Bill Grohl got up before the alarm and walked into the shower. When he walked back into the bedroom the alarm had kicked the radio to life and someone was singing about a Mexican girl in the town of Laredo.
Grohl was an ex-cop, should have made it to County Sheriff, but it just didn’t happen. He’d been invalided out with angina. Angina … first time he heard it he thought the Doc said vagina, had a little laugh to himself. He wasn’t laughing now. The County offered him an invalidity package. He didn’t want any package; he’d worked all his adult life. The County told him he didn’t have a choice; he accepted it and walked: fifty-two years old and on the garbage heap.
He took a bagel out of the freezer, defrosted it in the microwave, sliced it in two and placed it in the toaster. He had to watch his cholesterol. When the bagel popped he put some low fat spread on it, poured himself a coffee, and sat at the table.
There was only one chair. When he had first bought the table there were four chairs with it. Three of the chairs had disappeared over the balcony. He woke up the next morning with a raging hangover, and there they were, smashed on the concrete below. He couldn’t remember a thing about it.
His wife had asked for a divorce, just like that, he didn’t contest it; she up and left with a driving instructor. He got drunk for a week, phoned her and threatened to shoot the bastard, then slowly got over it every day for the next ten years. She took the kids with her: a boy and girl. He hadn’t seen them in four years, wasn’t even sure of their exact ages. The boy would be what … nineteen, twenty? The girl a year younger. They lived in Newark now.
He checked his watch, rinsed his cup and put it on the drainer. He had a dishwasher once, but he got rid of it, used it twice and it stank. Took him two days to figure out where the smell was coming from, he thought something had died.
He patted his jacket pockets to make sure he had his beta-blockers, had a last look around. There were crumbs on the table, he scraped them into the palm of his hand, put his foot on the pedal of the bin, leaned over, and dropped every single one into the bin.
Then he got in his Lincoln and drove to work. He was head of security at Priceright and he was good at what he did. He could read people; it was his talent. He could spot a shoplifter as soon as they walked into the store: those who stole for drugs, for money, for kicks. For the most part he enjoyed his job, it was just the kids they were sending him for security were no good. They were nothing more than doormen, ex-army jarheads who’d done a tour and were whacked out on Prozac. They just didn’t care. They’d wander the aisles with a walkie-talkie in their hand or stand at the barriers waiting for the alarm to go off. They weren’t catching thieves; they were just getting the day in.
Two blocks away Issur Demsky sat on the balcony of his apartment watching the sun come up. He got up early that morning, slept right through: there were no bad dreams and no pain. Sometimes he’d wake in the middle of the night sweating, having dreamt he was back inside. In the dream he would relive the dead time: his cell, prison number, the food, and the rest of it. Then he’d get up slowly—his head still in the dream—pop two Vicodin, and go sit on the balcony chain-smoking Salems.
He remembered the day almost two years ago when he was released; he made a promise to himself, to the universe, there would be no parole violations. Issur told his parole officer he had epilepsy and two bad ankles from a car smash, he thought he might take it slow for a while, then, when he was ready he’d look for a job; part-time, nothing too heavy, just something to help keep him on track. The truth is he didn’t need it; he had a regular rental income from an apartment he owned up in Queens.
He was never programmed for the normal life. His first time in the joint he was given a five year sentence. He was only nineteen years old. Inside he learnt everything he needed to know to be a pickpocket. When he had gotten out he worked the bars of Seaport, New Jersey, Connecticut. He could make two thousand green a day, had the hand-speed of a flyweight and could spot a mark. He had a talent for it. He lived like that for years: doing a day’s work when he needed to, living the high life: women, booze, drugs.
Something had to give—and it did—he woke up one morning with blurred vision and a sore jaw. He went to his doctor; got sent for an EEG. Two weeks later the doctor hit him with the news: epilepsy. He’d be on Tegratol and Lithium for the rest of his life. The Tegratol stopped the seizures, but it made him slow; sometimes his hands shook. He’d have to find a new career.
So, he moved to Florida to relieve tourists of their credit cards. It was the worst mistake he ever made. He was given a six-year term in Florida State Prison. He got out after four, with two years probation. And he just had one week to go until he’d completed that probation.
The parole officer said he’d help get him back on track. Issur said the first thing he could do was get his medication sorted. The prison doctor had him on 800mg of Tegratol in the morning and 600mg at night: with it, and the Lithium his hands shook so bad he had trouble tying his shoelaces. The parole officer got him to a specialist. Now he was down to 200mg morning and night, and he felt good.
Issur reached forward and lifted his pack of Salems off the glass coffee table. There was only one left. He took it out, lit it, inhaled deeply then lifted his keys and walked outside to his marlin-silver Mercedes SLK. Some days he had an urge to drive to Vegas with the top down. In the past two years he hadn’t as much as run a red light.
Issur parked his Merc outside Priceright, took one of the smaller trolleys and walked through the swish doors and into the supermarket. Tonight he’d make meatballs. He walked the aisles slowly: extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dried oregano, a quarter kilo of lean minced beef and a bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel.
He stopped at the health foods aisle; there was a cardboard-cut-out of a trim, gray-haired man in his fifties throwing a stick for a dog. The sign said: Multivitamins for the over 50’s. It was $7.29 for a bottle containing thirty capsules. Issur read the label: Omega 3, B12, etc & etc. He thought about it … $7.29 … and he put those multivitamins in his trouser pocket.
Bill Grohl sat in his office with a cup of coffee in his hand, watching. He’d been watching Issur since he walked into the store. He put down his coffee and said, “Gotcha!”
Issur small-talked the checkout girl, she was pretty; he helped her bag his groceries, paid for them in cash and put the bags in the trolley. When he walked through the barrier Bill Grohl stepped forward.
“Sir, could I have a word with you?”
“A word with me … about what?”
“If you’d just follow me into the office.”
As he said it a security guard appeared at Issur’s right shoulder. Issur looked at the security guard; he was young and he was big; at least 250. He reminded him of any one of the screws at the State Pen. He looked at Grohl. “What do you want?”
“If you’d just step into the office sir, I’ll tell you.” As he said it he waved his hand vaguely in the direction of his office while his other hand touched Issur’s elbow.
“Tell me now,” said Issur.
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to come with me,” said Grohl.
The security guard at Issur’s shoulder gripped him by the right arm but Issur wasn’t moving. Grohl stepped in and attempted to grab Issur’s other arm but he resisted. They struggled and shuffled like this for no more than five, six seconds before Issur said, “Okay … okay, take it easy.”
The office was small, with a single window behind closed blinds. There was another little room that led off the office, Issur knew the images of the security cameras were recorded and played there. The big guard leaned against the inside of the closed door with his arms folded. Bill Grohl directed the palm of his hand to the table in front of him. “I’d like you to turn out your pockets.”
“If you’d just turn out your pockets.”
He wasn’t calling him sir anymore.
“You know your problem,” said Issur. “You need to lighten up, maybe laugh a little.”
He turned out his pockets, placed everything on the table: two packs of Salems with the receipt, his keys, a bill-fold with twenty dollar bills, some loose change. But there were no multivits.
Bill Grohl searched every one of Issur’s pockets but there was nothing there. He turned away. Then he turned and looked Issur square in the eye, and Issur looked right back at him.
“Sir, I’d like to tell you you’re no longer welcome in this store.”
“Yeah,” said Issur. “Well, fuck you!”
As he wheeled his trolley to the car the big security guard walked one step behind him. Neither of them said a word.
When the security guard returned to the office he said, “It’s not like you to get one wrong, Mr Grohl. Won’t a guy like that sue?”
“He won’t sue. I’ve seen a thousand like him. He lifted those multivits, but he changed his mind. You’ll find them on a shelf somewhere in the store amongst the Froot Loops or in a fridge.”
Bill Grohl watched through the open blinds in his office as Issur put his shopping in the trunk of the Merc. He kept watching until the car merged into traffic.
When Issur got back to his apartment he opened the bottle of Ravenswood. His heart was racing; the rush was like nothing else. He felt alive … fucking alive! He lifted his right hand and stretched the fingers flat. Rock steady. He sat on the couch, took a Salem from the box on the table and put it in his mouth, but he didn’t light it. He was thinking … he was trying to figure out how long it would take him to drive from Orange County to Queens. He’d have to stay over in a motel to break up the drive. He’d make a phone call; get back his old apartment. He had time. One week. He would take nothing with him.
When Bill Grohl got home it was hot inside. He took off his jacket and hung it over the back of the single seat at the table and turned on the aircon. Then he lay down on the couch and stared at the ceiling for a long time. He thought about the guy who had told him to lighten up. Fuck him, he thought.
Then he sat up and undid the laces on his shoes and slipped them off, got up again and reached into the pocket of his jacket for his beta-blockers. He took out the pills and he felt something else in the pocket. He took it out. It was a container of multi-vitamins for the over 50s. Bill Grohl turned the multivits in his hand looking at them before placing them on the table. Then he laughed—and he continued to laugh—more than he had in a long time.