“It is always good to begin again. I began again today by telling my story to you. Each of us lives and dies, and in the process, we are a story.
“All of our frantic searching in life finally leads us to conclude we just want to be moved, loved, inspired, our very souls stirred by someone or something. We want just a glimpse of the eternal to know that our lives have meaning. Here is my story as to how this came to pass with me.”
James Crosson, 2020
“Why would I give you more time? Everyone wants more time, and no one gets it. And you, you’re just a huckster with a law license. You prey on ignorant people and take their money. I know you got drunk, drove your car into a tree, and snapped your wife’s neck. They should’ve charged you with manslaughter. Yeah, that’s right, I know all about you.” Brunson’s yellow eyes punctuated his pasty white face. He probed for a reaction, Crosson said nothing, as the words pierced him.
“How’d you do it? Dirty cop? Corrupt prosecutor? Political extortion?”
Crosson focused his attention on the repulsive features of Brunson’s head. He needed more time to pay back the money. He knew it would do no good to engage Brunson on his wife’s death. No one believed he wasn’t drunk when she died. He shifted in his seat trying to maintain some semblance of control. He waited. Brunson leaned back. The wooden chair creaked.
“Not talking? Taking the fifth? No doubt with good reason. Shit, you’ll be dead soon anyway . . . you’re an alcoholic and a gambling addict . . . a lethal combination.” Brunson went on, shaking his head.
James Crosson felt a terrible hate, a primitive deep fury coiling upward from within, and he could not quell it. His muscles became taut underneath his rumpled beige overcoat, but he remained still. Silent, his eyes riveted on the merciless face of the man seated in front of him. Brunson studied Crosson and took a drag on his cigarette. He tilted his head upward exhaling in a practiced fashion in obvious disgust of Crosson.
“You’ll kill yourself soon enough just like you did your wife, and I won’t get my money.”
Crosson leaned forward. “Look, we have an agreement. I just need a couple more months to pay you back.”
Brunson smiled revealing tobacco-stained dentures. He sighed. “Do you know who the patron saint of the shoemaker was?” “No.” Crosson said. This man is deranged.
“Saint Crispin. He preached to the Gauls in the 3rd century and made shoes with hides, hog bristle needles, and wax linen thread by night. The governor of Gaul tortured and beheaded him in 286. Like Saint Crispin, I make leather shoes at night; I like working with my hands. I make the shoes from these molds you see in front of you and the lasts by hand; I don’t use a sewing machine for the stitches. The work brings me serenity in the midst of all this aggravation from bums like you.”
Crosson observed the various awls and tools scattered on the bench in front of Brunson, and a fleeting image of punching one of the awls into Brunson’s forehead crossed his mind.
“I’ll have the rest of the money in a couple months,” he repeated. Brunson looked across the back room of the shoe store nodding to the two goons behind Crosson. They walked over and snatched him out of his seat. He didn’t resist as they shoved him out the back door of Bruno’s shoe store. He slipped and fell in the alley, and his back slapped against a large gray metal grease trap. The putrid stench of rotting food scraps and refuse permeated his nostrils as he sat in the filth. He looked up to see Brunson’s goons laughing at him just outside.
“Another fucking lawyer in the gutter,” laughed the bigger bald one with thick black eyebrows and crooked teeth. Crosson tried to get to his feet, but slipped again, bringing more derision from them.
“Hang around, they’ll be dumping more slops out here you can share with your rat buddies,” said the shorter stocky one. He had a pockmarked face and flat nose. Crosson pushed off from the grease trap and got to his feet. He saw rotten brown lettuce stuck to his trench coat, brushed it off. He eyed the big goon for a second, then rushed him. With the element of surprise, he slammed his fist into the big man’s Adam’s apple and he fell to his knees clenching his throat with both hands and gasping for air.
Crosson wheeled on the other goon who was momentarily mes merized by the sight of the big man trying to breathe. He threw a vicious left hook square on his jaw, making a sharp cracking sound as he fell backwards to the floor in the doorway.
He turned again to the bigger one, still clutching his throat and desperately sucking the air. Crosson slugged him in the head with a wicked right cross smashing his cheek bone. He fell face first the rest of the way to the ground in the alley, a jagged cut on his cheek bleeding a small swathe of red in the snow. The big man began to curse as he recovered his breath.
Crosson paused only another second to observe the carnage before he saw the stocky one struggling to rise. Crosson’s stomach roiled as he absorbed what he had done to them. He looked down the narrow alley for an escape route to his car. The alley was lined with trash cans, bins, broken crates, and cardboard boxes. He recognized the back of Macri’s restaurant but wasn’t sure about the doors to the other buildings leading to the alley.
He ran south, the snow pelting his open trench coat looking like a dirty cape billowing about him in the wind. The worn soles of his shoes betrayed him again and he fell. He smiled despite his obvious peril. It was strange how such a small thing, like shoes, could be the end of a man. Before he rose to his feet, a baseball bat struck him in the back and knocked him to the ground. His face was smeared with the grimy surface of the alley, and the breath taken from his lungs.
He distinctly heard angry voices and saw the bat overhead gripped by an enormous man who was bringing it down, down in what seemed like slow motion. He rolled into a trash can as the bat struck a glancing blow on his left arm and ricocheted off the lid, bending the lip of the can halfway down. Crosson made good use of this short reprieve. He shot forward, making a run, hoping to reach the end of the alley before they got him again, and get where someone could see him.
Only about ten yards to go . . . the bat struck the heel of his right foot bringing him down. As he struggled to get up, a fist crashed into the back of his head, and he fell into a stack of wooden crates bracing himself against them. Crosson couldn’t focus to see the colossal man in front of him. He swung out in blind desperation with his right fist in a wide arc striking the behemoth flush on the chin, a truly lucky blow. The big man stumbled backwards, and Crosson ran again. He could see the cars passing by in the street and the light at the end of the alley. Then he felt another blow, stars came, and blackness enveloped him. He fell down. What felt like two giant pincers grabbed his coat and lifted him from the ground. He heard voices approaching from the sidewalk.
“Go ahead, you son of a bitch,” Crosson wheezed knowing it was over for him. The pincers let loose. He fell yet again. Face first. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t see. Two holiday revelers stopped short as they passed by the alley.
“They need to get these winos out of the streets and into the shelters this time of year. Look at him, he’s so wasted,” one of them said. They laughed. “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Are there no treadmills?” said the other one.
“Hey, that’s pretty good, I like that. A Christmas Carol. Shit, man, I didn’t think you ever read anything in school, dude.” “Yeah, dude, I read that part, it was in the beginning, but I don’t remember the rest. Keep going, sometimes these winos carry, man, and they don’t like to be bothered. You get close, he might draw down on you with a knife, dude. Let’s keep moving, He’ll wake up soon enough, with all this snow coming down,” the one said. “You always think someone is going to fuck with you,” the other laughed.
“No, I don’t, there’s just a lot of mental cases out here, man, you gotta be careful,” he said as they walked on.
Crosson stirred and tried to crawl towards the sidewalk. It was quiet now. The blood, dirt, and snow in his mouth had a copper and salty taste. He crawled another few feet and then his arms and legs gave out. He was numb. He felt a peculiar sense of relief as he lay there curled up giving way to the cold. This is good, the cold should take me if they don’t. I hope no one sees me crawling in the gutter, they’re wrong about me . . . Nobody gives a shit anyway . . . They could drag me back and hit me in the head with the bat . . . Bailey will be okay, Eunice will take him in . . . thirsty . . . Jessica . . . Tears welled up in his eyes. He flicked his tongue across the foul ground, and lost consciousness.
The snow came to rest on his tattered and torn overcoat, and he looked like a large, discarded burlap sack. Close by, down in the city square, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” played. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know . . .