CRAZY : Short Fiction by Brian Wiprud
By Brian Wiprud
Crazy? If I said I am crazy then that would mean I am not crazy. And if I say I’m not crazy then that would mean I am. That’s the maxim, I don’t make stuff up like that, the psychiatrists and neurosurgeons have been over all this with me, and so I know what I’m talking about. Other stuff? Maybe I do make up stuff, or some part of my brain does. But it’s just as real as any cartoon on TV, which is real enough to be a multi-quadrillion dollar business.
I do not work in a multi-quadrillion business. I work in the business of people, of helping people, which never pays well, and in my case, not at all, which must mean I’m crazy, right? Like a rabbit, the Trix Rabbit, maybe.
There was a lawsuit. Don’t ask. It was a head injury, a large settlement, so I don’t have to ‘work’ work. But it’s work just the same. Helping people in trouble get out of trouble.
If you don’t believe me, ask my monkey. He’s my partner. That may sound unusual to someone who claims they are crazy and therefore is not, unlike me who is not crazy and is. It seems to make people feel better when I remind them I’ve had a head injury. Don’t ask.
Yes, my partner talks, don’t you Mr. Peebles?
“Can I have a dollar?”
“No, you may not have a dollar.”
See? The monkey talks, but don’t wig out on me, this isn’t what you think, this isn’t a chimpanzee, this isn’t Mr. Ed or some trippy TV crap like that. It will set your mind at ease to know this is a plush monkey. He’s about five inches tall, chubby, with small button eyes and a curious expression, like he’s about to ask a question. He often does.
“Can I have a dollar?”
And recently my plush monkey has been asking for money, I’m not sure why, you can ask him, I think he wants to buy bananas even though he can’t eat them, they seem to make him feel good just to be around them. And you think I’m crazy…
Anyway, one day after the injury, after many months of physical therapy and truck loads of medications, I seemed to sort of wake up for the first time. I mean really sort of snap out of it. I lay there in bed and realized I had no job, no friends and a bare-wall apartment full of exercise equipment and cereal boxes, the kitchen counter scattered with empty prescription bottles. And from somewhere deep inside I realized I needed to help other people as a way of helping myself, as a way of defining who I am. Nothing particularly novel in that whiz-bang idea, and as I got up, the Bosa Nova rhythm section started in my head, which happens a lot, and I went down to the corner store to buy a newspaper.
“Good Morning, Mr. Patel.” The bodega owner was Indian with a huge smile, and he seemed to like me for some reason.
“Good morning, Jimmy. I see we forgot something again this morning.”
I looked down and realized I’d forgotten my pants again. And my wallet was in my pants.
“Sorry, Mr. Patel.”
“Well, at least you put on a shirt and underwear, I think that’s an improvement, I do.”
“I promise to wear my pants tomorrow, Mr. Patel. Can I pay you for the paper then?”
He laughed, shaking his head at the floor. “Yes, of course Jimmy. Perhaps you should hang your pants on the front doorknob before you go to sleep at night. You think?”
“I’ll give it a try. Thanks again.”
Back in my apartment, I poured myself a bowl of Trix and skim milk, and studied the local section of the newspaper. There they were – all these people in trouble. It was like a catalogue of people who got themselves in a jam and needed a hand.
Now I could have turned my attention to the Middle East, but there’s a considerable language barrier, and I’m not sure what the food is like. Do they, in fact, eat Cocoa Puffs in Tikrit? Perhaps I could work up to something like that, but as they say in rehab, baby steps.
I was looking at the crime reports when I heard a voice – a nasal voice with a slight lisp: “Excuse me.”
I looked at the flat screen on the other side of the weight bench, and it was off, and I don’t have a radio, so I realized someone must be in the room. I turned and there he was, a plush monkey, on a dresser by the door. I can’t say for sure where he came from, I think I got him in the hospital, along with a bunch of other junk like balloons and flowers.
I put the plush monkey in front of the newspaper, on the breakfast bar next to my cereal. His shiny little black eyes looked up into mine.
I asked: “Did you say something?”
The monkey nodded, and pointed one paw at the newspaper. “Dequivious Jonze said he didn’t do it, that he wasn’t the one who held up the Donut Hole.”
Of course I thought this was odd, but frankly, things had been so odd since the injury what with the voices in my head and the prescriptions and the Bosa Nova rhythm section for so long the moment didn’t really stand out, much. Was this any weirder than when my hands started fighting, arguing? A talking plush toy monkey was a lot less traumatic, let me tell you. At least there was a dialogue, unlike with my hands.
I leaned in. “What makes you believe it when he says he’s innocent? It’s like saying you’re crazy, which means you’re not. If he says he’s innocent then that means he’s guilty.”
“I don’t think so.” The plush monkey shook his head. “No, that isn’t always true. If you think we can help someone I think this is the person we should help.”
I squinted at the paper. “There’s a kid here who got hit with a baseball, is in the hospital, I thought I could see if his family needs any help…. wait just a second: ‘we?’, ‘We’ are going to help someone? I don’t even know you.”
“Finish your cereal. We need to get down to county correctional and interview Mr. Jonze.”
“We? Me and a plush money?”
The monkey bowed his head, and for a second it looked like he might cry. Then he looked up sadly shaking his head, clearly disappointed. “Are you plush shaming me?”
“Plush shaming?” I laughed a bit maniacally, and glanced over at the empty pill bottles. Perhaps I shouldn’t have stopped taking the happy pills.
“My name is Mr. Peebles.” The monkey put out his tiny paw, and I fist bumped it. “Now you know me. And if you plan on helping people you yourself are going to need some help. You know, you aren’t exactly a hundred percent since the injury. So I’m going to help you, I’m your partner, I’m your monkey.”
“Do you have a first name, Mr. Peebles?”
He put his plush paws on his plump plush sides, challenging me. “Do I need one?”
“No, I guess not.”
I went to the bathroom and took a long shower. I put my hair in a ponytail, combed my mustache, put on some chinos, a white shirt and a blazer. The shirt and blazer were tight across my shoulders. My therapists told me to exercise, to work out as a way of focusing my mind, keeping busy, keeping the endorphins flowing. So I’d been doing a lot of focusing and now it felt like my shirt might rip if I turned suddenly.
Staring at myself in the mirror, cowbells and washboards of a Bosa Nova echoing in my head, I remembered back when I was normal, back when I was married, back when people didn’t look at me funny. It seemed like something that happened in a movie, with actors that were not me. Time to check and see if Mr. Peebles was gone, maybe that was something that happened in a movie, too.
He was sitting on the newspaper, motionless, and I sighed, relieved. I wasn’t sure that having a talking plush monkey partner was good for me. He might not be that helpful for me helping people, or myself.
Mr. Peebles cocked his head at me. “Don’t worry, your monkey is still here.”
I picked up the plush toy and looked him hard in the eye. “You are going to be helpful, aren’t you? You’re not some sort of trickster whose going to get me killed?”
He leaned in. “If I get you killed where will that leave me? No, I don’t think anybody else needs me the way you do.”
“OK, well, then, just follow my lead, and stay in my side pocket until I need you.”
I stuffed him in the side pocket of my blazer, grabbed my bus pass, keys and wallet, checked to make sure I was wearing pants, and locked the apartment door behind me.
County Correctional was an old drab building that hadn’t had a facelift since it was built in the 1930’s, so it had an old-style visitation room where the prisoner and the visitor are separated by glass and talk on black Bakelite handsets. The window was framed in wood painted institutional green, as was my clunky chair.
Across from me on the other side of the glass was Dequivious Jonze, a very dark skinned man with spotty facial hair and dreadlocks down to his shoulders. He looked angry when he said: “Who sent you?” His voice was a deep baritone.
“Nobody sent me. I saw your story in the paper. I wanted to see if maybe I could help you.”
“Look, man, I don’t got no money for a PI, you know what I’m saying?”
I shook my head. “Not looking to get paid, I’m just looking to help.”
He folded one arm. “What kind of bullshit is this?”
“This is what I do, for free, I don’t need the money.”
Jonze softened, a little. “How is a cracker like you going to help me?”
“You say you didn’t hold up the Donut Hole. If you have an alibi, or know who did do it, maybe I can help with that.”
He rolled his eyes and scanned his surroundings. “Did Vasquez the public defender send you?”
“No, like I said…”
“Right, just out of the goodness of your heart you came down here to help some homeboy beat a rap, s’right?”
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Jimmy, it ain’t like I can turn nobody away that come down here looking to help me because I sure as shit don’t have anybody else comin’ down here to help, and if you are lookin’ for money well you damn sure not getting’ it from me because I don’t got no fuckin’ money.”
“So what’s your alibi?”
“I was asleep, a’right? I was at my main man’s apartment passed out from a night of drinkin’. I wake up and the police are at the door.”
“How did they know to find you there?”
“I don’t know.”
“What did they say about why they thought you did it?”
“My hat and sunglasses were on the couch. They said it matched the description, that they had video.”
“Couldn’t your friend verify that you were there all night?”
“He wasn’t there when I woke up.”
“Where was he?”
“Shit, man, how should I know?”
“Have you heard from him since?”
“No.” He rumbled. “He has priors, he ain’t comin’ around no cops.”
“What’s his name?”
“Where’s he live?”
“At the Washington Houses North, 1414.”
“And that’s where you were?”
“Yeah. I’m between accommodations, been sleeping on his couch.”
“How far is that from the Donut Hole?”
“Excuse me.” Mr. Peebles was suddenly on the desk next to me raising his paw. “I have a question.”
Mr. Jonze eyes went from Mr. Peebles, to me. “You fuckin’ with me?” His voice dropped even deeper.
I tilted my head at Mr. Peebles. “He’s harmless.”
“You came down here just to fuck with me?”
I suddenly felt foolish. Yet as I looked down at Mr. Peebles, his shiny black eyes looked up into mine. He cocked his head, and said: “Are we partners or what?”
Jonze was fuming, but a calm descended on me from someplace far away or deep inside, or maybe both. I smiled. “Jonze, I work for free, and that’s a little crazy, right? Well, if I have a talking plush monkey that should come as no surprise to you. And Mr. Peebles doesn’t mean any of this is some sort of joke.” I picked up my monkey, preparing to leave.
Jonze stared at me in disbelief, cracked a huge smile and barked a laugh. “So what was the damn monkey’s question?”
Mr. Peebles and I drew close to the receiver, and he asked: “Do you have any priors?”
“The monkey ain’t stupid.” Jonze knit his brow. “‘Course I got priors, that’s why them cops were so easy to put me here, why my public defender is so easy to throw me over with a deal. But my priors are for possession, man, I never jerked the joint in my life.”
“OK, Jonze, Mr. Peebles and I will see what we can do.” I backed my chair out.
Jonze said: “You and the monkey watch yourselves around the Washington Houses North, there some bad motherfuckers there.”
The Donut Hole was about what you would expect of a twenty-four / seven diner near the projects: world weary. Like the county jail, there had been no sprucing up of the place since probably the 1970’s. The booths all had deflated cushions, the linoleum counter edge chipped, and the globe lamps hanging from the ceiling were yellowed. There were cop cars out front, as you would expect, black and white officers lined up having lunch at the counter. In the back at tables were some of the Hispanic and black locals eyeing the police with suspicion.
I walked up to the counter and sat at the end, next to one of the officers. Mr. Peebles plopped down directly in front of me. A large black woman with an elaborate hairdo approached me, a pitcher of coffee in one hand.
“Cuppa Joe?” She had a name tag that read DELORIS.
The officer next to me was a tired-looking white woman with short blonde hair, and she looked at the monkey, then at me. “So what is the monkey having?”
Mr. Peebles turned to look at her, cocked his head and said: “Got any bananas?”
The row of officers broke into laughter, and the waitress smirked as she plunked the cup and saucer in front of me, pouring.
“And a banana for Mr. Peebles.”
The waitress cocked an eye. “For real?”
I nodded, and when she placed the banana in front of Mr. Peebles, he jumped up and down and hugged it. The officer next to me snorted, bemused. “You go everywhere with the monkey?”
I smiled. “I do now.” And then I looked at the waitress. “There was a hold up here the other night. A friend has been charged with being the guy that did it, and I think he’s not the one. Do you know who was working here that night? I’d like to talk to them.”
I felt the cops all go tense
The waitress was expressionless. “I was here.”
“Obviously the person who did this had a hat and sunglasses just like my friend. And dreadlocks. Did they have you pick him out of a line up?”
“A what? Oh, you mean like down at the station kinda thing? Hell no.” She pointed to a camera up in the corner of the room. “They took the tape. The tape don’t lie. They don’t need me to tell them what he was wearing, what he looked like.”
Mr. Peebles sat up and raised his hand. “Excuse me? Did he have a gun, and if he did what did it look like?”
She frowned. “For a detective you got some kinda weird act.”
The cop next to me thumbed her belt, no longer smiling. “You a private detective?”
I shook my head. “Nope, like I said, Mr. Jonze is a friend of mine, I’m just looking into this for him.”
The cop smirked. “How do you know your friend Jonze isn’t lying to you? How do you know he didn’t do it?”
Mr. Peebles cocked his head at her and shrugged. “Can’t hurt to be sure, can it?”
The officers all shifted uncomfortably, exchanging glances.
I looked at the waitress. “So he had a gun?”
“Mm hm, little silver thing. I just handed him all the cash in the register and he took off back toward the Washington Houses. Don’t mind me saying, but you don’t exactly look like a friend to a local brother from the projects.”
“Pumped-up long-haired white dude ain’t exactly the type, you dig? Less you some kinda dealer.”
“I may be crazy, but I’m not a drug dealer. Me and Mr. Peebles are just here to try to help someone in trouble.” I put ten dollars on the counter. “Thanks for your time, Deloris.”
Mr. Peebles and I left without drinking the coffee or eating the banana, the rhythm of maracas in my head.
Our next stop brought us to yet another run-down institution: the local police station. In a large beige room was a sea of low partitions and long-suffering wooden desks. Only the chairs were new: cheap adjustable office chairs. I sat in one on one side of a battered desk, and Detective Johnson sat on the other in another. He was a café-au-lait black man in his 30’s, trim with nice clothes and an evasive manner. Detective Johnson was scrolling through his phone, and with a flat voice said:
“So when you say you are a friend of Jonze you mean that you are involving yourself in police matters?”
“I am trying to see if he’s actually innocent, and whether the actual thief is still out there. That’s what police do, so you’re right, I am involving myself in police business. Should I not be interested in making sure justice is actually being served here?”
“The police are professionals. The public defender is a professional. You are not.”
“Does that mean if I ask you questions about this case you will not answer them?”
“That is correct. This is a police matter. You are not Mr. Jonzes’ counsel.”
“Who is his counsel?”
“Ask Jonze. He’s your friend, after all.”
Surprisingly, the County Defenders offices were in a nicer building that reminded me of the hospital a little: a lot of people moving around with files in their hands and a curt receptionist. I let Mr. Peebles ask her: “Excuse me? We’re trying to find the lawyer representing Dequivious Jonze.”
Her eyes tightened, and if it’s possible, it seemed the bun of hair on her head seemed to do likewise. She eyed my monkey over her glasses then rolled her eyes to me. “You trying to be cute?”
“You don’t think the monkey is cute?”
Mr. Peebles shrugged. “It just comes natural.”
The receptionist’s chill gave way to a small, cautious smile. “Can you spell that name for me?”
A half an hour later we were sitting under large banks of fluorescent lamps in the cubicle of Mr. Jonze’s public defender, Ms. Vasquez, who was a young Hispanic lawyer with a law degree from the University of South Dakota on the wall. With Mr. Peebles on my lap, I ran down for Ms. Vasquez what we were trying to do. I also added: “Mr. Peebles, the monkey, he’s helping me. I know that’s a little weird, but like everybody else, you’ll have to just accept it and move on.”
She took her dark eyes off Mr. Peebles and looked into mine. “I’ve seen a lot weirder things. OK, so here’s what you and the monkey have to understand about what I do. Mostly, I plea bargain. It has to be really serious to go to trial, like murder, and this is not serious, this is second degree larceny. Mr. Jonze’s only priors are for possession, not to distribute, so he has no history here of violent behavior, no weapon was found, it would take the DA a lot of resources to lock this up airtight, so I think I can get him three years at Greenville medium.”
I folded my arms. “But three years and a conviction is a lot for something he didn’t do. And it means the person who did do it is out on the streets.”
She blinked, slowly. “It sucks, but they have him on tape.”
“They have someone similar wearing sunglasses and a hat. How many people from his neighborhood look like that? Have to be dozens.”
Mr. Peebles interjected. “And I think it is pretty strange that someone tipped the police where to find Deriquious Jonze.”
Ms. Vasquez held up her hands in resignation. “That’s an investigation. I don’t investigate. The police are supposed to investigate, I litigate.”
“But it doesn’t seem like there’s been much if any investigation, Ms. Vasquez.”
“There usually isn’t in cases like this. They have the tape, they have the man on the tape.”
Mr. Peebles folded his arms and said: “What about the gun and the money?”
She glanced at Mr. Peebles but spoke to me: “Those were not recovered, not yet. But in cases like this the burden usually falls on the suspect to prove his innocence.”
I scratched my head. “So the whole thing about innocent until proven guilty…it’s sort of reversed like saying you’re not crazy must mean you are.”
“Without a solid alibi, and because going to trial risks a much harsher sentence, that’s how it works for guys like this.”
I leaned in. “What if we find who actually did do it? Would you go to the police with that information?”
She sighed and slumped in her chair. Knitting her brow at Mr. Peebles, she said: “As long as the information comes from a person and not a plush monkey I’ll consider it.”
I walked into the elevator at the Washington Houses North – the stainless steel walls were so scratched and dented you would have thought it had been used to hold battling grizzly bears. I pushed the button for the 14th Floor.
A hand jammed into the doors just as they were closing. The doors slid back and two guys in red hoodies stepped in, tooth picks in the corners of their mouths. One was fat and wore cheap yellow sunglasses, the other was wiry with wide eyes locked on me. Neither one pushed a button for a floor.
The doors slid closed, and the elevator jolted and clattered upward.
The one whose eyes I could see said: “You got the time?”
“I think it’s about six.”
“I didn’t ask you what time you thought it was, I asked you the time.”
“I don’t have the exact time.”
The fat one rumbled. “What about a watch or phone?”
“Or a wallet?” The other said, grinning.
OK, so I may not have it all together, but even I realized what this was about, and the elevator was rattling very slowly upward. I wasn’t sure what to say next, so I said: “Don’t make me get the monkey.”
They exchanged a glance, toothpicks wobbling uncertainly in their lips.
I pulled out Mr. Peebles with my left hand and pointed at him with my right. “I said, don’t make me get the monkey.”
You know, sometimes being crazy has its advantages. A lot of fear goes along with having a scrambled mind, you spend so much time uncertain of your surroundings and what’s real and what isn’t. Panic attacks really suck and are so bad sometimes you curl up in a ball and weep for hours. But there are other times when reality is so transient, so obtuse that it is easy to objectify situations that make a sane person tremble with fear. Like showing up at Mr. Patel’s with no pants. Or being confronted with two men in a small elevator who were likely about to beat the crap out of me and take my wallet.
The two of them took a step forward, both looking at the monkey and chuckling.
So while they were laughing at Mr. Peebles, I rammed my right palm into the side of the fat one’s head. He hit the metal elevator wall so hard that he just toppled over, out. At about the same instant I used my left foot to kick the other guy’s knee, and I heard something snap. He bounced backward and fell to the dirty floor next to his unconscious friend, hissing and cursing and holding his knee.
Oh, yeah, and then there’s that whole thing about being crazy and violence. Not a problem. I think in that movie of my past life I was into some sort of martial arts, I can’t exactly remember what of course. The punch and kick didn’t just come out of the crazy, they were second nature, somehow.
The elevator jolted to a stop and the door slid open. I pushed the button for the first floor and eyed the two crippled men on the floor as the doors slid shut. “Going down.”
I stepped out onto the 14th floor hallway, and looked at the plush monkey in my hand: “Good job, Mr. Peebles.”
“No so bad yourself, buster.”
I put him back in my left coat pocket and found apartment 1414 down a narrow tiled hallway flickering with the bitter light of energy saver bulbs. There was the heavy smell of fried fish in the air, and I could hear televisions on behind every door, including 1414, I pressed the buzzer but didn’t hear any buzz so I knocked loudly enough that someone might hear me over the TV.
“What?” came from the other side of the door. The voice was high and raspy from cigarettes, but male.
“I’ve got the money.”
The door cracked and I could see the suspicious eye of a black man, the door chain under his chin. “I don’t know you.”
“Fuck you, cop.”
So he thought I was a cop? I supposed I could roll with that.
“Come on, open up, let’s not make this any more difficult than it has to be. I have a few question about your friend Mr. Jonze.”
“You can ask me from right there,” he squeaked. “Nuthin’ says I gotta let you in without no warrant.”
There was a woman’s voice in the background, and Garvins tunred his head to look at her. I could see he had dreads about the same length at Jonze. He spoke to the woman:
“What you want? I got this. Yeah, it’s the police. They here about Jonze.”
He turned back to me. “Look, man, he’s a brother, I let him stay here a few days is all. I had no idea he was going to knock over the Donut Hole while I was out.”
“Where were you?”
“Out, that’s all you need to know. Was I here when they come and arrest his ass? Hell no. So you know I wasn’t here, a’right?”
“Was that your gun he used?”
He snorted. “Man, I don’t carry. A brother can get a gun in ten seconds right down in front of this building if he had a mind to. That’s likely where Jonze got it.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Garvins.” Mr. Peebles was in my left hand and I held him out. “Don’t you think the waitress would pick your voice as the voice of the perpetrator? Jonze’s voice is very low and yours is very high. I’m just saying.”
Garvins looked at Mr. Peebles with disgust. “Man, what kind of shit is this?”
“It’s no joke, Garvins. It’s my monkey, and he makes a good point. There’s going to be a line-up.”
Garvins tried to spit at me but missed. “You ain’t no cop. Fuck off.”
He slammed the door.
We went down the hall toward the elevators, and Mr. Peebles said: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
I nodded. “I think so.”
The elevator opened and there were two different guys in hoodies, just kids this time. When they saw us, they ducked wide and skittered away down the hall. I guess our reputation preceded us.
We walked to the Donut Hole, and as we went, maracas and timbales marking time in my head, I wondered what season it was. It wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t hot and it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t snowing. I felt a cool breeze on my back. It was getting dark, so it had to be a warm spring or fall night.
The waitress Deloris with the swirled hair was there, working, and when she saw me approach the counter, she chuckled. “Well, if it ain’t monkey man.”
I smiled. “That’s me.” The place was practically empty, a little early for dinner.
Mr. Peebles was still in my left hand and he said to her: “I like your hair.”
Now she started cracking up. “Why thank you Mr. Monkey. I been talking about you two all day.”
“My name is Mr. Peebles. Can I have a banana, Deloris?”
I interjected: “In a minute. I was wondering, did that hold up guy say anything to you?”
Deloris frowned. “He did. He said ‘Open the register.’ Sounded like he was nervous.”
“His voice was squeaky.”
“Can we take this booth behind the front doors, Deloris?”
“Sure honey, here are a couple menus. The monkey can read, can’t he?”
“I’m not sure.”
I turned and she said: “You know, you’re jacket is split right down the back.”
“Really? Huhn. Thanks.” I knew I felt a draft. Must have happened in the elevator on the way up. I sat down, and placed Mr. Peebles across from me. I found my phone and Vasquez’s phone number. I dialed her, and she answered:
“This is Jimmy and Mr. Peebles. I think you would do well to insist on a line-up of Jonze to include his roomie Garvins. They look similar, same dreadlocks, except Garvins has a very high pitched voice. Garvins used Dequivious Jonze’s hat and glasses to disguise himself when he robbed the Donut Hole, then returned them to where Jonze was sleeping to incriminate him. If you check I’m betting that the call to the police telling them where to find Jonze came from Garvins very own phone. I’m at the Donut Hole right now and just confirmed with the waitress that the hold-up guy sounded like Garvins, not Jonze baritone.”
Mr. Peebles pressed his nose against the window. “Excuse me, Jimmy. Look.”
I looked out the window and saw Garvins coming down the block in a hurry.
Vasquez said in my ear: “Really?”
“Yes, but I have to go, Garvins is coming in any second to intimidate the waitress so she won’t pick him out of the line-up. Mr. Peebles and I may have to subdue him. Bye.”
I heard her shout ‘WAIT!’ as I hung up and dialed 911.
“What is your emergency?”
“Man with a gun at the Donut Hole on Washington Avenue. Make it snappy. Someone could get shot any second and it might be me.” I hung up and slipped the phone into my pocket. It immediately began to vibrate, likely with 911 calling back, but I ignored it.
Garvins came in, his step bouncy, hands shoved down in his hoodie pockets. He looked both ways as he came in but didn’t see me in the corner by the door almost directly behind him.
Deloris was just bringing in a tray of clean glasses from the back as Garvins approached the counter in front of her. Again, he checked his surroundings, but failed to notice me and Mr. Peebles.
He ducked around the end of the counter while the waitresses was looking the other direction, locked one arm around her throat, and put a silver automatic to her head. She froze, plump arms out to the side, eye’s wide. I couldn’t hear what Garvins was saying, but his mouth was next to her ear moving rapidly. Where they were standing, the few people in back could not see what was going on.
I grabbed Mr. Peebles and got down onto the floor, crawling behind the partition by the door, where the tray of mints were. The Bosa Nova section in my head grew in volume as I reached up and plopped Mr Peebles on top of the mints, facing Garvins. I then scuttled on all fours around to the side, towards the back and out of sightlines with Garvins and Deloris. A table of four was back there, and they stopped mid-chew when they saw me crawl around the corner and stand up. There was a door to the kitchen on that side and I pushed my way in.
There was an aging Asian man in a greasy smock smoking a cigarette next to the grill. Before he could say anything I put a finger to my lips: Quiet. He cocked his head, seemingly satisfied to see what I would do next, and took another drag of his cigarette.
I went across the filthy kitchen to the other door, where Deloris had come out with the tray of clean glasses. A peek through the little window in that door told me Garvins still had Deloris in a headlock. I heard him squeak, and her respond:
“You got that, bitch?”
“Yes, it was him, it wasn’t you. Please, don’t hurt me…”
He shoved her away, and turned – I ducked out of the window. His footsteps went past and toward the front door. They stopped.
The Bosa Nova section stopped – all except the syncopated knock of a wood block.
I silently pushed my way through the door, past where Deloris was cowering and around the counter to where Garvins stood staring at Mr. Peebles in disbelief. I took a quick step toward him and he heard me. As he began to turn I threw my weight into a kick to his side.
I fell on my side to the floor.
Garvins flew forward into the front doors of the Donut Hole. Glass exploded from the doors as he bounced off them, spun, but didn’t quite fall, grabbing onto the partition with one hand. That little silver gun was in his other hand, but he was dazed and not in much shape to use it. I hoped.
I was scrambling to my feet when Deloris stepped past me with an aluminum baseball bat. She stopped in front of Garvins: “Deloris is tired of your squeaky ass hassling me.”
Now she could have swung for the bleachers and took the top of his head off. I would have. Instead she took a half swing in a chopping motion directly on top of Garvins’ head. There was this hollow popping sound that to me seemed like a coconut falling on pavement, really kind of amusing.
His eyes crossed, the gun toppled from his hand and he collapsed in a heap atop the broken door glass.
A week later I was back at the Donut Hole counter, though Deloris was not working that day. Yolanda was serving me, a slim Latina with an eye patch. Mr. Peebles was in front of me hugging a banana, I was enjoying a cup of coffee, an empty bowl of Fruity Pebbles at my elbow.
I heard the front door open – it had been fixed – and saw Ms. Vasquez and Dequivious Jonze come in from the rain. There were slick yellow leaves all over the ground outside so I figured out that it was autumn, not spring.
They dropped their umbrellas by the door with all the other ones and sat on either side of me at the counter. Jonze spoke first.
“Man, I’m finally out, took a week. Jimmy, I really owe it to you, I’d of pulled three years. I know you don’t work for money, but you got a favor coming from Dequivious Jonze if ever I can do you one.”
I shook his hand. “Me and Mr. Peebles set out to help someone, and we’re glad it was you and that we could help.”
He dropped a slip of paper in front of me with his phone number scrawled on it. “Here’s my number. You need anything other than money you call me. Peace out.” He collected his umbrella and left.
I turned to Ms. Vasquez. “So it took a whole week to get him out? Even though they had Garvins, and Deloris identified him as the guy that robbed the place?”
She looked weary. “Once the police have someone they are not eager to let them go. They wanted to make sure he wasn’t an accomplice. There’s a process.”
“Not sure I like this whole process.” I sipped my coffee. “People thrown in prison with almost no investigation at all.”
“That’s the world I live in. Not many people who aren’t in this business have any idea this stuff goes on. By the way, I would steer clear of the police for a while, and Detective Johnson in particular.”
“You made them look foolish.”
“When a man and a plush monkey come along and prove the police are doing a half-assed job that kind of gets their back up.”
“I don’t know, ever since my head injury, everything seems backward.”
“Does that head injury explain why you’re not wearing a shirt and have a talking plush monkey?”
I looked down and realized I was wearing only a wind breaker, open in the front. “Dang. Mr. Peebles, you have to start making sure I have all my clothes on before we go out.”
He said: “Don’t interrupt my banana.”
Vasquez stood and put a hand on my shoulder. “You did a really nice thing Jimmy, there’s not many people – especially white people – who would do what you did for Jonze, a complete stranger.”
I smiled at Mr. Peebles – he looked so content with his banana. “Thanks, Ms. Vasquez.”
She started for the door, and when I turned she was holding an umbrella. “Ms. Vasquez?”
“You can call me Sandy.”
“Sandy, if you get any other people like Jonze, someone who could use our help, call me.”
She looked at the floor, laughing to herself. “Call me crazy, but I might just do that.”
I shook my head. “Sorry, but that whole crazy thing is all mine.”
Brian won the 2002 Lefty Award, has been multiply nominated for Barry and Shamus Awards, and in 2011 for RT Book Reviewers Choice Award for Best Contemporary Mystery. Starred reviews have been bestowed on his novels from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journaland Kirkus.