Billy Prime stared at the time feature in the bottom left-hand corner of the monitor. Ten more minutes until his shift ended. The only thing keeping him awake was the hot, biting pain in his lower back that had become a semi-permanent resident ever since he entered his seventh decade on earth. Not that he was complaining; it was just that some days (okay, every day) he felt like some hapless comic strip character with a dark cloud hovering over his head. Life was funny, except when it wasn't.
It was 1966, senior year in high school, and Billy Prime owned the world, or at least the halls of River Ridge High School. Scouts had been following him all season, entranced by the smooth, powerful swing that had earned him the nicknames Sweet Billy and Prime Time. His toughest decision was choosing between a two million dollar signing bonus with the Red Sox or a full ride to play second base at the University of South Carolina for the next four years. His parents wanted him to continue his education. Billy decided to take the money and start climbing the Red Sox ladder. He never regretted it.
Three years later he made his major league debut at Fenway Park.
His parents had made the trip to see the game and had watched their son come to bat in the second inning and rip a hanging curve ball over the Green Monster in left field. Billy's mother had been on her feet screaming his name. His father had remained seated, brushing away the tears.
When he came to the plate in the fifth inning, Billy and everyone else in the stadium knew what was coming. No Prime Time or Sweet Billy in the big leagues, just another rookie who needed to be put in his place. The cutter came in high and tight. Billy spun away, but the pitch kept riding in, catching him on the side of his face, shattering his jaw. Billy dropped to the ground and didn't move.
The tears were gone and William Prime, Senior, had jumped the railing and was charging the mound before anyone could stop him. Security reached him before he could maul the backpedaling pitcher. The last thing he saw before being escorted from the field was his son on a gurney disappearing into the back of an ambulance. Billy Prime had played his last game.
"Prime, wake the hell up. You look like a zombie."
And you look like an escapee from the short bus or the set of Napoleon Dynamite.
Billy checked the time. Free at last.
"What's up, Scott? My shift's over."
"Got that right. Here's your last check, and before you start whining I got orders to reduce headcount in my department because over half our employees are working from home now and business is in the toilet. You're in the same boat as ten other guys."
"The hell? I've been here three years. That's more seniority than half the security people."
The smirk on Scott Averett's face exploded into a grin.
"This is an employment at will state, Billy boy. I can terminate whoever I want with or without cause. At this point you're still eligible for unemployment benefits. The smart play is for you to walk away before you say or do something that could change that."
Billy took a deep breath and walked away. Seventy-three-years-old and kicked to the curb by some asshole collecting six figures to sit in an office and drink coffee all day. Prick.
"I'll need your uniform, gun, and keys by tomorrow," Averett called. "Prime, hey Prime, you hear me?"
Billy kept walking. He crossed the lot and climbed into his truck.
So, what's the plan, Billy? Wendy's is hiring. Yippee.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. When his baseball career imploded, Billy returned home and used his remaining bonus money to open a high-end dinner restaurant. Prime's Ribs was an immediate success, propelled by the combination of a local celebrity and an absence of restaurant competition in the fine dining space. His home run at Fenway played on a video loop as patrons entered the restaurant. It was the start of a forty-seven-year run that brought Billy contentment, financial security, and love.
His high school sweetheart, Donna West, was still in town running a small accounting business. Billy hired her to manage Prime's Ribs and married her a year later. They settled down, traveled, tried and failed to start a family, and after lengthy discussions regarding adoption and other alternatives, shed some tears and decided to move on. Being a childless couple was not what they had planned, but the marriage worked. They would be married fifty years next month if Donna made it that long.
Billy rubbed his eyes. He needed to sleep, but first he had to stop by the financial administration office at Mountain Meadows where Donna was a resident in the memory care wing. His wife's account was seriously in arrears and the director had given him an ultimatum: pay the overdue balance by today or make other arrangements for your wife.
He had sold the restaurant four years earlier for a large sum. The idea was to slow down, travel, maybe buy a condo at the beach. They had time, money, and good health. What could be better.
The first hint of trouble came when Donna got lost driving home from the grocery store. A diagnosis of middle-stage Alzheimer's followed, forcing Billy to admit her to Mountain Meadows. He had done his homework. They were the best. They were also the most expensive. There were no decent alternatives within driving distance.
Time had ravaged the person who was once Donna West Prime. This disease had an undefeated record. Donna was now late-stage. She no longer recognized the man she had married half a century earlier, and Billy saw nothing that remained of his wife other than a physical shell.
Billy started the truck, but continued to stare across the parking lot. He didn't have the money. Didn't matter, he'd still write the check. Today was Friday, so he had three days before the check bounced and the director called him to come pick up his wife. And take her where? There was no Plan B.
He had thought they were rich. They had certainly planned and saved enough to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. That's what their financial adviser had said. All the bases were covered. Wrong.
The monthly fee, large as it was, was just the starting point. Mountain Meadows had a charge for everything. Billy watched in horror as his bank balances melted away faster than an April snow. Liquidation of his investments soon followed, then his retirement accounts, followed by a reverse mortgage on his house. It still wasn't enough to cover all the specialized care Donna was receiving. The corporate security job had slowed, but not stopped the outflow, and now that was gone. He was broke.
He put the truck in gear and headed for the exit. Time to face the music.
A late model Honda Civic that appeared to be on life support swerved across the lot and clipped the front end of Billy's truck. He fought for control and watched the Honda T-bone a Lexus SUV that was waiting to turn onto the road.
Billy stopped the truck and watched a man leap from the Honda and rip open the door of the Lexus. Scott Averett tumbled onto the pavement. The driver of the Honda slammed Averett into the side of the car and whipped a backhand across his face.
"You fucking piece of shit! I've got a family. What am I supposed to tell them?"
Averett touched his swollen lip and reached for his phone.
"I'm calling the cops, Miller. You can tell your family to visit you in jail."
Billy watched as Miller knocked the phone away and dropped Averett with a savage combination to the head. An idea began to form in his mind. He drew his gun and stepped out of the truck.
"Let it go, Miller. That's not the way."
"Screw you, old man. This asshole took away my job. He's gotta pay for that."
Billy moved in close and jammed the gun barrel into Miller's side.
Billy released the safety. "Now!"
He waited until Miller drove away before turning to Averett. The man was still on the ground. Billy rolled him over and waited for him to either regain consciousness or die.
"Prime, thank God. Miller tried to kill me. Did you see it?"
Billy raised his gun. "I can't blame him, Scott. You have to admit the world would be a better place without you in it."
He smiled at the dark stain spreading from Averett's crotch.
"I'll need your wallet and any passwords for your debit and credit cards. Oh, and your phone."
"The hell. You can't ..."
Billy kicked him in the mouth and waited for the screaming to stop.
"I can't what, Scott? Didn't I just save your life? You take something from me, I take something from you. Got it?"
Five minutes later Billy was back in his truck and headed for the bank. He felt bad about grabbing the keys to the Lexus, but Averett would probably need to have it towed anyway. That should buy him a little extra time.
Billy completed the transfers at the bank and drove to Mountain Meadows. At least now his check wouldn't bounce. A noise that could have been laughter or a sob flew from his mouth.
The director was waiting for him, but something felt wrong. They went into the office and Billy handed her the check. The director barely glanced at it.
"Paid in full," Billy said, a hitch in his voice. "Never a doubt."
A deep silence fell over the room. The director looked up from her desk.
"I'm sorry to tell you this. Donna passed about twenty minutes ago. I waited to notify you because I knew you were on your way."
Billy sat motionless. The director seemed far away. White noise roared in his head. He opened his mouth and searched for a word.
"It was a brain hemorrhage. Instantaneous. She didn't suffer."
"Can I ..."
"Yes, of course."
They walked down the hall in silence. The director paused at the door to Donna's room.
"I'm sorry, Billy. Take all the time you need. Can I call someone for you?"
Billy shook his head. "No, someone's on the way."
He sat in the chair next to the bed. She looked peaceful and, somehow, younger. Fifty years ... almost. Long time, a lifetime of memories. Billy yawned. So tired, he wanted to sleep for a week, or maybe eternity. Sirens wailed in the distance. Billy laid his head on the bed and wept.