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Stockboy
Timejacker #1
© 2023 James LaFond
SEP/10/23
The Yarn
Part One: Book Times, America
Stockboy, Fort Avenue and Lawrence, Baltimore, City, Metro-Shoppers Store #45, December, 1998, Tuesday, 10:55 PM
Wednesday, 3:00 AM
“Fagg╬┐t time slave!” snarled the leader of the three SOBO [1] boys as they passed him between the dumpster and the brick wall to the lot. Two were tall and lean, one short and mean. He held his claw hammer, the leather knee pads wrapped around the handle, his left hand concealed within the pads, the claw forward under his forearm, the butt of the handle to the front, a phillips head screw driver slipped into the outer pad between lining and padding. The hammer was for tapping the pin of the tow motor back in, the screw driver for taking apart the frozen food cases, and the knee pads for working the bottom shelf and getting heavy cases off the bottom of the pallet—his back was shot, knees not far behind. The kit worked perfect for surviving the savage jive of Harm City.
He did not take offense or note, externally the insult. Then as he passed into the lot, a full beer can, thrown unopened with malice and high velocity, whirled over his shoulder, next to his ear, and splattered on the wall.
‘That kid can throw, must be the tall one. I just survived a miscalculation. Slut Luck is on my side for tonight.’
He shook, giddy, nervous and post adrenal as he neared the store. He would be cleaning up the ready whip section in the milk case, for these were the kids that huffed the gas and left their nasal blood draining down the caps and cans. They were the Heartlove Boys, nephews of bar owner Johnny Heartlove, who he had heard bragging to each other about stomping the old black dude to death down on Key Highway and Lawrence. Richie was the tall one, had knocked out numerous grown men in fights, a savage, a killer.
Jaime should have stabbed him but failed just then to be a man again, concerned only with surviving the commute to work, not suffering another injury, and returning to Faye and Gary, his wife who ignored him and his bright little son upon whom the high regard for his father, the sun had not yet set.
‘Coward: confirmed.’
Wednesday, 12:15 AM
Jamie had done the audit and was working on fronting and leveling the shelves while Scott, the Grocery Manager worked the overhead stock. He only worked dairy and frozen on freight nights. George, the rent-a-cop, knew about his stick fighting and boxing activity and was hovering around, interested in self-defense advice.
“It’s break time, Scott wanted me to tell you,” said George.
“Thanks, bro,” answered Jamie as he rose to his feet and turned to head to the magazine rack, and then saw that George had picked up the latest Combat Handguns and was holding it for him. George was a few years older and had lived a life of being picked on, robbed, arrested, divorced, fired and despite being older and bigger than Jamie, looked up to him for seemingly being unafraid of the Harm City hoodrats and taking the bus by night. Of course, Jamie knew that this was related to him being more afraid of operating an automobile than fighting a pack of feral negroids.
“George, thanks man.”
The big man blinked, “I know your close to finishing your book and, Massad Ayoob has a good article in here on knife legalities. Did Black Belt accept your Bad Intentions article?”
“Actually, they did. But they say it takes like a year to get in print.”
“I’m glad for you, Jamie,” said George, and they heard the front door whine open and he went up front to make certain the cashier was okay, Jamie reminding him, “If its the Heartlove Boys, yell, I owe them one.”
Wednesday, 3:00 AM
Three aisles to go and he had to piss. Off to the men’s room he went. A man in a gray pinstripe suit, with the bluest blue eyes he had ever seen, was leaving the men’s room.
Jamie entered and there was Richie Heartlove, turning purple on the floor, a needle in his arm, his pretty girl friend crying over him. Long calloused by his loser life, Jamie thought about helping, then recalled the beer can and walked over the kid. He thought twice of using the urinal and just washed his hands. As he was drying them she begged, “Please, call an ambulance.”
“Okay, miss,” he agreed as his heart melted for her, twice the weakling he had thought, nowhere near as hard as he pretended. He walked passed the water fountain and woman’s room door on the left and entered the office, punched Line #1 and dialed 911. “Overdose, men’s room, Shoppers supermarket, Fort Avenue and Lawrence.”
The dispatcher began to ask a question and he hung up and went back to work.
He was on his knees, fronting the canned dog food when Barbara came around the corner, the cute deli manager, who had come to work an hour early to flirt with him and she says, “While you’re down there.”
He looked up and grinned and she blew him a kiss and said, “If you can get off at 5:30, I can give you a ride home, Baby—we’d just need to stop at the Super 8 for some rape,” and she sashayed off looking over her shoulder to make sure he was noting the swing in her hips.
He shook his head and his back seized up some, so he stood and did a 30 second toe touch. There was an ambulance up front. He slid the milk crate he used for a stool and ladder under his right sneaker and heard a calm, clear voice, that would have been unusually deep if not for the clarity, to his left.
Looking over his left shoulder he saw the man in the suit there looking at the EMTs wheel in the stretcher for the zombie resurrection. Without looking at Jamie he said, “Imagine how much life changes, how a path branches and never reaches its doleful destination, when the young savage looking to threaten some poor woe befallen rent-a-cop, in order to pick a fight he failed to pick—not knowing that the third-rate boxing coach is going to stab him to death rather than fall victim to a bare-knuckle KO…
Jamie was following him with mouth agape and the man turned and regarded him directly, the both of them the same height, neither tall, but the other many times more vital, many times the man, and resumed, “Imagine how things change, how the world tilts, how Time itself shudders, when that savage that could have put the indie author in prison for life, instead decides to dance with Morpheus.”
The man grinned and Jamie met his gaze, and did not, as he supposed recoil, but grew angry and eyed the better man hard. The man responded to the unspoken challenge, “Suppose, that six months from now, Paladin Press accepts Utilizing the Martial Arts, for publication? They will have to change the title, of course.”
Jamie squared up to the man and went cool negro, rolling his shoulders, ready to fight and lose rather then be intimidated by some alphabet soup goon.
The man continued, “If someone came back in Time, TIME with a Big T, and told you, that your diversionary writing experiment would result in you making dozens of unlikely predictions that came true, writing hundreds of books, having books banned, getting divorced, being disowned by your family, becoming homeless in your late 50s and ultimately dying of exposure in the Pacific Northwest two months shy of 60, would you still write? Or, would you take the responsible course of action and continue to toil away in retail food, resulting in being crippled by age 56 and dying of respiratory failure in a warm, cozy rented room in Northeast Baltimore?”
‘This CIA prick wants me to go insane stocking shelves for these goddamned eaters rather than write a simple self-defense book!’
The man’s left hand went to the painted 20 gauge steel shelving at chin level, effectively giving him a good hook or clinch angle on Jamie, for whom it didn’t matter, for he knew he had zero chance against this dude in a fight, this dude who had poisoned Richie to make a point or a threat.
Jamie was aflame with anger, “I see you again and we’ll try that push dagger in your belt against the razor in mine—fuck off!”
Jamie heard metal bend as he swam in those clear blue eyes and the handsome blond man grinned, “You have guts—of course a real loser for the ages requires courage. True failure remains beyond the petty reach of domesticated man.”
He then stepped back and patted the steel shelving, a material that Jamie once spent hours straightening with pliers after Scott bent a unit with the tow motor. The man had rolled that molded shelf front into an open, lifted U, then caressed it, “You should have taken your shot.”
Jamie went back to leveling the Ken-L Ration sliced beef dog food as the man walked away and muttered, “Timber wolf to lap dog in a blink of Time’s mighty eye,” and walked across the store front in hard shoes that had a strident echo that would make Jamie afraid of walking with an audible stride for the rest of his withering days.
‘I will write so long as I live. If that brings this prick back to finish me then maybe the books will sell in my wake,’ fumed Jamie, pained within that he had lacked the courage to fight the man.
He glanced up at the bend shelving where the Fancy Feast would never front properly until he fixed it.
‘I’ll bring in Grandpop’s monkey wrench tonight. I guess somebody is tracking my library activity. I wonder if its through the City or Hopkins? Maybe they have someone at Paladin?’
A chill, that his very mind was being observed by his unseen and unnamed masters, and that the goon assigned to his misbehavior was monster strong, sank into his guts and diminished him thence on.
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