be so short with people. Matter of fact you could use a little fat on you yourself,” Andres said.
“I could use a little more money, is what I could use,” Ephraim said.
“We could all use a little more money,” Andres replied.
Andres was right. Everyone needed more money, the woman with the diapers, Mo, Rickets, even Andres in spite of his inheritance…the only people who didn’t seem to need money were the slouched guardians in front of the deli. Those men didn’t seem to have any use for money, they just sat there, guarding God knows what. Ephraim liked sitting next to the slouchd men. Ephraim ignored Andres and looked out at the sea of cars.
“Look man,” started Andres, “I know what happened was fucked up. I didn’t want that to happen. You think I wanted that to happen?”
Ephraim was silent.
“Alright man, look, I can help you, but you have to want to help yourself,” Andres said.
Ephraim kept his eyes on the sea of cars.
“I’m listening,” Ephraim said.
“I’m tellin’ ya right now. I know a guy. A tough motherfucker, goes around robbing places…” said Andres.
Ephraim cut Andres off.
“Andres, man, what the fuck? Do you know what it’s like being locked up, huh? You really don’t know shit, do you?” Ephraim asked.
“You won’t have to do anything! I’m telling you, this motherfucker is no joke. He helped me find a guy to watch my money. This guy’s neck, look at me Ephraim,” said Andres.
Andres pointed to his calf.
“This motherfucker’s neck is the size of my calf,” said Andres, “he’s going to be around your block tonight.”
Ephraim was silent. Andres lowered his face until he was eye level with Ephraim. Ephraim saw the craters on Andres’s face. The craters were packed with pus, dirt, and sweat. The sandwich in Ephraim’s stomach flipped over. Ephraim choked down the nausea and looked to his left.
One of the slouched men, one with a wide brimmed cowboy hat, was watching Andres and Ephraim. The slouched man averted his eyes when he saw Ephraim looking.
Andres was oblivious to the slouched men. He searched Ephraim’s eyes for a response to his proposition. Nothing. Andres stood up.
“Listen, I’m not your problem alright. You’re your problem, being broke is your problem. I’m sorry you got locked up, but what the fuck you want me to do about it?” asked Andres.
Ephraim remained silent, staring at the sea of cars.
“Fuck it. If you want to be broke; listening to this shit all day,” said Andres. He pointed at the traffic, “and wind up like these fools,” Andres pointed at the slouched men, “then that’s on you.”
Andres pulled his fitted cap over his meaty brow and started down the street. Ephraim took no offense. Ephraim watched Andres walk down the sidewalk. Andres must have been at least 300 pounds, but he walked with an unnaturally light foot, even in the unbearable heat.
Andres yelled something at Ephraim from the end of the block. Ephraim couldn’t make it out over the horns. Andres waited for a response, threw up his hands in resignation, and disappeared into the heat.
Whatever Andres said, he was probably right. He never risked too much with his opinions. Ephraim blinked and looked around. He caught sight of a thermometer on the side of the ice chest. It read ninety degrees.
Ephraim balled up the deli paper from his sandwich and tossed it into the sea of horns.
Ephraim reclined on his building’s stoop as the sun set. The heat left the sky and began to radiate from the sidewalks. The heat from the sidewalks cooked the trash on the street. The stench of hot trash churned Ephraim’s weak stomach. He stood up and walked inside his building to save his stomach.
Ephraim’s stomach settled as he pushed through the double doors of his building. The place stank, but it was less rank than the street. Ephraim mounted the staircase. Ephraim lived on the seventh floor. There was no elevator. The scent of food lingered in the walls of each floor because of a lack of ventilation. There were decades of smells baked into the walls of the building.
The scent on the seventh floor, Ephraim’s floor, was peanut oil and fish. Ephraim fished his key out of his pocket, stuck it into the lock of his apartment, and tried to turn the deadbolt. The lock was stuck. Ephraim jiggled the key, but to no avail. Ephraim shrugged his right shoulder, stepped back, and threw his weight into the door. The faint sound of splitting wood reached Ephraim’s ear. Ephraim stepped back again and ran into the door. It gave. Ephraim closed the remains of his door behind him.
Ephraim’s apartment came to him by way of his late grandmother. It was his only inheritance. Ephraim’s grandmother was religious. She prayed at every meal, in the morning, and at night. She prayed, healthy or sick, at least thirty times a day. She finished her prayers by saying, “I pray the Lord takes me soon.” Ask and you shall receive. Ephraim was bothered by his grandmother’s prayer at first, then it depressed him, and finally it annoyed him. Ephraim’s grandmother died a month ago in her sleep. Ephraim didn’t cry. He enjoyed being alone; a trait he picked up in prison.
Even though Ephraim’s grandmother’s corpse had been removed from the house by EMTs weeks ago, the smell of death hung in the air. The scent of death attracted flies. The flies grew strong on the trash of the city and rose to the seventh floor on the fumes of burnt dog shit.
Ephraim crossed into the kitchen of the apartment and saw a group of the buzzing bastards perched on the lid of the trashcan. The flies bulging eyes watched Ephraim with suspicion; they rubbed their feet together conspiratorially.
Ephraim ignored them. He opened the fridge looking for alcohol. A single lightbulb hung from the top of the fridge. The bulb illuminated a diverse spread of non-consumables, moldy pasta, a jar of kosher pickle juice (no pickles left), and a crust of mayo in a crumpled bottle. The scent of decay leaked from the fridge. The fridge’s scent attracted one of the bolder flies amongst the gang on the trashcan. The fly took flight and flew to the fridge. He was too big for his own good. Ephraim heard the overgrown wings, strong and thick from an unlimited supply of trash, flapping. Ephraim whipped around and obliterated the fly with a thunder clap.
Ephraim wiped the goo from the carcass on his pants. Ephraim walked to his bedroom and peeled off his damp clothing. When he was down to his shorts, Ephraim threw himself on the bed. Ephraim’s bedroom was adjacent to his neighbor’s living room. Ephraim listened to the laugh track of the sitcom through the walls. Ephraim lost himself in his thoughts to the white noise of the laugh track.
“Maybe Andres is right?”
“Where was the money going to come from?”
“If I keep robbing, I’m gonna violate parole.”
“How am I going to eat?”
Ephraim recalled Andres’s offer. Ephraim got up and slipped back into his wet clothes. He stuffed his feet into his Jordan’s, pushed the carcass of his door to the side, and walked into the hall. The thick flies sensed Ephraim leave and mourned the death of their brother by buzzing in circles above the trash can.
Ephraim stood outside his next door neighbor’s apartment. Ephraim waited for the laugh track. It went off, Ephraim knocked. The T.V. volume dropped. Ephraim knocked again to confirm his presence.
“Ahh, what the fuck,” a voice from inside the apartment grumbled.
Ephraim knocked again.
“I’m fucking coming!” said the voice.
Ephraim scanned the hallway. He felt out of place. His hands began to tremble; he stuffed them in his pockets.
Darkness eclipsed the light pouring from the peephole of the door. A fat man in a yellowed wife-beater undid the door chain and opened the door.
“Hi Frank,” said Ephraim.
“Yeah?” said Frank.
“Sorry to bother you.”
“No you’re not.”
“Frank honey, who is at the door?”
The new voice belonged to Frank’s wife, Frankie.
“Just the neighbor, DEAR,” called Frank.
Frank turned to Ephraim.
“Spit it out kid, what do you want?!”
“…Do you have a beanie I can borrow?” asked Ephraim.
Finally the right words had come to Ephraim. Ephraim clenched his fists inside his pockets. Frank gave Ephraim a confused look.
“Honey, you’re missing it,” called Frankie.
Frank looked back to the sitcom, concerned.
“Wait, here,” said Frank to Ephraim.
Ephraim waited. Frank disappeared into another room. Ephraim waved to Frankie on the couch.
“Hi Ephraim,” Frankie said with a smile.
“Hi Frankie,” said Ephraim.
Frank came back with a black beanie and handed it to Ephraim.
“Thanks,” said Ephraim.
“Alright,” Frank said.
Frank closed the door. Ephraim stood outside of Frank’s apartment for a moment, then he shoved the beanie into his back pocket and walked back to his apartment.
Inside Frank’s apartment, the volume on the T.V. returned to normal. Frank sat down in his recliner.
“What did Ephraim want?” asked Frankie.
Frank looked at his wife with tired eyes and pointed the remote at the T.V. The show volume doubled.
“What did Ephraim want!” yelled Frankie.
“A sock hat!” Frank yelled back over the T.V., “the kid wanted a sock hat.”
“A sock hat? What for? It’s 90 degrees outside! You didn’t give it to him, did you?” shouted Frankie.
“Let’s just watch the damn show. To hell with the kid!” Frank yelled.
The laugh track went off.
Ephraim stood on his stoop. It was still hot as hell outside. Ephraim thumbed the scraps of fabric cut from Frank’s hat that he had in his pocket.
“I’ll buy him a new one, a nicer one even, as soon as this shit is over,” Ephraim told himself.
Ephraim’s stomach growled.
“Shit, fucking shit,” whispered Ephraim, “Where the fuck is this guy?”
Ephraim massaged his gut with his fist and scanned the street. There he was, Andres’s guy. The guy stood over six feet tall and was powerfully built. His clenched fists looked like hams and his neck was larger than Andres’s calf, easily. The bull of a man swaggered past the men slouched outside of Mo’s. The bell of the deli door jangled faintly in the distance.
Inside the deli, the bull of a man lowered his sights on Mohammad. The Prophet’s namesake raised his hands in supplication to the magnum in his face.
The Bull spoke, “Listen you towel headed fucker! STICK ALL YOUR FUCKING MONEY IN THE BAG, NOW! DO IT! OR I’M SENDING YOU TO WHATEVER GOD WILL TAKE YOU!”
Mohammad closed his eyes. He shook uncontrollably and whimpered to himself. The bell on the front door jangled. Ephraim stopped just inside the door. He was wearing Frank’s beanie over his face. There were two eye holes cut crudely into the beanie.
The bull, incensed by his own diatribe, didn’t notice Ephraim.
“DIDN’T YOU FUCKING HEAR ME SALIM?! EMPTY THE REGISTER NOW!” screamed the Bull.
Ephraim’s nerves were shot. He felt like he was going to shit. He tried to stop himself, but this time the words came effortlessly.
“There’s no money,” Ephraim said.
The bull turned his sights on Ephraim.
“GET THE FUCK OUT! NOW!” screamed the Bull.
“There’s no money,” Ephraim said again.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” screamed the Bull.
“There’s no money,” Ephraim said for a third time.
“I SAID, SHUT THE FUCK UP!” screamed the Bull.
Ephraim shut up. Mohammad prayed to himself quietly.
“YOU TOO! YOU STUPID FUCK, SHUT THE FUCK UP!” screamed the Bull.
Mohammad prayed on. The answer to his prayers was a pistol whipping. Mohammad crumpled to the ground. Slowly, Mohammad picked himself up from the floor. He supported himself on the front counter with his elbow. The blow split Mohammad’s brow. Mohammad’s thick eyebrows absorbed most of the blood from the wound, but some of the excess dripped onto the counter in thick red tears.
Oscar slunk into the fray from behind the chip rack. He let out a curious meow.
Chunks of Oscar flew into the air. Ephraim shielded his face from the spray of meat and fur. Mohammad collapsed on the counter and wept.
“YOU’RE NEXT MOTHERFUCKER!” screamed the Bull.
The Bull pulled back the hammer with his soda can thumb and reached over the counter with his other. The Bull yanked the register open and ran his fingers through the till. The till was empty. The Bull lowered his sights on Mohammad.
“Please! Please! Don’t, please don’t!” cried Mohammad. He dropped to his knees.
Ephraim felt his leg moving, but he wasn’t the one moving them. He was watching himself from somewhere far off. Somewhere far outside the ten block radius of 165 Montrose Avenue. Somewhere far outside the city, somewhere he had never been, somewhere far above this hell on Earth.
Ephraim’s feet, powered by an unnameable inertia, methodically worked across the linoleum. Ephraim lunged for the magnum. The Bull flipped a 180 and pistol whipped Ephraim to the ground. A bolt of lightning cracked in Ephraim’s skull as he crumpled to the ground. Ephraim smacked his head on the linoleum as he hit the ground. Ephraim convulsed on the ground and spewed Mohammad’s half-digested sandwich onto the remains of Oscar.
The Bull’s magnum recoiled. Ephraim’s tab was paid.
The Bull fled the deli after Ephraim’s execution. But the police had heard the gunshots. They caught up to the Bull in four blocks. The cops gunned the Bull down in the street like a dog.
The police rolled over the bullet-ridden carcass of the Bull. They frisked the body.
“There’s nothing on him except this.”
One of the cops held up the magnum. The other two stared at the gun.
“Why do you think he did it?”
“Probably some sort of gang dispute. Happens all the time.”
“Yeah,” said the other cop, “it’s the neighborhood. I picked up some thug around here a few years back that had an unregistered glock on him. He couldn’t have been older than twenty.”
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