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April 15, 2024

The Building 4

By Lydia Manx

The night was starting to wind down and soon the guard would be able to leave and head out. The night had flown as he had recalled how he'd got his name, Jerry Cooper. The man had been a transient when the guard had plucked him from the streets of Detroit and stuffed him into a basement where he'd detoxed the homeless man, who then spilled his entire history to the interested guard. It had been a long process by anyone's standards, but necessary if the guard was going to be successful in literally stepping into Jerry's shoes without any missteps. The middle-aged man hadn't always lived on the street, but he'd just ended up there after the money ran out from stealing from his dead aunt's home and when he couldn't afford the weekly prices of the SRO in downtown.

In Jerry's case it took about three months for that to occur. He hadn't paid more than a week at a time hoping that his luck would turn. His money was carefully stashed on his body at all times. Minding the stories about the mugging and robberies, Jerry made certain to not reveal his source of income. Eventually the Friday came that Jerry found he didn't have quite enough bills to pay even half what was due. He spent some of what was left on a heavier coat from a nearby thrift store and put his clothes in the duffle bag that he'd taken from his aunt's home when he'd left. The nice suits and ties had been long sold or traded for cash or liquor. Not like he'd been on a job interview in over four years by that time. Jerry mentioned a twinge of guilt when he told the guard about robbing from his aunt's home. He'd also confessed that he'd never bothered to pick up her body from the morgue after she'd died. He had shared every thought willingly, not apparently caring that he was imprisoned in a basement. So it was that in the days that had followed her death, he'd found out how she'd totally betrayed his trust, so he'd spent every dime she'd ever had left in her closet and drawers while finding himself literally homeless. He'd sold her varied treasures while steadily drinking through her alcohol hoard. Buffered by the liquor, Jerry watched his world tumble ever so gradually.

The homeless existence was some how freeing for Jerry. There was nothing for him to do but wait in lines with other folks in similar circumstances. Having no fixed address suited Jerry. There were no bill collectors trying to wring out of him what little monies he had made panhandling. Though he'd not had any credit, his aunt, on the other hand, had been floating tons of debt on a variety of cards. He'd never realized since she'd always been the first to get the mail. Now he knew why.

Before he'd been forced by the bank holding the mortgage note to leave his aunt's home, the phone had rung incessantly with various creditors hounding him for money. Once he explained that they'd have to go to the paupers' graveyard run by the county and dig up his aunt if they wanted any money, the callers would accuse him of lying and grow belligerent. He was at first polite and tried to assist the creditors, but that proved all too useless. The phone was naturally the first of the bills Jerry'd skipped paying along with the growing pile of envelopes addressed to his aunt that arrived daily in the mailbox.

He, in turn, dutifully wrote 'return to sender -- deceased' across the bills, trying to thwart more of the irritating and ultimately harassing phone calls, but it didn't seem to matter. So he put the unopened bills on the curb with the little red postal flag standing up to alert the mailman take them away. Soon he grew bored of even that little pleasure, and simply dumped them on his aunt's abandoned wheelchair -- well, until he sold that too.

The slice of the painful treatment by humanity stored still bitterly in the man's soul had fascinated the guard. Half starved, Jerry had been supplied the barest of meals; not wanting to deal with the end results, a sober Jerry Cooper kept droning on about his life with minimum fuel. The final nights weren't suddenly bursting with newfound pieces of information, but rather a continuing litany of the stories already told. There would maybe be a minor detail that had been glossed over that was added with relish by Jerry. The guard saw the faint hope growing in old Jerry's eyes when he would return every evening with a paper sack from a drive through fast food restaurant. (Though the guard never understood how fast food could claim to be from a restaurant, from the oily congealed mess that Jerry devoured greedily. It was a mystery to the guard that he didn't bother exploring too deeply.)

On the last night the guard sprang for a shake and the large-sized French fries with the burger. He found it ironically fitting a last meal of such questionable origins would be enjoyed so lustily. Jerry didn't have a clue that it would be the last thing he ate. Instead he was animated and positively excited to see the guard. The shake was carefully sipped while the guard asked Jerry about his former living arrangements.

"So, Jerry, how's that shake?" He tilted his head towards the straw being slurped noisily.

The man was little more than skin and bones. Not the guard's fault, as he'd been emaciated when the guard had manacled him in the basement. The dirt filtered moonlight streaked through a small ground level window. There wasn't any electricity in the derelict building so it was the only lighting during the evenings when it wasn't overcast, raining or lightly snowing. All of which had occurred in the weeks that Jerry had been huddled in the corner while being weaned off decades of alcohol by the guard. The guard didn't need any lights to see; his vision was much better than Jerry's and good old Jerry didn't think to complain. It seemed like all of the whining had left the man long before the guard had snatched him off the streets.

"It's quite delicious," Jerry finished a mouthful of the milky shake and finally replied.

"So you had that alleyway all to yourself I noticed. Don't you have a roommate?" The guard had watched Jerry for quite a while before bringing him to the basement but needed to make sure. Once the man was dead there wasn't going to be any more time to ask questions.

"Nah, can't trust them," Jerry's eyes dimmed, "Too many folks take advantage of those of us with humbler circumstances." Jerry'd become more eloquent as sobriety had tried to help his liquor-deadened synapses fire. Had the guard not needed Jerry's identity so badly he would have kept Jerry around a few more weeks just to see the complete changes. But with winter quickly pushing its way into the area Jerry's death was a necessary evil. The guard wanted to get out of the godforsaken landscape of the decaying Detroit. Three hundred years before it had been little more than a stop for the fur trappers and Europeans seeking to make America theirs. It was devolving faster than it grew, in the guard's opinion. The buildings were being stripped for their art deco pieces while the copper pipes were literally ripped out of the floors and walls for scrap metal. The dying city was being sold off. The years of 'progress' sold inches at a time. It was sickening to the guard.

"Come on, Jerry, you can't tell me that an intelligent man like yourself hadn't found a few like minds who kept you entertained?" The guard was fishing carefully. He hadn't watched Jerry quite two months before he'd snatched him from the mean streets of Detroit. It wouldn't do to have his body found before time and rats could all do their work. Forensic science had advanced far too quickly for the guard's tastes. A stray hair or fragment of tooth could yield more information than a man's wallet some days. It didn't used to be so difficult to take over a man's life.

Jerry scoffed while dipping a limp French fry into the blob of watery ketchup he'd squished out onto the opened burger wrapper. The burger had been gobbled up quickly, the fries and shake were being savored like the treats they were. With a look of joy on his face, he slowly chewed the blood red fry. His happiness rubbed the guard the wrong way. Joy didn't feed him anymore than the greasy contents of the paper sack. The guard's needs were much different.

"No, thank you for the kind words. The folks around downtown don't much care for me. They found out from one of the women who worked at a mission run soup kitchen that I used to work in the auto industry. All that earned me was a severe beating and universal scorn from fellow citizens of the sidewalks. The others less fortunate who figured out, correcting as it were, that I'd squandered away the opportunities life had presented me with far too readily mocked my failings quite often and with venom. The only companionship left to me was the bottle. Thank you for eradicating that particular demon."

He paused to dip another cold fry into the ketchup. Chewing again slowly he finally asked the guard a direct question, "Perchance are you a missionary?"

The sound that came from the guard's throat was nearly unrecognizable as a chuckle and from the shudder Jerry gave he wasn't quite sure what it was either. The guard didn't have the normal sense of humor currently favored in proper society but he did find the idea of his being a missionary to be funny.

"No, I am not a missionary. I don't think you can understand what exactly I am." Which was quite true but the halfhearted smile on Jerry's face let the guard know that Jerry didn't believe his claim.

"Not a missionary. Check." Jerry grinned, reminding the guard that he'd have to remove a few of those teeth in order to make sure that nobody put two and two together too quickly. A cloud covered the moon and the basement got darker and somehow the guard knew it was time. He hadn't figured out exactly how, but Jerry's nature had made him destined to be a victim. That his own flesh and blood had betrayed him just served to further illustrate the guard's thoughts.

"Sorry, Jerry." The guard walked to the manacles and removed a pair of vice grips from his back pocket.

Hope flared briefly in his eyes as he thought that the guard was going to use the tool to remove the chains. That soon gave way to screams of horror and pain as the guard did what he did best. The shake and fries were vomited up nearly as slowly as he'd downed them. The guard stepped out of the way each time he felt Jerry's bile rise. He didn't remove all of the man's teeth before he died but enough to keep the pain rolling and flowing. The guard grew stronger with each scream and gurgle.

The vagrant had died somewhere shortly after midnight. Snow fell out in the desolate alleys and torn up parking lots that surrounded the abandoned building. Using the basement hadn't been necessary for the guard to isolate Jerry but the guard liked the feeling he got sinking below the ugly streets and being in charge of the human's destiny. Because Jerry had been destined to give the guard a new identity. Once the man breathed his last gulp of pain filled oxygen a feeling of peace washed through the guard. He was sorry to see Jerry die in one way, but quite happy to be able to move on and out of Detroit. The city was going to hell in a hand basket and the guard liked his hell in warmer environments, with the opportunities as endless as the sands that surrounded quite a bit of Florida's real estate. There had been nothing left for him in Detroit, and it was long past the time to move on and even up a few things. With vengeance in his heart and a new identity he headed south leaving winter behind with his past.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-02-14
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