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Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Old Con (Parts Three and Four)--Annabelle Baptista


Mrs. Jones’ sandy brown eyes and painted eyelids had once held a mystery for him. Now her powerful perfume, something full of roses, reminded him of the single red rose she had laid on her husband’s coffin. He and Roach and a couple of vendors had paid their hasty respects to the Bible storeowner on a workday, deep in last winter. He had had a stroke. Roach, the only serious Baptist among them, had introduced them, and they had gathered for breakfast routinely for five years, Mr. Jones trying to save Dom’s soul, and Mrs. Jones rubbing herself against him like an electric eel.

Now when she smiled at him, he was reminded of how much he missed her dead husband

“Hey, next time I’ll get breakfast, I got enough money stashed to buy us champagne for breakfast,” Dom said.

His mind caught in a groove and he saw himself as a young man in a brick tenement, just like the one he lived in now, only then he was 20 and had drank in liquid sunshine, manically laughing. He remembered the sweat and adrenaline, more than he had ever felt as he screamed into the face of a scared shitless clerk that day. Fear on that sun-drenched afternoon smelled like ammonia-soaked roses. He hadn’t wanted to pull the trigger, but the mind plays tricks on you in such intense moments when you’re confronted with bad breath, sweat and pleading. Then that sound, that poof and pop, the smell of sulfur, he couldn’t get out of his mind; it woke him in a cold sweat at night. Or was it the sound of money in a bag, fluttering like moths that made him wake, always, as if he had been running, his heart pounding.

“You’re a tightwad, an old skinflint. You’re never going to spend any of that money” Mrs. Jones said rolling the words out on her tongue like butterscotch. Dom’s mind jumped the groove.

“You been telling us about that money you hit for as long as I can remember, why you still living in that hole? Why at your old-ass age you still working as a bagger at Sam’s Market? Why don’t you go get it? I don’t think no one knows the difference now, it’s just money,” Roach said.

“Yeah, it’s just money.” Dom winked at him and got up to leave.

“Where you going, old man,” Roach said, clearing the way for Dom to pass, but Dom stared into the liquid sunshine coming through the window.


He was not looking forward to the emptiness of the hours that lay ahead, but he was too proud to be the last to leave. As he walked up the street, he saw several young men gathered on the corner of Campus Street. He stiffened, turned up his shirt collar, and sensing the danger of young idle men, tapped his cane hard on the cement. He angled himself and dipped his shoulder to bowl right through them.

“Hey old man,” Someone yelled in the group of young punks. One of them was Kayo. Dom looked back at the brick wall of the Burger King, now a block away. His heart gave off a slight ripple.

“You got any money? I want a hamburger!” A nearly de-pantsed punk was reaching in his back pocket. He pulled out a brush, pushing Dom with his elbow as they rushed to tighten the circle around him. Dom faced them. The wind stung through his damp trousers. The March frost left a slippery trail of ice on the street. He shivered in his worn leather coat.

“Carla said he robbed a truck or something, she says he’s got a load stashed,” Kayo said.

“You punks don’t know who you’re messing with. I could beat the shit out of every one of you,” Dom said holding the cane by the neck, and shaking it. He was shouting, hoping someone would hear him and break the group up.

“Hey old man, do you want to die today?” Kayo grinned, a toothpick jackknifing between his front teeth.

Dom willed himself not to budge. Someone pushed him from behind onto the slick pavement. He tumbled to the ground, then a foot connected with his groin.

They roughly searched him and took his wallet. He told himself get up and fight, damn it, but the words triggered no reaction in his useless body. Dom felt pain and cold slice through him. Someone towered over him shouting “Get up!” Kayo laughing derisively picked up his cane and said, “Leave him, he ain’t nothing but a lot of talk.” Dom turned on his side, sucking blood from his bitten lip as they walked away. He felt empty, his thoughts emptied, his pockets emptied, even the tenderness he felt for Carla had been emptied.

They would take the five ones, which were in plain view, then throw the wallet away. They probably wouldn’t find the $5000 bill tucked behind his Sam’s ID card. If they did find it and attempted to spend it they would go to jail. Dom stared at the ashen sun petrified in its sky.

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